ARLINGTON, Va., June 18, 2009 – House Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., has no plans to influence the Federal Communications Commission’s development of a national broadband plan.
But speaking Thursday morning at the Pike and Fischer Broadband Policy Summit here, he made clear his experience representing a rural district informs his ideas on how the FCC should assist the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Rural Utilities Service in defining unserved and underserved markets.
Boucher reiterated his belief in broadband as the “new essential American infrastructure,” which he said is of equal importance to this century as rural electrification and universal telephone service was to the last.
In the new economy, the “corridors of commercial opportunity” will be defined more and more by broadband, he said.
The $7.25 billion appropriated for broadband in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act is “an historic opportunity” to improve America’s rankings among [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] nations, Boucher said. America must improve her OECD rankings “for the sake of our national economy,” he urged. “I know we can do better.”
Boucher is “hopeful” that NTIA and RUS will develop “complementary” standards for grant and loan making criteria, and which he said should be released “in the next few weeks.” While he acknowledged there are differences in goals between the NTIA and RUS programs, Boucher was optimistic that grant rules will be harmonized “to the greatest possible extent.”
RUS should play an important role in reaching unserved areas, Boucher said. He held up the RUS Community Connect program as an example of a “very successful” way to deploy broadband to rural districts like his. For “a few hundred thousand dollars,” the program has enabled communities with only a few hundred residents to become served “with extraordinary efficiency,” he said. This has been particularly true in Boucher’s district, he said. “I’m glad to see [RUS] has [funding] in this program.”
But the criteria for Community Connect are too restrictive, he said. Under current guidelines, communities where 25 percent of homes can receive some form of broadband are considered served, rand therefore excluded from Community Connect. The FCC should help NTIA and RUS develop a “common sense definition” that avoids such problems in the future.
Underserved markets can be defined by a number of metrics, Boucher said. Absence of competition, unreasonable prices, or low speeds could all indicate that a community is underserved, he suggested.
Standards for Broadband Technology Opportunity Program-funded projects should adhere to the statutorily mandated openness guidelines, Boucher said.
But the guidelines, which use the FCC’s four principles on network neutrality as a baseline, should not lead to “overly burdensome” regulations that discourage private sector participation. Private sector applicants have the most knowledge and experience to deploy broadband, Boucher said. “It’s important that private sector entities apply,” he urged.
The stimulus is also only one piece of the broadband puzzle, Boucher said. He called for reform of the Universal Service Fund to make broadband services eligible for subsidies. A bill he co-sponsored with Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., did not make much headway when it was introduced a few years ago, but Boucher said that passage of USF reform legislation is “now within reach.”
Boucher also announced he would be signing on as a sponsor of Rep. Anna Eshoo’s Broadband Conduit Deployment Act, which his Senate colleague Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced Monday with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
And while Boucher made clear his intent that FCC Chairman-designate Julius Genachowski (D) to “take the lead” in developing a national broadband plan, he did not rule out legislative action on network neutrality “at the proper time” if conversations among stakeholders do not cause them to “narrow the gap” in the debate.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Denies Efforts to Eliminate California Net Neutrality Law
A coalition of telecommunication trade associations were unable to sway the court.
April 20, 2022 – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday denied the efforts of telecommunications trade groups to to rehear its prior decision upholding California’s 2018 net neutrality law.
In January, the court turned back industry trade groups, including US Telecom, the cable industry groups NCTA and ACA Connects, and the wireless association CTIA, who had sought to overturn California’s SB 822 on the grounds that the Federal Communications Commission federal rules on net neutrality conflict with California’s state level rules.
Then, the appeals court found that because the FCC determined – in a prior ruling during the Trump administration – that it no longer had authority over broadband consumer protection, California’s broadband consumer protection law could go into effect.
On Wednesday, the appeals court refused to reconsider whether the California law had been preempted by the FCC’s decision.
In January 2018, the FCC – administered by then-Commissioner Ajit Pai – rescinded rules put in place in 2015 by the Obama administration that had reclassified broadband services from “information services” to “telecommunication services.” The latter category is subject to far more regulations.
Later that year, California passed SB 822, putting net neutrality requirements in place for California consumers, even after the rules had been gutted at the federal level by the FCC.
On the federal level, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Trump administration’s removal of net neutrality requirements in October 2019. Although the Pai FCC’s reclassification was largely upheld by the D.C. circuit court, the victory was tempered by the court’s decision, by a two-to-one margin, to vacate the FCC’s having purported to preempt “any state or local requirements that are inconsistent with [the FCC’s] de-regulatory approach.”
In a tweet about Wednesday’s ruling, FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel said:
- The 9th Circuit just denied the effort to rehear its decision upholding California’s #netneutrality law. This is big. Because when the FCC rolled back its open internet policies, states stepped in. I support net neutrality and we need once again to make it the law of the land.
