Tag Archives: fcc

It’s small ball, but at least U.S. congress is playing the broadband game

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Two broadband-related bills were passed by the U.S. house of representatives last week. Both focus on the federal broadband bureaucracy rather than infrastructure deployment or service upgrades, but at least there’s the hope that something will come of it.

House resolution 4881 was carried by representative Bob Latta (R – Ohio). It aims to promote “precision agriculture”, which seems to be just another way of saying “ag tech”. But it’s really about bringing modern broadband service to unserved rural areas. Sorta. It sets up a series of study groups, first within the federal bureaucracy, then including people from various aspects of the agriculture and telecoms industries. They’re charged with figuring out…

  1. The status of fixed and mobile broadband Internet access service coverage of agricultural land;
  2. The projected future connectivity needs of agricultural operations, farmers, and ranchers; and
  3. The steps being taken to accurately measure the availability of broadband Internet access service on agricultural land and the limitations of current, as of the date of the report, measurement processes.

HR 3994, by Paul Tonko (D – New York), would set up an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth inside the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. It would be responsible for doing pretty much the same thing: figuring out where broadband gaps are, and how to encourage other federal agencies to plug them.

It’s hard to get excited about either bill. At best, we can expect to see a lot of meetings over the next two or three year, capped by what I’m sure will be earnest reports. But there are a couple of encouraging things.

First, it’s good that federal lawmakers can move something, anything at all. And even better that broadband bills are moving ahead on a bipartisan basis – both passed by wide margins.

Second, there seems to be agreement that broadband responsibilities aren’t limited to the Federal Communications Commission, which is a regulator and not a developer, and the federal agriculture department’s Rural Utilities Service, which is stuck in a 1930s electric cooperative business model.

Another reason not to get excited is that neither bill is law yet. The U.S. senate has to act, which is usually not the way the bet, and the president has to sign it, which means all bets are off.

Just one touch is all it takes, FCC tells telephone, cable companies

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One of the useful things that’s come out of the Federal Communications Commission’s industry-dominated Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) is a draft rule that would establish a “one touch make ready” (OTMR) process for attaching new cables to utility poles. Assuming the FCC adopts it – pretty much a foregone conclusion – a new wireline competitor that wants to enter a market won’t have to wait around for incumbents to clean up their attachments before adding its own cable. Any necessary make ready work can be done by a pre-approved contractor.

The result, according to the FCC’s draft, is faster broadband build out…

OTMR speeds broadband deployment by better aligning incentives than the current multi-party process. It puts the parties most interested in efficient broadband deployment—new attachers—in a position to control the survey and make-ready processes. The misaligned incentives in the current process often result in delay by current incumbents and utilities and high costs for new attachers as a result of the coordination of sequential make-ready work performed by different parties.

Different companies, local agencies and other organisations have different takes on what the details of OTMR should be, but on the whole there’s general agreement that it’s a good idea because it reduces work for everyone. Google Fiber, in particular, has pushed for this kind of rule for a long time, and said in a blog post that it was “excited” the FCC’s proposal.

When it comes, the FCC’s decision won’t have direct effect in California, though. States have the option of regulating utility poles themselves, which California does. The FCC’s default rules apply in the 30 states that haven’t picked up that option. The California Public Utilities Commission is reconsidering how it regulates utility poles, and could adopt the same standard. The California legislature also has utilities poles on the agenda, although its more concerned with the fire hazard that electric lines present, and the liability that electric companies face.

A Washington, DC republican gets net neutrality religion

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Another network neutrality bill landed in Washington, D.C. on Monday. What’s interesting about this one is that its author is a republican and it would reinstate the core rules established by the Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission in 2015, but overturned by the Trump administration’s team late last year. At the time, representative Mike Coffman (R – Colorado) urged the FCC to delay repealing net neutrality so federal lawmakers could make the decision instead. The FCC went ahead anyway, so Coffman finally offered his bill in reply.

It sets out the same “bright line rules” as the 2015 FCC decision: no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation, as well as its ban on interconnection charges. Unlike the net neutrality bill working its way through the California legislature, it wouldn’t ban zero rating, though. Coffman also sidesteps the question of whether broadband is a common carrier service: his bill puts broadband into its own category.

