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Senate Democrats Join With Collins To Force Vote On Restoring Obama Net Neutrality Rules

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WASHINGTON, May 9, 2018 — Senate Democrats on Wednesday announced plans to invoke a rarely-used Senate procedure to force a floor vote on a bill to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of Obama-era regulations preventing internet providers from blocking or throttling internet traffic.

“Today we are officially filing the discharge petition to force a vote on my Congressional Review Act resolution that would put strong net neutrality rules back on the books,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. said as he kicked off a Wednesday morning news conference. “The CRA resolution would fully restore the rules that ensure Americans aren’t subject to higher prices, slower internet traffic, and even blocked websites because the big internet service providers want to pump up their profits.”

“We’re here today because Democrats in the Senate are taking the final step to consideration of a bill to restore net neutrality,” added Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We’re now one step away from allowing the American public to see where their elected officials stand on protecting their internet service.”

Markey’s bill would restore previous network neutrality rules

The bill in question is S.J. Res. 52, a so-called resolution of disapproval, which makes use of procedures laid out under the Congressional Review Act in order to roll back FCC rules in effect since April which repealed the Obama-era regulations put in place under then-chairman Tom Wheeler (D).

The regulations, formally known as net neutrality rules, prohibit broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from interfering with users’ internet traffic or prioritizing some traffic over others. Under Wheeler, the FCC did this by classifying broadband internet access services as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Their repeal was a priority for the current Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has long opposed strong net neutrality protections.

A rare opportunity for Democrats to hit back for the little guy

Schumer cast Markey’s bill as part of a broader response to how under Trump administration congressional Republicans frequently enact the priorities of big business into law at the expense of “average folks.”

“When the Republican-led FCC voted to repeal net neutrality in December, they handed the largest internet service providers all the cards, and left American families and small businesses helpless before these providers,” he said. “That’s why we Democrats are so concerned about net neutrality.”

“Our Republican friends say ‘let the free market prevail, let the big boys do whatever they want,’” he continued. “We don’t do that for highways, you can’t charge different toll rates for different people. We don’t do that for utilities. In the 21st century, the internet is every bit as important to average folks as highways and utilities have been through the 20th century, and we’ve learned through the years that average folks need some protection from the big boys.”

What Schumer called the “final step” is the filing of a discharge petition, which when signed by 50 senators, invokes a rarely-used parliamentary procedure to force a bill to be brought to the floor for a vote. The maneuver is necessary because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not indicated any interest in bringing the resolution, which was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Democrats are using one of the GOP’s favorite laws against it

Under the CRA, which was passed by the Republican-led Congress in 1996 and signed by then-President Bill Clinton, Congress can use a resolution of disapproval to repeal rules put in place by regulatory agencies like the FCC.

Such bills are joint resolutions, which require the president’s signature to become law. But unlike most bills, CRA resolutions cannot be filibustered in the Senate, meaning only 51 votes are required to pass them.

Though it had been only used once in the two decades since it became law, the CRA has found new life with a Republican Congress and a Republican in the White House.
Since the GOP-led 115th Congress began, it has sent President Trump fifteen resolutions, all of which he has signed. These repealed various Obama-era regulations pertaining to consumer protection, environmental protection, and gun safety.

One of these CRA resolutions is unlike the others

But while Democrats have complained that those resolutions lifted restraints on business, Markey said his use of the CRA will do the opposite.

“Passing this resolution will “send a clear message that this Congress won’t fall to the special interest agenda of President Trump and his broadband baron allies, but rather, will do right by the people who sent us here,” he said, adding that he was “pleased” that his bill has bipartisan support thanks to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Although there are only 49 Democrats in the Senate currently, the addition Collins gives Democrats enough signatures to force McConnell to hold a floor vote on Markey’s resolution.

Markey hopes pressure from constituents will convince one more Republican to vote ‘yes’

As for the 51st vote that would allow the bill to pass the Senate, Markey said a number of other Republicans had “expressed an openness” to voting for it, and that they might be swayed by constituent calls supporting the bill.

It’s likely that those senators will receive a number of those calls thanks to an online advocacy campaign including many popular websites, which are showing their users ads urging them to call their elected representatives in support of Markey’s bill.

But Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the choice of whether to support Markey’s bill or not “is not at all complicated.”

“if you want a free and open internet, which means that after you pay your internet access fee, you get to go where you want, when you want and how you want, you have to support the Markey measure,” said Wyden, a longtime advocate of network neutrality protections.

The alternative envisioned by FCC Chairman Pai, Wyden said, “[puts] the big communications monopolies in charge rather than the consumers.”

“What he’s about is building an info era aristocracy where the well-to-do get faster speeds…and the average person is on the road to digital serfdom,” he added, urging internet users to employ the same tactics used in the campaign to stop the Stop Online Piracy Act in 2011 and 2012.

Even if Democrats get a 51st vote for the bill, its prospects in the House are uncertain

While Markey noted that Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa. has introduced a companion bill in the House, H.J.Res. 129, that bill remains a long-shot despite having 160 co-sponsors, as it lacks Republican support.

When asked about whether there’d been much outreach to House Republicans by the bill’s Senate supporters, a source within Senate Democratic leadership said there hadn’t been much in the way of inter-chamber outreach at this point.

[The] first step is [the] Senate, where we’re still fighting to get 51,” said the source.

Even if Markey and Schumer’s gambit fails, however, there is still hope for advocates of the old rules, in the form of a federal lawsuit filed against the FCC by a number of public interest groups in hopes that a court will order Pai and his colleagues to return to enforcing common carrier regulations on broadband providers.

(Photo: Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., reads from a statement as Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., look on. Image captured from video at https://www.facebook.com/EdJMarkey/videos/10155722134966379/)

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 Roundup

‘Squid Game’ Exposes Traffic Problem, Virginia’s $2B Broadband Investment, West Virginia Mapping

Netflix hit’s traffic struggle, Virginia expects $2B from P3, op-ed says FCC expects states to get good maps before FCC.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

October 20, 2021––A South Korean broadband company is suing Netflix to cover the cost of the surge in traffic from its hit television show “Squid Game.”

The show, which according to Netflix has more than 100 million streams, became a global hit last month.

The Financial Times reports that SK Broadband, owned by SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest mobile operator, argues that streaming platforms should pay for the congestion on its networks.

The company said that the traffic Netflix generated on its network increased to 1.2 trillion bits of data processing per second since September, an increase that’s equal to 24 times the company’s normal traffic over three years. The company said its network had to be upgraded twice to accommodate the traffic surge caused by customers streaming the show on Netflix.

Local law in South Korea requires the companies with more than 1 million users and using more than 1 percent of total network traffic to pay internet fees to distribute the maintenance costs incurred by broadband providers.

Netflix accounted for almost 5 percent of internet traffic in the fourth quarter and had more than 1.7 million paid subscribers. SK Broadband argues that Netflix must pay more in network usage fees.

Virginia announces $2 billion public-private broadband partnership

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the state expects more than $2 billion in funding for high-speed broadband investments after announcing a public-private partnership with local governments and private internet service providers, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Northam announced that the state received requests to fund 57 projects to expand broadband across 84 localities across Virginia, totaling $943 million in grants. It would be matched by $1.15 billion in private and local government funds.

“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” said Northam. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic has pushed us all to move even faster.

“Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by [2024], which means more connections, more investments, more online learning and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia,” he said.

Northam and the Virginia general assembly appropriate $700 million of the $4.3 billion that Virginia received under the federal emergency aid package to accelerate Virginia’s universal broadband coverage goal. The expected completion has been moved up from 2028 to 2024.

The plan is expected to bring internet access to more than 250,000 homes and businesses.

The state is using federal emergency aid from the American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide in Virginia.

Op-Ed: West Virginia being asked to produce quality broadband maps before FCC

Advocates for more accurate maps say that the federal government is hypocritical in asking West Virginia for more accurate maps than the Federal Communications Commission can produce.

“The state is being asked to produce accurate maps, which the federal government knows full well its own agency did not produce” for the state the invest millions of dollars in federal American Rescue Plan funding for broadband expansion, writes a Wednesday op-ed in the Weirton Daily Times.

The FCC has been under fire for flaws in its broadband mapping data, which was relied upon to produce winners for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which forced the commission to clean-up the result of the reverse auction after finding that some of the money would go toward wasteful spending.

