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Republican and Democratic Freedom Fighters Join Hands to Proudly Declare Freedom on the Internet

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WASHINGTON, February 6, 2013 – Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee collectively patted themselves, and their nation, on the back at a hearing on Tuesday entitled, “Fighting for Freedom: Dubai and Beyond.”

Our notions are grounded in freedom, said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. Indeed, said Rep. Poe, “freedom is what we do in this country.” Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., also echoed the flag-waving spirit in saying that a universal commitment to upholding free speech was “one of many things that unite Democrats and Republicans.”

The hearing focused on the United States’ choice to align with 53 other countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and India, against other country’s proposals put forward at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in the United Arab Emirates in mid-December 2012. The event was the subject of the November 2012 Broadband Breakfast Club.

The WCIT conference had been held to examine proposed changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations first adopted in 1988. The 1988 regulations were initially implemented by the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Telecommunications Union to address to the changing world of international communications, namely, telephone systems.

According to a memorandum distributed for the hearing, the 1988 regulations were “conceived in an era when most countries still had monopoly, government owned telephone providers.” These regulations did not relate to any projected internet usage, an option that was not yet on the global horizon.

Founded in 1865 to deal with the birth of the telegraph in global context, the ITU is now part of the United Nations.

Sally Shipman Wentworth, senior manager for public policy at the Internet Society, hoped that the ITU would “become more transparent” and that the “processes need to be more open, more inclusive of civil society, more reflective of a broader community and not a closed door intergovernmental place…which promotes this feeling that it is a secret plan.”

During the WCIT Conference, the U.S. and the 54 other nations united against proposals by Russia, China and Iran to incorporate that might allow government control over its citizens’ access to international telecommunications services, thus allowing countries the ability to censor their citizens’ internet-based speech. Additional proposed rules allowed for international tariffs that might restrict market-based exchanges of information.

Opposing the 55 countries that included the United States were 89 nations “ led by Putin’s Russia and our good buddies the Chinese…[who] want the internet as a weapon against democratic opposition,” said Rep. Poe. He wondered whether aid given by the U.S. to countries that supported the resolution might need to be re-examined.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., warned that the regulations “could be used by oppressive governments to censor and surveil.”

The divided outcome of the WCIT convention has led to some uncertainty as to what will happen next.

In a rare unanimous vote, Congress preemptively voted 397-0 in opposition to United Nations governance over the internet — even prior to the divided outcome in Dubai.

Panelists speaking before a joint hearing of several committees led by the Energy and Commerce Committee warned of the issues that would arise if Congress does not engage with its critics.

Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell urged Congress to act swiftly against the effort. “Let us not look back at this moment and lament that we did not do enough, we have but one chance, let us tell the world now that we will be resolute,” he said.

“The internet is under assault,” he said. “These wonders of the 21st century are inches away from being smothered by innovation-crushing rules designed for a different time.”

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., agreed with him. She said he hoped that the internet would remains “a success story for generations to come, not only for Americans, but for people around the world.”

Rep. Henry  Waxman, D-Calif., said that the U.S. can continue to strengthen the relationships between “coalitions of countries that stood together in Dubai.”

Also present at the hearing was Bitange Ndemo, secretary for the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications. Speaking via internet connection from a location in Nairobi, Kenya, Ndemo spoke of the internet’s ability to give people hope and its ability to empower a nation’s people to see their government is more responsive. He referred to the internet as the “lifeblood for innovations we have made in Kenya.”

Former U.S. Ambassador David Gross praised Ndemo’s desire to “defend that which he believes to be correct.” Gross also spoke of how in recent years, internet connectivity has risen, and that broadband latency has greatly decreased in Kenya.

These kids of technical improvements have enabled the internet to provide a voice – literally as well as figuratively – for Ndemo speaking via an internet connection.

Harold Feld of the non-profit advocacy group Public Knowledge said that the unity between the United States and many nations of the rest of the world gave an “advantage ultimately in the political sphere, by making clear to many in global society what the stakes are here.”

