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Broadband Breakfast Serves a Thanksgiving Leftover Wrap-Up

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WASHINGTON, November 25 2011 – As we all sit and digest post Thanksgiving, Broadband Breakfast can finally wrap up some stories that we have been interested in over the past couple of weeks but have not had time to get around to.  We wanted to draw attention to a couple of the stories below and provide you all with some summaries and quotes to go with your leftovers.

AT&T/ T-Mobile Merger Being Put To the Test of the Public Interest

On Tuesday, November 22, a couple of days before the shot clock ran out on the review of the AT&T/ T-Mobile merger, FCC Chairman Genachowski circulated an order around to each of the Commissioner’s offices suggesting that the $39 billion dollar deal between the two companies does not meet the public interest and raises some serious questions of fact.

The order calls for the deal to be referred to an administrative law judge for a “trial type hearing” where AT&T will have the burden of proof of showing that the deal meets the public interest, accelerates deployment of mobile broadband and creates jobs.

In a private phone conference with some members of the press on Tuesday FCC officials, concluded that the deal violates antitrust law and does not meet the public interest because it would lead to massive job losses.  Officials also added that the hearing will not take place till after the United States District Court in Washington hears the Department of Justice’s suit to stop the merger.

The last merger that the FCC referred to an administrative law judge trial was Direct TV/ Echostar back in 2002.

How Many Geeks does it take?

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, The Gig Tank, part start up accelerator and part think tank is holding a competition in the summer of 2012 and asking budding entrepreneurs and techy college students around the country “what would you do with the world’s fastest internet.”  The details of the competition can be found here.

The best gigabit ideas, apps and businesses created during the summer’s GigTank will be awarded up to $300 K in cash prizes and investment capital.

This public private partnership backed by companies like Alcatel-Lucent and EPB, Chattanooga’s publicly owned electric power system, is an effort to foster new innovative technology ideas, create jobs and take advantage of the country’s first 1 gigabit-per-second fiber optic network.

As of several month’s ago only a handful of local residents and businesses have signed on to receive the $350 a month service which require special gigabit routers to deliver wireless signals.  The network however can deliver 1Gbps speeds to over 150,000 homes in a 600 square mile area.

Perhaps the GigTank will be successful in creating the added value to spur citywide adoption.

In Sebastopol CA, Sonic.net is testing a 700 home network and laying out fiber lines delivering speeds close to 1Gbps for 69.99 a month.  Read more here

The question remains, what will Google’s fiber network in Kansas City look like and how much will it run for?

Turkey Award Goes To…

Louisiana!

Earlier this month the Commerce Department pulled an $80 million dollar stimulus grant that was awarded to the Louisiana State University Board of Regents to extend Louisiana’s statewide research fiber network to the northeast corner of the state.  The funds would have created 900 miles of cable over 21 parishes and would have brought affordable 100Mbps to high schools across that region.

NTIA apparently pulled the funds because they were concerned about last minute changes to the plan that lacked technical and financial details as well as concerns about the ability to complete the plan before the January 2013 deadline. The grant which was originally approved to extend broadband infrastructure into unserved parts of the state, became a plan to provide long term leases to private companies.

Louisiana Commissioner of Administration, Paul Rainwater defended the state’s actions by saying, that even though private companies were going to be hired, state intervention would be needed that would have competed head to head with other private providers.

About a week ago, NTIA rejected the pleas of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to reinstate the stimulus funding.  Landrieu has called out Louisiana Governor Jindal for “fumbling the ball on this one.”

Broadband Breakfast’s friend and former Expert Opinion Contributor Geoff Daily wrote about this issue on his blog

He ended with these thoughts,

“I’m truly appalled at how this whole thing’s gone down, though I wish I could say I’m surprised. We continue to have officials at all levels of government refusing to acknowledge the basic tenant of rural broadband: you’re either subsidizing deployment or profits.

You’re either spending public dollars on building out public infrastructure, or you’re spending public dollars on trying to make rural areas profitable enough to entice private providers to build out their own infrastructure.

Has telecommunications traditionally been an area where services were delivered by the private sector? Yes, but isn’t the reason rural America isn’t connected yet because of a breakdown in this reliance on market-driven forces?

In my opinion the number one question on policymakers’ minds should be: “How do I get my communities connected enough to be competitive in the global digital economy?”

 

Smarter Cable Set Top Boxes for Everyone.

Last week the cable industry announced that CableLabs® – Energy Labs a new arm of the cable industries research and development consortium will launch a new initiative to improve the energy efficiency of consumer set to boxes and develop advanced services  designed to promote innovative consumer energy conservation measures.

According to their press release, “The energy initiative will promote the development, testing, and deployment of technologies that will enable cable subscribers to reduce and manage energy consumption in the home, including establishing new requirements for both cable video devices and network support systems.”

