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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Pokes Finger in Eye of Telecom Incumbents at Broadband Communities in Austin

AUSTIN, April 14, 2015 – The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission came to Broadband Communities Summit here to metaphorically poke his finger in the eye of the biggest incumbent communications companies.

He cited this city as Exhibit A for his mantra of “competition, competition, competition.”

And one day after the first of multiple legal challenges to the agency’s network neutrality rules, Wheeler delivered a full-throated defense of those regulations.

Wheeler also defended — to repeated applause from the crowd — a vigorous defense of municipalities and to communities’ rights to offer broadband internet services.

Chairman Tom Wheeler at the Broadband Communities Summit.

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Chairman Tom Wheeler at the Broadband Communities Summit.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the Broadband Communities Summit.

AUSTIN, April 14, 2015 – The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission came to Broadband Communities Summit here to metaphorically poke his finger in the eye of the biggest incumbent communications companies.

He cited this city as Exhibit A for his mantra of “competition, competition, competition.”

And one day after the first of multiple legal challenges to the agency’s network neutrality rules, Wheeler delivered a full-throated defense of those regulations.

Wheeler also offered — to repeated applause from the crowd — a vigorous defense of municipalities’ and communities’ right to offer broadband internet services.

Speaking of the reason for gathering in Austin, Wheeler said: “I know it’s not an accident that you’re meeting in Austin, the city that proves competition works. Back in 2013, Google Fiber announced it was coming to town.  Not to be outdone, AT&T initiated upgrades to its network, so it can offer gigabit service for $70/month. As if most of you weren’t jealous already, a regional carrier, Grande upgraded its network and is offering Gigabit broadband in Austin for $65 a month.”

Wheeler continued: “You see a similar competitive response across the country. Google Fiber has designated Atlanta as one of the next markets it will enter. Just weeks ago, Comcast announced plans to offer two-gigabits-per-second broadband in Atlanta, leapfrogging Google’s speeds even though the competition is only hypothetical at this point.”

He also defended the agency’s decision, on February 26, to preempt restrictions in Tennessee and North Carolina. That order, taken by a 3-2 vote of the FCC, came the same day as the even-more-controversial 3-2 decision mandating a new public utility regulatory framework governing net neutrality.

Laying out the big-picture importance of broadband, Wheeler said that ultra-high-speed broadband networks are the “indispensable infrastructure of our 21st century economy and democracy,” and that such capacity has “revolutionized the way businesses operate and people community.”

As regards public policy, Wheeler described “three simple keys to the broadband future: Broadband networks must be fast. Broadband networks must be fair. Broadband networks must be open.”

He segued into a discussion of the FCC’s decision to use Title II of the Communications Act, describing it as a “light-touch regulatory approach” which he said was modeled after the framework put in place for the mobile wireless industry.

He said that his regulations on the cable, telco and wireless communications providers had been defended by tech giants including Google and eBay, and by startups Etsy and Vimeo. They’ve “praised the rules, saying strong net neutrality protections will preserve the internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression.”

On the subject of broadband expansion by communities, either by municipalities directly or by public-private partnerships, Wheeler was speaking to a strongly supportive crowd.

He said that many Americans are going from one choice to none at all. “In 2015, just under 75 percent of U.S. homes can chose from only one or fewer wired providers. And, of course, that ‘or fewer’ reference means that about 20 percent have NO access at that speed. That reality is simply unacceptable. Where there is no choice, the market cannot work.”

And that’s one key reason why the agency should be supportive of all measures to build better broadband, including fiber and Gigabit Networks by cities.

“No matter what the commission does to remove barriers to broadband investment, there will be communities that are underserved, or even unserved, by the private market,” he said. But “when commercial providers don’t step up to serve a community’s needs, we should embrace the great American tradition of citizens stepping up to take action collectively.”

