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Rep. Lee Terry

Broadband Breakfast Serves a Thanksgiving Leftover Wrap-Up

in Broadband Stimulus/Congress/FCC/Fiber/Mobile Broadband/Net Neutrality/NTIA/Smart Grid/Spectrum/States/Universal Service/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, November 25 2011 – As we all sit and digest post Thanksgiving, Broadband Breakfast can finally wrap up some stories that we have been interested in over the past couple of weeks but have not had time to get around to.  We wanted to draw attention to a couple of the stories below and provide you all with some summaries and quotes to go with your leftovers.

AT&T/ T-Mobile Merger Being Put To the Test of the Public Interest

On Tuesday, November 22, a couple of days before the shot clock ran out on the review of the AT&T/ T-Mobile merger, FCC Chairman Genachowski circulated an order around to each of the Commissioner’s offices suggesting that the $39 billion dollar deal between the two companies does not meet the public interest and raises some serious questions of fact.

The order calls for the deal to be referred to an administrative law judge for a “trial type hearing” where AT&T will have the burden of proof of showing that the deal meets the public interest, accelerates deployment of mobile broadband and creates jobs.

In a private phone conference with some members of the press on Tuesday FCC officials, concluded that the deal violates antitrust law and does not meet the public interest because it would lead to massive job losses.  Officials also added that the hearing will not take place till after the United States District Court in Washington hears the Department of Justice’s suit to stop the merger.

The last merger that the FCC referred to an administrative law judge trial was Direct TV/ Echostar back in 2002.

How Many Geeks does it take?

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, The Gig Tank, part start up accelerator and part think tank is holding a competition in the summer of 2012 and asking budding entrepreneurs and techy college students around the country “what would you do with the world’s fastest internet.”  The details of the competition can be found here.

The best gigabit ideas, apps and businesses created during the summer’s GigTank will be awarded up to $300 K in cash prizes and investment capital.

This public private partnership backed by companies like Alcatel-Lucent and EPB, Chattanooga’s publicly owned electric power system, is an effort to foster new innovative technology ideas, create jobs and take advantage of the country’s first 1 gigabit-per-second fiber optic network.

As of several month’s ago only a handful of local residents and businesses have signed on to receive the $350 a month service which require special gigabit routers to deliver wireless signals.  The network however can deliver 1Gbps speeds to over 150,000 homes in a 600 square mile area.

Perhaps the GigTank will be successful in creating the added value to spur citywide adoption.

In Sebastopol CA, Sonic.net is testing a 700 home network and laying out fiber lines delivering speeds close to 1Gbps for 69.99 a month.  Read more here

The question remains, what will Google’s fiber network in Kansas City look like and how much will it run for?

Turkey Award Goes To…

Louisiana!

Earlier this month the Commerce Department pulled an $80 million dollar stimulus grant that was awarded to the Louisiana State University Board of Regents to extend Louisiana’s statewide research fiber network to the northeast corner of the state.  The funds would have created 900 miles of cable over 21 parishes and would have brought affordable 100Mbps to high schools across that region.

NTIA apparently pulled the funds because they were concerned about last minute changes to the plan that lacked technical and financial details as well as concerns about the ability to complete the plan before the January 2013 deadline. The grant which was originally approved to extend broadband infrastructure into unserved parts of the state, became a plan to provide long term leases to private companies.

Louisiana Commissioner of Administration, Paul Rainwater defended the state’s actions by saying, that even though private companies were going to be hired, state intervention would be needed that would have competed head to head with other private providers.

About a week ago, NTIA rejected the pleas of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to reinstate the stimulus funding.  Landrieu has called out Louisiana Governor Jindal for “fumbling the ball on this one.”

Broadband Breakfast’s friend and former Expert Opinion Contributor Geoff Daily wrote about this issue on his blog

He ended with these thoughts,

“I’m truly appalled at how this whole thing’s gone down, though I wish I could say I’m surprised. We continue to have officials at all levels of government refusing to acknowledge the basic tenant of rural broadband: you’re either subsidizing deployment or profits.

You’re either spending public dollars on building out public infrastructure, or you’re spending public dollars on trying to make rural areas profitable enough to entice private providers to build out their own infrastructure.

Has telecommunications traditionally been an area where services were delivered by the private sector? Yes, but isn’t the reason rural America isn’t connected yet because of a breakdown in this reliance on market-driven forces?

In my opinion the number one question on policymakers’ minds should be: “How do I get my communities connected enough to be competitive in the global digital economy?”

 

Smarter Cable Set Top Boxes for Everyone.

Last week the cable industry announced that CableLabs® – Energy Labs a new arm of the cable industries research and development consortium will launch a new initiative to improve the energy efficiency of consumer set to boxes and develop advanced services  designed to promote innovative consumer energy conservation measures.

According to their press release, “The energy initiative will promote the development, testing, and deployment of technologies that will enable cable subscribers to reduce and manage energy consumption in the home, including establishing new requirements for both cable video devices and network support systems.”

