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Verizon’s Throttling of Santa Clara County Firefighters Discussed by Panel of Net Neutrality Advocates



May 31, 2019 – Verizon Wireless’ slowdown of the Santa Clara County Fire Department’s data plan had a “significant impact” on the department’s ability to respond to last year’s wildfires, according to testimony by Fire Chief Anthony Bowden that featured prominently in a Thursday discussion at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

The incident from the summer of 2018, when county firefighters were battling one of a series of deadly California wildfires, was cited as a parable about the effects of the Federal Communications Commission’s December 2017 repeal of the Obama-era FCC’s net neutrality regulations.

In a declaration filed in the Mozilla v. FCC lawsuit over the repeal, Chief Bowden said that “Verizon imposed these limitation despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire’s ability to provide crises-response and essential emergency services.” He provided email documentation showing that delivery speeds of 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) down / 7 Mbps up had been throttled to 0.2 Mbps down / 0.6 Mbps up, “meaning it has no meaningful functionality.”

Net neutrality advocates at the event – including Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. – said that Verizon’s callous restriction on what the firefighters believed was an unlimited data use plan was a result of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s removal of neutrality regulations.

Verizon’s behavior in limiting the bandwidth of emergency firefighters was widely denounced at the time. The company disavowed its policy when the controversy hit the headlines in August 2018.

Some of Verizon’s defenders have said the company’s legal ability to restrict bandwidth would not have been forbidden under the 2015 rules, citing language in the agency’s since-repealed 2015 Open Internet Order which notes that the no-throttling rule “does not address a practice of slowing down an end user’s connection to the Internet based on a choice made by the end user.”

Net neutrality advocates Gigi Sohn and Ernesto Falcon, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, dispute that interpretation. Falcon wrote that “when the FCC repealed that order, it not just ended a ban on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, it also declared federal laws that would be directly applicable to Verizon’s conduct to no longer apply.”

The Stanford panel emphasized the perspective of net neutrality supporters, including a discussion about their tactical efforts to restore regulations.

Rep. Eshoo views bipartisan support for net neutrality

Eshoo, who represents an area near Stanford and in the heart of Silicon Valley, highlighted the bipartisan support that net neutrality has from the American people. A recent study from Comparitech found that 87 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans support net neutrality.

By contrast, the issue is fiercely partisan on Capitol Hill. The Democrats’ “Save the Internet Act,” which would restore the FCC’s 2015 rules by overruling the 2017 repeal, passed in the House of Representatives last month. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “dead on arrival in the Senate.”

At the Thursday event, Eshoo also discussed common arguments against net neutrality, such as the fear that it will kill investment. She pointed out that the Securities and Exchange Commission requires companies to inform shareholders of anything hurting profitability or investment potential, and companies have not reported being hurt by neutrality rules.

“Without net neutrality, companies like YouTube or Netflix would not exist,” said Reddit CEO Steve Huffman. “The protections that net neutrality provide allow companies that were once tiny to grow into very successful businesses.”

Also speaking at the event was FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted against the repeal. She highlighted the need for more broadband competition, and said half of American households have no choice in broadband provider, citing the FCC’s own data. That leaves them vulnerable to whatever policies their provider chooses to enforce.

Stanford Law Professor Barbara van Schewick emphasized that more competition would not necessarily solve the problem of net neutrality, citing the European Union’s simplification of internet laws in 2008.

Although there was a great deal of competition, the simplified laws “failed spectacularly,” leading to “widespread discrimination.” In 2015, the EU adopted a new policy modeled after the FCC’s open internet rules.

(Screenshot from Thursday’s event at Stanford Law School.)

Reporter Em McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for the student newspaper. In addition to agency and freelance marketing experience, she has reported extensively on Section 230, big tech, and rural broadband access. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer programming skills to underprivileged children.

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House of Representatives

Silicon Valley Rep. Anna Eshoo Will Not Seek Reelection

The lawmaker’s Silicon Valley seat will be open for the first time in decades.



Screenshot of Rep. Eshoo at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on October 19.

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2023 – Representative Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., announced on Tuesday that she will not seek reelection in 2024.

Eshoo’s retirement will leave up for grabs California’s 16th Congressional District, which includes Silicon Valley and parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The San José Spotlight reported that multiple local Democrats are eyeing the solid blue seat

Her departure will also open up a spot on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose purview includes telecommunications, tech and energy policy, public health, and food and drug safety.

