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While Universal Service Reforms Show Promise, Politics Clouds Fund’s Future

in Broadband's Impact by

ASPEN, Colorado, August 19, 2015 – In spite of several positive efforts to reform the complex and dated rules that govern the Federal Communication Commission’s universal service fund, key decisions surrounding the $8 billion annual fund remain ineluctably political.

That was the message shared by panelists, including a commissioner at the FCC, speaking at a session on Tuesday at the Technology Policy Institute’s annual forum here.

For example, the panelists — which also include two economists, a cable industry lobbyist and the former director of the National Broadband Plan — applauded efforts to bring greater economic efficiency to telecom network construction through a system known as a “reverse auction.”

They also supported efforts to promote broadband adoption by providing income-based vouchers for the purpose of internet services.

But decisions about the allocation of funds within the USF — and the key question of how the fund is to be paid for — remain political hot potatoes.

Embedded image permalink

Moderator Scott Wallsten of the Technology Policy Institute, with panelists Mignon Clyburn, James Assey, Blair Levin, Gregory Rosston, and Bradley Wimmer.

“The electorate will decide the right size” of the USF, said Blair Levin, former director of the FCC broadband plan, referring to the 2016 presidential vote. Levin is currently executive director of Gig.U and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“Let’s put aside, for now, the question of the budget” and whether fees should be levied on internet connections to pay for the USF, said Levin. Putting that issue aside would allow the FCC to design the best policy, irrespective of how large the fund ultimately will be.

Over the past five years, each of the four main components of the universal service fund have undergone an overhaul. First was the “high-cost fund,” the largest component of the USF, which became the Connect America Fund and the Mobility Fund.

These changes include the implementation of a “reverse auction,” in which the FCC promises to support rural broadband providers based on the bidder who offers to provide broadband at the lowest cost.

The other three components of the USF are the eRate for schools and libraries — changed last year by FCC decisions in July and December – plus the health care and telemedicine fund, and the Lifeline program for low-income connectivity.

Much of Tuesday’s panel discussion, titled “”Universal Service: Towards Broadband, Efficiency and Equity,” revolved around the Lifeline program, which is currently being reviewed and potential modified by the agency.

Too frequently, commentators speak of “lifeline and universal service. Lifeline is universal service. It is one leg in a four-legged stool,” said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who is spearheading efforts to enhance the current Lifeline program.

Until the changes over the past five years, universal service monies could not be used directly on expenditures for broadband. That remains the case with Lifeline; although FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed changing that.

Two economists participating on the panel said that Lifeline has become an income-redistributing effort instead of a program ensuring greater access for low-income individuals.

“A lot of the money from the Lifeline program goes to households that would subscribe to telephone service even if there were no subsidy,” said Bradley Wimmer, an economics professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Clyburn pushed back on that point.

Speaking about low-income individuals, she said that “people want to communicate, and they will make sacrifices to do so. Should they make the tradeoffs they are making to be able to communicate?”

Additionally, Clyburn said, 44 percent of those who are low-income end up having their smart phones disconnected because of economic hardships.

However, all of the panelists supported efforts to use vouchers to move the Lifeline program in a direction of allowing low-income consumers greater communications choices.

The four of USF programs are funded by a 17 percent fee on telephone communications, a number that is adjusted for cell phone users. Currently, broadband connections are not subject to the fee, but that might change.

When Congress put legislation in place to limit taxes and fees on internet connections in the 1990s, demand for such services were not “inelastic.” That economics term refers to goods, like automobile fuel, that consumers tend to purchase irrespective of how the price changes.

“Now, they are relatively inelastically demanded,” said Gregory Rosston, deputy director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. That means that, over the past two decades, consumers have come to regard broadband as more of a necessity.

But James Assey, executive vice president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, countered: “At a time we want to promote broadband, why impose additional costs on broadband bills?”

Although most cable companies have not been eligible for universal service funds, Assey said that could change as FCC updates its traditional rules around the Connect America Fund and Lifeline.

Assay also said that cable companies have been among the most active in promoting connectivity through efforts like Comcast’s Internet Essentials. Initiatives designed to spur greater broadband adoption were required of Comcast, the largest cable provider, as part of conditions attached to approval of its merger with NBC Universal.

