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Broadband's Impact

Democrats Are Mad as Hell About FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s Proposed Changes to Net Neutrality

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WASHINGTON, December 7, 2017 — Tom Wheeler, the Federal Communications Commission chairman under President Obama, wasn’t coy in expressing his feelings about his replacement’s “abomination” of a plan to gut the open internet rules he put in place two-and-a-half years ago.

“This is the culmination of a grand plan which started back in 2013,” Wheeler said Wednesday during a press conference with Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, and former FCC General Counsel Jonathan Sallet.

That plan — exemplified in the rules proposed by current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai—would see the Commission renounce authority over common carriers that it exercised in the decades since the agency was created by the Communications Act of 1934.

Pai plan effectively eliminates all open internet rules

Under Pai’s proposal, the FCC would effectively eliminate all open internet rules, with the exception of a transparency requirement initially put in place in 2010.

In addition to overturning rules put in place by his two Democratic predecessors, the proposal would also effectively overturn the “Internet Policy Statement” unanimously implemented by the FCC under former Chairman Kevin Martin, who served under President George W. Bush.

Martin attempted to enforce the “Internet Policy Statement” in a 2008 lawsuit against Comcast involving the throttling of peer-to-peer application BitTorrent. The FCC said that the throttling took place outside of the policy statement’s “reasonable network management” exception.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that action in 2010, paving the way for the first round of open internet regulations, by then-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

Under the new deregulatory approach that Pai and the Republicans at the agency appear poised to adopt on December 14, internet providers would be able to prioritize traffic for a fee, or prioritize traffic of affiliated companies, so long as they disclose those practices.

But the FCC passes the responsibility for enforcing these disclosure requirements to the Federal Trade Commission.

The FCC proposal would continue to preempt state internet regulations

States looking to step into the regulatory void would also find themselves out of luck under the Pai proposal, as the FCC would continuing to preempt any state law or regulation imposing common carrier requirements 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 connection to is a nationwide network.

And where the current rules assert FCC authority to regulate internet providers based on the FCC’s authority to regulate communications networks, Pai would instead ask the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department use a combination of antitrust law and consumer protection requirements to prevent consumer abused by internet service providers.

Former top FCC attorney slams commission for abdicating responsibility

Former FCC general counsel Jonathan Sallet noted this abdication of responsibility and predicted that a court would not allow the FCC to pick and choose which parts of the law to enforce.

“The draft order seems to say that the FCC is no longer interested in exercising its responsibilities as an expert agency,” he said. “I do not believe a court of appeals will uphold this order.”

Wheeler agreed, telling reporters that “[T]he abomination of next week’s action is not just the repeal of the existing open internet rules. It is how they’re doing it.”

“They’re vacating the field, they’re walking away from the responsibility that the FCC has had since 1934 to oversee networks,” he said.

Wheeler called the draft order — which has been championed by Pai, a former attorney for Verizon Communications — “a classic example of regulatory capture,” where “the regulatory agency bends to the wishes of those they are supposed to oversee.”

Sen. Markey and Rep. Eshoo call Pai’s proposal an ‘honor system’ and a ‘ruse’

Markey said that “absolutely nothing” would replace the FCC’s authority to protect consumers when Pai vacates the field after his new rules take effect, leaving some kind of bizarre “honor system” in place.

“Broadband providers get exactly what they want,” he said. ”Americans just do not want that to happen.”

Eshoo called the idea that Congress should step in and replace the FCC rules with legislation a “ruse” and a distraction.

“They don’t want the FCC to be the cop on the beat, they say they are for net neutrality except when you spell it out and codify it,” she said. ”They’ve moved away from it. They don’t believe in net neutrality, they don’t want it.”

Markey noted that when the current rules were challenged in court, he and Eshoo led the effort to submit an amicus brief on behalf of Congress in support of the rules, and that they would be doing it again because they and other network neutrality advocates plan on taking the FCC to court to keep them from abdicating their responsibilities.