West Virginia’s effort to expand broadband is led by the state Department of Economic Development. State Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael said that if self-reported maps show no service in an area “you can bet your life there’s no service there.”

“There’s a lot more at stake as the department works to get these maps right. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of education and employment in West Virginia is riding on it,” said the Times. “Good luck, then, to Carmichael and his department as they work to clean up yet another federal government mess that has left the Mountain State struggling for too long.”

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Broadband Roundup

New Senate Antitrust Bill Reaction, Charter Making Executive Changes, T-Mobile, Verizon Top Charts

Trade association doesn’t like new antitrust bill, Charter makes changes at the top, T-Mobile leads wireless, Verizon on wireline.

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Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

October 19, 2021 – A Senate antitrust bill introduced Monday that would empower the Federal Trade Commission to further regulate technology companies will harm start ups and small business, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

The trade association, which represents companies across the tech sector, said the American Innovation and Consumer Choice Act – introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa – will “cause irreparable harm to small businesses and startups and put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage against China and other nations eager to overtake our country as global tech leader.”

The bill would prohibit “dominant platforms” from favoring their own products and services to the detriment of competition, stop conduct that is harmful to small businesses including preventing interoperability with big platforms, requiring payment to receive preferential treatment on the big platform, bias search results, and misuse business data to compete against the small companies.

Amazon, for example, was accused of having taken the information of products of smaller companies on its platforms to create their own competing products.

According to the release, the bill received the support of at least 10 other Senators across party lines and companies including Spotify and Roku.

But the CCA said the bill, in empowering the FTC, would allow it to “ignore the consumer welfare standard, while imposing massive fines with minimal due process.

“Further, the bill will take away features and functions that millions of Americans love and use in their everyday lives,” the CCA statement said. “Say goodbye to Amazon Prime free shipping, Google maps in search results, preinstalled iPhone apps and many more.”

The House already has before it six antitrust bills that are awaiting votes.

Charter makes executive changes

Charter announced Tuesday that it is promoting chief financial officer Chris Winfrey to chief operating officer and Jessica Fischer will move from executive vice president to the COO position.

John Bickham will be vice chairman before he retired at the end of 2022, the company also announced in a press release, while chief product and technology officer Rich DiGeronimo will oversee the company’s network operations as an additional responsibility.

“I have worked with John for three decades and at every turn, his knowledge, leadership and steady hand have not only contributed greatly to the success of the companies we led, but made a profound impact on the growth of our industry,” said CEO Tom Rutledge. “I am grateful that John will continue to serve Charter in this new capacity as a strategic advisor to me and the executive team, and his guidance will help ensure a successful transition for Chris into the COO role.”

T-Mobile gets top billing for wireless, Verizon for wireline

According to an Ookla report Monday, T-Mobile ranked as the fastest mobile operator in the country in the third quarter with a median download speed of 62.35 Megabits per second, as Verizon took home the top rank for wireline download speeds at 178.38 Mbps.

For wireless, AT&T was second in speed at 47.42 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 39.91 Mbps. T-Mobile also ranked first in 5G performance with a median speed of 135.17 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 78.94 Mbps and then AT&T at 72.46 Mbps. T-Mobile was also top in 5G availability with 64.4 percent, with AT&T second at 44.8 percent and Verizon third at 34.3 percent.

T-Mobile completed its merger with Sprint last year. It proposed that the combined entity was the only way the companies could compete against the top players and offer a competitive 5G product.

On the wireline side, Cox was second to Verizon on download speed at 168.56 Mbps, followed by Comcast’s Xfinity at 161.87 percent, Spectrum fourth at 143.57 Mbps, AT&T Internet at 132.48 Mbps, and CenturyLink at 59.80 Mbps.

New Jersey had the fastest median download speed on wireline at 158.19 Mbps, followed by New York at 147.46 Mbps, California at 142.56 Mbps, Florida at 141.88 Mbps, and Texas at 140.15 Mbps.

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband Access Barriers, NY Fiber Fees, Arizona Highway Fiber Law, Rosenworcel Reportedly On Way Out

Lower broadband access barriers, NY lawmakers want fiber fee end, Arizona’s fiber on highways, Rosenworcel reportedly not enough for Biden.

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New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner.

