Tag Archives: public policy

Broadband won’t be slower, mobile isn’t the same as wired FCC says

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The republican-led Federal Communications Commission will endorse two essential and, to some, controversial policy positions taken by the previous democratic majority commission: the minimum speed for broadband service to be considered “advanced” is 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up, and mobile service is not a “full substitute” for wireline broadband – there are “salient differences” between the two.

It’s a victory for common sense and market freedom over the intense, self interested lobbying by big telephone, cable and mobile companies at the local, state and federal level. AT&T, in particular, wants policy makers to believe that its mobile service, including the fixed variant it calls wireless local loop, is good enough for communities that don’t have the household income levels that would make wireline upgrades sufficiently profitable. Cable companies don’t want 25/3 to be the official floor because they are usually the only broadband providers that can offer that service level – they fear being tagged as a monopoly by antitrust enforcers and other broadband regulators.

Commissioners are reviewing a draft decision reaffirming these findings. So far, the FCC has only released a “fact sheet” summarising the draft. It says…

  • The 25/3 speed benchmark is maintained. The draft report finds that the current speed benchmark of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps remains an appropriate measure by which to assess whether a fixed service provides advanced telecommunications capability.
  • Mobile services are not full substitutes for fixed services—there are salient differences between the two technologies. Both fixed and mobile services can enable access to information, entertainment, and employment options, but there are salient differences between the two. Beyond the most obvious distinction that mobile services permit user mobility, there are clear variations in consumer preferences and demands for fixed and mobile services.
  • Because fixed services and mobile services are not full substitutes, it is important to evaluate progress in deploying fixed broadband service as well as progress in deploying mobile broadband service. Any analysis that only looked at the progress in deploying fixed broadband service or only looked at the progress in deploying mobile broadband service would be incomplete. Therefore, the draft report takes a holistic view of the market and examines whether we are both making progress in deploying fixed broadband service and making progress in deploying mobile broadband service.

The FCC got this one right.

FCC “fact sheet” on draft 2018 broadband deployment report 18 January 2018
Pai statement on draft 2018 broadband deployment report 18 January 2018
Clyburn statement on draft 2018 broadband deployment report 18 January 2018

Prosecutors in, CPUC out as California’s net neutrality enforcer

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Democrats and republicans in Sacramento agree on at least two things: network neutrality rules are good and the job of enforcing them shouldn’t go to the California Public Utilities Commission. The California senate’s appropriations committee gave senate bill 460 a green light, and sent it on for a formal floor vote yesterday, after wrangling a promise of significant changes.

Senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles) authored SB 460. As originally written, it would have revived net neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission scrapped last month. Committee democrats liked that, republicans didn’t. But lawmakers from both sides of the aisle objected to making the CPUC California’s broadband cop. The appropriations committee chair, senator Ricardo Lara (D – Bell Gardens) opened discussion of SB 460 yesterday by announcing that de Leon agreed to change tack…

The author has committed to…amending the bill prior to a vote on the senate floor to address those concerns by striking out the CPUC as the oversight agency and instead designating the [California attorney general], the DAs – the district attorneys – and the city attorneys as enforcement entities.

Lara also said that de Leon would add language requiring state agencies to buy Internet service from providers that follow net neutrality principles, a feature of a parallel bill, SB 822, by senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), and something that has a far better chance of surviving a federal court challenge.

Republicans seem to be warming to the idea. Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) endorsed the decision to put enforcement duties in the hands of state and local prosecutors – who already have consumer protection responsibilities – then went on to say she’s “working very hard to ensure net neutrality is there, but not through a regulatory structure that creates a patchwork that we would have to deal with as we travel to other states”. Bates didn’t mention how she intended to do it, though.

The state senate either has to vote on SB 460 before the end of the month, or it automatically dies. Even if it does, SB 822 will continue chugging along – it’s a brand new bill with different, more generous deadlines.

Four ISPs claim California right of first refusal for broadband subsidies, but big telcos sit it out

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Four Internet service providers exercised their jus primae noctis right of first refusal for California broadband subsidy priority by Tuesday’s deadline. That’s assuming all four got it right, which is doubtful.

When the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) program was turned into a piggy bank for AT&T and Frontier rewritten last year, one of the benefits lawmakers slipped into the bill was an annual opportunity for incumbent providers to claim unserved areas, in exchange for a promise to upgrade broadband service within six months. They could apply for CASF money in those areas, but no one else could.

It was one of many giveaways to big incumbents, but only one of the four falls into that category. Of the major Californian ISPs, only Charter Communications filed, and it didn’t exactly claim a right of first refusal. Rather than explicitly promising any upgrades, Charter simply pointed out that it’s under CPUC orders to convert its remaining analog cable systems in California to full digital capability, and then asked to CPUC to deny any subsidy requests in its territory “in the spirit of the [right of first refusal] process”.

