Monday, April 28
Last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler made waves when he announced new net neutrality (yes, it’s back) rules. At Tech Policy Daily, Roslyn Layton argues that the Internet sky is not falling:
There is no doubt that feelings about net neutrality are strong. Many consider the Internet a human right and that it should not be subject to market norms, indeed that it should be offered without charge and under government control. But whether we like it or not, there are real world costs to delivering the internet. Furthermore the services that we overwhelmingly use online (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix etc) do not do it out of the goodness of their hearts. They expect to make a profit, and if it means that they improve their service so we chose them over others, so be it. The reality of what the FCC proposes actually puts the power in the hands of content and application providers – subject of course to what their customers demand.
The FCC will reportedly take up the proposal at its May meeting. Stay tuned…
Wednesday, April 23
Via our Tumblr.
Monday, April 21
With the FCC moving toward its upcoming incentive spectrum auction, The Hill‘s Kate Tummarello examines a debate over Wi-Fi:
Next year, the Federal Communications Commission will auction off airwaves worth billions to wireless companies. While the agency has pledged to set aside some unlicensed airwaves — which fuel consumer electronic devices like garage door openers and Wi-Fi routers — some fear the FCC might not reserve enough of the valuable airwaves as it tries to meet congressionally set revenue goals.
The highly anticipated 2015 auction will involve buying airwaves back from broadcasters and then selling new licenses for those airwaves to spectrum-hungry wireless companies looking to expand their networks.
While most focus on the battle between wireless companies over the agency’s plans to limit certain companies in the auction, the tech industry is watching to see how much of the available spectrum the FCC will set aside for unlicensed use.
With wireless companies in dire need of more airwaves — and the government in need of revenue — it’s clear the FCC faces a precarious balancing act. Finding a solution that works for everyone will be tricky, but it needs to be done in order for consumers not to end up on the losing end of the auction.
Wednesday, April 16
As the FCC continues to design its upcoming incentive spectrum auction, 78 House Democrats have penned a letter — led by Congressmen John Barrow and Bennie G. Thompson — encouraging the Commission to maximize the benefits of the auction by ensuring they are open to all entities willing to bid. An excerpt from the letter:
For the auction to be a success, the Commission should maximize participation by both broadcasters incented to relinquish their spectrum rights and bidders seeking to buy those rights in the spectrum auction. In fact, inviting as many bidders as possible to compete in an open and fair auction on equal terms will allow for the full market price for spectrum to be realized and, in turn, lead to higher compensation to incent greater broadcaster participation resulting in more spectrum for the auction.
We agree with the position taken by the House Democrats. As our Honorary Chairman, former Congressman Rick Boucher, wrote in an op-ed for Light Reading last year:
In order to meet these multiple needs simultaneously, it’s essential that the auction be open to all financially qualified bidders. Some have suggested that the largest mobile carriers be restricted in their ability to participate fully in the auction in order to favor smaller carriers. Limiting the ability of the largest carriers to purchase the spectrum their customers are demanding will mean fewer services for consumers and lower auction proceeds, rendering very difficult the challenge of meeting all of the competing and urgent demands for the auction revenues.
Moreover, it is not at all clear that spectrum acquisition restrictions on the largest carriers would actually promote competition.
Monday, April 14
At the Washington Post, Cecilia Kang has an extensive profile of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. An excerpt:
“I’m not sitting here sucking eggs,” Wheeler said at his first public meeting in November, a warning shot of what was to come. “I’m looking seriously at these issues.”
Such candor has defied early assumptions about President Obama’s FCC pick. The former lobbyist was pegged by many as a lame-duck regulator, likely to lay low and stick to worker-bee issues.
Instead, the 68-year-old has eagerly grasped a national megaphone on the defining — and the utterly arcane — telecom policy issues of the day.
Kang’s full profile is worth checking out. And for an extensive look at the issues Wheeler’s FCC faces, read our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher’s op-ed from November for Bloomberg Government.
