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.
USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability
Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.
WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.
In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”
Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.
“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.
“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”
The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.
The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.
The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.
Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas
The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.
WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.
The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.
The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.
The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.
Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.
“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.
“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.
“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”
New Report Recommends Broadening Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues
A Mattey Consulting report finds broadband revenues can help sustain the fund used to connect rural and low-income Americans.
WASHINGTON, September 14, 2021— Former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission Carol Mattey released a study on Tuesday recommending the agency reform the Universal Service Fund to incorporate a broad range of revenue sources, including from broadband.
According to the report by Mattey’s consulting firm Mattey Consulting LLC, revenues from “broadband internet access services that are increasingly used by Americans today should contribute to the USF programs that support the expansion of such services to all,” it said. “This will better reflect the value of broadband internet access service in today’s marketplace for both consumers and businesses.”
Mattey notes that sources of funding for the USF, which are primarily from voice revenues and supports expanding broadband to low-income Americans and remote regions, has been shrinking, thus putting the fund in jeopardy. The contribution percent reached a historic high at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that, though Mattey suggested it could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years.
“This situation is unsustainable and jeopardizes the universal broadband connectivity mission for our nation without immediate FCC reform,” Mattey states in her report, “To ensure the enduring value of the USF program and America’s connectivity goals, we must have a smart and substantive conversation about the program’s future.”
According to Mattey’s data, the assessed sources (primarily voice) of income will only continue to shrink over the coming years, while unassessed sources will continue to grow. Mattey’s report was conducted in conjunction with INCOMPAS, NTCA: The Rural Broadband Association, and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.
“It is time for the FCC to take action, and to move away from the worst option of all – the status quo – that is jeopardizing the USF which is critical to connecting our nation,” the report said.
John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB, echoed the sentiments expressed by Mattey in her report, “We simply must put the USF funding mechanism on a more stable and sustainable path,” he said, “[in order to] strengthen our national commitment to broadband equity for all.”
Mattey report uniform with current recommendations
Mattey’s research is generally in line with proponents of change to the USF. Some have recommended that the fund draw from general broadband revenues, while others have said general taxation would provide a longer lasting solution. Even FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested that Big Tech be forced to contribute to the system it benefits from, which the acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said is an “intriguing” idea.
The FCC instituted the USF in 1997 as a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The fund was designed to encourage the development of telecom infrastructure across the U.S.—dispensing billions of dollars every year to advance the goal of universal connectivity. It does so through four programs: the Connect America Fund, Lifeline, the rural health care program, and E-Rate.
These constituent programs address specific areas related for broadband. For example, the E-Rate program is primarily concerned with ensuring that schools and libraries are sufficiently equipped with internet and technology assistance to serve their students and communities. All of these programs derive their funding from the USF.
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