“It’s a very vulnerable decision that they’re about to make, and I think we have a very good chance of prevailing in court,” he said.

(Caricature of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler by DonkeyHotey used with permission.)

 

Digital Inclusion

Doug Lodder: How to Prevent the Economic Climate from Worsening the Digital Divide

There are government programs created to shrink the digital divide, but not many Americans know what’s out there.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Doug Lodder, president of TruConnect

From gas to groceries to rent, prices are rocketing faster than they have in decades. This leaves many American families without the means to pay for essentials, including cellphone and internet services. In fact, the Center on Poverty and Social Policy reports that poverty rates have been steadily climbing since March. We’re talking about millions of people at risk of being left behind in the gulf between those who have access to connectivity and those who don’t.

We must not allow this digital divide to grow in the wake of the current economic climate. There is so much more at stake here than simply access to the internet or owning a smartphone.

What’s at stake if the digital divide worsens

Our reliance on connectivity has been growing steadily for years, and the pandemic only accelerated our dependence. Having a cell phone or internet access are no longer luxuries, they are vital necessities.

When a low-income American doesn’t have access to connectivity, they are put at an even greater disadvantage. They are limited in their ability to seek and apply for a job, they don’t have the option of convenient and cost-effective telehealth, opportunities for education shrink, and accessing social programs becomes more difficult. I haven’t even mentioned the social benefits that connectivity gives us humans—it’s natural to want to call our friends and families, and for many, necessary to share news or updates. The loss or absence of connectivity can easily create a snowball effect, compounding challenges for low-income Americans.

The stakes are certainly high. Thankfully, there are government programs created to shrink the digital divide. The challenge is that not many Americans know what’s out there.

What can be done to improve it

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration created the federal Lifeline program to subsidize phones and bring them into every household. The program has since evolved to include mobile and broadband services.

More than 34 million low-income Americans are eligible for subsidized cell phones and internet access through the Lifeline program. Unfortunately, only 1 in 5 eligible people are taking advantage of the program because most qualified Americans don’t even know the program exists.

The situation is similar with the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, another federal government program aimed at bringing connectivity to low-income Americans. Through ACP, qualifying households can get connected by answering a few simple questions and submitting eligibility documents.

Experts estimate that 48 million households—or nearly 40% of households in the country—qualify for the ACP. But, just like Lifeline, too few Americans are taking advantage of the program.

So, what can be done to increase the use of these programs and close the digital divide?

Our vision of true digital equity is where every American is connected through a diverse network of solutions. This means we can’t rely solely on fixed terrestrial. According to research from Pew, 27% of people earning less than $30,000 a year did not have home broadband and relied on smartphones for connectivity. Another benefit of mobile connectivity—more Americans have access to it. FCC data shows that 99.9% of Americans live in an LTE coverage area, whereas only 94% of the country has access to fixed terrestrial broadband where they live.

Additionally, we need more local communities to get behind these programs and proactively market them. We should see ads plastered across billboards and buses in the most impacted areas. Companies like ours, which provide services subsidized through Lifeline and ACP, market and promote the programs, but we’re limited in our reach. It’s imperative that local communities and their governments invest more resources to promote Lifeline, ACP and other connectivity programs.

While there’s no panacea for the problem at hand, it is imperative that we all do our part, especially as the economic climate threatens to grow the digital divide. The fate of millions of Americans is at stake.

Doug Lodder in President of TruConnect, a mobile provider that offers eligible consumers unlimited talk, text, and data, a free Android smartphone, free shipping, and access to over 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots; free international calling to Mexico, Canada, South Korea, China and Vietnam; plus an option to purchase tablets at $10.01. 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

Senate Bill Subsidizing U.S. Semiconductor Production Clears House, Going to White House

Bill aims to strengthen American self-reliance in semiconductor chip production and international competition.

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Photo of Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, during Tuesday's press conference

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2022 – A $54 billion bill to subsidize U.S-made semiconductor chips passed the House Thursday on a 243-187, and moves to President Biden for his expected signature.

