Thursday, December 05
Speaking of spectrum, Phil Goldstein at Fierce Wireless reports that a big player in the satellite game is planning to participate in an upcoming auction:
Dish Network has officially registered its intent to bid in the FCC’s upcoming 1900 MHz PCS H Block spectrum auction—and it is likely to secure a significant amount of licenses since it is the only major company planning to participate in the auction. If Dish is successful in winning H Block licenses, the company would notably improve its already significant spectrum portfolio.
The FCC released a list of bidders for the H Block on Wednesday; the auction is scheduled to start Jan. 22. The commission said 14 bidders entered complete applications and an additional 20 bidders submitted incomplete applications that they can correct by Dec. 18.
DISH has long made it known that it wishes to get into the highly competitive wireless business, so their jumping into the auctions isn’t really surprising.
According to Brendan Sasso of The Hill, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will be holding a hearing on the FCC’s upcoming spectrum auction on December 10. Expected to be discussed will be a nationwide public safety network and whether limitations should be imposed on the auctions, which many lawmakers and industry groups warn would severely diminish returns from the auctions.
Wednesday, December 04
Today the New America Foundation hosted an event on “Making the Network Work,” focusing on telecommunications and business markets with the nation’s leading competitive local exchange carriers (“CLECs”).
The participants claimed they have “written the book” on the IP transition, based on significant marketplace gains resulting from their investments in modern networks, deployment of thousands of miles of fiber, and the success of their high end and secure Enterprise service offerings.
Yet, while consumers, industry, Congress and the FCC have all acknowledged the need to upgrade America’s antiquated telephone networks, CLECs cling to old 20th century telephone networks and the desire to preserve the status quo. Instead of advocating how best to accelerate the delivery of next generation high-speed broadband networks and services to the American consumer, XO Communications’ CEO appeared to suggest that policymakers focus on the “many places where the old copper network will be in place for decades, [and that she]…doesn’t see that changing.”
The CLEC “rear-view” mirror approach also seeks to extend the rules governing outmoded telephone networks to modern competitive broadband networks, and ensure continuation of special regulatory treatment for services provided in the highly competitive business market. The CLEC effort to preserve the status quo is evident in their opposition to any effort to allow telephone companies to grandfather existing copper network contracts and prepare for new offerings once the upgrade to high-speed broadband networks is complete.
CLECs also seek government intervention to manage how the nation’s existing and highly successful Internet networks interconnect with one another. Today, Internet providers privately negotiate “IP Peering and transit” agreements for their interconnection needs. These arrangements have existed since the creation of the Internet and have been critical to the massive growth of broadband services to the American consumer.
Surprisingly, in their call for greater government intervention, however, not one CLEC provided evidence or offered a substantiated claim of an existing market failure. Rather than invest and compete in a vibrant and robust broadband market, CLECs seek FCC intervention to prop-up business models based on a dying copper network.
Thankfully, we heard a different message from new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in his first major address, at Ohio State University this week, where he affirmed that he is “a rabid believer in the power of the marketplace” and that his focus will be to see “what, if any action (including governmental action) is needed to preserve the future of network competition” (Wheeler’s emphasis).
Wheeler said that he seeks to use the tools of government regulation “in a fact-based, data-driven manner” and that if “a market is competitive, the need for FCC intervention decreases.” That is what is happening in the marketplace.
The Chairman cited the example of cellphone unlocking — where carriers are responding to demands for consumers to be able to unlock their phones, without formal government action.
Similarly, light-touch government oversight has allowed the Internet to flourish and has brought robust competition to wireless and wired broadband markets to the benefit of the American consumer.
With regard to interconnection arrangements, Chairman Wheeler needs to look no further than the marketplace. Just last week, competitors Verizon and Vonage provided the latest example of providers reaching mutually beneficial interconnection agreements through commercial negotiations. This follows a similar agreement that Verizon achieved with Comcast last year.
That’s the way it has always worked, is working, and will continue to work — if only regulators don’t rush in to dictate a false “solution” where the market is working.
Friday, November 22
November 21, 2013 10:13PM ET | Bloomberg BNA
American innovation has led to massive adoption of cutting-edge communications and entertainment technologies. Functionalities and services once wondrous and new are now commonplace. A step back reveals how far and how fast we’ve come. In 2000, television changed forever as TiVO introduced us to time shifting, the ability for consumers to record and watch TV programs at the scheduled hour of their choosing. That same year, our Internet and telephone experience was enhanced as cable modems began to take hold in American homes. The following year, we saw the first iPod, and how we buy, store, and listen to music has never been the same. The iPhone (2007) and iPad (2010) gave birth to a revolution in the use of mobile data.
Unseen but ever-present wired and wireless broadband networks provide the foundation for the high-quality video, voice and Internet services that Americans have welcomed with historic enthusiasm, as they have been adopted by in the home and mobile users at a stunning pace.
During the past decade, under our feet and above our heads, the nation’s broadband service providers have invested tens of billions of dollars to bring high-speed wired and wireless connections to our homes and businesses and in the process have reshaped almost everything about how we communicate. Because of these investments, we constantly have available a seamless stream of voice, data, and video on demand.
