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FCC

Free Press Panel Blasts ‘Broken’ FCC

BOSTON, April 13, 2011 – Panelists at the Free Press National Conference for Media Reform railed on the Federal Communications Commission over the weekend, debating to what extent the Commission has been “captured” by industry and how to fix it.

Joel Kelsey, Political Advisor at Free Press, moderated the panel, entitled “How to Fix the Broken FCC.” The event included participants from the public interest, industry and government sectors.

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BOSTON, April 13, 2011 – Panelists at the Free Press National Conference for Media Reform railed on the Federal Communications Commission over the weekend, debating to what extent the Commission has been “captured” by industry and how to fix it.

Joel Kelsey, Political Advisor at Free Press, moderated the panel, entitled “How to Fix the Broken FCC.” The event included participants from the public interest, industry and government sectors.

Kelsey started the discussion by posing the question of the difference between capture by the industry and corruption. He also highlighted issues such as a perceived “revolving door” between employment at the FCC and private industry and the comparative discrepancy between the lobbying representation from the public and that of the telecommunications industry.

“We’re really at an important inflection point,” said Kelsey. “We find the vision we all share and the policies we’re all fighting for are crashing into a political juggernaut in D.C.”

Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of industry watchdog, Public Knowledge, called attention to the entrenched relationship between a government regulator and the industry it oversees as problematic. Repeatedly during the hour-long panel, she pointed a finger at current FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, as having failed to provide competent leadership at the agency.

“We have to tell the White House that we want leadership that leads to an open and democratic medium,” said Sohn. “Unfortunately we don’t have the leadership at the FCC to get the policies we want.”

Sohn also called for a mandatory 5-year buffer between employment with the FCC and private industry – and vice versa.

Chris Libertelli, senior director of government and public affairs at Skype, noted the sometimes-cozy relationships between the industry and the agency and said that a strong conviction was integral to avoiding industry capture.

“We need intellectual leadership,” said Libertelli, “someone who comes to the agency with the mentality of ‘here’s who I’ve been reading, here is the intellectual framework I want to institute.'”

Libertelli, however, disagreed with Sohn’s employment buffer proposal, saying that such a rule would discourage highly-qualified people from considering government service.

Kelsey also presented the question of whether the perceived lack of philosophical direction at the FCC originated within the agency or as a result of influence from the outside. According to Jonathan Askin, a professor at Brooklyn Law school and former senior attorney at the FCC, the problems come from both within and without the Commission.

“The problem is both that there are 100 AT&T lobbyists,” said Askin, throwing the first of what would be several jabs at the telecommunications giant, “but also that they do the work for the staff and the staff lets them do it.”

Askin also asserted that the problem goes beyond the Commission itself, to Congress, which confirms the commissioners.

“At the top, it’s almost impossible to get an independent champion at the FCC,” he said, “when Congress is so heavily influenced by the industry.”

Some members of the panel called out the effects of an agency they seemed to describe as largely a puppet of industry interests through the example of the recent Open Internet Order. That order, which established net neutrality rules for Internet Service Providers, did not go nearly far enough they said. Askin commented that the Order was not “real net neutrality.”

Using the net neutrality rules as an example, Malkia Cyril, executive director and founder of the Center for Media Justice, joined Sohn and Askin in predicting that their perceived weakness of the Open Internet Order signified a likely acquiescence by the FCC to the industry in the upcoming AT&T/T-Mobile merger review.

“Everyday people need to turn their attention from the FCC to the Department of Justice and let them know very clearly what we need out of this [merger],” said Cyril.

Both the DOJ and FCC will review the merger to ensure it comports with antitrust considerations and the public interest, respectively.

While Sohn predicted the DOJ would eventually block the merger – as Libertelli pointed out, Justice has put the kibosh on 2 out of 3 mergers with similar conditions – she did not anticipate a close look by the FCC. Even in the event that the DOJ blocks the merger, however, she asserted that the merger process would sideline T-Mobile in the meantime and may damage competition in the marketplace as much as a successful merger.

Libertelli, in response, called the merger an attempt to replicate the 1913 deal that formalized AT&T’s monopoly over the phone system.

“AT&T is trying to make another Kingsbury Commitment,” he said.

Jonathan began his career as a journalist before turning his focus to law and policy. He is an attorney licensed in Texas and the District of Columbia and has worked previously as a political reporter, in political campaign communications and on Capitol Hill. He holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Washington and a J.D. from Villanova Law School, where he focused his studies on Internet and intellectual property law and policy. He lives in Washington, D.C., where he roots for Seattle sports teams and plays guitar in his free time.

FCC

Proposed Rules to Improve National Alert System Unnecessary, Say Critics

Proposed rules to improve EAS security and operational readiness are unnecessary, say commenters.

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Photo of Federal Emergency Management Agency

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2023 – Participants to the national public warning system claim that the Federal Communications Commission’s October rulemaking to improve its security and operational readiness will unduly increase resource and monetary burdens on participants. 

The national warning system is composed of the Emergency Alert System, which transmits important emergency information to affected areas over television and radio, and the Wireless Emergency Alert System, which delivers that information to the public on their wireless devices. Participation in the system is voluntary for wireless providers, but radio and television broadcasters are required to deliver Presidential alerts via the EAS. 

In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC sought comment on ways to strengthen the operational readiness of the warning system by requiring EAS participants to report compromises of equipment and WEA participants to annually certify to having a cybersecurity risk management plan in place. It further asked that commercial mobile service providers “take steps to ensure that only valid alerts are displayed on consumer devices,” citing several instances where false alerts were given following a system hack. 

