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.
At the Daily Yonder, Nicole Palya Wood of the National Grange (which is one of our members) writes about the promise of 4G networks in rural areas, and how government must ensure the private investment necessary to connect every corner of America to mobile broadband continues to be encouraged:
This year alone, wireless companies will invest about $26 billion in these networks – far more than the government can or should spend at a time when private companies are vigorously competing for customers in all but the handful of communities targeted by the FCC’s auction program.
Let’s hope Washington can keep its end of the bargain – by making sure that the new fund works as promised and by implementing smart policies that support private investment. The universal service fund alone can’t reach every high-cost rural area across the country.
Less regulation, more government spectrum available for consumer use, and fewer limitations on which companies can acquire and deploy more robust networks across additional bandwidth will lead to the President’s goal of 98 percent LTE deployment in the United States.
The first commercial traffic crossed the Internet in 1992. Since then, technology has dramatically changed the way consumers communicate. Last year, U.S. consumers sent 2.3 trillion text messages and logged 2.29 trillion minutes on their wireless devices. As consumer demand for wireless continues to grow, the supply of government allocated airwaves is not keeping up.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) projects that by 2014, mobile data traffic will be 35 times 2009 levels, equaling demand for 1,097 MHz of wireless broadband spectrum. The Commission therefore estimates that the deficit in wireless broadband spectrum will be 275 MHz by 2014.
“With consumer demand on track to soon outpace supply, the government must move quickly to allocate more airwaves for consumer use in order to keep mobile broadband available, accessible and affordable. And beyond making additional spectrum available, it’s crucial that policy makers encourage the private investment necessary to deploy these airwaves for the benefit of all Americans.”
— IIA Co-Chair Jamal Simmons
From 1996 to 2011, the broadband industry invested nearly $1.2 trillion, and more private sector dollars are critical to reaching the President’s goal of universal broadband. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act earmarked $7.2 billion for the expansion of broadband, and the FCC’s recently launched Connect America Fund allocates $300 million more – but a FCC task force said reaching 100 million homes with a 100Mbps nationwide broadband network could cost as much as $350 billion. Taxpayer funds alone will not suffice.
“Pro-Internet policy successes came when government removed barriers, rather than adding new ones. Unfortunately those days may be ending. While there is rare bipartisan agreement that the biggest challenge to broadband-enabled growth is lack of private investment and available spectrum, there is growing disagreement on how to fix it.”
— IIA Co-Chair Bruce Mehlman
Today, at an Internet Academy on Capitol Hill hosted by the IIA, industry experts will discuss, “20 Years Later: Are We Winning or Losing the Spectrum War?” Speakers Bret Swanson, president of Entropy Economics, and Morgan Reed, executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology, will join IIA Co-Chairmen Bruce Mehlman and Jamal Simmons to examine spectrum policy, bandwidth consumption versus availability, and the need for investment as wireless technologies continue to advance. Topics will include:
• A look at how technology has changed since the first commercial traffic crossed the Internet in 1992.
• The benefits of mobile technology, and how it has changed the day-to-day activities and operations of a typical Hill office.
• The increase in bandwidth usage over the past two decades and the need for continued network investment.
Speaking of good steps, yesterday the FCC announced another major investment in bringing broadband to everyone. As Andrew Feinberg of The Hillreports:
The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday announced a $300 million effort to extend high-speed Internet to up to 400,000 previously unserved homes, businesses and anchor institutions in rural America.
The Connect America Fund was created last October when the commission voted unanimously for what Chairman Julius Genachowski called a “once-in-a-generation reform” of the Universal Service Fund to help connect all Americans with high speed Internet by the close of the decade. The USF was established to guarantee telephone service to all regardless of means.
In anticipation of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights hearing on the proposed spectrum deal between Verizon and cable companies, Comcast’s Executive Vice President David Cohen has previewed his testimony on the company’s public policy blog:
The spectrum license transfers are consistent with the Communications Act, FCC rules, and the antitrust laws. They also will further the spectrum policy goals of Congress, the Administration, and the National Broadband Plan. Neither the License Assignment nor the Commercial Agreements reduce or harm competition in any product or geographic market. In fact, the agreements will offer further competition and innovation in the marketplace.
The Internet Innovation Alliance has publicly supported the proposed merger of AT&T (one of our members) and T-Mobile due to the real potential the merger will have for accelerated deployment of broadband services and delivery of high-speed connectivity to parts of our country that are currently underserved or have no broadband service whatsoever.