Levin said that the debate about the USF suffered from a “penny-wise, pound-foolish” mentality. “How much more efficient would government be if it knew that everyone was online?”

Being able to reconfigure government systems and make them almost-exclusively online could end up saving billions, if not tens of billions of dollars every year, he said.

 

Broadband Roundup: White House and Wheeler Together, Cable Industry Group, and Commentary on NTIA Broadband Report

in Broadband's Impact/FCC/Gigabit Networks/Net Neutrality/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2014 – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said that he and President Barack Obama agree in their opposition to paid prioritization, Multichannel News reported. Obama stated his objection to the practice during his remarks at an innovation forum in California on October 9.

Although the two haven’t discussed it directly, Wheeler said at a public meeting on Friday that his position on the issue has not changed. He pointed to the wording of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released back in May where he stated, “Prioritization that deprives the consumer of what the consumer has paid for would be commercially unreasonable and therefore prohibited.”

Division still exists among agency commissioners of the federal agency. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said in May that he does not see a “legal path for the FCC to prohibit paid prioritization or the development of a two-sided market,” either under section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, or Title II public utilities regulation of the Communications Act.

Pai said he worries about five unelected officials deciding the fate of internet regulation and prefers Congress take action on this topic. Pai has openly supported efforts by the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s work on updating the Communications Act in light of emerging technologies.

Connecticut Cities Unite in Call for Gigabit Network

Government Technology reports on the development of a Connecticut Gigabit Network. The cities of New Haven, West Hartford and Stamford have come together to jumpstart the development of gigabit networks for business and public consumption. The three mayors have asked for other cities in Connecticut to join them in their effort to address the current problems of affordability and availability of high-speed networks in their respective areas, Government Technology reports.

The responses they get will help them to gather information about how their high-speed network will work and who will build it. The cities intend to develop private-sector partners for building and operating the infrastructure and network.

Connecticut Consumer Counsel Elin Katz told Government Technology, “If you have an open access model, hopefully you can reach out to low-income populations and bring the benefit to them, and give consumers choices. That’s what’s ideal about it. We’re also trying to avoid an ‘If you build it they will come’ mindset. The one thing that’s become very clear to us is there’s a lot of consumer education involved.”

NCTA Launches Onward Internet For Millennial Support

Non-profit net neutrality advocates Public Knowledge and Free Press effectively rally support behind their positions in recent months. Groups opposed to internet utility regulation are beginning to drum up support.

In the beginning of October, a group named Onward Internet started asking people what they saw the Internet in ten years, both through their website and at oversized comment boxes located in big cities along both American coasts.

Propublica reported on Oct 9 that the National Cable and Telecommunications Association was behind Onward Internet. Onward Internet’s website was updated to include their partnership with the NCTA, who they described as being “better known as the internet’s builders and including many of its content creators.” The NTCA is the principal trade association for the U.S. cable television industry and represents more than 200 cable program networks, equipment suppliers and providers of other services to the cable industry.

NTIA Report Highlights Gaps in Home Internet Use

A report released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration found significant gaps in American home Internet use. Entitled “Exploring the Digital Nation: Embracing the Mobile Internet”, the five-year spanning report found that 72 percent of households in 2012 had in-home broadband, leaving 28 percent of American households without internet access at home.

The two top reasons for the lack of home Internet was the lack of interest or need (48 percent) and affordability (29 percent). The report also noted that the rapid adoption of mobile internet devices appears to be narrowing the digital divide among traditionally disadvantaged groups.

The Benton Foundation published a piece on Friday , October 17, dissecting  both the NTIA report, and an FCC report released on October 16 entitled “Internet Access Services: Status as of December 31, 2013.”

 

Broadband Roundup: Incumbents Defend Data Caps, Comcast Cites Competition for Merger, and Wheeler Seeks Diversity of Media Ownership

in FCC/Media ownership/Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, September 24, 2014 –Verizon Communications and AT&T are urging the Federal Communications Commission to include the use of data caps in the agency’s definition of broadband. Including usage-based pricing in its definition is important because companies that use universal service funds to build networks in rural areas must accept the standards laid out in the FCC’s broadband definition of broadband, Ars Technica reported.  