Dubbed the CHIPS Act for Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors Act for America Fund, the measure is expected to incentivize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and also provide grants for the design and deploying of wireless 5G networks. It also includes a $24 billion fund to create a 25 percent tax credit for new semiconductor manufacturing facilities.

Advocates of the measure say that it will also improve U.S. supply chain, grow U.S. domestic workforce, and enable the U.S. to compete internationally to combat national security emergencies.

The measure passed the Senate Wednesday on a 64-33 vote.

Congressional supporters tout benefits

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., voiced his support on the House floor, calling it “a win for our global competitiveness.”

The CHIPS Act of 2022 provides a five-year investment in public research and development, and establishes new technology hubs across the country.

Of the funds, $14 billion goes to upgrade national labs, and $9 billion goes to the National Institute of Standards and Technology research, of which $2 billion goes to support manufacturing partnerships, and with $200 million going to train the domestic workforce.

In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett said that America’s semiconductor industry has lost ground to foreign competitors. “Today, only 12% of chips are manufactured in the United States, down from 37% in the 1990s.”

He said relying on cheaper products produced in China and overseas for so long, it has caught up with the United States.

Bennet suggested to move manufacturing labs to Colorado, where it can support it due to the plenty of jobs in aerospace and facility and infrastructure space.

“We don’t want the Chinese setting the standard for telecommunications. America needs to lead that. This bill puts us in the position to be a world leader,” said Bennet. “We are at a huge national security disadvantage if we don’t do this.”

Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, joined his Rocky Mountain state colleague in support: “There is a real sense of urgency here to compete not only to re-establish the U.S. to make their own chips, but to compete internationally.”

He said that semiconductor chips are vital to almost every business and product, including phones, watches, refrigerators, cars, and laptops. “I’m not sure if I can think of a business that isn’t dependent on chips at this point.”\

“This is a space race,” he said. “We cannot afford to fall behind.”

Industry supporters say measure is necessary

The U.S. has lost ground to foreign competitors in scientific R&D and in supply chain industry during a recent semiconductor crisis, said France Córdova, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event on July 19. The U.S. only ranks sixth best among other prominent countries in the world for research and development, she said.

“The CHIPS Act of 2022 and FABS Act are critical investments to even the global playing field for U.S. companies, and strategically important for our economic and national national security,” said Ganesh Moorthy, president and CEO of Microchip Technology Inc.

Bide expected to sign measure

With the Biden’s Administration’s focus to tackle the semiconductor shortage and supply chain crisis through the Executive Order made in February, the Biden administration has been bullish on the passage of the CHIPS Act, in a Wednesday statement:

“It will accelerate the manufacturing of semiconductors in America, lowering prices on everything from cars to dishwashers.  It also will create jobs – good-paying jobs right here in the United States.  It will mean more resilient American supply chains, so we are never so reliant on foreign countries for the critical technologies that we need for American consumers and national security,” said Biden.

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Health

Providers Call for More FCC Telehealth Funding as Demand Grows

‘I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2022 – Health care providers in parts of America say they are struggling to deliver telehealth due to a lack of broadband connectivity in underserved communities, and recommended there be more funding from the Federal Communications Commission.

While the FCC has a $200-million COVID-19 Telehealth program, which emerged from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, some providers say more money is needed as demand for telehealth services increases.

“The need for broadband connectivity in underserved communities exceeds current availability,” said Jennifer Stoll from the Oregon Community Health Information Network.

The OCHIN was one of the largest recipients of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot program in 2009. Stoll advocated for the need for more funding with the non-profit SHLB Coalition during the event last week. Panelists didn’t specify how much more funding is needed.

Stoll noted that moving forward, states need sustainable funding in this sector. “I am hoping Congress will be mindful of telehealth,” said Stoll.

“The need for telehealth and other virtual modalities will continue to grow in rural and underserved communities,” she added.

Brian Scarpelli, senior global policy counsel at ACT, the App Association, echoed the call for FCC funding from the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes basic telecommunications services to rural areas and low-income Americans. “I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.”

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