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Congress, FCC See DTV Transition Progress; Low Power Broadcasters Say Left Behind

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2009 – The transition to digital television since the passage of the DTV Delay Act has been a “major accomplishment,” House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., said Thursday at a hearing on the state of the DTV transition.

Andrew Feinberg

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WASHINGTON, March 26, 2009 – The transition to digital television since the passage of the DTV Delay Act has been a “major accomplishment,” Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., said Thursday at a hearing on the state of the DTV transition.

Boucher, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Technology, Communications and the Internet, said that while he was pleased at seeing “clear results” and positive progress, “much remains to be done,” Boucher said.

Ranking member Cliff Stearns, R-Fal., agreed that “the glass is 95 percent full,” on the country’s readiness. But he lamented the amount of money set aside for coupons, and suggested significant savings could be had by confining the program to households without cable or satellite television.

“Shepherding the transition” has been “priority number 1” since taking over the FCC, Acting Chairman Michael Copps said.

Even before his elevation from the position of commissioner, Copps said he believed “it was clear the country was not ready…for the February 17 cutoff.” Besides “rampant consumer confusion,” Copps said a major problem had been a lack of coordination between public and private stakeholders .

Copps thanked Congress for the Delay Act, but was careful to warn members that “we are nowhere out of the woods yet.” The transition may not be “seamless,” he said. “But there is time to make a real difference.”

The FCC, Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and private sector actors are focusing “day and night” on education and outreach, he said. Starting in April, public service announcements will begin to mention antenna and converter box rescanning issues, as well as publicizing walk-in help centers.

Cable and broadcast television providers have “really stepped up to the plate” in helping build a unified DTV help call center, said Copps.

In addition, the FCC is working with AmeriCorps and other groups to put “boots on the ground” to help people get set up who might not otherwise be able to install equipment.

Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro said the education program had been one of the most effective consumer campaigns he has ever seen. “I bet more people know about the transition…than could identify the Vice-President of the United States,” he said.

“This great nation of ours can ill afford to delay the transition again,” Shapiro said in a statement released after the hearing. “To do so would put at risk the many benefits that will accrue from the switch to digital: phenomenal amount of beachfront-quality spectrum for new licensed and unlicensed services, including sorely needed improvement to Internet access; better communications platforms for law enforcement and public safety; and almost $20 billion in auction revenues for the U.S. Treasury.”

But Copps lamented that his calls for increased awareness of the analog “cliff” effect had gone ignored for the past two years.

However, the FCC has recently launched an online “map” that allows consumers to determine if they will be able to receive a signal post-transition. When Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., asked Copps if urban landscapes would pose reception problems post-transition, Copps said that there was “no question” in his mind that such problems exist. “We’ll have to deal with them…and we would be remiss if we did not study them further.”

The DTV coupon backlog is clear as of five days ago, said Acting Assistant Commerce Secretary Anna Gomez, currently the top-ranking official at the NTIA.

Mark Lloyd, vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said many consumers have found the FCC’s new online map very useful.

But Lloyd noted his group has found DTV reception to be inconsistent not only within the same community, but within the same apartment building. Most important to a smooth transition, he said, is “the importance of being able to go in the homes” of populations in need and help them with rescanning, and other issues.

Idaho Public Television general manager Peter Morrill said his organization has identified six areas, primarily located in rugged terrain that will be affected by the “cliff effect.”

Morrill acknowledged the FCC’s efforts to address this need for digital television “fill-in” service, but said many stations lack the financial means to license and build these systems in time for the June 12, 2009 shutdown.

“Legislative encouragement and additional funding can help us ensure the smoothest transition possible,” said Morrill. But Weiner suggested a change in education was necessary to enable consumers to understand the importance of finding a solution. — “bad service means no service, in this case.”

Robert Prather, CEO of Gray Television summed up how to solve the cliff issue: “it all comes down to funding.”

Boucher was also troubled by numbers from CEA and NTIA that “did not match up” with regard to supply and demand for converter boxes. But Wal-Mart senior vice president Gary Severnson said there was close coordination between manufacturers, retailers, and NTIA to coordinate supply, and that he had “no concern” about a shortage. His biggest fear was that he would be left with a surplus of boxes post-transition.

Shapiro said the data flow from NTIA was very good, and at least four manufacturers were producing more than enough boxes to meet demand. But in the event of a shortage, Shapiro suggested that as a “safety valve,” coupons could be used to subsidize consumer access basic cable or allow them receive stripped-down DTV sets.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill, voiced some concerned over the possibility of an additional delay upon the wireless and electronics industry. He introduced into the record a letter from Qualcomm, a manufacturer of wireless broadband equipment to highlight the impact on the company that further delay would bring. Boucher said Shimkus’ fears were unfounded, as both he and Chairman Henry Waxman were in complete agreement: “We’re not going to postpone this transition again – we need to get it right.”

