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National Broadband Plan

FCC Releases First Draft of National Broadband Plan After Weighing Record

WASHINGTON, December 17, 2009 – The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday laid out a rough draft of its national broadband plan after weighing through 66,000 pages of written comments, 27 public notices, 100 items posted on its “blogband” web site, and 700 blog comment posted to the record.

But the agency says it is still difficult to answer key questions that must be addressed within two months time, or by February 17, 2010.

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WASHINGTON, December 17, 2009 – The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday laid out a rough draft of its national broadband plan after weighing through 66,000 pages of written comments, 27 public notices, 100 items posted on its “blogband” web site, and 700 blog comment posted to the record.

But the agency says it is still difficult to answer key questions that must be addressed within two months time, or by February 17, 2010.

In November, the Commission identified gaps in broadband infrastructure deployment and adoption, and identified shortfalls in adoption and spectrum. This month the FCC laid out the policy framework to help us address the key broadband gaps.

Omnibus Broadband Initiative Executive Director Blair Levin kicked off the meeting by acknowledging the objectives of (1) understanding the principles on how to develop policy and (2) reviewing the policy framework by going through the principles that the policies should be based on.

Levin followed up by stating that the national purposes of the plan will be laid out in the January meeting.

Levin said he wanted to focus on the plan and the situation in America. Other countries have created their own plans but their infrastructures and needs differ in many ways.

He outlined what he called “Principles for Policy Choices”:

  • Private sector investment
  • Competition drives innovation and better choices for consumers
  • Better utilization of existing assets is required (Universal Service Fund, Spectrum, Rights of Way)
  • Policy changes must consider unintended consequences
  • New laws necessary in certain cases, but should be limited

Erik Garr, general manager of broadband initiative, told the audience that there will be no recommendations made, and that the meeting will simply be a discussion on the merits to determine if the ideas are good or not.

Garr introduced the broadband ecosystem as a function of networks , devices, application and content as well as adoption and utility. He then let his fellow bureau chiefs and panelists explain the guideline principle details and frameworks surrounding all of the issues.

In the following sections included as Premium Content, BroadbandBreakfast.com details the Universal Service Fund framework, infrastructure issues, spectrum policy, broadband adoption and utilization, and public safety issues for consideration in the national broadband plan. Premium Content below = 1,386 words.

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Universal Service Fund Framework

Short and medium term action to improve the performance of the current system include cutting inefficient spending in the high cost fund, removing barriers to E-Rate funded connections in schools and libraries, enabling school and libraries with dial-up to migrate towards broadband, and extending the deadline for the Rural Health Care Pilot Program and providing more administrative support to help the participants through the process. Long term transformations focused on shifting the support for broadband services; transforming the High Cost Fund to support specific broadband goals; integrating lifeline with other programs to promote adoption and digital literacy; permitting low income households to use Lifeline support for broadband; and design a new health program to expand affordable broadband connectivity

Infrastructure Principles and Framework

In order to promote additional infrastructure development the plan must include, required partnerships between state federal and local entities to create uniform rental rates for pole attachments and easier access to poles ducts, conduits and rights of way. Additionally, they must include timely and predictable dispute resolution strategies, creative opportunities to coordinate with other agencies and “dig once” for installing infrastructure.

Spectrum Policy Principles and Long Term Planning

To address the spectrum gap, there are three potential paths, said agency officials: find more productive uses of existing bands; make more bandwidth available for broadband services; and develop and deploy technologies to support such uses.

The FCC believes they should pursue all three simultaneously. In order to create more productive uses of existing bands the Commission can provide better transparency and incentives to encourage incumbents to use existing allocations more effectively by:

  • using assessment tools to document and expose current license usage information;
  • performing a periodic spectrum review based on a list of factors created by the FCC and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration with respect to specific bands;
  • utilizing spectrum fees and band clearing auctions to drive more effective market allocation; and
  • creating incentives for more efficient use of government owned spectrum.

In making more bandwidth available, the agency would like to consider: identifying new spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use including white spaces, resolve pending spectrum allocation use issues and exploring various proposals that have been submitted, including access to broadcast spectrum while maintaining over-the-air television, access to federal spectrum in conjunction with the NTIA and use of terrestrial operations in mobile satellite spectrum.