As a encore yesterday, Coffman became the first republican in the U.S. house of representatives to sign a petition asking for a vote on a resolution of disapproval that would cancel the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. He’s number 177 on the list. The magic number is 218, a majority of house members. There are plenty of democrats who haven’t signed, although if republican dominoes start to fall, they will probably close ranks too. The resolution was passed by the U.S. senate, with three republican votes. The gap is wider in the house, though. There are 193 democrats, so 25 republicans would have to climb on board. And then president Donald Trump has to sign it.

That’s pretty much the same challenge that Coffman’s bill has to overcome. Its likely first stop will be the subcommittee run by representative Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennesse), who is a reliable friend of AT&T, Comcast and other big monopoly model broadband companies.

Any bets on what’s going to happen?

Dig once is OK, dig never is not, FCC says

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The Federal Communications Commission fired a shot across the bow of local governments last week, when it published a draft version of a “declaratory ruling” that, as the name implies, declares that moratoria that block broadband deployment violate federal law.

The ruling is primarily concerned with permits to build wireless facilities – cell sites, for the most part – and to install broadband infrastructure, such as conduit, in the public right of way. Some cities refuse to process permit applications for particular, broadband-related projects, the FCC draft says, either because they have formally decided not to – imposed a moratorium, in other words – or because they just sit on applications they don’t like and, in effect, create a de facto moratorium.

Some moratoria, though, are intended to promote broadband infrastructure deployment, and the FCC draft fudges that issue…

Some “street-cut” requirements, which providers sometimes refer to as moratoria, are not designed to thwart construction, but to promote “dig once” policies “in order to preserve the roadway and incentivize interested providers to deploy telecommunications conduit,” and would not qualify as unlawful moratoria if the state or locality imposing such street-cut requirements does not bar alternative means of deployment such as aerial lines or sublicensing existing underground conduits.

Assuming the FCC adopts the draft – as it almost certainly will – the immediate effect will be minimal. The commission would be placing “states and localities on notice” and provide them “the opportunity to ensure that their requirements comply with federal law”. Should they be so ungrateful as to not heed this advice, ultimate enforcement of the declaration would still be in the hands of courts, either directly or via an appeal of any future FCC orders preempting specific local laws. At this point, the FCC says it wants to “inform judicial resolution”.

The declaratory ruling is one item in a larger package of draft rules, that include formal a one touch make ready (OTMR) process, that lets a new broadband company put cables on poles without having to wait – sometimes forever – for incumbents to finish making the pole ready. It won’t have a direct effect in California, though. It only applies to states that use the default federal regulations for managing pole attachment. Here, the California Public Utilities Commission sets pole attachment rules.

FCC lowers rural speed standard to 8 Mbps down, 800 Kbps up

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Internet service providers who get Connect America Fund subsidies from the Federal Communications Commission have to use the money to deliver service at a minimum of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps up load speeds, in most cases – effectively all cases in California so far. Last week, the FCC defined what that standard really means: subsidised carriers have to run quarterly speed tests that show they’re hitting 80% of the required speed, 80% of the time. As the FCC explains in its order

For example, if a carrier receives high-cost support for 10/1 Mbps service, 80 percent of the download speed measurements must be at or above 8 Mbps, while 80 percent of the upload speed measurements must be at or above 0.8 Mbps.

The required testing process is reasonably rigorous. ISPs can choose the method they use, but the tests have to be run during peak usage times – defined as 6pm to midnight – and measure speed and latency all the way from a customer’s home to (or through) an FCC server, and back. So subsidised ISPs – primarily AT&T and Frontier Communications in California – will be held responsible for their middle mile capacity as well as the final hop to subscribers. Customers have to be randomly selected, but AT&T and Frontier are only obligated to test 50 locations each, although it could end up being more, particularly for Frontier, because it does business in California under subsidiary companies.

It’s not unreasonable to expect a network that’s specced at 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps to deliver 8 Mbps down/800 Kbps up most of the time. But it’s also reasonable to expect a company that’s accepted taxpayer subsidies to deliver service at 10 Mbps/1 Mbps to build enough overhead into its system so it can meet its obligations, most of the time. Unfortunately for rural California, the FCC chose the latter.

FCC looks at shifting satellite spectrum to wireless broadband

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C-band satellite frequencies will be rolled up over time, and turned over to ground-based wireless broadband operators, if the Federal Communications Commission moves ahead with a plan it will consider at its July 2018 meeting.