Today’s digital networks offer boundless opportunity—boosting economic growth and job creation; through remote monitoring and telemedicine, bringing world-class medical care to remote communities and easing the burden of chronic conditions; improving education for students of all ages by delivering advanced coursework, college classes, and even online degrees through distance-learning programs; maintaining constant communications with business associates, family and friends; and providing entertainment and real-time news, weather, and sports information.
This enhanced connectivity also enables civic empowerment—especially for groups who haven’t always been heard—enabling them to communicate more easily with elected officials and to organize and advocate on their own behalf.
Achieving the next level of broadband investment and enabling faster connections, more capable services and deeper Internet penetration in hard-to-serve areas will be facilitated by policy changes by the FCC. With the commission’s newly arrived leadership, these needed changes should be at the forefront of the agency’s agenda.
While communications of all kinds have rapidly moved to the Internet and broadband networks, the aging copper-wire, circuit-switched telephone network remains in place, using the same technology Alexander Graham Bell pioneered. It offers plain old telephone service (POTS), and Americans are fleeing it in droves at an ever-accelerating pace. Only 5 percent of Americans use the old network as their exclusive communications medium. Another 38 percent use it in combination with wireless service, and most Americans use wireless communications only or rely on a combination of wireless and a wired alternative to the telephone network, such as cable modem service.
We stand at an inflection point where the rules that were sensible in the last century for a heavily regulated circuit-switched telephone monopoly are no longer sensible in today’s competitive communications landscape dominated by broadband and a multiplicity of Internet-enabled services. The requirement of current law that telephone companies spend billions annually maintaining a single-function, aging network that consumers no longer prefer is impeding the next level of broadband investment. Planning and delivering a rapid transition to an all-broadband communications environment is the greatest challenge that the new FCC chairman faces.
A Change Requiring New Policy
In its time, the phone network was a culture-changing technical marvel that introduced nationwide communication through copper wire, erasing geography and reliably enabling Americans to dial business contacts, friends, family, and neighbors anytime, anywhere.
During the early and mid-20th century, access to telephones grew rapidly as government aided and promoted a monopoly to accelerate network build-out to reach all Americans. As telephone service became nearly ubiquitous in the latter half of the last century, technological and market advancements created the possibility for alternative satellite, wireless, and landline communications for businesses and consumers.
Realizing the potential benefits that the array of digital technologies could provide, the U.S. government ended the phone monopoly, and with passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, began to chart a course toward more robust competition and entrepreneurship in the nation’s communications marketplace. Consumers were first offered choice in the long distance telephone market. Then new providers, such as cable companies, built out broadband networks to offer competitive wired residential telephone and Internet services. The door was opened for telephone companies to offer cable TV service, and digital networks were developed that could accommodate it.
As the reliability of wireless communications increased and access to broadband services has expanded, American consumers at work and in the home have embraced them with a passion. Modern broadband communications systems now link us to the Internet; move information, data and video at lightning speed; and carry our voice “phone” calls, too. These are the networks consumers prefer, and the transition away from the antiquated telephone network is occurring with remarkable speed. As society now treasures its smartphones and tablet devices, streaming videos, GPS guidance systems, and other electronic wonders, we forget that little more than a decade ago personal communications was still largely about POTS. Current law still assumes that most communications are delivered by the POTS network.
Existing regulations were created in a world where heavily regulated phone companies provided copper wire voice service, lightly-regulated cable companies delivered TV, and wireless companies offered services deemed too unreliable to compete with wired telephone service. In fact, these rules still compel telephone companies to invest nearly $13.5 billion each year to maintain and run the old copper phone system as if it were still the nation’s core communications system used by almost all.
Too Much Investment to Maintain Old Technology
As the number of telephone company subscribers on POTS sharply falls, the per-subscriber cost of maintaining the old network has become unsustainable. According to a recent study, America’s telephone companies made more than $154 billion in capital expenditures from 2006 to 2011. Surprisingly, the majority of that investment was dedicated to maintaining the declining telephone network, even though today only about one-third of Americans still use it at all, and only 5 percent use it exclusively. Every dollar that is spent maintaining a voice-only network that consumers are fleeing is a dollar not invested in the modern multifunction broadband networks that consumers prefer. Every dollar telephone companies spend on an ancient, declining, and little used technology is a dollar not spent developing the more capable broadband infrastructures through which phone companies can become stronger competitors in the offering of voice, video, and data with largely unregulated cable companies. That’s an important goal because when competition is fair and fierce, consumers ultimately win big with competitive pricing and greater choices to fit their personal needs.
Ancient rules and old ways of thinking are undermining innovation, damaging competition, forcing billions of dollars into misdirected capital investment, and slowing our national progress. Maintaining the status quo for the antiquated telephone network—either by decision or inaction—is a costly anachronism. Requiring phone companies to operate voice-only telephone networks while they are building out new fiber-optic broadband networks makes as much sense as requiring a hitching post in front of every store, forcing bus companies to maintain streetcar tracks, or insisting on backup electric fans in every air-conditioned building.
The IP Transition: Six Principles to Consider
The FCC’s 2010 National Broadband Plan is instructive. It observes that the regulations requiring telephone companies to maintain the old phone network “siphon[s] investments from new networks and services” and is “not sustainable.” The report also declares that the transition to “broadband is the greatest infrastructure challenge of the 21st century.” The FCC’s Technological Advisory Council recommended that the transition and sunset of the POTS network be completed by 2018.
