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.
CES 2022: Public-Private Partnerships Key to Building Smart Cities, Tech leaders Say
Public-private partnerships will increase the community benefit of infrastructure projects, leaders at Qualcomm and Verizon said.
LAS VEGAS, January 12, 2022––Telecommunications industry leaders said Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show that public-private partnerships will pave the way to realizing the future of smart cities.
Raymond Bauer, director of the domain specialist group that connects governments to Verizon’s telecommunications services, said the government needs private partners to improve its infrastructure efforts.
Referencing the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Bauer said governments should look forward to partnering with private technology companies to improve upcoming infrastructure projects.
“There’s a once in a lifetime opportunity from IIJA,” Bauer said. “We should find common ways to work in a way we haven’t in the past. There are certain goals and use cases to leverage the infrastructure we have,” he said.
The $1.2 trillion bipartisan legislation funds physical and digital infrastructure projects, including $65 billion for the expansion of broadband across the country.
Bauer said communities have a chance to monetize the services Verizon offers to communities if Verizon builds infrastructure for broadband access in underserved areas. “By bridging the digital divide, underserved communities get the services they need,” he added.
Ashok Tipirneni, head of smart cities and connected spaces at Qualcomm, said that cities should be thinking about how technology can improve much-needed infrastructure projects.
“Cities are growing faster than available utility,” he said, citing global issues of housing, water, and equity for vulnerable populations. “How do we ensure access for all citizens? And how can cities be in lock step with new technology, whatever it is?” he asked.
Qualcomm’s Smart Cities Accelerator Program delivers internet of things ecosystem products and services to member cities and local governments.
“New Orleans, Miami, and Los Angeles has local governments asking how they can do better,” he said. “They offer opportunities for partnerships that wouldn’t have been the case a few years ago.”
Year In Review: Key Developments for Broadband’s Impact in the U.S.
This year saw a growing telehealth trend, federal digital inclusion efforts and greater attention to spectrum sharing.
WASHINGTON, December 29, 2021–High-speed internet access has never seemed more essential than in the days of another year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And that’s why, for the third in a three-part review of 2021, Broadband Breakfast focuses on broadband’s impact in enabling benefits through expanded internet access.
Telehealth takes center stage
Because the pandemic is continually forcing closures and stay-at-home orders, the expansion of telehealth services has become a critical, normalized service this year as remote health care is a safer, more efficient way to deliver high-quality care.
Broadband service is now important to maintaining overall health––experts have defined broadband services as a social determinant of health. Expanding telemedicine across rural and Tribal communities remain barriers to better health outcomes for vulnerable populations.
The pandemic prompted Congress to extend waivers that allowed patients to take advantage of telehealth services. Experts say the waivers encouraged the growth of telehealth systems, and that investment in telehealth is necessary to improving them.
Broadband access and affordability often restrict vulnerable communities’ ability to take advantage of telehealth services. This year saw massive investments focused on funding telehealth subsidies for patients in need.
In December alone, the Federal Communications Commission announced more than $42.7 million in COVID-19 Telehealth Program awards for health care providers spending on telecommunications information services and devices. The awards also reimburse health care organizations for innovative ideas that connect patients to quality care with broadband.
For example, the Westchester County Health Care Corporation in Valhalla, New York, was awarded $1 million for the purchase of remote monitoring software and video equipment, which will allow for the creation of a “tele-ICU” for the provision of remote care for hospitalized patients.
In October, a Senate subcommittee heard testimony that permanent regulatory flexibility allowing free or subsidized telemedicine services for patients would have a positive impact on patient care. It may have a cost benefit too: FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr estimated that widespread telehealth availability could save the health care system $305 billion a year.
The FCC’s new Affordable Connectivity Fund
The Federal Communications Commission served as an accelerator to better connect communities during the pandemic through its Affordable Connectivity Program. As families and students struggled to stay connected to work and school during the pandemic, the FCC has taken historic steps to assist families can’t afford to pay for internet service and devices.
Originally established as the Emergency Broadband Benefit, the Affordable Connectivity Program is the nation’s largest broadband subsidy program to ever be enacted. The Emergency Broadband Benefit was replaced by the Affordable Connectivity Program after the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November.
The Affordable Connectivity Program transformed the Emergency Broadband Benefit into a long-term program that provides discounts for families to purchase internet service and devices. Households can also receive discounts to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet for their home.
The Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment period opens on December 31, 2021, allowing families to start the new year with the opportunity to receive new devices for the home. However, a long-standing challenge has been informing the community about these benefits. Policy experts agree that these benefit programs are not reaching the intended audience.
A November report showed that areas with low broadband adoption are less likely to enroll in the program. “If leaders want to connect the unconnected, in addition to low income groups, other programs will be needed. EBB isn’t targeting these low-adoption communities,” said Will Rinehart, senior fellow at the Center for Growth an Opportunity.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel agreed on the need for emphasizing 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],” Rosenworcel said during a September 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.”
Digital equity and inclusion
The past year was significant for its focus on digital equity and inclusion. The closing of many public institutions because of the pandemic has forced lower-income communities into isolation without sufficient devices or technology to stay connected, digital inclusion experts say.
Organizations such as the National Digital Inclusion Association have decried a type of discrimination known as “digital redlining” in which internet service providers discriminate in broadband deployment, maintenance, upgrade, or delivery of service in lower-income neighborhoods. Because communities of color are more likely to have slower and less reliable internet service, policy leaders have been active in finding solutions.
