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Nipping at Heels of FCC’s Net Neutrality Proceeding, Legislators Introduce Bill Barring ‘Paid Prioritization’

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WASHINGTON, June 17, 2014 – Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., on Tuesday introduced a bill, the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act, that would grant the Federal Communications Commission the authority to bar so-called “paid prioritization” agreements between internet service providers and content providers over the last-mile of a broadband connection.

Additionally, according to the authors, the bill would prohibit broadband providers from prioritizing or otherwise giving preferential treatment to its own last mile internet traffic or the traffic of its affiliates over the traffic of others.

If passed into law, the FCC would be empowered to take action it deems necessary to prevent such “prioritization” agreements from occurring between ISPs, like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications, and so-called “edge providers” offering broadband internet services.

Under the bill, broadband provider wouldn’t be allowed to speed up Netflix’s service at the expense of Amazon Instant Prime; nor would it be able to charge extra fees to particular content providers. ISPs also be barred from prioritizing their own services or devices over competitors.

The legislative gambit appears designed to supersede the FCC’s current regulatory efforts to seek public comment on a proposal to bar internet actions that it might deem to be “commercially unreasonable” violations of the principle of network neutrality.

“Americans are speaking loud and clear – they want an Internet that is a platform for free expression and innovation, where the best ideas and services can reach consumers based on merit rather than based on a financial relationship with a broadband provider,” said Leahy, who plans to hold a field hearing on the issue of net neutrality in Vermont in July. “The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would protect consumers and support a free and open Internet. The Senate should pass this important piece of legislation.”

Matsui said America “a free and open Internet is essential for consumers, and to encourage innovation and competition in the Internet ecosystem. Our country cannot afford ‘pay-for-play’ schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets.”

The bill has already garnered support from net neutrality advocates.

“Instead of waiting for Congress, the FCC can and should choose to classify broadband Internet as a telecommunications service to ensure that creative enterprise can flourish for generations to come,” said Casey Rae, vice president for policy and education at the Future of Music Coalition. “Artists and other entrepreneurs demand nothing less than the ability for the next great song, idea or innovation to find its audience, regardless of how that audience connects to the network. The time to act is now.”

Chris Lewis, vice president of government affairs at Public Knowledge, added: “This bill sends a clear signal to the FCC that fast lanes and paid prioritization could endanger the internet ecosystem as we know it. The reason we have seen so much financial investment and innovation online is because the playing field for new entrepreneurs is level. As the FCC continues to evaluate new net neutrality rules, it’s important they understand that Americans want an internet that everyone can succeed in, not just the companies with enough money to pay a toll to ISPs.”

Additional bill sponsors include Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.

FCC

FCC Announces Largest Approval Yet for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund: $1 Billion

The agency said Thursday it has approved $1 billion to 69 providers in 32 states.

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Photo illustration from the Pelican Institute

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced its largest approval yet from the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, greenlighting on Thursday $1 billion from a reverse auction process that ended with award announcements in December but that the new-look agency has been scrutinizing in recent months.

The agency said in a press release that this fifth round of approvals includes 69 providers who are expected to serve 518,000 locations in 32 states over 10 years. Its previous round approved $700 million worth of applications to cover 26 states. Previous rounds approved $554 million for broadband in 19 states, $311 million in 36 states, and $163 million in 21 states.

The agency still has some way to approve the entirety of the fund, as it’s asked providers that were previously awarded RDOF money in December to revisit their applications to see if the areas they have bid for are not already served. So far, a growing list have defaulted on their respective areas, some saying it was newer FCC maps that showed them what they didn’t previously know. The agency said Thursday that about 5,000 census blocks have been cleared as a result of that process.

The FCC also said Thursday it saved $350 million from winning bidders that have either failed to get state certification or didn’t follow through on their applications. In one winning bidder’s case, the FCC said Thursday Hotwire violated the application rules by changing its ownership structure.

“This latest round of funding will open up even more opportunities to connect hundreds of thousands of Americans to high-speed, reliable broadband service,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “Today’s actions reflect the hard work we’ve put in over the past year to ensure that applicants meet their obligations and follow our rules.  With thoughtful oversight, this program can direct funding to areas that need broadband and to providers who are qualified to do the job.”

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FCC

Local Government Advisors Concerned by Delay in Sohn Confirmation Process

They also believe Alan Davidson will be viewed more favorably to head the NTIA.

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Nominee for FCC Commissioner Gigi Sohn

WASHINGTON, December 14, 2021 – Local government advisors are concerned by delays in the confirmation process of Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, and what those delays will mean for broadband services in local communities.

At the moment, there are reportedly not enough votes from Democrats to confirm Sohn.

The panel of local advisors at a National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors on Monday said the FCC would likely remain split 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans until at least February, when the panel says Sohn’s confirmation will probably pass the Senate.

Such a split would prevent the agency from making some major decisions that would ramp up programs to expand broadband access for Americans. For this reason, several civil society groups have asked the Senate for a swift confirmation process of Biden’s nominees.

The panel also said that Biden’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Association, Alan Davidson, will likely be reported favorably out of committee.

Logistical problems for the Affordable Connectivity Program

Panelists also spent significant time discussing what current regulatory agency efforts mean for connectivity.

The panel critiqued the FCC’s transition from the Emergency Broadband Benefit to the Affordable Connectivity Program provided for by the newly-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to continue providing students with internet access for e-learning. The program provides monthly subsidies for connectivity and devices for eligible students.

This transition is planned to take place with the start of the 2022 new year, and the agency is fielding comments on how to transition.

The panel stated that because this transition takes place during the school year, it has the potential to strand students without connectivity services. Panelists noted that they have been trying to communicate these concerns to the FCC.

The FCC recently eliminated an enrollment freeze in the EBB that was planned to take place during the transition to the ACP.

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FCC

FCC Takes Stock of Telehealth Successes, But Acknowledges a Long Way to Go at Agency Event

Procedural hurdles lie ahead for the commission’s telehealth efforts.

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FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

WASHINGTON, December 6, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr and several leaders in healthcare said Monday the agency’s efforts to expand telehealth programs for Americans face procedural hurdles before Congress.

The cost of government telehealth expansion efforts is among key factors that create congressional hesitance to rubber stamp the FCC’s telehealth initiatives.

During panel discussions moderated by Carr at a commission event on Monday, experts also remarked that the commission’s efforts would require a good deal of regulatory flexibility that many members of Congress may not be willing to grant it.

Panel guest Deanna Larson, CEO of virtual health network Avera eCARE, testified before the Senate on the matter in October, urging Congress to extend or make permanent its regulatory flexibility toward telehealth.

The panels also spent time discussing the substantial success the FCC has had in expanding telehealth over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts emphasized accomplishments such as the employment of remote monitoring devices by physicians to physically examine patients when they cannot come into the office.

The panel stated that the move from fully in-person healthcare to telehealth can be compared to the significance of the move from “Blockbuster to Netflix,” referencing the at-home experience of the streaming platform.

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