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Congress Seeks Winning Design for Proposed Spectrum Auctions

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2011 – The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology explored legislation Wednesday that would encourage the voluntary participation of broadcast companies and wireless providers in spectrum auctions.

“There is a looming spectrum crisis, and we must get additional spectrum into the marketplace,” said Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA)

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WASHINGTON, June 2, 2011 – The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology explored legislation Wednesday that would encourage the voluntary participation of broadcast companies and wireless providers in spectrum auctions.

“There is a looming spectrum crisis, and we must get additional spectrum into the marketplace,” said Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA)

Witnesses before the subcommittee testified if a solution is not adequately devised, increasing consumer demand for mobile broadband products potentially threatens to overcrowd spectrum to the point where it is unusable and innovation is stifled.

“Today, the United States is the world’s clear leader in wireless broadband,” said Chris Guttman-McCabe, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association during his prepared remarks. “Although the United States is home to just 4.6 percent of the world’s population and 5.8 percent of global wireless subscribers, the U.S. claims 20.4 percent of global high-speed wireless broadband (3G and 4G) subscribers.

“The growth in the demand for mobile broadband and the corresponding need for additional spectrum has been well-documented both by the government and respected private sector parties like the Yankee Group, CODA, and Kleiner Perkins,” said McCabe.

Subcommittee members and witnesses alike expressed the need to design legislation for successful spectrum auctions.  The subcommittee and the witnesses agreed that voluntary incentive auction that would benefit consumers, broadcasters, the government and the general economy.

“Authorizing the FCC to conduct incentive auctions should be the foundation of our spectrum policy efforts,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). “We should take full advantage of the FCC’s world-class expertise on auction design and give the agency the ability to work with auction experts to set up the best possible incentive auction.”

“Spectrum legislation presents a tremendous opportunity to promote wireless broadband, spur economic growth, create jobs, and generate significant revenue for the American taxpayer,” said Subcommittee Chairman, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), in his opening remarks.

Walden, a former radio broadcaster, while acknowledging the need for smarter spectrum policy, did not seem to agree that incentive auctions were the only answer.

“I would like to see a partnership between broadcasters and wireless companies on spectrum,” said Walden after the hearing. “Part of the reason we held this hearing was to tease out the new technologies. HDTV has only been out for two years, and the companies have put in a lot of work. Now they’re starting to explore what else you can do with that spectrum and mobile TV is certainly a piece of that.”

Witnesses from broadcast companies expressed support for a broadband solution as called for in the National Broadband Plan, but also voiced their concerns. Broadcasters wanted assurance that they would be protected in the potential legislation.

“There is only so much that the laws of physics will allow us to do without crippling our capability to serve our local communities now and in the future,” said Todd Schurz, President and CEO of Schurz Communications.

Schurz outlined four points to serve as a baseline for protecting broadcasters.  Broadcasters, he said, should not be forced to inferior spectrum bands, nor should they be subject to increased interference.  Additionally, if broadcasters are repacked they should not bear the cost and after repacking their signal footprint should not decrease.

Repacking is a means by which broadcasters are moved to different spectrum bands and compressed to free up more contiguous spectrum.

Broadcasters also hope to gain from the increased spectrum demands of consumers.

“To borrow a sports analogy, you go where the puck is going,” said Bert Ellis, President of Titan Broadcasting. “This is where the consumer is going, and we want to be able to go there as well.”

At a time when the U.S. budget deficit is the talk of the town, voluntary incentive auction legislation could provide a method to reduce the budget deficit; the U.S. Treasury would reap the majority of the money from the auctions.

“The FCC incentive auction would likely generate large revenues for the government, perhaps in the range of that generated by the 700 MHz auction [in 2008], which generated close to $19 billion,” said Duke University Dr. Michelle Connolly, an economics professor at Duke University. “More importantly for the overall U.S. economy, it will help move a scarce resource to a more valuable use to our economy and society.”

Connolly cautioned, however, that the auction rules must provide a measure of certainty to licensees and the public.

“As important as the impact of rules imposed on the spectrum being auctioned, is the impact of uncertainty. Rules that increase uncertainty for bidders will also lead to lower bids,” said Connolly.

Every party involved, however, regardless of whether they would participate in a voluntary incentive auction, expressed certainty that meeting the needs of the American consumer was central to their service or proposal.

