WASHINGTON, July 12, 2018 – In advance of the Federal Communications Commission’s open meeting on Thursday, agency Chairman Ajit Pai announced a local government representative as the new vice chair of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee.
The announcement may be one more volley in the back-and-forth feud between local governments and the agency over a perceived lack of municipal representation on the important advisory committee.
Particularly significant in the dispute have been the role of the FCC, versus local government, over the deployment of broadband infrastructure that may pertain to greater 5G deployment.
A new vice chair for BDAC, who manages rights of way for Lincoln, Nebraska
The July 2 appointment of David Young to serve as the new vice chair is perhaps in response to outrage over the lack of local government representation on the BDAC board. The FCC said that he would represent the National League of Cities on BDAC.
He is the fiber infrastructure and right of way manager for Lincoln, Nebraska. Previously, he served on a working group of BDAC devoted to proposing a “model code” for municipalities on infrastructure.
Fears that the BDAC is falling apart were sparked after two local government officials left, and a series of letters filed through March and June were issued from local officials, protesting the FCC’s treatment of municipalities.
Criticism of the FCC’s approach to local government from Next Century Cities
In March, the non-profit group Next Century Cities, which advocates for broadband on behalf of localities, sent a letter to the FCC from 36 mayors and municipal government leaders. The letter voiced concerns that the FCC would harm the public by removing local zoning and regulatory authority.
FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly has been particularly critical of municipalities. In September 2017, he said there were “bad actors” on 5G development from the local level. He went on to describe how the FCC needs to “preempt” localities from purposefully obstructing broadband deployment efforts.
“We are going to need to preempt those localities that are either trying to extract a bounty in terms of profit that they think there’s an opportunity to extract from wireless providers and therefore consumers, or that has a process that will delay and belabor the deployment of technology,” O’Rielly said.
Next Century Cities strongly refuted the idea that localities would try to seek a “bounty” or “delay and belabor” technological development.
“Our residents and businesses appropriately balk at the placement of a 100-foot monopole on their lawn with no recourse, or to having their local government’s hands tied when it comes to the public recovering just compensation for the use of the public’s right of way,” wrote Next Century Cities.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo resigned from the BDAC in protest of its approach to local government
The cities’ letter is part of a larger trend of local government officials voicing opposition to and even resigning from federal committees in protest against the FCC’s skewed priorities.
On June 14, a group of organizations including National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors and the National League of Cities filed a similar letter criticizing the FCC for disregarding municipalities’ concerns in BDAC decision-making processes.
The letter accused BDAC of holding “the presumption that local governments are a barrier to broadband deployment.” The group argued that the presumption, combined with a lack of local representation, casts doubt on the BDAC’s ability to make balanced decisions about matters that will heavily impact localities.
Only one of the 29 of the original members of BDAC represented a local district: Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose, California. In contrast, the report cites BDAC and working group representatives as “overwhelmingly members of the telecommunications industry.”
Liccardo resigned from the BDAC in January 2018, leaving the position as vice chair on the model code working group.
In his resignation letter, Liccardo accused the BDAC of “advancing the interests of the telecommunications industry over those of the public” and therefore furthering the digital divide, despite how Chairman Pai claimed it was a priority to close the divide.
“The apparent goal is to create a set of rules that will provide industry with easy access to publicly-funded infrastructure at taxpayer-subsidized rates,” Liccardo said, “without any obligation to provide broadband access to underserved residents.”
Another representative of local government – from New York City – followed in Liccardo’s footsteps
On March 28, another local government representative on the BDAC followed in his footsteps.
Miguel Gamiño Jr., who had been added subsequent to the original announcement of members, resigned citing similar criticisms. Gamino is chief technology officer of New York City. He, too, said that BDAC was favoring private industry over public interest.
“In our own working group, there have been no efforts to add more voices familiar with city operations or to replace the former working group Vice Chair San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo,” Gamino Jr. said in his letter of resignation.
There would be no replacement for Gamino Jr. after he left the position, based on the complaints he submitted in the letter.
A partisan divide on the FCC over local government issues
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, currently the lone Democrat on the FCC, hasn’t been silent in the face of O’Rielly’s disparagement of municipalities over 5G deployment.
In a June 11 speech to the Conference of U.S. Mayors, Rosenworcel explained that in the FCC’s discussion around broadband development, the setting often is a “fictional city” constructed to cast local governments in a negative light. The city officials of the fictional city quickly become obstacles standing in the way of 5G development.
“The group was loath to admit that cities and towns could be something other than impediments to broadband deployment,” Rosenworcel said of the BDAC that Liccardo resigned from.
Commissioner Rosenworcel backed Liccardo’s decision to leave the BDAC, praising him for pushing his real city – and not the imaginary city fueling 5G imaginations – towards 5G by securing relationships with carriers and gathering funding without BDAC’s assistance.
(Photo of FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee.)
Broadband Labels Should Include Practical Applications of Internet Packages: MIT Researchers
The FCC’s broadband label might include the number of movies one can watch at a time with a certain plan.
