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incentive auction

Wheeler Addresses Both Wired and Wireless Infrastructure to Enhance Broadband Buildout and FirstNet

in FCC/Fiber/Weekly Report by

October 2, 2014 – On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler addressed the importance of local choice and competition regarding broadband access during remarks at the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors Annual Conference in Minnesota.

Wheeler did not make specific comments about recent petitions from two communities–Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee– who are soliciting the FCC to preempt their states’ laws that prohibit expansion of their respective community-owned broadband networks. However, Wheeler did express the importance of prioritizing the expansion of wired and wireless infrastructure.

In his prepared remarks, Wheeler said, “If the infrastructure necessary to build out both wired and wireless broadband networks doesn’t receive the prioritization that it warrants as a major national undertaking, then all the efforts to achieve faster, cheaper, better broadband service that will enhance our nation’s competitiveness, create quality jobs for our fellow citizens, and introduce services that will redefine both our commerce and our culture will be for naught.”

Wheeler also expressed that greater broadband access directly correlates to America’s continued economic leadership. He called on local officials to support their communities and the American society at large.

The Chairman also highlighted his agency’s recent proposal to make it easier to deploy wireless equipment, especially so-called small-cell systems. This technology enhances increases network speeds in high-congestion areas. Carriers including Sprint and AT&T have been working on such technologies as a way to better manage their networks.

Wheeler’s closing remarks emphasized the need for cooperation to facilitate public safety communication over all-internet protocol networks. The next generation of emergency 911 systems relies on multi-state or national infrastructures and relationships. The need for reliability and resiliency for these networks is vital in light of recent outages in April and August. He noted that next year’s incentive spectrum auction is a key mechanism for funding FirstNet, the First Responder Network Authority that will deploy the next generation 911 systems. The federal government, every state and territory, local governments and approximately 5.4 million first responders will be participating in FirstNet, which was created when the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act was signed into law on February 22, 2012.

On Broadband: At the Beginning of a Cycle, a Low-Controversy Federal Communications Commission

in Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/Expert Opinion/IP Transition/National Broadband Plan/Spectrum by

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2013 – Last Thursday’s testimony, by the full group of Federal Communications Commissioners at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, restores the pulse of the nation’s technology and communications policy issues to a “low-tension” state.

We’ve seen this perennial cycle before: first, an issue stirs immense conflict among the agency’s five members. Next, that issue incites intervention by the agency’s congressional overseers. Extensive inter-industry lobbying follows, generally resulting in a pre-emptive rule-making by a majority of FCC commissioners. Soon enough, the five-year term of one or more members of the FCC expires. The tension with Congress is too high for the President and/or the Senate to nominate and confirm a new commissioner. Thus ensures – most of the time – a long period of near-dormancy by the agency. Finally, the tension is broken, mew commissioners are confirmed, and balance in the universe is once again restored.

This has played out dramatically in recent years. Here are a few examples the teleco-political conflict cycle:

  • The triennial review of competition under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. It incited full-scale war between the long-distance provider AT&T (who lost) and the Baby Bells (who won);
  • Divisive mandates — ultimately killed — that would have required technology companies to stymie potential copyright thievery;
  • Cable networks and broadcasters duking out the details in the transition to digital television, with an upper hand by big cable;
  • Network neutrality mandates, pitting Google and internet search giants and the broadband barons, a battle is still in court;
  • The need to address a perceived shortfall in the nation’s broadband capacity, an issue still simmering in the marketplace and in the legislature.

As we’re in a new beginning of the “low-tension” state, it’s hard to find any issue of this caliber perplexing the FCC. However, last week’s testimony by the full group of five commissioners – complete with the newly-confirmed Chairman Tom Wheeler, and new commissioner Mike O’Reilly – offers a handful of sleeper issues that might ultimately break out of the box and become an issue of unusual conflict through the next telecommunications policy cycle.

Broadcast Television Spectrum Incentive Auction in 2015

One of Chairman Wheeler’s first actions at the agency has been to do what many thought was inevitable: pushing the next-phase auction of broadband television spectrum to mid-2015 from 2014. Called for in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, this auction is a natural progression from the world in which we once received television broadcasts over the air, and took telephone calls tethered to wires. Now, we largely watch television over cable wires, and make calls through wireless cell phones.

Of course, we do a lot more through wireless services. Wireless data to smart phones are increasingly responsible for the television-viewing habits of the next generation. Often dubbed “millennials,” this group has no concept of traditional “over the air” television. Ironically enough, however, much of their video consumption is over third-generation or fourth-generation wireless networks.

All of this usage of video and data via mobile broadband highlights the increasing need to entice, cajole, and insist that broadband television stations yield up their most precious asset — wireless frequencies– to a cellular and technology company that will actually do something useful with that spectrum.

After significant auctions of wireless frequencies once used by broadcasters over the past half-decade, the FCC’s National Broadband Plan in 2010 called for an even more aggressive approach: an auction in which broadcasts can offer up their spectrum for purchase by wireless companies. The once wildly-controversial has become sanely sensible. At last Thursday’s hearing, it was hard to detect any unsettled opposition to this from the agency’s commissioners. That may change as we progress toward the auction’s details over the next 18 months.