Congress must continue their support “of the multi-stakeholder model of internet policy…both at home and abroad,” Wentworth said in her closing statements. “We can work together to ensure the internet continues to transcend political divides, and serves as an engine for human empowerment throughout the world.”

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Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr Optimistic About Finding Common Ground at Agency

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr from C-Span

March 24, 2021 — Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said the regulator has since 2017 seen what he wanted: Broadband speed increases and lower prices.

“The approach we adopted in 2017 is working,” he said at the Free State Foundation’s 13th annual telecom policy conference on Tuesday. “Speeds have increased, prices are down, and we see more competition than ever before; we need to keep it that way,” he said, stressing the importance of reinforcing the good work the previous administration did and continues to do.

Carr, who has been a part of the FCC since 2012 in various capacities and through different compositions, said the transition into the new administration is going well.

In contrast to before, when it seemed as though the “sky was falling” and there were many problems with net neutrality, today’s reality is quite different, thanks to Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, he said.

The chairwoman contacted him almost immediately after she asked him to participate an event together on telehealth. There have been a lot of conversations and compromises since that moment, he said.

He said elections do bring some consequences, and undoubtedly have shaken some of the agency’s previous standards with a different party in leadership. However, he said the FCC has been finding common ground, something that “has been all too rare in the past couple of years.”

He added that, in 2016, experts and analysts weren’t painting a very rosy picture for the US future leadership when it comes to 5G. One of the primary reasons cited was the cost and length of time to build out the Internet infrastructure in this country, he said.

“We went from 708 new cell sites in 2017 to over 46,000. The progress is astounding, and not only with towers but with fiber, as we built 450k miles of fiber in just one year alone.”

Spectrum auctions driving the agenda, Carr says

Optimistic on spectrum, he pointed out that at present, there is a lot of it available. “In 2017, the FCC had previously voted in a lot of higher band spectrum options.”

The work of initial prioritization was completed by us before 2017 when we moved in and noticed the lack of midband spectrum in the pipeline. We had to move fast, and we had the first auction for the midband in 2020, with frequencies ranging from 3.5 to 5.5 gigahertz.

Over the last couple of years, he said the FCC has opened that band to intensive use, pushing the midband spectrum a great deal. The future holds the need to create a spectrum calendar with a rough outline of spectrum auctions, including which bands are available for auction and when, he said. “I have already filled in that calendar.”

He said the regulator’s challenge is not with a lack of communication but with coordination.  “We need the FCC to take a step back and consider the public interest, how the agency can best achieve the federal missions and how it can best do this. Even if there are going to be disagreements, it is paramount to ensure that the American economy stays competitive.”

Looking ahead, Carr said the 5.9 gigahertz project, which last year was on trial to expand rural broadband access, would be a great beginning to prove that good leadership and compromise are possible between both parties.

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The $3.2 Billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: What’s In It, How to Get It?

Tim White

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Pool photo of FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel by Jonathan Newton

March 5, 2021 – Just shy of the 60-day deadline set by Congress, the Federal Communications Commission adopted an order on February 25, detailing how the new Emergency Broadband Benefit Program would work.

The $3.2 billion program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 that passed Congress in December 2020 and is allocated to the FCC to help low-income households with broadband access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Broadband Breakfast Live Online will focus on the program on Wednesday, March 10, 2021: “The Emergency Broadband Benefit: How Will the $3.2 Billion Program Work?

The funding will provide up to $50 per month for eligible low-income households, increased to $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands. Rather than disbursing directly to consumers, the funds will be distributed to participating broadband providers, who in turn will grant the discounted internet access to qualifying households who apply.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program is not to be confused with the Emergency Connectivity Fund currently being considered by Congress.

The Emergency  Broadband Benefit program also has a one-time reimbursement option of $100 for purchasing desktops, laptops or tablets for connecting to the internet, with a co-pay of between $10 and $50.

Households do not receive the reimbursement for buying a device separately: That is provided by the service providers through which the funding will be disbursed.

To qualify for the program, households must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Qualifies for the FCC Lifeline program
  • Is approved for the free or reduced-price school breakfast/lunch program
  • Demonstrates substantial documented loss of income since February 29, 2020
  • Received a federal Pell grant in the current award year
  • Qualifies for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 relief program, subject to FCC approval.