The 80-year-old legislator was the first woman to represent her district and spent over 30 years in Congress. She sponsored bills on tech policy, including Section 230 changes and efforts to accelerate broadband build outs.

Eshoo touted her long legislative career in a video announcing her retirement, including 66 bills signed into law over five presidential administrations. 

“For three decades, you’ve given me your trust,” she said of her constituents. “I’ve given every fiber of my being to live up to that sacred trust.”

The lawmaker joins more than 30 lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have also announced plans to step down after their current terms. She will serve through January 2025.

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Experts Suggest Measures to Protect Affordable Connectivity Program at Senate Hearing

Under consideration: Opening the Universal Service Fund to contributions from broadband and Big Tech companies.



WASHINGTON, September 28, 2023 – A broadband association asked Congress last week to open the Universal Service Fund to contributions from broadband and Big Tech revenues to allow the umbrella fund to absorb and support the Affordable Connectivity Program.

The industry is concerned that the $14-billion ACP program, which discounts monthly services for low-income Americans and those on tribal lands, is going to run out of money by early next year. Meanwhile, it is universally agreed that the Universal Service Fund, which includes four high-cost broadband programs, is struggling to maintain its roughly $8-billion annual pace without a diversification of its revenue sources.

Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, told the Communications and Technology subcommittee studying the future of rural broadband on September 21 that Congress could both support the sustainability of the USF and the ACP by forcing contributions from broadband and Big Tech revenues.

The idea is that the extra revenue would solve the USF sustainability question by allowing the fund to continue to support the existing four programs under its purview, while also allowing it to adopt the ACP program, hence removing that program from reliance on Congress for money.

“We can have Congress give the FCC the authorities that it requires to be able to expand the contribution base, integrating the ACP within USF program, and thereby allowing the potentially out of control contribution factor that will potentially bog down the viability and longevity of the Universal Service Fund mechanisms to go down,” Spalter said.

“And in so doing it can expand the contribution base sufficiently to allow not only broadband but importantly the dominant Big Tech companies to participate so that we would effectively fuse the Affordable Connectivity Program with [high-cost program] Lifeline and do so in a way that would actually not require appropriated dollars from Congress.”

The ACP currently has around 21 million Americans signed up, but the FCC says many more are eligible. The commission has been allocating money to outreach groups to market the subsidy program.

While some have argued that the Federal Communications Commission could unilaterally expand the contribution base of the USF, the commission has elected to wait for Congress to make the requisite legislative reforms to give it that authority.

Forcing Big Tech companies, which rely on the internet to deliver their products, has been an idea tossed around by experts and promoted by Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr. Meanwhile, forcing broadband revenues to contribute to the fund has also received good support.

The concern for the ACP program is that the internet service providers rely on the $14 billion to continue to offer discounts.

“With funding set to be depleted early next year, initial notices of service termination could be out during the height of the holiday season in December – that’s a present none of our constituents deserve to receive,” said Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D-Calif.  

“Poverty is everywhere, but higher in rural America, in our region the reason most people can’t adopt service is due to lack of affordability, this impacts more households than lack of infrastructure alone,” said Sara Nichols, senior planner of the Land of Sky Regional Council of Government.

“It’s a program we simply can’t afford to lose,” added Nichols.

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Rural Utilities Service

White House Nominates Basil Gooden as Rural Development Chief at USDA

Gooden would be responsible for overseeing the activities of the Rural Utilities Services, an important broadband funding agency.



Photo of Basil Gooden from Virginia Tech's web site.

WASHINGTON, September 11, 2023 – The White House on Monday announced the nomination of Basil Gooden for Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack touted the nomination in a statement, saying that Gooden “is a widely-respected, accomplished champion for affordable housing, community advancement, and economic development. His public service career is informed by a lifelong commitment to agriculture and rural development.”

Gooden is the current director of state operations for rural development at USDA.

If confirmed for the position, Gooden would be responsible for overseeing the activities of the Rural Utilities Services, which encompasses the Water and Environment Programs, the Electric Program, and the Telecommunications Program, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for rural Americans through providing funds to deploy rural telecommunications infrastructure.

The administration may seek additional funding for broadband through the department. RUS Administrator Andy Berke, the former mayor of Chatanooga, Tenn., who also served as a Commerce Department official with the title, “special representative for broadband.”

Running USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Isn’t Andy Berke’s First Act in Broadband

If selected for the position, Gooden would fill the void left behind by Xochitl Torres Small, who resigned from the role and was later confirmed by the Senate as deputy secretary of agriculture this past July.

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