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Net Neutrality Big Focus of House Oversight Subcommittee Hearing, With Stark Partisanship

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WASHINGTON, July 26, 2017 – The official topic of Tuesday’s House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing was reauthorization of the Federal Communications Commission, but the big focus was on net neutrality.

“The Commission’s decision in 2015 to reclassify the internet as a public utility was a power grab laced with the irony of suffocating the most innovative part of our economy with a 1930s era law,” said Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee. “This gave new meaning to the term ‘progressive.’”

The regulation has slowed investment from internet providers by 5.6 percent, she said, asserting that it would also lead to rate regulation, she said.

Republicans versus Democrats on telecom

That was the Republican view. Democrats had a different take.

Since Ajit Pai became FCC Chairman during the first week of the Trump administration, the FCC agenda has been anti-small business and anti-consumer, said ranking member Michael Doyle, D-Pennsylvania.

He highlighted the 12.3 million comments in the net neutrality docket at the FCC. Even Netflix has said that eliminating the rules would pose a threat to its business, Doyle said.

This FCC path will hurt people, small businesses and innovative sectors of the economy, he said.

Ditto, added Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey. The FCC’s actions have ignored the needs of consumers, whereas an open internet allows small businesses to flourish.

“If the FCC moves ahead with its Net Neutrality plan, the consequences will be severe,” said Pallone. “Their plan will have a chilling influence on our democracy, cut away at our connections with each other and limit economic opportunities for the future.”

Doyle also said the Republicans surprised the Democrats with a reauthorization bill that will slash the FCC budget by $18 million.

Pai plugs robocall action and reauth bill

In his testimony at the hearing, Pai said the FCC has been targeting robocalls. He also applauded the reauthorization bill, and said that the FCC has seen a negative impact from the 2015 net neutrality regulations put in place by the Obama-era FCC.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn touted her recent travels to Ohio to talk with people facing poor connectivity.  If the FCC can put small businesses and consumers first, then the FCC can really say it is serving the public interest, Clyburn said.

Contra Pai, Clyburn wants to preserve the 2015 rules. Without making use of Title II of the Communications Act – the provision governing common carriers –it will be hard for the FCC to put such policies into place. She added that $80 to $100 a month is too much for struggling Americans to pay for broadband service.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly focused his remarks on removing what he characterized as obstacles by state and local governments blocking broadband, including broadband in rural areas.

How valuable are comments on net neutrality?

When asked about the 12.3 million comments on Net Neutrality, O’Rielly said many of the comments are empty of any value.

Although opposed to the rules put in place by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Pai said he did support a free and open internet. O’Rielly agreed.

Clyburn said she that small businesses shouldn’t have to worry about their websites being throttled. The rules need to be clear, and they won’t without Title II protections, she said.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, said she doesn’t see how Pai can say he supports net neutrality when he wants to unravel it. In other words, Pai’s statements on the subject are not credible, she said.

Full committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Oregon, announced a committee hearing titled “Ground Rules for the Internet Ecosystem” for September 7, at which Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, Netflix, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon will testify.

It is time for everyone to share their opinions before Congress, Walden said.

On other matters, Pai said it is important for the U.S. to win the race to 5G wireless technology. He also highlighted FCC work on broadband mapping to accurately reflect broadband data coverage. Clyburn added that the challenge remains getting providers to provide the data necessary.

(Photo by Casey Ryan.)

 

1 Comment

  1. As founding editor of Modern Health Talk, I submitted formal comments on FCC Docket 16-46 back in May 24, 2017. Here’s a subset…

    Regarding ways to promote broadband adoption that is widely available, affordable, and at sufficient bandwidth, the FCC needs to foster competition and encourage public networks as an alternative to private monopoly. Realize that fiber-optic cabling, because of its nearly unlimited capacity, offers incumbent operators a natural monopoly. When faced with the high cost of building overlay networks, it’s nearly impossible for competitors to justify the investment unless they can quickly capture enough market share, but the incumbent can too easily throttle-up capacity, services and support. Many states have laws prohibiting broadband competition from public networks, including Texas, which prohibited public fiber in the late 1990s and then later tried, unsuccessfully, to extend that ban to public Wi-Fi. The FCC should champion legislative changes at the state and federal level to allow public alternatives when the free market fails to produce vibrant competition. (https://www.slideshare.net/waynecaswell/big-broadband-public-infrastructure-of-private-monopolies is a 2003 white paper I wrote on the role of public and private networks.)