Historically, unlicensed spectrum has been home for many innovators. The agency listed a number of ways to require space and development of unlicensed spectrum to promote new devices and applications

The FCC’s Bill Lake introduced the section on TV settop boxes. He began by stating that the “TV is growing up and becoming an internet access device, as well as a place to watch broadcasters and content delivered by other video providers. If we can encourage that trend, the TV which is found in 99 percent of those homes can help to pull broadband into more homes as more applications evolve that take advantage of the converged capabilities.”

This process however would move faster if there was a competitive market for set-top boxes. CableCards have not been working, and cannot produce devices that can be ported if a consumer switches to another video provider. An alternative solution would be to mandate a home gateway device that will be required for all video programmers.

The FCC’s Brian David, addressed the issue of transparency through the consumer information gap and the need to encourage consumer choice. There is a 50 percent gap between advertised and actual speed. Service providers only attribute to part this problem while other issues develop in other parts of the network. In order to provide consumers with better information about actual performance of different services to incent competition and improved performance.

The commission should consider: measurement systems which allow consumers to see differences between average and advertised speeds, ratings systems so consumers or property owners can see relative performance of broadband in their facility, and a clearinghouse of broadband data that is searchable and open to direct consumer feedback.

Commissioner Michael Copps particularly applauded the work that the FCC has done in working with tribal lands. Deployment and adoption lags the U.S. average. First options to consider is how to improve data collection for the tribes, second, whether the plan can cost effectively solve more than one problem by finding ways to deploy fiber to anchor institutions in tribal lands, and finally the plan should consider creation of tribal federal broadband working group to address the tribal specific issues.

Adoption and Utilization

David continued by stating that policies should further local existing efforts for adoption and utilization but bring federal support efforts to the table. He also noted that the private sector also has a stake in increasing adoption. On a similar note accessibility is also a major issue.

There are over 54 million disabled Americans have some accessibility issue. Of these, 42 percent of them have adopted broadband but those with disabilities have unique barriers in terms of cost an usability. Brian continued that the plan should therefore: focus on built in accessibility and interoperability in devices, promote accessible web content and captioning, and promote best practices in training and customer support for dealing with consumers with disabilities.

Public Safety National Purpose

The one national purpose that the Commission addressed in more detail was Public Safety. The FCC’s Jennifer Manner stated that, in developing the plan surrounding public safety, the agency has been driven by three main goals.

First, it wants to improve first responder access to broadband communications; second, it wants to leverage broadband communications to improve pub safety communications; and third, it wants to ensure broadband networks are sound and secure. These goals will be used to create interoperable broadband public safety networks, next generation emergency 911 dialing, next generation alerting, protecting critical infrastructure and address other emergency preparedness issues.

Questions From the Commissioners

Once the broadband team finished their presentation most of the Commissioners withheld their questions. But not Commissioner Copps. He started off by asking the panel to elaborate on the mechanisms for monitoring the plan and implementing the plan.

Levin answered that other countries that have implements broadband plans have developed an ongoing process and there should be institutional policies in place to follow up and analyze the development of the plan. The process should not end when present the plan is presented.

Copps followed up with a question about an independent foundation to focus on adoption. Brian David noted that the idea behind such a foundation would be to create a non-profit foundation tasked with focusing on a minimum of broadband adoption. Whichever way it is created, its mandate would support local efforts with best practice toolkits, intelligence gathering and being a conduit for resources through public private partnership to be most effectively managed.

Chairman Julius Genachowski warned the attendees that while at some point the process feels like Blair Levin might be channeling Bill Murry in “Groundhog Day”: there is a point where all the information comes together and the team can then process all of the information they have been hearing over and over again and place it to good use.

Genachowski followed with Erik Garr’s comment that in crafting a plan we must be aspirational and practical in how we achieve them – aspirational because opportunities for the country could be immense, and practical because there are a number of hard truths that come with implementing such a plan.

