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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.

Josh Peterson is a DC-based journalist with a professional writing portfolio that includes work on US foreign policy and international affairs, telecom policy and cyber security, religion, arts, and music. He is currently a journalism intern at The National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C. and a former tech and social media intern at The Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship. Peterson received his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and religion with a minor concentration in music from Hillsdale College in 2008. When he is not writing, Peterson lives a double life as a web designer, social media strategist, photographer, musician and mixed martial artist.

FCC

FCC Announces New RDOF Accountability and Transparency Measures, Additional Funding

Results of verifications, audits and speed and latency testing for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will be made public.

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Photo of reels of cabling in Hinsdale, Mont., in August 2016 by Tony Webster used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Friday said that it will implement new accountability and transparency measures, and make public the results of verifications, audits and speed and latency testing for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The measures are part of a new known as the Rural Broadband Accountability Fund that monitors several universal service high-cost programs.

Additionally announced in a press release, the Rural Broadband Accountability Fund will speed up the FCC’s audit and verification processes.

Audits and verifications are projected to double in 2022 as compared to 2021 and include on-site audits, and a particular focus will be placed on auditing and verifying the largest-dollar and highest-risk RDOF recipients.

The agency also announced that it would commit more than $1.2 billion more to RDOF, the largest funding round for the program to date.

The new funding will bring broadband service to more than 1 million locations through deployments in 32 states, with 23 broadband providers assisting the effort.

Going forward, the commission will deny waivers, it said, “for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications.”

All winning bidders will undergo “an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review.”

Finally, the commission says a list of areas will be published which details where providers have defaulted, “making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.”

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Broadband Data

Federal Communications Commission Approves New Provider Transparency Requirements

Broadband providers must now create “broadband nutrition labels” which list pricing and speed information.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel from January 2015 by the Internet Education Foundation used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to require that broadband providers create “broadband nutrition labels” that list information on the pricing and speed of internet service they provide.

The labels mimic food nutrition labels in format and aim to increase transparency of providers in their marketing to consumers.

With their approval at the commission’s monthly open meeting Thursday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the new rules are crucial to consumers being able to find the best deals on broadband service for their personal needs.

Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel praised the label format, saying that it allows consumers to “easily compare” information and that it is “black and white, simple to read, and easy to understand.”

The long-simmering idea was enacted by Congress in the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by the president on November 15. It directed the FCC to revive the project by one year from the law’s passage.

On Thursday, Joshua Stager, New America’s deputy director for broadband and competition policy at its Open Technology Institute, called the vote “a welcome step forward and a win for consumers.” The think tank began promoting the idea last decade, and it had been endorsed by the Obama administration before being canned by the Trump administration.

Industry group Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said the transparency afforded by the new policy “provides consumers with important tools to make informed choices.”

Additionally in Thursday’s meeting, when the agency tentatively revoked telecom operator China Unicom Americas’ operating authority in the United States, the agency said they had reached out to the Department of Justice for assistance in responding to what they say are potential threats from the China-based company. This inter-agency review is routinely part of determinations involving foreign-owned telecommunications companies.

The agency also updated its definition of “library” to make clear that Tribal libraries are eligible to receive funds under the Universal Service Fund’s E-rate program.

Starks emphasized that the commission’s action represented progress on digital inclusion efforts, but that unfamiliarity of Tribal libraries with the E-rate program remains a problem.

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FCC

Federal Communications Commission Implements Rules for Affordable Connectivity Program

The agency implemented new rules on the Affordable Connectivity Program, which makes a new subsidy permanent.

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Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel by Rob Kunzig of Morning Consult

WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules Friday for its Affordable Connectivity Program that changes and, in some cases narrows, the eligibility requirements for the subsidy to allow for more households to be connected.

An extension of the former Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which offered discounts to broadband service providers to subsidize connectivity and devices, the new program will make it easier for providers to get in the program by automatically making eligible providers in good standing.

Additionally, the FCC maintains that the monthly discount on broadband service is limited to one internet discount per household rather than allowing the benefit for separate members of a household. “Adopting a one-per-household limitation best ensures that Program funding is available to the largest possible number of eligible households,” the agency said in its report.

To accommodate the volume of eligible households enrolling in the ACP, the FCC allowed providers until March 22 – 60 days after its Friday order is published in the Federal Register– to make necessary changes to ensure that the ACP can be applied to providers’ currently sold plans.

“So much of our day to day—work, education, healthcare and more—has migrated online. As a result, it’s more apparent than ever before that broadband is no longer nice-to-have, it’s need-to-have, for everyone, everywhere,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “But there are far too many households across the country that are wrestling with how to pay for gas and groceries and also keep up with the broadband bill. This program, like its predecessor, can make a meaningful difference.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act transformed the EBB to the longer-term Affordable Connectivity Program by allocating an additional $14.2 billion to it.

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