“As expected, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected yet another attempt by internet service providers to overturn California’s strong net neutrality law,” said John Bergmayer, Legal Director at Public Knowledge.
“The California net neutrality law is now undefeated in court after four attempts to eliminate it,” he said. Net neutrality protections nationally continue to be common sense and popular with the public among all ideologies. It’s good news that Californians will continue to enjoy this important consumer protection, and we look forward to a full Federal Communications Commission restoring net neutrality nationwide.”
Federal Appeals Court Upholds California’s Net Neutrality Rules
The ruling prevents internet providers in the state from abandoning net neutrality for broadband customers.
January 28, 2022 – The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ruled against broadband companies seeking to block a state net neutrality law, and internet policy advocates are calling it a win for consumers in California.
The ruling comes after industry trade groups, including US Telecom, the cable industry groups NCTA and ACA Connects, and the wireless association CTIA, sought to overturn California’s law on the grounds that the Federal Communications Commission’s now-abandoned federal rules on net neutrality conflict with California’s state level rules.
The court found that because the FCC determined – in a prior ruling during the Trump administration – that it no longer had authority over broadband consumer protection, California’s broadband consumer protection law could go into effect.
SB 822, or the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018, restricts internet service providers from some activities. For example, the state law prevents paid prioritization, or agreements that would optimize data transfer rates large companies including Facebook, Google and Netflix.
The law also prohibits so-called “zero-rating” practices that some believe exploit consumers by allowing free access to some services but not others.
John Bergmayer, legal director at Public Knowledge, called the ruling a “great decision and a major victory for internet users in California and nationwide.”
“When the FCC has its full complement of commissioners, it should put into place rules at least as strong as California’s nationwide, making some state measures unnecessary. But even after that happens, this decision clarifies that states have room to enact broadband consumer protection laws that go beyond the federal baseline.”
But Randy May, president of the Free State Foundation, said “like a lot of Ninth Circuit decisions, it is arguable that the court got the law wrong regarding whether California’s net neutrality law is preempted. Given the inherently interstate nature of today’s tightly integrated broadband internet networks, there’s a good chance that other circuits might reach a different conclusion regarding preemption.
May said that the risks of a patchwork of state regulations “should prompt Congress to resolve the decades-old net neutrality controversy by adopting a new law that prevents consumer harm while recognizing the technologically dynamic nature of today’s Internet ecosystem.”
The opinion was authored by Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder and joined by Judge Danielle Forrest with a concurrence by Judge J. Clifford Wallace.
Rosenworcel Stands Firm on Net Neutrality in Face of Lawmakers Urging Status Quo
The FCC chairwoman responded to a letter by members of Congress resisting calls to back down on net neutrality.
WASHINGTON, January 4, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a letter to lawmakers last week that she continues to stand by her view that the restoration of net neutrality principles would be the best move for the internet economy.
Rosenworcel was responding to an April letter by over two dozen members of Congress, who urged the chairwoman to maintain the current “light touch” regulations imposed by the 2017 commission, led by chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by then-President Donald Trump. That change rolled back net neutrality rules imposed by the 2015 Obama-era commission, which prevented internet service providers from influencing the content on their networks, including barring carriers from providing certain services for free over their networks – also known as “zero rating.”
In her letter on December 28, Rosenworcel, who was confirmed as commissioner of the agency by the Senate earlier that month, said the net neutrality principles of 2015 were the “strongest foundation” for the internet economy as a whole and is “fundamental” to the “foundation of openness.”
“Those principles drove investment on the edges of the network, which network operators responded to by investing in infrastructure that allows consumers to access the services of their choosing,” Rosenworcel said in the letter.
“I stand ready to work with Congress on this topic, as necessary,” she added. “However, I continue to support net neutrality and believe that the Commission has the authority to adopt net neutrality rules.”
The lawmakers – which include Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, and Bob Latta, R-Ohio – used as support the efforts of service providers to maintain a robust network during the pandemic, as well as their willingness to waive late fees and open Wi-Fi hotspots as additional reasons for the commission not to impose further regulations on business. The letter also noted that the Department of Justice’s withdrawal of a lawsuit against a net neutrality law in California led to two providers axing services that relied on zero rating protections.
The lawmakers challenged previous comments made by Rosenworcel, who said that it was unfortunate that California had to fill a void left by the net neutrality rollbacks. But Rosenworcel reiterated those comments. “It is unfortunate that individual states have had to fill the void left behind after the misguided roll back of the Commission’s net neutrality policies,” she said in her letter.
And while the lawmakers said they “agree that harmful practices such as blocking, throttling, and anticompetitive behavior should not be permitted…we can achieve this without heavy-handed overregulation.”
The current make-up of the FCC includes two Democrats and two Republicans. President Joe Biden’s pick for a fifth Democratic commissioner to break the party deadlock, net neutrality advocate Gigi Sohn, is still awaiting a confirmation vote by the Senate.
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