October 18, 2021–– James Baller, president of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, argued Friday that states should lower barriers to broadband deployment by making public-private partnerships more accessible.

Speaking with Pew Charitable Trusts, Baller says that he’s happy to see states “stepping forward aggressively” in expanding broadband their states’ communities, “especially underserved ones.”

However, states have barriers that prevent local broadband initiatives and public private partnerships from forming, Baller says. “Some states prevent local governments from taking full advantage of available federal or state funds. That has to change.”

In the project planning stage, Baller says “the public entity must map out how it or its partners will deal with various funding, structural, governance, and regulatory issues, including rights-of-way, pole attachments, and easements”

“Things will surely get better as a result of the lessons from these experience and the substantial influx of federal, state, local, and private funding for broadband that we’ll see over the next few years” Baller says

He says in the past year, there has been greater recognition that states have a critical role in accelerating broadband deployment, adoption, and use. States’ responsibility in delivering broadband can be reflected in the growing number of state offices dedicated to broadband deployment initiatives.

The pandemic, however, may be easing restrictions on community networks.

NY legislators want to end fiber fees to increase broadband deployment

New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner joins the NY legislator push to end fiber optic right-of-way fees in the state, according to a Monday report from Observer Today.

Woerner has introduced a bill in the assembly to amend the state’s highway law to prohibit the state from including fees in its agreements with fiber optic utility.

Her support follows Senator George Borrello’s proposal to end the right-of way fees to stimulate greater broadband deployment in New York. Her proposal would deem any existing agreements unenforceable but would allow the state to keep money it already collected. Since the fiber optic fee was established in 2019, the state collected $330,000 from fiber optic companies.

Senator Borello argues that broadband access is “akin to running water and electricity.” He noted that fiber optic providers are being charged for the same rights of way for which other utilities are given free access.

The continuing lack of broadband service in rural regions of New York is an inequity highlighted by the pandemic because of how parents in his district responded to the 2020 lockdown. “Parents in my district have been driven to desperate measures to assure their kids can get online and do their schoolwork, including parking for hours in fast-food parking lots for the wi-fi access.” This is “utterly unacceptable” he said.

Arizona transportation department laying fiber along highway

The Arizona Department of Transportation began laying fiberoptic broadband cables along a 46-mile stretch of highway in northern Arizona last week.

The initiative was established by the Arizona DOT and the Arizona Commerce Authority to “create more affordable opportunities to provide more rural communities in Arizona with high-speed internet service,” according to an Arizona government press release.

According to the DOT, the purpose of the project is to install a high-speed fiber topic “backbone” that connects the state’s existing Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) devices with new ITS improvements.

The DOT said it plans to use the fiber to provide additional “smart highway” technology. The Arizona government says they will start using overhead message boards, message boards, traffic cameras, weather stations, and wrong way driving detection technology. The state government is hopeful that the infrastructure “will help lay the groundwork for emerging technology like connected and automated vehicles.”

Arizona’s broadband initiative, championed by Governor Doug Ducey, was sponsored in the legislator by Republican Rep. Regina Cobb. This latest fiberoptic installation follows the fiber optic conduits placed in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. The state has also installed a stretch of fiber optic cables for dust detection and warning systems. Construction is expected to last until summer of 2022.

FCC Acting Chair Rosenworcel on way out, report claims

Citing sources, a report in the Washington Examiner Sunday said Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel will not be selected by President Joe Biden as the permanent head of the agency because she’s not liberal enough.

The report, citing four unnamed sources, said Biden wants someone like Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Lina Khan, who has held anti-monopoly and critical views of big technology companies.

“Jessica has been around a long time, and she’s a real professional, but she’s not someone who is looking to revolutionize the FCC in the way Lina Khan is at the FTC,” the report said, citing a person familiar with Rosenworcel’s situation.

“The problem is Jessica is perceived as not progressive enough, and the administration feels the left wing of the party doesn’t support her. She has no sizzle,” the person added.

The agency’s four-person commission has been stuck in a party deadlock, with two Democratic and two Republican commissioners. Senators, educational institutions and former FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly have all called for Rosenworcel — who was selected by Biden as interim head following his inauguration — to be made permanent. Democrats have reportedly been frustrated with Biden’s delay.

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