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FCC Aims to Expand Consumer Welfare

WASHINGTON, October 15, 2010 – The recent Federal Communications Commission recent open meeting looked to progress the chairman’s goal of improving consumer welfare. The issues spanned the range of the FCC’s authority from cable to broadband and mobile telephony and even touched on technology around the Yangtze River.

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WASHINGTON, October 15, 2010 – The recent Federal Communications Commission recent open meeting looked to progress the chairman’s goal of improving consumer welfare. The issues spanned the range of the FCC’s authority from cable to broadband and mobile telephony.

One of the long-term goals of the FCC has been to increase competition among the set-top box market. The market has inherent problems since most individuals often rent the boxes from their television provider rather than purchasing a third-party box. While the FCC has mandated that cable/satellite providers give users cable cards to insert into their choice of boxes, the companies often charge installation and rental fees on the cards. Today’s order sought to increase the use of cable cards.

Consumers will now be able to install their own cable cards rather than having to pay for installation from the cable company. Additionally. cable companies will have to limit the amount they subsidize their set top boxes. See yesterday’s story on BroadbandBreakfast.com.

One of the more exciting provisions is “streamlining requirements for manufacturers who build CableCARD devices.” This provision will allow manufacturers to more easily integrate cable cards into their set top boxes. Currently there are a number of internet enabled set top boxes which allow users to directly stream content from the web but they all lack a cable card slot.

Public Knowledge responded to the order with this comment: “Now, consumers will be able to install their own CableCard s provided that manufacturers include instructions and, importantly, the commission will limit the ability of cable systems to subsidize their own boxes with service costs, which puts competitive devices at a disadvantage.”

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association also supported the order; “We agree with the Commission that implementing these changes – including increasing options for self-installation, providing more transparency and properly equipping technicians – will assist customers who use retail devices that rely on cable cards. Our industry will work diligently to implement these changes. We also will continue working constructively with TiVo and other providers of retail ‘cable ready’ products to assure that our mutual customers can seamlessly enjoy all of the cable services available to them. “

The FCC also issued a notice of public rulemaking on bill shock that looks to simplify mobile phone billing. The commission is troubled by the fact that often consumers are charged large overage fees. “The FCC’s proposed rules would require customer notification, such as voice or text alerts, when the customer approaches and reaches monthly limits that will result in overage charges.” Customers would also have to be notified when they leave the country if they will be charged a higher fee.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “I know that some will argue this is unnecessary or burdensome. But consider what I heard yesterday from a business executive. He said that a couple of months ago he had incurred $2,000 in extra data charges while on a trip overseas. Despite buying an “international plan” – he was billed for “more than 15 times what I had expected to pay.” He said: “It took hiring a lawyer to get the charges waived – cost me almost as much as the charges, but I did it for the principle. Most Americans would not have this luxury.”

The last notice of proposed rulemaking which was adopted was on the mobility fund. This fund was proposed in the National Broadband Plan and would provide Universal Service Fund to help expand 3G wireless services. The cost of installing wireless is much lower than fixed lines. The notice proposes using $100 million to $300 million from the USF.

It also suggests the use of reverse auctions. “To use a reverse auction – in which the potential providers of services in identified areas without 3G service compete for support from the Mobility Fund by proposing the lowest amount of USF support they would require to serve areas that are currently unserved – to determine which providers get support, which specific geographic areas will receive support, and at what levels.”

Reverse auctions for wireless service have been successfully applied in other nations such as India and Peru but they have faced serious problems. The main difference between success and failure is if an existing provider is in the area. When there is already, an incumbent they are able to decrease costs much lower than any new entrant.

Commissioner Michael Copps supported the NPRM and relayed the following story: “The new Mobility Fund will provide a much-needed down payment on closing America’s digital divide. We’ve got a ways to go. That was brought home to me over the past couple of weeks as my wife and I vacationed in China. Even as we toured the treasures of Chinese antiquity, like the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta warriors and the Forbidden City, we also were able to take advantage of some pretty impressive telecommunications technology. We sailed down the Yangtze River, surrounded on both sides by mountains, and as we floated down those long and beautiful river valleys, I was almost never without 3G service. The sight of that 3G signal along the top of my BlackBerry screen almost everywhere we went on our trip made quite an impression on me. I dare say there are many places in the United States—and they’re not just river valleys, either—where I wouldn’t find that kind of service. That’s one example of why moving ahead with a Mobility Fund and comprehensive USF reform is so important”

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

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U.S. Broadband Deployment and Speeds are Beating Europe’s, Says Scholar Touting ‘Facilities-based Competition’

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WASHINGTON, June 10, 2014 – In spite of press reports to the contrary, U.S. broadband coverage is not falling behind European levels of service, academic Christopher Yoo said on Wednesday at the National Press Club.

