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In Lead-up to July’s FCC Meeting, Agency Laid Groundwork for Supportive Vote on E-Rate Changes

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WASHINGTON, July 15, 2014 – In a phone conference on July 1, in the lead-up to last week’s open meeting of the Federal Communications Commission, agency officials discussed Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to modify the E-rate program. The agency seeks to spend more funds on Wi-Fi gap connectivity within schools around the country and maximize the impact of existing funds by providing many schools with greater high speed connectivity.

The conference was joined by FCC Managing Director Jon Wilkins, former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, Marijke Visser of the American Library Association, and Evan Marwell, CEO and founder of Education Superhighway, the provider of much of the FCC’s data on school connectivity.

Wheeler wants to reallocate $2 billion in current E-rate funds, including spending on non-broadband services like pagers, email and voice service, toward high speed Wi-Fi. The report said that by 2019, this is expected to help 44 million additional students around the country, whether that be in urban, suburban or rural areas.

Some education advocacy groups, however, have already criticized Wheeler’s proposal, Marwell said. Groups like the National Education Association claim that simply reallocating money isn’t a sustainable model without injecting additional funds.

Last year, only 4 to 11 percent of over 100,000 schools participating in the E-rate program received funding for internal connections. Libraries looked even worse, with only one percent of 17, 000 eligible libraries nationwide receiving any Wi-Fi support at all.

Given this lackluster support, Wilkins said he is confident that the majority of educators and local legislators around the country will see a tremendous need for Wheeler’s modernized E-rate program.

“We have partnerships with over 30 departments of education around the country,” Marwell said, “and the feedback we get from them…and when we talk to superintendents and CTOs of school districts around the country… is this is a major step forward in helping them solve their broadband problems.”

Access to high speed Internet isn’t just a higher tier luxury anymore, Wise said. It’s an essential everyday need, especially now that “learning isn’t any longer confined to the seven or eight hour school day.” It’s a 24/7 process instead, he said.

“The early E-rate dealt with teachers and computers and hundreds of students with textbooks. Today, those hundreds of students are replacing their textbooks with tablets, and as the issue has always been critically important about getting broadband connectivity [to] the last mile, now, equally important is [getting] 50 feet inside that school.” In other words, the goal is for every student with an Internet-based mobile device to have “access to the world.”

Visser went even further. She said all schools and libraries need “affordable, scalable broadband that supports up to a Gigabit, and actually, even beyond in order to fully participate in the 21st century education for students.” This may necessitate investments of up to $150 per student, Wilkins said, to ensure sufficient coverage for schools.

Libraries in particular need the investment because they support employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, Visser said. While virtually all libraries offer free, public internet access, service needs to be more “robust,” she added.

In February, Wheeler said that “18 years ago, the idea of a student-accessible computer in the school building was a revolutionary concept. Thanks to E-Rate that rarity became commonplace and computers moved into classrooms. Now with the next generation of E-Rate, we are harnessing innovation to put that power directly in front of the student.”

FCC

FCC Institutes ACP Transparency Data Collection

The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels.

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Photo of people working on computers, cropped, in 2011 by Victor Grigas

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission last week adopted an order that mandated annual reporting from all providers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal initiative that subsidizes the internet-service and device costs of low-income Americans.

The FCC order establishing the ACP Transparency Data Collection, not released until Wednesday, requires ACP-affiliated providers to disclose prices, subscription rates, and other plan characteristics on yearly basis. The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels, which, it says, will ease regulatory burdens for providers.

The FCC created the Transparency Data Collection pursuant to the statutory requirements of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. The commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking in June.

Earlier this year, T-Mobile endorsed the nutrition-label method of collection. Industry associations including IMCOMPAS and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Associations warned the FCC against instituting excessive reporting burdens.

“To find out whether this program is working as Congress intended, we need to know who is participating, and how they are using the benefit,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “So we’re doing just that.  The data we collect will help us know where we are, and where we need to go. We’re also standardizing the way we collect data, and looking for other ways to paint a fuller picture of how many eligible households are participating in the ACP.  We want all eligible households to know about this important benefit for affordable internet service.”

