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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

Partnerships And Trust Go Long Way To Securing Financing For Broadband Projects, Panelists Say

Broadband Breakfast panelists wrestle with the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure projects.

Tim White

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Screenshot taken from Broadband Live Online event

April 16, 2021 – Financing broadband projects requires real human relationships among everyone involved, said Broadband Breakfast experts Wednesday.

The weekly panel addressed the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure. Billions of federal dollars are making their way to expand internet access across the country, including the $9.3 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund. There is significant funding to be spent, but it’s not always as simple as receiving a check in the mail from the government.

Getting the necessary funds to build broadband networks — whether they are private service providers like Comcast, electric co-ops or municipal-owned networks — often requires financing with banking institutions or other means of funding.

“You really want to strike a deal with someone that you can trust, who you think has your community’s interests in mind,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. “Human relationships are important, and often are a precursor to striking any of these sorts of deals.”

He mentioned unique ways that companies and communities can collaborate to build broadband networks.

For example, he referenced some long-term agreements in Minnesota between localities and CTC – Consolidated Telephone Company. The localities would pay for and own fiber-to-the-home networks that are operated by the CTC. “That can really help for operators that have the capacity to do more work, but may be at their lending or borrowing limits,” Mitchell said.

Internet Service Providers “can work with a community that would take on the debt in order to build the network and then offer, whether that’s exclusive, whether that’s permanently exclusive, or timed-exclusive, that’s one way,” Mitchell said.

Partnering with anchor institutions

Another method is for providers to partner with communities or schools to build networks that are owned by the company but paid for by the community or school with state or federal funding, such as the company Clearnetworx in Colorado.

“ISPs sometimes have to build those relationships and have creative ideas to make these things happen,” Mitchell said.

“When I think about the creation of MBC back in 2004, I think it was really all about leadership and relationship and good timing,” echoed Lauren Mathena, director of economic development and community engagement at Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC). On grant processes and getting the necessary financing, she said “the biggest thing is building those relationships and keeping that determination, and if you haven’t started, start today, because it is a process.”

Many smaller banks often lend out for broadband projects, sometimes even banding together if they hit their limits, because they see it as a wholistic community development, explained Tim Herwig, district community affairs officer at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

“A lot of these banks are locally-owned, the bank president, the members of the board, sit in the pew at church next to customers,” Herwig said. “Their kids go to the same schools together, they eat in the same restaurants, they go jogging down the same streets, right? They have a deep sense of corporate community responsibility. They see broadband as a gateway to the financial security and future of the communities where they serve,” he said.

High cost challenges

“The big challenge in a lot of these markets for rural operators is the economics of providing service in high-cost areas just don’t pencil out,” said Jeff Johnston, lead communications economist at CoBank, a private bank that focuses on services in agriculture and infrastructure for rural areas.

In addition to getting the upfront funding to building the infrastructure, there is also the operating costs to consider, and for some areas that’s not feasible without extra support, he said. “It’s one thing to get support up front to build a network in a high-cost area, but there’s on going expenses to managing the network,” he said.

Johnston also mentioned financial issues that may occur in federal reverse auction programs such as RDOF. “They’re great programs, first of all, but I also think operators going into these reverse auctions don’t overextend themselves,” he said. “Be realistic in what you think you can do operationally and financially.”

For MBC, which operates in Virginia, they pair funding with state and federal programs, such as the 1998 national tobacco settlement through the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Mathena said. “We’ve been able to pair state and federal grant applications together, so that we’re using state dollars to help build that match, so that’s not just coming from MBC’s revenue,” she said.

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Broadband's Impact

FCC to Vote On Emergency Connectivity Fund Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel

The agency is expected to vote on policies for the new connectivity fund by mid-May, chairwoman says.

Derek Shumway

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April 14, 2021 – Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday the agency will be voting by mid-May on policies to deliver the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which has received over 9,000 interested institutions through its portal.

The Emergency Connectivity Fund is part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law in March 2021.

It’s “the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability program,” Rosenworcel said Tuesday on a virtual panel hosted by Allvanza, an advocacy group for Latinxs and underserved communities within the technology, telecommunications and innovation industries; the Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC); and the Asian Pacific American Advocate group (OCA).

It’s “designed to make sure we get every household in this country connected to high-speed Internet service because this pandemic has proven like nothing before,” she added.

The FCC made a sign-up portal on its website to determine interest in the program, and over 9,000 institutions have signed up to date, Rosenworcel said, adding she hopes the policies for the EBB can address the homework gap by extending internet subsidies normally reserved for schools and libraries to households.

Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator, said minority-aimed broadband initiatives have done great work in bringing together providers and companies with minority-serving institutions.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the FCC will vote by mid-May on policies related to the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. In actuality, the agency is voting on policies for the new Emergency Connectivity Fund from Biden’s new American Rescue Plan. 

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Digital Inclusion

Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events

Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.

Tim White

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Photo of GHS co-founder Victor Zonana, left, from Global Health New Zealand

April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.

Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.

The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.

“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.

Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.

Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.

Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.

Broadband central to digital activities

“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.

President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”

Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.

“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”

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