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Broadband's Impact

Support Dims for FCC Chairman’s Open Internet Proposal

WASHINGTON, December 21, 2010 – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Dec. 1 announced that there would be a set of open internet rules that his agency would vote on during its open meeting on Dec. 21. While many stakeholders in the debate initially were happy to learn that the chairman would finally bring the issue to a vote, support dimmed after learning what he planned to include in the rules.

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WASHINGTON, December 21, 2010 – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Dec. 1 announced that there would be a set of open internet rules that his agency would vote on during its open meeting on Dec. 21. While many stakeholders in the debate initially were happy to learn that the chairman would finally bring the issue to a vote, support dimmed after learning what he planned to include in the rules.

It was a little over a year ago when, after weeks of speculation, the FCC finally issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to explore the issue of network neutrality. Earlier that year, a court decision ruling that the FCC couldn’t regulate the speeds at which Comcast choose to deliver content through its networks cast a pall of uncertainty over the power of the FCC to enforce potential network neutrality violations. After weeks of study and meetings, the FCC chairman announced his now famous Third Way proposal. The Third Way sought a middle ground between what some saw as the overreaching provisions of Title II and the weak Title I authority.

The chairman spent the spring selling his Third Way proposal and it gained support among network neutrality advocates. Public Knowledge Founder Gigi Sohn said in in a statement that, “The ‘Third Way’ would establish a firmer legal foundation, not only for open internet rules but also for broadband policy generally. We urge the commission to conclude the proceeding and adopt the ‘Third Way’ proposal at a future meeting.”

The chairman spent the summer trying to gain consensus among internet service providers and content makers, but failed. The secret meetings not only failed to produce any real solution but it garnered serious criticism from telecom advocates who felt that the commission should make the meetings public.

As the FCC was holding its secret meetings, Rep. Henry Waxman of California, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, drafted a bill that would have strengthened Title I to allow the FCC to enforce network neutrality. Additionally, the bill specifically defined network neutrality, included a sunshine provision on broadband billing, and extended the neutrality requirements to wireless providers. The bill was never able to pass the House due to strong opposition from Republicans.

Then there was the accusation by Level3, a backbone provider and new content delivery network, that Comcast was demanding more money to carry video content. In November, the commission had decided to hold its open meeting late in the month, an action that many thought was a sign that its members would finally rule on the open internet but now that a real threat to network neutrality had occurred, the need for FCC action became accelerated.

The commission vowed to look into the matter and the chairman gave a speech outlining some of the key points in the open internet rules. The announcement included the standard requirements such as allowing users the right to access legal content of their choice, and allowing ISPs to conduct reasonable management to ensure network stability but it also included some unexpected provisions. One of these provisions is a clause requiring ISPs to present contract information clearly to consumers.

A recent white paper on broadband satisfaction found that many consumers are still confused by the language and presentation on their bills. Only 24 percent said the information on their bill was very clear on the speed of their internet service.

The provision allowing for usage-based pricing has received some objections but not many.

The majority of the objections to these proposed rules come from those that believe that they are not strong enough to stand up to judicial review. The groups also felt that without reclassifying broadband and using Title II jurisdiction, the commission would face strong legal opposition.

Additionally, many groups also wanted the rules to extend to wireless providers. Among the parties objecting to these new rules on the ground that they do not go far enough are Netflix, Public Knowledge, Free Press, Skype and Amazon.

The largest source of disagreement between former supporters and the new rules is that the new rules do not prevent paid prioritization, which allows ISPs to demand content makers pay for service on their networks.

ISPs in general also oppose the action claiming that the FCC does not have the authority nor do they need to act since violations do not occur. AT&T said these new provisions would inhibit innovation and investment.

Wired provider Windstream said, however, that any rules which will be applied to wired networks need to also be applied to the wireless realm: “Stricter regulation of wired broadband services will distort the competitive marketplace, and the alleged differences between wired and wireless networks are at most matters of degree, not kind, and do not justify placing the technologies under different regulatory standards.”

There is some support for the new rules such as that from the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, which stated: “NARUC is on record supporting the uniform adoption of all six regulatory principles outlined in the FCC’s October 22, 2009 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on a technology-neutral basis.

“If the language of the draft is subject to such a preemptive interpretation with respect to state authority to assist the FCC to fulfill clear congressional mandates to protect consumers or promote universal service with respect to broadband or related voice services, the FCC should include an explicit statement or statements that the draft is not addressing such issues nor should it be used to imply preemption of any existing state authority.”