“It seems like every other week there’s a new infographic or news story that talks about how the U.S. is falling behind in broadband speeds, we don’t have fiber to the home, and telecom companies are rolling in the profits while consumer prices soar,” said Doug Brake, telecommunications policy analyst with The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, setting up the topic tackled in by Yoo in his presentation.

On the contrary, said Yoo, the founding director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition, the U.S. led in many broadband metrics in 2011 and 2012. And, he said, it is precisely the absence of a “one size fits all” regulatory structure that has been been driving technological innovation forward in the marketplace.

In other words, according to Yoo, the American approach to facilities-based competition – where cable companies and telephone companies compete through rival communications networks –has succeeded.

While the findings may be “surprising” to some, Yoo said they proved the importance of examining the best approach to broadband regulation based on “real world data.”

The notion that “fiber is the only answer” to affordable high-speed broadband is a misconception, he said. Countries emphasizing fiber over rival technologies – including Sweden and France – were among the worst broadband performers.

In the U.S., 82 percent of households received broadband at speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps), versus 54 percent in Europe. In rural areas, the difference was even greater: 48 percent in the U.S., versus 12 percent in Europe. The five countries that did beat U.S. coverage of greater than 25 Mbps (including Denmark and the Netherlands) are compact, urbanized regions with greater population densities.

Additionally, even looking at fiber-based technologies, the U.S. is outperforming Europe, he said. Fiber coverage in the U.S. went from 17 percent in 2011 to 23 percent in 2012. In Europe, fiber coverage went from 10 percent in 2011 to 12 percent in 2012.

And, based on the measurement of telecommunications investment per household, the U.S. number is more than double that of Europe: $562 versus $244 in the old world.

And, he said, American users consumed 50 percent more bandwidth than Europeans in 2011 and 2012.

“The best measure of how much a network is really worth is how much you use it,” Yoo said. “It’s great to have a very fast car, but unless you use it, it’s not really doing very much for you.”

One area where the U.S. could see improvement is in the area of broadband adoption, Brake said. That demonstrates continued need to demonstrate value in broadband for consumers.

Yoo agreed: “Availability is only a part of the question. There are plenty of people who have broadband available to them who are choosing not to adopt.”

Moderator Gerry Faulhaber added: “As regulators, we can mandate coverage, we can mandate buildout. What we can’t do is mandate people to use it.”

Keeping a series of tiered rates for broadband service is exactly what America’s broadband rollout needs, said Brake. That not only encourages consumers to purchase internet at lower introductory rates, it also efficiently places the burden on those who wish to pay more for higher-speed service. This helps to recuperate costs for networks.

“Is it better to provide 75 to 100 Mbps to 80 to 90 percent of the population, or one Gigabit per second to 10 to 20 percent of the population?”

Blair Levin, former director of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, and now communications a science fellow at the Aspen Institute, said that comparisons with Europe doesn’t change America’s objective to build deeper fiber, use broadband to improve the delivery of goods and services, and connect more users.

“Which activity is more productive – looking at oneself in the mirror and asking, ‘do these jeans make me look fat?’ or going to the gym? Focusing on actions that improve one’s condition is better than wondering about how one should appear relative to others,” said Levin.

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Discussion of Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event on High-Capacity Applications and Gigabit Connectivity

WASHINGTON, September 24, 2013 – The Broadband Breakfast Club released the first video of its Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, on “How High-Capacity Applications Are Driving Gigabit Connectivity.”

The dialogue featured Dr. Glenn Ricart, Chief Technology Officer, US IGNITESheldon Grizzle of GigTank in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Todd MarriottExecutive Director of UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, and Drew ClarkChairman and Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com.

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WASHINGTON, September 24, 2013 – The Broadband Breakfast Club released the first video of its Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, on “How High-Capacity Applications Are Driving Gigabit Connectivity.”

The dialogue featured Dr. Glenn Ricart, Chief Technology Officer, US IGNITESheldon Grizzle of GigTank in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Todd MarriottExecutive Director of UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, and Drew ClarkChairman and Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com.

To register for the next Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, “How Will FirstNet Improve Public Safety Communications?,” on Tuesday, October 15, 2013, at 11 a.m. ET/10 a.m. CT, please visit http://gowoa.me/i/XV8

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Breakfast Club Video: ‘Gigabit and Ultra-High-Speed Networks: Where They Stand Now and How They Are Building the Future’

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WASHINGTON, May 24, 2013 – Emphasizing the developing nature of broadband networks in the United States, speakers at the May 21 Broadband Breakfast Club event said that the recent achievement of ultra-high speed broadband networks has been a critical factor seeding transformative developments for organizations, individuals and communities. These developments, panelists said, were simply not possible before with slower speed networks.