FCC

FCC Encouraged to Limit Data Collection on Affordable Connectivity Program, Others Want More

One trade group warns about providers leaving the program if data collection too onerous.

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Photo of Jonathan Spalter, CEO of US Telecom, from ISE

WASHINGTON, August 9, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is being warned not to overly burden internet service providers with its Congress-mandated order to collect pricing and subscription rates data from participants in the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the FCC is required by November 15 to adopt rules to collect annual data relating to the price and subscription rates of each internet service offering by a provider participating in the broadband subsidy program, which offers up to $30 per month for low-income households (up to $75 per month on tribal lands) and a one-time $100 off a device.

But a number of submissions are warning the FCC against rules that require any additional data collection efforts beyond the scope of the law so as not to unduly burden providers and, at least one other trade group said, push providers away from participating in the program.

Telecommunications company Lumen, for example, recommended the commission limit the scope of the annual reporting to monthly pricing and to exempt “excessively granular” requirements, such as promotional rates, grandfathered plans, or subscriber-level data, which the commission is proposing to collect.

Communications companies and industry groups want to limit data collection

T-Mobile said in its submission that Congress told the FCC to rely on the broadband consumer labels, which are due this November, for pricing. The commission asked for comment on the interpretation of the IIJA requiring a reliance on price information displayed on the consumer labels.

For subscription information, T-Mobile urges the commission to look at data collection from the Universal Service Administrative Company – which administers high-cost broadband programs for the Universal Service Fund – to avoid “adopting a largely redundant collection that would impose additional burdens” on all parties.

“The IIJA leaves the Commission no discretion to collect any additional price information, and the statute does not require collection of data on other service plan and network characteristics,” such as speed and latency and data allowances, the submission said.

“Collection of this additional data would create additional burdens and is unnecessary,” the submission added.

Similar limitations were also proposed by telecom Starry Inc., which pushed for privacy protection by collecting data at a higher level (such as the state) and working with information collected in other transparency efforts, such as the consumer labels.

Industry association IMCOMPAS, which represents internet and competitive communications networks, told the FCC in a submission that data collection should be limited to the state level to protect consumer privacy and proprietary information of the providers; streamline other data collection, including the consumer labels; and provide instruction on how to providers to better understand the data collection rules.

Concurring with this position is the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, which said data collection must be simple and should not go to a level of detail that goes beyond what the IIJA calls for. The trade group, which represents small providers, said such data collection beyond that required in the law could burden companies with small teams.

The included data, WISPA said, should be an annual aggregate of items including broadband plans subscribed to by ACP customers, number of subscribers for each plan, and pricing minus promotional rates, taxes, discounts or pricing breakdowns for bundled services. Any additional onerous collection could see providers leave the program, it added.

Industry groups US Telecom and NCTA – Internet and Television Association similarly urged a simple annual report that captured undiscounted monthly pricing of each broadband service offering and the number of customers subscribed. The Competitive Carriers Association and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association also recommended a limited data collection approach.

ACA Connects, a trade group representing small and medium-sized independent operators, said the FCC should direct providers to report numbers of ACP households “that are applying their benefit to each speed tier along with the standard price of each tier on a state-by-state basis” – rather than the FCC-proposed continuous collection of subscriber-level data via the National Lifeline Accountability Database, it said, adding the commission should be mindful of the time it takes for completion, as smaller providers have limited resources.

Others pushing for subscriber-level, more data

The cities of New York and Seattle, in their submissions, said the FCC should collect subscriber-level information to assess different service adoption rates on different plans over time – publishing categories based on price, plan and performance by the zip code. It added it is not seeking information about the households itself, and said this would not be a privacy concern as others have pointed out.

Similarly, the Connecticut Office of State Broadband said the commission should go beyond the IIJA requirements by mandating information including performance of the plans and whether a device is offered.

For the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, data collection on the ACP should include data beyond what’s included in the consumer labels, and should include other items such as installation, equipment, service, miscellaneous, data and usage fees, and state and local taxes.

In a joint submission, non-profit media group Common Sense and internet advocacy group Public Knowledge recommended data collection that is necessary to monitor the ACP, which include promotional rates, taxes, overage costs and device and equipment costs. This way, they say, the FCC can get a better idea of how much is going toward internet access after applying the subsidy. They are also asking for the commission to collect information on whether the subsidy is being used to upgrade or discount current service, and how customers are becoming aware of the program.

