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Broadband's Impact

Democrats Mourn Loss of Net Neutrality, But Industry Supporters Call it a New Day

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This article was written and reported by Andrew Feinberg and Heather Heimbach.

WASHINGTON, June 12, 2018 – As the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of Obama-era network neutrality rules took effect Monday, Democrats and net neutrality advocates vowed to continue the effort to use a Congressional Review Act resolution to roll back the new FCC rules.

“There will be no eulogy today for net neutrality,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a longtime network neutrality advocate and a member of the Senate Commerce Committee.

“The FCC will not have the last word when it comes to net neutrality, the American people will,” he said. “The fight to restore net neutrality rules has new urgency today and moving forward as we continue to work in the House of Representatives to repeal the FCC’s terrible decision.”

Markey urged House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to call for a floor vote on a companion bill to the CRA resolution passed by the Senate last month. The CRA measure, if it passed both chambers and were signed by the president, would void the laissez-faire “regulations” promulgated by the FCC in December 2017, under agency Chairman Ajit Pai.

‘An overwhelming majority of Americans’ support net neutrality, say Democratic legislators

The sponsor of that companion CRA bill, Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., noted that “an overwhelming majority of Americans” support network neutrality despite the FCC’s refusal to follow public sentiment, but that it was “still possible” to save the policy by passing his resolution.

“The Senate has voted to overturn the FCC order that killed off net neutrality,” Doyle said. “Now the House must do the same.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., slammed Ryan’s refusal to bring the Markey-Doyle resolution to the House floor.

“By refusing to bring up the Senate-passed resolution to restore net neutrality, which passed the Senate by a powerful bipartisan vote, House Republican leaders gave a green light to the big ISPs to charge middle-class Americans, small business owners, schools, rural Americans, and communities of color more to use the internet,” Schumer said, adding that the entire Senate Democratic Caucus had sent Ryan a letter urging him to move Doyle’s bill forward.

Schumer said that Republicans, except of the three GOP Senators who sided with the Democrats, were choosing large corporations and special interests over American families.

“Every Republican who opposed this vote will own any and all of the damaging consequences of the FCC’s horribly misguided decision,” he warned.

Pai publishes an op-ed arguing that the ‘Restoring Internet Freedom Order’ will restore internet freedom

Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai defended his agency’s repeal of Obama-era network neutrality rules in an op-ed for C-Net. He said the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” will only improve the internet for users.

“Under the Federal Communications Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which takes effect Monday, the internet will be just such an open platform. Our framework will protect consumers and promote better, faster internet access and more competition,” Pai wrote.

Pai attempted to bolster the FCC’s decision through claims that the new regulations introduces stronger transparency laws and hence more protection for the consumer.

He also lauded his agency passing power to the Federal Trade Commission for enforcement actions.

“Our approach includes strong consumer protections,” Paid said. “For example, we empower the Federal Trade Commission to police internet service providers for anticompetitive acts and unfair or deceptive practices. In 2015, the FCC stripped the FTC – the nation’s premier consumer protection agency – of its authority over internet service providers.

“This was a loss for consumers and a mistake we have reversed. Starting Monday, the FTC will once again be able to protect Americans consistently across the internet economy, and the FCC will work hand-in-hand with our partners at the FTC to do just that.”

Internet Innovation Alliance on defending the need for new laws on neutrality and privacy

The Internet Innovation Alliance, a coalition of business and non-profit organizations under leadership of Former Congressman Rick Boucher, D-Va., also defended the new laws.

The IIA issued a statement of support for today’s decision, calling it “the right decision” for consumers, investors, and “for the internet itself, as the internet will once again be subject to the rules under which it grew and flourished for nearly 20 years.”

Despite expressing support for the FCC’s rollback of Title II regulations, the IIA’s statement also addressed fears that the repeal of net neutrality will empower internet service providers to discriminate against certain websites or services.

“But as grateful as we are for the Commission’s action and today’s implementation, we cannot rest here. The broadband internet is too important to our national life,” read the statement.

“We once again call on Congress to pass, this year, a law protecting the core principles of an open internet – no blocking, no throttling, no censorship, no unfair discrimination based on online content – and including robust consumer privacy protections that apply to all entities in the internet ecosystem and no matter how consumers access the internet.

“Only that action can settle the issue permanently and ensure that the principles of a truly open internet will have the force of statutory law,” IIA said.

(Photo collage of Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., upper left; Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., upper right; former Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., lower right; and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, lower left.)

Andrew Feinberg was 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

House Bill to Make Broadband Grants Non-Taxable Introduced

Sen. Mark Warner said last month he is working to pass a companion bill by year’s end.

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Photo of Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Penn.

WASHINGTON, December 7, 2022 – Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Penn., and Jimmy Panetta, D-Ca., on Wednesday introduced the Broadband Grant Tax Treatment Act, the companion of a Senate bill of the same name, which would make non-taxable broadband funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act.

