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Broadband's Impact

Critics on Both Ends of the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules, With a Few Supporters in the Middle

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2014 – The Federal Communication Commission’s effort to thread the needle on net neutrality with regulations that will withstand legal scrutiny while also satisfying open internet activists led to starkly divided responses to the Thursday measure.

In the camp expressing disappointment that agency Chairman Tom Wheeler didn’t go further, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a member of the Commerce Science and Transportation Committee, said that innovation over the internet in America could unless broadband were to be reclassified as a common-carrier telecommunications service.

“Internet access today is like traditional phone service decades ago – we can’t live or work without it,” Markey said. “We must stop broadband behemoths from setting up fast and slow lanes and picking winners and losers. Start-ups and small business would suffer, slowing our economy and job growth throughout Massachusetts and around the country.” […]

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Editor’s Note: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is attempting to craft legally unassailable rules promoting net neutrality. But he’s run into trouble from all sides. Communications providers aren’t happy. His fellow commissioners aren’t happy. And the “netroots” activists aren’t happy, either.

BroadbandBreakfast.com posts three articles on Thursday’s action at the FCC. First, the scene at 12th Street SW. Second, the reaction from interested parties. Third, what the details of the agency’s order says.

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2014 – The Federal Communication Commission’s effort to thread the needle on net neutrality with regulations that will withstand legal scrutiny while also satisfying open internet activists led to starkly divided responses to the Thursday measure.

In the camp expressing disappointment that agency Chairman Tom Wheeler didn’t go further, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a member of the Commerce Science and Transportation Committee, said that innovation over the internet in America could unless broadband were to be reclassified as a common-carrier telecommunications service.

“Internet access today is like traditional phone service decades ago – we can’t live or work without it,” Markey said. “We must stop broadband behemoths from setting up fast and slow lanes and picking winners and losers. Start-ups and small business would suffer, slowing our economy and job growth throughout Massachusetts and around the country.”

Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel and policy advisor with the American Civil Liberties Union agreed on the need to reclassify the Internet as a public utility. “This is a First Amendment issue,” he said, “because if broadband service providers are allowed to slow or block some content at will, they will be able to stifle the speech of internet users.”

Rottman did, however, express gratitude to the FCC for opening the door open to  greater regulation.

Public interest group Public Knowledge thanked the FCC for reacting to the activist pressure. “After extensive public outcry, the FCC is asking questions about the fundamental legitimacy of fast lanes and exploring the viability of Title II,” said Public Knowledge Vice President Michael Weinberg. “This shift simply would not have occurred without the outpouring of concern from organizations, companies, Members of Congress, and individuals who rely on a truly open internet every day.”

Weinberg said that the agency’s proposed “commercially reasonable” standard would open the door to a two-tiered internet of “paid prioritization.”

In the more neutral camp, the Computer and Communications Industry Association acknowledged the need for an open internet, but conceded that finding the proper legal framework was tricky.

National Cable and Telecommunications Association CEO Michael Powell said that “maintaining an open internet is not only the right thing to do, it’s vital to our ability to attract and keep our customers.” He voice deep skepticism that should the internet be reclassified under Title II of the Communications Act, the FCC’s regulatory reach would expand exponentially and lead to a potential slippery slope.

“Treating broadband as a utility-like Title II service would reverse years of settle precedent, dry up investment in broadband deployment and network upgrades, and result in protracted litigation and marketplace uncertainty,” said Powell.

Other industry-focused advocacy groups blasted the very idea of net neutrality. TechFreedom Senior Fellow Geoffrey Manne and TechFreedom President Berin Szoka said that the FCC was stepping outside its authority, denounced the proposed rule as rushed and unsubstantiated, saying that the agency had not proven that there was a problem in the first place.

“The [FCC] is trying to do what must ultimately be done by Congress: effectively rewrite the 1996 Telecommunications Act,” they said. They instead urged lawmakers to reexamine a joint 2010 proposal by Google and Verizon in 2010, as well as the Digital Age Communications Act proposed in 2006 by telecom scholars under the auspices of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a now-defunct think tank.

Randolph May, president of the Free State Foundation non-profit group, said that sloganeering had triumphed over proper regulatory analysis. Without proper market power or cost-benefit analysis, the FCC’s evidence of harm to consumers is based on nothing more than hypotheticals.

