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Executives at AT&T and DirecTV Defend Their Broadband Merger Against its Critics

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WASHINGTON, July 1, 2014 – AT&T and DirecTV have no doubt their merger will actually strengthen broadband, competition and consumer choice, contrary to naysayers. Both companies had to fend off fears of market consolidation in back-to-back hearings on Tuesday, June 24, before the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee.

This proposed merger isn’t like that of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, said AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson. AT&T and DirecTV offer mostly complementary services with little overlap. A merger would allow both companies to “respond to consumer demand.”

Specifically, DirecTV doesn’t have the broadband platform to adapt to the modern Internet landscape, said DirecTV Chairman and CEO White. By the same token, AT&T doesn’t have DirecTV’s programming. It hardly makes any money at all from its U-Verse video service, Stephenson said.

A merger with AT&T would let DirecTV integrate video with broadband, serve users with complementary over-the-top offerings, optimize video service, and manage content cost increases, White said. What’s more, Stephenson said AT&T could cut video subscriber costs by 20 percent or more.

“When complementary providers join forces, the net result is downward pressure on prices and increased incentive to invest in innovation, integration, and infrastructure,” Stephenson said. .

AT&T would also be able to build out a “fixed wireless” solution at 15-20 Megabits per second (Mbps) and “enhance high-speed broadband service to at least 15 million customer locations, most of them rural, within four years of the transaction closing,” Stephenson said. AT&T’s Gigapower offering could be expanded to two million locations in the U.S.

“Combining with AT&T will enable us to meet our greatest challenge and better compete in today’s marketplace,” White said. “We will unlock new growth opportunities to provide new services to customers at a better value. As we offer subscribers better and more innovative services, cable operators and other competitors will have to respond in kind. The result will be more competition and a better video experience for all Americans.”

Others at the hearing weren’t as thrilled. Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers said the merger may spur “too much” and “too rapid” consolidation in the telecommunications industry.

“I am concerned about the loss of a competitor for paid television services in many of the largest markets,” Conyers said. “We should also consider whether smaller video providers in the aftermath of the sheer size of a combined AT&T-DirecTV, could face increased content prices, potentially driving some of them out of business.”

Public Knowledge senior staff attorney John Bergmayer questioned the sincerity of AT&T’s promises to provide fiber to 15 million customers, and even more so, building out Gigabit to two million homes. He called these “marginal upgrades and not new build-out.”

“The remaining two million of AT&T’s 15 million number likewise does not consist of new buildout, but instead references fiber-to-the-premises upgrades to AT&T’s existing network,” he added. “These upgrades are for the most part already in the planning.”

Ross Lieberman, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the American Cable Association, also expressed concern that while AT&T can “buy its way out of programing cost problems” by acquiring DirecTV, small and medium-sized operators “without AT&T’s financial resources and scale” will be forced out of business.

And in rural communities with few competitors, a merger would further reduce options for residents, incentivizing AT&T to inflate prices.

Both Lieberman and Bergmayer suggested that AT&T “actually invest” rather than make empty promises.

Stephenson fired back, saying that “two million with fiber to the home is a significant capital investment” and not something to be scoffed at.

In the merger’s defense, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said regulators should be wary of acting against AT&T and DirecTV.  Doing so may backfire and cause as much harm to consumers as consolidation. In fact, Lee agreed that in some cases like AT&T’s, mergers represent intelligent decisions on part of telecom companies adapting to the industry.

“It’s essential in considering important transactions, such as the one before us, that we apply rigorous economic analysis,” Lee said. “By ensuring we protect competition, and not any individual company or competitor, we can help to create market conditions that benefit the consumers.”

FCC

FCC Votes on Proposals Ranging From Emergency Response to SIM Swap Fraud in Open Meeting

The agency held an open meeting Thursday to hammer out votes on a range of issues.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

WASHINGTON, September 30, 2021 — The Federal Communications Commission voted in an open meeting Thursday on several items, including expanding the E-Rate program and addressing SIM swap fraud and robocalls.

The commission voted to increase backup power to networks in case of emergencies and natural disasters and update outage reporting requirements. This follows an aggressive response from the agency during Hurricane Ida. The federal government lost $284 million of productivity during the winter storms last year.

Targeting robocalls from overseas, the FCC passed a set of rules for gateway voice service providers. Gateway providers will be asked to block calls from numbers the FCC lists, to authenticate caller ID and to submit to the FCC a certification of the practices they are using to block robocalls. This follows the June 30 deadline for large voice service providers to implement the STIR/SHAKEN regime, which requires telecoms to work to limit robocalls and ID spoofing or face fines and penalties.

In an effort to reduce SIM swapping and port-out fraud, rules were proposed which would require carriers to adhere to a set of secure methods of authenticating the identity of a customer before moving a customer’s phone number to another carrier or device.

SIM swapping is the act of identity theft whereby a person convinces a wireless carrier to transfer a victim’s cell service into the thief’s possession. Port-out fraud is when the thief creates an account with a new carrier and convinces the victim’s carrier to port out the victim’s service to the new carrier.

The notice also proposes that customers be alerted immediately whenever a SIM change or port request is made under a customer’s identity and account. FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel quoted senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, stating that “consumers are at the mercy of wireless carriers when it comes to being protected against SIM swaps.”

The FCC also updated the definition of library to include tribal libraries for use with their E-rate program, following a 2018 law from Congress. Many tribal libraries under the law were excluded from the program, which subsidizes broadband for schools and libraries, for over 20 years. Only 15 percent of tribal libraries reported having received E-Rate support.