New cable specification will enable cable set top boxes to have “sleep” capabilities to reduce energy consumption when good old Uncle Buck falls asleep in front of the TV watching football after your Turkey Day meal.

The Cable industry has noted that by 2013 90% of set top boxes will be ENERGY STAR 3.0 devices.

The CableLabs® – Energy Lab will leverage the expertise and capabilities of CableLabs to build industry consensus on projects that will enhance current energy conservation efforts.  The CableLabs® – Energy Lab will:

  • Design and maintain a consistent and accurate energy tracking program for measuring and reporting energy consumption and efficiency improvements of new set-top boxes. Procedures for testing and advancing the energy efficiency of set-top boxes and energy conserving software will also be established.
  • Serve as a testing and development facility for designers of energy efficient software and hardware.
  • Create energy efficiency specifications for semiconductor and hardware suppliers and the network operations systems that support cable devices.
  • Assist in developing applications and products that will help consumers manage their overall residential energy consumption.
  • Showcase and demonstrate current and future energy savings products and power monitoring capabilities.

 

Former and Current Congressmen Talk 2012 Tech Policy and Beyond

Last week National Journal hosted a panel discussion on 2012 Technology and Beyond.  Although we did not cover this discussion immediately there were a couple of comments and shared thoughts that are worth re posting in a quick summary.

Bruce Gottlieb, General Counsel for National Journal began the first part of the morning moderating a discussion between former Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA), now Partner at Sidley Austin LLP and Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE).

Not surprisingly there was a lot of talk about spectrum.  Terry reiterated the opening statement of CTIA’s President and CEO Steve Largent, by saying “this is all about spectrum, we are moving to a mobile society and we will stifle innovations that come with mobility without the spectrum.  What barriers do we have to remove and what level of spectrum do we need to provide?”

Boucher added that “incentive auctions are a no brainer.”  He believed that in many cities where the spectrum crunch is the greatest there would be a number of broadcasters that will find greater value in their spectrum being sold.

Boucher also commended FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, by pointing out that the Net Neutrality rule was carefully negotiated.  “Stakeholders had major role in coming to terms with it, there was broad agreement… even Verizon really did not disagree on the substance.  I think the FCC handled it in an adroit way.”

Boucher and Terry both noted that in terms of USF, they had structured a comprehensive recommendation for statutory reform of USF that enjoyed broad stakeholder support.  Boucher mentioned that in legislative hearings, telephone companies large and small as well as the cable industry all endorsed the legislation that contained notable advancements that FCC has currently adopted including reverse auctions, transition to broadband  and denying support to incumbent LEC in situation where there is competition in offering voice services within that local exchange.

Boucher then brought up the need for another Telecom reform. “The last one in 1996 was about analog telephone and basic telephone services.  Today we have a transition to digital technology and the IP platform to deliver voice video and data.  We also now see companies that have historically offered different products offering the same products, a combination of voice video and data, and competing with each other.  A new era law would recommend a transition to digital technology and an IP platform for delivering all communications and would adopt functional regulations as opposed to industry specific regulations.  Today you treat cable different than phone and wireless when in reality they are all offering the same services that are competing with each other.”

Terry admitted to having same discussion in his office. “The FCC was built on silos, but as technology develops they are all moving to one platform.” – having discussions in office not yet ready for hearings – do we really need the wireless video and voice all segmented and regulated differently when it is all delivered the same way.

When asked about broadband infrastructure in rural America, former Rep Boucher the once champion of the public interest community, stated that the AT&T T-Mobile merger needs to be approved in order to allow for efficiencies in innovation build out and spectrum use to bring broadband to rural communities.  After a giant digital gasp from the public interest world Boucher did admit that his current firm is representing AT&T.  Still a 180 degree turn nonetheless.

The video from the event which includes a follow up panel discussion with Antoinette Bush, Partner at Skadden, Arap, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, Ambassador David Gross, Partner at Wiley Rein, Larry Irving, Principle of the Irving Group and Bruce Mehlman, Partner at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Inc can be seen here.

As Deputy Editor, Chris Naoum is curating expert opinions, and writing and editing articles on Broadband Breakfast issue areas. Chris served as Policy Counsel for Future of Music Coalition, Legal Research Fellow for the Benton Foundation and law clerk for a media company, and previously worked as a legal clerk in the office of Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. He received his B.A. from Emory University and his J.D. and M.A. in Television Radio and Film Policy from Syracuse University.

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House of Representatives

Silicon Valley Rep. Anna Eshoo Will Not Seek Reelection

The lawmaker’s Silicon Valley seat will be open for the first time in decades.

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Screenshot of Rep. Eshoo at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on October 19.

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2023 – Representative Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., announced on Tuesday that she will not seek reelection in 2024.

