Tag Archives: fcc

CPUC asks for more time to adapt to FCC broadband subsidy program, but doesn’t say how

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Paicines pole route

The FCC is heading toward a vote on Thursday that would raise its eligibility and minimum service standards for broadband subsidies to 25 down/3 Mbps up and award $20 billion in broadband subsidies as quickly as possible, perhaps in a single reverse auction in November. That’s welcome progress and a great thing for states that either have rational broadband policies or have no interest in broadband policy at all.

But not so great for California, which has irrational broadband subsidy policies.

Higher speed standards and a rapid timeline mean the opportunities for projects that combine money from its new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) with California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) subsidies are minimal.

In a letter to the FCC last week, CPUC president Marybel Batjer asked the FCC to move more slowly, or at least be more flexible…

Over the past month, CPUC staff have had ex parte meetings with FCC staff and commissioners’ offices to explore the possibility of a federal-state partnership in the planned [RDOF] reverse auction. Based on new information gathered during those meetings, it appears unlikely California would have sufficient time to make necessary changes to existing statutes and program rules to achieve this goal.

Batjer didn’t suggest, let alone commit to, asking the California legislature to raise the abysmally slow CASF speed standards. Instead, she asks for “a set-aside or partnership”, similar to “special privileges afforded to New York and Alaska”. A separate FCC filing made by CPUC staff suggests delaying the RDOF auction until the middle of 2021.

CASF is California’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program. It does not match up well with FCC or federal agriculture department programs. The biggest roadblock is the 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speed minimum that California lawmakers set in 2017 when they accepted large payments self-serving arguments from AT&T, Comcast and other monopoly model incumbents, and lowered California’s broadband subsidy eligibility standard (and set the minimum acceptable service level for subsidised infrastructure at 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up).

Keep broadband slow so we can ditch copper, AT&T, Frontier tell FCC

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The Federal Communications Commission heading toward a vote later this month on the structure of the new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which is the reboot of the Connect America Fund (CAF) broadband subsidy program designed for rural communities (although urban and suburban areas sometimes qualify, too). In their eternal quest for more public money and less public service, AT&T and Frontier Communications, among others, are urging the FCC to lower speed standards for subsidised broadband, so they can rip out ageing copper lines and replace them with limited capacity wireless systems.

The good news is that there doesn’t seem to be much push back on the FCC’s plan to raise the broadband service floor to 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds, from the CAF program’s slow 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up level. What has Frontier, AT&T and their Washington, D.C. lobbying front in an uproar is the preference the FCC proposes to give to higher levels of service. As with their successful legislative pocket stuffing intense lobbying effort in California, which resulted in an even lower standard for rural broadband, they’re particularly upset with higher upload speeds.

According to a letter filed with the FCC by Frontier on behalf of its colleagues (h/t to Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica for the pointer), giving extra weight, and subsequently money, for service at 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up, is a bad idea because, hey, rural people don’t need that kind of juice…

When considering network build-out using fixed wireless technologies, an upload target of 20 Mbps likely drives significant additional deployment costs – up to two to three times as high – compared to a 10 Mbps upload target. At the same time, a 20 Mbps upload target provides little to no additional benefits to the end user customer as all key upload use cases, including HD streaming, video conferencing, and gaming can similarly be accomplished with 10 Mbps.

AT&T’s own comments push a similar line – who needs all that speed, anyway?

Urban and suburban customers do. At least cable companies are putting their money behind that proposition. But cable companies shy away from rural communities where cash flows aren’t at white water levels. Rural customers think they need that level of service too – research done by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (which I helped with) demonstrate that.

The FCC should listen to them, and not to monopoly model telcos intent on fencing off rural Californians.

Pai offers net neutrality rules custom made for AT&T’s, Comcast’s business models

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Pai shapiro 1 ces 7jan2020

Ajit Pai’s three-year delayed debut at CES as Federal Communications Commission chair last week was a friendly, and at times lighthearted, conversation with Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which produces the show. Pai used the opportunity to float what he seems to thinks are consensus network neutrality rules. What he’s really proposing is to cement major ISPs and mobile carriers’ monopoly model business plans into federal law.

Shapiro led off by asking Pai about the FCC’s decision to scrap network neutrality rules two years ago. Pai endorsed net neutrality legislation. But of a sort…

Let’s focus on the things that we can actually agree on, those core principles of an open internet that we all agree upon – no blocking, no throttling, no anticompetitive conduct, transparency – I’ve just described in five seconds a bill that should sail through congress, but this has become more of a political issue than a policy one.

He left a couple of items off the list, at least the list that net neutrality advocates keep: paid prioritisation and zero rating. Those are two related practices that big, monopoly model Internet service providers – AT&T and Comcast, for example – and mobile carriers dearly want to hold onto.