Although Verizon doesn’t actually impose data caps on its landline network, it may do so in the future, maintaining in its filing that usage caps “encourage all users to make efficient use of finite network resources.” AT&T made similar claims in its filing. A survey conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that wireline internet does not suffer the same congestion problems as wireless internet and that data caps “can generate more revenues for ISPs to help fund network capacity upgrades.”

Consumers generally accepted data caps for wireless internet, but rely on unlimited in-home Wi-Fi to compensate for more limited wireless plans. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association also urged the Commission to continue to define broadband as a minimum of 4 Megabits per second (Mbps), a position that Wheeler has stated “isn’t exactly what’s necessary in the 21st century.”  

Comcast Sites Stiff Competition as Reason for Acqusition

Although FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler repeated multiple times that America lacks true broadband competition in many areas of the country, Comcast argued in a filing defending its proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable that the cable and broadband giant does faces substantial competition. Citing municipal broadband networks, telephone companies, satellite broadband providers and fixed wireless providers, as well as newcomers like Google Fiber, as competitive threats, to which the company claims disgruntled customers can switch. (Ryan Block, other Comcast customers and even Comcast’s own customer service representatives and retention specialists, however, would beg to differ.)

In a speech on September 4, Wheeler said most Americans have at most two choices for internet speeds between 4 Mbps and 10 Mbps, and only one choice for speeds of 25 Mbps or faster, Ars Technica reported.

Cox & CenturyLink Push Gigabit Service In Phoenix

Cox Communications and CenturyLink both plan on providing Gigabit Networks in Phoenix , Fierce Telecom reported.

Cox announced that Las Vegas and Omaha are the next two markets to receive 1Gbps service as part of its plan to cover the entirety of its markets by 2016. CenturyLink is also planning to expand their fiber-to-the-premises services to Las Vegas and Omaha, as well as 13 more cities.

FCC Wheeler Seeks Diversity of Media Ownership

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler urged for more diversity in media ownership in a blog post about the E-Rate program and traditional media facilities following his recent trip to Philadelphia. Wheeler said that the newly revamped E-Rate program has been helping ensure internet access in libraries and schools. Meeting the information needs of communities nationwide means more than just providing universal internet access. Wheeler noted the need for “a diverse array of voices on all media platforms,” since “one way to ensure diversity of content is to encourage diversity of media ownership.”

Wi-Fi May Become Cash Cow for ISPs

Broadband providers may soon look to Wi-Fi as potential profit centers, Multichannel News reported. Currently, most cable operators offer free access to Wi-Fi hotspots to their wired broadband customers as a retention tool. As these companies continue to expand their Wi-Fi coverage, two top executives had said that monetizing these systems will be focal point over the next three to five years.  

 

Broadband Roundup: Battle of the Lobbyists, Holding Comcast Accountable and Satellite Reauthorization

in Broadband Roundup/Broadband's Impact/FCC/Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, July 23, 2014 – Broadband providers are outspending internet search and content firms on lobbying lawmakers and regulators, Recode reported. However, among single companies, Google spent more than any internet provider in both of the past two quarters.

ISPs and their trade associations have collectively spent $42.4 million this year. Content creators spent only $25.9 million – more than a third-of it by Google. Google spent $5.03 million last quarter, and $3.82 million in the first quarter of the year. Comcast, by contrast, spent $4.45 million last quarter, and $3.09 million in the first quarter.

Among associations, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association spent $4.01 million last quarter, according to Recode.

Broadband Coalitions Petitions FCC To Hold Comcast Accountable

A Field Poll released this month showed that 25 percent of Californians do not subscribe to broadband services, according to SF Gate. This makes a coalition of broadband activists very unhappy.

Nearly two dozen organizations and broadband access leaders, including Sunne McPeak, CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, singled out Comcast for blame. They signed a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, demanding Comcast be held “accountable to improve its Internet Essentials program to achieve acceptable performance” in its offer of broadband internet services to low-income residents.

