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ability to restrict bandwidth would not have been forbidden under the 2015 rules, citing language in the agency’s since-repealed 2015 Open Internet Order which notes that the no-throttling rule “does not address a practice of slowing down an end user’s connection to the Internet based on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 Falcon wrote that “when the FCC repealed that order, it not just ended a ban on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, it also declared federal laws that would be directly applicable to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.)
House Democrats Fight Against Anti-Crypto Measures in Senate-Passed Infrastructure Bill
August 20, 2021 – Pro-crypto House Democrats pushed back against the Senate Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s inclusion of crypto regulatory language, seeking to make it less broad.
The additions of cryptocurrency taxes aim to generate revenue to pay for part of the infrastructure spending. Its authors intended to reduce fraud in reports to the IRS.
Democratic California Reps. Ro Khanna, Eric Swalwell, and Anna Eshoo joined cryptocurrency enthusiasts Rep. Bill Foster, D-Illinois, and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., in urging to amend the infrastructure bill in the House.
In a letter released on August 12, Eshoo advocated to Pelosi that the House should “amend the problematic broker definition,” describing the existing language as “imposing unworkable regulations.”
But there is some feeling that amendments to the bill in the House may not be necessary. According to a Treasury Department official, the agency plans to clarify its definition of a “broker” to be more specific.
Any amendments to the House would force the infrastructure measure back to the Senate.
Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Digital Equity Act
Sen. Murray re-introduces bi-partisan that would provide grants to states pushing for digital equity.
June 14, 2021– Three Senators have introduced legislation that would provide grants to states that create digital equity plans.
The proposed legislation, reintroduced on Thursday by Patty Murray, D-Washington, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Angus King, I-Maine, would set-aside $60 million to establish a State Digital Equity Capacity Grant within the Department of Commerce that would “promote the achievement of digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for efforts by States relating to the adoption of broadband by residents of those States.”
The funds from the Digital Equity Act in the Senate would be made available to all states, foundations, corporations, institutions, or agencies. The bill was first introduced by Murray in 2019.
Each state will receive a different grant amount depending on a formula that includes population and access to broadband across the state, to be spent within 5 years of receipt.
In addition to funding for states, the bill creates a $125-million Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. This program is also for state agencies and institutions but is more specifically geared toward those that are responsible for “adult education and literacy activities.”
A final pillar of the bill is to create more infrastructure and resources for future development of policies that will continue to promote a bridging of the digital divide.
During a press conference on the bill, Murray told the Broadband Breakfast that she believes the bill will be successful because it gives states and local communities the ability to decide what their needs are. “We cannot dictate that in D.C.,” she remarked.
When asked why the bill will create more permanent solutions, she stated that it, “Provides for the diversity of needs that are going to continue to be out there.”
The senators co-sponsoring the bill said they are confident it will make its way into any infrastructure legislation passed by Congress.
Senate Committee Hears High Symmetrical Internet Speeds, Up-To-Date Technologies For Future Of Rural America
NTCA’s Shirley Bloomfield on driving improvements for rural broadband.
May 19, 2021– The head of the NTCA — Rural Broadband Association told a Senate Finance Committee that there are a number of improvements that can be made to broadband services and infrastructure for rural Americans, including higher symmetrical internet speeds, up-to-date network technologies, and better coordination of government funding to avoid overbuilding.
Shirley Bloomfield provided six different types of actions at Tuesday’s hearing that the government should take to improve broadband coverage in rural markets.
Bloomfield’s first suggestion was to build networks to last. She argued that building networks that provide insufficient speeds or utilize technology that is already outdated will not be sufficient to address the broadband needs of the future generation. During her testimony, Bloomfield specifically voiced support for 100 Mbps symmetrical service.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity—on the investment side—to do this right—to aim higher and to do better,” she said.
Her second suggestion was to take steps to limit overbuilding. To do this, she suggested that state and local governments coordinate with existing programs that provide mapping and funding for broadband projects. She clarified during her testimony that those without broadband service need to be prioritized before those with insufficient broadband service. She argued that the best way to do this would be ensuring that there is coordination with federal and state regulatory bodies with access to mapping data.
Bloomfield’s third suggestion was that network maintenance must be prioritized, and that modern networks will only stay modern and efficient if they are kept working and up to date.
Bloomfield also recommended clearer standards for broadband providers and that un(der)served rural communities should not be treated as “test labs” for new technologies. She stated that technologies should not be deployed until they have been sufficiently tested and established as viable strategies to serve communities in need of broadband. This includes not just the current needs of the communities in question, but also the projected needs of future generations.
Her sixth recommendation was to encourage consumers to look for local ISPs to provide broadband service. She noted that these smaller, local ISPs have cultivated relationships with the communities they serve, and those who work for the ISP often live among those they serve. She stated that it is this intimate connection that has allowed them to navigate the unique issues that these rural communities face.
Finally, Bloomfield encouraged the Committee to push for lower barriers to entry for broadband expansion projects, stating that bureaucracy and costs associated with many projects are simply too high. She also stated that a concerted effort must be made to sure-up supply chain issues that are currently applying significant pressure to ISPs and hampering expansion.
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- Christopher Ali’s New Book Dissects Failures of Rural Broadband Policy and Leadership
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- Topic 4 at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021: The Future of Shared Infrastructure
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