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Internet Subcommittee Chair Hails Universal Broadband Service, Decries FISA

June 20 – All Americans, whether they be poor, handicapped, or rural, have the right to universal broadband service, Rep. Ed Markey said on Friday. The congressman also blasted the compromise foreign surveillance legislation that passed Congress on Friday.

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William G. Korver, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, June 20 – All Americans, whether they be poor, handicapped, or rural, have the right to universal broadband service, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said on Friday. The congressman also blasted the compromise foreign surveillance legislation that passed Congress on Friday.

Since universal broadband penetration would result in better education and health care in America, Markey, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, strongly supports legislation devoting part of the Universal Service Fund (USF) to establishing nationwide broadband.

Due to the enormous possible benefits of broadband for the average American consumer, policymakers should focus on ensuring that urban, rural, and high-cost areas have access to high-speed internet services. Most of the $7 billion USF currently subsidizes telephone service, and not Internet connections, in rural areas.

Markey played a role in creating the E-Rate program (the “E” stands for education) as a portion of the USF in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, providing funds for connecting schools and libraries ot the Internet.

Just as the E-Rate has helped to “transform education,” Markey said that only by educating America’s blue-collar children will the full fruits of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other pro-trade initiatives be realized. Markey supported NAFTA in the 1990s.

Markey spoke at the Federal Communications Bar Association Awards lucheon and annual meeting at the Mayflower Hotel.

On the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) legislation that was heading to a House vote, Markey said that the measure would have an adverse impact on privacy and civil liberties, and that he would voted against the bill.

Markey said that the under the bill, The National Security Agency could continue a controversial surveillance program with only limited judicial oversight.

Markey did vote against the bill, but it passed the House 293-129.

The bill’s passage will likely ends lawsuits against telecommunications carriers participated in NSA surveillance.

The FISA legislation enhances the NSA’s ability to conduct surveillance of phone calls and e-mail messages entering and leaving the U.S.

Markey, who represents Lexington, Massachusetts, where American colonials once fought for the ending of forced quartering of British troops without a warrant, said it was his belief that American revolutionaries would not have tolerated such infringements on personal liberty.

Congress failed to embody a “check” to the executive branch when it approved FISA, Markey said.

Markey also touted a bill, introduced on Thursday, providing accessibility to communications for persons with disabilities, as well as legislation he has introduced on Network Neutrality (H.R. 5353), and the House-passed Broadband Census of America Act (H.R. 3919), to “increase broadband data collection and establish mapping of broadband infrastructure nationally.”

Markey added: “I am still working on draft legislation on a national set of consumer protection standards for wireless service, a draft which also includes the protection of the right of local municipalities to offer broadband service and other telecommunications services.”

Markey also touted forthcoming hearings before his subcommittee: a hearing on Tuesday, June 24, on the subject of universal service, which is set to feature George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars movie series; as well as a pending hearing on the privacy implications of so-called “deep packet inspection” technologies by broadband providers.

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12 Days of Broadband

How Long Will it Take Congress to Revamp the Universal Service Fund?

Critics urged the FCC to expand the fund’s contribution sources, but the agency chose to punt the decision to Congress.

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Graphic courtesy of Dmitry Kovalchuk / Adobe Stock

From the 12 Days of Broadband:

The Federal Communications Commission this summer waived away the issue of revamping the Universal Service Fund, pointing to the need for Congress to give it the authority to make changes to the multi-billion-dollar fund that goes to support basic telecommunications services to low-income Americans and rural communities. 

Up to this point, the agency had a virtual megaphone to its ear with critics saying that it needs to make the changes necessitated by the fact that the nearly $9-billion fund this quarter is supported only by dwindling legacy voice service revenues as more Americans move over to broadband-driven communications services. 

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FCC

Chairman Pallone Says Service Providers May Be Abusing ACP

‘These reports detail problems customers have faced,” wrote Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone

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Photo of Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-NJ, obtained from Flickr.

WASHINGTON, October 26, 2022 – Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J., sent letters to thirteen leading internet service providers requesting information on potential “abusive, misleading, fraudulent, or otherwise predatory behaviors” engaged in through the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Pallone, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, expressed concern over allegations that providers are conducting business in violation of the programs’ requirements. Pallone cites as evidence several stories, including pieces from The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.

