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Recovery Act

Broadband Providers Applaud as Stimulus Bill Heads to White House

WASHINGTON, February 13, 2009 – Broadband service providers can breathe a sigh of relief as the economic stimulus package — with the provisions for high-speed internet services intact, headed to the President’s desk after a marathon day of voting by lawmakers.

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WASHINGTON, February 13, 2009 – Broadband service providers can breathe a sigh of relief as the economic stimulus package, with the provisions for high-speed internet services intact, headed to the President’s desk late Friday night after a marathon day of voting by lawmakers.

The $787 billion spending measure passed the House on a 246-183 vote early Friday afternoon.

House Democrats rejoiced despite not being able to attract a single Republican vote. The stimulus legislation will be “transformational” to the economy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. said at a press conference following the vote. Democrats should feel a “sense of satisfaction” at the cooperation required to pass the bill, she said. The bill represents an effort to follow through on President Obama’s promise of change, she said, and would lead to “swift, bold action.”

The stimulus legislation is the largest economic relief measure in history, Pelosi said. Invoking the first 100 days of John Kennedy’s presidency, Pelosi noted that “in a few short weeks,” Obama had successfully worked with Congressional leaders to pass a major bill “faster than any other President.”

In their opposition, House Republicans indicated they want to go down the “same old path,” Pelosi said. But the Speaker was resolute on following through with the President’s agenda: “We will not turn back.”   Republicans certainly “can’t say that this a do-nothing congress,” quipped Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio said the 1,000 page bill consisted only of “spending, spending, and more spending.” Americans “deserve better,” he said, “and we think we have a better idea.”

The Senate also approved the bill, 60-38, after more than five hours, possibly the longest vote in the chamber’s history, though the Senate historian said that no sources were available to confirm any such record. The roll call opened at 5:30pm Friday, and was held open by an agreement between  Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. so that Sen.  Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, could return from his mother’s funeral to cast his vote.

Because Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., remains at home undergoing cancer treatment, and Ohio senior senator George Voinovich, a Republican, could not be persuaded to switch his vote as a courtesy to his colleague, Brown’s “aye” vote was necessary to meet the 60 vote threshold demanded by Senate rules.

President Obama ordered a military plane dispatched to retrieve the lawmaker from his Cleveland home. Brown arrived in the Senate chamber at 10:45pm, and after a brief conversation with Reid, signaled for the clerk to record his vote at 10:47pm. The bill will be sent to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it during a Monday ceremony.

The portions of the bill dealing with broadband services were met with almost universal acclaim by industry leaders. The broadband measures “will fuel our nation’s investment in technology to map, modernize and expand our broadband infrastructure,” said NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow.

Expanded broadband service will ” drive our economic recovery with new jobs, better educational opportunities, and more efficient access to health care,” McSlarrow said, adding that he looks forward ” to working with policy makers at all levels.”

While language specifically targeting wireless services was removed in conference, John Taylor, public affairs manager for Sprint Nextel Corporation said the company was “very encouraged” by the final version of the bill. Taylor called the inclusion of broadband in the stimulus the best way to create “high-tech, high-wage jobs — the best way to grow the economy.”

Taylor said Sprint is pleased that the bill makes no distinction between wireless and wired broadband services. The “technologically neutral” language of the measure means that companies that provide wireless broadband services can compete for grants.

Wireless broadband has greater potential, Taylor said. Because wireless broadband is cheaper to deploy, Taylor argued that companies like Sprint were “better positioned” to reach unserved and underserved areas.

Taylor said he couldn’t offer any comment on the open access provisions in the bill, which apply the FCC’s 2005 Internet Policy Statement as the minimum standard grantees must apply when building out their networks. Sprint Nextel would reserve judgment until the NTIA and FCC completed rulemaking procedures for the grant program. “The devil is in the details,” he said.

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Broadband Mapping

In Discussing ‘Broadband and the Biden Administration,’ Trump and Obama Transition Workers Praise Auctions

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Screenshot from the November 2 Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast

November 22, 2020 – In the event that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden seeks substantial funding for broadband infrastructure, there is a strong likelihood that such monies would be channeled through a reverse-auction mechanism, said panelists at the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on November 11.

See more from Broadband Breakfast Live Online, including “Broadband and the Biden Administration, Part II,” on December 2, 2020.

In a discussion with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, two broadband policy experts who served on the transition teams for Donald Trump and Barack Obama, respectively, championed the role of such a mechanism as efficient and fair.

Previous attempts to run funding through other selection processes provided funds only to the well connected, claimed to Mark Jamison, research and education director at the University of Florida, and who served on then President-elect Trump’s 2016 transition team.

Places with a Democratic governor or a congressman of either party that sat on a powerful committee were funded more often compared to other regions, Jamison said.

Whether or not funding mechanisms were in fact biased in that way, both Jamison and Technology Policy Institute President Scott Wallsten both praised the transparency and economic efficiency of the Federal Communications Commission’s reverse-auction funding mechanism.

Wallsten, an economist who was involved in the transition for then President-elect Obama, and who also served on the National Broadband Plan implemented in the first year of the Obama administration, criticized the Rural Utility Service and the old funding process of Universal Service Fund. Both said under these mechanism, a lot of money is spent without good information about how such funds are awarded or distributed.

Wallsten and Jamison agreed that more data would help make broadband funding more effective, they also said that the FCC was right to move forward with its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction on October 29 – part of the new auction-based approach to the Universal Service Fund – despite imperfect mapping.

