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INCOMPAS Predicts Prompt Action on Net Neutrality

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Screenshot from the webinar

November 16, 2020 – Officials associated with INCOMPAS, the Internet and Competitive Networks Association, on Thursday predicted that there would be action on net neutrality sooner than expected with the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Predicting that the new administration would try to reinstate authority over broadband internet access, Lindsay Stern, attorney and policy advisor at INCOMPAS, said a Democratic Federal Communications Commission would try to classify the internet service as a telecommunications service subject to Title II of the Communications Act, “with the previous forbearance that was granted in the 2015 Open Internet Order” under President Barack Obama.

Stern explained that to do this, the FCC would need to grant a petition for reconsideration of the FCC’s latest remand order which classified broadband internet access service as a Title I service. The agency would also need to issue a separate rulemaking, going a step further from reclassifying to reinstating the net neutrality rules, she said.

With ISP’s implementing data caps more than in the past, Stern predicted that now, there will be pressure to go beyond the 2015 net neutrality rules and address data caps and interconnection fees directly.

Stern postulated that if FCC Chairman Ajit Pai leaves, and with Commissioner Michael O’Rielly gone by the adjournment of Congress this year, and with Nathan Simington’s nomination does not get confirmed, Democrats would end up with a 2-1 vote majority at the agency.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, the two Democrats on the five-member body, are both net neutrality supporters.

Because the remand order of the current FCC action on net neutrality has not yet made it into the Federal Register, which publication starts the timeline an entity to file a petition for reconsideration, it looks likely that Chairman Pai will not have time to respond to a petition for reconsideration by January 20, 2021.

That accelerates the timeline for net neutrality, Stern said.

However, if the FCC takes the Title II approach that former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler took under Obama, that might create momentum for Congress to act.

INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering, a former Republican member of Congress from Mississippi, said that congressional intervention would provide long-term stability and certainty instead of four changes we’ve seen over the past decade with each new administration.

Pickering also projected bipartisan consensus on privacy regulations and Section 230 from the new administration. But coming to an agreement on antitrust enforcement will be much harder, he said, given the endurance of the consumer welfare standard.

Gaming out strategy over the next two months on Section 230 changes

On Section 230 reform, Stern said INCOMPAS thinks with a new Democratic commission, President Donald Trump’s petition by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will be denied or just linger at the FCC: Both Rosenworcel and Starks have repeatedly said that the FCC should not be interpreting 230 and hence be the “president’s speech police.”

That said, the FCC might leave the petition open for the possibility of future action in case there’s no congressional agreement, she said.

INCOMPAS General Counsel Angie Kronenberg said the “pens down” edict recently issued by House Energy and Commerce Committee officials might also affect Section 230 changes.

Stern laid out several scenarios: If Pai wants to move forward with the rulemaking, and if Simington’s nomination does not move forward, the petition would have to be addressed in the commission’s December meeting because Commissioner O’Reilly would still have to vote on it despite his leaving at the end of the year.

If Simington does get confirmed and Pai has the votes for the January open meeting, she said the question would be whether the rulemaking would make it into the federal register before he leaves in order to set off the comment deadline.

Even if that happens, a new chairman does not have to act on the rulemaking at all . Or, the Democratic-named chairman could bring it the matter to a vote and then deny it.

Other broadband matters

INCOMPAS Government Relations Director Andrew Mincheff said Democrats would have an opportunity to shape broadband this administration, especially in light of Pai’s goal to end the agency’s Mobility Fund and move those dollars to the 5G Rural Broadband Fund, from which  the FCC would allocate $9 billion over 10 years for reverse auctions.

Chris Shipley, attorney and policy advisor at INCOMPAS, said the new administration would likely look at reform of the Universal Service Fund because the contributions factor has risen steadily over the last few years as accessible revenues have declined around commitments.

He referenced a conference from earlier this week with Mignon Clyburn and Commissioner O’Rielly.

Democrats have an interest in either a connections-based systems or expanding the base of accessible services

By contrast, Republicans seem more interested in addressing the rising contribution factor from general appropriations from Congress, he said. That would be a tough fight given how divided the new Congress will be.

Shipley suggested that reforms could include extending the revenue base and assessing broadband services and other telecommunications services.

Another option might be a connections-based system. Under this approach, either voice ir broadband connections would be assessed a monthly contribution, and a numbers-based system, under which each assigned North American telephone number would be assessed.

FCC

Proposed Rules to Improve National Alert System Unnecessary, Say Critics

Proposed rules to improve EAS security and operational readiness are unnecessary, say commenters.

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Photo of Federal Emergency Management Agency

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2023 – Participants to the national public warning system claim that the Federal Communications Commission’s October rulemaking to improve its security and operational readiness will unduly increase resource and monetary burdens on participants. 

The national warning system is composed of the Emergency Alert System, which transmits important emergency information to affected areas over television and radio, and the Wireless Emergency Alert System, which delivers that information to the public on their wireless devices. Participation in the system is voluntary for wireless providers, but radio and television broadcasters are required to deliver Presidential alerts via the EAS. 

In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC sought comment on ways to strengthen the operational readiness of the warning system by requiring EAS participants to report compromises of equipment and WEA participants to annually certify to having a cybersecurity risk management plan in place. It further asked that commercial mobile service providers “take steps to ensure that only valid alerts are displayed on consumer devices,” citing several instances where false alerts were given following a system hack. 

Measures are unnecessary 

Participants argued that such measures are unnecessary in reply comments to the Commission.  

