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Broadband's Impact

FCC Issues Notice of Inquiry Regarding Broadband Regulation and Industry Offers a Mixed Response

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2010 –Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission met to consider putting out a Notice of Inquiry on how they should regulate broadband. After the recent Comcast decision the FCC’s ability to regulate broadband was put into question. After looking at the various issues FCC’s counsel came to the conclusion that there were 2 possible methods of regulating either as an information service under Title I or as a Telecommunications service under Title II. The chairmen however did not feel that Title I gave the commission enough authority; while Title II put too much regulation on ISPs; to solve this he created his Third Way proposal.

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WASHINGTON, June 18, 2010  – Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission met to consider putting out a Notice of Inquiry on how they should regulate broadband. After the recent Comcast decision the FCC’s ability to regulate broadband was put into question. After looking at the various issues FCC’s counsel came to the conclusion that there were 2 possible methods of regulating either as an information service under Title I or as a Telecommunications service under Title II. The chairmen however did not feel that Title I gave the commission enough authority; while Title II put too much regulation on ISPs; to solve this he created his Third Way proposal.

Under the Third Way ISPs would only be subject to a limited number Title II provisions. The NOI explains the Third Way as “ (i) reaffirm that Internet information services should remain generally unregulated; (ii) identify the Internet connectivity service that is offered as part of wired broadband Internet service (and only this connectivity service) as a telecommunications service; and (iii) forbear under section 10 of the Communications Act from applying all provisions of Title II other than the small number that are needed to implement the fundamental universal service, competition and small business opportunity, and consumer protection policies that have received broad support. “

The NOI seeks comment on how the FCC should proceed, whether they should stick to Title I, reclassify as Title II or proceed with the Third Way proposal. Additionally they seek comment to determine how they should proceed with Universal Service under Title I regulation “Can the Commission reform its universal service program to support broadband Internet service by asserting direct authority under section 254, combined with ancillary authority under Title I?”

They also would like comments on how they can provide support for disabled individuals, privacy issues, public safety and how they can address any future harms caused by ISPs.

The NOI was passed with a vote of 3-2; with Commissioners Baker and McDowell dissenting.

Commissioner Copps voiced the strongest support for the reclassification. He felt that using Title I regulation would be too light and the commission would spend years in court trying to support its position. “Down this path would be years and years of dead-end delays, years without the most elemental public interest safeguards for broadband, and years of agency paralysis.  It would be death by a thousand cuts.” He then went on to describe how back in 2002 he dissented to the change in reclassification of cable modems to Title I.

In response to those who claim that broadband services should not be regulated, Copps stated:  “I, for one, am worried about relying only on the good will of a few powerful companies to achieve this country’s broadband hopes and dreams.  We see what price can be paid when critical industries operate with unfettered control and without reasonable and meaningful oversight.  Look no further than the banking industry’s role in precipitating the recent financial meltdown or turn on your TV and watch what is taking place right now in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Copps then went on to describe how the rest of the world is lapping the US in broadband speed and availability while the US is stuck arguing these basic issues.

Copps also warned the commission about the PR campaign being waged about the issue, “So beware of all the slick PR you hear, and remember that much of it is coming from lavishly-funded corporate interests whose latest idea of a “triple play” is this: (1) slash the FCC’s broadband authority; (2) gut the National Broadband Plan; and (3) kill the open Internet.”

Commissioner McDowell opposed the NOI claiming that by merely issuing the notice the investment community would stop providing capitol to ISPS due to the high level of uncertainty. He then went on to claim that Title II regulation is unnecessary; and that the Comcast decision does not create any new paradigm. “The Comcast decision certainly does not affect our ability to reallocate spectrum, one of the central pillars of the Plan.  Nor does the decision undermine our authority to reform our Universal Service program, the other major component of the Plan.  In the unlikely event that a court decided against granting us Chevron deference in the pursuit of directly supporting broadband with Universal Service distributions, the FCC could tie future subsidies to broadband deployment.”

