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Alaskan Senator’s Telecom Legacy Extends Beyond Fateful ‘Series of Tubes’ Comment

SAN FRANCISCO, August 11, 2010 – One of the more unfortunate pop-cultural legacies of Ted Stevens as far as telecommunications policy is concerned is his 2006 comment that the internet is like “a series of tubes.”

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SAN FRANCISCO, August 11, 2010 – One of the more unfortunate pop-cultural legacies of Ted Stevens as far as telecommunications policy is concerned is his 2006 comment that the internet is like “a series of tubes.”

Ted Stevens, 1923-2009

Plug the late Republican Alaskan senator’s name into Google, and the third item is a Wikipedia entry and a Daily Show segment on the incident.

It’s unfortunate because Stevens, who was 83 at the time that he made those comments, slogged through many other complex telecommunications issues during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee during the 109th Congress between 2005 and 2007, and then as its ranking member.

He often was not particularly eloquent about the technology issues involved, but along with his Democratic counterpart Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, he worked on legislative efforts to  promote competition, such as a number portability bill in 2007.

Stevens made the ‘series of tubes’ comment during committee hearings over a mammoth telecom reform bill in the summer of 2006. His comments were directed at the issue of Net Neutrality, the concept of maintaining the original best efforts nature of the  public internet, an issue still very much in the headlines as Google and Verizon try to sell their vision of what it should look like. Stevens was against the idea of including language in the legislation to mandate net neutrality.

“I know he’s known online for the ‘Series of Tubes’ video, but what’s often lost is that he was on the internet long before anyone else in Congress was,” said Earl Comstock, CEO of Comstock Consulting, and former President and CEO of competitive local exchange carrier association Comptel.

Comstock was Stevens’ legislative director for a decade between 1987 and 1997. His areas of focus were telecommunications and fishing issues.

“He was one of the authors of the laws on spectrum that enables the mobile broadband internet today,” noted Comstock in an interview.

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the senate, died in a plane crash Monday night on his way to a remote fishing lodge in Southwestern Alaska. The plane was owned by Alaska’s largest cable and telecommunications company GCI.

“This accident claimed the lives of Alaska’s great champion, Senator Ted Stevens, and other individuals who distinguished themselves through public and private service to this state and our nation. I want to express the profound sorrow felt at GCI over the loss of such good friends,” GCI President and CEO Ron Duncan said in a Tuesday statement.

As chairman of the 109th Congress’ Senate Commerce Committee and then as its ranking member, Stevens also worked on digital television transition issues, broadband roll-out to rural areas and other telecommunications competition issues. That was just a short, relatively recent stint in a long, passionate career in the senate that began in 1968.

It all ended in controversy in 2009 after colleagues from both sides of the aisle called for his resignation in the wake of charges of corruption. He ended up losing his senate seat to Democrat Mark Begich. But his corruption conviction was later thrown out due to discoveries about misconduct by the prosecutors.

On Tuesday, Stevens was remembered in the telecom world for his work on rural issues.

“Senator Stevens always fought for equal access for rural Americans – from equal access to communications, to equal access to transportation and infrastructure. He was a champion of rural America – whether you were a rural West Virginian or a rural Alaskan,” said the current Commerce Committee’s Chairman, Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia in a Tuesday statement.

For its part, the Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance issued the following statement: “Senator Stevens was a staunch advocate for rural America throughout his historic 41-year Senate career, and advocated tirelessly on behalf of citizens in rural and insular areas throughout the United States.  His commitment to telecommunications policy, complemented by his insight, vision, and stature in the Senate, enabled communications connectivity for millions of Americans, and stand as a particular achievement among his many good works.”

Another long-serving senator, Democrat Pat Leahy of Vermont, remembered Stevens this way: “He was a tough negotiator and a savvy legislator.  But as I told him again last month, he was an old-school senator.  He always kept his word to me and to other senators.  In moments of legislative battle he would come onto the floor wearing his Hulk tie, and he would growl and act like a bulldog.  But then he would spot friends on the floor and give a wink and a grin.”

Sarah Lai Stirland was Contributing Editor for BroadbandBreakfast.com until April 2011. She has covered business, finance and legal affairs, telecommunications and tech policy for 15 years from New York, Washington and San Francisco. She has written for Red Herring, National Journal's Technology Daily, Portfolio.com and Wired.com. She's a native of London and Hong Kong, and is currently based in San Francisco.

Mobile Broadband

Policymakers Urge Better Broadband Maps, Seek Funding for ‘Rip and Replace,’ and Tout Open Radio Networks

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Screenshot of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi

October 23, 2020 — Policymakers called for more accurate broadband maps, continued progress against robocalls, and the use of an open radio access network for advanced wireless communications at the Competitive Carriers Association’s policy forum on Wednesday.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, emphasized new broadband maps in his speech. Wicker noted that Congress recently passed Broadband Data Act, which he authored, requiring the FCC to change the way broadband data is collected.

“Current data claims Mississippi has 98 percent mobile broadband coverage,” said Wicker, adding that the claim is “ridiculous.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, addressed the achievements of the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act in battling robocalls in his keynote. He thanked CCA members for their help in passage of the measure.

Pallone also called for the passage of the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, which aims to fund small providers replacing Chinese-made telecommunications equipment in their networks. The program is often dubbed “rip and replace.”

“Replacing Chinese-made gear is going to cost billions, anywhere from to $1.6 to 1.8 billion,” said Pallone, “Congress needs to provide monetary assistance” to small carriers.

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brendan Carr championed the use of open radio access networks during his keynote, saying that for CCA members, the unbundling that open RAN technology requires will result in increased competition in the marketplace.

