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Senators Examine Relationship Between Wireless Carriers, Consumers

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2009 – Wireless carriers deals with equipment vendors and their commitment to rural coverage came under the microscope Wednesday as executives and industry analysts testified before the Senate Commerce Committee during a hearing on “the wireless consumer experience.”

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WASHINGTON, June 18, 2009 – Wireless carriers deals with equipment vendors and their commitment to rural coverage came under the microscope as executives and industry analysts testified before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday.

A total lack of wireless broadband coverage in rural areas “resonates very, very deeply” with Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V. Rockefeller – who claimed to have never before used a chart on the Senate floor – displayed a map of wireless broadband coverage which showed a total absence of service for consumers in places like his home state of West Virginia.

“There’s nothing there,” he complained. “[Rural states] may have beauty, but they also have people,” he said.

Rockefeller expressed some frustration with Government Accountability Office Director of Physical Infrastructure Mark Goldstein, who presented results of a GAO survey on wireless customer satisfaction.

The survey was based on a random sample and showed dissatisfaction among a sizable percentage of consumers with wireless carriers’ billing practices, as well as a lack of knowledge regarding the Federal Communications Commission’s role as a mediator between consumers and wireless providers.

The GAO should have undertaken a “more specified” survey that took into account factors such as income and location, Rockefeller said.

Results of such efforts are “incredibly important…for telling the American people what they need to know.” He was especially annoyed with the report’s lack of specificity with respect to rural consumers. “It’s not rocket science,” he said.

Goldstein said the FCC is at fault for not properly educating consumers about its’ statutory role as a mediator in disputes between customers and carriers.  “There are mixed messages about what it is consumers can expect [from the FCC],” he said. But Rockefeller was not buying the GAO’s argument: “You are asking if [consumers] know they should call [the FCC]: that’s not your job.”

The real “heart” of the consumer experience comes down to whether or not carriers should have exclusive control over handsets, said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Kerry, who chairs the subcommittee on communications, took the gavel during the latter part of the hearing which focused on agreements for handset exclusivity between manufacturers and carriers.

In his opening statement, Kerry made reference to the FCC’s Carterfone decision, which allowed consumers to connect devices like fax machines and modems to the landline telephone network. He compared Carterfone to today’s internet, which does not require a consumer to own a specific type of computer to gain access – and to European and Asian handset markets, in which users purchase a handset separate from their wireless service.

Kerry also made note of a letter he sent Monday to acting FCC chairman Michael Copps, which was also signed by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Lowell Wicker, D-Miss.

The letter asked Copps to examine handset exclusivity agreements and their effect on consumers. And while representatives from several wireless carriers were present, Kerry noted invitations for many major handset manufacturers to testify had been turned down.

But Paul Roth, AT&T president for retail sales and support, defended the agreements – such as the one AT&T has sold Apple’s iPhone under – as allowing device manufactures and carriers to “share risks to develop the most compelling devices, and “ensure innovation, lower price, and choice.”

Competition in the wireless sector is “white hot,” he said. And deployment of next-generation networks and technologies would be hampered if the government were to reverse “pro-competition polices and impose intrusive restrictions” on carriers, he warned.

But Penn State University Professor Rob Friedan cautioned Senators against allowing carriers too much control over wireless handsets, which he said are becoming a “Swiss Army Knife” of features that make up a “third screen” for consumers, after television and personal computers.

If the FCC were to adopt a Carterfone-like set of rules for wireless handsets, it would spur the same kind of innovation that has taken place in the computer and consumer electronics markets, he said: “I see no basis for concluding that the upside benefits accruing from the wired Carterfone policy somehow will not apply to wireless networks.”

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FCC

FCC Commissioner Supports Rural Telco Efforts to Implement ‘Rip and Replace’

In remarks at the Rural Wireless Association event on Wednesday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks reaffirmed the FCC’s goals.

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Photo of Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association, leading a discussion at the summit on Wednesday by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 30, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks acknowledged the agency’s goal of obtaining secure broadband networks at an event of the Rural Wireless Association on Wednesday.

“We must ensure that our broadband networks are secure,” Starks said in keynote address at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here, delivered via Zoom. “This is evident in the constant barrage of attacks of American networks from hostile state and non-state actors.”

Starks continued, “insecure networks, by definition, can’t provide the stable, reliable, always on communications we need. Especially during emergencies… Broadband must be secure for the full benefits of broadband to be achieved.”

The issue of ridding American telecommunications networks of equipment manufactured in China was a constant theme during the conference.

In addition to Starks’ presentation, several sessions addressed the dilemma faced by telecommunications carriers, particular rural ones, that had in the past invested heavily in lower-cost equipment from Huawei, a leading Chinese manufacturer.

As the political winds have changed on the topic over the past three years, Congress has allocated funds for a “rip and replace” program. The FCC is expected to announce the providers that will receive nearly $2 billion as part of the program by July 15.

