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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

FCC

Cable Group NCTA Says Deny Exclusive Multitenant Access, But Not Wiring, Agreements

NCTA said the FCC should deny exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

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Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – The internet and television association NCTA is suggesting that the Federal Communications Commission deny all broadband providers exclusive access to multitenant buildings, but to continue allowing exclusive wiring agreements.

On Tuesday, the FCC opened a new round of comments into its examination of competitive broadband options for residents of apartments, multi-tenant and office buildings.

In a Tuesday ex parte notice to the commission, which follows a formal meeting with agency staff on September 2, the NCTA said the record shows that deployment, competition, and consumer choice in multiple tenant environments “are strong,” and that the FCC can “promote even greater deployment and competition by prohibiting not just cable operators, other covered [multiple video programming distributors], and telecommunications carriers, but all broadband providers from entering into MTE exclusive access agreements.

The organization, whose member companies include Comcast, Cox Communications and Charter Communications, also said it should continue to allow providers to enter into exclusive wiring agreements with MTE owners. Wiring just means that the provider can lay down its cables, like fiber, to connect residents.

“Exclusive wiring agreements do not deny new entrants access to MTEs. Rather, exclusive wiring agreements are pro-competitive and help ensure that state-of-the-art wiring will be deployed in MTEs to the benefit of consumers.”

The NCTA also told the FCC that there would be technical problems with simultaneous sharing of building wires by different providers and vouched for exclusive marketing arrangements, according to the notice.

The FCC’s new round of comments comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

Reached for comment on the filing, a spokesman for NCTA said they had nothing to add to the filing, which was signed by Mary Beth Murphy, deputy general counsel to the cable organization.

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China

Hytera’s Inclusion on FCC’s National Security Blacklist ‘Absurd,’ Client Says

Diversified Communications Group said the FCC flubbed on adding Hytera to blacklist.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – A client of a company that has been included in a list of companies the Federal Communications Commission said pose threats to the security of the country’s networks is asking the agency to reconsider including the company.

In a letter to the commission on Tuesday, Diversified Communications Group, which installs and distributes two-way radio communications devices to large companies, said the inclusion of Hytera Communications Corporation, a Chinese manufacturer of radio equipment, on a list of national security threats is “absurd” because the hardware involved is not connected to the internet and “does not transmit any sensitive or proprietary data.

“It seems that Hytera has been lumped in with other Chinese companies on the Covered List simply because they happen to manufacture electronics in the same country,” Diversified’s CEO Ryan Holte said in the letter, adding Hytera’s products have helped Diversified’s business thrive.

“This is a wrong that should be righted. Hytera is not a national security risk. They are an essential business partner to radio companies throughout the U.S.,” the CEO added.

In March, the FCC announced that it had designated Hytera among other Chinese businesses with alleged links to the Communist government. Others included Huawei, ZTE, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, and Dahua Technology.

List among a number of restrictions on Chinese companies

This list of companies was created in accordance with the Secure Networks Act, and the FCC indicated that it would continue to add companies to the list if they are deemed to “pose an unacceptable risk to national security or the security and safety of U.S. persons.”

Last month, the Senate commerce committee passed through legislation that would compel the FCC to no longer issue new equipment licenses to China-backed companies.

Last year the U.S. government took steps to ensure that federal agencies could not purchase goods or services from the aforementioned companies, and had previously added them to an economic blacklist.

In July, the FCC voted in favor of putting in place measures that would require U.S. carriers to rip and replace equipment by these alleged threat companies.

The Biden administration has been making moves to isolate alleged Chinese-linked threats to the country’s networks. In June, the White House signed an executive order limiting investments in predominantly Chinese companies that it said poses a threat to national security.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Says 5 Million Households Now Enrolled in Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The $3.2 billion program provides broadband and device subsidies to eligible low-income households.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 30, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that five million households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

The $3.2-billion program, which launched in May, provides a broadband subsidy of $50 per month to eligible low-income households and $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands, as well as a one-time reimbursement on a device. Over 1160 providers are participating, the FCC said, who are reimbursed the cost to provide the discounted services.

The agency has been updating the public on the number of participating households for the program. In June, the program was at just over three million and had passed four million last month. The program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“Enrolling five million households into the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in a little over three months is no small feat,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of nearly 30,000 individuals and organizations who signed up as volunteer outreach partners.”

Rosenworcel added that conversations with partners and the FCC’s analysis shows the need for “more granular data” to bring these opportunities to more eligible families.

The program’s strong demand was seen as far back as March.

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