To receive reimbursement for services and connected devices, participating service providers must register with SAM.gov, cannot be listed on the Department of the Treasury’s “do not pay” list, and must register with the FCC to receive a registration number. Similar to the Lifeline program, the EBBP will be provided to companies who participate through the Universal Service Administrative Company.

To participate, companies are not required to be eligible telecommunications carriers through Lifeline, but must apply through an “election notice” with USAC. They must also get prior approval from the FCC before filing their notice.

The application window for service providers to apply to the program opens on Monday, March 8, 2021, and ends March 22. The program should begin approximately April 25, or 60 days after the FCC published the order.

The service provider’s broadband plan must have been in place by December 1, 2020, to receive the discounted rate.

Unlike the FCC’s Lifeline program that has been in place for several years, this new funding is temporary and set to expire, either when the $3.2 billion are exhausted or six months after the Health and Human Services secretary declares that COVID-19 is no longer a health emergency.

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What You Need To Know About the More-Than-$7 Billion Emergency Connectivity Fund

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Kamala Harris proceeding to break the deadline on coronavirus relief deliberations from the Los Angeles Times

March 5, 2021 – The Senate on Thursday voted to begin debate on the $7.6 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund, which is part of the House-passed $1.9-trillion coronavirus stimulus bill.

Most of the 591-page bill adheres closely to what President Biden called for in his relief proposal in January 2021, as reported by CNN. The $7.6 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund includes funds for internet service, hot spots, and other devices to use at home. The larger coronavirus bill includes new rounds of stimulus checks, unemployment assistance, and healthcare support.

This comes after a coalition of education advocates in January 2021 petitioned the FCC to add in a provision for emergency E-rate funding. On Feb. 9, 2021, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., announced the provision as part of the committee’s legislative recommendations for the COVID budget reconciliation legislation. The Federal Communications Commission would be tasked with implementing the $7.6-billion fund.

The potential fund of more than $7 billion fund in this Emergency Connectivity Fund is not to be confused with the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a new pot of broadband money allocated by the consolidated appropriations bill passed in December 2021.

Broadband Breakfast Live Online will focus on that other program on Wednesday, March 10, 2021: “The Emergency Broadband Benefit: How Will the $3.2 Billion Program Work?

The magnitude of the pandemic has sent schools scrambling to connect students to virtual learning. The Emergency Connectivity Fund would help connect some more than 15 million children and as many as 400,000 teachers, according to Common Sense and Boston Consulting Group.

But passage of the additional more-than-$7 billion in funding is not assured. Even to begin debate on the broader coronavirus relief package, Vice President Kamala Harris had to cast a tie-breaking vote because the Senate is even split with 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats and 50 Republicans.

Major tech priorities included in an earlier Senate draft of the bill appear unchanged in the official version of the bill introduced to the Senate yesterday. Funding for the Emergency Connectivity Fund is part of larger funding for the Technology Modernization Fund, as well as for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and other proposals.

President Biden originally proposed $10.2 billion of funding for the modernization fund and cybersecurity, but the Senate’s version includes just $1 billion. Additional, the Senate’s version includes  $7.17 billion for the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which was reduced by more than $400 million from the original $7.6 billion proposed figure.

Still, the fund represents the a very large tech investment to support broadband capabilities and remote learning in schools.

As Broadband Breakfast noted on Monday, the Emergency Connectivity Fund, previously signed into law in December 2020, secured $3.2 billion to expand broadband coverage to underserved communities and households in need. This internet service discounts of up to $50 per month for eligible consumers and up to $75 per month for those on tribal lands. Additional discounts on a computer or laptop device are also included.

As reported by MeriTalk, getting the Senate to bring its version of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill to a vote later this week is imperative, as both chambers are pushing to get the bill signed into law before March 14, when some unemployment assistance programs will expire.

Presuming the Senate passes its version of the bill, it goes back to the House for a vote and then onto the White House for President Biden’s final signature.

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