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Senate Democrats’ Vote Against Net Neutrality Repeal a ‘Political Tool,’ Charges TechFreedom

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WASHINGTON, June 11, 2018 – Before the official date on which the Federal Communications Commission’s action changing net neutrality were to go into effect, conservative technology experts slammed a recent Senate vote to restore those Obama-era network neutrality protections

“The [Congressional Review Act vote] is purely being used as a political tool, and it is a distraction,” said Berin Szóka, president of TechFreedom, an officially non-partisan technology policy think tank that is nonetheless a long-time skeptic of mandatory network neutrality rules.

Szoka spoke at a June 4 event by TechFreedom. He slammed CRA vote as nothing more than a Democratic partisan stunt to rally their liberal base for this fall’s midterm elections. He suggested that if net neutrality activists were sincere about wanting to address the issues they’ve raised since the mid-2000s, they’d move on to a new solution.

The Congressional Review Act’s ‘resolution of disapproval’

Last month, three Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John Kennedy of Louisiana — joined Senate’s 49 Democrats to pass a so-called “resolution of disapproval” under the Congressional Review Act.

If passed by the House and signed by the president, the measure would overturn the GOP-led Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of network neutrality rules approved in February 2015.

Szoka and other free-market advocates expressed concerns that the Senate vote was purely a political maneuver. He criticized the way network neutrality advocates continue to focus on using regulatory agencies like the FCC to accomplish their goals, instead of addressing problems through bipartisan legislation.

A misunderstood tool, according to TechFreedom

Szoka said that senators who voted for the CRA resolution — and any House members who might vote for a companion resolution are playing with a tool they may not properly understand.

Moreover, he said, activists and members of the general public who support their efforts are out of their depth.

Szoka said that net neutrality advocates’ belief that a Congressional Review Act resolution would restore the Obama-era rules, which the FCC approved under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler, is based on an incorrect understanding of what the CRA does.

The CRA, signed into law in by President Bill Clinton in 1996, was the brainchild of House Republicans and a plank of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.” It allows Congress, under certain circumstances, to overturn rules promulgated by regulatory agencies.

A Trump-era revival of the Congressional Review Act

Although used only once in the intervening decades, the CRA has undergone something of a revival since President Donald Trump’s election victory gave Republicans control of both the legislative and executive branches for the first time since President George W. Bush.

Since taking office, Trump has signed 16 joint resolutions to repeal particular Obama-era regulatory rules.

But even if Trump were to give the Democrat-backed resolution his blessing, the result may not be what net neutrality activists, advocates, and supporters are hoping for, since a CRA resolution does not just overturn a given agency’s regulations.

Instead, the CRA actually prohibits that agency from promulgating any further regulation for that same purpose.

Because joint resolutions have the force of law, such a prohibition can only be lifted if Congress passes legislation that is signed into law by the president.

The public is unaware of the far-reaching implications of the Congressional Review Act

Not only is the public largely unaware of the far-reaching implications of overturning a rule using the CRA, Szoka said, but the members of Congress who support the Democrats’ resolution appear to be in the dark as well.

The debate intensified to question not just the CRA, but the FCC and its role in regulating the internet.

Grace Koh, who recently left the White House, where she worked on broadband issues for the National Economic Council, explained that there is a difference in the Democratic and Republican ideas of what the FCC should be and how it should act. This, she said, not internet regulations, is at the heart of the bill.

Szoka suggested that the failure of Democrats and Republicans alike to make any meaningful process on bipartisan network neutrality legislation was the result of deliberate stalling, with both sides gaming the situation for their own political advantage.

“They would love to drag this through the midterms,” Szóka said. He expressed that no one in Congress cares about the question, and that “Congress literally has no idea what its doing.”

Congress needs good and clear legislation, and they need it now. “Please legislate, for god’s sake,” Grace Koh said.

Koh explained that while Congress fails to pass effective legislation, the internet continues to develop faster and faster, and the number of issues that Congress needs to resolve in regards to the internet only compile.

Health

FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.

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Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

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Health

FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’

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WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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