McDowell then went on to state that the FCC does not have the authority to reclassify and that only Congress can reclassify. He then pointed out that “a large bipartisan majority of Congress – consisting of at least 291 Members – has weighed in asking the Commission to discard this idea or at least to wait for Congress to act.  In other words, a commanding majority of the directly elected representatives of the American people do not want the FCC to try to regulate broadband Internet access as a monopoly phone service.”

Commissioner Clyburn supported the NOI with a brief statement which defended the authority of the FCC.  She then refuted the claims made by Commissioner McDowell by saying: notable telecommunications analysts at firms such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch, UBS, and Goldman Sachs have each asserted that the public reaction by industry to the Chairman’s proposal is overblown.  In fact, they believe the current landscape presents a tremendous buying opportunity.  As one well-regarded analyst stated: [T]he FCC’s “Third Way” reclassification largely keeps the status quo intact, with key points being: 1) no rate regulation, 2) no unbundling, to require Cable to share its networks, 3) the forbearance is difficult to overturn, 4) no inconsistent state regulation, [(5)] provides no competitive advantage to DBS or Telco vs. Cable and [(6)] Wireless has a similar “Third Way” reclassification, which has not negatively impacted the business model.”

Clyburn then echoed Copps statement regarding the PR campaign being waged, stating that investors are more fearful of the PR than the actions taken by the FCC.

Commissioner Baker’s statement of dissent reiterated the points she made last week while addressing the Broadband Policy Summit. She felt that the Comcast decision did change the way the FCC could regulate broadband and reiterated the comments made by McDowell that the NOI will create too much uncertainty which will decrease overall investment.

Baker then went on to oppose the Third way by saying “I reject the effort to re-brand a Title II classification with forbearance as a middle ground, it is not.  There will be time to address all of the legal and factual infirmities of a Title II approach for broadband, and its adverse impact on capital markets, consumer welfare, and international regulatory norms.”

The chairmen made the final statement of support for the NOI reiterating many of the points he has made before and brought up the fact that the chairs of the Senate and House committees which oversee telecommunications, Senators Rockefeller, Kerry, and Representative Waxman, and Boucher have all publically supported the actions being taken by the FCC.

He then went on to say that he supported the possible updating of the communications act, “I fully support this Congressional effort.   A limited update of the Communications Act could lock in an effective broadband framework to promote investment and innovation, foster competition, and empower consumers.  I commit all available FCC resources to assisting Congress in its consideration of how to improve and clarify our communications laws.”

The response to this NOI is mixed, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which represents the cable industry, opposed the regulation by saying “As we revisit this question with the start of today’s inquiry, we see little benefit to changing course and great danger in attempting to shoehorn modern broadband services into a Depression-era regulatory regime without serious collateral effects to investment, employment, and innovation.”

The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council criticized the proposal by stating “”Today’s vote opens the door to a future where government dictates the price and operational models on broadband providers.  Such regulation will severely limit small business choices, raise prices, deter broadband deployment and hurt our innovative capacity.”

The commission did receive support from the Center for Democracy and Technology, “It is also crucial for the FCC to recognize limits to its authority,” said CDT Senior Policy Counsel David Sohn.  “The agency needs to expressly refute and disprove the common rhetorical claim that its efforts here amount to an attempt to ‘regulate the Internet,'” Sohn said.  “The ‘Third Way’ option outlined today can offer a sound path forward from both a policy and a legal perspective.”

Public Knowledge also supported the actions, with Gigi Sohn saying ““The Commission’s simple, uncomplicated action today of makes certain that the expert agency in telecommunications has the authority to carry out its mission.  The Commission has been attacked unmercifully by multi-billion dollar companies using threats, intimidation and fabrications, among other distasteful tactics.  They have used captive or unwitting legislators, in the face if common sense, to further their corporate goals at the expense of millions of Americans.”

The President of the CTIA Wireless Association released the following statement “We are disappointed that the Commission continues to consider the application of monopoly-era rules for the U.S. mobile broadband ecosystem.  Despite the fact the FCC has heard from more than half of the elected officials in Congress that this approach is wrong, the Commission has chosen to ignore this diverse and bi-partisan group of Senators and Representatives from around the country.  Instead, the Commission’s action is a dangerous solution in search of a non-existent problem.”