New cable specification will enable cable set top boxes to have “sleep” capabilities to reduce energy consumption when good old Uncle Buck falls asleep in front of the TV watching football after your Turkey Day meal.

The Cable industry has noted that by 2013 90% of set top boxes will be ENERGY STAR 3.0 devices.

The CableLabs® – Energy Lab will leverage the expertise and capabilities of CableLabs to build industry consensus on projects that will enhance current energy conservation efforts.  The CableLabs® – Energy Lab will:

  • Design and maintain a consistent and accurate energy tracking program for measuring and reporting energy consumption and efficiency improvements of new set-top boxes. Procedures for testing and advancing the energy efficiency of set-top boxes and energy conserving software will also be established.
  • Serve as a testing and development facility for designers of energy efficient software and hardware.
  • Create energy efficiency specifications for semiconductor and hardware suppliers and the network operations systems that support cable devices.
  • Assist in developing applications and products that will help consumers manage their overall residential energy consumption.
  • Showcase and demonstrate current and future energy savings products and power monitoring capabilities.

 

Former and Current Congressmen Talk 2012 Tech Policy and Beyond

Last week National Journal hosted a panel discussion on 2012 Technology and Beyond.  Although we did not cover this discussion immediately there were a couple of comments and shared thoughts that are worth re posting in a quick summary.

Bruce Gottlieb, General Counsel for National Journal began the first part of the morning moderating a discussion between former Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA), now Partner at Sidley Austin LLP and Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE).

Not surprisingly there was a lot of talk about spectrum.  Terry reiterated the opening statement of CTIA’s President and CEO Steve Largent, by saying “this is all about spectrum, we are moving to a mobile society and we will stifle innovations that come with mobility without the spectrum.  What barriers do we have to remove and what level of spectrum do we need to provide?”

Boucher added that “incentive auctions are a no brainer.”  He believed that in many cities where the spectrum crunch is the greatest there would be a number of broadcasters that will find greater value in their spectrum being sold.

Boucher also commended FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, by pointing out that the Net Neutrality rule was carefully negotiated.  “Stakeholders had major role in coming to terms with it, there was broad agreement… even Verizon really did not disagree on the substance.  I think the FCC handled it in an adroit way.”

Boucher and Terry both noted that in terms of USF, they had structured a comprehensive recommendation for statutory reform of USF that enjoyed broad stakeholder support.  Boucher mentioned that in legislative hearings, telephone companies large and small as well as the cable industry all endorsed the legislation that contained notable advancements that FCC has currently adopted including reverse auctions, transition to broadband  and denying support to incumbent LEC in situation where there is competition in offering voice services within that local exchange.

Boucher then brought up the need for another Telecom reform. “The last one in 1996 was about analog telephone and basic telephone services.  Today we have a transition to digital technology and the IP platform to deliver voice video and data.  We also now see companies that have historically offered different products offering the same products, a combination of voice video and data, and competing with each other.  A new era law would recommend a transition to digital technology and an IP platform for delivering all communications and would adopt functional regulations as opposed to industry specific regulations.  Today you treat cable different than phone and wireless when in reality they are all offering the same services that are competing with each other.”

Terry admitted to having same discussion in his office. “The FCC was built on silos, but as technology develops they are all moving to one platform.” – having discussions in office not yet ready for hearings – do we really need the wireless video and voice all segmented and regulated differently when it is all delivered the same way.

When asked about broadband infrastructure in rural America, former Rep Boucher the once champion of the public interest community, stated that the AT&T T-Mobile merger needs to be approved in order to allow for efficiencies in innovation build out and spectrum use to bring broadband to rural communities.  After a giant digital gasp from the public interest world Boucher did admit that his current firm is representing AT&T.  Still a 180 degree turn nonetheless.

The video from the event which includes a follow up panel discussion with Antoinette Bush, Partner at Skadden, Arap, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, Ambassador David Gross, Partner at Wiley Rein, Larry Irving, Principle of the Irving Group and Bruce Mehlman, Partner at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Inc can be seen here.

Rural Telecom Associations Raise Concerns Over USF Reform

in FCC/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, July 18, 2011 – The FCC should consider costs and service areas of rural broadband customers as it reforms the Universal Service Fund (USF) to include broadband expansion, urged members of congress and rural telecom associations Thursday.

The rural telecom associations announced at the Capitol building the inauguration of a DC-based print advertising campaign to highlight the economic harm of the FCC’s current proposal. The associations believe that USF reform as it is presently being considered would result in lost jobs, poor health care coverage and stifled innovation due to blocked access to global markets.

“There was a recognition stated that we want what this Administration wants – broadband everywhere for everyone,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NCTA), in a follow-up with Broadband Breakfast after the press conference, “but how we get there is complicated.”

The association – one of three major rural telecommunications associations in attendance – represents over 570 locally owned and controlled rural communications entities. The other two associations represented were the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies (OPASTCO), and Western Telecommunications Alliance (WTA).