Tuesday, April 08
Miss our Internet Academy on the future of America’s telecommunications policy yesterday? We’ve got you covered.
Monday, April 07
Earlier today we held our latest Internet Academy, which featured former House Energy and Commerce Chairmen Rick Boucher and Jack Field discussing the past and future of America’s communications policies. We’ll have archive of the event up soon, but in the meantime, The Hill‘s Julian Hattern has a write-up. Check it out.
Wednesday, April 02
Monday’s move by the Federal Communications Commission to open up the 5GHz band for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed uses has the potential to kickstart the expansion of new, faster Wi-Fi technology. That’s a win — for consumers, for innovation, and for America’s digital infrastructure.
But even as those of us who have long pushed for expanded high-speed Internet access pop champagne corks, it’s worth noting that the FCC’s action is just a step in what should really be a sprint by the Commission when it comes to making more spectrum available for mobile broadband. As Commissioner Ajit Pai said in his statement:
“If we’re to keep pace with consumers expectations, we need more 5GHz Wi-Fi spectrum, not just better use of existing 5GHz Wi-Fi spectrum. We must redouble our efforts on making an additional 195MHz of spectrum available for unlicensed use.”
Commissioner Pai is right on the money, but that quote only tells half the story. In order to a) keep up with consumer demand, and b) truly advance mobile broadband deployment and speeds across the country, the FCC must also make more licensed spectrum available for commercial use. Or, as Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel succinctly put it, “Good spectrum policy requires a balance of licensed and unlicensed [spectrum].”
Again, the FCC’s 5GHz Wi-Fi move is worth celebrating. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. To quote Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, “We need to be ambitious in finding more ways to provide licensed and unlicensed spectrum for commercial services.” And with consumer demand for mobile broadband not likely to diminish anytime soon, the clock is ticking.
Tuesday, March 25
Congressman Adam Kinzinger and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai have penned an op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times on the need to better train kids for the digital economy. The full op-ed is definitely worth checking out, but here’s an excerpt:
To prepare our children for digital-age jobs, we need to get them online today. Our students’ futures are too important to let this opportunity for far-reaching reform slip from our grasp.
A student-centered E-Rate program would give kids in small towns a better chance to compete with those growing up in big cities. Real reform would help children in Illinois and throughout small-town America see a brighter tomorrow — and we stand ready to ensure that E-Rate lives up to that promise.
Friday, March 21
President Obama’s ConnectED initiative aims to provide high-speed broadband (as in, 100 Mbps) to every school in America within five years. It’s a worthy — and necessary — goal, but like most major initiatives, it faces the daunting question of funding.
Enter a new proposal from the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology (CBIT), which, the organization believes, provides a path for making ConnectED a reality. This article from Telecompetitor does a good job of digging into the details of the proposal, but in a nutshell it goes something like this:
Currently, wireless provider Sprint leases 2.5Ghz Educational Broadcast Spectrum (EBS) from numerous educational institutions that hold this resource around the nation. Under the Center’s proposal, that spectrum — which, according to CBIT, is going unused in 800 counties across America — should be made available through an incentive auction and its proceeds made available to compensate the educational spectrum licensees and fund the President’s ConnectEd initiative.
It’s rare these days when a proposal can appeal to both the left and the right, yet CBIT’s auction idea has the potential to hit that sweet spot where public good and the free market meet. Even Sprint stands to benefit since, as Telecompetitor’s Joan Engebretson writes in her article. Citing an argument from CBIT Executive Director Fred Campbell:
“Sprint and other wireless carriers would benefit from this proposal because assigning the EBS spectrum for purely commercial use and assigning the 2.5 GHz white spaces would enhance the value of existing commercial spectrum in the band. In addition, it would give the carriers the opportunity to acquire additional 2.5 GHz spectrum that would be free of educational obligations…”
Whether Sprint would be open to CBIT’s idea remains to be seen — Engebretson’s story doesn’t make it seem very likely — but it’s encouraging that innovative ideas are being floated to fund ConnectED. Bringing high-speed Internet access to every student is too important, so policymakers should weigh the costs and benefits of every creative proposal that offers the hope of bringing the tools of the 21st century digital economy one step closer to America’s students.