The commission is currently trying to get more Americans on the program, which has over 13 million households signed up. That number, the commission said last week, should be much higher. As such, it ordered the development of an outreach program to market the subsidy.

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FCC

Former Commissioners Commend FCC in Absence of Fifth Commissioner

But there’s concern a Senate vote on a fifth FCC commissioner will not happen before midterms.

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Screenshot of Former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2022 – Former chairs of the Federal Communications Commission commended the current FCC administration at a symposium on Wednesday for working together on important issues with a 2-2 party split, but expressed increasing uncertainty about the fate of a fifth commissioner.

The Senate vote to confirm Gigi Sohn, a Democrat and net neutrality advocate, has stalled for months. And former FCC commissioners were wary of her prospects before the midterm elections in November. Some Republican critics are concerned that Sohn, nominated by President Joe Biden in October, won’t be able to remain non-partisan on the issues she would encounter as a commissioner.

“Confirmation is still possible, but with the extended August recess and looming midterm election, there aren’t a lot of legislative days to get the job done,” said former FCC Chair Richard Wiley. With each passing day, the confirmation becomes more difficult, agreed panelists, as the Senate could flip to a Republican-controlled chamber come November.

In the meantime, the former commissioners praised the efforts of the current staff. “A lot of credit should go to the Chairwoman [Jessica] Rosenworcel and indeed to all the commissioners for maintaining a robust agenda over the last year and half and really getting decisions made,” said Wiley. “Two Democrats, two Republicans have worked together to serve the public interest.”

William Kennard added that, “this is an energetic commission, they want to get things done.”

Some initiatives that have received unanimous FCC votes include spectrum-sharing initiatives and robocall enforcement.

Editor’s note: The comments in this story were quoted from and attributed to a July 20, 2022, symposium. That symposium was hosted by the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council. 

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FCC

FCC Adopts Spectrum-Sharing Incentives, Proposal on Call Traffic Arbitrage

The agency voted to incentivize the sharing of underutilized spectrum to increase connectivity in the nation.

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Photo of Nathan Simington, Brendan Carr, Jessica Rosenworcel of FCC (left to right)

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted at its July open meeting Thursday to adopt spectrum-sharing incentives and to crack down on the practice of driving up revenue from call traffic inflation.

The commission voted to adopt a program that will build incentives for larger spectrum holders to make underutilized spectrum available to smaller carriers, tribal nations and entities serving rural areas. The program, called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program, will have incentives including longer license terms, extensions on buildout obligations, and more flexible construction requirements.

The commission is also seeking comment on whether to expand the program eligibility to non-common carriers serving non-rural areas.

“I’m excited to see the new deployments this program will foster,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “I think it will help expand wireless deployment in rural and tribal communities… to make sure we reach 100 percent of us with high-speed service.”

Experts have advocated for more carve-outs for unlicensed spectrum to tackle the growing demand for connections and relieve congestion on existing frequencies. The Rural Wireless Association applauded the FCC Thursday on the vote, saying it believes that program can “encourage the necessary transactions that can expand telecommunications and broadband service in rural America.”

Cracking down on call traffic arbitrage

The commission also proposed rules to address the practice of telephone companies inflating traffic to generate more revenue, which raises costs for long-distance carriers.

Intercarrier compensation is the system of regulated payments that sees carriers compensate each other for cross-carrier call traffic. Some companies, however, continue to take advantage of the system by inflating traffic to extract additional revenues, the FCC identified. As a result, the FCC proposes to adopt monitoring rules to identify illegal arbitrage practices.

“This rulemaking is designed to shut down the loopholes these companies are exploiting,” said Rosenworcel. It would require providers to tally and report call traffic volumes to the FCC to verify its compliance with access stimulation rules, which were adopted in 2019 to clarify financial responsibility for calls.

Other actions

The FCC also proposed a $116 million fine against ChariTel Inc. for a robocall scheme that made nearly 10 million robocalls to toll-free numbers, which then generated revenue for the company from payments by the toll-free service provider.

FCC commissioners further voted to open an inquiry to evaluate how the Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program can be modified to support the connectivity needs of domestic abuse survivors.

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