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Christopher Guttman-McCabe

Experts Debate Incentive Auctions at Brookings

in FCC/Mobile Broadband/Spectrum/Wireless by

WASHINGTON May 6, 2011 -The Brookings Institution gathered key industry and government experts Thursday to discuss how solve the impending spectrum crunch through voluntary incentive auctions.

Incentive auctions would allow current spectrum owners to obtain a part of the proceeds from the auction of part or all of their spectrum holdings. Currently any revenue obtained from the sale of spectrum by the Federal Communications Commission goes directly to the Treasury Department. To increase participation in the auctions, the FCC has proposed to share the proceeds with the spectrum holders. Congress must first pass legislation changing the law to allow for the sharing of auction proceeds before the incentive auctions could be held.

“Wireless is the fastest-growing information communications technology around the world and it can become a key solution to bring broadband to the most remote Americans,” said Matthew Hussey, Legislative Assistant to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

According to Hussey, however, Incentive auction may not be enough to solve the spectrum crunch many experts forecast.

Though incentive auctions are a useful tool in obtaining additional spectrum, he says, they would not be able to provide enough spectrum to meet the full needs of the wireless industry. Key innovations such as spectrum sharing and advanced radios must also be considered in determining solutions.

Hussey also called upon the FCC to conduct an in-depth spectrum inventory to determine if license holders are currently using their spectrum or if it is lying fallow.

Sen. Snowe, along with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) called for a spectrum inventory earlier this year, but FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski stood by the information available on the Commission’s website, insisting that such an inventory had already been completed.

“The spectrum dashboard the FCC created presents a very broad overview of the current spectrum holdings; we need a much more granular view,” Hussey said. “We must remember that spectrum is a public good and must be used in a way to maximize the benefits of the American people.”

Christopher Ornelas, vice president and chief strategy officer at the National Association of Broadcasters, agreed that wireless broadband is the best solution to reach the most remote 8 percent of Americans who cannot access wireline broadband, but indicated he feels that spectrum should not be recklessly taken away from broadcasters.

“We do not have a problem of holding a truly voluntary auction, but broadcasters should not be coaxed into participating,” Ornelas said. “We need to first conduct a deep inventory of the spectrum currently being used before we make any decisions and right now, we lack the data to make the most informed decision. This is something that we can only do once, so we have to do it right.”

Ornleas also warned that after the auctions, any repacking of spectrum would have to be done very carefully to ensure that broadcasters who kept their spectrum would still be able to reach their original consumers. Repacking would create a contiguous block of users rather than having them spread out across the band.

Uzoma Onyeije, president of telecommunications consulting firm, Onyeije Consulting, echoed Ornleas’ sentiments on the lack of data.

“Before we act we need a truly complete and up to date inventory of how spectrum is being used,” said Onyeije.

“Incentive auctions are the key to meeting our future spectrum needs,” said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at the CTIA – the Wireless Association. “The rest of the world has already allocated hundreds of megahertz for mobile use while the U.S. only has 50.”

Mobile broadband is experiencing explosive growth according to Guttman-McCabe, even as more mobile phones allow users to use Wi-Fi networks.

Guttman-McCabe told the assembled crowd that U.S. consumers use considerably more data and voice services than their international counterparts which makes the lack of spectrum a major issue for mobile carriers.

Joint Center Convenes Panel to Promote Adoption for Underserved Communities

in Broadband's Impact/Minority/Mobile Broadband/Universal Service/Wireless by

WASHINGTON March 2, 2011 – Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies held a panel on Wednesday on how the federal government should promote broadband adoption and access to underserved communities.  The panel served as an update the National Broadband Plan, which came out one year ago.

“The biggest mistake we made when working on the plan was using the current framework to solve tomorrow’s problems” said keynote speaker, Blair Levin, one of the authors of the National Broadband Plan. “We need to phase out the Lifeline and Link-Up programs and come up with something new.”

The Lifeline and Link-Up programs provide rebates to consumers to lower the cost of telephone service. The National Broadband Plan recommended transitioning these programs to cover broadband in addition to voice service.

The old models are geared toward telephone service so they focus on cost and access; in contrast. In contrast, broadband requires a knowledgeable user, presenting a more complicated problem to solve. Levin proposed the full overhaul of the universal service system with a focus on demand and usage, rather than simple access.

“Rather than giving [USF subsidies] to companies we should be giving people vouchers to choose their preferred service,” Levin said. “Instead of just giving people money we also need to ensure they are taking steps to improve their digital skills. We should provide additional funds to people who complete digital literacy classes or job training.”

Levin also emphasized that while some programs will not work, pilots and trials are necessary to learn about what does.

