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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.



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 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


Carrier Association Requests Reconsideration of FCC Decision on 911 Outage Notification

The CCA says the FCC order creates burdens on call providers and 911 special facilities.



Photo of CCA president and CEO Tim Donovan

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2023 – The Competitive Carriers Association is asking the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider a November decision requiring carriers to provide certain network outage notifications within 30 minutes.

The FCC order mandates that originating call providers notify 911 special facilities – such as emergency call centers called public safety answering points – of outages “no later than within 30 minutes of when the outage that potentially affects 911 service is discovered.” The order also required those providers to keep up-to-date contact information for those special facilities in areas they serve.

In a petition on Friday, the CCA is asking for the FCC to review and implement flexibility in that timing. “The significant new requirements that the Commission has imposed on carriers…are likely to be burdensome and counter-productive not only for carriers, but also 911 special facilities,” the CCA said in its application, though it continues to encourage the commission to retain the “as soon as possible” requirement.

“At a minimum, however, the Commission should start the 30-minute timer (and subsequent timers) when actual originating service provider…notification occurs from its vendor or other underlying provider,” the CCA said, adding even then carriers “would face significant difficulty assessing the outage, identifying the appropriate” public safety answering points to notify, and making the required notifications within 30 minutes.

“Therefore, it would be appropriate to deem [originating call providers] compliant if they begin notifying affected PSAPs that an outage exists within the 30- minute timeframe, and continue to notify any PSAPs that the OSPs could not reach before the expiration of the 30-minutes,” the industry association added.

The association said the problem with the decision is it doesn’t account for the “practical difficulty (if not impossibility)” of getting a vendor notification, determining which of the thousands of answering points may be affected by the outage, and making the required notification in that timeframe. It said carriers frequently don’t get outage notifications from 911 solution vendors within 30 minutes.

“The unnecessarily rigid approach in the [order] will often make compliance an impossibility, and otherwise will require carriers to spend critical time and resources on notifications to PSAPs that are not affected by outages, and will subject PSAPs to frequent notifications regarding outages that do not affect them, with limited actionable information given the short deadline,” the CCA added.

The CCA is also requesting that the commission create and maintain a centralized database with information provided by the 911 special facilities. It notes that the FCC order fails to fully take into consideration the burden its approach will place on carriers, especially smaller ones with limited resources, and PSAPs, who are “likely to experience a recurring deluge of requests for updated contact information from numerous carriers subject to this amorphous standard.”

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FCC Nominee Gigi Sohn Withdraws from Consideration

Sohn was first nominated in October 2021.



WASHINGTON, March 7, 2023 – The nominee for the fifth commissioner to the Federal Communications Commission withdrew her candidacy in a statement Tuesday, blaming “dark money political groups” for tainting her career.

“Unfortunately, the American people are the real losers here,” Gigi Sohn said in the statement. “The FCC deadlock, now over two years long, will remain so for a long time. As someone who has advocated for my entire career for affordable, accessible broadband for every American, it is ironic that the 2-2 FCC will remain sidelined at the most consequential opportunity for broadband in our lifetimes.”

Just last month, Sohn appeared before the Senate commerce committee for a third time and was lambasted by Republican members as an impartial nominee who has made controversial public statements on race and policing and who alleged gave money to members of the committee while being a nominee.

“When I accepted his nomination over sixteen months ago, I could not have imagined that legions of cable and media industry lobbyists, their bought-and-paid-for surrogates, and dark money political groups with bottomless pockets would distort my over 30-year history as a consumer advocate into an absurd caricature of blatant lies,” Sohn’s statement said. “The unrelenting, dishonest and cruel attacks on my character and my career as an advocate for the public interest have taken an enormous toll on me and my family.”

She appealed to the committee to hurry her to the Senate floor for votes so she can get to work on the FCC’s broadband availability map. She said in her statement that her withdrawal also means the commission won’t have the majority to adopt rules on nondiscriminatory access to broadband and to fix the Universal Service Fund programs.

Sohn was nominated for a second time by President Joe Biden in January.

“I hope the President swiftly nominates an individual who puts the American people first over all other interests,” she added in the statement. “The country deserves nothing less.”

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Broadband Mapping & Data

General Agreement on Broadband Label, But Not on Additional Disclosure Requirements

The FCC is considering additional requirements, but that could be burdensome for small providers.



Screenshot of speakers at the Federal Communications Bar Association event

WASHINGTON, February 15, 2023 — As the comment deadline approaches for the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband “nutrition label” rule, industry experts are largely supportive of the measure, although some disagree over whether the requirements go too far or not far enough.

The FCC is currently considering whether to add additional requirements — such as cybersecurity data and more comprehensive pricing information about bundled plans — to the labels, which were mandated in November and require that providers list performance metrics, cost and other facts to inform purchasers at all points of sale. Other proposed measures aim to improve accessibility by requiring non-English translations, as well as Braille or a QR code with a tactile indicator. The comment deadline is Thursday.

Further requirements could have negative impacts on both consumers and providers, argued Farhan Chughtai, senior policy counsel at broadband consulting company JSI, at a Feb. 6 Federal Communications Bar Association event.

“You don’t want to make the labels too difficult—that’s going to lead to more consumer confusion,” Chughtai said. He pointed to metrics such as network management, network reliability and cybersecurity as topics that might be “too nuanced” for the labels.

Overly complicated labels risk being treated like terms of service agreements, where many users just skip through them, Chughtai said. “Let’s focus on speed, latency, monthly usage.”

Additional requirements would place a disproportionate burden on smaller, rural providers, he added.

Chughtai also pointed to the “point of sale” disclosure requirements as a potential barrier for small providers.

“For some of the larger providers, that documentation can be automated,” he said. “But when you’re talking about a small carrier in Kentucky that has two or three people that are working, that type of communication… could be troublesome. So again, I think that the commission did strike a good balance, but when it comes to implementation, I think there’s ways to continue to refine this.”

Diana Eisner, vice president of policy and advocacy at industry association USTelecom, agreed with Chughtai, adding that both small and large providers “agree that this point of sale documentation is problematic.”

The FCC should work with industry and consumer groups to continuously fine-tune the label requirements, Chughtai said.

Debate on current version of label

“I think the commission really struck the right balance largely of making sure that consumers can see the information in a snapshot—they’re not overloaded with irrelevant information,” Eisner said.

Consumer advocates are generally excited about the label, said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports. “I think the commission gets it mostly right,” he said.

However, Schwantes voiced concerns about the label’s scope, saying that they were intended to educate consumers in addition to serving as a comparison shopping tool.

“I’m concerned that existing consumers may never see the label unless you’re moving or you decide to change or maybe if you’re lucky enough to have a competing provider,” he said. “Based on the [FCC’s Communications Marketplace] report that came out right at the end of last year, there are still many millions of Americans who only have one choice of broadband provider.”

Schwantes noted that he and several other consumer groups attempted to address this issue by advocating for the labels’ inclusion on monthly service bills, but such a requirement failed to make it into the FCC’s mandate.

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