Tag Archives: ncta

Sometimes, telecoms lobbyists can’t help telling the truth

by Steve Blum • , , ,

When I see a headline like "Broadband speeds have soared under net neutrality rules, cable lobby says", I gotta click on it. So I did and landed on an article by Jon Brodkin on Ars Technica.

There’s no Damascene conversion involved, though. What Brodkin is highlighting is how cable lobbyists, such as the National Cable Television Association (or whatever they say the acronym stands for these days), brag about faster Internet speeds, while at the same time bemoaning the infrastructure investment apocalypse that must surely follow the FCC’s 2015 decision to regulate broadband as a common carrier service…

As we can see, the NCTA has flexible messaging and applies conflicting arguments to different situations. When the NCTA tells the Federal Communications Commission that it should roll back net neutrality regulations, the association says that the rules harm investment and raise prices on consumers. But when trying to convince the public that US broadband is a marvel of innovation and that we should all be grateful to cable companies, the NCTA says speeds are soaring and that customers are paying less.

So which is it? On an aggregate basis, broadband speeds in the U.S. are still climbing, although improvements are unevenly distributed, with affluent areas getting attention and poorer rural and inner city areas not. The NCTA’s latest puff piece is based on the the most recent State of the Internet figures published by Akamai, which is a reliable gauge of worldwide Internet performance and traffic. The exact magnitude and distribution of those improvements might be open to debate, but the general trend isn’t.

On the other hand, there’s little evidence that common carrier rules have slowed infrastructure investment. Forbes thinks it has, but Brodkin’s research shows that big incumbent telecoms companies, including AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Altice, are still putting out a happy, happy, joy, joy message to Wall Street.

Broadband service is getting better for some in the U.S., and the areas where infrastructure investment is lacking never had it in the first place. Common carrier rules don’t seem to be doing any great harm. Thank you NCTA for clearing that up.

Broadband astroturf grows thicker

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

The astroturfing season is officially open. According to a story in Vice, big incumbent ISPs are trying to make their opposition to new FCC network neutrality rules or, worse, reclassification of broadband as a regulated, common carrier service look like it’s coming from the common people. A group calling itself Broadband for America – who could be against that? – is cranking up an artificial grassroots – astroturf – campaign against net neutrality. But the group’s leadership is not exactly made up of consumer advocates…

Last month, Broadband for America wrote a letter to the FCC bluntly demanding that the agency ‘categorically reject’ any effort toward designating broadband as a public utility. It wasn’t signed by any internet consumer advocates…The signatures on the letter reads like a who’s who of ISP industry presidents and CEOs, including AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, Cox Communications’ Patrick Esser, NCTA president (and former FCC commissioner) Michael Powell, Verizon’s Lowell McAdam, and Comcast’s Brian Roberts.

Meanwhile, the Free Utopia blog is claiming that a website opposing an Australian bailout of the Utopia project, ostensibly put up by the Utah Taxpayers Association, was actually funded by CenturyLink, which stands to lose big if a true muni network ever hits its stride in the Salt Lake City area.

It’s easy to overstate the influence these false fronts exert on the decision making process, particularly at the FCC where the former chief lobbyist for both the cable and mobile phone industries now sits in the chairman’s seat. It’s not like Tom Wheeler doesn’t know the playbook by heart.

On the other hand, the FCC has reportedly received hundreds of thousands of emails on the topic, at least some of which probably came from actual ISP customers. Like this guy…

Don’t start the muni broadband party until FCC chair Wheeler puts it in writing

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Given FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s tap dancing on net neutrality regulations and his long pedigree as a lobbyist for cable and mobile interests, there’s good reason to carefully parse anything he says. Including what seemed to be pro-muni broadband remarks made last week at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual show in Los Angeles…

For many parts of the communications sector, there hasn’t been as much competition as consumers and innovation deserve. Given the high fixed costs and consequent scale economies, this isn’t especially surprising. But that makes it all the more important that we knock down public and private barriers to competition and avoid erecting new ones. It is equally important that we encourage competition wherever it is possible.

One place where it may be possible is municipally owned or authorized broadband systems. I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments—the same ones that granted cable franchises—want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws. I have said before, that I believe the FCC has the power – and I intend to exercise that power – to preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband.

It’s a fine, populist message, but many states – California included – have laws that restrict or disadvantage municipal broadband projects, without completely banning them. And there’s plenty of weasel room between municipally “owned” and “authorised”.

So far, no one at the FCC has put any meat onto the bones of Wheeler’s stated intention. That’ll come during what will be a lengthy process of reviewing rules regulating telephone service. Wheeler acts like he’s the telecom industry’s lobbyist-in-chief rather than a neutral chair of a federal regulator: it’s too early to start celebrating a muni broadband victory.

Cable lobby blocking competition from broadband subsidies in federal farm bill

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Don’t you dare overbuild modern telecoms systems.

Federal broadband subsidies for rural areas are up for a vote in the U.S. Senate on Thursday, and cable lobbyists are pressing hard for restrictions on construction funding. Broadband is but one tiny piece of a huge, five year farm program that costs nearly a trillion dollars and includes everything from crop insurance to food stamps.

The bill has been stalled in the senate for some time. Given the rules there, it needs 60 out of 100 votes to move forward. Negotiations will continue up to the last minute, which will likely come on Monday when senators are due to take a second and final vote on it.

Several broadband programs have been lumped into the bill, but not all are likely to survive the horse trading that democrats have been doing to secure at least a handful of republican senators and, they hope, make it palatable to the republican controlled House of Representatives. Josh Evans, in a story on the Broadband Breakfast blog, does a great job of summarising the menu of potential broadband goodies on the table, which include construction subsidies, new access rules and better information collection.

And a cable industry sponsored grenade that would make it harder to subsidise broadband projects in areas where there’s some level of broadband access – mobile service, maybe? – but where it doesn’t meet whatever federal benchmarks are in effect. One person’s overbuild is another’s attempt to prevent parsimonious incumbents from sentencing rural communities to life in the Internet’s slow lanes. So far though, in Washington and Sacramento, cable lobbyists have been successful in pushing the overbuild meme (along with fist loads of campaign cash) on legislators.