“While no administrator wants to work on a project that fails, we need to figure out what works and what does not so we fund the right programs,” he said. “We need to learn what adoption tools are best for each community.”

During the larger panel discussion, Scott Wallsten, VP for research at the Technology Policy Institute and former National Broadband Task Force Economics Director, echoed Levin’s sentiment about pilot programs and evaluation.

“The NTIA needs to be given additional funds to provide in depth evaluation of their adoption programs,” Wallston said. “We also need to think about evaluation when creating new pilots so we can learn what’s working.”

US Telecom Association CEO Walter B. McCormick, Jr, also expressed the need for better evaluation, noting that there has been “an uptick in adoption, but we don’t know why.”

When moderator Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee asked the panel about possible adoption solutions, CTIA- The Wireless Association VP, Christopher Guttman-McCabe, said that wireless may be the best solution.

“Minorities are embracing mobile broadband through cell phones much more than other groups.” Guttman-McCabe said, “Wireless will be the bridge that spans the digital divide.”

“It’s great that people can email or watch videos on their phones,” Kimberly Marcus of Rainbow PUSH Coalition responded, “but really they need to be able to apply to jobs and access government services – and this means using computers connected to some type of broadband.”

Paul de Sa, Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis in the Federal Communications Commission, emphasized that the underserved community faces the three interconnected problems of access, cost and usage. “We need to look at these issues as part of a whole rather than individual or distinct problems.”

Health Care, Wireless Can Drive Broadband Adoption, Experts Tell FCC

in Broadband Data/Broadband Stimulus/FCC/National Broadband Plan/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, August 20, 2009 – One of the largest challenges in developing a national broadband plan will be to find out who has broadband, who doesn’t and what it’s used for, said FCC Consumer Research Director John Horrigan in opening remarks at a Wednesday staff workshop.

The agency’s most recent seminar focused on building a fact base for the national strategy, which the FCC must present to Congress by February 2010.

Susannah Fox, associate director for digital strategy at the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said 63 percent of Americans have home broadband service — a “significant increase” over 2008. A “key point” of Pew’s data shows broadband users value most the ability to share information with health care providers. Eighty percent of users have used broadband to find health care information online — “the de facto second opinion,” Fox said.

The survey found that consumers with broadband gain the ability to contribute information and communicate with others, as well as find rich media information on topics of interest, Fox said. Surveys did “not show a lot of harm” from consumers turning to the Internet for health care information, she added.

Income gaps between urban and rural areas is a major factor affecting broadband adoption, said Peter Stenberg, a senior economist at the Department of Agriculture. Population density also plays a part because service “radiates” from urban areas, he said.

Citing data from her own study, Fox said relevance remains the biggest hurdle to increasing widespread broadband adoption. But Fox was optimistic that as people become more comfortable using the Internet as an information utility, emerging uses of broadband — like health care — could be “a possible leverage point” for increasing adoption, she suggested.

Wireless could play a major role in increasing widespread broadband adoption, said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president for regulatory affairs at CTIA. The wireless industry trade group has conducted a semi-annual survey since 1985 which has evolved to include broadband service, he said. For example, 84 percent of wireless devices are now Web capable, Guttman-McCabe said. “Broadband has been driven by…investment in wireless networks,” he said. Instead of focusing on broadband pipes to physical locations, he suggested broadband services should be measured by persons served — not households.

Wireless has become the “third pipe” to “the person…not the home,” he said, with data-capable phones, aircards and netbooks leading the charge. This will drive an “explosion” in wireless data over the next four years,” he said, citing data provided by Cisco Systems. “With higher speed networks…the ecosystem is just changing before our eyes.”

U.S. Broadband Ranking Needs Qualification, Experts Agree

in Broadband Data by

WASHINGTON, June 5, 2009 – With Broadband being a keystone aspect of President Obama’s economic policies, it is important to understand where America’s broadband deployment and adoption rates stand internationally, a panel of experts agreed on Friday.

Although rankings of the global status of broadband deployment by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have been maligned by some, policy makers can still draw some valuable lessons from the data.

Former Ambassador David A. Gross, now a partner at the law firm of Wiley Rein, said that OECD’s broadband statistics are flawed, since they do not take wireless hotspots, and facility sharing, such as college dorms and single access points for large buildings, into account. “To their credit,” however, “they are working on correcting it,” he said.

Gross was speaking at a panel of telecommunications experts at an event, sponsored by the Free State Foundation, entitled “Broadband Nation: Where Does the U.S. Really Stand in the World Rankings?”