Genachowski ended his remarks by focusing on the need to redirect USF to bring broadband services to all; and that to fully achieve a transformation of the USF, the agency must tackle contribution to the fund in a smart way.

Second, he commended the planning team on their work in the mobile broadband area and reminded the audience about the powerful evidence that the demand for mobile broadband spectrum will overcome supply if we do not come up with “more bandwidth for broadband.”

Finally, he lauded the cable industry for their introduction of their adoption plus program that would provide digital literacy discounted services and devices for children without access. Genachowski then also mentioned the bill, by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., to extend broadband on a pilot basis. He asked that all broadband providers take the initiative to “design affordable new offerings for low income households.”[/Private_Free Trial][/Private_Premium Content]

As Deputy Editor, Chris Naoum is curating expert opinions, and writing and editing articles on Broadband Breakfast issue areas. Chris served as Policy Counsel for Future of Music Coalition, Legal Research Fellow for the Benton Foundation and law clerk for a media company, and previously worked as a legal clerk in the office of Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. He received his B.A. from Emory University and his J.D. and M.A. in Television Radio and Film Policy from Syracuse University.

Broadband Mapping

In Discussing ‘Broadband and the Biden Administration,’ Trump and Obama Transition Workers Praise Auctions

Liana Sowa

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Screenshot from the November 2 Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast

November 22, 2020 – In the event that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden seeks substantial funding for broadband infrastructure, there is a strong likelihood that such monies would be channeled through a reverse-auction mechanism, said panelists at the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on November 11.

See more from Broadband Breakfast Live Online, including “Broadband and the Biden Administration, Part II,” on December 2, 2020.

In a discussion with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, two broadband policy experts who served on the transition teams for Donald Trump and Barack Obama, respectively, championed the role of such a mechanism as efficient and fair.

Previous attempts to run funding through other selection processes provided funds only to the well connected, claimed to Mark Jamison, research and education director at the University of Florida, and who served on then President-elect Trump’s 2016 transition team.

Places with a Democratic governor or a congressman of either party that sat on a powerful committee were funded more often compared to other regions, Jamison said.

Whether or not funding mechanisms were in fact biased in that way, both Jamison and Technology Policy Institute President Scott Wallsten both praised the transparency and economic efficiency of the Federal Communications Commission’s reverse-auction funding mechanism.

Wallsten, an economist who was involved in the transition for then President-elect Obama, and who also served on the National Broadband Plan implemented in the first year of the Obama administration, criticized the Rural Utility Service and the old funding process of Universal Service Fund. Both said under these mechanism, a lot of money is spent without good information about how such funds are awarded or distributed.

Wallsten and Jamison agreed that more data would help make broadband funding more effective, they also said that the FCC was right to move forward with its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction on October 29 – part of the new auction-based approach to the Universal Service Fund – despite imperfect mapping.

In part, this was because any inadequacy of mapping data can be resolved in the challenge process, said Wallsten. Additionally, it is not clear that auctions like RDOF, or the Connect American Fund auction in 2018, would have yielded better results had the FCC waited to update their maps.

Jamison and Wallston also projected how the Biden administration might tackle net neutrality, Section 230 and antitrust regulation.

Jamison said that if the Biden administration reinstitutes net neutrality, it will quickly see that that won’t work very well.

Wallsten said that if it’s reinstituted the debate will be different than in the past. A large part of net neutrality is paid prioritization where third parties can pay ISP’s to put their content “at the front of the line.” He said that the pandemic has demonstrated why no paid prioritization may be a mistake, as many people need guarantees of stable connection for their schooling and telehealth applications.

Wallsten also noted that many made doom and gloom forecasts when the Trump administration FCC removed net neutrality protections in December 2017. None of those predictions came to pass, he said.

Both also agreed that the FCC should not be involved the regulation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech platforms from liability for user-generated comments.

They also were wary of changes to the consumer welfare standard governing antitrust because, said Jamison, “If you’re not regulating for consumers, who are we regulating for?”

