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Broadband's Impact

Expert Opinion: How to Bring More Handsets to More Carriers

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2011 – Despite fanfare regarding the end of exclusivity for the Apple iPhone with the launch of a CDMA version, the reality is that many carriers are still unable to attain certain devices. While the majority of current subscribers now have access to the once-exclusive iPhone, because AT&T and Verizon have been allowed to create a duopoly in the wireless industry, from a competition standpoint, AT&T and Verizon are the only two carriers with access to the device. Translation: Less than 2 percent of domestic wireless carriers have access to one of the nation’s most coveted devices.

Just as the iPhone is not the only smartphone on the market, it is also not the only device that is unavailable to consumers. Due to exclusive handset arrangements, consumers are left to choose between robust coverage where they live or the latest hot device they desire.

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WASHINGTON, March 15, 2011 – Despite fanfare regarding the end of exclusivity for the Apple iPhone with the launch of a CDMA version, the reality is that many carriers are still unable to attain certain devices. While the majority of current subscribers now have access to the once-exclusive iPhone, because AT&T and Verizon have been allowed to create a duopoly in the wireless industry, from a competition standpoint, AT&T and Verizon are the only two carriers with access to the device.  Translation:  Less than 2 percent of domestic wireless carriers have access to one of the nation’s most coveted devices.

Just as the iPhone is not the only smartphone on the market, it is also not the only device that is unavailable to consumers.  Due to exclusive handset arrangements, consumers are left to choose between robust coverage where they live or the latest hot device they desire.

Old Issue, New Problems

The anti-competitive and anti-consumer harms of exclusive device arrangements are well documented, and will only get worse if not solved with the launch of 4G networks. Since May 2008, in its Petition for Rulemaking Regarding Exclusivity Arrangements Between Commercial Wireless Carriers And Handset Manufacturers filed with the FCC, Rural Cellular Association (RCA) has led the charge to end exclusive handset arrangements.

Following the filing of the Petition for Rulemaking and subsequent increased scrutiny by both chambers of Congress, the FCC, and the Department of Justice, Verizon Wireless agreed to make its exclusive handsets available to carriers serving 500,000 subscribers or fewer six months after introduction by Verizon Wireless.  This concession, in the form of a letter to House Energy & Commerce Committee leadership in July 2009, was a step in the right direction, and an acknowledgement of a growing problem.

While a step in the right direction, Verizon’s concession was not a solution.  Verizon Wireless has not shared the specifications needed to test and prepare a network for a new device with eligible carriers, a process that takes up to nine months, in a timely manner that would allow for launch six months following the release by Verizon Wireless.  As noted by a coalition of public interest groups, including Consumers Union, Free Press, and Media Access Project, in a letter to Congressional leadership following the Verizon Wireless concession, “Fifteen months in the handset market is the difference between ‘cutting edge’ and ‘obsolete.’”  In press reports on the concession, it was acknowledged that “this is the smallest possible compromise Verizon could offer.”

While Verizon Wireless’ concession managed to alleviate the mounting political pressure to end exclusive handset arrangements, in the meantime, the two largest carriers found another way to create technologically exclusive handsets for their networks.  Even if ordered to share their devices with competitive carriers, these newly developed devices will only work on AT&T or Verizon Wireless’ networks.

Interoperability: A Necessity for the Future

To prevent other competitive carriers from obtaining new devices for 4G networks, the two largest carriers did not waste any time.  Upon obtaining the majority of the spectrum available from the license auction from the DTV switch, AT&T and Verizon went straight to work to “wall off” their newly acquired “beachfront” spectrum.

With Verizon acquiring nationwide license to the C Block, and in turn the entire Band Class 13, they approached the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a non-governmental international standards making body, and were allowed to develop equipment that will operate solely on Band Class 13.  Seeing Verizon Wireless’ actions, following the auction, AT&T returned to the 3GPP and created a Band Class 17, carved out of the existing Band Class 12, to allow AT&T to develop equipment that will operate solely on its network.