In the specific cases of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina, where the agency acted to override state restrictions on municipally-owned broadband providers, Wheeler said: “In Chattanooga, large companies like Amazon and Volkswagen have invested in new facilities, citing the city’s world-leading network as a reason why. And Chattanooga is emerging as an incubator for tech start-ups. In Wilson, the area’s top employers all rely on the community broadband network, new companies have located in Wilson because of its network, and residents and businesses in five surrounding counties are all pleading for access to this Gigabit-speed connectivity.”

Nearing the conclusion of his remarks, he said:

My position on this matter was shaped by a few irrefutable broadband truths:

  • You can’t say you’re for broadband – but endorse limits on who can offer it,
  • You can’t follow Congress’ explicit instruction to “remove barriers” to infrastructure investment – but endorse barriers to infrastructure investment,
  • And you can’t say you’re for competition – but deny local elected officials the right to offer competitive choices.

It is also important to recognize that the Commission’s recent ruling is responding to two specific petitions from two cities. It is enforceable only in those two states.

Having said that, this issue extends beyond these two states. I hope it highlights and discourages the efforts of incumbents to block consumer choice and competition.

And, as examples of positive trends in supporting community broadband networks, he cited efforts in the state of Connecticut; Bozeman, Montana; and Grand Junction, Colorado. In Grand Junction, “residents voted overwhelmingly last week to approve the city’s right to provide Internet access and local leaders are now exploring plans for a new community broadband network.”

Wheeler’s remarks were the first remarks by an agency chairman in the recent history of the Broadband Communities Conference, an annual gathering of fiber-optic enthusiasts, public policy officials, and the operators of broadband in multiple-dwelling units.

Wheeler opened his remarks by lauding Broadband Communities CEO Scott DeGarmo and his team “for hosting this conference and to all of you who work to spread the gospel about the importance of high-speed connectivity.”

 

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

FCC

FCC Announces Additional Details From Second Wave, Additional Money for First Wave, of Emergency Connectivity Fund

FCC said it disbursed an additional $269 million in the first round.

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FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, October 26, 2021 ­– The Federal Communications Commission announced additional details Monday about the second wave of funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, including additional money that has been allocated from the first filing window.

The agency, which allocated $1.1 billion earlier this month, said second wave applicants filed for nearly $1.3 billion from all 50 states. The second window was open for applications between September 28 and October 13.

The agency also announced that an additional $269 million was allocated for the first filing window applications, which disbursed $1.2 billion from the $7.17 billion program.

The applications submitted for the latest round will go to fund 2.4 million connected devices and over 564,000 broadband connections to benefit schools and libraries. The agency has so far committed a total of $2.63 billion from the fund.

These latest commitments mean more than nine million students will be connected with the money. The support provided from the funds is expected to make homework completion and virtual learning more possible for students with connectivity issues, as many schools continue to operate remotely.

“Clearly there still is a tremendous demand for help in our communities to meet the broadband needs of students and library patrons engaged in online learning,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

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FCC

Biden Nominates Rosenworcel as FCC Chair, Sohn as 5th Commissioner and Alan Davidson as NTIA Head

Industry reacts to the appointments of Rosenworcel as first permanent woman chair, Sohn as first openly gay commissioner.

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Gigi Sohn is officially appointed as Federal Communications Commissioner.

WASHINGTON, October 26, 2021 – After nine months as interim chair of the Federal Communications Commission, the White House announced Tuesday that it intends to nominate Jessica Rosenworcel as the agency’s permanent head, becoming the first full-time woman in that position.

Rosenworcel will be flanked by former FCC staffer Gigi Sohn, long speculated as a frontrunner for the top job, to be the crucial party tie-breaking fifth — and first openly gay – commissioner on the agency, the White House also announced Tuesday. Alan Davidson, a former director of public policy at Google, has also been nominated as the assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under the Department of Commerce, making him the head of the agency.

The positions must now be confirmed by the Senate.

Rosenworcel said in a statement that she is “deeply humbled” by the announcement and congratulated Sohn and Davidson on their selections. “It is an honor to work with my colleagues on the Commission and the agency’s talented staff to ensure that no matter who you are or where you live, everyone has the connections they need to live, work, and learn in the digital age,” she said.