“Our nation’s economic well-being and ability to compete globally are at risk unless we get all residents connected to high-speed broadband at home. Now is the time to hold Comcast accountable for delivering a real, measurable public benefit,” the group wrote in the letter.

House Passes STELA Reauthorization

The House of Representative passed the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization, The Hill reported. The bill revives communications and copyright provisions of existing law for five years so that satellite providers like Dish Network and DirecTV can bring in TV signals from different markets when subscribers can’t pick up local stations.

According to Reuters, STELA will affect roughly 1.5 million people who access satellite programming. The STELA bill:

  • Prohibits joint retransmission consent negotiations
  • Provides broadcasters additional time to unwind business arrangements deemed no longer in the public interest by the FCC through its recent changes in how it calculates ownership interests under the media ownership rules
  • Eliminates the “sweeps” week prohibition on signal change
  • Eliminates the set-top box integration ban

 

Broadband Roundup: Internet Tax Freedom Act, Report on Broadband Speeds, and AT&T on Gigabit Networks

in Broadband Data/Broadband Roundup/FCC/Gigabit Networks by

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2014 – The House Judicary Committee on Wednesday approved the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act this week by a vote of 30-4, according to a press release from the committee. The act banned state-imposed taxation of internet access or discriminatory taxes on e-commerce.

Originally enacted in 1998, the bill had previously been renewed three times, with only two “no” votes ever being cast.

“The internet increasingly serves as a daily requisite for millions of Americans, businesses and schools. It has transformed our economy and how we conduct business, communicate, educate, and live our lives,” said the joint statement from members of Congress including committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va..

“The Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act passed by the Committee today permanently bans taxes on internet access. This broadly bipartisan bill ensures that access to the internet is not burdened by unnecessary costs and that Americans can continue to access the Internet tax free.

The bill might have trouble passing the Senate as Democratic members recently approved an online sales-tax measure, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Ranking Democrat John Conyers of Michigan, for instance, has argued that the internet no longer needs as much protection and that state finances would be hurt by the inability to tax online sales.

For the internet to remain tax-free from local and state governments, Congress must pass the measure by November 1.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association wrote Wednesday that it was pleased with the FCC’s report on broadband speeds. The group said that the findings “refute the unsubstantiated allegations that cable operators routinely under-deliver and are solely responsible for any deficiencies in the performance experienced by consumers.”

More information is needed besides the information that has been revealed about access service provided by internet service providers, the association wrote. Other factors influencing the consumer experience beyond the control of ISPs include upstream congestion, performance limitations of computers or Wi-Fi routers.

In other news, AT&T has ratified a deal with a third city in North Carolina: Raleigh. As with Winston-Salem and Durham, AT&T will deploy “U-verse with GigaPower,” a 1 Gigabit per second-capable fiber platform, Multichannel News reported

The telecom giant is also pursuing Gigabit Networks in three other areas in North Carolina: Carrboro, Cary, and Chapel Hill. The telecom company is deploying Gigabit Networks to parts of Austin, Texas, with plans to expand to Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, and Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, CenturyLink is trying to deploy its own Gigabit-capable broadband to Omaha and Las Vegas, according to Broadband Reports. The company sent postcards that it might consider service trials in Eagan, Minnesota.

Additionally, the company has told residents of Portland that they would receive guaranteed 1 Gbps service if they signed long-term contracts, which may be a competitive response to recent news that Google Fiber might be coming to Portland as well.

Broadband Roundup: FCC to Police Dispute Between Netflix and Verizon, Michael Powell Defends FCC Chief

in Broadband Roundup/Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2014 – In the midst of Netflix’s quarrels with Verizon Communications, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement Friday that the commission will investigate slowdowns in traffic to ascertain whether there’s harm to consumers.

“To be clear, what we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating. We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I,” Wheeler said.

“The bottom line is that consumers need to understand what is occurring when the Internet service they’ve paid for does not adequately deliver the content they desire, especially content they’ve also paid for.  In this instance, it is about what happens where the ISP connects to the Internet. It’s important that we know – and that consumers know.”

The commission has requested information from both internet service providers and content providers. Specifically, they’ve sought out the agreements between Netflix and Comcast, and Netflix and Verizon.

