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FCC Probes Industry on USF Modernization

WASHINGTON April 28, 2011 – The Federal Communications Commission gathered key industry experts on Wednesday to explore the different ways that the Universal Service Fund can be modernized to effectively deploy high speed broadband to rural America.

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WASHINGTON April 28, 2011 – The Federal Communications Commission gathered key industry experts on Wednesday to explore the different ways that the Universal Service Fund can be modernized to effectively deploy high speed broadband to rural America.

“The Universal Service Fund is at the heart of the Commission’s core mission,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski at the start of the event. “The current system was largely successful in meeting the challenges of the 20th century challenges but cannot handle the needs of the 21st century; it does not work for broadband deployment.”

Genachowski said that the current system disperses broadband funds inefficiently and wastefully. He went on to say that, the current system cannot provide long-term sustainable broadband deployment and reform is necessary.

“This is an issue with bipartisan support,” said Commissioner Robert McDowell. “It’s my hope that one day we won’t need the USF because technology can bring affordable broadband to all Americans, but until then we need to work together to provide the necessary access.”

In early February, the FCC unanimously adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking aimed at transforming the Universal Service Fund (USF) to include broadband. The Commission proposed the creation of the Connect America Fund (CAF), which would provide support for both voice and broadband services. As a compliment to the CAF, the Commission also proposed the creation of a Mobility Fund, which would provide support to expand mobile broadband.

Andrew Newell, General Counsel at Viaero Wireless, called wireless networks the best solution for bringing high-speed broadband to rural areas with minimal cost.

“The endgame to bring fiber to every home won’t work. Fiber is getting increasingly expensive and it is considerably cheaper to deploy mobile broadband,” said Newell. “The download speed of mobile broadband is getting faster which makes it increasingly more attractive for home use.”

David Russell, Solutions Marketing Director at Calix, agreed that wireless is a solution, but to support the wireless network, a fiber backbone needs to be deployed and consumers should be able to access this fiber when it comes close to their homes. Also, he said, broadband is no longer a luxury, but increasingly a necessity.

“I was in Western Massachusetts recently, where a number of homeowners told me that they were unable to sell their homes because the properties did not have access to high speed broadband,” Russell said.

Consumer Federation of America Research Director Mark Cooper and Park Region Mutual Telephone CEO Dave Bickett both echoed Russell’s statements on providing users with access to fiber where possible.

“There is no doubt that mobile computing is more valuable than fixed computing,” said Cooper, “but there needs to be a shared infrastructure between wired and wireless to provide better access to consumers.”

One of the major reforms that the FCC proposes is the use of reverse auctions for the distribution of support. Currently the USF provides support to multiple companies that serve the same area as long as they provide access.

Under the reverse auction system, companies would bid to be the sole recipient of support, where the firm that can provide access with the least amount of funding wins.

The telecommunications industry is divided on the use of reverse auctions, but companies agree that the new fund should have separate wireless and wireline programs.

Maggie McCready, Vice President of Federal Regulatory at Verizon supported the use of reverse auctions saying, “this system will provide increased efficiency and provide the most access for the lowest cost.”

Grant Spellmeyer, Senior Director of Legislative & Regulatory Affairs at US Cellular and Jason Hendricks, Director of Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs, RT Communications, Inc. both voiced their opposition of the use of auctions saying that the auctions would not provide adequate support.

They both said that the auctions would leave current providers unable to recoup the cost of their current deployments if they lost the auction and stopped receiving funding.

Vice President of Government Affairs at the American Cable Association Ross Lieberman called upon the FCC to increase their speed goals for universal service.

“Right now the FCC has a broadband goal of 4 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 1 Mbps upload,” Lieberman said. “This is not adequate for future use. If the government is going to fund deployment it should make sure that the connections are going to be useful for long term use. Our members are currently offering base speeds of 16 Mbps down and 4 up and speeds will only improve over time.”

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

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FCC

FCC Institutes ACP Transparency Data Collection

The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels.

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Photo of people working on computers, cropped, in 2011 by Victor Grigas

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission last week adopted an order that mandated annual reporting from all providers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal initiative that subsidizes the internet-service and device costs of low-income Americans.

The FCC order establishing the ACP Transparency Data Collection, not released until Wednesday, requires ACP-affiliated providers to disclose prices, subscription rates, and other plan characteristics on yearly basis. The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels, which, it says, will ease regulatory burdens for providers.

The FCC created the Transparency Data Collection pursuant to the statutory requirements of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. The commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking in June.

Earlier this year, T-Mobile endorsed the nutrition-label method of collection. Industry associations including IMCOMPAS and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Associations warned the FCC against instituting excessive reporting burdens.

“To find out whether this program is working as Congress intended, we need to know who is participating, and how they are using the benefit,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “So we’re doing just that.  The data we collect will help us know where we are, and where we need to go. We’re also standardizing the way we collect data, and looking for other ways to paint a fuller picture of how many eligible households are participating in the ACP.  We want all eligible households to know about this important benefit for affordable internet service.”

