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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Launches His Biggest Battle: Eliminating Net Neutrality Regulations

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WASHINGTON, November 21, 2017 – In a move that could further infuriate an already-energized coalition of technology industry power players, consumer advocates, and progressive interest groups, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday unveiled plans to undo the net neutrality rules that put in place in some form or another since the early years of the Obama administration.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement.

“Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

Pai’s general proposal has faced widespread opposition since it was announced this year. After the FCC published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on whether to undo rules reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, roughly 21 million comments were submitted via the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System.

That’s more than any other agency proceeding, and the vast majority were of those of retaining the strong net neutrality provisions put in place by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in February 2015.

Those Wheeler net neutrality rules – which are still technically in force – require broadband internet access providers to live by common carrier requirements to which telephone companies have long been subject.

One way of looking at this is that the phone company cannot charge users different rates for a fax call versus a voice call. Nor can it degrade call quality for fax owners.

In a likewise manner, an internet provider cannot, under the rules, slow down a customer’s bandwidth because they are watching Netflix instead of Hulu, or charge extra to for businesses to enable their website to show up more quickly when customers access them using an internet connection.

What Pai’s net neutrality deregulation might mean for the internet

Those groundrules could change if Pai – a former Verizon Communications lawyer named chairman by President Donald Trump in January after having served as a commissioner at the agency since 2012 — gets his way.

Pai proposes to return broadband internet access service to its’ original classification as a lightly-regulated information service under Title I of the Telecommunications Act. Further, his proposal would repeal the “policy statement” about net neutrality originally put in place under George W. Bush Administration FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Although the Martin rules didn’t have the force of law or regulation, they paved the way for future FCC regulations that prohibited internet providers from throttling content or offering paid prioritization for some data, save for an exception carved out for “reasonable network management.”

Under Pai’s new rules, internet providers would be free to prioritize traffic for a fee, or to prioritize traffic of affiliated companies. The limitation is that the internet providers disclose such a practice.

Internet providers were once penalized for violating such a practice during Bush administration. In 2008, the Martin FCC fined Comcast for throttling traffic outside of the “reasonable network management” exception to the agency’s “policy statement.”

Now, if approved by the FCC, Pai’s FCC would completely deregulate network neutrality rules. And the onus for enforcing its disclosure requirements would land at the Federal Trade Commission. It could punish internet providers for throttling traffic in violation of its stated practices.

Under the Pai proposal, state regulators would also be barred from stepping into the deregulatory breach

States looking to step into the regulatory void and protect consumers might also find themselves disappointed under Pai’s proposal. The FCC’s new rules would specifically pre-empt state law or regulation imposing a common carrier requirement on internet providers.

Even regulations governing internet providers that operate entirely within one state would be subject to this preemption, senior FCC officials said, because the internet the provider is connected to is a nationwide network.

Despite the public outcry and tsunami of public comments, FCC officials downplayed its significance during a press conference call reviewing the proposal.

Despite the record number of citizen comments through the FCC’s filing system, agency officials said that most people’s comments were irrelevant to the FCC’s decision-making process because they only contained opinions – not facts, legal arguments or economic analyses.

A regulatory policy that the FCC says is based upon economic analysis

Economic analyses were at the heart of Pai’s proposal, officials said. They cited cost-benefit analyses showing investment in broadband networks falling since the adoption of network neutrality rules.

But when asked for specific examples, officials told reporters that the analyses would be available as part of the draft rules, which were to be released on Wednesday.

The FCC’s desire to take into account the economic impact of network neutrality regulations doesn’t appear to include the views of Silicon Valley, the heartbeat of the information technology sector.

The tech industry is almost unitedly opposed to Pai’s plans: They strongly supported the adoption of the Obama-era regulations.

In July, the Internet Association, which represents Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other large technology companies, filed comments warning that allowing paid prioritization would harm tech giants and also stunt the rising generation of startups.

The new rules would put them “at the mercy of ISPs who would face minimal constraints on their ability to charge [the industry] for prioritized access,” the Internet Association said.

Initial legislative reactions to the Pai proposal are beginning to come forward

In a statement, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, decried the new rules, which appear to favor large broadband providers over technology companies or consumer voices – at least as expressed in the FCC’s comments.

“Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed his long-term goal to unravel net neutrality protections, demonstrating that he is on the wrong side of history, startups, consumers and the public interest,” said Lofgren, who district includes most of Silicon Valley.

“As millions of Americans voice their support for a free and open internet, Chairman Pai’s proposal hands the internet over to the largest Internet Service Providers who can throttle, assess a toll or block content,” she said.

Lofgren noted that under the current rules, an entire ecosystem of apps and new technologies has developed because of those rules’ protections.

“The net neutrality protections have advanced competition and innovation, created more startups and entrepreneurs, and have been judicially approved. Repealing these protections is an assault on what has made the internet what it is… an open and dynamic platform,” she said.

“This is not the end of a battle but the beginning of a new one that I will engage in to protect the open internet for my constituents and all Americans.”

 

Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Health

Digital Literacy Training Needed for Optimal Telehealth Outcomes, Healthcare Reps Say

Digital literacy should be a priority to unlock telehealth’s potential, a telehealth event heard.

