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Broadband's Impact

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

Andrew Feinberg

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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.)

 

Andrew Feinberg is 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.

Broadband's Impact

FCC to Vote On Emergency Connectivity Fund Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel

The agency is expected to vote on policies for the new connectivity fund by mid-May, chairwoman says.

Derek Shumway

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April 14, 2021 – Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday the agency will be voting by mid-May on policies to deliver the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which has received over 9,000 interested institutions through its portal.

The Emergency Connectivity Fund is part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law in March 2021.

It’s “the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability program,” Rosenworcel said Tuesday on a virtual panel hosted by Allvanza, an advocacy group for Latinxs and underserved communities within the technology, telecommunications and innovation industries; the Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC); and the Asian Pacific American Advocate group (OCA).

It’s “designed to make sure we get every household in this country connected to high-speed Internet service because this pandemic has proven like nothing before,” she added.

The FCC made a sign-up portal on its website to determine interest in the program, and over 9,000 institutions have signed up to date, Rosenworcel said, adding she hopes the policies for the EBB can address the homework gap by extending internet subsidies normally reserved for schools and libraries to households.

Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator, said minority-aimed broadband initiatives have done great work in bringing together providers and companies with minority-serving institutions.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the FCC will vote by mid-May on policies related to the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. In actuality, the agency is voting on policies for the new Emergency Connectivity Fund from Biden’s new American Rescue Plan. 

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Digital Inclusion

Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events

Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.

Tim White

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Photo of GHS co-founder Victor Zonana, left, from Global Health New Zealand

April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.

Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.

The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.

“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.

Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.

Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.

Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.

Broadband central to digital activities

“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.

President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”

Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.

“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”

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Education

Libraries Must Be Vigilant To Ensure Adequate Broadband, Consultants Say

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Stephanie Stenberg via Internet2

April 7, 2021 – Libraries should monitor their broadband speeds and ensure they are getting quality connections, according to library consultants.

Carson Block from Carson Block Consulting and Stephanie Stenberg of the Internet2 Community Anchor program told a virtual conference hosted by the American Library Association on Tuesday that it’s time libraries take a closer look at how they are getting broadband and if they are getting the speeds they are paying for. If not, they said they should re-negotiate.

Block and Stenberg shared details about the “Towards Gigabit Libraries” (TGL) toolkit, a free, self-service guide for rural and tribal libraries to better understand and improve their broadband. The new toolkit helps libraries prepare for E-Rate internet subsidy requests to aid their budget cycles.

It also has tips about communicating effectively between library and tech people since there is a gap in knowledge between those two groups. The TGL is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Gigabit Libraries and Beyond (GLG) to improve the toolkit and expand throughout the United States. In addition to focusing on rural and tribal libraries, now urban libraries will be included for support.

During the event, a live poll showed all participating attendees said they “very infrequently” had technical IT support available in their home libraries. Stenberg said this confirmed TGL’s findings that libraries need more tech and IT support, as the majority of respondents in previous surveys gave similar concerning results.

To really emphasize the need for adequate broadband and support at libraries, another question was asked to live attendees about their current level of expertise around procuring and delivering access to broadband as a service in their library, assuming that the majority of attendees worked for libraries. All participants said they possess “no experience” trying to get broadband in the library.

Common issues that are to blame include libraries with insufficient bandwidth, data wiring or poorly set-up networks. Old and obsolete equipment also contributed to bad Wi-Fi coverage.

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