January 20, 2021 – President Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday will usher in a wave of new faces at the helm of many federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.
Following through on an announcement made last November, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stepped down from his post Wednesday.
Pai’s last day at the FCC was preceded by one of his last actions as Chairman. On Tuesday, Pai declared in the FCC’s 14th annual broadband deployment report that the agency will continue to maintain its six year-old benchmark definition of “broadband” as 25 Megabit per second (Mbps) download speeds and 3 Mbps upload speeds.
The report concludes that the loosely-regulated telecom industry is doing enough to extend reliable broadband access to all Americans, despite FCC Democrats largely disagreeing with the claim.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who may well be named the acting chair or chair at the agency, has repeatedly argued that the FCC should adopt a higher-speed definition of broadband service. “With so many of our nation’s providers rolling out gigabit service, it’s time for the FCC to adjust its baseline upward, too,” Rosenworcel said last year, calling for new speed benchmarks requiring 100 Mbps download speeds and an upload standard higher than 3 Mbps.
Rosenworcel’s nomination for Chair is backed by the Communications Workers Union of America and the National Education Association.
Although Commissioner Geoffrey Starks has been backed by racial justice groups in the guessing game for next chairman, but having joined the Commission in 2019, he is junior to Rosenworcel. Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy group in the U.S., said it supports Starks for the role, given his advocacy for achieving racial economic equity through tech, specifically in Black communities in the past.
Transitions at the Federal Trade Commission
At the Federal Trade Commission, Chairman Joseph Simons said Tuesday he and members of his senior staff would resign on January 29. Simons offered no reason for the date of his departure. As with the FCC, the president names the chairman of independent agencies like the FTC.
FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, appointed by President Donald Trump in 2018 to fill an open Democratic seat, has since been nominated by Biden to serve as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The remaining commissioners will include Democrat Rebecca Slaughter and Republicans Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson, meaning that there is room for two democrats at the agency.
The interagency transitions come as advocacy groups, led by Public Citizen, sent a letter to the FTC saying the steps required to cancel Amazon Prime “are designed to unfairly and deceptively undermine the will of the consumer,” and may violate FTC rules as well as other consumer protection laws.
Amazon’s market power is already the subject of a lengthy congressional antitrust investigation, as well as probes by the FTC, European Commission, and other regulators. The letter used a complaint from Norway’s consumer protection agency, which on Thursday asked Norwegian regulators to determine whether Amazon violated local law.
Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements
The FCC is looking at how to promote broadband competition and access in buildings.
WASHINGTON, October 21, 2021 – Opponents of exclusivity arrangements that give tenants of multitenant buildings less choice of internet service provider are urging the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate all manifestations of these contracts that they say harms competition and locks landlords into burdensome long-term contracts.
While the FCC has previously banned exclusive access agreements that granted a single provider sole access to a building, it did not do so for exclusive wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements. That means third party service providers cannot share the building wires with the telecom with that privilege and cannot market their services to the building’s residents.
The FCC launched a comment period in September to field arguments about what to do with these holdout issues that gave priority to ISPs. In an early submission, the internet and television association NCTA said the commission should deny all broadband providers exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.
Internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS said in its submission that the competitive environment has continued to suffer due to these exclusive deals and, in the case of retail shopping centers, their deals have been extended over the “last several years.”
It is asking for a complete ban on the wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, which they say “make it tougher for new entrants to effectively compete in MTEs.
“Competitive providers are still asked to participate in revenue sharing arrangements or are routinely denied access to MTEs because of exclusive wiring or marketing agreements,” INCOMPAS said, adding consumers and businesses “lose out on the faster speeds, lower pricing, and better customer service that competitors offer.”
Public Knowledge similarly said there is a lack of competition emerging from these practices that is increasing prices and restricting choice for tenants.
“Although the FCC has banned explicit exclusive agreements in multi-tenant environments (MTEs) such as apartment, condos, and office buildings, landlords and internet service providers have exploited loopholes to nevertheless create de facto monopolies in buildings,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge.
The group is asking for a ban on “all types” of these arrangements that “negatively impact consumer choice, ensuring all ISPs have access to a building’s wiring regardless of the owner, creating a ‘rocket docket’ to quickly adjudicate supposed violations, and creating a single regulatory regime for both commercial and residential MTEs.”
In a joint submission on Wednesday, Consolidated Communications Holdings and Ziply Fiber said they “often confront such anti-competitive agreements,” with revenue sharing and marketing arrangements being the most “prevalent and troublesome.
“In practice, these agreements frequently work together as a complete bar to competing providers, giving the incumbent broadband provider a de facto exclusive service agreement with respect to an MTE,” the submission said, alleging MTE owners will “explicitly cite their lucrative revenue sharing agreements with an existing provider as their reason for not allowing our companies to access their buildings” and so to not to lose out on that compensation.
Harm on building owners
For the Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, exclusive wiring arrangements have not only limited choice for residents, but it has allegedly locked housing providers into “long-term onerous contracts that prohibit them from pursuing connectivity solutions, such as owner-provided broadband, at their properties.”
Members of the affordable housing group are recommending the FCC impose “reasonable standards” on such agreements, which require ISPs to offer low-cost programs or owner provided broadband at a competitive cost and give landlords an option to exit or renegotiate a contract after a certain time.
The FCC’s look into the issue comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.
FCC Votes on Proposals Ranging From Emergency Response to SIM Swap Fraud in Open Meeting
The agency held an open meeting Thursday to hammer out votes on a range of issues.