Dish Network offered a statement of support “DISH Network applauds the Commission’s decision to release a Notice of Inquiry on the ‘Third Way’ legal approach. We strongly support Chairman Genachowski’s leadership in moving this critical process forward,” said Charlie Ergen, Chairman, President and CEO of DISH Network. “A sound legal framework is absolutely necessary to preserve a free and open Internet and encourage innovation and investment.”

Unsurprisingly Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications opposed the NOI and released the following statement. “Reclassifying high-speed broadband Internet service as a telecom service is a terrible idea. The negative consequences for online users and the Internet ecosystem would be severe and have ramifications for decades. It is difficult to understand why the FCC continues to consider this option.”

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for BroadbandBreakfast.com since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

Broadband's Impact

CES 2022: Public-Private Partnerships Key to Building Smart Cities, Tech leaders Say

Public-private partnerships will increase the community benefit of infrastructure projects, leaders at Qualcomm and Verizon said.

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Panelists on the “Smart Cities and Public-Private Partnerships” CES session on Friday.

LAS VEGAS, January 12, 2022––Telecommunications industry leaders said Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show that public-private partnerships will pave the way to realizing the future of smart cities.

Raymond Bauer, director of the domain specialist group that connects governments to Verizon’s telecommunications services, said the government needs private partners to improve its infrastructure efforts.

Referencing the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Bauer said governments should look forward to partnering with private technology companies to improve upcoming infrastructure projects.

“There’s a once in a lifetime opportunity from IIJA,” Bauer said. “We should find common ways to work in a way we haven’t in the past. There are certain goals and use cases to leverage the infrastructure we have,” he said.

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan legislation funds physical and digital infrastructure projects, including $65 billion for the expansion of broadband across the country.

Bauer said communities have a chance to monetize the services Verizon offers to communities if Verizon builds infrastructure for broadband access in underserved areas. “By bridging the digital divide, underserved communities get the services they need,” he added.

Ashok Tipirneni, head of smart cities and connected spaces at Qualcomm, said that cities should be thinking about how technology can improve much-needed infrastructure projects.

“Cities are growing faster than available utility,” he said, citing global issues of housing, water, and equity for vulnerable populations. “How do we ensure access for all citizens? And how can cities be in lock step with new technology, whatever it is?” he asked.

Qualcomm’s Smart Cities Accelerator Program delivers internet of things ecosystem products and services to member cities and local governments.

“New Orleans, Miami, and Los Angeles has local governments asking how they can do better,” he said. “They offer opportunities for partnerships that wouldn’t have been the case a few years ago.”

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Broadband's Impact

Year In Review: Key Developments for Broadband’s Impact in the U.S.

This year saw a growing telehealth trend, federal digital inclusion efforts and greater attention to spectrum sharing.

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Photo of FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel (left) in February 2020 from the Prince George's County Library used with permission

WASHINGTON, December 29, 2021–High-speed internet access has never seemed more essential than in the days of another year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And that’s why, for the third in a three-part review of 2021, Broadband Breakfast focuses on broadband’s impact in enabling benefits through expanded internet access.

Telehealth takes center stage

Because the pandemic is continually forcing closures and stay-at-home orders, the expansion of telehealth services has become a critical, normalized service this year as remote health care is a safer, more efficient way to deliver high-quality care.

Broadband service is now important to maintaining overall health––experts have defined broadband services as a social determinant of health. Expanding telemedicine across rural and Tribal communities remain barriers to better health outcomes for vulnerable populations.

The pandemic prompted Congress to extend waivers that allowed patients to take advantage of telehealth services. Experts say the waivers encouraged the growth of telehealth systems, and that investment in telehealth is necessary to improving them.

Broadband access and affordability often restrict vulnerable communities’ ability to take advantage of telehealth services. This year saw massive investments focused on funding telehealth subsidies for patients in need.

In December alone, the Federal Communications Commission announced more than $42.7 million in COVID-19 Telehealth Program awards for health care providers spending on telecommunications information services and devices. The awards also reimburse health care organizations for innovative ideas that connect patients to quality care with broadband.