Competitive Carriers Association represents more than 100 wireless carriers and stakeholders.

CCA CEO Steven Berry thanked CCA members for rising to the circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said many members extended service to users and waived fees to keep consumers connected.

Berry said wireless connectivity “has given people exactly what they need” during these times of hardship.

“Small carriers serving remote and rural areas need to have a seat at the table in Washington D.C.” to influence government policies that directly affect industry operations, such as the ability to access spectrum, said Berry.

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Broadband Roundup: Mobile World Congress Cancelled, Yang Bows Out, Ajit Pai at Wind River Tribe

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Photo of Ajit Pai at Wind River Indian Reservation by the FCC

The world’s largest trade show for mobile communications was canceled Wednesday due to the organizers’ uncertainty that it could guarantee the health of its attendees, according to a CNBC article.

The move was prompted by high-profile dropouts from the conference announced earlier in the day.

Amazon, Sony, Nokia, and Intel were among the biggest names to announce that they would ultimately not be sending representatives to the Barcelona-based conference because they were not willing to risk the health of their employees.

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, making it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” GSMA said in a statement.

The conference was originally scheduled to begin on Monday, February 24.

2020 hopeful and tech whiz Andrew Yang bows out of presidential race

2020 hopeful and former tech CEO Andrew Yang ended his contest in the 2020 presidential election after disappointing results in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

Yang built a small but loyal following referred to as the “Yang Gang.” They and others supported his flagship platform of providing a “freedom dividend,” or universal basic income, of $1,000 for every American family every month.

“We have touched and improved millions of lives and moved this country we love so much in the right direction. And while there is great work left to be done, you know, I am the math guy, and it is clear tonight from the numbers that we are not going to win this race,” he told supporters on Tuesday night.

“I am not someone who wants to accept donations and support in a race that we will not win. And so tonight I am announcing I am suspending my campaign for president.”

Prior to running for president, Yang founded Venture for America, a nonprofit that matched recent graduates with startups. Prior to that, he was CEO of a test preparation company called Manhattan Prep., which he sold to Kaplan and for which he made millions.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai monitors tribal broadband growth during visit to Wind River Reservation in Wyoming

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai met with leaders of the Arapaho Tribe in Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming to see firsthand the areas in which the FCC is investing $4.1 million for gigabit-speed broadband deployment.

These funds come from the Connect America Fund Phase II auction that is providing speed service to 849 homes and businesses in the reservation.

“Bringing high-speed connectivity to rural Tribal lands can be a game-changer,” said Chairman Pai.  “That’s why bridging the digital divide is my top priority.”

During his visit, Chairman Pai also discussed with Arapaho leaders the Tribal Priority Window.  The FCC opened up the Tribal Priority Window earlier this month to enable federally recognized tribes to apply for spectrum in the 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz) band.

This band—the single largest band of contiguous spectrum below 3 GHz—offers favorable coverage and capacity characteristics for next-generation mobile services, such as 5G.  Through this priority window, tribes can obtain 2.5 GHz spectrum without charge before a commercial auction.  The Rural Tribal Priority Window will close on August 3, 2020.

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Mobile Broadband

Wireless 5G Broadband and Everywhere Connectivity is the Buzz at the Consumer Electronics Show

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LAS VEGAS, January 9, 2018 – Here at the Consumer Electronics Show, it’s impossible to avoid being bombarded by the energy – real and imagined – surrounding the 5G wireless standard that is just beginning to be deployed.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg made the communications company’s efforts to nurture, promote and deploy 5G the sum and substance of his Tuesday afternoon keynote at the show.

And in a series of panel discussions on Wednesday, leaders from the technology, media, education and other industries emphasized just how pumped they are for this next generation of wireless connectivity.

Verizon boasts the first commercial deployment of 5G in October 2018, when it went live with fixed-wireless deployments using a 5G networks in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento.

AT&T followed in December, with what it called the first mobile 5G deployment, to parts of 14 cities including Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville (Fla.), Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh (N.C.), San Antonio and Waco.

The 5G wireless standard includes transmission both at higher-band frequencies, in the so-called “millimeter wavelength” bands above about 25 Gigahertz (GHz), and in the frequencies below 6 GHz. AT&T deployment was in this latter bandwidth.

Vestberg’s keynote showcased 5G as the “fourth industrial revolution.” In it, he introduced what he called the eight “currencies” of 5G that make it — in his view — more than just another technology standard:

His eight currencies are:

  • Speed and Throughput: Peak data rates of 10 gigabits per second and mobile data volumes of 10 terabits per second per square kilometer.
  • Mobility, Connected Devices and Internet of Things: Mobile devices traveling at up to 500 kilometers per hour can potentially stay connected on a 5G network, and up to one million devices can be supported by 5G in a square kilometer
  • Energy Efficiency and Service Deployment: 5G network equipment and devices will consume only 10 percent of the energy consumed by 4G network equipment and devices, and specialized services that will operate on the 5G network will take much less time to implement.
  • Latency and Reliability: Five millisecond end-to-end travel time of data from the mobile device to the edge of the 5G network – faster than the blink of an eye, and 5G will be more than 99.999 percent  reliable

The very first 5G customer, Houston resident Clayton Harrison receiving Verizon fixed wireless service, made a cameo appearance during Vestberg’s keynote. During the demonstration, he conducted a live speed demonstrating service at 690 Megabits per second (Mbps), which he described as the “low end” of the 600 Mbps to 1.6 Gigabits per second broadband speed that he normally receives.

(Photo of Hans Vestberg at CES2019.)

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