Wednesday, October 23
Earlier today, the House Communications Subcommittee held a hearing on what’s commonly known in the tech industry as the “IP transition.”
That may sound like a rather dry affair, but the issues being discussed are anything but dry or boring. In fact, when it comes to our nation’s communications infrastructure — and, really, the health of our vital tech economy — conversations like the one held today are critical.
While the hearing itself was short on fireworks, it was not without surprises. Both Public Knowledge’s VP Harold Feld and AT&T’s Senior VP Jim Cicconi agreed on much – for example, that well-constructed trials are needed and that as the transition moves forward, certain principles must continue to be adhered to. As Cicconi testified:
[T]his transition from the old to the new should consider things we’ve all come to see as fundamental — universal connectivity, consumer protection, reliability, public safety, and interconnection.
The fact that Feld and Cicconi agree not just on the importance of those “things we’ve all come to see as fundamental,” but on the importance of moving forward with the transition itself, shows just how much things have changed in a short amount of time.
The legacy copper telephone network that has served our country so well for over a century is rapidly being abandoned by consumers, who are increasingly choosing wireless and VoIP for their communication needs. At the same time, providers like AT&T and Verizon are required to continue investing billions maintaining the network of old.
This point was not lost on Rep. John Dingell, who stated during the hearing that the billions now spent on legacy networks “would be better spent on the IP backbone of the future.”
But the IP transition is about more than the direction of investment dollars. As Cicconi told the Subcommittee:
Four years ago the FCC issued a National Broadband Plan as directed by the Congress. That plan concluded that bringing modern broadband services to all Americans is vital, and that to do so we must have communications policies rooted in the future, not the past.
Put another way, if we’re ever going to achieve the goals of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, the IP transition needs to be encouraged through smart policies. That starts with looking at regulations crafted in 1996 or earlier that no longer apply to — and may in fact hold back — the vast array of choices consumers now have.
Put still another way, the IP transition is really a national broadband goal. The only question, which today’s hearing started to address, is how best to get there.
For AT&T’s part, the company has already put forward a plan with the FCC to conduct “test trials” akin to the one conducted during the transition to digital broadcasting in order to identify any potential problems as the legacy network is upgraded and the few customers who still have legacy service move to modern connections. As Cicconi testified:
We feel trials are critical. As careful as our planning is, no one can anticipate every issue that may arise when we actually transition off the legacy wireline infrastructure. Trials will help us learn while we still have a safety-net in place. And as we learn, all of us — industry, government, customers and stakeholders — can then work together over the coming years to address any problems we find.
On this point too, Public Knowledge’s Feld agreed, although his organization’s vision for how the trials should be conducted differed from AT&T’s. And encouragingly, Rep. Dingell also stated the FCC should “work with AT&T to set IP trials in motion,” adding that the trials would be an “invaluable case study for businesses, government, and consumers.” Rep. Shimkus and Rep. Waxman agreed that we should move forward with the trials, as well.
As Cicconi noted during his testimony, the transition is already well underway, but it won’t be a quick process. Nor should it be, because every time we make a great leap forward, we should know exactly where we’re going to land. Now is the time for all parties to work together on ensuring the transition goes as smoothly as possible. That’s what today’s hearing was about.
Any time you have industry, government, and consumer groups in agreement on something, you know it’s time to act. Today’s hearing was just one of many discussions yet to come on the IP transition, but it was a critical step in the right direction.
Thursday, July 25
At The Hill, Brendan Sasso reports on some movement from the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on FCC reforms:
Democrats allowed the subcommittee to approve the bills on a voice vote on Thursday after Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the subcommittee and author of the legislation, promised to work to address their concerns over the August recess.
Republicans argue the bills would provide more openness and transparency at the FCC, but Democrats warn they would open the agency up to more litigation and would hamper its ability to protect consumers.
Most agree the FCC needs to tweak its practices given our new technological landscape, but whether a bipartisan agreement can be reached is still up in the air.