That’s not very far away, and meeting that schedule will bring its own unique challenges. Consumers must be protected, and certain populations are at risk of being disadvantaged. Of particular concern are those who are not yet taking advantage of the opportunities created by new digital technologies. For example, late adopters—largely older and less affluent consumers, many of whom reside in hard-to-serve rural areas, who have not yet joined the broadband era—may be at greater risk unless we complete the transition in a carefully planned and orderly way. The transition to 21st century communications networks must serve every American. But that result is not pre-ordained; it will require hard work.
Government must play a key role throughout this process by advancing consumer interests with a transition plan guided by core principles. These basic protections will remain government’s responsibility even after the old phone system is shut down:
1. The commitment to universal service must endure. Next-generation high-speed broadband networks and their benefits must be available to every American. As we move beyond the old phone network, we cannot leave anybody behind. Without dictating specific technologies or micro-managing how communications competitors meet their public service obligations, we must push the envelope to ensure that every American can access modern broadband service and enjoy the benefits that come with it. At a minimum, post transition everybody should enjoy service at least as good as they can now receive from copper-wire phone networks.
2. Public safety must be assured. 911 emergency calls must go through—every single time—no matter what technology or services consumers adopt.
3. Services for the hearing-impaired and those with vision problems also must be retained at levels that at least match what consumers enjoy today.
4. Consumer protection must remain at the heart of communications policy. Consumers must know that government has their back; that service providers will deliver on their promises; that spotty service, fraud, or other abuses will not be tolerated. Consumers must have a place to take complaints with confidence that something will be done about them.
5. Establishing a backup plan for power failures should be part of the transition process. The rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy exposed some potential weaknesses in the way our digital technology works today. While fiber-optic-based systems tolerate water damage that can short out copper wires, they are more vulnerable when the electricity at the user’s premises goes out.
6. Special retrofitting and other creative solutions may be required to ensure that modern networks function fully with personal and business equipment such as fax machines, security systems, health monitors, and credit card readers, even though they may not currently be compatible with today’s broadband connections.
FCC Should Begin Trials Now
Consumer interests are paramount. These core challenges must be met before the book is closed on the antiquated POTS network. Contrary to the claims of some, the post-transition environment will not be regulation free. Indeed, regulation will be necessary to assure consumer protection, but just as networks are modernizing, the regulatory landscape must be modernized as well.
What’s needed is smart regulation appropriate to protect consumers and public safety, promote competition and support universal service, while also encouraging sustained private investment and innovation in America’s next-generation communications networks.
The upgrade and modernization effort will require thought and planning. That’s why we must start now while the existing phone system is available as a “safety net” backup for any potential glitch or surprise that might arise during the upgrade to a new and modern system. No one is proposing a “flash cut” in which the telephone network disappears overnight. This process will, in fact, probably take half a decade to complete.
To take the first step, the FCC should rely on a time-tested method: demonstration projects. Conducting demonstration trials in carefully selected markets in which existing POTS users are rapidly moved to Internet protocol-based networks will provide a controlled environment for an accelerated transition with the existing telephone network still in place as a safety net.
This approach gives consumers an assurance that if any unexpected problems causing consumer disruptions arise, service can continue over the telephone network while technical and service issues are resolved. Through the demonstration projects, we can determine what is likely to go wrong and have solutions in place prior to a broader national transition.
The FCC has a recent successful precedent for taking precisely this step. In the nation’s transition from analog to digital television broadcasting, the FCC conducted a similar test. Leading up to the digital TV conversion, some warned of potential negative consequences for consumers. The warnings were similar to those we are hearing about the transition from POTS to modern networks. In particular, the articulated fear was that switching to digital television broadcasts would harm consumers, particularly the elderly and less technically savvy viewers who decide to keep their older analog television sets but would experience difficulty installing the required converter box to receive and convert the new digital broadcasts. The circumstance of rural and lower income viewers was a particular focus. To address these concerns, the FCC launched a demonstration project in Wilmington, N.C., an area with a wide diversity of viewers, including those with low incomes, the elderly, and viewers living in both metropolitan and rural areas.
The FCC’s Wilmington demonstration project proved a success. It provided clear evidence that on the day analog broadcasts ended, viewers were prepared. There were almost no complaints. Analog television users across the Wilmington region had successfully installed digital-to- analog converter boxes. The trial inspired confidence that the national transition could proceed uneventfully, and on national transition day, very few problems were encountered.
Employing the same model, the FCC should now move quickly to authorize closely supervised demonstration projects in selected markets, perhaps one urban and one rural, where people quickly shift from existing telephone networks to modern broadband networks. The demonstration projects offer a test bed to guarantee that core consumer values will be protected, to learn what may go wrong in a controlled rapid transition and to devise solutions for problems that in fact arise prior to a broader national transition.
While the attraction of broadband networks has propelled a POTS-to-broadband transition that is now well advanced, we owe it to ourselves to plan and complete it on the schedule that the FCC’s Advisory Council recommended. Applying the knowledge gained through demonstration projects we can accelerate the POTS phase-out and realize the benefits of greater network functionality, a broader array of services for consumers and the economic efficiencies that come from devoting investment to the networks of the future rather than the network of the past.