The fact that Verizon Wireless and AT&T have been able to develop network specific devices means that, for the first time, interoperability is not present throughout the 700 megahertz (MHz) spectrum.  At the birth of the cellular industry, the Reagan-era FCC mandated interoperability to ensure competition, and subsequently interoperability became the practice in the auctions of the PCS and AWS spectrum.  With restrictive equipment specifications combined with market dominance, AT&T and Verizon Wireless have effectively balkanized the nation’s spectral resources in the 700 MHz, despite the fact that all carriers deploying mobile broadband networks in the 700 MHz band, as well as the public safety community, will be utilizing the same Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology.

While the issues surrounding interoperability can be very technical, the real-world implications to consumers are plain and simple.  The actions of the largest two carriers have limited access and service to all wireless consumers.  Furthermore, all devices, even those created for Verizon Wireless and AT&T, will be more expensive to consumers due to reduced economies of scale.

This is a long way around to try to answer to the question at hand: how to bring more handsets to more carriers.  Congress and the FCC must act immediately to end exclusive device arrangements and restore interoperability to the wireless market.  It is my hope that they do so before this growing problem gets worse, and while the other 98 percent of carriers are able to stay in business.

 

Steven K. Berry is President & CEO of the Rural Cellular Association (RCA), the nation’s leading association for wireless providers serving regional and rural markets in the United States. The licensed service area of RCA members covers more than 80 percent of the nation.

Steven K. Berry is President & CEO of the Rural Cellular Association (RCA), the nation's leading association for wireless providers serving regional and rural markets in the United States. The licensed service area of RCA members covers more than 80 percent of the nation.

Digital Inclusion

Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates

Panelists argued that lack of equitable digital access is deadly and driven by lack of competition.

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September 24, 2021- Affordability, language and lack of competition are among the factors that continue to perpetuate the digital divide and related inequities, according to panelists at a Thursday event on race and broadband.

One of the panelists faulted the lack of public broadband pricing information as a root cause.

In poorer communities there’s “fewer ISPs. There’s less competition. There’s less investment in fiber,” said Herman Galperin, associate professor at the University of Southern California. “It is about income. It is about race, but what really matters is the combination of poverty and communities of color. That’s where we find the largest deficits of broadband infrastructure.”

While acknowledging that “there is an ongoing effort at the [Federal Communications Commission] to significantly improve the type of data and the granularity of the data that the ISPs will be required to report,” Galperin said that the lack of a push to make ISP pricing public will doom that effort to fail.

He also questioned why ISPs do not or are not required to report their maps of service coverage revealing areas of no or low service. “Affordability is perhaps the biggest factor in preventing low-income folks from connecting,” Galperin said.

“It’s plain bang for their buck,” said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, referring to broadband providers reluctance to serve rural and remote areas. “It costs more money to go to [tribal lands].”

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that digital divide clearer and more deadly. “There was no access to information for telehealth,” said Morris. “No access to information on how the virus spread.”

Galperin also raised the impact of digital gaps in access upon homeless and low-income populations. As people come in and out of homelessness, they have trouble connecting to the internet at crucial times, because – for example – a library might be closed.

Low-income populations also have “systemic” digital access issues struggling at times with paying their bills having to shut their internet off for months at a time.

Another issue facing the digital divide is linguistic. Rebecca Kauma, economic and digital inclusion program manager for the city of Long Beach, California, said that residents often speak a language other than English. But ISPs may not offer interpretation services for them to be able to communicate in their language.

Funding, though not a quick fix-all, often brings about positive change in the right hands. Long Beach received more than $1 million from the U.S. CARES Act, passed in the wake of the early pandemic last year. “One of the programs that we designed was to administer free hotspots and computing devices to those that qualify,” she said.

Some “band-aid solutions” to “systemic problems” exist but aren’t receiving the attention or initiative they deserve, said Galperin. “What advocacy organizations are doing but we need a lot more effort is helping people sign up for existing low-cost offers.” The problem, he says, is that “ISPs are not particularly eager to promote” low-cost offers.

The event “Race and Digital Inequity: The Impact on Poor Communities of Color,” was hosted by the Michelson 20MM Foundation and its partners the California Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Southern California Grantmakers.

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Broadband's Impact

USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability

Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.

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Hernan Galperin of USC's Annenberg School

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.

In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”

Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.

“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.

“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”

The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.

The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.

The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.

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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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