In a tweet, Sohn said she is “deeply honored to be nominated by [Biden] to serve as FCC Commissioner. If confirmed, I’ll work to fulfill his goal of ensuring that every household in the US has robust broadband internet. Congratulations to [Rosenworcel] on her ascension to Chair – well deserved!”

Observers had speculated that a delay in making these nominations could hamper the Democratic party’s broadband policy agenda. The wait caused enough concern for educational institutions and senators representing 17 states to write letters urging Biden to nominate Rosenworcel. Even former FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican, said he was perplexed by the delay in Rosenworcel’s nomination.

Industry praise

Companies and industry association came out to praise the nominations as important steps forward to complete a commission that has before it an ambitious agenda to provide universal access to high-speed internet across the country.

“Having a fully staffed Commission will allow the fast paced communications industry to more quickly deliver results to American consumers,” said the Rural Wireless Association in a statement, which praised the nominations. “Rosenworcel has been a good steward as Acting Chair these past 9 months, and for over 30 years, Gigi Sohn has relentlessly served the public interest and kept Big Tech in check.”

Adrianne Furniss, the executive director of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society for which Sohn is currently a senior fellow, said in a statement that Sohn is “not only a broadband and telecommunications policy expert, but is expert at mastering complex policy issues, bringing disparate voices together to find common purpose, and pursuing the public interest.

“I’ve seen firsthand how effective she is as a leader who identifies, organizes, and partners with public interest groups; philanthropy; bipartisan federal, state, and local representatives; academics; and companies large and small,” Furniss added.

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said the commission at full strength “is important as issues from net neutrality to spectrum to the expansion of high speed broadband access are more necessary than ever as more people rely on internet connectivity during the pandemic…Having a seasoned DC veteran lead the NTIA will further help the administration advance its goals toward 5G and better internet connectivity.”

Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, said in a statement that each of the three nominees “brings into these core positions years of experience, deep connections, and legal and administrative know-how,” adding the commission will finally be operating at full capacity to “benefit American consumers, our economy, as well as those who linger without competitive and evolving broadband solutions in the digital divide.”

The Internet Innovation Alliance said in a statement that Rosenworcel has “proven time and again that she is an astute and balanced decisionmaker who is highly capable of bringing forward-looking policy prescriptions to the Commission and serving the best interests of the American people.” The association also had high praise for Sohn as “well-qualified and respected,” bringing years of policy and consumer advocacy” to the agency.

Michael Powell, president and CEO of the NCTA Internet and Television Association, congratulated the nominees and for Rosenworcel’s work during the pandemic, stating that the three will now play a crucial role in policy design to “promote continued investment and innovation in wired and wireless broadband networks – including the growth of licensed and unlicensed platforms – and in supporting Congress’ clear direction to build next generation networks in unserved and underserved areas.”

USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter said of Davidson’s nomination that Biden “has nominated a person with a range of technology and innovation experience, and a perspective that crosses the public, private and non-profit spheres.”

Joan Marsh, executive vice president of federal regulatory relations, highlighted in a congratulatory statement Rosenworcel’s accomplishments on programs including the Emergency Broadband Benefit and Emergency Connectivity Fund. She also noted Sohn’s “significant experience in the telecom policy arena.

“We look forward to working with her and her colleagues as the agency addresses the many pressing issues before it,” the statement added.

Noah Campbell, co-founder and CEO of telecom RS Access, which has been fighting to have the 12 GHz spectrum shared between satellite and 5G mobile service providers, said Rosenworcel has shown “tremendous leadership by bringing hundreds of megahertz of 5G spectrum to market in her roles at the FCC. She has been a staunch advocate for freeing more mid-band spectrum, while delivering on the promise to connect all Americans and close the digital divide.” He also congratulated Sohn and praised her commitment to public service.

Some background on nominees

Rosenworcel, a lawyer by training and graduate of New York University School of Law, would come into the helm as a long-time FCC veteran, having served as commissioner since her nomination by then-President Barack Obama in 2011, and before that an advisor to FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. During this time, she voted in favor of net neutrality rules, which have been quashed under previous agency head Ajit Pai and will serve as one of the most potent issues to review by this new-look commission.