WASHINGTON, September 30, 2021 — The Federal Communications Commission voted in an open meeting Thursday on several items, including expanding the E-Rate program and addressing SIM swap fraud and robocalls.
The commission voted to increase backup power to networks in case of emergencies and natural disasters and update outage reporting requirements. This follows an aggressive response from the agency during Hurricane Ida. The federal government lost $284 million of productivity during the winter storms last year.
Targeting robocalls from overseas, the FCC passed a set of rules for gateway voice service providers. Gateway providers will be asked to block calls from numbers the FCC lists, to authenticate caller ID and to submit to the FCC a certification of the practices they are using to block robocalls. This follows the June 30 deadline for large voice service providers to implement the STIR/SHAKEN regime, which requires telecoms to work to limit robocalls and ID spoofing or face fines and penalties.
In an effort to reduce SIM swapping and port-out fraud, rules were proposed which would require carriers to adhere to a set of secure methods of authenticating the identity of a customer before moving a customer’s phone number to another carrier or device.
SIM swapping is the act of identity theft whereby a person convinces a wireless carrier to transfer a victim’s cell service into the thief’s possession. Port-out fraud is when the thief creates an account with a new carrier and convinces the victim’s carrier to port out the victim’s service to the new carrier.
The notice also proposes that customers be alerted immediately whenever a SIM change or port request is made under a customer’s identity and account. FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel quoted senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, stating that “consumers are at the mercy of wireless carriers when it comes to being protected against SIM swaps.”
The FCC also updated the definition of library to include tribal libraries for use with their E-rate program, following a 2018 law from Congress. Many tribal libraries under the law were excluded from the program, which subsidizes broadband for schools and libraries, for over 20 years. Only 15 percent of tribal libraries reported having received E-Rate support.
The FCC also adopted and made transparent a series of questions that will be asked of foreign-owned companies wishing to participate in the US telecommunications market.
Questions include whether the applicants or investors have been charged with felonies, been subject to penalties for violating regulations of the US government, have undergone bankruptcy, are on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list and more.
FCC Commissioner Simington Says Universal Fiber to the Home Can Wait
Simington also raised idea of Big Tech contributing to Universal Service Fund.
WASHINGTON, September 29, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Nathan Simington said Tuesday that adoption issues for fiber is delaying the need to make universal fiber to the home a priority right now.
“I think we can push back on fiber to the home universally, at least in noting that there are edge cases and adoption issues there and that some degree of wireless is going to have to be part of the broadband future,” Simington said in a one-on-one conversation with the Internet Innovation Alliance.
A large part of the discourse surrounding the future of broadband expansion in the country is what kinds of technologies are most prudent to ensure connectivity now and scalability in the future. The Wireless Industry Association has pressed the fact that multiple technologies, including wireless, have a play in broadband’s future, while the Fiber Broadband Association and others have said fiber buildout is the best, most scalable technology.
The last mile, where the cable physically attaches to the home or business, was said at the Digital Infrastructure Investment conference this week to be a goal for broadband expansion.
But Simington said that while fiber is a “robust technology,” there’s a chunk of Americans that may not want it.
“I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there are some users who are not particularly interested in fiber,” Simington said. “That might be people who are, for example, device-only users and they don’t want a home broadband connection — that’s about 20 percent of the national population (of broadband users), although the question of want is sort of up in the air.
“Obviously to a person who is device-only, the only use that fiber would have would be to provide hotspot. And if you’re spending your entire day out and about working, what matters to you is having adequate wireless coverage in your area,” he added.
Simington touches on Universal Service Fund
Modernizing the Universal Service Fund has been one of the hot topics for broadband this year. The fund, which extends basic telecom services to all Americans, has been called unsustainable due to its reliance on shrinking voice revenues.
Some have suggested that the fund’s reliance be wholesale replaced with general taxation from Congress, while others have said that the fund’s revenue base should be extended to include the increasing broadband revenues.
Simington prefaced his comments by saying he didn’t want to get ahead of Congress, which would set the parameters of a new regime, but raised previous recommendations – including from FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr – that part of the money can come from big technology companies, like Facebook and Google.
“We might also say that there are companies that have built their model on there being universal broadband and have been the beneficiaries of the buildout without having to do much to contribute to it…that’s something that has been raised on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
He added that another approach “would simply be to say that broadband is essentially the equivalent of a telephone service back in the day and therefore we are going to put it on everyone’s broadband bill instead of on the relatively small installed base of phone line subject to the USF. That would certainly be one approach. It would smooth things out somewhat, it would presumably broaden the base very substantially.”
In any case, Simington said the USF is “absolutely vital” and that it’s failure would be “at minimum…immensely disruptive.”
Spectrum strategies and future technologies
In his roughly hour-long chat, Simington touched on a myriad of other issues before the FCC, including the future of satellite technologies, spectrum strategies, and funding for programs to deliver telecommunications services to all Americans.
The commissioner noted that the FCC is prioritizing clearing spectrum for technologies including the next-generation 5G networks, and that the agency is looking to “squeeze every drop” of mid-band frequencies for that end. The FCC has already held a number of auctions for mid-band spectrum, including its massive C-Band auction.
FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said earlier this year that the mid-band spectrum is a priority for the agency over millimeter wave spectrum to close the digital divide.
Simington also said spectrum sharing will increase as technological advances are made. The FCC is fielding comments about how to handle the 12 GHz spectrum band, which is effectively pitting satellite providers who say it can’t be shared and 5G providers who say that it can.
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- Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements
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