Also read into the record was a letter from Community Broadcasters Association president Kyle Reeves expressing anger over Congress’ failure to include Class A and Low Power television stations in the transition. Despite having its entire industry threatened by the transition, CBA was explicitly denied the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing, a spokesman for the association said.

If something is not done about the Low Power and Class A station problem, Reeves predicted a disaster: “Diversity of voices and career opportunities will suffer a real setback,” he said, citing a CBA-commissioned survey showing 43 percent of Class A and Low Power TV stations have significant minority ownership. Most are small businesses, and 62 percent are owner-operated, the survey said.

And 34 percent of CBA member stations broadcast in foreign languages, the survey noted. Without some kind of action, “a critical source of emergency information for foreign language speakers will be lost,” Reeves warned. “Foreign language speakers will end up watching imported cable and satellite channels that carry only foreign-produced programming, pay no taxes, employ no U.S. citizens, and provide no local content and no American perspective.”

The CBA testified before the subcommittee under then-chairman Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who told its president “Help is on the way.” But the CBA has not yet seen any real help, Reeves said.

Reeves suggested the FCC take an “active hand” in promoting a DTV transition for LPTV stations after [the FCC] “spent over a decade on full power TV, including devoting enormous resources to finding channels so that as many stations as possible could operate parallel analog and digital stations for several years.” Congress could fund a program to transition all stations to digital, or allow them to “leapfrog” broadcasting and move onto broadband, mobile television, or other emerging technologies.

In the alternative, Congress could allow LPTV stations to auction their spectrum and share in the proceeds for a “soft landing” as they shut down, Reeves said. “If that opportunity were offered, some would take it today, sadly perhaps; but it would be a lot better than losing everything: hopes, dreams, and investments.”

But in the current economy, Reeves suggested there was no valid reason to ignore his industry any longer: “The combined impacts of the decline of over-the-air viewing, the digital transition, and the recession have created the perfect storm. There is no more time to think about it.”

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.

Section 230

Sen. Mike Lee Promotes Bills Valuing Federal Spectrum, Requiring Content Moderation Disclosures

Tim White

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Screenshot of Mike Lee taken from Silicon Slopes event

April 5, 2021 – Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said Friday spectrum used by federal agencies is not being utilized efficiently, following legislation he introduced early last year that would evaluate the allocation and value of federally-reserved spectrum.

The Government Spectrum Valuation Act, or S.553 and introduced March 3, directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to consult with the Federal Communications Commission and Office of Management and Budget to estimate the value of spectrum between 3 kilohertz and 95 gigahertz that is assigned to federal agencies.

Lee spoke at an event hosted by the Utah tech association Silicon Slopes on Friday about the legislation, in addition to other topics, including Section 230.

Some bands on the spectrum are reserved for federal agencies as they need it, but it’s not always managed efficiently, Lee said. Some are used by the Department of Defense for ‘national security,’ for example, but when asked what that spectrum is used for, we’re told, ‘we can’t tell you because of national security,’ he said.

“Just about everything we do on the internet is carried out through a mobile device, and all of that requires access to spectrum,” he said.

He said that lives are becoming more affected and enhanced by our connection to the internet, often through a wireless connection, which is increasing the need for the government to efficiently manage spectrum bandwidth, he said. Some of the bands are highly valuable, he said, comparing them to the “beach front property” of spectrum.

Legislation changing Section 230

Lee also spoke on Section 230, a statute that protects online companies from liability for content posted by their users. It’s a hot topic for policymakers right now as they consider regulating social media platforms.

Both Republicans and Democrats want more regulation for tech companies, but for different reasons. Democrats want more moderation against alleged hate speech or other content, citing the January 6 riot at the Capitol as one example of not enough censorship. Republicans on the other hand, including Lee, allege social media companies censor or remove right-leaning political content but do not hold the same standard for left-leaning content.

Lee highlighted that platforms have the right to be as politically-biased as they want, but it’s a problem when their terms of service or CEOs publicly state they are neutral, but then moderate content from a non-neutral standpoint, he said.

Lee expressed hesitation about repealing or changing Section 230. “If you just repealed it altogether, it would give, in my view, an undo advantage to big market incumbents,” he said. One solution is supplementing Section 230 with additional clarifying language or new legislation, he said.

That’s why he came up with the Promise Act, legislation he introduced on February 24 that would require the disclosure of rules for content moderation, and permit the Federal Trade Commission to take corrective action against companies who violate those disclosed rules. “I don’t mean it to be an exclusive solution, but I think it is a reasonably achievable step toward some type of sanity in this area,” he said.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and a couple of her colleagues also drafted Section 230 legislation that would maintain the spirit of the liability provision, but would remove it for paid content.