For example, the Westchester County Health Care Corporation in Valhalla, New York, was awarded $1 million for the purchase of remote monitoring software and video equipment, which will allow for the creation of a “tele-ICU” for the provision of remote care for hospitalized patients.

In October, a Senate subcommittee heard testimony that permanent regulatory flexibility allowing free or subsidized telemedicine services for patients would have  a positive impact on patient care. It may have a cost benefit too: FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr estimated that  widespread telehealth availability could save the health care system $305 billion a year.

The FCC’s new Affordable Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission served as an accelerator to better connect communities during the pandemic through its Affordable Connectivity Program. As families and students struggled to stay connected to work and school during the pandemic, the FCC has taken historic steps to assist families can’t afford to pay for internet service and devices.

Originally established as the Emergency Broadband Benefit, the Affordable Connectivity Program is the nation’s largest broadband subsidy program to ever be enacted. The Emergency Broadband Benefit was replaced by the Affordable Connectivity Program after the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November.

The Affordable Connectivity Program transformed the Emergency Broadband Benefit into a long-term program that provides discounts for families to purchase internet service and devices. Households can also receive discounts to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet for their home.

The Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment period opens on December 31, 2021, allowing families to start the new year with the opportunity to receive new devices for the home. However, a long-standing challenge has been informing the community about these benefits. Policy experts agree that these benefit programs are not reaching the intended audience.

A November report showed that areas with low broadband adoption are less likely to enroll in the program. “If leaders want to connect the unconnected, in addition to low income groups, other programs will be needed. EBB isn’t targeting these low-adoption communities,” said Will Rinehart, senior fellow at the Center for Growth an Opportunity.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel agreed on the need for emphasizing outreach. “There was no funding to help a lot of these non-profit and local organizations around the country get the word out [about the program],” Rosenworcel said during a September event hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance about the broadband affordability divide. “And I know that it would get the word out faster if we had that opportunity.”

Digital equity and inclusion

The past year was significant for its focus on digital equity and inclusion. The closing of many public institutions because of the pandemic has forced lower-income communities into isolation without sufficient devices or technology to stay connected, digital inclusion experts say.

Organizations such as the National Digital Inclusion Association have decried a type of discrimination known as “digital redlining” in which internet service providers discriminate in broadband deployment, maintenance, upgrade, or delivery of service in lower-income neighborhoods. Because communities of color are more likely to have slower and less reliable internet service, policy leaders have been active in finding solutions.

To combat this alleged practice, Rep. Yvette Clark introduced the Anti-Digital Redlining Act on July 30.  The bill finds that lower-income residents pay the same for DSL internet as fiber customers, while wealthier residents receive much better internet service. The text of the bill also acknowledges that disparities in internet access “impose significant costs” on the government to choose between “either offering non-digital means of interaction or excluding residents without access to high speed, reliable broadband access.”

If passed as federal law, the measure would require the FCC to ban digital redlining.

This year also saw the passage of digital inclusion-focused legislation as part of the recently-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law allocated $2.75 billion to the Digital Equity Act, which establishes the federal definitions of digital inclusion and digital equity.

The Digital Equity Act’s two programs and three grant funds will supply money to the states in order to do digital equity work. For example, the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program gives block grants to states for broadband infrastructure deployment and other digital inclusion activities.

Amy Huffman, policy director at the National Digital Inclusion Association, said that states are best prepared to promote digital equity for their residents. “The states are already in charge of so economic development workforce development health outcomes, etc. so they want the state to think holistically, about how they’re doing around digital equity will help them achieve their other goals.” By connecting all residents to quality devices and internet-enabled services, residents are better equipped to fully engage with the community and improve their quality of life.

Satellite broadband takes flight

Apart from the high-profile space launches this year, the broadband industry is both excited and skeptical about satellites playing a greater role.

In late 2020, the FCC voted to adopt rules making it easier for satellite providers to obtain licensing to deploy satellites faster. In February, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched 120 Starlink broadband satellites on two February missions, bringing the total number of satellites to over 1,700.

Low Earth Orbit satellites, which can bring broadband to rural communities, could connect harder-to-reach communities faster than laying fiber. By May 2021, SpaceX announced it had over 500,000 orders for the Starlink service.