Public-Private Partnership Needed for New Road Map
For the moment we have the luxury of time to conduct demonstration projects, but an additional sense of urgency for action is now apparent. The current telephone network is supported by antiquated equipment, and as consumers have continued their ongoing migration to the new networks, equipment providers either no longer manufacture or have significantly scaled back production of the TDM (time-division multiplexing)-based equipment necessary to maintain and operate the POTS network. As fewer replacement parts become available, maintaining the phone network grows dramatically more expensive, further skewing the ratio between investment in old and new technologies, with the ever-escalating costs being passed on to consumers. All Americans stand to benefit from shifting investment to modern networks that offer consumers service as least as good as what they enjoy today, as well as the greater functionality that broadband networks can offer.
A public-private partnership among all stakeholders—consumers, telecom companies, suppliers, and regulators—will be needed to establish the rules of the road for the new network. These stakeholders can embrace key principles—recently outlined by the leading consumer advocacy organization Public Knowledge—service for all, competition, reliability, consumer protection, and public safety.
Simply providing access to new technology while protecting core consumer values, however, isn’t the whole job. We also must boost adoption rates, educating every American about what the transition means, how it will affect them and how by using broadband they can improve opportunities for themselves and their families. We can’t afford to leave any American in the dark about the value of broadband; we can’t leave anyone behind.
So the real questions surrounding the IP transition are not whether, but when; not if, but how. Bipartisan support exists in Congress for the transition itself and for the basic principles that should be at its core, including consumer protection, universal service, network reliability, competition and public safety. Now is the time for all stakeholders to work together, starting with the demonstration projects, to ensure that the transition’s rapid final phase proceeds as smoothly as possible.
New FCC Chairman Embraces Need for Quick Action
The Internet’s evolution has brought us to another critical juncture in communications policy as we consider how to complete the transition from the bygone era of plain old telephone service to the broadband future of the 21st century. It’s a critical transition, given broadband’s increasingly dominant role in every part of our economy, as well as its ability to improve lives and advance economic growth. It’s also something that just about every stakeholder, including the FCC, regards as inevitable.
In 2011, the Technological Advisory Council led by now-FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, noted that “[t]he FCC should take steps to prepare for the inevitable transition” from the old network and in fact “take steps to expedite the transition, with a target date of 2018,” including the need to “re-align regulatory requirements to emerging technologies.”
The recommendation reflected vision and foresight then, and provides an ambitious but achievable agenda now. When it’s achieved, Americans will have access to reliable networks designed specifically for broadband voice, video, and Internet services, rather than antiquated networks that support phones wired to the wall. Every app, every smartphone and tablet, every desktop computer will smoothly connect consumers to the online experience of their choice—telemedicine services for better health, virtual classrooms for lifetime learning, their legislators’ offices for civic engagement, a job opportunity, a business contact, a sporting event, a movie, friends and family across town or on the other side of the world. That’s the goal—delivering the services consumers want. Upgrading and modernizing our 20th century telephone networks will get us there.
This goal now appears closer on the horizon than ever before. In one of his first official acts, Chairman Wheeler has made clear the need to speed the “Fourth Network Revolution,” recognizing how “new networks catalyze innovation, investment, ideas and ingenuity.” He stated that “the time to act starts now” and proposed a timetable for FCC action in January 2014 on how to “begin a diverse set of experiments that will allow the commission and the public to observe the impact on consumers and businesses of the [IP transition and proposed demonstration projects].” In setting this course, the new chairman has jump-started the process and appears ready to steer the FCC toward addressing the key policy, technical, and consumer issues necessary to bring 21st century high-speed broadband to more Americans.
In our land of opportunity and innovation, we’re a place of relentless creativity. At the core of our success is an entrepreneurial culture powered by private sector investment. In that American tradition, it’s incumbent on us to ensure that the benefits and opportunities of next-generation networks and services become widespread and available to all. The POTS-to-broadband transition will free the needed investment. The next steps for us to take are now clear.
Reproduced with Permission from The Telecommunications Law Resource Center, Copyright 2013, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) www.bna.com.
Thursday, November 14
Today’s letter from a handful of organizations that asks the FCC to set spectrum-auction aggregation limits puts whipped cream on a mud pie. The FCC should follow Congress’ clear goals of getting more spectrum out into the marketplace for all willing investors and maximizing revenue to fix the debt, rather than siding with some competitors over others. We should be finding more spectrum for all carriers rather than barriers to hold some back. The suggested limits would reduce auction revenue, make broadcasters less likely to participate and reduce the pace of broadband investment.
Wednesday, November 13
Next Tuesday, IIA is teaming up with RocketSpace for a discussion on the future of communication in America. We’re calling it “Next-Gen Networks: Impact on Innovation, Education, Regulation & Economy,” and it will feature some rather heavy hitters in the tech and policy space. How heavy? Well, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel for one, Bill Coughran of Sequoia Capital for two, and Vivek Wadhwa, Vice President of Research and Innovation at Singularity University for three.
Our own Jamal Simmons will be moderating.