The bill’s supporters say it will increase the impact of Washington’s broadband-funding initiatives, the largest of which is the IIJA’s $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program. The IIJA allocated a total of $65 billion toward broadband-related projects.

Kelly said the proposal “ensures federal grant dollars, especially those made available to local governments through pandemic relief funding, will give constituents the best return on their investment.”

“This legislation allows for existing grant funding to be spent as effectively as possible,” Kelly added.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., sponsored Senate’s version of the bill in September and said last month he is working to push it through by year’s end.

“Representative Panetta’s and Kelly’s bill to eliminate the counter-productive tax on broadband grants is right on the money,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of trade group US Telecom. “Closing the digital divide in America – especially in our hardest-to-reach rural communities – will require every cent of the $65 billion Congress has dedicated for that critical purpose.”

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband is Affordable for Middle Class, NCTA Claims

According to analysis, the middle class spends on average $69 per month on internet service.

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Photo of Rick Cimerman, vice president of external and state affairs at NCTA

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2022 – Even as policymakers push initiatives to make broadband less expensive, primarily for low-income Americans, broadband is already generally affordable for the middle class, argued Rick Cimerman, vice president of external and state affairs at industry group NCTA, the internet and television association. 

Availability of broadband is not enough, many politicians and experts argue, if other barriers – e.g., price – prevent widespread adoption. Much focus has been directed toward boosting adoption among low-income Americans through subsidies like the Affordable Connectivity Program, but legally, middle-class adoption must also be considered. In its notice of funding opportunity for the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration required each state to submit a “middle-class affordability plan.”

During a webinar held earlier this month, Cimerman, who works for an organization that represents cable operators, defined the middle class as those who earn $45,300–$76,200, basing these boundaries on U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics for 2020. And based on the text of an Federal Communications Commission action from 2016, he set the threshold of affordability for broadband service at two percent of monthly household income.

According to his analysis, the middle class, thus defined, spends on average $69 per month on internet service. $69 is about 1.8 percent of monthly income for those at the bottom of Cimerman’s middle class and about 1.1 percent of monthly income for those at the top. Both figures fall within the 2-percent standard, and Cimerman stated that lower earners tended to spend slightly less on internet than the $69-per-month average.

Citing US Telecom’s analysis of the FCC’s Urban Rate Survey, Cimerman presented data that show internet prices dropped substantially from 2015 to 2021 – decreasing about 23 percent, 26 percent, and 39 percent for “entry-level,” “most popular” and “highest-speed” residential plans, respectively. And despite recent price hikes on products such as gas, food, and vehicles, Cimerman said, broadband prices had shrunk 0.1 percent year-over-year as of September 2022.

Widespread adoption is important from a financial as well as an equity perspective, experts say. Speaking at the AnchorNets 2022 conference, Matt Kalmus, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group, argued that providers rely on high subscription rates to generate badly needed network revenues.

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Broadband's Impact

Federal Communications Commission Mandates Broadband ‘Nutrition’ Labels

The FCC also mandated that internet service provider labels be machine-readable.

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Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday afternoon ordered internet providers to display broadband “nutrition” labels at points of sale that include internet plans’ performance metrics, monthly rates, and other information that may inform consumers’ purchasing decisions.

The agency released the requirement less than 24 hours before it released the first draft of its updated broadband map.

The FCC mandated that labels be machine-readable, which is designed to facilitate third-party data-gathering and analysis. The commission also requires that the labels to be made available in customers’ online portals with the provide the and “accessible” to non-English speakers.

In addition to the broadband speeds promised by the providers, the new labels must also display typical latency, time-of-purchase fees, discount information, data limits, and provider-contact information.

“Broadband is an essential service, for everyone, everywhere. Because of this, consumers need to know what they are paying for, and how it compares with other service offerings,”  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. 

“For over 25 years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience of nutrition labels on food products.  We’re now requiring internet service providers to display broadband labels for both wireless and wired services.  Consumers deserve to get accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other terms of service up front.”

Industry players robustly debated the proper parameters for broadband labels in a flurry of filings with the FCC. Free Press, an advocacy group, argued for machine-readable labels and accommodations for non-English speakers, measures which were largely opposed by trade groups. Free Press also advocated a requirement that labels to be included on monthly internet bills, without which the FCC “risks merely replicating the status quo wherein consumers must navigate fine print, poorly designed websites, and byzantine hyperlinks,” group wrote.

“The failure to require the label’s display on a customer’s monthly bill is a disappointing concession to monopolist ISPs like AT&T and Comcast and a big loss for consumers,” Joshua Stager, policy director of Free Press, said Friday.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association clashed with Free Press in its FCC filing and supported the point-of-sale requirement.

“WISPA welcomes today’s release of the FCC’s new broadband label,” said Vice President of Policy Louis Peraertz. “It will help consumers better understand their internet access purchases, enabling them to quickly see ‘under the hood,’ and allow for an effective apples-to-apples comparison tool when shopping for services in the marketplace.”

Image of the FCC’s sample broadband nutrition label

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