To combat this alleged practice, Rep. Yvette Clark introduced the Anti-Digital Redlining Act on July 30. The bill finds that lower-income residents pay the same for DSL internet as fiber customers, while wealthier residents receive much better internet service. The text of the bill also acknowledges that disparities in internet access “impose significant costs” on the government to choose between “either offering non-digital means of interaction or excluding residents without access to high speed, reliable broadband access.”
If passed as federal law, the measure would require the FCC to ban digital redlining.
This year also saw the passage of digital inclusion-focused legislation as part of the recently-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law allocated $2.75 billion to the Digital Equity Act, which establishes the federal definitions of digital inclusion and digital equity.
The Digital Equity Act’s two programs and three grant funds will supply money to the states in order to do digital equity work. For example, the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program gives block grants to states for broadband infrastructure deployment and other digital inclusion activities.
Amy Huffman, policy director at the National Digital Inclusion Association, said that states are best prepared to promote digital equity for their residents. “The states are already in charge of so economic development workforce development health outcomes, etc. so they want the state to think holistically, about how they’re doing around digital equity will help them achieve their other goals.” By connecting all residents to quality devices and internet-enabled services, residents are better equipped to fully engage with the community and improve their quality of life.
Satellite broadband takes flight
Apart from the high-profile space launches this year, the broadband industry is both excited and skeptical about satellites playing a greater role.
In late 2020, the FCC voted to adopt rules making it easier for satellite providers to obtain licensing to deploy satellites faster. In February, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched 120 Starlink broadband satellites on two February missions, bringing the total number of satellites to over 1,700.
Low Earth Orbit satellites, which can bring broadband to rural communities, could connect harder-to-reach communities faster than laying fiber. By May 2021, SpaceX announced it had over 500,000 orders for the Starlink service.
Other companies are also jumping into the satellite business: the FCC approved Boeing’s request to launch 132 satellites for its broadband internet network, and Amazon’s satellite imitative Project Kuiper partnered with Verizon in October to launch an internet service for underserved and unserved communities.
However, these massive investments didn’t come without controversy. Apart from concerns about Starlink’s capacity to deliver long-term, high quality service that complies with IIJA, public telecommunications policy leaders say the 12 GigaHertz (GHz) band, the portion of spectrum that Starlink uses for its services, should be shared with 5G operators to deliver internet to lower-income communities.
Research commissioned by RS Access in August concluded that the mid-band spectrum can be shared between 5G and satellite broadband operators and finding that the 12 GHz spectrum is “highly favorable for 5G,” and “can rapidly accelerate 5G deployment nationwide.”
Next year regulators and policymakers will continue the battle to determine who, if anyone, will have greater control over the 12 GHz band.
Will the ‘homework gap’ persist in a world of online education?
Last year’s initial COVID lockdown left many families unprepared and unconnected to devices or internet access and the “homework gap” persisted.
In fall 2021, many schools embraced a “hybrid” in-person, virtual schooling model. Around this time, Pew research found that lower-income parents were more likely to say their children did homework on a cellphone and could not complete homework because they did not have computer access at home.
Some students have been using public Wi-Fi because they could not connect reliably at home. The FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund was authorized to help close bring devices to students who lack them.
Originally launching in June as part of March’s American Rescue Plan Act, the FCC has committed $3.8 billion of the $7.17 billion program to provide funding for schools and libraries to buy equipment students to learn remotely.
The total amount committed to go to support 9,000 schools, 760 libraries, and 100 consortia for nearly 8.3 million connected devices and over 4.4 million broadband connections, the agency said last week in a press release. (See also Year in Review: Key Developments in Digital Infrastructure with Ramifications for Next Year.)
Last week, the FCC committed another $603 million in Emergency Connectivity funds to connect more than 1.4 million students across all 50 states.
Telehealth Has Potential to Shift Medical Focus to Preventative Care and Wellness
Experts say continued investment in telehealth is necessary to improve care systems.
WASHINGTON, December 24, 2021 – Medical experts say continued investment in telehealth systems expanded during the coronavirus pandemic has the potential to improve medicine’s focus on preventative care and wellness.
However, some concern exists over what will happen to telehealth advances made during the pandemic should Congress fail to renew waivers that allowed telehealth provision in government-aligned health programs such as Medicare.
Experts discussed this current juncture in telehealth at a Federal Communications Bar Association event last week.
They remarked on just how quickly telehealth systems were able to grow in the past two years because of Congress’ waivers and the major impacts revoking these waivers could have for these systems and the access of many individuals to healthcare.
A discussed example of virtual medicine’s growth was observed “exponential” increases in new overall patient engagement at Veterans Affairs medical providers through telehealth during some of the deadliest phases of the pandemic.
During a Senate hearing in October, witnesses such as Deanna Larson, president of Avel eCARE, testified that regulatory flexibility from Congress is necessary to address telehealth access, as well as that broadband affordability issues often prevent access to telehealth.
Witnesses also raised that telehealth’s prevalence would increase emergency room bed availability during the pandemic
At the FCBA event, Miller Nash attorney David Rice emphasized that beyond giving medical access to individuals that face obstacles in traveling to medical facilities for treatment, telehealth is simply more convenient than in-person treatment for almost everyone and allows patients to fit medical appointment attendance more easily in their schedules.
In terms of challenges robust telehealth systems would face going forward, Mayo Clinic Platform President John Halamka cited potential licensure issues for providing care, and some argument existed between Rice and Jeffrey Neal, T-Mobile for Government’s national director of federal sales, over whether data privacy issues are likely to be a serious hindrance to virtual treatment.
On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission announced $42.7 million in awards from its COVID-19 Telehealth Program which supports continued care for patients by reimbursing them for telecommunications services, information services and connected devices.
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