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Web Content Producers Favor Net Neutrality, Reject Regulation of Search Engines

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2009 – Web content producers applauded the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission to turn Net neutrality principles into enforceable rules – but lawyers, academics and commissioners were divided on whether the agency should begin regulating the internet in the name of democracy and economic growth.

“The genius of the Internet is its openness, its dynamism and its availability to one and all,” said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps in his opening statements at a Tuesday afternoon workshop on “Democratic Engagement and the Open Internet.”

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WASHINGTON, December 16, 2009 – Web content producers applauded the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission to turn Net neutrality principles into enforceable rules – but lawyers, academics and commissioners were divided on whether the agency should begin regulating the internet in the name of democracy and economic growth.

“The genius of the Internet is its openness, its dynamism and its availability to one and all,” said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps in his opening statements at a Tuesday afternoon workshop on “Democratic Engagement and the Open Internet.”

“History teaches us that when a company has the technical capacity and a financial incentive to interfere, there will be some bad apples who will,” Copps continued. “Given what’s at stake, we need hard and fast rules…to keep them from doing so.”

Commissioner Robert McDowell said that throughout 15 years of development of the private internet, a bipartisan government has allowed for the Internet to grow unfettered by government regulation.

McDowell noted that the Constitution is a check on the government’s ability to limit speech. When the government guesses wrong and imposes a regulatory regime based on unfounded fears about the future, a market failure might soon follow.

Stuart Benjamin, the FCC’s latest scholar in residence, moderated the panel. Benjamin is a noted First Amendment scholar from Duke Law School, where he also teaches telecommunications law.

He began the workshop with the statements of web content producers, bloggers and actors. John Moore, CEO of Rowdy Orbit IPTV, supported a clear alternative platform and unobstructed direct line to under-served and minority viewing audiences.

People of color can go online, control their own cost, and connect with like minded people to create content without going through the approval process with a corporate executive. Garlin Gilchrist, director of new media at the Center for Community Change, wanted to inspire others to build stronger communities and promote passion for technologies. A truly open internet will allow local non-profits to connect with donors in their area, and open internet allows for funding from more outlets, said Gilchrist.

Michelle Combs from the Christian Coalition of America said that she wanted to protect her ability to Tweet and send YouTube videos to her constituents during a political race or when an amendment comes up in Congress that her organization opposes.

Glenn Reynolds, founder of Instapundit.com, added that low barriers of entry have created an entirely new face of journalism and information-sharing. He cited how independent journalists are now able to provide live commentary from Iraq, when many small broadcasters cannot afford such a luxury.

Bob Corn-Revere, a partner at Davis Wright and Tremaine and a self proclaimed student of the First Amendment, agreed that content regulation might be threat to the open internet. He agreed with McDowell’s view that Net neutrality rules were not the answer.

Jack Balkin, from Yale Law School disagreed with Corn-Revere. Balkin said that the open internet is crucial to freedom of speech and democracy because it allows people to actively participate in decentralized innovation, form new digital networks, and allows for freedom from prior government constraints. People can reach all audiences and route around gatekeeper with great new tools and applications. Balkin finished, “the First Amendment protects speech, not business models.”

Andrew Schwartzman from the Media Access Project, followed up on Balkin’s comments by asking, “Whose First Amendment right are we talking about? … An internet service provider is not serving as a speaker while it is serving as a conduit.”

Benjamin then asked the panelists, how serious was the problem of providers blocking internet access, if all past instances of blocking have been cured by currently existing open internet principles?

Content producers seemed to agree that the real danger lies in the fact that it is not clear what gate keepers will try to block. Reynolds said that while providers might have a First Amendment right to speak, they do not have the right to be an avatar for the speech of their customers.

To Benjamin’s second point, that there would be no consumer pushback to network management if consumers didn’t discover anything wrong, Balkin said, “Much of the problem is what we do not know and what we cannot find.”

Added Schwartzman: transparency is very important when most Americans have a very limited choice of provider and a very high switching cost.

The last question from Benjamin and audience members asked whether it would also be necessary to regulate search engines as well as internet providers. Here a clear majority that believed that search engines are not carriers and therefore do not need to be regulated.

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.

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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