Although the ACP is highly touted by the FCC, the White House, and industry experts, there is evidence the fund has been exploited by fraudsters, according to a watchdog. In September, the FCC Office of Inspector General issued a report that found the ACP handed out more than $1 million in improper benefits. In multiple instances, according to the OIG, the information of a qualifying individual was improperly used for hundreds of applications, achieving payouts of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Last month, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., contacted 13 leading internet service providers, requesting details on alleged fishy business practices connected to the ACP and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

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Broadband's Impact

Federal Communications Commission Mandates Broadband ‘Nutrition’ Labels

The FCC also mandated that internet service provider labels be machine-readable.

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Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday afternoon ordered internet providers to display broadband “nutrition” labels at points of sale that include internet plans’ performance metrics, monthly rates, and other information that may inform consumers’ purchasing decisions.

The agency released the requirement less than 24 hours before it released the first draft of its updated broadband map.

The FCC mandated that labels be machine-readable, which is designed to facilitate third-party data-gathering and analysis. The commission also requires that the labels to be made available in customers’ online portals with the provide the and “accessible” to non-English speakers.

In addition to the broadband speeds promised by the providers, the new labels must also display typical latency, time-of-purchase fees, discount information, data limits, and provider-contact information.

“Broadband is an essential service, for everyone, everywhere. Because of this, consumers need to know what they are paying for, and how it compares with other service offerings,”  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. 

“For over 25 years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience of nutrition labels on food products.  We’re now requiring internet service providers to display broadband labels for both wireless and wired services.  Consumers deserve to get accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other terms of service up front.”

Industry players robustly debated the proper parameters for broadband labels in a flurry of filings with the FCC. Free Press, an advocacy group, argued for machine-readable labels and accommodations for non-English speakers, measures which were largely opposed by trade groups. Free Press also advocated a requirement that labels to be included on monthly internet bills, without which the FCC “risks merely replicating the status quo wherein consumers must navigate fine print, poorly designed websites, and byzantine hyperlinks,” group wrote.

“The failure to require the label’s display on a customer’s monthly bill is a disappointing concession to monopolist ISPs like AT&T and Comcast and a big loss for consumers,” Joshua Stager, policy director of Free Press, said Friday.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association clashed with Free Press in its FCC filing and supported the point-of-sale requirement.

“WISPA welcomes today’s release of the FCC’s new broadband label,” said Vice President of Policy Louis Peraertz. “It will help consumers better understand their internet access purchases, enabling them to quickly see ‘under the hood,’ and allow for an effective apples-to-apples comparison tool when shopping for services in the marketplace.”

Image of the FCC’s sample broadband nutrition label

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FCC

FCC to Establish New Space Bureau, Chairwoman Says

‘The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, via fcc.gov

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2022 — The Federal Communications Commission will add a new space bureau that will modernize regulations and facilitate innovation, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Thursday.

The new bureau is intended to facilitate American leadership in the space economy, boost the Commission’s technical capacity, and foster interagency cooperation, Rosenworcel said, speaking at the National Press Club.

“The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head,” Rosenworcel said. “But the organizational structures of the [FCC] have not kept pace,” she added.

The space economy is “on a monumental run” of growth and innovation, the chairwoman argued, and the FCC must remodel itself to facilitate continued growth. Rosenworcel said the commission is currently reviewing 64,000 new satellite applications, and she further noted that 98 percent of all satellites launched in 2021 provided internet connectivity. By the end off 2022, operators will set a new record for satellites launched into orbit, she said.

The FCC will not take on new responsibilities, Rosenworcel said, but the announced restructuring will help the agency “perform[] existing statutory responsibilities better.” In September, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R–Wash., warned the FCC against overreaching its statutory mandate and voiced support for robust congressional oversight – a position reiterated by House staffers Wednesday.

“The formation of a dedicated space bureau within the FCC is a positive step for satellite operators and customers across the United States,” said Julie Zoller, head of global regulatory affairs at Amazon’s satellite broadband Project Kuiper, on a panel following Rosenworcel’s announcement.

“An important part of [Rosenworcel’s] space agenda is ensuring that there is a competitive environment in all aspects of that space,” said Umair Javed, the chairwoman’s chief counsel, during the panel. “So we’ve taken action to update our rules on spectrum sharing to make sure that there are opportunities for multiple systems to be successful in low Earth orbit.

“We’ve granted a number of experimental authorizations to companies that are doing really new…things,” Umair continued.

The FCC in September required that low–Earth orbit satellite debris be removed within five years of mission completion, a move Rosenworcel said would clear the way for new innovation.

In August, the FCC revoked an $885 million grant to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-broadband service. FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington criticized the reversal, and Starlink has since appealed it.

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