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FCC

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr Optimistic About Finding Common Ground at Agency

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr from C-Span

March 24, 2021 — Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said the regulator has since 2017 seen what he wanted: Broadband speed increases and lower prices.

“The approach we adopted in 2017 is working,” he said at the Free State Foundation’s 13th annual telecom policy conference on Tuesday. “Speeds have increased, prices are down, and we see more competition than ever before; we need to keep it that way,” he said, stressing the importance of reinforcing the good work the previous administration did and continues to do.

Carr, who has been a part of the FCC since 2012 in various capacities and through different compositions, said the transition into the new administration is going well.

In contrast to before, when it seemed as though the “sky was falling” and there were many problems with net neutrality, today’s reality is quite different, thanks to Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, he said.

The chairwoman contacted him almost immediately after she asked him to participate an event together on telehealth. There have been a lot of conversations and compromises since that moment, he said.

He said elections do bring some consequences, and undoubtedly have shaken some of the agency’s previous standards with a different party in leadership. However, he said the FCC has been finding common ground, something that “has been all too rare in the past couple of years.”

He added that, in 2016, experts and analysts weren’t painting a very rosy picture for the US future leadership when it comes to 5G. One of the primary reasons cited was the cost and length of time to build out the Internet infrastructure in this country, he said.

“We went from 708 new cell sites in 2017 to over 46,000. The progress is astounding, and not only with towers but with fiber, as we built 450k miles of fiber in just one year alone.”

Spectrum auctions driving the agenda, Carr says

Optimistic on spectrum, he pointed out that at present, there is a lot of it available. “In 2017, the FCC had previously voted in a lot of higher band spectrum options.”

The work of initial prioritization was completed by us before 2017 when we moved in and noticed the lack of midband spectrum in the pipeline. We had to move fast, and we had the first auction for the midband in 2020, with frequencies ranging from 3.5 to 5.5 gigahertz.

Over the last couple of years, he said the FCC has opened that band to intensive use, pushing the midband spectrum a great deal. The future holds the need to create a spectrum calendar with a rough outline of spectrum auctions, including which bands are available for auction and when, he said. “I have already filled in that calendar.”

He said the regulator’s challenge is not with a lack of communication but with coordination.  “We need the FCC to take a step back and consider the public interest, how the agency can best achieve the federal missions and how it can best do this. Even if there are going to be disagreements, it is paramount to ensure that the American economy stays competitive.”

Looking ahead, Carr said the 5.9 gigahertz project, which last year was on trial to expand rural broadband access, would be a great beginning to prove that good leadership and compromise are possible between both parties.

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Spectrum

In Call For Open Radio Access Network, FCC Chairwoman Points to Security and Cost Savings

Benjamin Kahn

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Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel from January 2015 by the Internet Education Foundation used with permission

March 18, 2021—The FCC on Wednesday launched its first official inquiry into the status and trajectory of open radio access network technology, with the acting chairwoman suggesting the search for new network vendors must ramp up.

The open RAN movement has gained significant momentum since Huawei was banned over the past 18 months.

Proponents of the movement argue that it may increase competition in the market surrounding radio access network hardware, particularly for silicon chips, because it allow more companies to enter the space traditionally locked out due to proprietary technologies held by few companies.

5G deployment is one of the FCC’s top priorities over the next couple of years. One of the ways the FCC prioritized accomplishing this is the use of spectrum auctions. However, this new inquiry indicates that the FCC is seeking other avenues to accelerate 5G deployment.

The primary goal of the notice is to “seek comment on the current status of Open RAN development and deployment in American networks and abroad,” according to an agency press release. It attempts to determine the role of incumbent hardware manufacturers, new entrants, and the standards for the architecture of the network.

Additionally, the agency is inquiring about the challenges and considerations that various government and private sector stakeholders face as they pursue manufacturing, integration, and deployment of open RAN technology.

During a talk hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday, Acting Chairwoman of the FCC Jessica Rosenworcel outlined key elements of the FCC’s strategy in expediting the roll-out of 5G.

In her concluding remarks, she stated that while slowing down the progress of what she called “untrusted” hardware vendors, such as Huawei, has been the priority for the FCC in recent years, the organization must shift its focus to pursuing new vendors simultaneously.

She pointed to the previous day’s inquiry as a first step toward addressing this goal. “If we can unlock the [radio access network] and diversify the equipment in this part of our networks, we may be able to increase security, reduce our exposure to any single foreign vendor, [and] lower costs.” She also stated that prioritizing open RAN would overall benefit the U.S. economy.

Recalling the FCC’s spectrum auctions, Rosenworcel continued: “Of course, our network equipment is only as good as the spectrum it runs on.  So, we are not slowing down there either.” She stated that the 3.45-3.55 Gigahertz band auction that was just authorized would play a crucial role in supporting open RAN technology and the implementation of 5G.

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