Continuing Toward a Universal Broadband Fund

The steps toward a Connect America Fund, and a Mobility Fund, continue at the FCC. Coupled with the June 2013 announcement of the new ConnectED program, for ensuring high-speed broadband connections for educational institutions, we now have a complete revision of the traditional Universal Service Fund programs. These past two years’ changes to this recurring USF, funded by fees on telephone bills, are still working their way through an interim stage. And, with the announcement earlier this month that nearly 30 percent of the funds allocated for traditional telecommunications carriers are in question, there’s a lot of room for uncertainty that may escalate toward greater conflict in the program.

Is the Internet Protocol Transition About IP Services?

Following the hearing on Capitol Hill, the commissioners returned to their agency’s home in the Southwest part of the city for its monthly meeting. It included items on improving 911 reliability, beginning the process to allow mobile data services on aircraft, and the agency’s proposal to ensure mobile phone unlocking. These issues are in the mature phase of the telecommunications policy life-cycle. One issue discussed at the agency’s meeting that appears to be in the beginning phases of development is the so-called transition to internal protocol services.

Transition to IP services? Hasn’t this been going on for some time? Naturally. Hence, the IP transition issue isn’t about new services — it’s about cutting off the public-switched telephone network, and how soon that can be done without upsetting the communications needs of late-adopters. Look for much more controversy as this issue develops. It even become a signature issue if telecommunications legislation begins to get traction in the new year.

Drew Clark is Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, broadband usage, the universal service fund, and wireless spectrum policy at http://twitter.com/broadbandcensus. Nationally recognized for his knowledge on telecommunications law and policy, Clark brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband: job creation, telemedicine, online learning, public safety, the smart grid, eGovernment, and family connectedness. Clark is also available on Google+ and Twitter.

Hearing Examines Implementation of Incentive Auction

in Congress/House of Representatives/Mobile Broadband/Spectrum/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, July 24, 2013 — The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing Tuesday on the upcoming spectrum auction, focusing primarily on possible restrictions on larger carriers and efforts to ensure that broadcasters are treated fairly.

The question of whether or not to impose restrictions on AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. dominated much of the conversation.  While none of the witnesses advocated for entirely excluding the carriers, Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge, recommended a “no piggies” rule that would prevent any one bidder from purchasing what he considers to be too many licenses.

T-Mobile Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Kathleen Ham supported Feld’s rule, citing the importance of spectrum to all mobile carriers.

“Spectrum is the air we breathe,” she said. “Without it, we cannot compete, and we cannot innovate.”

However, Joan Marsh, Federal Regulatory Vice President of AT&T, pointed out that T-Mobile has been running advertisements claiming that its networks are less congested than those of AT&T and Verizon, implying that T-Mobile has no pressing need for additional spectrum beyond the need of any other carrier. She also noted that Sprint, which also stands to benefit from restrictions on the two larger carriers, has a larger spectrum portfolio than both AT&T and Verizon.

Ham, however, argued that lower band spectrum was especially important to be able to compete due to its greater ability to penetrate physical obstacles. Marsh disputed the high value that Ham placed on these bands of spectrum. Although she acknowledged that its penetrative ability is an asset, she stated that bandwidth and capacity of spectrum is far more important.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, asked the panel about whether to allow a hypothetical situation in which a single bidder purchases all available spectrum licenses within a market. While Feld and Ham answered no, Preston Padden, Executive Director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition said that the regulators should defer to the market forces of the auction. Marsh added that such an outcome was highly unlikely, with past open and free auctions still resulting in diverse winners.

The subcommittee also considered the revenue impacts of restrictions on spectrum concentration in the auction. Money raised by the auction has already been allocated to a number of uses, including developing a first-responder network, reducing the deficit, and covering the moving costs of broadcasters displaced by the repacking of spectrum.

Ham argued that the restrictions would raise revenue by encouraging numerous bidders to participate in the auction. However, Marsh argued that limiting the ability of AT&T and Verizon to participate would reduce the revenue. Gary Epstein, Senior Advisor and Co-Lead of the Incentive Auction Task Force of the Federal Communications Commission, remained neutral on the subject, saying that it is a complex issue that the commission is still evaluating.

The subcommittee was also concerned with the treatment of broadcasters in the auction. Rick Kaplan, Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning for the National Association of Broadcasters, laid out three criteria that the FCC should try to meet to make the auctions successful for broadcasters.

He argued that broadcasters who remain on the air should not be harmed in the form of changes in coverage areas or excessive costs in moving to a different band of spectrum. Kaplan also urged the FCC to ensure that other critical services such as low-power translators remain unharmed.

Finally, Kaplan emphasized the importance of preventing interference as a result of the auction. Particular concerns were raised about areas bordering Mexico and Canada. Epstein assured the subcommittee that the FCC was working to solve those issues and would try to provide as much certainty as possible by the time of the auction.

The issue of fair prices for broadcasters was a major concern for Padden. He asserted that payments to broadcasters for their spectrum must be large enough to attract a significant number of sellers. Padden also criticized as irrelevant the scoring that the FCC has been using based on the station itself. He noted that broadcasters are selling the spectrum, not the station, so the quality of the station should have no bearing on the price offered.