The “most fundamental flaw” in the way broadband statistics are interpreted is the assumption that “the winner ranks higher and the loser ranks lower,” as if it were a zero sum game, he said. Because broadband benefits all, that zero-sum approach is not appropriate.

Gross should that the United States should not seek to limit broadband competition from other countries for fear they will benefit at our expense.

When more people in the world have broadband, everyone benefits, he said. Rather, policy-makers should continue to focus on what is best for broadband development in the U.S., regardless of what is happening in other countries. Although it is a good idea to look at other countries as examples, policy-makers should not look to them entirely as models, because “they have different situations,” he said.

Competition is another important factor in the development of broadband technology, said Gross. In looking at the effect of state intervention in broadband, the European Union found that when there are two or more broadband providers competing, state intervention is not beneficial, and likely harms competition.

In the question and answer session, Anna Snow, a representative from the United Nations, noted that this recommendation was in the draft stages, and had not been finalized.

Another important factor in the deployment of broadband, in addition to competition, are the adoption rates, said Link Hoewing, vice president of internet and technology issues for Verizon Communications. Consumer demand is what drives companies to invest in new and improved technologies.

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said that lack of personal computer ownership played a role in broadband adoption.

The United States, said Atkinson, currently ranks number 10 in broadband deployment and number 11 in PC ownership. Atkinson pointed to the example of Sweden, where the government gives free computers to low-income families with children who perform well in school. Coupled with additional state support for broadband networks, this policy enables Sweden to rank so highly in OECD ranking.

If the U.S. spent the same amount, proportionally, that Sweden has spent, “we would have invested $30 billion” into broadband, he said.

One practical step Atkinson recommended to increase PC ownership in the U.S. is catalyzing “a large share of community efforts.” Atkinson proposed that old, donated computers be refurbished and donated to low-income households. First, however, the recipients would be required to take four weeks of digital training before receiving the computers. These initiatives would be “locally based, but nationally supported,” he said.

The adoption of broadband beyond PCs must also be considered, said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA – The Wireless Association. Broadband is available on a variety of handheld electronic devices – a fact that is often left out of the equation.

Broadband to the home is being overtaken by broadband to the person, and this is going “to force policy makers to reconsider the definition of broadband adoption,” he said.

The price of broadband deployment in rural areas, said Hoewing, is “more than it needs to be.” The price of broadband in rural areas can easily be lowered through support for middle mile deployment, he said.

Net Neutrality Advocates: Wireless Carriers' Network Management Must be 'Reasonable'

in Net Neutrality by

SAN JOSE, November 7 – Emboldened by their summertime victory against Comcast, advocates of network neutrality said Thursday that the next front in battle for the principle would be against wireless carriers who make “unreasonable” network management decisions.

In a panel discussion on managing wireless networks at the Wireless Communications Association conference here, Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott and Google Telecom Counsel Richard Whitt said that the FCC’s Net neutrality principles would bar discrimination over wireless networks – while conceding that the networks are, for the time being, more bandwidth-constrained than wired-based network.

Wireless networks “are not different,” said Scott. “We made this mistake in the 1996 Telecom Act, and regulated different technologies under different rules, and we are paying the price.”

Wireless networks are only different to the extent that bandwidth constraints might make it harder for the FCC to prove that a particular network-management technology was “unreasonable,” said Scott.

The top lobbyist for AT&T and a vice president of the wireless industry association CTIA appeared to accept the new reality: that their wireless services will be closely scrutinized for signs of Net neutrality violations.

Net neutrality refers the principle that carriers should be barred from blocking or throttling particular applications, from prioritizing or de-prioritizing certain applications (as with Comcast’s restrictions on peer-to-peer file sharing using BitTorrent), or from promising expedited delivery of internet traffic to favored content providers.

“It is fair to say that wireless is different,” said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA.

“We absolutely do prioritize things affected by latency, like voice,” said Guttman-McCabe. Such prioritization on the network – even though it might run afoul of the FCC’s Net neutrality rules if on a wired network – was absolutely required to ensure quality telephone calls for consumers, he said.

AT&T’s “biggest concern is [that] the wireless network is built in a granularly shared network, cell-by-cell,” said Jim Cicconi, senior vice president of external and legislative affairs for AT&T. “You can overwhelm a cell by having too many people in the same cell, [as when] everyone is trying to call home [in traffic] at the same time.”

Throttling wireless movie downloads clearly trumps voice conversations in such an environment, said Cicconi.

“Our customers expect to have a certain level of quality in their usage. It is one of the reasons that we have to prioritize traffic in the cell. We are not trying to balance them for the company’s advantage, except insofar as customers will leave us” if they have bad service, he said.