The satellite industry got it start with C-band back in the 1970s. Those birds sparked a revolution in the television business, allowing the development of cable networks, like HBO and CNN. They also enabled a new wave of satellite TV entrepreneurs, who sold big, back yard dishes to people who lived outside the bounds of cable systems.

Technology marches on, though. Commercial Ku-band satellites, which operate in higher frequency bands, were launched in the 1980s and were, in most respects, more cost effective. Higher frequencies meant more bandwidth and smaller dishes. C-band satellites are still in use, but are are more limited in terms of applications.

The C-band segment that interests the FCC is the 500 MHz between 3.7 MHz and 4.2 MHz. That’s just above new “mid-band” wireless broadband frequencies that the FCC is bringing online. The plan is to start at the low end at that range – 3.7 MHz – and progressively move surviving C-band traffic to higher and higher slices of that spectrum. Existing C-band licenses would be grandfathered in and protected to an extent, although that’s not completely helpful. Most C-band dishes aren’t licensed – it’s not generally required if all you’re doing is receiving signals. As most C-band dishes do. New C-band satellites already face restrictions, which would be increased if the FCC moves ahead with its plan.

The first step would be to start collecting data on how many C-band satellites are still in use, and how long they’re expected to last. Simple putting a freeze on new launches would end the business after maybe fifteen years or less – that’s the typical lifespan of a communications satellite.

U.S. senators want cities to act fast on small cell permit applications

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There’s bad news and maybe a little good news for cities in a draft U.S. senate bill that aims to speed up wireless broadband deployments. Senate bill 3157 was introduced last week by senators John Thune (R – South Dakota) and Brian Schatz (D – Hawaii). It’s a bipartisan and significant pairing – Thune chairs the senate’s commerce committee and Schatz is the ranking democrat on its communications subcommittee.

The bad news is that the bill would reduce the amount of time local governments have to process permit applications for wireless facilities. In cities with populations of more than 50,000 people, an application for a new “small personal wireless service facility” would have to be granted or denied within 90 days, or else it’s automatically “deemed granted”. Permits for adding more equipment to an existing facility – a collocation – would have to acted on in 60 days. Smaller cities would get more time, up to 5 months in some cases.

Under current California law and Federal Communications Commission rules, it’s a 60 or 90 day limit for collocations and 5 months for new sites, also with automatic approval if the shot clock runs out.

The good news, such as it is, is that the bill specifically allows cities and states to “regulate the placement, construction, and modification of small personal wireless service facilities” on aesthetic, concealment, safety and structural engineering grounds.

The National League of Cities isn’t happy with the bill, according to Politico.com

“We are disappointed that the Commerce Committee did not fully address our concerns about local preemption, and imposing a new federal one-size-fits-all mandate for small cell deployments won’t work for all cities,” said Tom Martin, a spokesman for the league. The National League of Cities had objected to the original draft proposal circulated last October, arguing its provisions would be unfair to municipalities.

Thune wants to hold a hearing on the bill later this month. Thune and Schatz teamed up on the bill proposed last year. This time around it’s a bit less tilted toward mobile carriers and it could have enough support to make it into law.

Few Californian ISPs make the cut for FCC rural broadband subsidy auction

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At least 13 Internet service providers with some kind of presence in California qualified for the upcoming federal rural broadband subsidy auction that’s scheduled for next month. The Federal Communications Commission released the final list of qualified bidders in the Connect America Fund auction round yesterday. Nationwide, a total of 220 companies qualified, and 57 were axed.

None of the ISPs on the list are obligated to bid for rural territory in California. The FCC didn’t release any information on which states the companies are interested in. On the other hand, any of the 220 qualified companies might be interested in serving California. Or already be here – it’s possible I missed some when I went through the list.

The two major incumbent telcos – AT&T and Frontier – can participate. Frontier was apparently able to overcome its low financial rating, which was one of the FCC’s qualification criteria. AT&T is represented by its mobile unit, which is a good indication that it doesn’t plan to expand its wireline network in rural California, with or without subsidies. But you knew that. They’re joined by Consolidated Telephone, which has a small service area around Sacramento.

Comcast and Charter Communications aren’t participating, but two second-tier cable companies are on the list, Cox Communications and Suddenlink’s parent Altice. So are two satellite companies, Viasat and Hughes Network Systems.

Verizon and Windstream qualified as bidders. Verizon is major mobile carrier, and both companies offer various services to businesses in California, but neither is likely to be looking this way when the auction begins. Verizon unloaded its Californian systems on Frontier two years ago, and Windstream has little or no infrastructure here.