When an ISP zero rates particular content, it doesn’t count the bytes consumed against a user’s monthly data cap. Paid prioritisation happens when an ISP creates a fast lane for content it owns – say, AT&T sending you Road Runner cartoons that it owns faster than Disney movies that it doesn’t – or charges the owner a fee for the same treatment.

Both practices create a hierarchy of content, as a result of an ISP’s ability to manipulate data streams to suit its bottom line. There’s not a meaningful difference between deliberately speeding some content up, versus deliberately slowing – throttling – other content down. Limiting legislation to a carefully wordsmithed consensus allows telcos and cable companies to write U.S. telecoms policy, and lock in privileges for decades to come.

Don’t expect fiber or 5G in rural communities, FCC commissioners say

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

John deere booth ces 7jan2020

Fiber and mobile 5G are fine for cities and suburbs, but rural communities can look forward to satellites and fixed wireless broadband service, according to the Federal Communication Commission’s republican majority. Speaking at CES in Las Vegas this week, FCC chair Ajit Pai, republican commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, and their democratic colleague Geoffrey Starks were upbeat about 5G, fiber and, as Carr put it, the “new wave of innovation and services”.

But that wave will only break on urban and suburban beaches, at least via conventional broadband service.

“To say we’re going to have fiber throughout the United States is both not realistic – it’s not technically doable”, said O’Rielly. “There are communities where satellite service is the exact answer”.

Pai said 5G infrastructure that connects a smartphone to fast broadband access – the standard 5G use case – will be built in cities and suburbs. Rural 5G deployments will support other services – fixed wireless broadband, for example – that might or might not be offered by mobile carriers on mobile spectrum. His rural broadband advisor, Preston Wise, who spoke on a rural 5G panel, said the rebooted version of the FCC’s primary broadband subsidy program – now called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – will be used “to deploy fixed broadband in parts of rural America”, although he held out the possibility that some of the money would go toward fiber to the premise (FTTP) projects.

Rural FTTP doesn’t fit very well into the business plans of incumbent monopoly model telecoms companies. Rural electric cooperatives, on the other hand, are deploying fiber. Pai hopes to encourage rural utility co-ops to apply for FCC subsidies – he said he doesn’t care which broadband carriers get the money.

I hope that’s true. Although electric co-ops and wireless operators figured prominently in the last round of FCC broadband subsidy auctions, they were only allowed to bid on communities that AT&T, Frontier Communications and other legacy telcos didn’t want to serve.

Legacy telcos were given a right of first refusal and they exercised it. Satellite and fixed wireless fit their rural business plans perfectly. Letting them dictate rural broadband technology choices, as O’Rielly seems happy to do, will lock in a deep divide between rural and urban communities for many decades to come.

WiFi and 5G win spectrum that the satellite and car industries lose

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Pai shapiro 1 ces 7jan2020

Despite his enthusiasm for federalising any policy that touches on telecoms, big footing state and local governments isn’t at the top of Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai’s 5G wish list. Pai and three of his fellow commissioners spoke at CES in Las Vegas earlier this week. When asked about the main barriers to widespread deployment of 5G broadband service, Pai listed cost, spectrum and the availability of trained construction crews.

Although there’s not a lot that a telecoms regulator can do about workforce training or construction costs, spectrum availability is the FCC’s core responsibility.

Pai promised to “push” more frequencies, licensed and unlicensed, into the broadband market. But opening up new spectrum for broadband means taking it away from or sharing it with other users, which quickly devolves into a zero sum game in Washington, D.C.

The satellite industry stands to lose 280 MHz of spectrum in the 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz ranges – AKA the “C” band. The FCC plans to auction off those frequencies to mobile carriers for exclusive, licensed use, presumably later this year.

The FCC has a plan to repurpose 45 MHz in the 5.9 GHz range, transferring it from the automotive industry and opening it up for WiFi and similar unlicensed uses. Carmakers “had not lived up to the promise” of their 75 MHz of dedicated short range communications (DSRC) spectrum, said Geoffrey Starks, the lone democratic commissioner to speak at CES. The FCC’s plan would assign 20 MHz of the balance to cellular-type vehicular communications – C-V2X in the jargon – and maybe leave 10 MHz for whatever uses the automotive industry eventually develops for DSRC. Or maybe not – WiFi has a huge fan base.

Sharing is contentious in D.C. because it’s often federal agencies that are being asked to give up exclusive use of frequencies they’ve had to themselves for decades. “I’ve learned in Washington there are three things you don’t discuss three things in polite society, religion, politics and sharing of spectrum”, Pai said.

