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.”
Doug Lodder: How to Prevent the Economic Climate from Worsening the Digital Divide
There are government programs created to shrink the digital divide, but not many Americans know what’s out there.
From gas to groceries to rent, prices are rocketing faster than they have in decades. This leaves many American families without the means to pay for essentials, including cellphone and internet services. In fact, the Center on Poverty and Social Policy reports that poverty rates have been steadily climbing since March. We’re talking about millions of people at risk of being left behind in the gulf between those who have access to connectivity and those who don’t.
We must not allow this digital divide to grow in the wake of the current economic climate. There is so much more at stake here than simply access to the internet or owning a smartphone.
What’s at stake if the digital divide worsens
Our reliance on connectivity has been growing steadily for years, and the pandemic only accelerated our dependence. Having a cell phone or internet access are no longer luxuries, they are vital necessities.
When a low-income American doesn’t have access to connectivity, they are put at an even greater disadvantage. They are limited in their ability to seek and apply for a job, they don’t have the option of convenient and cost-effective telehealth, opportunities for education shrink, and accessing social programs becomes more difficult. I haven’t even mentioned the social benefits that connectivity gives us humans—it’s natural to want to call our friends and families, and for many, necessary to share news or updates. The loss or absence of connectivity can easily create a snowball effect, compounding challenges for low-income Americans.
The stakes are certainly high. Thankfully, there are government programs created to shrink the digital divide. The challenge is that not many Americans know what’s out there.
What can be done to improve it
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration created the federal Lifeline program to subsidize phones and bring them into every household. The program has since evolved to include mobile and broadband services.
More than 34 million low-income Americans are eligible for subsidized cell phones and internet access through the Lifeline program. Unfortunately, only 1 in 5 eligible people are taking advantage of the program because most qualified Americans don’t even know the program exists.
The situation is similar with the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, another federal government program aimed at bringing connectivity to low-income Americans. Through ACP, qualifying households can get connected by answering a few simple questions and submitting eligibility documents.
Experts estimate that 48 million households—or nearly 40% of households in the country—qualify for the ACP. But, just like Lifeline, too few Americans are taking advantage of the program.
So, what can be done to increase the use of these programs and close the digital divide?
Our vision of true digital equity is where every American is connected through a diverse network of solutions. This means we can’t rely solely on fixed terrestrial. According to research from Pew, 27% of people earning less than $30,000 a year did not have home broadband and relied on smartphones for connectivity. Another benefit of mobile connectivity—more Americans have access to it. FCC data shows that 99.9% of Americans live in an LTE coverage area, whereas only 94% of the country has access to fixed terrestrial broadband where they live.
Additionally, we need more local communities to get behind these programs and proactively market them. We should see ads plastered across billboards and buses in the most impacted areas. Companies like ours, which provide services subsidized through Lifeline and ACP, market and promote the programs, but we’re limited in our reach. It’s imperative that local communities and their governments invest more resources to promote Lifeline, ACP and other connectivity programs.
While there’s no panacea for the problem at hand, it is imperative that we all do our part, especially as the economic climate threatens to grow the digital divide. The fate of millions of Americans is at stake.
Doug Lodder in President of TruConnect, a mobile provider that offers eligible consumers unlimited talk, text, and data, a free Android smartphone, free shipping, and access to over 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots; free international calling to Mexico, Canada, South Korea, China and Vietnam; plus an option to purchase tablets at $10.01. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to email@example.com. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
Senate Bill Subsidizing U.S. Semiconductor Production Clears House, Going to White House
Bill aims to strengthen American self-reliance in semiconductor chip production and international competition.
WASHINGTON, July 29, 2022 – A $54 billion bill to subsidize U.S-made semiconductor chips passed the House Thursday on a 243-187, and moves to President Biden for his expected signature.
Dubbed the CHIPS Act for Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors Act for America Fund, the measure is expected to incentivize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and also provide grants for the design and deploying of wireless 5G networks. It also includes a $24 billion fund to create a 25 percent tax credit for new semiconductor manufacturing facilities.