The remaining four are all wireless ISPs: Cal.net, Conifer, Geolinks and DigitalPath.

The auction includes a mix of mostly rural census blocks around the U.S. that weren’t included or claimed in the initial subsidy grab in 2015. It’s a reverse auction – the FCC has set a maximum subsidy it’s willing to offer in any given area, and ISPs bid down from there. The available money almost certainly isn’t enough to cover all the areas on the table, so some will be left out.

Net neutrality bill thottled by AT&T’s friends in the California legislature

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In an ugly display of legislative muscle yesterday, assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), the chair of the California assembly’s communications and conveyances committee, gutted senate bill 822, the lead network neutrality bill in the California legislature.

The other net neutrality bill, SB 460, was withdrawn by its author, senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles). Although it’s technically still alive, SB 460 is dead as a practical matter (although resurrection is always a possibility at the California capitol). Santiago rejected the deal de Leon reached with Wiener over the weekend. Although no explanation for de Leon’s withdrawal was offered, it’s not hard to connect the dots.

Santiago, who has pocketed tens of thousands of dollars from telecoms companies$8,800 from AT&T alone this session – offered drastic amendments that blasted big holes in SB 822, and called for a vote, over Wiener’s objections.

Seven other committee members, including all four republicans, fell in line with Santiago and voted aye on the amendments: Jay Olbernolte (R – San Bernardino), Eduardo Garcia (D – Riverside), Brian Maienschein (R – San Diego), Devon Mathis (R – Tulare), Jim Patterson (R – Fresno), Freddie Rodriguez (D – San Bernardino), Sabrina Cervantes (D – Riverside).

Wiener shot back at Santiago…

What the committee just did was outrageous…the amendments that the committee just adopted eviscerate the bill. It’s no longer a real net neutrality bill. It is astounding to me that the committee would, and that you would ask the committee, to take that vote before hearing my presentation, before hearing public comment, before hearing support and opposition for amendments that were issued less than 12 hours ago. So I will state for the record: I think what just happened, I think was a violation of assembly rules but even if it wasn’t it’s fundamentally unfair.

Nevertheless, the committee moved ahead and considered the now-gutted version of SB 822.

For the next couple of hours, arguments for and against reinstating network neutrality rules followed a predictable path. Supporters of SB 822 urged the committee to reinstate the original language. Opponents, led by AT&T, said amended or not, they didn’t support it.

Wiener then tried to take SB 822 off the table, saying “I don’t want a vote today on this bill”.

Santiago rejected the request, citing a legislative deadline that comes at the end of next week. It was a phony excuse – as committee chair, he could have brought the bill back for another hearing well before then. Garcia moved for a vote, and assemblyman Evan Low (D – Santa Clara) seconded him. Both are also reliable friends of AT&T. Garcia carried a bill creating a $300 million piggy bank for telcos last year and Low pushed to allow them to rip out rural copper networks a couple of years ago.

Then came the second and final vote. Olbernolte and Mathis flipped and voted no. Patterson effectively did the same by abstaining, as did Rob Bonta (D – Alameda) and Chris Holden (D – Los Angeles). But Low, Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D – Los Angeles) and Sharon Quirk-Silva (D – Orange) added their support and the amended – eviscerated – version of SB 822 was approved. Its next stop is the assembly’s privacy and consumer protection committee.

Correction: Sabrina Cervantes (D – Riverside) recorded an aye vote for SB 822. The post above was corrected and updated, per the posted vote tally.

California assembly committee guts and kills net neutrality bills

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One net neutrality bill is dead and another is critically wounded after a hearing this morning in the California legislature. The industry-friendly communications and conveyances committee adopted a long list of amendments to senate bill 822 that “eviscerate” it, as its author, senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) put it. The committee’s chair, assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), who has cashed tens of thousands of dollars worth of checks from telephone and cable companies, rammed the changes through over Wiener’s objections.

SB 460, a weaker bill carried by senator Kevin de Leon, was pulled from the agenda after Santiago nixed a deal to combine it with SB 822.

It’s a serious set back for net neutrality advocates, but not necessarily fatal. SB 460 is probably dead, but the language in SB 822 is a long way from being final. The next step is a hearing in the assembly privacy and consumer protection committee, which should come in the next week and a half.