But some fear that number could be more than $4 billion short of needed funds.

“The funds available will cover only a very small portion” of the costs to replace Huawei with non-Chinese manufacturers, said Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association.

Potential new requirements imposed on telecom providers

The commission recently sought comment on whether it should require carriers that receive high-cost support to have include baseline cyber security and supply chain risk management plans.

If these plans are included in requirements, Starks said that American communication networks would be protected from bad actors. Moreover, they are consistent with requirements already included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Starks thanked the RWA for its activity and advocacy in the “rip and replace” proceedings, officially dubbed the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program.

“The threat is real,” called Starks. “Companies that are deemed by the federal government to be a threat to the United States and its people can not have free reign in data centers featuring some of the most sensitive data of Americans.”

This comes only days after Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores in response to the apps’ obligation to comply with the Peoples Republic of China’s surveillance demands.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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FCC

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks Calls for Environmental Sustainability at Summit

Environmental sustainability in telecom has been a key talking point for Starks.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

June 27, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Geoffrey Starks raised on Monday the importance of sustainability in telecommunications as a speaker at the 2022 Broadband for All Summit in Stockholm, Sweden.

An important responsibility for agencies in the industry is building infrastructure that is environmentally sustainable, Starks said, suggesting four avenues to improve sustainability.

First, “we must continue to find ways to do more while using less, and that begins with the way we use spectrum,” he said. We need to “squeeze” the most out of the finite spectrum while simultaneously building networks that draw less power.

Second, “we need to realize our full potential to help other sectors consume less, too.”

We are entering an era where we can “collect, communicate, and analyze massive quantities of data to improve decision-making in real-time. Everything from traffic flow to energy transmission to orders of operation on the factory floor can benefit from data-driven efficiencies that were previously impossible,” he said.

Third, “industry-led initiatives must continue to play a significant role, from progressing towards reducing or eliminating the carbon emissions associated with their operations, to increasing renewable energy and minimizing electronic waste.”

Some manufacturers, according to Starks, have gone beyond carbon neutrality and are aiming for net-zero operations.

Fourth, “we must collectively do our part to mitigate climate change’s harmful effects at the network level”. With harsher weather patterns than previous generation, we should invest in networks that will keep communities connected during storms, floods, wildfires, and other disasters.

Starks, who has pitched environmental sustainability in telecommunications on a multiple occasions, advocated for players in the industry to be “as aggressive as possible with our climate commitments, and we should be as comprehensive as possible in our effort to comply with them.” This should include eliminating waste during the production phase, he said.

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FCC

FCC to Gather Information on Offshore Spectrum, Accurate 911 Call Routing

The FCC is examining the need and use cases for allocating spectrum for offshore use.

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Photo of Nathan Simington

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted in an open meeting Wednesday to examine technology that can improve wireless 911 call routing, propose a fine for interrupting U.S. forest service radio communications, and to seek comment on offshore spectrum needs and uses.

The FCC voted to begin gathering information through public comment on the “possible current and future needs, uses, and impacts of offshore wireless spectrum use,” including for cruise ships, oceanography and wind turbine projects. Other options, like satellite-based systems, are available to provide service.

The construction and operation of windfarms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and communication services between at-sea vessels require offshore spectrum. The notice of inquiry asks what other cases exist that require offshore spectrum access that are not being provided for under existing models.

“We seek more broadly to understand the extent of the demand to use offshore spectrum and more generally where that demand is concentrated,” stated the inquiry.

“It is important that the FCC stay ahead of the curve in its consideration of upcoming commercial spectrum needs and this item does just that,” said commissioner Nathan Simington.

911 call routing

The FCC launched an examination into technology that could result in faster response times by more precisely routing wireless 911 calls to the correct call center.

Some wireless emergency calls are made near city or county borders where the closest call center is in the neighboring jurisdiction, resulting in lost time as calls are rerouted to the correct call center.

Since 2018, when the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on feasibility of routing 911 calls based on location of the caller versus location of the cellular tower, there have been many advancements in location-based routing technology. The FCC issued a Public Notice Wednesday seeking updated information on these technologies and the feasibility of adopting them into public use.

Last month, AT&T announced a new technology that would allow dispatchers to get a more accurate location of distressed calls by using the phone’s GPS.

Proposed fine for violating radio interference rules

The FCC also proposed a $34,000 fine Wednesday against Jason Frawley who, in 2021, allegedly interfered with radio communications that were guiding firefighting during the 1000-acre wildfire near Elk River, Idaho.

Frawley reportedly admitted to a Forest Service supervisor that he broadcasted on government frequencies in direct defiance to the Communications Act which prohibits any interference with authorized radio communications.

Neither the allegations nor the proposed sanctions are final FCC actions, said the press release.

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