The FCC commissioners are also split on the new draft rules. Expectedly, Republican Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Atwell Baker oppose the order on principle. Commissioner Michael Copps, an ardent supporter of network neutrality, is on the fence. While he supports the concept, he believes that any action taken by the FCC should be a strong one and that the rules which have been announced are too weak. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s statement regarding the draft rules is vague but generally supportive.

Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Ron Wyden of Oregon sent letters of support to the chairman for his ideas, but Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota believes that if the FCC will act, it must use a strong hand and not approve a weak set of rules. In a letter to the FCC, Franken says “absent significant changes to the draft Order as it has been described to me, adopting these rules as they are may actually send signals to industry endorsing any closing off of the Internet that is not specifically prohibited.”

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

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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Broadband's Impact

New Report Recommends Broadening Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues

A Mattey Consulting report finds broadband revenues can help sustain the fund used to connect rural and low-income Americans.

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Carol Mattey of Mattey Consulting LLC

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2021— Former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission Carol Mattey released a study on Tuesday recommending the agency reform the Universal Service Fund to incorporate a broad range of revenue sources, including from broadband.

According to the report by Mattey’s consulting firm Mattey Consulting LLC, revenues from “broadband internet access services that are increasingly used by Americans today should contribute to the USF programs that support the expansion of such services to all,” it said. “This will better reflect the value of broadband internet access service in today’s marketplace for both consumers and businesses.”

Mattey notes that sources of funding for the USF, which are primarily from voice revenues and supports expanding broadband to low-income Americans and remote regions, has been shrinking, thus putting the fund in jeopardy. The contribution percent reached a historic high at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that, though Mattey suggested it could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years.

“This situation is unsustainable and jeopardizes the universal broadband connectivity mission for our nation without immediate FCC reform,” Mattey states in her report, “To ensure the enduring value of the USF program and America’s connectivity goals, we must have a smart and substantive conversation about the program’s future.”

According to Mattey’s data, the assessed sources (primarily voice) of income will only continue to shrink over the coming years, while unassessed sources will continue to grow. Mattey’s report was conducted in conjunction with INCOMPAS, NTCA: The Rural Broadband Association, and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“It is time for the FCC to take action, and to move away from the worst option of all – the status quo – that is jeopardizing the USF which is critical to connecting our nation,” the report said.

John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB, echoed the sentiments expressed by Mattey in her report, “We simply must put the USF funding mechanism on a more stable and sustainable path,” he said, “[in order to] strengthen our national commitment to broadband equity for all.”

Mattey report uniform with current recommendations

Mattey’s research is generally in line with proponents of change to the USF. Some have recommended that the fund draw from general broadband revenues, while others have said general taxation would provide a longer lasting solution. Even FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested that Big Tech be forced to contribute to the system it benefits from, which the acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said is an “intriguing” idea.

The FCC instituted the USF in 1997 as a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The fund was designed to encourage the development of telecom infrastructure across the U.S.—dispensing billions of dollars every year to advance the goal of universal connectivity. It does so through four programs: the Connect America Fund, Lifeline, the rural health care program, and E-Rate.

These constituent programs address specific areas related for broadband. For example, the E-Rate program is primarily concerned with ensuring that schools and libraries are sufficiently equipped with internet and technology assistance to serve their students and communities. All of these programs derive their funding from the USF.

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Digital Inclusion

Outreach ‘Most Valuable Thing’ for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Rosenworcel

FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said EBB will benefit tremendously from local outreach efforts.

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Internet Innovation Alliance Co-Chair Kim Keenan

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday that a drawback of the legislation that ushered in the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program is that it did not include specific funding for 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],” Jessica Rosenworcel said during an 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.”

The program, which launched in May and provides broadband subsidies of $50 and $75 to qualifying low-income households, has so-far seen an uptake of roughly 5.5 million households. The program was a product of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“We gotta get those trusted local actors speaking about it because me preaching has its limitations and reaching out to people who are trusted in their communities to get the word out – that is the single most valuable thing we can do,” Rosenworcel said.

She said the FCC has 32,000 partners and has held more than 300 events with members of Congress, tribal leaders, national and local organizations, and educational institutions to that end.

“Anyone who’s interested, we’ll work with you,” she said.

EBB successes found in its mobile friendliness, language inclusion

Rosenworcel also preached the benefits of a mobile application-first approach with the program’s application that is making it accessible to large swaths of the population. “I think, frankly, every application for every program with the government should be mobile-first because we have populations, like the LatinX population, that over index on smartphone use for internet access.

“We gotta make is as easy as possible for people to do this,” she said.

She also noted that the program is has been translated into 13 languages, furthering its accessibility.

“We have work to do,” Rosenworcel added. “We’re not at 100 percent for anyone, and I don’t think we can stop until we get there.”

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