WASHINGTON, September 19, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s upcoming broadband transparency labels should include “interpretive” information that helps consumers understand the practical implications of their internet performance, such as the number of movies they can watch at a time, according to researchers Friday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
As directed by Congress in the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the FCC is currently working on a “label” service providers will be required to fulfill that features details of broadband service plans, including monthly price, typical download and upload speeds, latency, packet loss, and other relevant information. The labels, which must be finalized by November, are meant to help consumers make a more informed decision when choosing an internet plan.
Because consumers are often unaware of how aspects of network performance affect the user experience, David Clark and Sara Wedeman of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory said Friday at the TPRC 2022 conference that simply displaying technical metrics – e.g., an average upload speed of 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) – is unlikely to facilitate better user decision making.
The pair recommends the FCC adopt and require of service providers the equivalent of a nutritional label’s daily value field: a “Satisfactory Service Label.” Just as the daily value field makes complicated nutritional information actionable for the average consumer, the SSL will clarify how the technical metrics of an internet package affect performance, Clark said.
“One can propose a somewhat simple SSL for download speed by noting that for each simultaneous HD stream, no more than…about 9 mb/s is necessary. One could probably watch 3 HD streams at once over a 25 mb/s service,” said the paper on which Clark and Wedeman’s TPRC presentation was based.
Difficulties in the labeling process
Paroma Sanyal and Divya Goel of the consulting firm Brattle Group also presented a paper on broadband labeling at TPRC. They argued that mandatory labeling will likely lead to lower prices and higher quality internet plans but also presents economic and legal risks if implemented incorrectly. Sanyal said that the standardized labeling regimes often introduce compliance costs and harm innovation, recommending instead a simple, clear system to minimize the emergence of unintended consequences.
Sanyal’s and Goel’s paper – coauthored with the Brattle Goup’s Coleman Bazelon – argues that the FCC’s current guidance doesn’t provide a specific definition of “typical” network performance, leaving much interpretation to broadband providers.
The paper also notes a multitude of technical factors outside the provider’s control that could affect performance. “For fixed broadband factors such as the vintage of equipment on the consumer premises…for mobile broadband, the vintage and type of handsets, weather, and location of the consumer are important,” the paper reads.
“As an illustration, typical speeds in a DC neighborhood may not be the typical speeds in a Baltimore neighborhood, which begs the question of how geographically targeted such labels should be, and, of course, the associated costs,” the paper adds.
Library and Education Technology Groups Pan FCC Proposal for New E-Rate Procurement
Responders fear that updating the E-Rate process will increase complexity for applicants.
WASHINGTON, August 26, 2022 – Responders to the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed rulemaking to force internet service providers to bid for school and library services through a new portal expressed concern that the proposal would needlessly complicate the process.
The FCC’s E-Rate program supplements schools and libraries securing affordable telecommunications and broadband services through the Universal Service Fund. Earlier this year, the FCC released a proposal that would “streamline program requirements for applicants and service providers, strengthen program integrity… and decrease the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse.”
The proposal suggests implementing a central document repository, called a bidding portal, through which internet service providers would submit bids to the program administrator, the Universal Service Administrative Company, instead of directly to applicants at a state and local level. Currently, libraries and schools announce they are seeking services and service providers apply directly to those institutions.
With the adoption of this proposal, applicants would be required to submit competitive bidding documentation that would enable applicants to compare competing bids and the USAC would establish timeframes on when applicants are able to review the bids that providers submit.
The proposal is in response to a September 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office which addressed what the GAO considers the E-Rate program’s key fraud risks. It reported that E-Rate participants could easily misrepresent self-certification statements by violating competitive-bidding rules or processes. These violations could occur without the Commission’s or USAC’s knowledge because they do not have direct access to the bidding information.
The GAO suggested that allowing the USAC direct access to obtain and monitor bidding information would improve security and strengthen program controls.
Proposal widely panned by CoSN and educational technology directors
However, response to the proposal was widely negative, with commenters raising concern that changing the process would needlessly complicate a system that, according to Verizon, is already promoting fair and open bidding on E-Rate contracts.
The Consortium for School Networking, the State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the National School Boards Association claimed that the Commission’s past reliance on state and local procurement requirements has been a success and has not led to an undue amount of fraud and abuse, negating the need to update the process.
Creating a national bidding portal could also interfere with existing state and local bidding requirements and unduly complicate the bidding process, hindering E-Rate participation, said the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors in its comment to the FCC.
“A bidding portal would interfere with existing state and local bidding and procurement processes, which would likely cause significant issues for applicants and may cause some to have to drop out of the E-Rate program,” read NATOA’s report.
The establishment of a national E-rate bidding portal would be “unnecessary, burdensome and will increase the complexity of, rather than simplify the E-rate program,” agreed South Dakota’s Department of Education in its statement.
National level or local level changes
Since the FCC’s announcement in December, the proposed changes have been subject to much debate. John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning, wrote in April that the E-Rate changes would be detrimental, claiming that procurement decisions are best made at the local level, rather than a “one-size-fits-all system.”
Furthermore, John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, said in December that the proposal will burden applicants, despite the potential benefits of eliminating at least some forms of fraud. Windhausen claimed that there is not enough evidence to show that a new portal is needed.