Measures are unnecessary 

Participants argued that such measures are unnecessary in reply comments to the Commission.  

The proposals in the Notice are “unnecessary and will not meaningfully enhance operational readiness or security of EAS,” stated the National Association of Broadcasters in its comments, claiming that the Notice “presents only scant evidence of EAS equipment failures and new security threats, and thus does not justify the myriad measures proposed.” 

Furthermore, NAB claimed, the notice fails to present a clear rationale for how the Commission’s heightened situational awareness would improve EAS readiness. 

ACA Connects, a trade association representing small and mid-sized telecom and TV operators, added that the Notice identifies only two EAS security breaches in the past ten years, which, as the company said, is “hardly an epidemic.” 

Participating mobile service providers have cyber risk management plans in place already, making any separate cyber certification requirement for WEA unnecessary and likely to cause fragmentation of service-specific plans, claimed wireless trade association, CTIA. 

Increased participant burden 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for national-level activation and tests of the systems, stated in its comments that it is concerned about the potential increased burden placed upon participants. 

EAS participants voluntarily and at no cost provide state and local alerts and mobile service providers voluntarily participate in WEA without compensation. FEMA argued that some stakeholders may “have difficulty justifying additional resources necessary to comply with increasing regulation.” 

The proposed reporting, certification, and cyber management obligations are far too complex for many EAS participants to implement, stated NAB, claiming that the Commission’s estimation of costs are “wildly unrealistic,” not considering additional hires such a plan would require. 

Mobile provider AT&T added that requirements for updating cybersecurity plans would divert valuable resources from the ongoing, broad cybersecurity efforts that participants engage in daily. The proposed authentication would inhibit the timely release of critical emergency alerts without completely eliminating false WEA messages, it continued.  

The Center for internet Security, however, supported the FCC’s proposed actions, claiming that it moves forward with “critically important” measures to protect the nation’s alert systems from cyber threats. 

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5G

CES 2023: Commissioner Starks Highlights Environmental Benefits of 5G Connectivity

Starks also said federal housing support should be linked to the Affordable Connectivity Program.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks (left) and CTA’s J. David Grossman

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission spoke at the Consumer Electronics Show Saturday, touting connectivity assistance for individuals who benefit from housing assistance as well as the potential environmental benefits of 5G.

The FCC-administered Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes monthly internet bills and one-time devices purchases for low-income Americans. Although many groups are eligible – e.g., Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollees – Starks said his attention is primarily on those who rely on housing support.

“If you are having trouble putting food on your table, you should not have to worry about connectivity as well,” Starks said. “If we are helping you to get housed, we should be able to connect that house,” he added.

Environmental benefits of 5G

In addition to economic benefits, 5G-enabled technologies will offer many environmental benefits, Starks argued. He said the FCC should consider how to “ensure folks do more while using less,” particularly in the spheres of spectral and energy efficiency.

“This is going to take a whole-of-nation (approach),” Starks said. “When you talk to your local folks – mayors – state and other federal partners, making sure that they know smart cities (and) smart grid technology…making sure that we’re all unified on thinking about this is exactly where we need to go to in order to drive down the carbon emissions.”

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FCC

FCC Commissioners Tout 5G, Spectrum and Permitting Reform

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally-friendly technologies.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2022 – High-level Federal Communications Commission officials addressed the 40th Annual Institute on Telecommunications Policy and Regulation on Thursday, touting 5G technologies, increased spectrum access, and permitting reform as the broadband industry braces for what promises to be an action-packed 2023.

In his keynote, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally friendly technologies such as 5G-enabled precision agriculture. During a subsequent panel, Joel Taubenblatt, acting chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, predicted robust innovation in 5G-powered technology sectors including transportation, energy and finance.

Starks, Taubenblatt, and Commissioner Brendan Carr each voiced support for robust spectrum availability. Carr reiterated his outspoken opposition to popular social-media app TikTok, and earlier in the day, Commissioner Nathan Simington proposed raising cybersecurity requirements on wireless device manufactures.

The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act allocated $65 billion to broadband, the largest single investment to date. Policymakers and industry leaders have voiced concern that regulatory mismanagement could blunt the funds’ impact. Testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee Tuesday, representatives from trade groups US Telecom and NCTA – The Internet & Television Association warned lawmakers against onerous regulation, especially opaque permitting processes on federal lands.

To ensure the efficient use of unprecedented broadband funding initiatives, federal and state authorities should streamline permitting processes, Carr said. The commissioner told Broadband Breakfast he supports expanding small cell infrastructure reforms, such as approval shot clocks and limitations on unreasonable fees, to the wireline sector.

Carr, in his featured remarks, said regulators should craft policy to avoid overbuilding and prioritize building to the least unserved communities. He once again advocated tech-neutral policies that allow fixed-wireless and satellite broadband to fairly compete with fiber.

Permitting and access barriers at multiple levels of government

Representatives from broadband industry groups detailed potential regulatory barriers to deployment in a webinar held Wednesday.

At the local level, providers must obtain access to utility poles, which can be owned by a range of entities including municipalities and utility companies. State broadband offices could likely coordinate with providers and regulators to ease this process, suggested Teresa Ferguson, senior director of broadband and infrastructure funding at the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative.

At the federal level, Congress has signaled interest in streamlining permitting processes, said Angela Simpson, general counsel and vice president of legal and regulatory affairs at the Competitive Carriers Association, noting the body introduced 28 reform bills this session. Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of senators wrote to the U.S. Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce, urging them to update federal permitting guidelines.

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