It all happens Tuesday, November 19 from 12-1:30 pm at RocketSpace, which is located at 344 Pine Street in San Francisco. If you’re the area and want to attend, you can RSVP here.
Wednesday, November 06
This morning, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies held a broadband technology forum in Washington, DC. The event coincided with the release of a new study, “Broadband and Jobs: African Americans Rely Heavily on Mobile Access and Social Networking in Job Search.”
As titles go, that’s quite a mouthful. But then, the study itself is packed with information, some of it surprising, some of it well-known, and all of it important. Some case(s) in point:
• 50% of African American Internet users believe being online is critical in order to find a job. The surprising part? That’s 14% higher than the entire sample used for the study.
• Latinos are right there with African American Internet users, with 47% calling access “very important” to finding a job.
• 47% of African Americans have used a smartphone for job searches, which is nearly double the entire sample.
For today’s event, the Joint Center assembled some heavy-hitters in tech policy, including FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Latino Information Network Director of Innovation Policy Jason Llorenz, and AT&T Vice President of Global Policy Ramona Carlow.
Besides the stats listed above, a key focus of the event was the need to improve tech education, or as the Joint Center’s John Horrigan put it, “lift up the digital skills for the entire population.” Given that one major finding of the Joint Center’s study is that confidence in digital skills directly correlates with people going online in search of employment, the focus on education wasn’t surprising. But it was encouraging that the group agreed that effective digital education means helping both adults and children.
That starts with better connecting schools through eRate. The panelists also agreed it requires better training for teachers and librarians — a link often missing in discussions of expanding broadband access. I would add one more thing: students need the same high speed broadband access at home they get in school and that’s going to require the private sector. Federal regulations should encourage all of these investments.
Today’s event wasn’t streamed online, unfortunately, but the Joint Center’s study is available at their website. I encourage you to dig in.
Friday, November 01
This is a guest post from Floyd Mori, President & CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, which is an IIA Member.
At the U.S. Capitol last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers addressed the changing means of communications in our nation. As consumer preferences move increasingly toward Internet-based communications, so full advantage can be taken of the plethora of new and exciting applications, the network of old is going by the wayside.
The Congressional hearing focused on whether the federal regulations that for decades governed the monopoly, single-carrier era of the old, non-broadband phone system are still necessary in an age where consumers have their choice of any number of communications modes, including cell phones and smartphones, Skype, text apps, wired home VoIP, say from your cable provider, among others.
The timing is important. These regulations are based on federal communications laws that stretch back generations and were last updated in 1996, the reflection of a bygone-era, pre-mobile Internet and high-speed connections. That year, as I recall, the cutting-edge products were Compaq PCs with built-in 3Com modems that let us use our telephone lines to dial into AOL — remember the catchy noise that went along with it?
According to the Pew Research Center, 87 percent of English-speaking Asian-Americans use the Internet compared to 74 percent of all adults. However, there are still millions of Americans, particularly minorities, members of the Asian-American community included, who do not adopt or have access to broadband, falling on the wrong side of the digital divide.
But today, as technology modernizes to become better, faster, more capable and dynamic through “Internet Protocol” (IP) technology, outdated regulations hold back progress, and more importantly, increased availability and access to high-speed broadband. As tens of millions of consumers drop their landlines, regulations need to be modernized to free up short-term, unproductive investments in that service in order to deliver new benefits based of the IP system.
What became abundantly clear from the hearing is that federal regulators need to move faster to promote this transformative technology. A good way to start would be for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to move expeditiously on a recent request from AT&T to conduct “test-runs” in a few limited markets, under the oversight of the agency. These closely-controlled areas would see a complete communications modernization to all-broadband, complete with all the attendant economic, healthcare, education, and civic participation benefits. During the process, policymakers and stakeholders would work together to monitor progress and ensure that basic consumer protections continue.
For the Asian-American community, this is far more than a technological debate, as the transition to Internet-based communications technology has been shown to have a massive positive impact on issues ranging from healthcare, higher education, the environment, local economies, and civic participation.
Engagement in all areas of government and policy – and community activism at all levels of the political process (a benefit of a connected society) – are integral to diverse communities across the country. In today’s knowledge-based culture, broadband is serving to empower our citizens, giving us the ability and opportunity to elevate and advocate for society’s needed changes on a national and even global platform.
Washington needs to move this process forward, beginning with the FCC’s approval of the trials, so we can all have the opportunity to reap the benefits of a connected, digital world.
Thursday, October 31
America’s 60 million rural residents received an early holiday gift this week when the Federal Communications Commission launched an initiative to improve rural communications. In unanimous agreement, the FCC acknowledged problems caused by the existing tangle of regulations, technologies and business plans that have long affected telephone call completion for some rural customers. This week, the FCC took action to ensure better and more accountable service and connectivity.
This action addresses an outstanding issue that has been around for years. The failure of certain calls to go through to rural Americans resulted from new communications technologies interacting with older telephone networks and the failure of regulations to keep pace in the marketplace. Everyone in America, and particularly those in rural areas, depends upon a reliable communications network. For almost 3 decades I represented rural Virginia in Congress, and I know firsthand of the extraordinary importance rural residents attach to reliable and accessible communications.