Tuesday, July 16
In a letter to the FCC, eight members of Congress — Rep. John Dingell, Rep. Eliot Engel, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, Rep Gene Green, Rep. Bruce Braley, Rep. Jim Matheson, Rep. John Barrow, and Rep. Paul Tonko — urged the Commission to resist bidding restrictions in its upcoming spectrum incentive auctions. From the letter:
[W]e hope the Commission will avoid any action that would serve as an impediment to the successful build-out of FirstNet. More specifically, we are concerned that the Commission may take action which would have the effect of excluding entities in the forward auction authorized by the Act. All carriers should have a meaningful opportunity to bid for spectrum. Since September 11, 2001, Congress, the Commission, the 9/11 Commission, and others have recognized the urgent need for nationwide interoperable public safety communications. Nearly 12 years later, however, we have failed to achieve this goal. Indeed, the Commission’s prior effort to auction the Upper 700 Megahertz D Block spectrum for public safety use failed due to overly complex and uncertain auction rules adopted by the Commission. We very respectfully request that the Commission avoid repeating that mistake in carrying out the Act’s forward auction.
Back in February, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher had similar thoughts when he wrote:
The simple truth is America’s wireless industry continues to be fiercely competitive (in fact, when it comes to spectrum holdings, letter signee Sprint is in arguably the best position due to its partnership with Clearwire). Allowing the FCC to impose conditions on spectrum auctions will not make the industry more competitive. And the spectrum critically needed by all providers to keep up with increasing demand will not be put to its full use, leading to spectrum shortages, reduced investment and innovation, and higher prices for consumers.
Only through truly competitive, open spectrum auctions will America’s wireless industry continue to thrive. After all, the best way to ensure competition is to encourage everyone to compete.
We’ve uploaded the full letter from members of Congress to the FCC here.
Thursday, June 20
With Immigration Reform a hot topic inside the Beltway, Jennifer Martinez of The Hill reports the effort is getting a big boost from some big players in the tech industry:
More than 100 top tech executives and heads of tech trade organizations — including Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Cisco CEO John Chambers — urged senators to pass the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill in a letter sent to The Hill on Thursday.
The tech leaders said the measures in the bill will help companies fill thousands of empty technical jobs with skilled workers and also address the current skills gap in the United States by creating a so-called STEM fund that’s dedicated to improving American education programs in science, technology, math and engineering. The money for the STEM fund would be culled from higher fees that companies would have to pay under the bill for visas for highly skilled workers.
Also signing the letter were leaders from Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. The letter Martinez cites is available here.
Tuesday, May 28
Immigration reform is a hot topic in the Beltway these days, and as Jennifer Martinez of The Hill reports, one industry in particular is leading the charge:
The tech industry is targeting six GOP senators in the hopes of building a supermajority behind the Senate’s immigration bill.
The bill approved this week by the Judiciary Committee significantly increases the cap on H1-B visas commonly used by tech firms, and softened tougher restrictions on their use.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg highlighted the importance of immigration in the tech sector in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post. As he wrote:
To lead the world in this new economy, we need the most talented and hardest-working people. We need to train and attract the best. We need those middle-school students to be tomorrow’s leaders.
Given all this, why do we kick out the more than 40 percent of math and science graduate students who are not U.S. citizens after educating them? Why do we offer so few H-1B visas for talented specialists that the supply runs out within days of becoming available each year, even though we know each of these jobs will create two or three more American jobs in return? Why don’t we let entrepreneurs move here when they have what it takes to start companies that will create even more jobs?
Friday, May 17
Google believes the future is in wearable computing, and that their innovative glasses Google Glass is going to lead the way. But as Brendan Sasso of The Hill reports, at least some members of Congress aren’t too keen on where Google is attempting to go:
Eight members of Congress raised privacy fears about Google’s wearable computer, Google Glass, expressing concern the device could allow users to identify people on the street and look up personal information about them.
The lawmakers, members of the congressional Privacy Caucus, said they are concerned users could access individuals’ addresses, marital status, work history and hobbies.