FCC promises more of the “P-word” – preemption – in 2020

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Line to see pai ces 7jan2020

Due to the nature of the program, you’re going to have to go through metal detectors.
CTA staffer to long queue waiting to see Ajit Pai.

Ajit Pai made his first appearance at CES as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission yesterday, sitting down for a talk about the coming year with Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the show’s organiser, the Consumer Technology Association. Much of the conversation was about 5G infrastructure, and the public policy that surrounds it.

More preemptions of local and state authority over wireless sites, utility poles and the use of the public right of way are on the FCC’s agenda. Pai reiterated his belief that wireless policy should be made at the federal level, including policy that’s traditionally in the hands of states and local governments.

“We want to see a consistent, easy to understand set of regulations that anyone can innovate around”, Pai said. Mobile carriers and infrastructure companies want “a consistent level of regulation” as they build out 5G networks. Which means rules should be set by the FCC and not state legislatures or city councils. Pai intends to “encourage” state and local governments to approve permit applications small cell sites and other wireless facilities. “Multiple layers of government” are “not conducive to infrastructure investment”, he said.

His wingmen in the FCC republican majority echoed his comments. Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, along with democratic commissioner Geoffrey Starks, took part in a panel discussion later in the afternoon at the Las Vegas show. O’Rielly put it bluntly…

It’s not just small cells. It’s going to mean more macro towers. That means dealing with difficult issues on placement when states and localities want to either extract too much money or try to dictate what services will be offered. That’s problematic and I’ve been talking about this for a long time. It does come with the P-word, which is – it requires preemption. And that is something the commission is going to have to continue to do.

Cities and counties should expect more “bold actions”, as Carr put it, from the FCC.

Some people aren’t buying the false data big ISPs sold to the FCC

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Microsoft oregon analysis 5dec2018

The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband testing program evolved from a engineering-driven performance assessment when it was launched in 2012 to a marketing tool for monopoly model Internet service providers. That’s partly the result of the FCC republican majority embracing a role as a cheerleader for big telecoms companies, but it also reflects tensions in the program that date back to when it began under a democrat-majority commission.

Jim Warner, who recently retired from a long career as the network engineer for the University of California, Santa Cruz and still chairs the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s technical expert group, helped design the FCC’s program, along with several others from the academic side of the house as well as industry representatives. He says there’s a split between the two groups, with industry more concerned with selling service than delivering it…

While the research community has been continuously engaged in measurement activities as part of high performance networking, the commercial side of the business has been plodding along on its own measurement efforts. Our goals are to improve performance (or at least understand its limits). On the commercial side, the goal is more along the line of making money and, if performance got better, that was OK, too.

The ISPs – especially AT&T – were unwilling to accept the results of the program’s measurements and fought hard to get poor results removed from their totals to improve their score.

The lack of hard information about where and what kind of broadband service is available, particularly in rural areas, is sore spot in Washington, D.C. There’s bipartisan support for a couple of bills that would put more money behind broadband measurement and mapping programs, and set higher standards. Maybe, just maybe, enough support to make it into law in the coming weeks.

FCC allows big ISPs to add performance enhancing juice to speed tests, WSJ says

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Syringe

The fast, reliable broadband service claims endorsed by the Federal Communications Commission are based on test data that’s been doctored by California’s monopoly model Internet service providers, according to a Wall Street Journal article Shalini Ramachandran, Lillian Rizzo and Drew FitzGerald (h/t to Jim Warner for sending me the link).

Annual speed measurements taken to evaluate U.S. broadband service are “juiced” by AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and others, who know ahead of time where the tests are run and afterwards lobby the FCC to suppress bad results and hype good ones, the story says…

[AT&T] pushed the Federal Communications Commission to omit unflattering data on its DSL internet service…

In the end, the DSL data was left out of the report released late last year, to the chagrin of some agency officials. AT&T’s remaining speed tiers notched high marks…

Comcast a few years ago upgraded speeds in some regions without notifying the FCC, making test results look stellar, people close to the FCC program said. The FCC discovered the changes after spotting anomalous data and adjusted the numbers.

This September, amid an FCC test, Comcast rolled out speed upgrades for many customers in several states…

Charter-Time Warner Cable oversold its network to the point where 200 Mbps and 300 Mbps households “would achieve speeds that were only a half to a third of their promised speeds,” the New York attorney general alleged [in a 2017 lawsuit]. Yet Time Warner Cable’s FCC speed-test results in the two years prior averaged 100% or more of promised speeds.

Even so, the FCC’s VIP treatment isn’t good enough for AT&T. It pulled out of the testing program and will submit performance data it gathers itself.