So, as we look across the communications landscape, we see changes everywhere. More than 40 percent of homes today are wireless-only, and almost that same number receive their phone service through a broadband provider. In Florida and Michigan, to pick two representative states, only about 15% of homes connect to traditional telephone landlines today. Americans in droves have dropped their outdated non-broadband plain old phone service and are quickly moving to high-speed, advanced broadband networks and services, both wired and wireless.
Some consumer advocates have suggested that rural call completion must be addressed prior to implementing policies necessary to the upgrade and modernization of our nation’s telephone networks to all broadband. It’s an important need which the FCC has now addressed in a positive and thoughtful manner. As the FCC moves forward to promote better and more ubiquitous high-speed broadband access nationwide, moving the few remaining users of outdated networks to more functional connections that provide more varied services, it can best accomplish the goal by modernizing its regulations to reflect the technologies of today.
I commend the FCC for this week’s action and encourage the Commission to continue its efforts to ensure that regulations match modern technological capabilities. Promoting certainty is the fastest way to ensure that high-speed all-broadband networks become reality.
Wednesday, October 30
Late yesterday, the Senate unanimously approved the appointments of Tom Wheeler and Michael O’Rielly to the FCC. Upon joining the FCC this week, Wheeler and O’Reilly will now bring the Commission to full strength.
The new members join the FCC at a critical time. As my colleague Jamal Simmons wrote back in May (such is the pace of Washington these days), two of the very top issues the Commission faces are the modernization and upgrade of our existing telephone networks and the ever-pressing need to free up more spectrum to meet the increasing demand for wireless broadband by America’s consumers.
To bring next-generation broadband networks to the entire nation, the FCC should approve demonstration tests in several markets, similar to the trails set up by the FCC preceding the conversion to digital television, in order for this major network upgrade to be as smooth as possible. For spectrum, the Commission should move quickly on holding open incentive auctions, rapidly approve secondary market transactions, and work with NTIA in the repurposing of federal spectrum so it can be put to use for consumers.
And the FCC should move rapidly on the ConnectEd initiative, to help ensure access to high-speed broadband for our nation’s students at school and at home. Making that program a reality, along with the two agenda items listed above, will help the FCC make a lasting and highly positive impact on the lives of consumers and the economy as a whole.
On behalf of all of us at IIA, congratulations to Wheeler and O’Rielly on their confirmations, and also congratulations to Acting Chairwoman Clyburn for her steady leadership during the past few months. Now it’s time to roll up sleeves and get to work.
Thursday, October 24
Today’s edition of Roll Call features an opinion piece from our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher on how antiquated rules are slowing innovation. Here’s a taste:
Throughout history, innovation and new technologies have improved the way we live. But each change also required adjustments to maximize the gains. When the automobile overtook the horse, we needed new rules of the road so traffic would flow safely and efficiently. Electric lighting gave us the chance to adjust schedules for efficiency and lifestyle benefits because our day was no longer governed by the rising and setting of the sun.
Similarly, it’s time for smart, modernized telecom rules that promote consumer choice and protect consumer rights, enhance competition, and ensure public safety so that Americans fully enjoy the boundless opportunities of the Internet Age.
Check out the full piece over at Roll Call.
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.
Monday, October 21
Last year, IIA hosted a webinar on technology and education that focused on an innovative, soon-to-be-implemented “blended learning” program at Kramer Middle School in the Anacostia community of Washington, D.C. My brother Kwame Simmons, the school’s principal, penned an op-ed afterwards, titled “My School’s High-Tech Turnaround Plan,” for the Washington Post.
Last week, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was kind enough to join me for a tour of Kramer, where Vice Principal Delia Davis-Dyke walked us through the program now in place.
At Kramer, half of each class receives teacher-led instruction, while the other half is engaged in online learning. With 380 students, roughly 190 of them are online at any given moment during the day. The technology in use allows Administrators and parents to monitor student progress remotely.
Once the tour took us inside a classroom, it was easy to see why Kramer’s blended learning program is encouraging.
In one classroom, teachers were putting the program into effect by using an online video lesson to reinforce a discussion on the rise of Nazi Germany after World War I. Though a dense topic, the online video kept students engaged.
Vice Principal Davis-Dyke told us the blended learning program has made it possible for parents to be much more engaged with their kids too…but the program is not without its issues. Teacher training, for one, is proving to be a challenge, as is the funding of necessary peripherals such as adapters, carts, and replacement cords.
Then there’s the question of after-hours access. During the tour, Commissioner Rosenworcel asked how much students are able to take advantage of the system from home. The answer was not much, since equipment and home broadband access continue to be roadblocks.
Kramer’s blended learning program is primarily financed by Race-to-the-Top funding, which will soon run out. Vice Principal Davis-Dyke explained that the school is currently exploring corporate sponsorships to supplement their budget, with the goal of keeping the program going strong for years to come.
Some of those dollars will need to be invested in more robust broadband for the school. Due to equipment and capacity constraints, not all students can be online at once — as Vice Principal Dyke told us, if 390 kids were to be online at the same time, the school would face significant speed issues.
For me, that was one of the biggest takeaways from our tour of Kramer Middle School. Innovative programs like the school’s blended learning have the potential to revolutionize education. But as Kramer shows, hitting the full potential of the program will require a commitment to improving broadband networks at school, and increasing broadband penetration at home. These are big tasks government can’t do alone. That’s why we need regulations that encourage investment and expansion of high-speed broadband to every corner of our country.