“As members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page.
In response, Google has reassured the members of Congress that privacy concerns are very much on their radar:
“We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues,” a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “Our Glass Explorer program, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology — and we’re excited to hear the feedback.”
Wednesday, March 06
In response to a hearing held last week by the House subcommittee on communications and technology on broadband stimulus programs, our friends (and members) the National Grange argue that the private sector is being more effective than thee government when it comes to broadband deployment:
While this government program hasn’t been a runaway success for the more than 50 million rural residents in America by any measure, private sector investment has played (and should continue to play) a key role in achieving widespread broadband access. Lawmakers acknowledged this reality in Wednesday’s hearing. In fact, according to the U.S. Telecom Association, broadband providers have invested more than $1.2 trillion in their networks since 1996. CTIA—the Wireless Association—reports that wireless carriers have made $348 billion in network capital investments, including 4G LTE build-out. As a result, increasing numbers of Americans have access to high-speed broadband and are subscribing at home.
It is clear that the private sector is better at delivering options, choices, and services to more consumers while also minimizing costs and expanding broadband infrastructure.
The solution, according to the National Grange, is partnership:
Our policymakers promote policies that facilitate continued private sector investment in the next-generation of high-speed broadband networks. Government must work with the private sector to achieve rapid deployment of 21st century communications networks and to bring access to this vital resource to all Americans. Public-private collaboration will help quickly deploy modernized, enhanced broadband networks in a cost-effective manner.
Thursday, February 21
Here’s something cool. Via Pete Kasperowicz of The Hill:
The House next week is expected to pass a resolution establishing a nationwide technology contest for students, which would initially encourage contestants to develop new “apps” for smartphones and tablets.
The resolution from Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) is scheduled for consideration next week. It would create a contest run by the House of Representatives in which students from every congressional district would compete in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM fields.
The last major revision of the Teleommunications Act occurred way back in 1996 (our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher, who was chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet at the time, recently wrote about the Act for Roll Call). Given how radically things have changed since then, it’s a good thing the law included provisions, such as in Section 10, that allow the FCC to forebear. But as Paul Barbagallo of Bloomberg reports, at least one former FCC Chairman believes any changes to the Act will be minor:
Congress is likely to make small tweaks to the Communications Act, despite calls for a major rewrite of the statute, Richard Wiley, chairman of Wiley Rein LLP, said Feb. 19.
The last revision to the Communications Act, in 1996, took Congress nearly ten years to complete, and was itself the first major update to the law since 1934, Wiley noted during an event hosted by the Hudson Institute, a conservative policy and research group in Washington.
“I would like to see a big new statute,” Wiley said. “I think that would make sense for the country. But I’m not sure how soon that would happen.”
Monday, February 04
The Hill‘s Jennifer Martinez reports Congress is not about to let the United Nations have greater control over the Internet:
A joint committee hearing in the House on Tuesday will examine the lasting effects of a United Nations telecommunications treaty on the Internet and the legislative steps Congress can take to protect the current model used to govern the network.
The treaty is the product of a conference hosted by the U.N.‘s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) that wrapped up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in December. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada and other countries declined to sign the final version of the treaty because of concerns it included measures that would threaten Internet freedom and disrupt the multi-stakeholder model used to govern the Internet.
During the negotiations at the treaty conference, China, Russia and a handful of Middle Eastern countries pushed for governments to have greater control over key technical functions used to manage the Internet. The U.S. opposed such measures.
Part of the hearing, Martinez reports, will be possible legislation making clear the “U.S. policy is to promote Internet freedom and preserve the multi-stakeholder model used to govern the Internet.”
Wednesday, January 23
Over at Bloomberg BNA, Paul Barbagallo highlights renewed focus from President Obama and Congress to make more spectrum available for the ever-growing wireless industry:
For much of the last four years, federal policymakers have worked aggressively to find swaths of frequencies that could be made available to wireless carriers to help meet the ever-increasing consumer demand for smartphones and tablet computers, which require more radio spectrum to carry their data transmissions—significantly more than what is needed to carry cellular telephone calls.