See “Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, November 11: Broadband and the Biden Administration,” Broadband Breakfast

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National Broadband Plan

National Broadband Plan Has Held Up Well, With Notable Downsides, Say Authors

Elijah Labby

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Photo of Blair Levin, former executive director of the National Broadband Plan, by New America used with permission

June 29, 2020 — The National Broadband Plan has been successful, despite notable downsides, said panelists in a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar on Friday.

The plan, first released ten years ago, aimed to increase competition, provide lower-cost service to more Americans and decrease regulatory barriers to broadband rollout.

“Ten years in this space in terms of technology is remarkable,” said Rebekah Goodheart of Jenner & Block. “At the time only 15 percent of people had access… of 25 megabits… The fact that this plan was able to stand up through time shows how visionary it really was.”

“All the stuff that we’re taking for granted now are things that came out of recommendations from the plan,” she added.

Participants noted that, despite broadband access deficiencies amid the coronavirus, “overall broadband adoption rates [are] going up reasonably well right now,” said John Horrigan, Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute.

But there are still significant barriers to unfettered telework capabilities, he said.

“We’re also waking up to the fact that smartphones, as useful as they are, have significant limitations for completing homework,” he said.

Ruth Milkman of Quadra Partners agreed.

“There’s a lot of stuff you can’t do on a smartphone,” she said. “It’s hard to read papers… and there are data caps, and it can be quite expensive if you try to use it in the same way that you would use a fixed wireline network.”

Blair Levin, non-resident Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Project of the Brookings Institution, said that sections of the National Broadband Plan held up remarkably well, even ten years later.

“In the healthcare section which says, ‘We really need to utilize telehealth because someday there’ll be a pandemic’… it does look very prophetic,” he said.

Despite the proactivity of the policy, Levin said, it has certain shortcomings that the FCC should address.

“We’ve become much more aware in this society of different ways in which our institutions do not include everyone and lead to inequalities,” he said. “I would argue that absolutely needs to be a new plan… now it’s more important than ever because we recognize the importance of closing that digital divide.”

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Digital Inclusion

Authors of the 2010 National Broadband Plan Say That a ‘Refresh’ Should Not Only Be Up to FCC

Adrienne Patton

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Photo of INCOMPAS policy summit panelists discussing the National Broadband Plan by Adrienne Patton

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2020 – Panelists at the INCOMPAS policy summit Tuesday looked back with fondness on the Federal Communication Commission’s National Broadband Plan that was released 10 years ago this month. They agreed that if the plan is refreshed, the FCC should not be the lone agency to lead in the changes.

The 10-year-old plan was designed to “ensure robust competition” and “maximize the benefits of broadband,” while fostering the spread of broadband across the country, said INCOMPAS General Counsel Angie Kronenberg.

New Street Research Policy Analyst Blair Levin, who led the plan’s development, called it a “three-act play.”

The first act was the hiring people. The second act was holding hearings and acquiring data. The third act was an extensive writing process, Levin said.

When asked how the United States is doing in regards to the plan, Levin said there have been great improvements and some complications.

Mattey Consulting Principal Carol Mattey who worked on the plan, said it was a “long and evolutionary process,” that often required “nitty gritty details” from complex concepts.

Technology Policy Institute Senior Fellow John Horrigan, who also worked on the plan, said that while the statistics do not show a large increase in Americans that have wireline broadband at home, smart phones and mobile devices have made a huge difference.

Even so, Horrigan admitted that for children who have to do homework at home, smart phones are not enough.

However, Horrigan said the way that policy makers understand and think about the digital divide has improved.

A decade ago, city mayors were not concerned about digital inclusion, and now that has changed, said Horrigan.

Levin disclosed his frustration with the “metrics” section of the plan. The availability of bandwidth should not hinder economic growth, said Levin. But, “fundamentally we’ve made progress,” Levin admitted.

“The regulatory process is too slow to catch up,” and legislators are hesitant to look so far in the future while also considering cost concerns, said Mattey.

Looking ahead to a possible refresh of the plan, Horrigan said the FCC should not be the sole organization reworking the document.

Levin agreed and added that broadband has changed over the past decade as well. He called broadband a “mixed bag.”

The whole federal government should be thinking about how to revive the plan and take into consideration cybersecurity and privacy, Levin advised.

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