Thanks to Vice Principal Davis-Dyke for the tour and to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel for joining us. The kids weren’t the only ones learning that day.
Thursday, October 17
Now that the federal government is up and running again, things are expected to heat up on the tech policy front. Case in point, as Brendan Sasso of The Hill reports:
The Senate could confirm President Obama’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission as early as Wednesday night.
Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s pick for FCC chairman, and Michael O’Rielly, a nominee for a Republican commission seat, have been placed on a fast track for Senate approval, according to a document circulated on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Terrell McSweeny, a Democratic FTC nominee, and Kathryn Sullivan, nominated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could also be approved.
With hot issues like spectrum auctions and the transition to advanced networks on the table, it’s good to see the government back to work, and that the FCC could finally have a new Chairman ASAP.
Friday, October 04
As Detroit prepares to choose a new mayor and City Council, teachers are preparing their students for the future. The new school year is now in full swing, and kids and teachers are settling into a routine of classes, friends, lunch menus and after-school activities. Students who are lucky enough are likely discovering how technology can enhance their lessons and expand learning beyond the classroom.
The Motor City, and indeed the entire country, are facing a tough time. Cuts are being proposed at every level of government, but there’s one essential learning tool that shouldn’t be on the chopping block: high-speed Internet. Access to this resource is increasingly necessary for students. More than a simple learning tool, access to broadband has the potential to transform education in America, afford our students new opportunities and give them the ability to transform their own communities. To see the numerous benefits of high-speed broadband, however, policy-makers and regulators must implement policies that will deliver this essential educational resource.
Advancing STEM education in America is an important and oft-discussed issue, and 21st Century broadband networks can help move forward this educational goal. Fast, reliable broadband connectivity makes individualized, interactive learning possible. This technology can enhance and supplement traditional classroom learning by engaging students in ways that can ignite a lifelong passion for knowledge. High-speed Internet service creates opportunities for educational enrichment and distance learning and can reduce inequities that exist between schools across the state or country.
High-speed Internet also makes possible blended learning, in which students and teachers collaborate to combine traditional classroom instruction with online lessons and tools. All of these benefits are possible with robust, advanced communications networks. Basic broadband access has proved to be an invaluable educational resource, but basic access alone can’t meet today’s capacity and speed requirements, much less tomorrows.
Schools and libraries across the country connect to the Internet largely because of a little-known government program run by the Federal Commissions Commission. E-rate, the nation’s largest education technology program, created in 1996, essentially funds Internet connectivity in our country’s classrooms and public libraries. The current program, however, has failed to keep pace with changing technology and the needs of students and schools. Today’s average classroom Internet connection is insufficient to support the educational innovations and learning tools of the 21st Century. According to a recent government survey, nearly half of schools and libraries reported connectivity speeds that were slower than the average American home , even though they typically serve 200 times as many users.
The dilemma of improving broadband access is a challenge not unique to our schools and libraries. Modern high-speed Internet remains out of reach for too many Americans. Schools and libraries, however, play a vital role in serving as a gateway to knowledge and providing access to broadband technologies in communities across the nation.
Efforts are now under way to expand the availability of high-speed broadband in our nation’s schools and libraries. President Barack Obama announced his ConnectED initiative in June. It calls on the Federal Communications Commission to modernize the existing E-rate program and would expand high-speed, high-capacity broadband service to 99% of K-12 students within five years. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has proposed going further, by outlining specific capacity and speed goals for a revised E-rate program, E-rate 2.0.
These efforts can ensure that our students have the resources they need to become tomorrow’s leaders. Broader access to next-generation broadband services, however, is also crucial for our entire nation. Thankfully, the federal government is now working with the private sector on how to best modernize and upgrade our antiquated telephone networks to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to every corner of the country.
Each child must have equal opportunity to develop and hone the skills necessary to navigate the technologies of tomorrow. Political, business and nonprofit leaders must support and encourage measures that expand access to 21st Century broadband in Detroit and the entire country.
This op-ed was originally published in the Detroit Free Press.
Thursday, September 26
At a technology conference in London this month, a BMW official gave a remarkable account of the speed at which his company is adopting wireless technologies to improve its cars’ performance.
Last year, according to Vice President of IT Infrastructure Mario Mueller, there were about one million BMWs wirelessly connecting to the web. This year, that number has grown to 2.5 million vehicles, and by 2018 he expects 10 million vehicles wirelessly feeding and receiving data.
Here’s another way of quantifying this remarkable growth: In 2012, BMW had about the same number of wirelessly connected vehicles as are registered in Suffolk County, a leafy suburb of New York City. By 2018, the company expects to have a million more wirelessly connected vehicles than are registered in the entire state of New York.
In terms of mobile data, BMW’s vehicles currently use 40 gigabytes per day. By 2018, the company expects this will grow to a terabyte per day, which is enough data to stream 366 hours of high-definition video, according to Netflix.
BMW’s mobile transformation is one more example of the increasingly urgent need for officials at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to hold its upcoming spectrum incentive auction, tentatively planned for late next year. This will be the first major auction of airwaves necessary to handle Americans’ growing mobile data demands since early 2008, when Apple didn’t even have a public App Store.