In a C-Span interview, National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell defended Wheeler’s actions on net neutrality, arguing that the issue has been blown out of proportion and that it hasn’t even been made clear what “fast lane” really is.

“Chairman Wheeler is not proposing that we should have fast lanes,” the head of the cable lobby NCTA and former FCC chairman said on last weekend’s episode of The Communicators. “Chairman Wheeler is dealing with the boundaries of the law as interpreted by the court, and I think he is personally trying to create the strongest net neutrality rule he can within the parameter of what the law provides.”

According to the National Journal, Netflix has recently been connecting directly to broadband providers’ networks because of massive increases in data. The video company, however, says providers are breaking net neutrality by demanding “tolls.” Netflix has asked FCC to intervene by mandating free interconnection.

Wheeler is also recusing himself from the AT&T IP transitions trials decision, Broadcasting & Cable reported.

Instead, the commission is calling on the aid of a third party “to insure no bias” in AT&T’s tests to retire traditional circuit-switched service in two wire centers (in Alabama and Florida). AT&T’s fiber and wireless replacement services aim to address legacy services like 911, health monitoring, credit card processing, and fax services.

Lastly, The Washington Post reported that AT&T experienced a security breach in which hackers broke into an undisclosed number of wireless customers’ accounts.

AT&T said in a statement that the attack was not intended to steal personal information or commit financial fraud, but merely allow the hackers to unlock old, used handsets.

The telecom company offered its apologies and a year of free credit monitoring to all customers.

“We have taken steps to help prevent this from happening again,” the company said in a statement to The Washington Post. “We are notifying affected customers, and we have reported this matter to law enforcement.”

Critics on Both Ends of the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules, With a Few Supporters in the Middle

in Broadband's Impact/FCC/Net Neutrality by

Editor’s Note: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is attempting to craft legally unassailable rules promoting net neutrality. But he’s run into trouble from all sides. Communications providers aren’t happy. His fellow commissioners aren’t happy. And the “netroots” activists aren’t happy, either.

BroadbandBreakfast.com posts three articles on Thursday’s action at the FCC. First, the scene at 12th Street SW. Second, the reaction from interested parties. Third, what the details of the agency’s order says.

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2014 – The Federal Communication Commission’s effort to thread the needle on net neutrality with regulations that will withstand legal scrutiny while also satisfying open internet activists led to starkly divided responses to the Thursday measure.

In the camp expressing disappointment that agency Chairman Tom Wheeler didn’t go further, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a member of the Commerce Science and Transportation Committee, said that innovation over the internet in America could unless broadband were to be reclassified as a common-carrier telecommunications service.

“Internet access today is like traditional phone service decades ago – we can’t live or work without it,” Markey said. “We must stop broadband behemoths from setting up fast and slow lanes and picking winners and losers. Start-ups and small business would suffer, slowing our economy and job growth throughout Massachusetts and around the country.”

Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel and policy advisor with the American Civil Liberties Union agreed on the need to reclassify the Internet as a public utility. “This is a First Amendment issue,” he said, “because if broadband service providers are allowed to slow or block some content at will, they will be able to stifle the speech of internet users.”

Rottman did, however, express gratitude to the FCC for opening the door open to  greater regulation.

Public interest group Public Knowledge thanked the FCC for reacting to the activist pressure. “After extensive public outcry, the FCC is asking questions about the fundamental legitimacy of fast lanes and exploring the viability of Title II,” said Public Knowledge Vice President Michael Weinberg. “This shift simply would not have occurred without the outpouring of concern from organizations, companies, Members of Congress, and individuals who rely on a truly open internet every day.”

Weinberg said that the agency’s proposed “commercially reasonable” standard would open the door to a two-tiered internet of “paid prioritization.”

In the more neutral camp, the Computer and Communications Industry Association acknowledged the need for an open internet, but conceded that finding the proper legal framework was tricky.

National Cable and Telecommunications Association CEO Michael Powell said that “maintaining an open internet is not only the right thing to do, it’s vital to our ability to attract and keep our customers.” He voice deep skepticism that should the internet be reclassified under Title II of the Communications Act, the FCC’s regulatory reach would expand exponentially and lead to a potential slippery slope.