We believe the wider delivery of 4G LTE AT&T projects will be enabled by the merger will generate billions in new private investment and created tens of thousands of jobs when America needs them the most, along with a range of new opportunities in rural communities and enhanced education, health care and small business.
Thus we are disappointed by the reported opposition of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and the Commission staff to the proposed transaction. Moreover, we were surprised and disappointed by the agency’s decision to release publicly documents and the Staff Report on the application after AT&T has withdrawn the transaction from the FCC, an action described today as “unprecedented” by nominee Jessica Rosenworsal.
It was reported the Staff Report was released without even providing an opportunity for the parties the basic opportunity to see or address it first. It is extremely troubling that such procedural short cuts and attendant media attention may prejudice their efforts to reach an accommodation regarding the transaction with the Justice Department.
The FCC will clearly need to address any transactions proposed in the future, on their own merits, irrespective of the Staff Report about the withdrawn transaction. So we fail to see how the FCC’s public release of the Staff Report serves any constructuve purpose or enhances public confidence in the Commission’s future considerations.
The FCC plays an essential role in advancing the goals of the National Broadband Plan, which it adopted and which is supported by the Administration, many in Congress, and the IIA. That role requires identification and advancement of critical policies, such as USF and spectrum reforms. It also requires the integrity of the FCC’s process to ensure all supplicants, large and small, receive a fair and even opportunity to make their case and to amend their petitions, unprejudiced by leaks to the media or prior analyses which may bias the consideration of prior or future applications.
The New York Times’ Brian Stelter reports on a new initiative from the FCC to help bring broadband access to the estimated 100 million Americans who are still without:
On Wednesday, the F.C.C. will announce commitments from most of the big cable companies in the United States to supply access for $9.99 a month to a subset of low-income households. The low introductory price is meant to appeal to new customers who have not had broadband in the past.
The F.C.C. is billing the initiative as the biggest effort ever to help close the digital divide. Because no federal funds are being invested, the initiative relies in large part on the cooperation of private companies.
In coordination with the low-cost connections, tech companies are pitching in refurbished computers for low-income households, along with educational initiatives to show people the value of being connected. Good stuff all around.
With the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission separately looking over the planned merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, The Hill‘s Gautham Nagesh checked in with AT&T’s Jim Cicconi:
“We’re not really running into major concerns or disquiet about the deal on any scale that we feel would threaten approval,” said AT&T senior executive vice president Jim Cicconi, pointing out the deal has now been endorsed by 27 state governors, more than 100 mayors and over 150 Chambers of Commerce nationwide. “We’ve got good momentum on this and it’s growing.”
Cicconi also made clear that one of the merger’s key selling points — near achievement of President Obama’s goal of reaching 98 percent of Americans with broadband by deploying next-generation LTE coverage to the vast majority (97%) of Americans — hinges on merger approval:
“With this transaction we can and will (build out to 97 percent of the population),” Cicconi said. “It costs a lot to do that, $8 billion, but it’s money we’re willing to invest if this merger is approved. We’re not going to do that otherwise. Period. It’s very simple, it’s binary. If approved we can and will do it, if not we cannot and won’t.”
Yesterday, United States Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Jess Peterson attended a White House Rural Economic Forum at the Northwest Iowa Community College in Peosta, Iowa. Here’s his thoughts on the event. — IIA
It was exciting to hear President Obama’s remarks before we headed into our breakout sessions to discuss the importance of increased access to broadband Internet across the country. The President rightly pointed out that rural communities’ ability to benefit from innovation and efficiency is being stifled by the lack of access to high-speed broadband. I think it’s critical for private investment and public partnership to advance these goals to achieve increased access in the areas of our country where it matters most.
Access to reliable and fast mobile broadband is more than just a policy initiative. Here in rural America, we desperately need it — to enable America’s farmers and ranchers to keep up with market conditions, and to quickly and easily communicate with suppliers, customers and food processors. It’s a critical tool for those of us who help feed and clothe Americans and others around the world.
Next-generation mobile broadband in rural America will also come with a number of other benefits, like better healthcare for those who live far from the nearest hospital, online educational opportunities for students, and access to the global marketplace for all kinds of small businesses.