With more than 20% of all adult cell phone owners doing most of their web browsing on their mobile phones and more than 750,000 jobs that depend on the mobile app economy, there’s immense pressure on the FCC to move quickly.
This is why it is vital that the FCC structure this spectrum auction in a way that promotes the best possible use of this spectrum and generates the most revenue. Above all, the Commission should soundly reject the concept of favoring some bidders over others. An attempt to artificially favor or hinder bidders would be terribly unfair to tens of millions of wireless users who might see degraded service as a result of wireless providers not getting the spectrum they need to serve their customers.
Beyond that, artificial restrictions could cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $12 billion in lost revenue, according to a Georgetown study, much of which would go to fund a nationwide public safety system for first responders. This network will help police and other emergency response personnel to coordinate rescue efforts during emergencies.
The FCC has every reason — sustaining jobs, protecting taxpayers, fostering economic growth — to hold fair and unrestricted auctions. Such an auction is the best way to promote economic vibrancy and the benefits of our wireless marketplace.
For the FCC to do anything less would put our mobile economy on a road to nowhere.
Wednesday, September 11
In a post for The Hill‘s Congress Blog, Brian Fontes, chief executive officer for the National Emergency Number Association, argues that successfully building state-of-the-art public safety networks will require smart spectrum auctions from the FCC:
In order to be successful, however, the auction must generate maximum revenue by capturing the full value of repurposed spectrum. This is the best and perhaps only opportunity to raise the necessary funds for investment in a network we so desperately need. We cannot settle for half-measures and incremental moves – the FCC must take decisive steps and set up an auction that delivers the resources needed to empower our public safety officials.
An incentive auction permitting all bidders to participate will be the most effective way to deliver the funds necessary to build FirstNet and help deploy Next Generation 9-1-1. If the most likely bidders in the auction face participation limits, then as a recent study found, auction proceeds would fall 40 percent. Restrictions, including limits on bids, would likely slash $12 billion in revenue. Broadcasters wishing to make the most of their spectrum holdings will be more hesitant to offer up their airwaves for bidding. A limited spectrum inventory will reduce funds generated from the auction, and jeopardize the future of FirstNet and funding for Next Generation 9-1-1.
In a speech yesterday at the Media Institute, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi argued the FCC needed to change with the times or risk becoming irrelevant. As John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable reports:
Framing the speech as advice to incoming chairman Tom Wheeler, Cicconi suggested it would be Wheeler’s task to fix the problem rather than Congress’ because it was next to impossible to get any major legislation through Congress.
He said the FCC is still geared to an era when wireline voice was a monopoly, the Internet was nonexistent, broadcaster and cable divided up the video audience and wireless was a niche service.
To make his point, Cicconi offered up some stats. Skype has 500 million registered users. AT&T and Verizon together have 21 million traditional access lines. “What’sApp, a very popular over-the-top text messaging application, sent or received 27 billion texts in one single day…“It’s not complicated,” he says.
“In this situation, the FCC’s historic mission must be modernized to reflect the fundamental evolution in communications that IP technology and the Internet have wrought. If it doesn’t, the agency will become irrelevant,” Cicconi says.
Monday, September 09
In an op-ed for FireceTelecom, our Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons highlights a sensible path forward as America transitions to all Internet-based networks. Here’s a taste:
Antiquated telephone networks were built to handle one-to-one voice communication, but modern fiber-based broadband networks can provide Internet, video and voice services. They enable everything from voice and text messages to social networks, video conferencing, online gaming, digital TV and streaming video. These modern fiber-based networks and services can unlock a world of opportunity, drive technological innovation, create and sustain new jobs, foster powerful economic growth, and spur immense capital investment so that the United States can continue to lead the world.
One of the nation’s largest phone companies AT&T recently proposed to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to roll out this new technology through real-life test trials in a couple of markets around the country. AT&T seeks to engage federal regulators in a public and transparent process to help bring 21st century networks and services to American consumers. These cautious experiments would replicate the closely observed and very helpful FCC-sponsored DTV market trial in Wilmington, N.C., conducted in advance of the nationwide digital TV broadcasting switchover. When the Wilmington trial revealed a lack of significant switchover problems, the FCC and Congress proceeded more confidently to the nationwide transition, with consumer groups less fearful of the change.
Check out Simmons’ full op-ed over at Fierce Telecom.
Wednesday, August 21
While the FCC continues to design its critical spectrum auctions, there’s grumbling from some corners of the broadcasting world that many broadcasters won’t be voluntarily coughing up their airwaves. As Brendan Sasso of The Hill reports:
Television stations affiliated with the major networks have no interest in selling their broadcast licenses back to the Federal Communications Commission, according to Preston Padden, the director of a coalition of broadcasters who want to sell their licenses.
“To the best of my knowledge, the commission is extremely unlikely to attract affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox to this auction,” Padden said during a panel discussion at a Technology Policy Institute conference. “I am not personally aware of any affiliate of a major network who is planning to participate in the auction.”
Hopefully the FCC figures out a way to incentivize affiliates to put their spectrum up for auctions, otherwise it will be hard for the entire auction to succeed.