The story also reports that measurements of Cox Communications’ broadband service showed a 37% actual-versus-promised consistency mark. It blamed the wholesale provider it chooses to work with, so the FCC relegated the results to a footnote, even though Cox – or any other last mile ISP– is responsible for properly provisioning middle mile connectivity and raw Internet protocol bandwidth.

The FCC broadband measurement program is a mess. Earlier this year, the FCC pulled back claims of widespread gigabit availability after a thorough debunking by a broadband advocacy group and Microsoft. That’s what happens when a regulator turns into a cheerleader for the industry it’s supposed to oversee.

California net neutrality law stuck in deep freeze as federal appeal drags on

by Steve Blum • , , ,

California’s network neutrality law won’t be enforced for at least a few more months. Last year, California attorney general Xavier Becerra agreed not to enforce the 2018 law enacted by California senate bill 822 while the legality of the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules was still being challenged at the federal level. On Friday, the wait got longer as four new petitions asking for rehearings of an October federal court decision were filed with the federal appeals court based in Washington, D.C. – aka the D.C. circuit. Links are below (h/t to Ars Technica for the pointer).

One bit of good news for SB 822 is that it looks like the FCC is sitting out this round. The dust hasn’t completely settled, but it appears that the FCC won’t contest that October decision. The decision generally blessed the rollback of net neutrality rules, but also said the FCC couldn’t preempt state broadband laws with a simple wave of its hand. That left the door wide open for state laws, such as SB 822, which prohibit broadband service providers from blocking, throttling or prioritising particular Internet traffic for their own gain – say, slowing down YouTube while speeding up AT&T Now or Xfinity Stream.

Network neutrality advocates, led by the Mozilla Corporation, filed the original appeal of the FCC’s 2017 net neutrality rollback. The October decision – by a panel of D.C. circuit three judges – rejected most of Mozilla’s arguments. Their decision said, in effect, that the FCC acted within its authority when it repealed net neutrality rules two years ago.

But.

Since the FCC no longer considers broadband to be a telecommunications service, those judges also said it no longer has authority as a telecoms regulator to preempt state net neutrality laws. That was the same rationale offered by supporters of SB 822 as it made its tortuous way through the California legislature.

The next step was to ask the entire membership of the D.C. circuit – at least the 11 active judges – to rehear the case en banc. Friday was the deadline to do so. Mozilla requested an en banc review, as did the California Public Utilities Commission and the County of Santa Clara, along with a second group of net neutrality advocates and the National Hispanic Media. If the D.C. circuit grants that request, we might be looking at another year or more of legal wrangling there. Regardless, any decision or lack thereof can still be appealed to the federal supreme court.

Petitions for Rehearing or Rehearing En Banc of appeal of FCC net neutrality repeal, 13 December 2019
Mozilla, et al
California Public Utilities Commission, et al
Public Knowledge, et al
National Hispanic Media Coalition

Without a broadband cop, big ISPs write their own rules

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Reno 911

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to end network neutrality protections. At the time, lobbyists for monopoly-model incumbents, like Comcast and AT&T, fell all over themselves promising that regulated or not, they would abide by open Internet principles.

That promise wasn’t kept, according to a blog post by Public Knowledge’s Lindsay Stern (h/t to the Baller list for the pointer)…

Researchers from Northeastern University and University of Massachusetts Amherst found that almost all wireless carriers pervasively slow down internet speed for selected video streaming services. From early 2018 to early 2019, AT&T throttled Netflix 70% of the time as well as YouTube 74% of the time, but not Amazon Prime Video. T-Mobile throttled Amazon Prime Video in about 51% of the tests, but did not throttle Skype or Vimeo. While U.S. wireless carriers have long said they may slow video traffic on their networks to avoid congestion, one of the study’s authors, David Choffnes, explained that these carriers are throttling content “all the time, 24/7, and it’s not based on networks being overloaded.” No throttling internet traffic is a core net neutrality principle.

Broadband provider Cox Communications is offering a “fast lane” for gamers who pay $15 more per month.” If net neutrality protections existed, broadband providers cannot set up “fast lanes”—also known as “paid prioritization”—to force users to pay more for prioritized access to the internet.

The FCC’s abandonment its broadband beat also means that there’s no cop dedicated to policing other bad conduct. Stern points to Frontier’s $10 monthly modem fee, which it charges whether or not a subscriber uses its equipment. It’s not the first time Frontier has been called out for arbitrarily tacking fees onto customer bills.

The FCC’s 2017 decision appears likely to stand for the next few years, but it’s not necessarily the last word. The federal appeals court in the District of Columbia upheld it, but also opened the door to state laws, such as we have in California, that would ride right over the top of it.