Charter got one thing wrong, though. It said it had until May 2019 to finish those upgrades. That’s only true in Monterey County, where a separate agreement governs. For the other communities in Tulare, Kings and Modoc counties where it has build out obligations the deadline is November 2018, per the CPUC resolution that granted Charter permission to buy Time Warner and Bright House cable systems in California (page 71, item g if anyone is curious).

The other three include Anza Electric Cooperative, which has one CASF grant in the bag and another pending for a fiber to the home build in its Riverside County electric service area and Conifer Communications, a wireless ISP that’s claiming territory that’s arguably in, or at least in the general neighborhood of, its existing service area in Amador, Calaveras, Mariposa, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties.

The fourth is Geolinks, also a wireless ISP, with plans to apply for a CASF grant and expand into the same Monterey County communities that Charter is claiming. The new CASF law limits right of first refusal eligibility to “existing facility-based broadband provider[s]”, which is a term the CPUC has defined as providers that intend to “upgrade service in their existing underserved territories”. Geolinks has no facilities in Monterey County, although it does offer service further south on the central coast. Whether they’re close enough is something for the lawyers to argue over. As is the competing “notice” from Charter.

Anza Electric Cooperative, Inc., “CASF Right of First Refusal Annual Demonstration Letter”, 15 January 2018.

Charter Communications, “Notice of Planned Deployment of Broadband Passings”, 16 January 2018.

Conifer Communications, “Right of First Refusal Letter”, 16 January 2018.

Geolinks, “Right of First Refusal Letter”, 15 January 2018.

California senate leadership will decide if net neutrality goes to a vote

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A bill to reinstate network neutrality rules in California is in legislative limbo. The senate appropriations committee put senate bill 460 into the suspense file, where it’ll sit until the end of the week. At that point the committee, in consultation with senate leadership, will decide whether it will move on to a floor vote.

Opinions split along party lines on the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to roll back broadband’s status as a common carrier service, and in the process eliminate rules that banned paid prioritisation, throttling and blocking of Internet traffic. Republicans thought the federal government is doing a fine job with telecoms policy, while democrats begged to differ. But there was bipartisan agreement on one point – if the state does decide to try to regulate broadband service, the job should not go to the California Public Utilities Commission.

“Historically, we have the problem of overplacement of responsibility at the PUC”, said senator Jerry Hill (D – San Bruno). “Wherever this goes, the PUC is not the correct place”.

“It’s almost a blank check to the PUC…to fix a problem that doesn’t exist”, said senator Jim Nielsen (R – Tehama). It’s likely to be a substantial check – a preliminary estimate by the CPUC and the governor’s finance office puts the annual administrative tab at more than $1 million per year over the next five years.

That’s money that would have to be spent until – as is all but certain – a federal court eventually tosses out SB 460.

Because SB 460 was originally introduced as a broadband subsidy bill last year, then gutted and completely rewritten as a net neutrality bill this year, the appropriations committee has to approve it by the end of the week and the full senate has to act on it by the end of the month. Otherwise, it’ll die a quiet death.

There is another net neutrality bill in the hopper, though, one that was introduced this year and has a longer shelf life. SB 822, by senator Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco), is more artfully – if still vaguely – crafted to survive legal challenges, although to what, if any, extent that’s even possible is debatable. Nevertheless, Weiner, who also thinks the CPUC is the wrong agency for the job, said during the hearing yesterday that he’s talking with SB 460’s author – senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles) – and “we want to work together collaboratively”.

Governors agree scrapping net neutrality was wrong, but differ on role of states

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The end of network neutrality and broadband’s status as a common carrier service doesn’t sit well with a pair of western governors. Speaking during the National Governors Association summit held alongside CES in Las Vegas last week, Nevada governor Brian Sandoval and Montana governor Steve Bullock both thought it was a bad decision by the Federal Communications Commission, but had different views on whether net neutrality is something that can be addressed at the state level.

“I’m concerned about the decision. I don’t support the decision but the exclusive regulation of that issue is within the FCC”, said Sandoval, republican. "The danger, in my mind, is having 50 different sets of rules and regulations associated with that, particularly with something as ubiquitous as the Internet.

“It took us all a little by surprise, that we would repeal something that seemed to be working pretty darn well”, said Bullock, a democrat. “If congress doesn’t act, we’ll see if there’s something states can do”.

Sandoval chairs the association and brought it to Las Vegas for the first time. Proximity didn’t seem to be a selling point for California governor Jerry Brown, who skipped the conference. The hot topic was technology and transportation. “We had 26 states with us this week, and the focus was on transportation, particularly autonomous vehicles”, Sandoval said. He sees self driving car policy as a responsibility that states share with the federal government, and coordination is necessary.