Eshoo’s retirement will leave up for grabs California’s 16th Congressional District, which includes Silicon Valley and parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The San José Spotlight reported that multiple local Democrats are eyeing the solid blue seat

Her departure will also open up a spot on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose purview includes telecommunications, tech and energy policy, public health, and food and drug safety.

The 80-year-old legislator was the first woman to represent her district and spent over 30 years in Congress. She sponsored bills on tech policy, including Section 230 changes and efforts to accelerate broadband build outs.

Eshoo touted her long legislative career in a video announcing her retirement, including 66 bills signed into law over five presidential administrations. 

“For three decades, you’ve given me your trust,” she said of her constituents. “I’ve given every fiber of my being to live up to that sacred trust.”

The lawmaker joins more than 30 lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have also announced plans to step down after their current terms. She will serve through January 2025.

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Senate

Experts Suggest Measures to Protect Affordable Connectivity Program at Senate Hearing

Under consideration: Opening the Universal Service Fund to contributions from broadband and Big Tech companies.

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WASHINGTON, September 28, 2023 – A broadband association asked Congress last week to open the Universal Service Fund to contributions from broadband and Big Tech revenues to allow the umbrella fund to absorb and support the Affordable Connectivity Program.

The industry is concerned that the $14-billion ACP program, which discounts monthly services for low-income Americans and those on tribal lands, is going to run out of money by early next year. Meanwhile, it is universally agreed that the Universal Service Fund, which includes four high-cost broadband programs, is struggling to maintain its roughly $8-billion annual pace without a diversification of its revenue sources.

Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, told the Communications and Technology subcommittee studying the future of rural broadband on September 21 that Congress could both support the sustainability of the USF and the ACP by forcing contributions from broadband and Big Tech revenues.

The idea is that the extra revenue would solve the USF sustainability question by allowing the fund to continue to support the existing four programs under its purview, while also allowing it to adopt the ACP program, hence removing that program from reliance on Congress for money.

“We can have Congress give the FCC the authorities that it requires to be able to expand the contribution base, integrating the ACP within USF program, and thereby allowing the potentially out of control contribution factor that will potentially bog down the viability and longevity of the Universal Service Fund mechanisms to go down,” Spalter said.

“And in so doing it can expand the contribution base sufficiently to allow not only broadband but importantly the dominant Big Tech companies to participate so that we would effectively fuse the Affordable Connectivity Program with [high-cost program] Lifeline and do so in a way that would actually not require appropriated dollars from Congress.”

The ACP currently has around 21 million Americans signed up, but the FCC says many more are eligible. The commission has been allocating money to outreach groups to market the subsidy program.

While some have argued that the Federal Communications Commission could unilaterally expand the contribution base of the USF, the commission has elected to wait for Congress to make the requisite legislative reforms to give it that authority.

Forcing Big Tech companies, which rely on the internet to deliver their products, has been an idea tossed around by experts and promoted by Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr. Meanwhile, forcing broadband revenues to contribute to the fund has also received good support.

The concern for the ACP program is that the internet service providers rely on the $14 billion to continue to offer discounts.

“With funding set to be depleted early next year, initial notices of service termination could be out during the height of the holiday season in December – that’s a present none of our constituents deserve to receive,” said Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D-Calif.  

“Poverty is everywhere, but higher in rural America, in our region the reason most people can’t adopt service is due to lack of affordability, this impacts more households than lack of infrastructure alone,” said Sara Nichols, senior planner of the Land of Sky Regional Council of Government.

“It’s a program we simply can’t afford to lose,” added Nichols.

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Rural Utilities Service

White House Nominates Basil Gooden as Rural Development Chief at USDA

Gooden would be responsible for overseeing the activities of the Rural Utilities Services, an important broadband funding agency.

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Photo of Basil Gooden from Virginia Tech's web site.

WASHINGTON, September 11, 2023 – The White House on Monday announced the nomination of Basil Gooden for Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack touted the nomination in a statement, saying that Gooden “is a widely-respected, accomplished champion for affordable housing, community advancement, and economic development. His public service career is informed by a lifelong commitment to agriculture and rural development.”

Gooden is the current director of state operations for rural development at USDA.

If confirmed for the position, Gooden would be responsible for overseeing the activities of the Rural Utilities Services, which encompasses the Water and Environment Programs, the Electric Program, and the Telecommunications Program, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for rural Americans through providing funds to deploy rural telecommunications infrastructure.

The administration may seek additional funding for broadband through the department. RUS Administrator Andy Berke, the former mayor of Chatanooga, Tenn., who also served as a Commerce Department official with the title, “special representative for broadband.”

Running USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Isn’t Andy Berke’s First Act in Broadband

If selected for the position, Gooden would fill the void left behind by Xochitl Torres Small, who resigned from the role and was later confirmed by the Senate as deputy secretary of agriculture this past July.

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