Rosenworcel has also pressed national security issues to the front, having taken action on suspected threats to the country’s networks by proposing to ban licenses to companies with ties to the Chinese Communist government. She has advocated to diversify radio technology equipment by advocating for more open technologies for lower cost and better security.

Sohn, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, is a distinguished fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy. Beside her advocacy work at the Benton Institute, she was also for 12 years the president and CEO of internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, before becoming counselor to the chairman of the FCC in 2015, according to her LinkedIn profile. She has also held fellowship positions at the Open Society Foundations and the Mozilla Foundation.

Davidson, a graduate of Yale Law School, was in the early 2000s a professor at Georgetown University and director of public policy for the Americas at Google in Washington D.C. He served director of digital economy at the Department of Commerce, as vice president and director of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, and as tech policy fellow and then senior advisor at the Mozilla Foundation, according to his LinkedIn page.

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Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements

The FCC is looking at how to promote broadband competition and access in buildings.

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Photo of Jenna Leventoff from Internet Law & Policy Foundry

WASHINGTON, October 21, 2021 – Opponents of exclusivity arrangements that give tenants of multitenant buildings less choice of internet service provider are urging the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate all manifestations of these contracts that they say harms competition and locks landlords into burdensome long-term contracts.

While the FCC has previously banned exclusive access agreements that granted a single provider sole access to a building, it did not do so for exclusive wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements. That means third party service providers cannot share the building wires with the telecom with that privilege and cannot market their services to the building’s residents.

The FCC launched a comment period in September to field arguments about what to do with these holdout issues that gave priority to ISPs. In an early submission, the internet and television association NCTA said the commission should deny all broadband providers exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

Internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS said in its submission that the competitive environment has continued to suffer due to these exclusive deals and, in the case of retail shopping centers, their deals have been extended over the “last several years.”

It is asking for a complete ban on the wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, which they say “make it tougher for new entrants to effectively compete in MTEs.

“Competitive providers are still asked to participate in revenue sharing arrangements or are routinely denied access to MTEs because of exclusive wiring or marketing agreements,” INCOMPAS said, adding consumers and businesses “lose out on the faster speeds, lower pricing, and better customer service that competitors offer.”

Public Knowledge similarly said there is a lack of competition emerging from these practices that is increasing prices and restricting choice for tenants.

“Although the FCC has banned explicit exclusive agreements in multi-tenant environments (MTEs) such as apartment, condos, and office buildings, landlords and internet service providers have exploited loopholes to nevertheless create de facto monopolies in buildings,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

The group is asking for a ban on “all types” of these arrangements that “negatively impact consumer choice, ensuring all ISPs have access to a building’s wiring regardless of the owner, creating a ‘rocket docket’ to quickly adjudicate supposed violations, and creating a single regulatory regime for both commercial and residential MTEs.”

In a joint submission on Wednesday, Consolidated Communications Holdings and Ziply Fiber said they “often confront such anti-competitive agreements,” with revenue sharing and marketing arrangements being the most “prevalent and troublesome.

“In practice, these agreements frequently work together as a complete bar to competing providers, giving the incumbent broadband provider a de facto exclusive service agreement with respect to an MTE,” the submission said, alleging MTE owners will “explicitly cite their lucrative revenue sharing agreements with an existing provider as their reason for not allowing our companies to access their buildings” and so to not to lose out on that compensation.

Harm on building owners

For the Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, exclusive wiring arrangements have not only limited choice for residents, but it has allegedly locked housing providers into “long-term onerous contracts that prohibit them from pursuing connectivity solutions, such as owner-provided broadband, at their properties.”

Members of the affordable housing group are recommending the FCC impose “reasonable standards” on such agreements, which require ISPs to offer low-cost programs or owner provided broadband at a competitive cost and give landlords an option to exit or renegotiate a contract after a certain time.

The FCC’s look into the issue 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.

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