Bullock agreed. “We need to help provide an environment and a regulatory framework that supports innovation”, he said. “I don’t think it’s government’s role to prop up businesses that can’t compete, but where we can facilitate the opportunities for technologies…most governor work in concert with private companies”.

Energy innovation and infrastructure was also high on their list.

“None of these developments can happen without equal advancements in energy”, Sandoval said. “While states are driving innovation, the burden of modernising and maintaining the nation’s transportation and energy network is a shared obligation. State, federal and local governments must partner to invest in quality infrastructure and meet our nation’s needs”.

It’s a pressing problem, Bullock said. “One of the most antiquated technologies in the western United States is the electric grid”.

Futile or not, California senate committee approves net neutrality bill

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Network neutrality rules were endorsed by the California senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee last week. On a 7 to 2 party line vote – democrats aye, republicans nay –the committee approved senate bill 460, by senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles). It would reinstate the net neutrality requirements that the Federal Communications Commission repealed last month.

The bill is supported by consumer advocacy groups, and opposed by telecoms companies, including AT&T, Frontier Communications and Comcast’s and Charter’s lobbying front, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (although someone needs to check in with Comcast – it has not ruled out paid prioritisation, as CCTA’s chief lobbyist, Carolyn McIntyre, testified).

On the face of it, SB 460 has no practical effect so long as the FCC decision, which explicitly preempts state-level net neutrality rules, stands. As the committee’s staff analysis delicately noted…

Under the Order that was just issued, the FCC states they “preempt any state or local measures that would effectively impose rules or requirements that we have repealed or decided to refrain from imposing in this order.” As such, the success of implementing this bill is largely hinged on the new order being repealed or rejected, in whole or in part. Considering the high likelihood that the courts will be asked to weigh in, it seems within the realm of possibilities that the new order may not withstand a court challenge.

But if the FCC’s decision is tossed out in court, the federal net neutrality rules snap back into place. So there’s not much practical value to de Leon’s bill, except that it gets him noticed by voters who care about such things, without greatly upsetting the big money donors who oppose it. De Leon needs a lot of name recognition and cash – he’s running for the U.S. senate against Dianne Feinstein, who has plenty of both.

Among those voting yes was senator Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco), who has introduced net neutrality bill with a somewhat different approach. Weiner was glad that de Leon was also pushing for net neutrality, but he had concerns about whether SB 460 would withstand court challenges. He – and most of the other committee members – also expressed misgivings about making the California Public Utilities Commission the state’s Internet cop.

The next stop for the bill is the senate’s appropriations committee, which is scheduled to consider it tomorrow.

FCC swings a policy sledgehammer at local governments in 2018

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They might have ducked substantive statements about network neutrality, but two members of the Federal Communications Commission had a lot to say yesterday about local governments. Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Mignon Clyburn clashed during an FCC panel discussion at CES, which also included their colleague, Brendan Carr. O’Rielly and Carr are two-thirds of the republican majority on the commission; Clyburn is a democrat.

When asked about what plans he has for 2018, particularly regarding removing barriers to broadband deployment, O’Rielly pointed directly at local governments. While some cities are doing a good job managing permit processes and access to infrastructure, “there are many bad actors out there that see it as an opportunity for revenue gathering or power struggle”, he said. “I’m willing to use my authority to push those bad actors out of the way”.

That’s the wrong approach, Clyburn argued. “Not all communities are created equal”, she said. The FCC should “not take a sledgehammer when only a scalpel is needed”.

“We’ve tried the scalpels, we’ve tried the different approaches”, O’Rielly replied. “Now we have communities that are trying to extract dollars that they don’t deserve”.

O’Rielly said he’s waiting for the FCC’s lobbyist-laden broadband deployment advisory committee (BDAC) to come back with final policy recommendations later this month. He’s sure to be happy. BDAC’s draft proposals, released in November, are exactly the kind of sledgehammer O’Rielly seems to want: federal preemption of state and local permit processes for wireless sites and other broadband infrastructure, preemption of local ownership and oversight of poles and other wireless assets, statewide cable franchising and, for good measure, a de facto ban on muni broadband systems.

The panel session, moderated by Julie Kearney, a top lobbyist with the Consumer Technology Association, opened with an obligatory question about net neutrality and the commission’s decision to scrap common carrier status for broadband service. Aside from a couple of zingers – Clyburn called it “the destroying Internet freedom order”, while Carr blasted those who “are flaming the false flames of fear” – the conversation was about the process ahead and the occasionally collegial and occasionally not relationships between commissioners.

