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AT&T Takes New Neutrality Approach In Letter To FCC

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2009 – AT&T attempted to set the tone of compromise regarding proposed rules to regulate internet access to support so-called Net neutrality principles in a letter it sent Tuesday to the Federal Communications Commission.

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WASHINGTON, December 15, 2009 – AT&T attempted to set the tone of compromise regarding proposed rules to regulate internet access to support so-called Net neutrality principles in a letter it sent Tuesday to the Federal Communications Commission.

James Cicconi, a senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs for AT&T, wrote that nearly all parties involved in the debate seem to agree on the need to preserve the open character of the internet, the importance of consumer interests remaining at the top of any internet policy agenda, and that government policy should expand incentives to drive private investment.

Cicconi voiced support for a letter filed (PDF) by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, to the FCC in October on proposed Net neutrality rules. AT&T also referenced an October 21 blog post by Verizon Wireless and Google on finding common ground in the open internet debate.

“[C]onsistent with Senator Snowe’s observations, Verizon Wireless and Google also both recognized the importance of private investment for ‘increasing broadband capacity and the intelligence of networks,’ thereby ‘creating the infrastructure to support ever more sophisticated applications. As discussed, AT&T supports Commission efforts to achieve these same objectives,” reads the letter.

AT&T warns that if the FCC “goes beyond the status quo in this proceeding” it should consider the framework proposed by Snowe, and “echoed, in our view, by Verizon Wireless and Google, which eschews a strict nondiscrimination standard and instead focuses on ‘unreasonable and anticompetitive forms of discrimination that adversely affect consumers.”

“By focusing on unreasonable and anticompetitive discrimination, the Commission can enable innovation to occur at all levels of the Internet but still maintain the ability to respond on a case-by-case basis to allegations of unreasonable and anticompetitive conduct that materially harms consumers,” he said.

“By contrast, a strict nondiscrimination standard could inadvertently limit the availability of creative and innovative services that consumers may want to purchase. Worse still, a strict nondiscrimination rule would completely ban voluntary commercial agreements for the paid provision of certain value-added broadband services which would needlessly deprive market participants, including content providers, from willingly obtaining services that could improve consumers’ Internet experiences,” writes Cicconi.

“Thus, such a ban could harm innovation and potentially delay critical infrastructure investment by prohibiting services that prove to be neither anti-consumer nor anti-competitive. While some of these services may in the end be classified as “managed services” that are not subject to the proposed rules, we believe there should be no regulatory uncertainty when it comes to innovation and that Senator Snowe’s framework would help ensure that result,” continues the letter.

Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott responded to AT&T’s letter by saying the proposal “would allow them to violate the core principle of Net Neutrality—letting them control the Internet by picking winners and losers in a pay-for-play scheme.”

The letter is “couched as a compromise, but it is little more than an effort to cajole a toothless rule out of the FCC. Make no mistake, AT&T opposes Net Neutrality. Their proposed solution is a bait and switch. As bait, they ask to return to a standard of nondiscrimination that was long applied to the telephone network. But they fail to mention that this standard was part of a system of pro-competitive common carriage rules that they have railed against applying to broadband networks for years,” said Scott.

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.

FCC

FCC Announces New RDOF Accountability and Transparency Measures, Additional Funding

Results of verifications, audits and speed and latency testing for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will be made public.

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Photo of reels of cabling in Hinsdale, Mont., in August 2016 by Tony Webster used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Friday said that it will implement new accountability and transparency measures, and make public the results of verifications, audits and speed and latency testing for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The measures are part of a new known as the Rural Broadband Accountability Fund that monitors several universal service high-cost programs.

Additionally announced in a press release, the Rural Broadband Accountability Fund will speed up the FCC’s audit and verification processes.

Audits and verifications are projected to double in 2022 as compared to 2021 and include on-site audits, and a particular focus will be placed on auditing and verifying the largest-dollar and highest-risk RDOF recipients.

The agency also announced that it would commit more than $1.2 billion more to RDOF, the largest funding round for the program to date.

The new funding will bring broadband service to more than 1 million locations through deployments in 32 states, with 23 broadband providers assisting the effort.

Going forward, the commission will deny waivers, it said, “for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications.”

All winning bidders will undergo “an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review.”

Finally, the commission says a list of areas will be published which details where providers have defaulted, “making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.”

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Broadband Data

Federal Communications Commission Approves New Provider Transparency Requirements

Broadband providers must now create “broadband nutrition labels” which list pricing and speed information.

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

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to require that broadband providers create “broadband nutrition labels” that list information on the pricing and speed of internet service they provide.

The labels mimic food nutrition labels in format and aim to increase transparency of providers in their marketing to consumers.

With their approval at the commission’s monthly open meeting Thursday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the new rules are crucial to consumers being able to find the best deals on broadband service for their personal needs.

Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel praised the label format, saying that it allows consumers to “easily compare” information and that it is “black and white, simple to read, and easy to understand.”

The long-simmering idea was enacted by Congress in the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by the president on November 15. It directed the FCC to revive the project by one year from the law’s passage.

On Thursday, Joshua Stager, New America’s deputy director for broadband and competition policy at its Open Technology Institute, called the vote “a welcome step forward and a win for consumers.” The think tank began promoting the idea last decade, and it had been endorsed by the Obama administration before being canned by the Trump administration.

Industry group Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said the transparency afforded by the new policy “provides consumers with important tools to make informed choices.”

Additionally in Thursday’s meeting, when the agency tentatively revoked telecom operator China Unicom Americas’ operating authority in the United States, the agency said they had reached out to the Department of Justice for assistance in responding to what they say are potential threats from the China-based company. This inter-agency review is routinely part of determinations involving foreign-owned telecommunications companies.

The agency also updated its definition of “library” to make clear that Tribal libraries are eligible to receive funds under the Universal Service Fund’s E-rate program.

Starks emphasized that the commission’s action represented progress on digital inclusion efforts, but that unfamiliarity of Tribal libraries with the E-rate program remains a problem.

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FCC

Federal Communications Commission Implements Rules for Affordable Connectivity Program

The agency implemented new rules on the Affordable Connectivity Program, which makes a new subsidy permanent.

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Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel by Rob Kunzig of Morning Consult

WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules Friday for its Affordable Connectivity Program that changes and, in some cases narrows, the eligibility requirements for the subsidy to allow for more households to be connected.

An extension of the former Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which offered discounts to broadband service providers to subsidize connectivity and devices, the new program will make it easier for providers to get in the program by automatically making eligible providers in good standing.

Additionally, the FCC maintains that the monthly discount on broadband service is limited to one internet discount per household rather than allowing the benefit for separate members of a household. “Adopting a one-per-household limitation best ensures that Program funding is available to the largest possible number of eligible households,” the agency said in its report.

To accommodate the volume of eligible households enrolling in the ACP, the FCC allowed providers until March 22 – 60 days after its Friday order is published in the Federal Register– to make necessary changes to ensure that the ACP can be applied to providers’ currently sold plans.

“So much of our day to day—work, education, healthcare and more—has migrated online. As a result, it’s more apparent than ever before that broadband is no longer nice-to-have, it’s need-to-have, for everyone, everywhere,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “But there are far too many households across the country that are wrestling with how to pay for gas and groceries and also keep up with the broadband bill. This program, like its predecessor, can make a meaningful difference.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act transformed the EBB to the longer-term Affordable Connectivity Program by allocating an additional $14.2 billion to it.

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