“I’m confident that if we reach a point that America’s consumers believe that the internet needs new FCC regulations in order to somehow be saved from conjectural harms – despite the remarkable progress made in the past absent such regulations – they will make their views known to their elected representatives,” May said.

Broadband's Impact

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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Broadband's Impact

New Report Recommends Broadening Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues

A Mattey Consulting report finds broadband revenues can help sustain the fund used to connect rural and low-income Americans.

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Carol Mattey of Mattey Consulting LLC

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2021— Former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission Carol Mattey released a study on Tuesday recommending the agency reform the Universal Service Fund to incorporate a broad range of revenue sources, including from broadband.

According to the report by Mattey’s consulting firm Mattey Consulting LLC, revenues from “broadband internet access services that are increasingly used by Americans today should contribute to the USF programs that support the expansion of such services to all,” it said. “This will better reflect the value of broadband internet access service in today’s marketplace for both consumers and businesses.”

Mattey notes that sources of funding for the USF, which are primarily from voice revenues and supports expanding broadband to low-income Americans and remote regions, has been shrinking, thus putting the fund in jeopardy. The contribution percent reached a historic high at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that, though Mattey suggested it could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years.

“This situation is unsustainable and jeopardizes the universal broadband connectivity mission for our nation without immediate FCC reform,” Mattey states in her report, “To ensure the enduring value of the USF program and America’s connectivity goals, we must have a smart and substantive conversation about the program’s future.”

According to Mattey’s data, the assessed sources (primarily voice) of income will only continue to shrink over the coming years, while unassessed sources will continue to grow. Mattey’s report was conducted in conjunction with INCOMPAS, NTCA: The Rural Broadband Association, and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“It is time for the FCC to take action, and to move away from the worst option of all – the status quo – that is jeopardizing the USF which is critical to connecting our nation,” the report said.

John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB, echoed the sentiments expressed by Mattey in her report, “We simply must put the USF funding mechanism on a more stable and sustainable path,” he said, “[in order to] strengthen our national commitment to broadband equity for all.”

Mattey report uniform with current recommendations

Mattey’s research is generally in line with proponents of change to the USF. Some have recommended that the fund draw from general broadband revenues, while others have said general taxation would provide a longer lasting solution. Even FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested that Big Tech be forced to contribute to the system it benefits from, which the acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said is an “intriguing” idea.

The FCC instituted the USF in 1997 as a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The fund was designed to encourage the development of telecom infrastructure across the U.S.—dispensing billions of dollars every year to advance the goal of universal connectivity. It does so through four programs: the Connect America Fund, Lifeline, the rural health care program, and E-Rate.

These constituent programs address specific areas related for broadband. For example, the E-Rate program is primarily concerned with ensuring that schools and libraries are sufficiently equipped with internet and technology assistance to serve their students and communities. All of these programs derive their funding from the USF.

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Digital Inclusion

Outreach ‘Most Valuable Thing’ for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Rosenworcel

FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said EBB will benefit tremendously from local outreach efforts.

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Internet Innovation Alliance Co-Chair Kim Keenan

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday that a drawback of the legislation that ushered in the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program is that it did not include specific funding for outreach.

“There was no funding to help a lot of these non-profit and local organizations around the country get the word out [about the program],” Jessica Rosenworcel said during an event hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance about the broadband affordability divide. “And I know that it would get the word out faster if we had that opportunity.”

The program, which launched in May and provides broadband subsidies of $50 and $75 to qualifying low-income households, has so-far seen an uptake of roughly 5.5 million households. The program was a product of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“We gotta get those trusted local actors speaking about it because me preaching has its limitations and reaching out to people who are trusted in their communities to get the word out – that is the single most valuable thing we can do,” Rosenworcel said.

She said the FCC has 32,000 partners and has held more than 300 events with members of Congress, tribal leaders, national and local organizations, and educational institutions to that end.

“Anyone who’s interested, we’ll work with you,” she said.

EBB successes found in its mobile friendliness, language inclusion

Rosenworcel also preached the benefits of a mobile application-first approach with the program’s application that is making it accessible to large swaths of the population. “I think, frankly, every application for every program with the government should be mobile-first because we have populations, like the LatinX population, that over index on smartphone use for internet access.

“We gotta make is as easy as possible for people to do this,” she said.

She also noted that the program is has been translated into 13 languages, furthering its accessibility.

“We have work to do,” Rosenworcel added. “We’re not at 100 percent for anyone, and I don’t think we can stop until we get there.”

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