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Broadband Roundup: Advocacy Groups Weigh in Pro-and-Con on Net Neutrality

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WASHINGTON, September 17, 2014 – A variety of developments on the battle regarding network neutrality:

FreePress Tells FCC Title II Ensures Net Neutrality Protections

The advocacy group Free Press blasted Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler’s efforts to use Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as the means to enough to ensure network neutrality rules. The group said that Title II reclassification of broadband as a common carrier under the Communications Act is the right approach to both restore legal clarity and encourage investment, it stated in a press release.

“Section 706 is entirely inadequate as a legal foundation for any open Internet rules,” said Policy Director Matt Wood. “Section 706 promises nothing but uncertainty and future legal battles; it’s a shoddy and ineffective way to protect the Internet. Title II, on the other hand, provides ample authority for the Commission to prevent access charges, blocking, undue discrimination, paid prioritization and all manner of unjust and unreasonable practices.”

American Commitment Proudly Displays More than 800,000 Americans Against Title II Net Neutrality 

In an effort to combat the likes of Free Press and the progressive group Demand Progress, American Commitment said it had rallied more than 800,000 Americans to sign its petition to the FCC against any regulation of the internet.

“This exceptional outpouring of support for Internet freedom is proof positive that the American people firmly oppose any federal takeover of the Internet.  The FCC should take note and act accordingly,” said Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment. “A Washington takeover of the Internet would be disastrous for free speech, commerce, and the future of the Internet as a sphere of innovation.  The American people oppose Washington’s effort to put unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in control of the Internet—which will create higher prices, less competition, and less freedom.”

Facebook Is Against Paid Prioritization

On September 11, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly met with officials from Facebook to discuss its stance on net neutrality. In a letter to the FCC about this meeting, the social media giant stated that it “has long supported a free and open Internet that is accessible to people around the world, and urged the FCC to adopt enforceable rules against paid prioritization or the creation of Internet fast lanes, so that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce.” Google made a similar statement.

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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