Wednesday, March 19
With all the recent focus on the transition to all-IP networks — and the FCC trials to make that transition go as smoothly as possible — it’s easy to lose track of another pressing issues, which is the Commission’s upcoming spectrum incentive auction. Over at Broadcasting & Cable, John Eggerton reports that the auctions will soon be moved to the front burner:
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is targeting May for a vote on an item establishing rules of the road for the broadcast incentive auction, according to sources inside and outside the commission.
Wheeler has been saying “spring” for a while, but according to sources, he is looking at scheduling the item for the May 15 open meeting.
Monday, March 17
Any architect will tell you that it’s impossible to build a house without a blueprint. This is true even more in telecom. Fortunately, the country just celebrated the fourth birthday of the National Broadband Plan, our blueprint for the future of broadband.
Often, government reports sit on shelves gathering dust. Thankfully, this one did not. Acting on a request from Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) produced a report that was a vision for a connected future of universal broadband and a clarion call to move forward with innovation rather than letting America fall behind other countries.
The Plan started with a clear vision: every American deserves broadband. Not only that, every American needs broadband as it becomes increasingly critical for applying for jobs, learning new skills, communicating with others, and accessing our government. As the report said, “broadband can be our foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.”
Over the last four years, there has been great progress. When the report was adopted, over 100 million Americans did not have broadband and 14 million Americans did not even have access to infrastructure that would enable broadband applications. Now, those numbers are significantly smaller, thanks to private sector investment and government’s continued focus. According to a White House report from last June, “about 91 percent of Americans have access to wired broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps downstream, and 81 percent of Americans have access to similarly fast mobile wireless broadband.”
In fact, that 2013 report notes that the definition of “broadband” has essentially shifted to speeds greater than 10 Mbps rather than the government’s historic definition of broadband beginning at 3 Mbps, which is good enough for one user at a time to load photos onto Facebook in a household, but not fast enough to download HD video from Netflix. Average delivered broadband speeds have doubled since 2009 to keep up with consumer needs.
This is only a beginning: President Obama’s recent State of the Union set a goal that 99% of students would have access to ultra-high speed broadband in schools and libraries over the next four years.
That kind of achievement only happens with massive levels of private sector investment, and the private sector has begun doing its part. Over the last four years, tens of billions of dollars of investment from the private sector have been directed towards expanding broadband access and increasing broadband speed. Investment in wireless broadband alone jumped over 40% between 2009 and 2012. In fact, two companies in this sector – AT&T and Verizon – were named “Investment Heroes” by the Progressive Policy Institute for their commitment to America’s telecommunications future. This is appropriate as the Plan stated that “broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.”
To meet that challenge, government must encourage more private investment, while ensuring equitable access for every American to benefit from all that broadband has to offer. As the report stated, “the role of government is and should remain limited.”
As with many such efforts, this won’t happen without effort. The National Broadband Plan made clear that the nation would eventually have to make the transition from the aging telephone network to a system based on new broadband technologies. An FCC technology task force made the point even more clearly – that transition must happen over the course of this decade.
In fact, most consumers have already made this transition voluntarily. Less than one-third of residential consumers still use “plain old telephone service” at home (U-verse or Skype anyone?). The FCC has recently approved trials for these next-generation networks, which is a major step forward towards the all-broadband future foreshadowed in the Plan.
Four years after the National Broadband Plan, we have a vibrant, robust, cross-platform competitive system in which more and more Americans are gaining access to faster and faster broadband every day. There is more work to do, so let’s keep moving forward and not inhibit it through policies and regulations that would slow investment rather than increase it. If we want to be sure that every American has access to broadband, we should follow the vision set out in the National Broadband Plan for universal broadband, and move quickly toward the transition to modern high-speed broadband networks and services.