“Treating broadband as a utility-like Title II service would reverse years of settle precedent, dry up investment in broadband deployment and network upgrades, and result in protracted litigation and marketplace uncertainty,” said Powell.

Other industry-focused advocacy groups blasted the very idea of net neutrality. TechFreedom Senior Fellow Geoffrey Manne and TechFreedom President Berin Szoka said that the FCC was stepping outside its authority, denounced the proposed rule as rushed and unsubstantiated, saying that the agency had not proven that there was a problem in the first place.

“The [FCC] is trying to do what must ultimately be done by Congress: effectively rewrite the 1996 Telecommunications Act,” they said. They instead urged lawmakers to reexamine a joint 2010 proposal by Google and Verizon in 2010, as well as the Digital Age Communications Act proposed in 2006 by telecom scholars under the auspices of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a now-defunct think tank.

Randolph May, president of the Free State Foundation non-profit group, said that sloganeering had triumphed over proper regulatory analysis. Without proper market power or cost-benefit analysis, the FCC’s evidence of harm to consumers is based on nothing more than hypotheticals.

“I’m confident that if we reach a point that America’s consumers believe that the internet needs new FCC regulations in order to somehow be saved from conjectural harms – despite the remarkable progress made in the past absent such regulations – they will make their views known to their elected representatives,” May said.

Obama Launches Plan for More Efficient Federal Spectrum Use, Trumpets Improvements in Broadband Over Past Four Years

in Spectrum/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2013 – President Barack Obama on Friday introduced several new initiatives to facilitate more efficient use of radio-frequency spectrum in order to encourage further development of wireless broadband.

In addition to investments totaling to $100 million in the development of spectrum-sharing technologies and advanced communications, Obama also directed federal agencies to make more efficient use of radio frequencies.

The president’s memorandum instructed agencies to focus on using their spectrum assets more efficiently – in order to make a greater capacity available for consumers and businesses. The memorandum highlights the importance of partnerships between the public and private sectors.

The agencies are to collaborate with private corporations in order to take advantage of their expertise and to give these companies a voice in this process. The administration also called on agencies to engage in greater data-sharing and increased public-private research and development.

A hallmark of the initiative is the creation of a Spectrum Policy Team with the power to oversee the implementation of the new instruction and make recommendations on how federal agencies approach and improve the accuracy of their reporting on spectrum usage.

Data-sharing is being encouraged. Within six months, the Spectrum Policy Team, along with the Department of Justice and several other federal agencies, are to create and implement policies for sharing any spectrum information deemed sensitive.

The administration also announced major investments in developing new wireless technologies. The National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are to issue millions of dollars in grants and contracts.

Additionally, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the Department of Commerce are to invest $17.5 million in spectrum and other advanced communications technology, as well as encouraging collaboration between public and private sectors at federal laboratories.

NTIA and NIST will also co-host a Spectrum Technology Day. The event will highlight technological advances being made in the communications field to satisfy the growing demand for spectrum.

Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said,

“Today’s Presidential Memorandum will enable us to meet the challenge of unleashing spectrum for commercial use while also ensuring more efficient use of spectrum.”

Former Representative Rick Boucher, a Democrat of Virginia, who is now honorary chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance, also gave support to the initiative but noted that it was only one step of a much larger process.

“What is urgently needed is a concerted effort to have large swaths of government-owned and underutilized spectrum repurposed for commercial auction,” he said.

Brian Dietz, vice president of communications and digital strategy for the National Cable and Telecommunications Associations, praised the initiative.

“We appreciate the President’s direction to Federal agencies to work with commercial stakeholders on spectrum sharing and other collaborative means of bringing additional licensed and unlicensed spectrum to market,” Dietz said.

The Obama administration also released a report entitled “Four Years of Broadband Growth.” The report describes the current state of broadband in the United States and identifies the key challenges to future growth.

Since 2009, the percentage of homes reached by high-speed broadband has grown from less that 20 percent to more than 80 percent, and average broadband speeds have doubled during that time. Additionally, the percentage of households receiving broadband services has grown from four percent in 2000 to 67 percent in 2010.

According to the report, a significant amount of this growth can be attributed to private investment, which grew by 40 percent between 2009 and 2012.

