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New America Foundation and Consumers Union Discuss Wireless Interoperability

WASHINGTON April 18, 2011 – The New America Foundation, in cooperation with the Consumers Union, gathered representatives from the leading wireless services providers and consumers groups on Wednesday to discuss how requiring mobile broadband service providers to interoperate would affect consumer choice and pricing.

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WASHINGTON April 18, 2011 – The New America Foundation, in cooperation with the Consumers Union, gathered representatives from the leading wireless services providers and consumers groups on Wednesday to discuss how requiring mobile broadband service providers to interoperate would affect consumer choice and pricing.

Currently, most mobile phones work with only a single network provider. After consumers end their contracts with a network provider, they are unable to use the phone on competing networks, even if the competitor uses the same mobile technology.

“As the mobile industry becomes increasingly consolidated, interoperability between technologies will allow consumers to more freely move amongst the providers,” said Parul Desai, Communications Policy Counsel at the Consumers Union.

Desai cited a recent survey conducted by the Consumers Union that found more than 80 percent of respondents wanted to be able to change their networks but keep their devices.

Consumer groups, along with the wireless company Sprint have urged the Federal Communications Commission to mandate fourth generation wireless devices, which use the same band of spectrum to broadcast, be interoperable with each other. This would allow consumers to use a single device across different carriers as long as they use the same transmission technology, be it Long Term Evolution (LTE) or WiMax.

Lawrence Krevor, Vice President of Government Affairs at Sprint Nextel, supported the notion of interoperability, saying that the issue is not only of concern for consumers but also for the public safety community. Currently public safety entities must buy expensive specialty devices made to work only within a specific band.

“If these devices were able to roam across the public safety and commercial networks then public safety groups would be able to enter into agreements with the commercial networks to use the commercial networks if necessary,” Krevor said. “Also, the devices could be used by different groups across the country, decreasing their cost.”

Krevor then warned against the impending merger between AT&T and T-Mobile saying that the merger will decrease competition and slow down innovation.

“By forcing us to include extra radios in our devices, battery life will be decreased while the price and size of these devices will be increased,” said AT&T’s Vice President Regulatory Policy Joan Marsh in disagreement. “The devices are already quite complex and must deal with serious interference issues. If forced to include extraneous radios these problems will increase.”

Currently mobile handsets include a number of different radios, including global positioning system radios, CDMA or GSM radios to transmit voice and a separate radio for Internet connectivity.

Marsh voiced opposition over the recent broadband roaming order, claiming that instead of spurring investment in mobile broadband infrastructure, the order will cause smaller operators to rely on larger firms to build towers rather than expanding their own networks.

The order mandates larger carriers to enter into roaming agreements to carry mobile broadband similar to the voice agreements.

Phoenix Center President Lawrence Spiwak, echoed Marsh’s claims that interoperability will increase the price of handsets.

“The rise of the Android platform can be linked to the fact that consumers did not want to join the AT&T network but wanted a phone similar to the iPhone,” Spiwak said. “The handset and the service are complements and when sold together the providers are willing to subsidize the cost of the handset. If consumers can easily jump from network to network then network providers will not see the economic sense in subsidizing the handsets.”

Currently consumers can purchase unlocked handsets directly from manufacturers, but these handsets are often expensive. Spiwak also warned against increasing the level of regulation saying that it will lead to higher prices for consumers. He balked at the claim that the market was not competitive enough.

“No market is ever in perfect competition, but the mobile market is workably competitive. There are a number of firms offering similar products at differing price points,” Spiwak said.

Steven Berry, President & CEO of the Rural Cellular Association (RCA) presented a unique view of interoperability.

“As we seem to be entering into a national duopoly, the ability for consumers to cross networks is vitally important,” Berry said. “Many of our carriers are willing to build out networks in areas where the major players are not willing to, but these small carriers cannot get hold of the devices that consumers want.”

According to Berry, if the FCC mandated interoperability across a single cellular technology consumers would purchase unlocked handsets directly from manufacturers and use them on their choice of networks.

Desai agreed with Berry about the eventual transition in the way consumers would purchase their mobile handsets.

“Currently consumers pay low prices for handsets since the mobile providers provide subsidies,” Desai said. “However if consumers were able to purchase handsets that worked on any of the networks directly from the manufacturer competition amongst the manufacturers would cause prices to decline.”

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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