WASHINGTON, May 14, 2018 — The strong network neutrality rules put in place during the Obama administration’s final months will get an up-or-down vote in the United States Senate on Wednesday when a bill to overturn the FCC’s repeal of those rules reaches the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday.
“The internet should be kept free and open like our highways, accessible and affordable to every American, regardless of ability to pay,” Schumer said in a joint statement with Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “The repeal of net neutrality is not only a blow to the average consumer, but it is a blow to public schools, rural Americans, communities of color and small businesses. A vote against this resolution will be a vote to protect large corporations and special interests, leaving the American public to pay the price.”
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procedures laid out under the Congressional Review Act in order to roll back rules the FCC approved in December which repealed the Obama-era regulations put in place under then-chairman Tom Wheeler (D).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.
Under the CRA, which was passed by the Republican-led Congress in 1996 and signed by then-President Bill Clinton, Congress can use a joint resolution of disapproval to repeal rules put in place by regulatory agencies like the FCC. Unlike most bills, however, CRA resolutions cannot be filibustered in the Senate, meaning only 51 votes are required to pass them.
Markey urges GOP senators to side with families against ‘broadband barons’
Markey, the bill’s lead sponsor, said passing it would send a “clear message” that senators support American families, not “not the special interest agenda of President Trump and his broadband baron allies.”
“May 16 will be the most important vote for the internet in the history of the Senate, and I call on my Republicans colleagues to join this movement and stand on the right side of digital history,” he said.
Markey’s bill already has the support of the Senate’s 49 Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Collins’ support was crucial because it allowed Schumer to file 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., had not indicated any interest in allowing an up-or-down vote on the resolution.
Wednesday’s vote is necessary because the clock is running out on a 60-day period during which the Senate can vote on a resolution of disapproval that began when the FCC published the repeal in the Federal Register. Whether it is successful or not depends on if a 2nd Republican can be persuaded to defy a White House that has made rolling back Obama-era regulations a priority.
During a July 2017 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave Chairman Pai’s efforts the administration’s imprimatur.
“We support the FCC chair’s efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules, and believe that the best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty,” she said.
Even in a best-case scenario, Dems effort could be all for naught without Trump
Even if Democrats’ effort is successful in finding a 51st vote in the GOP-controlled Senate, House Democrats must still garner enough Republican signatures for a discharge petition of their own, though they have until the end of the 115th Congress’ second session to do so.
Still, even if both chambers pass the bill, the joint resolution would still require the president’s assent — with or without his signature — for it to become law.
While President Donald Trump has signed 15 CRA resolutions since taking office, those have repealed regulations promulgated in the waning days of the previous administration. It is unclear whether Trump would allow a 16th to become law if doing so restored a regulation enacted under his predecessor.
When asked last week if President Trump would be amenable to such a resolution, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was noncommittal.
“We’ll keep you posted when we have a specific policy announcement on that front,” she said.
(“Red Alert” image used with permission)
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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