During my breakout session with White House officials, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar covered several of his department’s issue areas that will help enhance rural America, including natural resource management and conservation, and the preservation of public lands. Secretary Salazar echoed the President’s sentiment about the need to increase broadband access in underserved and rural communities, and he stressed the fact that this is an important piece to achieving overall Department of Interior goals. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to personally thank Secretary Salazar for his leadership on these issues, and promise him a continued partnership towards advancing these goals!
Northeast Iowa Community College is a great example of a success story as a result of the deployment of high-speed broadband Internet. Already, NICC has utilized this access to implement distance learning classes and programs so that students in rural America can achieve the same quality of education as those in urban areas. We need a lot more of these stories.
All in all, the White House Rural Economic Forum was a great event, demonstrating our nation’s leaders’ commitment to literally bringing rural America up-to-speed with the rest of the digitally connected nation. I look forward to learning more about what lies ahead for rural America.
— Jess Peterson
For more from Jess Peterson, check out this video he recorded for IIA.
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher has penned an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the power of mobile broadband to connect rural communities to the world. Here’s a taste:
For rural America, broadband is the bridge to our nation’s economic mainstream, but of today’s 20 percent of the national population that lacks broadband access, the vast majority live in rural areas. Bringing high-speed Internet access to rural-broadband have-nots is today’s greatest telecommunications policy challenge.
Now a single means of meeting that challenge is at hand. AT&T has pledged that its merger with T-Mobile will result in broadband reaching more than 97 percent of the population within six years, connecting 55 million Americans who lack the service today. President Obama has set a national goal of universal broadband deployment, defined as reaching 98 percent of our population, within five years. Now one company alone, with approval of the pending merger, will almost enable that goal to be met, leaving a far smaller gap to be filled with government grants and loans and other private investment.
Check out the full op-ed at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
76 House Democrats wrote to the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department on Friday urging them to consider AT&T’s commitment to deploying next-generation wireless coverage nationwide when reviewing the firm’s proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA.
The lawmakers, lead by Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) cite AT&T’s plan to deploy 4G wireless broadband networks to more than 97 percent of the country and argue the commitment will “create thousands of jobs, including many good paying union jobs with solid benefits, which will greatly contribute to our continuing economic recovery.”
Reforming the Universal Service Fund (USF) for the broadband era, using spectrum more efficiently and the joining of AT&T and T-mobile offer the best hope for meaningfully advancing broadband deployment and availability in 2011.
“The nation’s foremost telecommunications challenge is the need for universal broadband. Broadband is the bridge that ties rural communities to the American economic mainstream. The widespread deployment of high-speed Internet services promotes a national connectivity that benefits both rural and metropolitan interests.”
For decades, the primary purpose of USF has been to fund voice services through the equivalent of a tax on inter-state phone services. We at IIA strongly support the Federal Communication Commission’s unanimous decision in February to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) that focuses on reforming the Universal Service Fund to include broadband. Modernization of the USF to bring high-speed Internet services to unserved and underserved areas is a major step toward achieving universal broadband.
“Given the explosion of broadband-enabled traffic, our nation urgently needs more spectrum to continue fueling our high tech engine. We can’t make spectrum, so we have to make sure it is efficiently used and identify policies that encourage innovation so more can be done with the spectrum that is available.”
In line with our longstanding focus on the exaflood — the exponential explosion of digital content on the Internet through additional users and new bandwidth-hungry applications — we foresee ever-growing opportunities for our economy and our nation, as long as we have the Internet infrastructure in place to support it. Wireless technology faces challenges and constraints similar to land-based broadband with a limited amount of spectrum available to support the burgeoning population of mobile users.
“Expanding the availability and reliability of wireless broadband are the most important benefits of uniting AT&T and T-Mobile. When it comes to telecommunications policy, the true underdogs are underserved Americans in rural areas and communities of color throughout the country who need better access to high-speed broadband Internet. Bringing the assets and resources of these two companies together should give them that access.”
After reviewing the business plans for the proposed joining of AT&T and T-Mobile, submissions made to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), analyses by experts in technology and finance and assessments by community leaders, we believe that uniting the strengths of AT&T and T-Mobile will move our nation significantly closer to achieving universal broadband, advancing our society across the board. The combined resources of the two companies will bring 4G LTE, with wireless speeds approximating the fastest wired connections to more than 97 percent of Americans, advancing education, health care, our economy and high-tech innovation, and particularly, opportunities in rural areas and communities of color.