Whitt agreed that such conduct was acceptable “as long as the activities taking place are designed for a completely neutral way of applications or traffic, and they are not tilting one way or the other for competitive advantage.”

“There is some concession to the point that at least for now, maybe only temporarily, there are some limits in terms of what can be done with those networks,” Whitt said.

Comcast-BitTorrent, Wireless Net Neutrality Issues Stir Debate at Broadband Policy Summit

in Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, June 14 – Critics and proponents of Network Neutrality squaring off on the topic on Friday agreed that recent actions by both cable and wireless providers had had re-vivified the debate about the topic.

Comcast’s actions blocking upsteam traffic using the peer-to-peer program BitTorrent – currently under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission – continued to be a source of controversy between the cable industry and Net Neutrality advocates.

The debate, “Net Neutrality: It’s Back Again!”, took place at the Broadband Policy Summit IV, sponsored by Pike and Fischer.

Gigi Sohn, President of the non-profit group Public Knowledge, blasted Comcast’s practice, and the company’s response, after the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Associated Press reported about its tactics, last fall.

Comcast “lied about it, and they continue to lie about it,” said Sohn.

Dan Brenner, senior vice president of law and regulatory policy for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), didn’t respond directly. He did concede, however, that because of the work of non-profit groups like Public Knowledge and Free Press, “a lot of things have heated up” for the cable industry on Net Neutrality.

However, said Mike McCurry, partner of Public Strategies, which runs the AT&T-funded group Hands Off the Internet, said “Nothing has moved forward, in my mind, to suggest that we need to immediately move forward to rulemaking” in favor of Net Neutrality.

McCurry also said that consumers are closely watching the actions of network providers. “Any discrimination that flies in the face of [Net Neutrality] principles is instantly noted and debated.”

To that, Ben Scott, policy director for Free Press, replied: “Do you know how long the forged packet resets were being deployed” by Comcast before they were discovered?

Scott said that Free Press, which was joined by Public Knowlege in filing the petition against Comcast that is currently under consideration by the FCC, was likely to go to court if the FCC does not fine Comcast.

However, the most substantive disagreement of the morning came over the state of wireless Net Neutrality.

Brian Bieron, senior director of federal government affairs for eBay, went mano-o-mano with Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA, the cellular telecommunications association.

Web auctioneer EBay owns Internet telephone Skype, and has sought guarantees from the FCC that Skype-style applications will be free to run on the wireless data networks of cellular carriers. An vote on eBay’s petition at the FCC was expected to have been made last Thursday, but delayed.

Bieron said that “the cellular network is a network that is more closed; the gatekeeper role is accepted [and] many carriers do not guarantee openness” in the applications and services that they offer.

Guttman-McCabe countered: “To say that this market is not moving forward and developing is a staggering comment.”

“Third party developers in the cellular world essentially don’t exist,” replied Bieron. Who are the Yahoos, Google and eBays of the cellular world?

What about T-Mobile, countered Guttman-McCabe? Why can’t T-Mobile be the application provider?

Because “T-Mobile is a network provider,” said Bieron.

Guttman-McCabe had also noted that Google and Skype both have applications on the Blackberry, among other wireless devices.

The two men also disagreed about the nature of competition in the wireless market. Guttman-McCabe cited Apple as an example of a vibrant new entrant. Speaking about the fact that Apple’s iPhone is available only on a single wireless carrier’s network, he continued: “People blamed that on AT&T, [but] Apple did that in about 20 other countries. Apple wanted that exclusivity.”

“I think that is what makes the market interesting” and vibrant, said Guttman-McCabe; witness Verizon attempting to turn a new LG phone into “an iPhone killer.”

These may be examples of competition, replied Bieron, but “in the Internet world, you don’t have a company like Apple signing a deal with broadband providers. In the future, we might, it is just a different [world].”

Guttman-McCabe had the last word of the debate, however: “The foundation [of Bieron's statement] was that [the marketplace] was closed, and I challenge that.”

Also participating in the morning panel was Kathryn Brown, senior vice president of public policy development and corporate responsibility for Verizon Communications. She agreed with Guttman-McCabe that “the world is changing” and that wireless innovation is happening dramatically.

She also said that Verizon is willing to participate in open-forum discussions — to which groups like Public Knowledge would be invited — to discuss standard-settings for wireless devices.

With regard to the Comcast fiasco, Brown said that “Verizon is building capacity on the network to 100 Megabits per second.” While not disavowing the need for network management, she said that Verizon was more about “manag[ing] more capacity, not less capacity.”

She also said that Verizon had agreed not to impede or block traffic on the network, and also that “consumers need to get what they pay for” with regard to broadband service. “They need to know what they are getting” in terms of their speed and service offerings.

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