However, the proposal has not been universally dismissed. In a comment filed last week, the United States Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, which is responsible for enforcing antitrust laws, expressed support for the proposal saying that it would “enhance the ability of the FCC’s Office of Inspector General to detect and deter fraud in the E-Rate program.”
The DOJ added that the update would allow for more robust enforcement of laws, including investigation and prosecution of antitrust and related crimes that occur during E-Rate procurements. “All responsive service providers and applicants are in a position to complete the additional step,” said the DOJ in response to critics citing undue burden.
The proposal remains in consideration at the FCC.
FCC Encouraged to Limit Data Collection on Affordable Connectivity Program, Others Want More
One trade group warns about providers leaving the program if data collection too onerous.
WASHINGTON, August 9, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is being warned not to overly burden internet service providers with its Congress-mandated order to collect pricing and subscription rates data from participants in the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the FCC is required by November 15 to adopt rules to collect annual data relating to the price and subscription rates of each internet service offering by a provider participating in the broadband subsidy program, which offers up to $30 per month for low-income households (up to $75 per month on tribal lands) and a one-time $100 off a device.
But a number of submissions are warning the FCC against rules that require any additional data collection efforts beyond the scope of the law so as not to unduly burden providers and, at least one other trade group said, push providers away from participating in the program.
Telecommunications company Lumen, for example, recommended the commission limit the scope of the annual reporting to monthly pricing and to exempt “excessively granular” requirements, such as promotional rates, grandfathered plans, or subscriber-level data, which the commission is proposing to collect.
Communications companies and industry groups want to limit data collection
T-Mobile said in its submission that Congress told the FCC to rely on the broadband consumer labels, which are due this November, for pricing. The commission asked for comment on the interpretation of the IIJA requiring a reliance on price information displayed on the consumer labels.
For subscription information, T-Mobile urges the commission to look at data collection from the Universal Service Administrative Company – which administers high-cost broadband programs for the Universal Service Fund – to avoid “adopting a largely redundant collection that would impose additional burdens” on all parties.
“The IIJA leaves the Commission no discretion to collect any additional price information, and the statute does not require collection of data on other service plan and network characteristics,” such as speed and latency and data allowances, the submission said.
“Collection of this additional data would create additional burdens and is unnecessary,” the submission added.
Similar limitations were also proposed by telecom Starry Inc., which pushed for privacy protection by collecting data at a higher level (such as the state) and working with information collected in other transparency efforts, such as the consumer labels.
Industry association IMCOMPAS, which represents internet and competitive communications networks, told the FCC in a submission that data collection should be limited to the state level to protect consumer privacy and proprietary information of the providers; streamline other data collection, including the consumer labels; and provide instruction on how to providers to better understand the data collection rules.
Concurring with this position is the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, which said data collection must be simple and should not go to a level of detail that goes beyond what the IIJA calls for. The trade group, which represents small providers, said such data collection beyond that required in the law could burden companies with small teams.
The included data, WISPA said, should be an annual aggregate of items including broadband plans subscribed to by ACP customers, number of subscribers for each plan, and pricing minus promotional rates, taxes, discounts or pricing breakdowns for bundled services. Any additional onerous collection could see providers leave the program, it added.
Industry groups US Telecom and NCTA – Internet and Television Association similarly urged a simple annual report that captured undiscounted monthly pricing of each broadband service offering and the number of customers subscribed. The Competitive Carriers Association and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association also recommended a limited data collection approach.
ACA Connects, a trade group representing small and medium-sized independent operators, said the FCC should direct providers to report numbers of ACP households “that are applying their benefit to each speed tier along with the standard price of each tier on a state-by-state basis” – rather than the FCC-proposed continuous collection of subscriber-level data via the National Lifeline Accountability Database, it said, adding the commission should be mindful of the time it takes for completion, as smaller providers have limited resources.
Others pushing for subscriber-level, more data
The cities of New York and Seattle, in their submissions, said the FCC should collect subscriber-level information to assess different service adoption rates on different plans over time – publishing categories based on price, plan and performance by the zip code. It added it is not seeking information about the households itself, and said this would not be a privacy concern as others have pointed out.
Similarly, the Connecticut Office of State Broadband said the commission should go beyond the IIJA requirements by mandating information including performance of the plans and whether a device is offered.
For the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, data collection on the ACP should include data beyond what’s included in the consumer labels, and should include other items such as installation, equipment, service, miscellaneous, data and usage fees, and state and local taxes.
In a joint submission, non-profit media group Common Sense and internet advocacy group Public Knowledge recommended data collection that is necessary to monitor the ACP, which include promotional rates, taxes, overage costs and device and equipment costs. This way, they say, the FCC can get a better idea of how much is going toward internet access after applying the subsidy. They are also asking for the commission to collect information on whether the subsidy is being used to upgrade or discount current service, and how customers are becoming aware of the program.
The commission is currently trying to get more Americans on the program, which has over 13 million households signed up. That number, the commission said last week, should be much higher. As such, it ordered the development of an outreach program to market the subsidy.
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