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Telecom Experts and State Regulators Ponder FCC Reform Agenda

WASHINGTON, February 18, 2009 – The day after the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners approved a resolution calling for reform of the Federal Communications commission, a panel of former agency staffers, commissioners and state regulators debate Wednesday over what areas truly needed reform and how to achieve it.

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WASHINGTON, February 18, 2009 – The day after the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners approved a resolution calling for reform of the Federal Communications commission, a panel of former agency staffers, commissioners and state regulators debate Wednesday over what areas truly needed reform and how to achieve it.

State telecommunications commissions and the FCC has done a yeoman’s job of “thinking outside the box” and opening themselves to outside input, said Thomas Navin, a Wiley Rein attorney and former chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau.

Navin was pleased with the FCC’s use of field hearings for collecting evidence – as it did during last year’s investigation of Comcast’s network management practices. The hearings let the commission publicize the issue and obtain a diverse range of views, he said.

Navin praised the series of hearings the agency held in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and said they enjoyed a similar success. While field hearings provide an opportunity for commissioners to interact with “the folks,” Navin said he wants more: “I think they could do those [types of] hearings here in Washington, on the record” he said.

Telecommunications policy-making as a federal-state partnership inherently “a bit messy,” Navin said. But he noted good ideas implemented at the state level often filter up to the FCC. And though calls for reform tend to happen at the outset of every new administration, Navin predicted that the effects of the unprecedented economic stimulus and bailouts would have lasting effects that would “define the direction that the FCC and federal government will take over the next 50 years.”

The digital age means the FCC needs to adapt and reorganize, said Free State Foundation president Randolph May. May said he wanted Congress to pass a new Telecommunications Act that would make the FCC more concerned with unfair competition than protecting the public interest.

Getting rid of the “public interest” standard would “cultivate predictability” and mandate decision-making based on facts, May said. Regulations to prevent unfair competition would require more economic and analytical rigor than exists currently.

The FCC needs to reorganize its bureaus, May added. He specifically called for the creation of a Broadband Bureau and Content Bureau to replace the current Wireless, Wireline and Media bureaus. Eliminating the FCC’s current “stovepipes” would make it more responsive to the demands of convergent technologies, he said.

But Vermont Public Services Board member John Burke said the current system works, and can be made better by “making sure the rules of the road are out there and easy to understand.” Most problems with the FCC can be solved by “keeping the cameras rolling,” or by holding more hearings and having more public votes, he said. Further, the commission should hire more experts to keep institutional knowledge current, he said.

Burke said states need to help reduce the FCC’s caseload by increasing their involvement with various joint boards of federal and state government. And the commission should allow items to be placed on its agenda by a majority vote of the commissioners instead of by waiting for the chairman to schedule votes. Burke said that change was “essential… to adequately address issues… expeditiously.”

More effective use of commission institutions – its people and its process – would lead to a better product, said Wilkinson Barker Knauer attorney Bryan Tramont. Tramont served as FCC chief of staff under former chairman Michael Powell.

The commission needs to have a better idea of its goals, he said. Those at the top need to define “measures of success…and hold managers accountable,” he suggested. And commissioners can the web as a powerful mechanism to overhaul the notice and comment process, and let the FCC listen to its “customers,” he said.

But Tramont warned against sweeping reforms when the FCC “does a good job.” Most matters are resolved without controversy, and 90 percent of votes are unanimous. “The solutions may be worse than the problems,” he said.

Problem solving may be best left to the states, said former Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate. State commissioners “are going to become more integral” as technology moves forward, she said. And despite criticisms, Tate said the FCC is still the “gold standard” worldwide, and that states should embrace the chance to come to the federal agency with solutions.

An agency overhaul isn’t necessary, Tate said. “Reform has already occurred.”

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.

FCC

Cable Group NCTA Says Deny Exclusive Multitenant Access, But Not Wiring, Agreements

NCTA said the FCC should deny exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

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Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – The internet and television association NCTA is suggesting that the Federal Communications Commission deny all broadband providers exclusive access to multitenant buildings, but to continue allowing exclusive wiring agreements.