Although the ACP is highly touted by the FCC, the White House, and industry experts, there is evidence the fund has been exploited by fraudsters, according to a watchdog. In September, the FCC Office of Inspector General issued a report that found the ACP handed out more than $1 million in improper benefits. In multiple instances, according to the OIG, the information of a qualifying individual was improperly used for hundreds of applications, achieving payouts of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Last month, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., contacted 13 leading internet service providers, requesting details on alleged fishy business practices connected to the ACP and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

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Broadband's Impact

Federal Communications Commission Mandates Broadband ‘Nutrition’ Labels

The FCC also mandated that internet service provider labels be machine-readable.

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Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday afternoon ordered internet providers to display broadband “nutrition” labels at points of sale that include internet plans’ performance metrics, monthly rates, and other information that may inform consumers’ purchasing decisions.

The agency released the requirement less than 24 hours before it released the first draft of its updated broadband map.

The FCC mandated that labels be machine-readable, which is designed to facilitate third-party data-gathering and analysis. The commission also requires that the labels to be made available in customers’ online portals with the provide the and “accessible” to non-English speakers.

In addition to the broadband speeds promised by the providers, the new labels must also display typical latency, time-of-purchase fees, discount information, data limits, and provider-contact information.

“Broadband is an essential service, for everyone, everywhere. Because of this, consumers need to know what they are paying for, and how it compares with other service offerings,”  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. 

“For over 25 years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience of nutrition labels on food products.  We’re now requiring internet service providers to display broadband labels for both wireless and wired services.  Consumers deserve to get accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other terms of service up front.”

Industry players robustly debated the proper parameters for broadband labels in a flurry of filings with the FCC. Free Press, an advocacy group, argued for machine-readable labels and accommodations for non-English speakers, measures which were largely opposed by trade groups. Free Press also advocated a requirement that labels to be included on monthly internet bills, without which the FCC “risks merely replicating the status quo wherein consumers must navigate fine print, poorly designed websites, and byzantine hyperlinks,” group wrote.

“The failure to require the label’s display on a customer’s monthly bill is a disappointing concession to monopolist ISPs like AT&T and Comcast and a big loss for consumers,” Joshua Stager, policy director of Free Press, said Friday.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association clashed with Free Press in its FCC filing and supported the point-of-sale requirement.

“WISPA welcomes today’s release of the FCC’s new broadband label,” said Vice President of Policy Louis Peraertz. “It will help consumers better understand their internet access purchases, enabling them to quickly see ‘under the hood,’ and allow for an effective apples-to-apples comparison tool when shopping for services in the marketplace.”

Image of the FCC’s sample broadband nutrition label

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FCC

FCC to Establish New Space Bureau, Chairwoman Says

‘The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, via fcc.gov

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2022 — The Federal Communications Commission will add a new space bureau that will modernize regulations and facilitate innovation, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Thursday.

The new bureau is intended to facilitate American leadership in the space economy, boost the Commission’s technical capacity, and foster interagency cooperation, Rosenworcel said, speaking at the National Press Club.

“The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head,” Rosenworcel said. “But the organizational structures of the [FCC] have not kept pace,” she added.

The space economy is “on a monumental run” of growth and innovation, the chairwoman argued, and the FCC must remodel itself to facilitate continued growth. Rosenworcel said the commission is currently reviewing 64,000 new satellite applications, and she further noted that 98 percent of all satellites launched in 2021 provided internet connectivity. By the end off 2022, operators will set a new record for satellites launched into orbit, she said.

The FCC will not take on new responsibilities, Rosenworcel said, but the announced restructuring will help the agency “perform[] existing statutory responsibilities better.” In September, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R–Wash., warned the FCC against overreaching its statutory mandate and voiced support for robust congressional oversight – a position reiterated by House staffers Wednesday.

“The formation of a dedicated space bureau within the FCC is a positive step for satellite operators and customers across the United States,” said Julie Zoller, head of global regulatory affairs at Amazon’s satellite broadband Project Kuiper, on a panel following Rosenworcel’s announcement.

“An important part of [Rosenworcel’s] space agenda is ensuring that there is a competitive environment in all aspects of that space,” said Umair Javed, the chairwoman’s chief counsel, during the panel. “So we’ve taken action to update our rules on spectrum sharing to make sure that there are opportunities for multiple systems to be successful in low Earth orbit.

“We’ve granted a number of experimental authorizations to companies that are doing really new…things,” Umair continued.

The FCC in September required that low–Earth orbit satellite debris be removed within five years of mission completion, a move Rosenworcel said would clear the way for new innovation.

In August, the FCC revoked an $885 million grant to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-broadband service. FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington criticized the reversal, and Starlink has since appealed it.

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