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AT&T Cites Data Usage Concerns, Verizon Wireless Claims Perfection

WASHINGTON, December 10, 2009 – This week a top AT&T official said the company is considering how to price data usage and looking to make customers more aware of their data usage patterns. Meanwhile, competitor Verizon Wireless claimed to already be ahead of the game on this issue.

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WASHINGTON, December 10, 2009 – This week a top AT&T official said the company is considering how to price data usage and looking to make customers more aware of their data usage patterns. Meanwhile, competitor Verizon Wireless claimed to already be ahead of the game on this issue.

Ralph de la Vega, president of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, said in a speech Wednesday that wireless carriers have not announced usage-based pricing yet because of a combination of systems, competition and regulatory issues.

“I think one of the first things that we need to do is we need to educate the customers. And it’s something that customers today have not been used to doing, so we’ve got to get them to understand what represents a megabyte of data,” said Vega.

“[W]hat we’re doing now is we’re improving all of our systems so that we can begin to give customers real-time information about their data usage and begin to get customers educated. And I think longer-term, there’s got to be some sort of a pricing scheme that addresses the usage, but that’s going to be determined by industry competitive factors, regulatory factors and customer. So I can’t give you a prediction, other than our first area of focus is to get the information to the customers so they know their own patterns of usage,” he said.

Vega noted his company did a trail using landline capabilities and found that “customers didn’t know how they where using data, including many parents who didn’t know how their children were using data.” He said when people become more aware of their data usage habits they will reduce their use significantly. “So we are going to look at that and address that first, and then we’ll decide where to go based on the industry competitive pressures and regulatory situations,” added Vega.

Jeffrey Nelson, corporate communications of Verizon Wireless, said his company currently offers real-time data usage information for customers. If a customer exceeds his or her data usage plan, the person pays more.

“Data usage by customers has gone up exponentially over the past few years. The great news for customers is that we anticipated this use and we offer data plans that help manage data use. If a wireless company is surprised by demand, it only means one thing, they did not plan for success. When you don’t plan for success, you fail and that is exactly what we are seeing at AT&T,” said Nelson.

The two companies just dropped lawsuits they filed against each concerning Verizon Wireless’s “There’s a Map for That” campaign. AT&T claimed the ad campaign was false, misleading and damaging. Verizon filed a counter lawsuit. This month Verizon launched a new ad targeting AT&T’s third generation coverage maps as being inadequate against Verizon’s maps.

Comcast said earlier this month that it was launching a data usage meter pilot system in Portland, Oregon, the company plans to soon roll out nationally.

The meter is meant to help make customers aware of how much data they consume in a month, Jason Livingood, executive director of internet systems for Comcast, wrote on a company blog. Comcast has a company policy against excessive use of bandwidth or currently data usage above 250 Gigabytes per month per Comcast high-speed internet residential customer account.

Like AT&T, Comcast said educating customers on how much data they are using often results in less consumption. According to the company, “excessive users consume so much data that the usage could negatively impact the online service for other customers.” If a consumer hogs too much bandwidth Comcast will terminate the individual’s account after one warning has been given.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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Health

FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.

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Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

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Health

FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’

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WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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