On Tuesday, the FCC opened a new round of comments into its examination of competitive broadband options for residents of apartments, multi-tenant and office buildings.

In a Tuesday ex parte notice to the commission, which follows a formal meeting with agency staff on September 2, the NCTA said the record shows that deployment, competition, and consumer choice in multiple tenant environments “are strong,” and that the FCC can “promote even greater deployment and competition by prohibiting not just cable operators, other covered [multiple video programming distributors], and telecommunications carriers, but all broadband providers from entering into MTE exclusive access agreements.

The organization, whose member companies include Comcast, Cox Communications and Charter Communications, also said it should continue to allow providers to enter into exclusive wiring agreements with MTE owners. Wiring just means that the provider can lay down its cables, like fiber, to connect residents.

“Exclusive wiring agreements do not deny new entrants access to MTEs. Rather, exclusive wiring agreements are pro-competitive and help ensure that state-of-the-art wiring will be deployed in MTEs to the benefit of consumers.”

The NCTA also told the FCC that there would be technical problems with simultaneous sharing of building wires by different providers and vouched for exclusive marketing arrangements, according to the notice.

The FCC’s new round of comments comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

Reached for comment on the filing, a spokesman for NCTA said they had nothing to add to the filing, which was signed by Mary Beth Murphy, deputy general counsel to the cable organization.

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China

Hytera’s Inclusion on FCC’s National Security Blacklist ‘Absurd,’ Client Says

Diversified Communications Group said the FCC flubbed on adding Hytera to blacklist.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – A client of a company that has been included in a list of companies the Federal Communications Commission said pose threats to the security of the country’s networks is asking the agency to reconsider including the company.

In a letter to the commission on Tuesday, Diversified Communications Group, which installs and distributes two-way radio communications devices to large companies, said the inclusion of Hytera Communications Corporation, a Chinese manufacturer of radio equipment, on a list of national security threats is “absurd” because the hardware involved is not connected to the internet and “does not transmit any sensitive or proprietary data.

“It seems that Hytera has been lumped in with other Chinese companies on the Covered List simply because they happen to manufacture electronics in the same country,” Diversified’s CEO Ryan Holte said in the letter, adding Hytera’s products have helped Diversified’s business thrive.

“This is a wrong that should be righted. Hytera is not a national security risk. They are an essential business partner to radio companies throughout the U.S.,” the CEO added.

In March, the FCC announced that it had designated Hytera among other Chinese businesses with alleged links to the Communist government. Others included Huawei, ZTE, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, and Dahua Technology.

List among a number of restrictions on Chinese companies

This list of companies was created in accordance with the Secure Networks Act, and the FCC indicated that it would continue to add companies to the list if they are deemed to “pose an unacceptable risk to national security or the security and safety of U.S. persons.”

Last month, the Senate commerce committee passed through legislation that would compel the FCC to no longer issue new equipment licenses to China-backed companies.

Last year the U.S. government took steps to ensure that federal agencies could not purchase goods or services from the aforementioned companies, and had previously added them to an economic blacklist.

In July, the FCC voted in favor of putting in place measures that would require U.S. carriers to rip and replace equipment by these alleged threat companies.

The Biden administration has been making moves to isolate alleged Chinese-linked threats to the country’s networks. In June, the White House signed an executive order limiting investments in predominantly Chinese companies that it said poses a threat to national security.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Says 5 Million Households Now Enrolled in Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The $3.2 billion program provides broadband and device subsidies to eligible low-income households.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 30, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that five million households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

The $3.2-billion program, which launched in May, provides a broadband subsidy of $50 per month to eligible low-income households and $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands, as well as a one-time reimbursement on a device. Over 1160 providers are participating, the FCC said, who are reimbursed the cost to provide the discounted services.

The agency has been updating the public on the number of participating households for the program. In June, the program was at just over three million and had passed four million last month. The program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“Enrolling five million households into the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in a little over three months is no small feat,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of nearly 30,000 individuals and organizations who signed up as volunteer outreach partners.”

Rosenworcel added that conversations with partners and the FCC’s analysis shows the need for “more granular data” to bring these opportunities to more eligible families.

The program’s strong demand was seen as far back as March.

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