Wednesday, March 12
Over at The Hill, Pete Kasperowicz reports on recent moves by the House to open the doors at the FCC:
The House voted Tuesday to require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate more transparently, including by ensuring public input on regulations.
The bill’s author, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), said the bill is partially a response to a proposed FCC rule to study the editorial decisions of newspapers. That proposal drew harsh criticism late last year, and Walden said it was a “dangerous” outcome that threatened the First Amendment rights of these papers.
“Somehow, an item as controversial as this study made it all the way through the FCC without so much as a commission vote,” Walden said during floor debate. “Americans deserve greater… transparency and accountability from their government.”
Interestingly, the bill passed through the House easily.
Monday, March 10
In an op-ed for the Sun-Sentinel in Florida, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher breaks down what the FCC’s IP transition test trial for a community in Delray will mean for residents. An excerpt:
You may have heard by now that Kings Point in Delray is one of two communities in the country that soon may get a Federal Communications Commission -sponsored test of a new broadband communications network to replace today’s telephone network.
While some of us may have an idle phone bolted to the wall, that’s no longer the case for the majority of Americans. Two-thirds have fled the outdated, copper-wire network entirely. In fact, only five percent of American households still rely on it exclusively.
The old telephone network, first invented by Alexander Graham Bell, is wearing out. And as with most technology of yesteryear, it has severely limited functions and capabilities.
You can read Boucher’s full op-ed at the Sun-Sentinal.
Friday, March 07
Via Julian Hattern from The Hill, the FCC has put word out that it wants public input on how best to achieve President Obama’s call to bring high-speed Internet access to every school and library in America:
Comments the FCC receives will be on top of the 1,500 it has already gotten on the issue.
“The record in this proceeding demonstrates overwhelming agreement among stakeholders that the E-rate program has been a crucial part of helping our nation’s schools and libraries connect to the Internet,” the FCC wrote in the notice. “The record also shows a strong commitment to ensuring that the E-rate program quickly evolve to meet the ever-growing need for high-capacity broadband so our students and communities have access.”
Wednesday, March 05
Over at Latinovations, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has penned a guest op-ed on how broadband access can help close the Latino achievement gap. Here’s an excerpt:
According to the Department of Education, Latino students on average lag roughly two grade levels behind white students in reading and math exams. And Latino students lag behind their white and Asian peers in high school graduation rates in all but two states. This gap can be even greater for Latino students that are English language learners.
Now, I’m a regulator, not an educator. But as a member of the Federal Communications Commission, I’ve had a front-row seat to the digital revolution. Broadband and cloud computing are revolutionizing education. The traditional teaching tools that I grew up with – chalky blackboards and hardback books – are giving way to interactive digital content delivered through high-speed broadband.
Commissioner Rosenworcel’s full op-ed is worth checking out.
Friday, February 28
From IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher:
Every month, 450,000 people make the transition from the old circuit-switched network to the new, IP-based world of telecommunications. Two-thirds of Americans have fled the old phone network entirely, and only five percent use it as their sole means of communication. It’s clear that consumers prefer newer products, services, and technologies in place of the old. Just as the telegraph once gave way to the telephone, and analog gave way to digital, so we stand at the threshold of another revolution in communication, as Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone network gives way to the advanced IP broadband networks of tomorrow. In fact, by the end of this decade a sunset should occur for the antiquated circuit-switched telephone network.
As a key step in reaching that goal, in its filing today, AT&T has accepted the FCC’s call for the initiation of trials in select local markets where consumers will rapidly be transitioned from the old network to modern broadband communications platforms. The company in its filing underscored a thorough ongoing commitment to the core network values the Commission seeks to promote. Far from being a “regulation-free zone,” the future vision for an all-IP world is one in which communications services are accessible, secure, and reliable. Using the core values of universal service, consumer protection, public safety, reliability, and competition as its guidepost, the FCC can help speed investment in advanced networks that bring the benefits of high-speed broadband to everyone.