The proposals in the Notice are “unnecessary and will not meaningfully enhance operational readiness or security of EAS,” stated the National Association of Broadcasters in its comments, claiming that the Notice “presents only scant evidence of EAS equipment failures and new security threats, and thus does not justify the myriad measures proposed.” 

Furthermore, NAB claimed, the notice fails to present a clear rationale for how the Commission’s heightened situational awareness would improve EAS readiness. 

ACA Connects, a trade association representing small and mid-sized telecom and TV operators, added that the Notice identifies only two EAS security breaches in the past ten years, which, as the company said, is “hardly an epidemic.” 

Participating mobile service providers have cyber risk management plans in place already, making any separate cyber certification requirement for WEA unnecessary and likely to cause fragmentation of service-specific plans, claimed wireless trade association, CTIA. 

Increased participant burden 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for national-level activation and tests of the systems, stated in its comments that it is concerned about the potential increased burden placed upon participants. 

EAS participants voluntarily and at no cost provide state and local alerts and mobile service providers voluntarily participate in WEA without compensation. FEMA argued that some stakeholders may “have difficulty justifying additional resources necessary to comply with increasing regulation.” 

The proposed reporting, certification, and cyber management obligations are far too complex for many EAS participants to implement, stated NAB, claiming that the Commission’s estimation of costs are “wildly unrealistic,” not considering additional hires such a plan would require. 

Mobile provider AT&T added that requirements for updating cybersecurity plans would divert valuable resources from the ongoing, broad cybersecurity efforts that participants engage in daily. The proposed authentication would inhibit the timely release of critical emergency alerts without completely eliminating false WEA messages, it continued.  

The Center for internet Security, however, supported the FCC’s proposed actions, claiming that it moves forward with “critically important” measures to protect the nation’s alert systems from cyber threats. 

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5G

CES 2023: Commissioner Starks Highlights Environmental Benefits of 5G Connectivity

Starks also said federal housing support should be linked to the Affordable Connectivity Program.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks (left) and CTA’s J. David Grossman

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission spoke at the Consumer Electronics Show Saturday, touting connectivity assistance for individuals who benefit from housing assistance as well as the potential environmental benefits of 5G.

The FCC-administered Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes monthly internet bills and one-time devices purchases for low-income Americans. Although many groups are eligible – e.g., Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollees – Starks said his attention is primarily on those who rely on housing support.

“If you are having trouble putting food on your table, you should not have to worry about connectivity as well,” Starks said. “If we are helping you to get housed, we should be able to connect that house,” he added.

Environmental benefits of 5G

In addition to economic benefits, 5G-enabled technologies will offer many environmental benefits, Starks argued. He said the FCC should consider how to “ensure folks do more while using less,” particularly in the spheres of spectral and energy efficiency.

“This is going to take a whole-of-nation (approach),” Starks said. “When you talk to your local folks – mayors – state and other federal partners, making sure that they know smart cities (and) smart grid technology…making sure that we’re all unified on thinking about this is exactly where we need to go to in order to drive down the carbon emissions.”

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FCC

FCC Commissioners Tout 5G, Spectrum and Permitting Reform

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally-friendly technologies.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2022 – High-level Federal Communications Commission officials addressed the 40th Annual Institute on Telecommunications Policy and Regulation on Thursday, touting 5G technologies, increased spectrum access, and permitting reform as the broadband industry braces for what promises to be an action-packed 2023.

In his keynote, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally friendly technologies such as 5G-enabled precision agriculture. During a subsequent panel, Joel Taubenblatt, acting chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, predicted robust innovation in 5G-powered technology sectors including transportation, energy and finance.

Starks, Taubenblatt, and Commissioner Brendan Carr each voiced support for robust spectrum availability. Carr reiterated his outspoken opposition to popular social-media app TikTok, and earlier in the day, Commissioner Nathan Simington proposed raising cybersecurity requirements on wireless device manufactures.

The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act allocated $65 billion to broadband, the largest single investment to date. Policymakers and industry leaders have voiced concern that regulatory mismanagement could blunt the funds’ impact. Testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee Tuesday, representatives from trade groups US Telecom and NCTA – The Internet & Television Association warned lawmakers against onerous regulation, especially opaque permitting processes on federal lands.

To ensure the efficient use of unprecedented broadband funding initiatives, federal and state authorities should streamline permitting processes, Carr said. The commissioner told Broadband Breakfast he supports expanding small cell infrastructure reforms, such as approval shot clocks and limitations on unreasonable fees, to the wireline sector.

Carr, in his featured remarks, said regulators should craft policy to avoid overbuilding and prioritize building to the least unserved communities. He once again advocated tech-neutral policies that allow fixed-wireless and satellite broadband to fairly compete with fiber.

Permitting and access barriers at multiple levels of government

Representatives from broadband industry groups detailed potential regulatory barriers to deployment in a webinar held Wednesday.

At the local level, providers must obtain access to utility poles, which can be owned by a range of entities including municipalities and utility companies. State broadband offices could likely coordinate with providers and regulators to ease this process, suggested Teresa Ferguson, senior director of broadband and infrastructure funding at the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative.

At the federal level, Congress has signaled interest in streamlining permitting processes, said Angela Simpson, general counsel and vice president of legal and regulatory affairs at the Competitive Carriers Association, noting the body introduced 28 reform bills this session. Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of senators wrote to the U.S. Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce, urging them to update federal permitting guidelines.

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