That work will continue this year, starting at the FCC.
Later in the piece, our own Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman is quoted:
“I think we’re going to see bipartisan interest in both inventorying and transferring spectrum from federal government use to private-sector use,” Bruce Mehlman, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, a coalition of nonprofits and corporations, including telecom carriers and equipment makers, told BNA.
Mehlman, former assistant secretary of commerce for technology policy under George W. Bush, noted that for the last four years, Congress has placed much of its attention on passing legislation to authorize the FCC to hold incentive auctions.
“A lot of focus is now going to turn to federal spectrum holdings that could be repurposed,” he said.
This is still an important topic. Barbagallo’s full article is definitely worth checking out.
The vast majority of network upgrades and day-to-day operation of the Internet are overseen by private businesses, universities and organizations. Yet governments — domestic and international — continue to exert influence over the environment in which the Internet evolves. To provide the next generation of policy makers and leaders with the information they need to make informed decisions about Internet policy, IIA today released the “IIA 2013 Broadband Guide for the 113th Congress,” a 21-page handbook with six major sections complete with answers to common questions, definitions of technical terms and background on the importance of the Internet Protocol (IP) evolution. The Guide is being issued in conjunction with the 2013 State of the Net Conference,at which IIA founding Co-Chair Bruce Mehlman will speak today at 2:05pm ET.
“Few American innovations have changed the world more profoundly and positively than the Internet. Today more than 2.5 billion people are connected to the Internet and have access to information and opportunities that did not exist 20 years ago. It’s critical that policy makers be well-informed as they make decisions affecting the Internet in order to promote and encourage the expansion of Internet investment, access and adoption.”
— IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher
The Guide also includes broadband-related data points such as:
• Over the past three years, American smartphone adoption has increased from 16.9 percent to 54.9 percent, according to Nielsen.
• One out of three American homes now relies on wireless-only technologies, according to the U.S. National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).
• The tech industry added nearly 100,000 jobs from January to June 2012, a 1.7 percent increase, according to TechAmerica Foundation’s Competitiveness Series.
• As of April 2012, 66 percent of American adults had a high-speed broadband connection at home versus 11 percent a decade earlier in March 2002, according to Pew Research.
• The app economy, which didn’t even exist five years ago, now employs more than 500,000 Americans, according to research by Economist Michael Mandel.
“Innovations in broadband technology are not exclusively relegated to the wired world. Today, mobile devices act as general-purpose computers, complete with nearly 1.5 million available apps. Massive amounts of data are necessary to operate these mobile devices, and the future of lightning-fast, mobile communications depends on migrating America’s communications networks away from outdated legacy phone line networks and toward IP-based infrastructure.”
— IIA Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman
The full Guide, including a downloadable version and embeddable infographics, is available here.
Thursday, September 13
The U.S. government is the single largest user of spectrum, and without its willingness to relinquish control over spectrum bands that are not being put to their highest and best use, our country will suffer from significant losses in economic gains and jobs.
Today the House Energy and Commerce Committee held the hearing “Creating Opportunities Through Improved Government Spectrum Efficiency.” Beyond the hearing’s focus on improving government spectrum efficiency, clearing spectrum for market use is the best strategy for creating new opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation. Commercial spectrum users need certainty in order to invest and reliably serve their customers.
Innovation to improve the efficiency of the government’s use of spectrum and moving inefficient users off of spectrum bands, as pointed out by Representative Greg Walden, will mean that more American consumers can take advantage of mobile broadband to enhance their quality of life and more businesses can create new technologies that depend on next-generation wireless networks.
Wednesday, September 12
Via John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable, new legislation aimed at protecting privacy in the mobile space has been introduced in Congress:
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said Wednesday he has introduced mobile app legislation that would require app sellers to disclose the software being installed when an app is downloaded, and users to give their affirmative consent.