The FCC also adopted and made transparent a series of questions that will be asked of foreign-owned companies wishing to participate in the US telecommunications market.

Questions include whether the applicants or investors have been charged with felonies, been subject to penalties for violating regulations of the US government, have undergone bankruptcy, are on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list and more.

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FCC

FCC Commissioner Simington Says Universal Fiber to the Home Can Wait

Simington also raised idea of Big Tech contributing to Universal Service Fund.

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FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington.

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Nathan Simington said Tuesday that adoption issues for fiber is delaying the need to make universal fiber to the home a priority right now.

“I think we can push back on fiber to the home universally, at least in noting that there are edge cases and adoption issues there and that some degree of wireless is going to have to be part of the broadband future,” Simington said in a one-on-one conversation with the Internet Innovation Alliance.

A large part of the discourse surrounding the future of broadband expansion in the country is what kinds of technologies are most prudent to ensure connectivity now and scalability in the future. The Wireless Industry Association has pressed the fact that multiple technologies, including wireless, have a play in broadband’s future, while the Fiber Broadband Association and others have said fiber buildout is the best, most scalable technology.

The last mile, where the cable physically attaches to the home or business, was said at the Digital Infrastructure Investment conference this week to be a goal for broadband expansion.

But Simington said that while fiber is a “robust technology,” there’s a chunk of Americans that may not want it.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there are some users who are not particularly interested in fiber,” Simington said. “That might be people who are, for example, device-only users and they don’t want a home broadband connection — that’s about 20 percent of the national population (of broadband users), although the question of want is sort of up in the air.

“Obviously to a person who is device-only, the only use that fiber would have would be to provide hotspot. And if you’re spending your entire day out and about working, what matters to you is having adequate wireless coverage in your area,” he added.

Simington touches on Universal Service Fund

Modernizing the Universal Service Fund has been one of the hot topics for broadband this year. The fund, which extends basic telecom services to all Americans, has been called unsustainable due to its reliance on shrinking voice revenues.

Some have suggested that the fund’s reliance be wholesale replaced with general taxation from Congress, while others have said that the fund’s revenue base should be extended to include the increasing broadband revenues.

Simington prefaced his comments by saying he didn’t want to get ahead of Congress, which would set the parameters of a new regime, but raised previous recommendations – including from FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr – that part of the money can come from big technology companies, like Facebook and Google.

“We might also say that there are companies that have built their model on there being universal broadband and have been the beneficiaries of the buildout without having to do much to contribute to it…that’s something that has been raised on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

He added that another approach “would simply be to say that broadband is essentially the equivalent of a telephone service back in the day and therefore we are going to put it on everyone’s broadband bill instead of on the relatively small installed base of phone line subject to the USF. That would certainly be one approach. It would smooth things out somewhat, it would presumably broaden the base very substantially.”

In any case, Simington said the USF is “absolutely vital” and that it’s failure would be “at minimum…immensely disruptive.”

Spectrum strategies and future technologies  

In his roughly hour-long chat, Simington touched on a myriad of other issues before the FCC, including the future of satellite technologies, spectrum strategies, and funding for programs to deliver telecommunications services to all Americans.

The commissioner noted that the FCC is prioritizing clearing spectrum for technologies including the next-generation 5G networks, and that the agency is looking to “squeeze every drop” of mid-band frequencies for that end. The FCC has already held a number of auctions for mid-band spectrum, including its massive C-Band auction.

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said earlier this year that the mid-band spectrum is a priority for the agency over millimeter wave spectrum to close the digital divide.

Simington also said spectrum sharing will increase as technological advances are made. The FCC is fielding comments about how to handle the 12 GHz spectrum band, which is effectively pitting satellite providers who say it can’t be shared and 5G providers who say that it can.

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FCC

Cable Group NCTA Says Deny Exclusive Multitenant Access, But Not Wiring, Agreements

NCTA said the FCC should deny exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

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Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – The internet and television association NCTA is suggesting that the Federal Communications Commission deny all broadband providers exclusive access to multitenant buildings, but to continue allowing exclusive wiring agreements.

On Tuesday, the FCC opened a new round of comments into its examination of competitive broadband options for residents of apartments, multi-tenant and office buildings.

In a Tuesday ex parte notice to the commission, which follows a formal meeting with agency staff on September 2, the NCTA said the record shows that deployment, competition, and consumer choice in multiple tenant environments “are strong,” and that the FCC can “promote even greater deployment and competition by prohibiting not just cable operators, other covered [multiple video programming distributors], and telecommunications carriers, but all broadband providers from entering into MTE exclusive access agreements.

The organization, whose member companies include Comcast, Cox Communications and Charter Communications, also said it should continue to allow providers to enter into exclusive wiring agreements with MTE owners. Wiring just means that the provider can lay down its cables, like fiber, to connect residents.

“Exclusive wiring agreements do not deny new entrants access to MTEs. Rather, exclusive wiring agreements are pro-competitive and help ensure that state-of-the-art wiring will be deployed in MTEs to the benefit of consumers.”

The NCTA also told the FCC that there would be technical problems with simultaneous sharing of building wires by different providers and vouched for exclusive marketing arrangements, according to the notice.

The FCC’s new round of comments comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

Reached for comment on the filing, a spokesman for NCTA said they had nothing to add to the filing, which was signed by Mary Beth Murphy, deputy general counsel to the cable organization.

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