WASHINGTON, July 24, 2013 — The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing Tuesday on the upcoming spectrum auction, focusing primarily on possible restrictions on larger carriers and efforts to ensure that broadcasters are treated fairly.
The question of whether or not to impose restrictions on AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. dominated much of the conversation. While none of the witnesses advocated for entirely excluding the carriers, Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge, recommended a “no piggies” rule that would prevent any one bidder from purchasing what he considers to be too many licenses.
T-Mobile Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Kathleen Ham supported Feld’s rule, citing the importance of spectrum to all mobile carriers.
“Spectrum is the air we breathe,” she said. “Without it, we cannot compete, and we cannot innovate.”
However, Joan Marsh, Federal Regulatory Vice President of AT&T, pointed out that T-Mobile has been running advertisements claiming that its networks are less congested than those of AT&T and Verizon, implying that T-Mobile has no pressing need for additional spectrum beyond the need of any other carrier. She also noted that Sprint, which also stands to benefit from restrictions on the two larger carriers, has a larger spectrum portfolio than both AT&T and Verizon.
Ham, however, argued that lower band spectrum was especially important to be able to compete due to its greater ability to penetrate physical obstacles. Marsh disputed the high value that Ham placed on these bands of spectrum. Although she acknowledged that its penetrative ability is an asset, she stated that bandwidth and capacity of spectrum is far more important.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, asked the panel about whether to allow a hypothetical situation in which a single bidder purchases all available spectrum licenses within a market. While Feld and Ham answered no, Preston Padden, Executive Director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition said that the regulators should defer to the market forces of the auction. Marsh added that such an outcome was highly unlikely, with past open and free auctions still resulting in diverse winners.
The subcommittee also considered the revenue impacts of restrictions on spectrum concentration in the auction. Money raised by the auction has already been allocated to a number of uses, including developing a first-responder network, reducing the deficit, and covering the moving costs of broadcasters displaced by the repacking of spectrum.
Ham argued that the restrictions would raise revenue by encouraging numerous bidders to participate in the auction. However, Marsh argued that limiting the ability of AT&T and Verizon to participate would reduce the revenue. Gary Epstein, Senior Advisor and Co-Lead of the Incentive Auction Task Force of the Federal Communications Commission, remained neutral on the subject, saying that it is a complex issue that the commission is still evaluating.
The subcommittee was also concerned with the treatment of broadcasters in the auction. Rick Kaplan, Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning for the National Association of Broadcasters, laid out three criteria that the FCC should try to meet to make the auctions successful for broadcasters.
He argued that broadcasters who remain on the air should not be harmed in the form of changes in coverage areas or excessive costs in moving to a different band of spectrum. Kaplan also urged the FCC to ensure that other critical services such as low-power translators remain unharmed.
Finally, Kaplan emphasized the importance of preventing interference as a result of the auction. Particular concerns were raised about areas bordering Mexico and Canada. Epstein assured the subcommittee that the FCC was working to solve those issues and would try to provide as much certainty as possible by the time of the auction.
The issue of fair prices for broadcasters was a major concern for Padden. He asserted that payments to broadcasters for their spectrum must be large enough to attract a significant number of sellers. Padden also criticized as irrelevant the scoring that the FCC has been using based on the station itself. He noted that broadcasters are selling the spectrum, not the station, so the quality of the station should have no bearing on the price offered.
Epstein promised that the FCC would take all these viewpoints into consideration and has in fact already received and reviewed over 460 comments on the auction.
“We’re committed to an open, transparent, and inclusive process,” he said.
House Democrats Fight Against Anti-Crypto Measures in Senate-Passed Infrastructure Bill
August 20, 2021 – Pro-crypto House Democrats pushed back against the Senate Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s inclusion of crypto regulatory language, seeking to make it less broad.
The additions of cryptocurrency taxes aim to generate revenue to pay for part of the infrastructure spending. Its authors intended to reduce fraud in reports to the IRS.
Democratic California Reps. Ro Khanna, Eric Swalwell, and Anna Eshoo joined cryptocurrency enthusiasts Rep. Bill Foster, D-Illinois, and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., in urging to amend the infrastructure bill in the House.