Advocates of the measure say that it will also improve U.S. supply chain, grow U.S. domestic workforce, and enable the U.S. to compete internationally to combat national security emergencies.
The measure passed the Senate Wednesday on a 64-33 vote.
Congressional supporters tout benefits
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., voiced his support on the House floor, calling it “a win for our global competitiveness.”
The CHIPS Act of 2022 provides a five-year investment in public research and development, and establishes new technology hubs across the country.
Of the funds, $14 billion goes to upgrade national labs, and $9 billion goes to the National Institute of Standards and Technology research, of which $2 billion goes to support manufacturing partnerships, and with $200 million going to train the domestic workforce.
In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett said that America’s semiconductor industry has lost ground to foreign competitors. “Today, only 12% of chips are manufactured in the United States, down from 37% in the 1990s.”
He said relying on cheaper products produced in China and overseas for so long, it has caught up with the United States.
Bennet suggested to move manufacturing labs to Colorado, where it can support it due to the plenty of jobs in aerospace and facility and infrastructure space.
“We don’t want the Chinese setting the standard for telecommunications. America needs to lead that. This bill puts us in the position to be a world leader,” said Bennet. “We are at a huge national security disadvantage if we don’t do this.”
Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, joined his Rocky Mountain state colleague in support: “There is a real sense of urgency here to compete not only to re-establish the U.S. to make their own chips, but to compete internationally.”
He said that semiconductor chips are vital to almost every business and product, including phones, watches, refrigerators, cars, and laptops. “I’m not sure if I can think of a business that isn’t dependent on chips at this point.”\
“This is a space race,” he said. “We cannot afford to fall behind.”
Industry supporters say measure is necessary
The U.S. has lost ground to foreign competitors in scientific R&D and in supply chain industry during a recent semiconductor crisis, said France Córdova, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event on July 19. The U.S. only ranks sixth best among other prominent countries in the world for research and development, she said.
“The CHIPS Act of 2022 and FABS Act are critical investments to even the global playing field for U.S. companies, and strategically important for our economic and national national security,” said Ganesh Moorthy, president and CEO of Microchip Technology Inc.
Bide expected to sign measure
With the Biden’s Administration’s focus to tackle the semiconductor shortage and supply chain crisis through the Executive Order made in February, the Biden administration has been bullish on the passage of the CHIPS Act, in a Wednesday statement:
“It will accelerate the manufacturing of semiconductors in America, lowering prices on everything from cars to dishwashers. It also will create jobs – good-paying jobs right here in the United States. It will mean more resilient American supply chains, so we are never so reliant on foreign countries for the critical technologies that we need for American consumers and national security,” said Biden.
Providers Call for More FCC Telehealth Funding as Demand Grows
‘I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.’
WASHINGTON, July 26, 2022 – Health care providers in parts of America say they are struggling to deliver telehealth due to a lack of broadband connectivity in underserved communities, and recommended there be more funding from the Federal Communications Commission.
While the FCC has a $200-million COVID-19 Telehealth program, which emerged from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, some providers say more money is needed as demand for telehealth services increases.
“The need for broadband connectivity in underserved communities exceeds current availability,” said Jennifer Stoll from the Oregon Community Health Information Network.
The OCHIN was one of the largest recipients of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot program in 2009. Stoll advocated for the need for more funding with the non-profit SHLB Coalition during the event last week. Panelists didn’t specify how much more funding is needed.
Stoll noted that moving forward, states need sustainable funding in this sector. “I am hoping Congress will be mindful of telehealth,” said Stoll.
“The need for telehealth and other virtual modalities will continue to grow in rural and underserved communities,” she added.
Brian Scarpelli, senior global policy counsel at ACT, the App Association, echoed the call for FCC funding from the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes basic telecommunications services to rural areas and low-income Americans. “I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.”
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