Trump outsources rural economic development to wireless broadband companies

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U.S. president Donald Trump put privately funded wireless broadband at the top of his rural economic development agenda yesterday. In a speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation, Trump embraced recommendations made by a government task force he created to define rural economic development policy. The task force report labeled rural connectivity “essential” and “fundamental for economic development”, and leaned heavily on wireless solutions.

“The task force heard from farmers that broadband internet access is an issue of vital concern to their communities and businesses“, Trump said. “That is why today, in a few moments, I will take the first step to expand access to broadband Internet in rural America. I will sign two presidential orders to provide broader, faster—and better—internet coverage”.

Those orders direct the interior department to make some of its assets, presumably towers and wireless sites, available for broadband development purposes and generally tell federal agencies to speed up antenna installations on federal buildings.

The task force did not call for increased federal spending on broadband infrastructure. Instead, it recommended trimming back regulations, favoring wireless facilities over wireline construction, and trusting broadband service providers to get the job done…

Past efforts to connect rural America have resulted in the allocation of substantial amounts of federal funds for broadband deployment and, while such investments made important contributions, our country has not fully achieved the connectivity needed for success in the economy of today and tomorrow. Although capital investment is one aspect of bridging the divide, far too many government policies stifle network buildout. By streamlining the deployment process, allowing access to existing infrastructure, and reducing barriers to buildout, risk can be reduced and providers can be encouraged to expand networks throughout rural America.

As we modernize and reduce regulations, we should also consider the full range of means to connect rural communities, including satellite, fixed wireless, and cellular networks. These technologies can be less expensive to deploy than traditional wired networks and are rapidly improving in quality.

The focus on building wireless infrastructure with private capital –supplemented by existing federal subsidy programs, particularly the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund (CAF) – is consistent with past Trump administration positions. Its national security policy paper, released last month, similarly called out 5G infrastructure. Republicans at the FCC and in congress favor using the CAF model as a low cost, incumbent-centric method of upgrading rural broadband. And of course, FCC chair Ajit Pai generally wants to take a weed whacker to telecoms regulations.

CAF-subsidised wireless service, as deployed by AT&T and planned by Frontier Communications, will freeze rural broadband speeds at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload for a generation or more. That service level is far below the 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up standard adopted by the U.S. agriculture department, and it’s nowhere near enough to deliver, as yesterday’s report calls for, "reliable and affordable high-speed internet connectivity [that] will transform rural America as a key catalyst for prosperity.

But Trump says it’s enough.

Report to the president of the United States from the task force on agriculture and rural prosperity, released 8 January 2018

Final version of FCC’s net neutrality and common carrier repeal posted

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Click here for the final version of what the Federal Communications Commission calls In the Matter of Restoring Internet Freedom; Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, and Order.

I’m still slogging through the text, trying to figure out if there’s anything significantly different from November’s draft version. Absent changes, the real significance is that the clock is now ticking for some of the administrative and legislative actions that might be taken. Others, particularly court challenges, will have to wait until it’s formally published in the Federal Register.

Another net neutrality bill hits Sacramento with wishful thinking, better focus

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A second net neutrality resurrection bill is on the table in the California legislature, introduced by senator Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco). Senate bill 822 is more targeted than the high visibility, low probability shotgun approach taken by senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles) in senate bill 460. But it still has serious, likely fatal, problems.

Weiner’s bill is also vague. It’s a checklist of goals, rather than specific legal language that would accomplish anything. But that can come later. SB 822 identifies four broadband-specific areas of the law that are arguably under California’s jurisdiction. It would:

  • Require broadband providers to abide by net neutrality rules if they want to sell services to state agencies and, I’m assuming, local governments.
  • Use consumer protection laws to encourage – force? – broadband companies to follow net neutrality principles.
  • Obligate cable companies to adopt net neutrality practices and promote “the availability of municipal broadband”.
  • Link permits and pole attachment rights for small cells and other wireless broadband facilities to “adherence to net neutrality”.

Those areas of the law are only arguably under state control. If passed, all would be instantly challenged in court. Inserting net neutrality-specific provisions into consumer, cable franchise, and wireless permit and pole attachment laws is a lost cause, although a requirement that state and local government buy broadband service only from net neutral providers could survive. The Federal Communications Commission’s draft order repealing net neutrality generally preempts state laws that address it (the final, approved version hasn’t been published yet), and its existing rules governing wireless permits and cable franchises would similarly apply, or be quickly amended to do so.

Then there’s the political side of it. Lobbyists, particularly from cable and wireless companies, will go nuts. They’ll swarm lawmakers, waving threats of political retaliation in one hand and generous cash payments in the other.

Guess which hand wins?

Update: the final version of the FCC’s decision repealing net neutrality and rolling back common carrier status for broadband service has been posted. Click here.