Epstein promised that the FCC would take all these viewpoints into consideration and has in fact already received and reviewed over 460 comments on the auction.

“We’re committed to an open, transparent, and inclusive process,” he said.

AT&T CEO Urges Few Rules on Wireless Carriers’ Ability to Bid in Spectrum Auctions; Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor Agrees

in Mobile Broadband/Spectrum/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, June 12, 2013 – Concerns over spectrum policy and data privacy dominated the conversation between AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., at a Wednesday panel on “Accelerating the Mobile Technology Revolution” at the Brookings Institution.

Stephenson praised the approach that the Federal Communications Commission has taken with the incentive auctions for spectrum so far. The policies have been successful, he said, because the FCC has set reasonable caps on how much spectrum a carrier can hold.

Additionally, he said, the agency has facilitated a strong secondary market where spectrum can be moved by market forces to where it is most needed, and it has placed strict requirements on spectrum “build out” to prevent such valuable radio-frequency resources from being underutilized.

In reference to the upcoming auction, planned for 2014, both Stephenson and the senator agreed that the detailed approach to be undertaken by the FCC depended upon whether it was more important to raise revenue for the government, to lower costs for consumers, or promote the most efficient possible use of spectrum.

“The success of the auction will depend on the question we’ve been debating here: the structure of the auction,” Stephenson said.

Both panelists urged caution regarding restricting the bidding of larger carriers like AT&T and Verizon Communications. Stephenson noted that these two carriers have acquired the spectrum they have because they were active in previous auctions, whereas the companies that such restrictions would assist chose not to bid previously. Pryor was also wary of the adverse effects that the restrictions could have on the industry.

“You want to be careful that you’re not limiting the companies from investing or innovating,” Pryor said.

The panelists also discussed data security. Although Stephenson refused to comment specifically on the recently revealed gathering of phone and data records by the National Security Agency, he stated that his company is committed to consumer privacy and protection – but is also compliant with government subpoenas and court orders.

Pryor noted that many members of both House and Senate Homeland Security Committees have defended the information-gathering. However, he also affirmed the importance of an ethical approach to such practices.

“We need to make sure there’s a lot of integrity in that process,” he said.

Stephenson expressed high regard for American mobile technology versus the rest of the world.

Europe, which was once the global leader, has fallen behind. Stephenson blamed that on other countries’ use of shorter-term spectrum licenses, hence discouraging investment.

Although several Asian nations have passed America in terms of coverage, he noted that equivalent technology is being used, but population density has hindered America progress.

Washington Post Story Demonstrates the Perils of Understanding Wi-Fi Developments Through Mainstream Newspapers

in Broadband's Impact/Congress/Expert Opinion/FCC/Wireless by

February 5, 2013 – Now that I’ve had a chance to read the front-page Washington Post story on so-called “Super Wi-Fi,” I have to confess to being extremely disappointed in the Post.

Like many others, I was taken in on an allegedly new development repackaged in an exaggerated fashion. It is another re-affirmation for me that the mainstream media is no longer up to coverage of important telecommunications-related events. In some cases, this is not the fault of the reporters, who are hard-working individuals trying to “advance” their story in substantive and newsworthy ways. What they are up against, is the medium in which they are operating: the general-purpose newspaper.

To get a story on the front page of a major metropolitan newspaper, it has to be sufficiently free of technology jargon. Unfortunately, the careful use of technology jargon is what helps explain — to those who do follow telecom- and broadband-related matters — what really is the “news” of the matter.

The Washington Post’s story was really all about the “white spaces” issue. This is the proposal, talked about and considered in various forms by the Federal Communications Commission for more than half-a-decade, that would allow for the transmission of broadband information in the radio frequencies that are occupied, but not being used, by television broadcasters. Here’s a story explaining the concept, as of about five years ago: “FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s Excellent Silicon Valley Wi-Fi Adventure.

There are some positives to the white spaces concept: potentially offering unlicensed airwaves for innovators to make use of, free of charge. But there are also some negatives: one cannot create a nationwide band for broadband communications. These are the nationwide swaths of spectrum generally used by wireless providers for today’s 3G and 4G networks.

More significantly, the larger narrative now (versus five years ago) are the FCC’s moves to create an “incentive auction,” or a plan to get television broadcasters to vacate the valuable wireless frequencies. At the Consumer Electronics Show last month, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski highlighted the value of getting broadcasters to vacate and re-auction most (but not all) of the spectrum.

This auction, which the FCC is planning to conduct by 2014, has made the “white spaces” controversy seem more distant. And while the Post’s piece was apparently driven by new comments in either the proceeding affecting the “white spaces” matter or the proposal for an “incentive auction,” whether or which one of these is the case has been lost in the oversimplification of the subject matter by The Post.

Among the debunkers worth reading:




Follow Broadband Breakfast’s coverage of internet technology and broadband policy at http://twitter.com/broadbandcensus. Learn more about the upcoming series of Broadband Breakfast Club events. Broadband Breakfast Publisher Drew Clark is on Google+ and Twitter.

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