During the upcoming trials – to be held under the direct supervision of the FCC – government, consumers, and industry will all work together, in an open and transparent manner, to learn what can go wrong when the consumers who remain on the old telephone network are rapidly transitioned to modern broadband communications. With information from the trials, solutions can be put in place to ensure that the nationwide transition is a success for everyone. And at this stage and throughout the trials, the traditional phone network will remain in place, providing protections, a kind of safety net, for those who still depend on the old system for essential communications needs.
As we move forward, I’m confident that the IP networks and services to be tested will exceed both consumers’ and the FCC’s expectations for service, reliability, and consumer protection.
Thursday, February 27
The transition to all-IP networks may be the hot tech topic inside the Beltway these days, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other pressing issues. Like the need to free up more spectrum for wireless use, which as Kate Tummarello from The Hill reports, is getting some much-needed attention from members of the House:
As the Federal Communications Commission prepares for its 2015 airwaves buy-back and auction, a pair of House lawmakers has launched a new congressional caucus focused on spectrum.
The caucus, announced Thursday by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), will examine spectrum-related issues, including licensed spectrum — such as the kind used by federal agencies and wireless companies — and unlicensed spectrum, which powers Wi-Fi systems.
“As our economy increasingly relies on spectrum, this Caucus will be an important mechanism for our colleagues and congressional staff to engage on the spectrum policies, both licensed and unlicensed, facing our economy,” Matsui said in a statement.
Tuesday, February 11
Any update to the Communications Act will take a while to make happen, especially since — as Julian Hattern for The Hill highlights today — the Senate is unlikely to get started soon:
The Senate won’t be following the House’s lead this year to overhaul the sweeping law regulating the TV, radio and other communications services, which has not been updated since the rapid growth of the Internet.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has begun to probe ways to bring the Communications Act into the 21st Century, but Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said on Tuesday that the Senate Commerce Committee, of which he is a member, probably won’t be following suit in 2014.
“I doubt we’ll do anything this year but I know that the House has been saying that they want to open that and certainly we’ll be seeing what they want to do,” said Pryor, chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on Communications, at a winter meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in Washington.
Still, any step toward updating the relic of an Act is a positive one. As our own Rick Boucher — who played a major part in the last update of the Communications Act — wrote in a recent op-ed for Roll Call. As Boucher wrote:
Today, the FCC is both catching up and leading. It must catch up to the large majority of Americans who have made their own personal transition to smartphones, tablets and other devices that provide 24/7 connectivity to the Internet and its treasure trove of information and entertainment. At the same time, the agency also must lead by joining Congress in crafting an updated regulatory framework that supports continued innovation and network expansion and extending a helping hand to guide the minority of Americans who have not yet joined the digital world.
To complete the journey, Congress and the FCC must clear the road of outdated rules that made sense for the telephone monopoly era of the 20th century but which now slow the shift to the multitasking digital networks of the future. For example, the old rules require local phone companies to invest billions of dollars every year in the old voice telephone network that droves of Americans abandon every day. Every dollar spent on the aging, single-purpose analog phone system consumers are fleeing is one less dollar invested in multifunctional modern digital networks consumers prefer.
Thursday, February 06
Back in 1996, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher played a major role in crafting the Telecommunications Act. For the Act’s 18th anniversary, he penned an op-ed for The Hill arguing that outdated regulations and the shift to broadband-based networks need to be the focus of any Act going forward. As Boucher writes:
The ’96 Act accomplished everything we intended. It unleashed a golden era of competition, service improvements, technological advancements and massive investments in high-speed broadband-capable networks. With the right public policies in place — policies favoring investments and newer technologies consumers want — this golden age will continue for all Americans.
The transition to IP networks, and the policy modernization that will accompany it, represent the largest telecom changes since the ’96 Act. It’s going to be an exciting several years.
Check out Boucher’s full op-ed at The Hill.