In part, this was because any inadequacy of mapping data can be resolved in the challenge process, said Wallsten. Additionally, it is not clear that auctions like RDOF, or the Connect American Fund auction in 2018, would have yielded better results had the FCC waited to update their maps.

Jamison and Wallston also projected how the Biden administration might tackle net neutrality, Section 230 and antitrust regulation.

Jamison said that if the Biden administration reinstitutes net neutrality, it will quickly see that that won’t work very well.

Wallsten said that if it’s reinstituted the debate will be different than in the past. A large part of net neutrality is paid prioritization where third parties can pay ISP’s to put their content “at the front of the line.” He said that the pandemic has demonstrated why no paid prioritization may be a mistake, as many people need guarantees of stable connection for their schooling and telehealth applications.

Wallsten also noted that many made doom and gloom forecasts when the Trump administration FCC removed net neutrality protections in December 2017. None of those predictions came to pass, he said.

Both also agreed that the FCC should not be involved the regulation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech platforms from liability for user-generated comments.

They also were wary of changes to the consumer welfare standard governing antitrust because, said Jamison, “If you’re not regulating for consumers, who are we regulating for?”

See “Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, November 11: Broadband and the Biden Administration,” Broadband Breakfast

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National Broadband Plan

National Broadband Plan Has Held Up Well, With Notable Downsides, Say Authors

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Photo of Blair Levin, former executive director of the National Broadband Plan, by New America used with permission

June 29, 2020 — The National Broadband Plan has been successful, despite notable downsides, said panelists in a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar on Friday.

The plan, first released ten years ago, aimed to increase competition, provide lower-cost service to more Americans and decrease regulatory barriers to broadband rollout.

“Ten years in this space in terms of technology is remarkable,” said Rebekah Goodheart of Jenner & Block. “At the time only 15 percent of people had access… of 25 megabits… The fact that this plan was able to stand up through time shows how visionary it really was.”

“All the stuff that we’re taking for granted now are things that came out of recommendations from the plan,” she added.

Participants noted that, despite broadband access deficiencies amid the coronavirus, “overall broadband adoption rates [are] going up reasonably well right now,” said John Horrigan, Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute.

But there are still significant barriers to unfettered telework capabilities, he said.

“We’re also waking up to the fact that smartphones, as useful as they are, have significant limitations for completing homework,” he said.

Ruth Milkman of Quadra Partners agreed.

“There’s a lot of stuff you can’t do on a smartphone,” she said. “It’s hard to read papers… and there are data caps, and it can be quite expensive if you try to use it in the same way that you would use a fixed wireline network.”

Blair Levin, non-resident Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Project of the Brookings Institution, said that sections of the National Broadband Plan held up remarkably well, even ten years later.

“In the healthcare section which says, ‘We really need to utilize telehealth because someday there’ll be a pandemic’… it does look very prophetic,” he said.

Despite the proactivity of the policy, Levin said, it has certain shortcomings that the FCC should address.

“We’ve become much more aware in this society of different ways in which our institutions do not include everyone and lead to inequalities,” he said. “I would argue that absolutely needs to be a new plan… now it’s more important than ever because we recognize the importance of closing that digital divide.”

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Digital Inclusion

Authors of the 2010 National Broadband Plan Say That a ‘Refresh’ Should Not Only Be Up to FCC

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Photo of INCOMPAS policy summit panelists discussing the National Broadband Plan by Adrienne Patton

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2020 – Panelists at the INCOMPAS policy summit Tuesday looked back with fondness on the Federal Communication Commission’s National Broadband Plan that was released 10 years ago this month. They agreed that if the plan is refreshed, the FCC should not be the lone agency to lead in the changes.

The 10-year-old plan was designed to “ensure robust competition” and “maximize the benefits of broadband,” while fostering the spread of broadband across the country, said INCOMPAS General Counsel Angie Kronenberg.

New Street Research Policy Analyst Blair Levin, who led the plan’s development, called it a “three-act play.”

The first act was the hiring people. The second act was holding hearings and acquiring data. The third act was an extensive writing process, Levin said.

When asked how the United States is doing in regards to the plan, Levin said there have been great improvements and some complications.

Mattey Consulting Principal Carol Mattey who worked on the plan, said it was a “long and evolutionary process,” that often required “nitty gritty details” from complex concepts.

Technology Policy Institute Senior Fellow John Horrigan, who also worked on the plan, said that while the statistics do not show a large increase in Americans that have wireline broadband at home, smart phones and mobile devices have made a huge difference.

Even so, Horrigan admitted that for children who have to do homework at home, smart phones are not enough.

However, Horrigan said the way that policy makers understand and think about the digital divide has improved.

A decade ago, city mayors were not concerned about digital inclusion, and now that has changed, said Horrigan.

Levin disclosed his frustration with the “metrics” section of the plan. The availability of bandwidth should not hinder economic growth, said Levin. But, “fundamentally we’ve made progress,” Levin admitted.

“The regulatory process is too slow to catch up,” and legislators are hesitant to look so far in the future while also considering cost concerns, said Mattey.

Looking ahead to a possible refresh of the plan, Horrigan said the FCC should not be the sole organization reworking the document.

Levin agreed and added that broadband has changed over the past decade as well. He called broadband a “mixed bag.”

The whole federal government should be thinking about how to revive the plan and take into consideration cybersecurity and privacy, Levin advised.

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