Some highlights from the bill include disclosure on monitoring by apps and other software, a focus on consumer consent before monitoring can proceed, and greater oversight from both the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.
Friday, September 07
Speaking of spectrum, Broadcasting & Cable’s John Eggerton reports there’s more movement in Congress in an attempt to help address the country’s looming airwaves shortage:
The Energy & Commerce Committee’s Communications Subcommittee will hold a hearing Sept. 13, “Creating Opportunities through Improved Government Spectrum Efficiency,” on freeing up government spectrum.
Monday, August 27
Over at Forbes, Larry Downes looks at recent actions from the FCC and calls them a “hat trick of errors on Internet regulations”:
With Congress in recess and Washington largely abandoned last week, the FCC issued three major orders. Comprising some four hundred pages of dense text, the rulings addressed widely different topics: reporting the progress of broadband deployment by private networks, price regulation over middle mile Internet (what the agency calls “special access”), and the proposed sale to Verizon of wireless spectrum currently being warehoused by a consortium of cable companies.
The timing was no coincidence. In its last major overhaul of the agency in 1996, Congress left the FCC with almost no authority over the Internet, whether content, transmission or the devices and software that consumers use to enjoy it. All three of last week’s orders pushed well beyond the FCC’s legal authority. Issuing them in rapid succession was the act of a petulant teenager, loudly defying a parent he knows has already left the room.
Wednesday, August 01
Mentioned in today’s Morning Tech email blast from Politico was Rep. Mary Bono Mack’s resolution aimed at preserving a multi-stakeholder Internet governance model, which is expected to reach the House floor today. When the resolution was first announced, we at IIA applauded it, stating:
It has never been more important for the U.S. to lead. Congress and the Administration must work to reject all top-down regulatory threats to the Internet, both foreign and domestic. As outlined by the Bono Mack resolution, the U.S. should commit to protecting the multi-stakeholder private sector model of Internet governance that paves the way for the Internet to reach its full potential and has led to economic and societal benefits beyond measure—its importance was understood by the Clinton Administration and must now be recognized by the current one.
The Bono Mack resolution has broad bi-partisan support, which is heartening to see. But if we’re going to ensure the Internet remains healthy — and a major force in the health of our economy — going forward, America also needs bipartisan support for keeping the Internet free from needless regulations here at home. That’s the only way private investment will continue to flow into what is arguably the greatest communication tool in history.
Thursday, July 26
With tech issues increasingly receiving attention in D.C., The Washington Post‘s Cecilia Kang reports on some major tech players joining forces on the lobbying front:
Google, eBay, Amazon and Facebook are launching a lobbying group, The Internet Association, to try to raise their voice in Washington as federal officials focus their sights on their largely unregulated tech industry.
Leading the group will be Michael Beckerman, former deputy staff director of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and longtime adviser to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich).
Wednesday, July 25
Via Kent Hoover of The Business Journals, a bill that would allows states to start charging sales taxes on online purchases is gaining momentum:
Bricks-and-mortar retailers have long complained that the tax-free status of e-commerce gives Internet retailers an unfair price advantage. As more retail sales move toward the Internet, state and local governments are increasingly feeling the loss of sales tax revenue. Even many Republican governors who favor keeping taxes low now think the time has come to force Internet retailers to collect sales taxes.
One of those governors is Bill Haslam of Tennessee, who testified a today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.
“Let me clear—I am a Republican governor that does not believe in increasing taxes,” Haslam said.
Monday, July 09
Tomorrow morning, all members of the FCC will be appearing before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology. At The Hill, Jennifer Martinez and Brendan Sasso have a preview:
Lawmakers could explore a wide range of topics, including broadband access, the FCC’s rule requiring television stations to post political ad data online, and the commission’s review of the $3.6 billion deal between Verizon and a coalition of cable companies.
Lawmakers might ask the commissioners to weigh in on whether Congress should modernize its rules regulating the distribution of video services.
The meeting will also be the first appearance before the subcommittee for Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai, the FCC’s two newest members.