“These reports detail problems customers have faced, including either having their benefits initiated, transferred to a new provider, or changed to a different plan without their knowledge or consent,” Pallone wrote.

“Other customers have reported a delay in the application of the benefit or a requirement to opt-in to future full-price service, which has resulted in surprise bills that have been sent to collection agencies.”

“There have also been reports of aggressive upselling of more expensive offerings, requirements that customers accept slower speed service tiers, and other harmful and predatory practices,” he added.

Pallone asked the providers for several categories of records, including each company’s number of benefit recipients, complaint-resolution protocols, degree of knowledge of incorrect customer bills, protections against upselling, and more. Letter recipients include AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

The ACP, established by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and overseen by the Federal Communications Commission, subsidizes monthly internet bills and device purchases for low-income applicants. Non-tribal enrollees qualify for discounts of up to $30 per month, and qualifying enrollees on tribal lands for discounts of up to $75 per month. Enrollees also qualify for one-time discounts of $100 on qualifying device purchases.

The EBB program was the predecessor to the ACP.

The ACP, a favorite of many politicians and federal entities, including the White House, is no stranger to controversy. In September, the FCC Office of Inspector General issued a report that found the ACP doled out over $1 million in “improper payments” to service providers due to “fraudulent enrollment practice[s].”

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Universal Service

Lines Are Sharpening Over Who Drives the Future of Universal Service: Congress or Broadband Providers?

Big communications companies want Congress to tax telecom, while many others want higher fees on broadband service.

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Photo of panel moderator Julie Veach, Alex Minard, Greg Guice, and Angie Kronenberg at AnchorNets 2022.

CRYSTAL CITY, Va., October 14, 2022 – Should contributions to the Universal Service Fund originate from Congress or from fees paid by communications companies to an agency responsible to the Federal Communications Commission? A panel of experts speaking Friday at AnchorNets 2022 debated this issue.

The Universal Service Fund, created in 1997 to improve telecommunications connectivity nationwide, is funded primarily by voice-based services. In recent years, voice-based subscriptions have substantially dropped, creating a revenue crisis and leaving remaining voice-based customers to foot a climbing per-person USF bill.

To rectify this imbalance, industry players have proposed a variety of new funding sources. The two core options are direct taxation by Congress, or by broadening the base of the USF.

The latter option would require broadband providers to contribute to levies collected by the Universal Service Administrative Company, a non-profit entity accountable to the FCC.

Urging Need for FCC Action on Universal Service Fund, Expert Says Congress Too Slow

Speaking at the Friday conference of the Schools, Health and Library Broadband Coalition, Greg Guice, director of government affairs at Public Knowledge, argued that the FCC has the legal authority to require broadband service providers to contribute to the USF.

“The language of the statute says every carrier shall contribute and any other provider of telecommunications that the Commission decides may contribute to Universal Service,” he said.

Angie Kronenberg, chief advocate and general counsel at industry trade group INCOMPAS, said Congress shouldn’t be relied upon for intervention: “It is very helpful when Congress recognizes that there is a problem and is willing to appropriate, but that is not a sustainable, predictable model.”

Petition Challenges Constitutionality of Roles FCC, USAC Play in Universal Service Fund

The USF has of late made substantial investments in broadband projects, and many industry experts say broadband services should be required to contribute thereto. In August, however, the FCC declined to unilaterally reform the fund’s contribution system and asked Congress to review the matter.

“On review, there is significant ambiguity in the record regarding the scope of the Commission’s existing authority to broaden the base of contributors,” the Commission’s report stated.

Alex Minard, vice president and state legislative counsel at NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, suggested Congress should be the driver of USF reform.

Policy Groups Want Bigger Contribution Base to Shore Up the Future of the Universal Service Fund

“Maybe the FCC does have the legal authority – maybe – to include broadband revenues,” said Minard. “If we’re going to…newly tax such a significant part of the economy, maybe it’s Congress that should be making this decision, and not an independent federal regulatory agency.”

Minard also argued the need for USF reform is less urgent than some believe. “It has been in crisis for 20 years,” he said. “What’s a little bit longer?”

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