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Photo of telehealth consultation from Healthcare IT News

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – Digital literacy training should be a priority for providers and consumers to improve telehealth outcomes, experts said at a conference Tuesday.

Digital literacy training will unlock telehealth’s potential to improve health outcomes, according to the event’s experts, including improving treatment for chronic diseases, improving patient-doctor relationships, and providing easier medical access for those without access to transportation.

Julia Skapik of the National Association of Community Health Centers said at the National Telehealth Conference on Tuesday that both patients and clinicians need to be trained on how to use tools that allow both parties to communicate remotely.

Skapik said her association has plans to implement training for providers to utilize tech opportunities, such as patient portals to best engage patients.

Ann Mond Johnson from the American Telemedicine Association agreed that telehealth will improve health outcomes by giving proper training to utilize the technology to offer the services.

The Federal Communications Commission announced its telehealth program in April 2021, which set aside $200 million for health institutions to provide remote care for patients.

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Digital Inclusion

W. Antoni Sinkfield: To Succeed in 21st Century, Communities Need to Get Connected Now

One of the primary responsibilities of being a faith leader is to listen to your community and understand its problems.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Reverend W. Antoni Sinkfield, Associate Dean for Community Life at Wesley Theological Seminary.

One of the primary responsibilities of being a faith leader is to listen to your community, understand its problems, and provide support in challenging times. Particularly during the pandemic, it has been hard not to notice that my parishioners, and folks across the country, are divided into two groups: those with access to the internet, and those without.

In 2022, digital inclusion is still something we strive for in poor and rural areas throughout America. The lack of reliable internet access is an enormous disadvantage to so many people in all facets of their lives.

To fully participate in today’s society, all people, no matter who they are and no matter where they live, must have access to the internet. Think of the remote learning every child had to experience when schools were closed, and the challenges that families faced when they didn’t have access to a quality connection.

It’s a question of plain fairness.

Politicians have been talking for decades about bringing high-speed internet access to everyone, however many families continue to be left behind. More than 42 million people across the country lack affordable, reliable broadband connections, and as many as 120 million people who cannot get online are stuck with slow service that does not allow them to take advantage of everything the internet has to offer.

People of color are disproportionately affected by lack of broadband access

Lack of broadband disproportionately affects communities of color, as well: 35 percent of Americans of Latino descent and 29 percent of African-Americans do not have a broadband connection at home.

Every person in rural towns, urban neighborhoods, and tribal communities needs and deserves equal and full economic and educational opportunities. Studies show that students without home access to the internet are less likely to attend college and face a digital skills gap equivalent to three years’ worth of schooling. Small businesses, which are the cornerstone of rural and urban communities alike, need broadband to reach their customers and provide the service they expect.

Simply put, having access to the internet in every community is vital to its ability to succeed in the 21st century.

Fortunately, we have an opportunity to take major steps toward a solution. Last year, Congress passed President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides $65 billion to expand broadband access and affordability. It is essential that we use this money to connect as many unserved and underserved communities as we can – and as quickly as we can.

Different places need different options to bridge the digital divide

As we bridge the digital divide, we must listen to those who have been left behind and make sure that we deploy solutions that fit their needs. Different places need different options – so it’s important that all voices are heard, and the technology that works best for the community is made readily available.

All people need access to broadband to learn, work, shop, pay bills, and get efficient healthcare.

When I talk to my parishioners, they speak about how much of their lives have transitioned online and are frustrated about not having reliable access. They do not care about the nuances of how we bring broadband to everyone. They just want to have it now – and understandably so.

This means that we must explore all solutions possible to provide high-speed broadband with the connection and support they need, when they need it, regardless of where they live.

Now is the time to meet those struggling where they are, stop dreaming about bridging the divide, and just get it done. Our government has a rare opportunity to fix an enormous problem, using money already approved for the purpose. Let’s make sure they do so in a manner that works for the communities they’re trying to help.

Rev. W. Antoni Sinkfield, Ph.D., serves as Associate Dean for Community Life at Wesley Theological Seminary, and is an ordained Itinerate Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband's Impact

Biden Delivers Remarks on Free Broadband to Qualified Households

Biden compared the value of broadband to telephone service, and drew parallels to the historic effort to connect the country.

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Screenshot of President Joe Biden delivering remarks at the White Hose Rose Garden

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2022 – President Joe Biden emphasized the essential nature of broadband during a public appearance on Monday.

Biden delivered remarks at the White House Rose Garden on the day’s earlier announcement that the federal government would work with both regional and national broadband providers to provide essentially free broadband to qualified households.

“Too many Americans simply cannot afford to get connected even if there is access to get connected. So, they go without high-speed internet, or they sacrifice other necessities in order to make it work,” Biden said.

“High-speed internet is not a luxury any longer – it is a necessity,” Biden said. “That is why the bipartisan infrastructure law included $65 billion to make sure we expand access to broadband internet in every region of the country.”

Biden also laid out the criteria for eligible households to take advantage of Affordable Connectivity Program, which when paired with the effort by ISPs to keep 100 Mbps download services under $30, provides free internet to consumers.

“If your household income is twice the federal poverty level or less – that is that’s about $55,000 per year for a family of four – or $27,000 for an individual – or a member of your household is on Medicaid or supplementary [social] security income or a number of other programs – you are eligible.”

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