”We have thousands of rural communities being well-served by small, independent companies who have built the infrastructure already and demonstrated their commitment and capabilities.  We don’t want those communities to lose what they already have if the FCC makes short-sighted decisions with long term consequences that will impact rural consumers and economies for years to come,” said Bloomfield.

The associations have also taken to the web and social media under the campaign, “Save Rural Broadband,” to inform consumers of what they believe is at stake from the current FCC proposal.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) and Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) joined the rural telecom associations at the event.

Representatives from the FCC were not available for comment.

FCC Paves Way For Comprehensive USF Reform At Open Meeting

in Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, February 9, 2011 – The FCC adopted a measure during Tuesday’s open meeting that lays the groundwork for revisions to the nation’s telephone subsidy systems in the near-term and an eventual overhaul to transition those systems into building and supporting broadband infrastructure.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which was adopted unanimously by the Commission, draws a roadmap to reforming the Universal Service Fund (USF) and the closely related intercarrier compensation (ICC) system.

The USF subsidized the build out of the telephone system in the last century to areas where it was not cost-effective for private industry to do so.  Subsequently, it subsidized service to those so-called “high cost” lines and phone service to low-income families.  The ICC is a system by which carriers make payments to each other for connecting calls.

As part of the National Broadband Plan unveiled last March, the administration laid forth the goal of updating the nation’s aging and increasingly anachronistic telephone infrastructure with broadband internet, which is capable of carrying both data and voice telephone transmissions.

“USF and ICC helped connect virtually every American to our 20th century communications grid,” noted Chairman Julius Genachowski during his remarks Tuesday, recognizing the positive legacy of the programs. “But the communications landscape has fundamentally changed since then… [broadband] is the indispensible infrastructure of the 21st century.”

In addition to widespread consensus that the USF and ICC support antiquated infrastructure, the programs also generously serve up instances of excessive wastefulness and gaming the system.  One such example Genachowski brought up during a speech earlier in the week cited a single residence that drew more than $20,000 per year in USF funds to maintain service.  In another, carriers artificially inflated telephone traffic across their lines to increase ICC revenue while disguising the origin of their own traffic to avoid paying fees.

The USF in particular has drawn the ire not only of the telecommunications industry but also from both sides of the aisle in Congress.

The guiding principles the FCC has laid forth for reform closely mirror the major criticisms of the programs, which have come from both lawmakers and the telecommunications industry alike. The current measure proposes to guide reform of both the USF and ICC by seeking paths to not only modernize the programs to apply to broadband technologies, but also ensure that the programs are accountable, fiscally responsible, and encourage efficient deployment of private-sector resources to build out and maintain networks.

“As a 21st century program,” said Commissioner Robert McDowell during his remarks, “the Universal Service Fund should evolve away from subsidizing inefficient, 20th century systems and support the efficiencies of current technologies as brought about by competitive pressures.”

The Commission also laid out loose mechanisms by which it would accomplish reform, both in the near- and long-terms.  Immediate remedies include cutting waste, rewarding efficiency and closing loopholes.  Long-term solutions call for transitioning the several programs that exist under the USF into a single Connect America Fund (CAF) and eliminating ICC altogether.

Though the plan amounted to little more than a set of guiding principles and high-level mechanisms by which the Commission hopes to conduct the reform, the action drew widespread support from Congress and the telecommunications industry alike.

“This fund needs to be reformed,” said Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), who is Vice Chair of the subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, and now-famously joined former Chair of the subcommittee, Rick Boucher, in calling the USF simply “broken.”

“I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues and the FCC to ensure rural areas are able to enjoy the same communication access as urban areas.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, echoed Lee’s sentiments, saying that ”the [USF] must be modernized to support broadband networks, reformed to use public dollars wisely, and strengthened to ensure full transparency and accountability.”

Meanwhile, even before the Commission’s meeting had adjourned, representatives from the telecommunications industry began firing off press releases simultaneously airing their grievances with the fund and adding their support to the vote.

“We applaud the FCC for moving forward on the important task of reforming the Universal Service Fund, especially the bloated high-cost fund that sometimes provides government subsidies in communities that already enjoy robust competition,” said National Cable and Telecommunications Association CEO, Kyle McSlarrow. “Restructuring the Universal Service Fund so it promotes broadband deployment in truly unserved communities is critical to accomplishing the national priority of connecting all Americans.”

Though statements of support flooded in from seemingly all corners of the industry, the current measure is only a first step on what promises to be a long road.  Chairman Genachowski, as he did during his remarks at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Monday, implored those in the industry to engage the process to drive fact-based solutions. The rest of the commissioners, for their parts, were careful to acknowledge that though progress had begun.

“There are significant and difficult decisions ahead,” said Commissioner Meredith Baker, concluding her remarks, “and it will be important for all of us to work together to redefine universal service and intercarrier compensation for the broadband age.”

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