Despite these improvements, the report identifies broadband adoption and usage as a major problem. Approximately 29 percent of Americans do not have a broadband connection at home, despite the fact that most have access. High cost and lack of relevance are two major causes of this lack of adoption, according to the report. The report also notes the disparity in access between urban and rural areas, particularly at higher speeds.

A release issued by NTCA, the Rural Broadband Association, praised the report’s accuracy in describing successes in broadband development and highlighting the challenges that still remain.

“While it’s good to recognize how far we’ve come, this report also highlights how far we have to go—and the risks we face if rural broadband investment can’t be put back on track soon through sensible universal service policies,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA.

Creating Innovation-Friendly Environment and Promoting Seemless Transition to Internet Protocol Services Discussed at The Cable Show

in Broadband's Impact/FCC/IP Transition/Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, June 11, 2013 – Creating an innovation-friendly environment and facilitating the internet protocol transition were featured as two Federal Communications Commission legal advisers spoke Tuesday at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association’s Cable Show.

The panel consisted of Matthew Berry, chief of staff for FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai and Alex Hoehn-Saric, policy director for FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. The two discussed how the FCC could best create an environment that encourages technological innovation while protecting consumers and promoting competition. Hoehn-Saric noted that the expansion of broadband infrastructure was crucial.

“No matter where you live, broadband is going to be the key to economic development,” he said.

Berry argued for the importance of updating old regulations that sometimes disincentivize investment, particularly in wireline broadband. Instead, the FCC should work to develop policies that keep pace with the changing industry.

“The FCC should not be a barrier for technological innovation that works for the benefit of consumers,” he said.

The two advisors were divided over the impact of net neutrality laws on innovation. Hoehn-Saric said that the rules are largely responsible to the rapidly advancing nature of the industry today. However, Berry argued that such innovations would have taken place regardless of whether or not the rules had been put into place.

“I think today’s environment is largely the same as yesterday’s environment, [before] the open internet rules,” Berry said.

The course of action that the FCC should take in the internet protocol transition transition was also a major topic of discussion.

Consumer protection was a high priority for Berry, particularly maintaining emergency 911 services during the transition. Now is the time to begin a pilot program, similar to the process used for the DTV transition, he said.

Hoehn-Saric agreed, adding that diverse areas should be used in order to develop a nuanced approach that will adapt to particular situations around the country.

Congressional Panel at The Cable Show Highlights Spectrum, Net Neutrality, and Universal Service Issues

in Congress/FCC/Net Neutrality/Rural Utilities Service/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, June 11, 2013 – Spectrum policy, net neutrality, and Universal Service Fund reforms were among the topics discussed by congressional staffers at The Cable Show panel entitled “Capitol Perspectives: Commerce Committee Staffers on Communications Policy.”

The panel, held at the annual convention of the National Cable and Telecommunications Associations on Monday, consisted of eight staff members from both the House and Senate Commerce Committees. Spectrum policy was a major issue for the panelists.

Kristen Sharp, legislative director for Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., noted the importance of pushing the Defense Department to make more efficient use of its spectrum to free it up for other uses. A government incentive auction, similar to those held for corporations, to serve this purpose was suggested by Neil Fried, chief counsel for the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Sharing of spectrum was also discussed, although panelists also noted the importance of preventing Wi-Fi from interfering with crucial transportation communications.

“At the end of the day, safety is of critical importance,” David Quinalty, policy director for the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, said.

Net Neutrality was one of the more divisive issues for the panel. David Grossman, senior technology policy advisor for Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., attributed the rapid innovation of internet-related technology to the Federal Communications Commission’s open internet rules. Quinalty, in contrast, claimed the regulations were unnecessary and that the industry would maintain current practices without such rules.

“Net neutrality continues to be a solution in search of a problem,” Quinalty said.

The panelists also debated the effectiveness of USF reforms. Despite some flaws, John Branscome, senior counsel for the Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., asserted that the program had been reasonably successful in targeting areas in need of broadband service. Grossman, however, was more critical of the fact the many areas still lack coverage.

“A lot of cracks have shown in the mission of the fund,” Grossman said.

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