    Regarding Net Neutrality, I see a legitimate place for bandwidth throttling if it’s by class of service rather than to advantage one service provider over another. High-value medical applications such as remote sensor monitoring may have very low bandwidth needs but a life-or-death need for guaranteed delivery. On the other hand, the video streaming of movies needs very high bandwidth but offers relatively little value when you consider the $2 cost of a movie rental versus not getting that critical medical sensor alert. [The Net Neutrality and FCC oversight protections allowed in Title II guard against leveraging control of a network to gain competitive advantages in adjacent markets.]

    Regarding Technology issues, I see significant market differences between fiber networks (natural monopolies) and wireless (vibrant competition), so the FCC should focus on market issues. An FCC success story is in the space of unlicensed RF spectrum, which promoted lots of industry innovation and lots of vibrant competition. Even competing industry standards (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave, etc.) are evolving on their own to address compatibility issues. Other examples of wireless innovation include mesh networks, smart radios, and steerable antennas, each of which improves security and interference immunity.

    Regarding bandwidth and future requirements, networks operators rarely invest in additional capacity until it’s needed, creating a chicken-v-egg dilemma. View my 2006 presentation on “BIG Broadband and Gigabit to the home” for examples of high-bandwidth apps that can’t even be created without the fast networks already in place. I developed the slides to promote gigabit networks when other network visionaries were still calling for a national broadband strategy of 100Mbps. Anyone who ever took Queuing Theory in college remembers the “turnpike effect,” where billions are spent on new highway infrastructure, but as soon as the highway opens it is already congested. (https://www.slideshare.net/waynecaswell/big-broadband-and-gigabittothehome-6726015)

    Regarding non-technical issues, broadband-enabled healthcare services are easier to justify with a larger percentage of the population having access AND actually subscribing. That means it must be affordable, with enough perceived value, and sometimes with training and/or equipment provided to facilitate access.

    Regarding future trends, just as computing devices keep getting exponentially smaller, large-scale systems like IBM Watson keep getting more powerful. I envision remote services that monitor dozens of data feeds – from sensors, microphones and HD cameras – and not just one. That will have a multiplying effect on bandwidth needs, but as I said before, these apps won’t be created unless an over-capacity of bandwidth is already in place.

    Regarding regulatory barriers, many states have laws prohibiting broadband competition from public networks. This is problematic when market conditions don’t provide enough incentive for private network operators to deploy BB infrastructure. I’m an advocate of shared access to public infrastructure, including through public/private partnerships, and would like to see more encouragement of that approach.

    Regarding the impact of cost, socioeconomic status, and digital literacy, here’s an example of how subscription fees from those with means can subsidize Internet access by those without. In 1997, Mayor Bill White and leaders from Rice University, the Houston Public Library and nonprofit TechnologyForAll (www.techforall.org) established a project to provide free or reduced-rate wireless Internet access in Houston’s low-income neighborhoods. Residents with a public library card who attend an orientation class can receive these services with fees subsidized by revenue from other subscribers. They can also receive free computer equipment to access those services. Watch this 3.5 minute TFA Overview video by founder Will Reed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxywQnH1UrQ.

    Regarding concerns not yet discussed, the disruptive nature of Moore’s Law, the blending of science & technology, and broadband connection of digital medical devices in the hands of consumers offers immense potential. But it’s also a big threat to industry incumbents, so I must mention my top concern: the corrupting influence of big money in politics from the medical industrial complex. In his famous TIME Magazine report (www.mhealthtalk.com/why-high- medical-bills-are-killing-us/), Steven Brill describes this as hospitals, insurers, drug companies, testing companies, and equipment providers. These special interests spend considerably more on political lobbying than the military industrial complex, all to protect their $3.5 trillion/year revenue stream and the perverse profits they get from illness and injury. If Congress and regulators were able to promote disruptive business models and technologies like telehealth, enact universal healthcare legislation, and focus on wellness and prevention, we could bring our costs and outcomes in line with other advanced nations. In the process, we’d save over $1.5 trillion/year, but that would be a huge loss for incumbent healthcare executives and investors.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    Wayne Caswell offers a rather unique perspective of digital health and broadband technologies, given this relevant background:
    * Founding Editor of Modern Health Talk – writes about health policy, futures and technology, and comments regularly on related articles in the mainstream press. 

    * CAZITech Founder & Principle Consultant, serving the Digital/Connected/Smart Home and broadband industries with services that included strategy & tactical advice, education & workshops, and market & competitive analysis. 

    * Served on FCC Consumer Advisory Committee until forced to give up that volunteer position to take a new job at Dell, due to potential conflicts of interest. 

    * 30-year IBM career with hospital accounts before introducing the company to the smart home market. 

    * Represented IBM, and later Siemens, and served as Communications Chairman of the HomeRF Working Group, an early wireless industry standard that eventually lost its dominant position to Wi-Fi. 

    * Married to a registered nurse (now retired)



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