Other companies are also jumping into the satellite business: the FCC approved Boeing’s  request to launch 132 satellites for its broadband internet network, and Amazon’s satellite imitative Project Kuiper partnered with Verizon in October to launch an internet service for underserved and unserved communities.

However, these massive investments didn’t come without controversy. Apart from concerns about Starlink’s capacity to deliver long-term, high quality service that complies with IIJA, public telecommunications policy leaders say the 12 GigaHertz (GHz) band, the portion of spectrum that Starlink uses for its services,  should be shared with 5G operators to deliver internet to lower-income communities.

Research commissioned by RS Access in August concluded that the mid-band spectrum can be shared between 5G and satellite broadband operators and finding that the 12 GHz spectrum is “highly favorable for 5G,” and “can rapidly accelerate 5G deployment nationwide.”

Next year regulators and policymakers will continue the battle to determine who, if anyone, will have greater control over the 12 GHz band.

Will the ‘homework gap’ persist in a world of online education?

Last year’s initial COVID lockdown left many families unprepared and unconnected to devices or internet access and the “homework gap” persisted.

In fall 2021, many schools embraced a “hybrid” in-person, virtual schooling model. Around this time, Pew research found that lower-income parents were more likely to say their children did homework on a cellphone and could not complete homework because they did not have computer access at home.

Some students have been using public Wi-Fi because they could not connect reliably at home. The FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund was authorized to help close bring devices to students who lack them.

Originally launching in June as part of March’s American Rescue Plan Act, the FCC has committed $3.8 billion of the $7.17 billion program to provide funding for schools and libraries to buy equipment students to learn remotely.

The total amount committed to go to support 9,000 schools, 760 libraries, and 100 consortia for nearly 8.3 million connected devices and over 4.4 million broadband connections, the agency said last week in a press release. (See also Year in Review: Key Developments in Digital Infrastructure with Ramifications for Next Year.)

Last week, the FCC committed another $603 million in Emergency Connectivity funds to connect more than 1.4 million students across all 50 states.

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Health

Telehealth Has Potential to Shift Medical Focus to Preventative Care and Wellness

Experts say continued investment in telehealth is necessary to improve care systems.

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John Halamka, David Rice, Angela Moore, Jeffrey Neal and Peter Ku

WASHINGTON, December 24, 2021 – Medical experts say continued investment in telehealth systems expanded during the coronavirus pandemic has the potential to improve medicine’s focus on preventative care and wellness.

However, some concern exists over what will happen to telehealth advances made during the pandemic should Congress fail to renew waivers that allowed telehealth provision in government-aligned health programs such as Medicare.

Experts discussed this current juncture in telehealth at a Federal Communications Bar Association event last week.

They remarked on just how quickly telehealth systems were able to grow in the past two years because of Congress’ waivers and the major impacts revoking these waivers could have for these systems and the access of many individuals to healthcare.

A discussed example of virtual medicine’s growth was observed “exponential” increases in new overall patient engagement at Veterans Affairs medical providers through telehealth during some of the deadliest phases of the pandemic.

During a Senate hearing in October, witnesses such as Deanna Larson, president of Avel eCARE, testified that regulatory flexibility from Congress is necessary to address telehealth access, as well as that broadband affordability issues often prevent access to telehealth.

Witnesses also raised that telehealth’s prevalence would increase emergency room bed availability during the pandemic

At the FCBA event, Miller Nash attorney David Rice emphasized that beyond giving medical access to individuals that face obstacles in traveling to medical facilities for treatment, telehealth is simply more convenient than in-person treatment for almost everyone and allows patients to fit medical appointment attendance more easily in their schedules.

In terms of challenges robust telehealth systems would face going forward, Mayo Clinic Platform President John Halamka cited potential licensure issues for providing care, and some argument existed between Rice and Jeffrey Neal, T-Mobile for Government’s national director of federal sales, over whether data privacy issues are likely to be a serious hindrance to virtual treatment.

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission announced $42.7 million in awards from its COVID-19 Telehealth Program which supports continued care for patients by reimbursing them for telecommunications services, information services and connected devices.

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