Yet panelists at the event, “Becoming a Gigabit Nation: What Have We Learned About Ultra-High Speed Broadband?” also agreed that speed is not actually the most important factor in the maturing of these networks.

Event Highlights

Complete Program

Successful deployment of such networks requires concerted efforts and continual upgrades involving community leadership, assessment of consumer needs and desires, infrastructure development, application development and successful assessment of usage patterns. All of these factors affect the success of such gigabit and high-speed networks, panelists said.

In other words, high-speed networks need to be developed in concert with proposed applications, which are in turn developed in the context of their communities or customer base.

As gigabit cities consultant David Sandel said, gigabit and smart city transformation being undertaken is 90 percent sociology and 10 percent infrastructure. Sandel, president of Sandel and Associates, works with St. Louis, Kansas City and other communities worldwide and runs the Gigabit City Summit, a global forum of community leaders who are engaged in discussion on new forms of leadership for managing such networks.

Sandel said that new gigabit leadership must break out of traditional silos and engage in greater information exchange and collaboration. Less hierarchy, more inclusion and more communication, facilitate the success of gigabit services and applications, he said.

What’s Happening Now

Sandel and other panelists gave examples of how 100-plus megabit per second and gigabit-level connectivity is already providing considerable benefits to cities that have it – even where the majority of a city’s consumers do not yet have needs for those levels of service.

For example, Sandel described the success of a two-mile gigabit main street in St. Louis, Missouri. This project has attracted a number of innovative businesses to the area. He said that such projects carry several benefits to an entire city, such as enabling the use of cloud services, driving up real estate values, and creating high-value jobs. In addition, the current relatively higher costs of gigabit service in communities can be partially offset by institutional and industrial uses.

Similarly, Sheldon Grizzle, founder and co-director of the Chattanooga-based GIGTANK, a technology start-up accelerator, said that the implementation of gigabit broadband by the local utility EPB has been a boon to its electrical grid. Power outages in the area have decreased by 60 percent, he said.

Grizzle says that Chattanooga, as a small city of 170,000, sees itself as a good test case for gigabit networks. Its network now provides speeds of 50 Mbps for 50,000 subscribers. It also offers or Gbps symmetrical service (i.e. 1 Gbps upload and 1 Gbps download) for $300 a month, although the number of subscribers has been fewer. He attributed the relatively low demand for the gigabit offered to the high price point.

Grizzle said that GIGTANK has been recruiting application developers from around the world to build appropriate apps for the community, as Chattanooga’s gigabit network grows beyond its infancy.

Speed Issues

Notwithstanding high-profile gigabit build-outs in recent years, nationally broadband speeds have been steadily increasing by other methods over the last several years, said Kevin McElearney, senior vice president of network engineering and technical operations for Comcast Cable.

McElearney said that, for example, Comcast has innovated on nextgen technologies every year, increasing network speeds 11 times over the last 11 years, and is now running terabit links over the backbone to allow capacity for new applications. He said that Comcast now provides up to 100 Mbps download capacity, with 70 percent of consumers electing for 25 Mbps and 30 percent for tiers higher speeds.

McElearney said that Comcast sees the increasing use of multiple devices in households as the principal driver behind the demand for higher broadband speeds for consumers.

Application Development

William Wallace, Executive Director of U.S. Ignite, a developer of gigabit-ready digital experiences and applications, spoke of an “internet of immersive experience,” suggesting an internet experience completely different from prior experiences. Users will also be creating their own experiences, he said.

Wallace further noted that customization of network features around applications will help to build in the greatest efficiencies. For example, different applications will be characterized by different speeds, security features, cloud storage locations, latencies etc.

Scott Wallsten, vice president for research and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, said that focus on ultra-high broadband speeds is misplaced. According to Wallsten, because internet speeds are already increasing consistently, policies focusing on speed are unnecessary. Instead, Wallsten said, greater attention should be paid to other metrics of broadband quality, such as latency and reliability.

Additionally, Wallsten stated that the government’s adoption programs should be focused on low-income inner-city non-adopters rather than rural high-speed development. He said that the Federal Communications Commission’s high cost fund portion of the Universal Service Fund has not been sufficient to pay for rural development. Instead, the best hope to help the most individuals get broadband is to focus on urban areas. Increased efficiencies in cities will offer a better chance for providers to lower costs and then expand network development in rural areas.

Sandel concluded with how education is critical for successful gigabit network development and that there should be a three-pronged approach: education for leaders as to the impacts and benefits of gigabit networks and applications across all sectors, development of clear economic development models that draw lines to revenue flows, and policies for inclusion of all populations so that everyone can participate.

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