In a letter released on August 12, Eshoo advocated to Pelosi that the House should “amend the problematic broker definition,” describing the existing language as “imposing unworkable regulations.”
But there is some feeling that amendments to the bill in the House may not be necessary. According to a Treasury Department official, the agency plans to clarify its definition of a “broker” to be more specific.
Any amendments to the House would force the infrastructure measure back to the Senate.
Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Digital Equity Act
Sen. Murray re-introduces bi-partisan that would provide grants to states pushing for digital equity.
June 14, 2021– Three Senators have introduced legislation that would provide grants to states that create digital equity plans.
The proposed legislation, reintroduced on Thursday by Patty Murray, D-Washington, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Angus King, I-Maine, would set-aside $60 million to establish a State Digital Equity Capacity Grant within the Department of Commerce that would “promote the achievement of digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for efforts by States relating to the adoption of broadband by residents of those States.”
The funds from the Digital Equity Act in the Senate would be made available to all states, foundations, corporations, institutions, or agencies. The bill was first introduced by Murray in 2019.
Each state will receive a different grant amount depending on a formula that includes population and access to broadband across the state, to be spent within 5 years of receipt.
In addition to funding for states, the bill creates a $125-million Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. This program is also for state agencies and institutions but is more specifically geared toward those that are responsible for “adult education and literacy activities.”
A final pillar of the bill is to create more infrastructure and resources for future development of policies that will continue to promote a bridging of the digital divide.
During a press conference on the bill, Murray told the Broadband Breakfast that she believes the bill will be successful because it gives states and local communities the ability to decide what their needs are. “We cannot dictate that in D.C.,” she remarked.
When asked why the bill will create more permanent solutions, she stated that it, “Provides for the diversity of needs that are going to continue to be out there.”
The senators co-sponsoring the bill said they are confident it will make its way into any infrastructure legislation passed by Congress.
Senate Committee Hears High Symmetrical Internet Speeds, Up-To-Date Technologies For Future Of Rural America
NTCA’s Shirley Bloomfield on driving improvements for rural broadband.
May 19, 2021– The head of the NTCA — Rural Broadband Association told a Senate Finance Committee that there are a number of improvements that can be made to broadband services and infrastructure for rural Americans, including higher symmetrical internet speeds, up-to-date network technologies, and better coordination of government funding to avoid overbuilding.
Shirley Bloomfield provided six different types of actions at Tuesday’s hearing that the government should take to improve broadband coverage in rural markets.
Bloomfield’s first suggestion was to build networks to last. She argued that building networks that provide insufficient speeds or utilize technology that is already outdated will not be sufficient to address the broadband needs of the future generation. During her testimony, Bloomfield specifically voiced support for 100 Mbps symmetrical service.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity—on the investment side—to do this right—to aim higher and to do better,” she said.
Her second suggestion was to take steps to limit overbuilding. To do this, she suggested that state and local governments coordinate with existing programs that provide mapping and funding for broadband projects. She clarified during her testimony that those without broadband service need to be prioritized before those with insufficient broadband service. She argued that the best way to do this would be ensuring that there is coordination with federal and state regulatory bodies with access to mapping data.
Bloomfield’s third suggestion was that network maintenance must be prioritized, and that modern networks will only stay modern and efficient if they are kept working and up to date.
Bloomfield also recommended clearer standards for broadband providers and that un(der)served rural communities should not be treated as “test labs” for new technologies. She stated that technologies should not be deployed until they have been sufficiently tested and established as viable strategies to serve communities in need of broadband. This includes not just the current needs of the communities in question, but also the projected needs of future generations.
Her sixth recommendation was to encourage consumers to look for local ISPs to provide broadband service. She noted that these smaller, local ISPs have cultivated relationships with the communities they serve, and those who work for the ISP often live among those they serve. She stated that it is this intimate connection that has allowed them to navigate the unique issues that these rural communities face.
Finally, Bloomfield encouraged the Committee to push for lower barriers to entry for broadband expansion projects, stating that bureaucracy and costs associated with many projects are simply too high. She also stated that a concerted effort must be made to sure-up supply chain issues that are currently applying significant pressure to ISPs and hampering expansion.
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