Over at Channel Partners, Josh Long chatted with our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher on the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, the expansion of mobile broadband, and how the deal will “nearly achieve President Obama’s goal of bringing broadband to 98 percent of Americans.” Check it out.
Earlier this week, we announced former Congressman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) had joined IIA as honorary co-chairman. As former leader of the House telecom subcommittee, Rep. Boucher is widely regarded as an expert on telecom policy.
The Hill’s Sara Jerome sat down with Rep. Boucher to talk about joining IIA and why he is an advocate for the joining of AT&T and T-Mobile. From the article:
“The primary issue is access to broadband. I think the secondary issue is the effect on competition,” he said. “The effect on competition is minimal enough that we should not sacrifice the chance to bring broadband to virtually everyone who wants it.”
Boucher would not predict whether the deal would decrease competition “since new carriers are cropping up all the time.” He noted that most major cities have five or more wireless carriers.
A former rural lawmaker, Boucher emphasized the benefits for the countryside if AT&T were to expand broadband to hard-to-reach areas, as its pledge says it will.
“Broadband is the bridge that links our rural communities to the economic mainstream,” Boucher said.
At yesterday’s Senate hearing on the proposed combination of AT&T and T-Mobile, AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson told Antitrust subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl he would accept a condition of not using Universal Service Fund (USF) money to help fund the company’s mobile broadband buildout.
Given AT&T has combining with T-Mobile will allow it to deploy LTE mobile broadband technology to reach over 97% of the U.S. population Stephenson’s statement is certainly significant in that AT&T would go a long way toward achieving President Obama’s goal of connecting every American to the “digital economy,” only with private funding.
At Silicon.com, Natasha Lomas reports the UK government has set an ambitious goal for broadband deployment:
The government has put a figure on the extent of its superfast broadband ambitions. Giving a keynote at the National Digital Conference in London today, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said the ambition of the coalition is for 90 per cent of the UK to have access to broadband of at least 25Mbps by 2015.
As part of the proposed plan, those households outside of the 25Mbps footprint would be guaranteed at least 2Mbps within the same timeframe.
Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology has a lot of promise, especially in efforts to close the digital divide. With theoretical speeds on par with wired broadband, it has the potential to provide a broadband connection to rural areas where building out wired infrastructure can be cost prohibitive.
Verizon has already launched its LTE network in many markets, and AT&T, as part of its proposed joining with T-Mobile, has said it will expand its own LTE buildout. Now, via Boy Genius Reports, another major carrier, U.S. Cellular, is getting in on the LTE action as well. From the provider’s official press release:
U.S. Cellular (NYSE: USM), in conjunction with its partnership with King Street Wireless, announced today that it will deliver high-speed 4G LTE services and 4G-enabled devices to more than 25 percent of its customers across two dozen markets in time for the holiday season. U.S. Cellular customers with 4G LTE devices and service will experience significantly faster data speeds when browsing the web, accessing e-mail, playing games and viewing and streaming videos.
Encouragingly, U.S. Cellular’s initial launch won’t be in the traditional mega-markets and coastal regions, with cities like Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Racine, Wisconsin, and Greenville, North Carolina first on the list.
[S]ome recent studies point to the uptick in wireless adoption as a tell-tale sign that the digital divide has closed, and all is right as rain when it comes to broadband adoption. However, what people fail to realize is that that kind of use is still largely limited to consumption. All too often, though we may download apps and ringtones, and watch volumes of YouTube videos for hours on end, we’ve still yet to transition to being content creators online, working with web environments to bolster our daily ambitions and economic prospects.
Why are we so often consumers and not producers, you might ask? The answer it simple—it all goes back to the value proposition of being online. Most of us have access but don’t understand the value of using the Internet for social, political and economic gain, of adopting and using the technology to our best benefit.
ViaThe Hill‘s Sara Jerome, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has introduced a bill in the House aimed at spurring broadband deployment by mandating infrastructure be installed when federal highways are constructed:
“This legislation is a creative approach to more rapidly deploy broadband service, promote competition and do so with limited federal dollars,” Eshoo said. “This ‘dig once’ policy would expand broadband at a fraction of the cost by including the conduit as roads are being built.”
Rep. Eshoo garnered praise from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Their official statement:
“We applaud Rep. Eshoo for introduction of the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2011, which will facilitate the further deployment of broadband service throughout the U.S. We look forward to working with the Rep. Eshoo and other policymakers on creative solutions to lower the cost of broadband deployment so that every American can benefit from this important service.”
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