Tag: "fcc"

Posted February 22, 2017 by christopher

One of the most recurring complaints about cable television is the bundles - people resent having to pay for channels that they do not watch. Especially when those cable prices go up consistently. The cable companies tend to absorb most of the blame and anger for this model, but they aren't entirely responsible.

To explain how the cable industry works, Public Knowledge Senior Counsel John Bergmayer joins us for Episode 241 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We talk about overlapping monopolies, market power, and how the cable companies themselves are somewhat imprisoned by content owners. 

As fits with our focus, we also talk specifically about how smaller firms (which includes all municipal networks) are particularly harmed by the status quo and even more harmed by the ongoing consolidation of the largest cable companies becuase they then have far greater negotiating power. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

Posted February 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

While Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act” has been in the news, several other Legislators have introduced companion bills earlier this month that deserve attention.

A Few Gems

SB 1058 and HB 0970, from Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Dan Howell, would allow municipal electric utilities, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, Tullahoma Utilities Board, or Jackson Energy Authority to expand beyond their electric service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 reclaims local authority for municipalities that want to offer telecommunications service either alone or with a partner.

HB 0970 has been assigned to the House Business and Utilities Committee; SB 1058 was referred to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Bowling has also introduced SB 1045, a bill that allows municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives the ability to offer telecommunications services either on their own or with private sector partners. SB 1045 and it’s companion, HB 1410, sponsored by Terri Lynn Weaver in the House, specifies that there are to be no geographic limits to the service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 are also in the same committees as SB 1058 and HB 0970.

Correcting Existing Problems

The EPB challenged restrictive state law in 2015; the FCC determined that the law was inconsistent with federal goals. The agency preempted both Tennessee and North Carolina's laws that inhibit municipal electric utilities from expanding. When Tennessee and North Carolina appealed the FCC decision, however, the appellate court determined that that states had the right to impose those laws on local communities and reversed the preemption.

Tennessee's current state law prevents municipal electric utilities that offer Internet access and/or video within their electric service area to expand beyond those geographical limits. These new bills propose removing the restrictions; they also contain a clause... Read more

Posted February 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

Rights-of-Way rules vary from state to state and local policies can also influence how the publicly owned spaces are managed. Throw utility poles into the mix and the situation is even more complex. In order to help local communities get started on investigating pole attachment requirements in their states, Next Century Cities has published a Guide to Pole Attachments.

From the guide:

Utility poles have become one of the great battlegrounds in the effort to expand next-generation Internet network infrastructure deployment. Pole access determines whether a new provider is able to easily and cost effectively bring broadband infrastructure to a community. This in turn plays a significant role in the level of competition, and the services available to local businesses and residents. However, gaining access to these poles is often a long, difficult, and expensive process, making the barrier to entry incredibly high.

In addition to offering basics organized by state, the guide supplies information on One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) and FCC regulations. There are links to authorities you can use as starting points in your research, including FCC Report and Orders, state statutes, and policy papers. If you find yourself searching out pole attachment information on a regular basis, the guide is worth a bookmark. 

Posted February 10, 2017 by lgonzalez

Depending on where you live, there may be more opportunities these days to participate in marches, demonstrations, or community political meetings. Regardless of whether your beliefs lean red or blue, you may be like many other Americans and wonder what the future holds for federal telecommunications policy. Saul Tannenbaum from Cambridge recently wrote a piece that stressed the importance of local decision making authority and how municipal networks can rise above reversals anticipated by the new administration’s FCC.

Tannenbaum looks at four policies that are likely to be or have been adjusted from current practice to a new approach under the Trump administration:

 

  • Digital Inclusion
  • Network Neutrality
  • Corporate Consolidation
  • Privacy

Cambridge has considered developing in its own municipal network for a while and Tannenbaum connects the dots between the investment and local control over these issues. While he describes the situation in his own community, it can apply to many other places on the map; he reminds us that decisions about connectivity can and should be local.

While telecommunication policy is thought of as national, in reality, it’s a matter of whose cables and services reach which home. That decision can be a very local one. A free, fair, open, and affordable Internet for Cambridge is within grasp. All Cambridge needs to do is build one.

By building its own network, Cambridge can ensure that its infrastructure reflects its values and the needs of its residents, not the values and needs of Comcast and Verizon.

Check out the full article, Municipal Broadband Is Municipal Resistance, on Medium.

Posted January 27, 2017 by lgonzalez

A recent edition of State Scoop published Christopher's thoughts on Ajit Pai, the new administration's selection for Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. In the piece, Christopher examines Pai's past decisions, speculates on the future, and suggests how local communities can take action. We've reproduced the op-ed here:

Trump's FCC pick bodes poorly for net neutrality, broadband competition, but communities can fight back

Donald Trump picked his FCC chairman much earlier than anyone expected, though Ajit Pai is not a very big surprise. Formerly a lawyer for Verizon, Pai has been a constant voice in favor of large incumbent cable and telephone positions, especially opposing the Open Internet Order, known more commonly as network neutrality.

He has served on the FCC for four years, giving a strong sense of what his priorities are. In speaking to staff on his first day, he focused on the digital divide but offered few clues as to what he might be planning to improve access aside from cutting regulations — as though the only thing holding back the nation's ISPs from offering high-quality lower-cost access in low-income neighborhoods was prohibitions against the practice.

Pai opposed efforts to help low-income families access the internet via the Lifeline program, advocating instead for a cap that would create a waiting list rather than covering all qualifying families. And more telling, he actually opposed efforts to rein in the ripoff charges in many prisons, where the incarcerated have to pay incredibly inflated rates to make phone calls. For those who don't care if people in prison are ripped off, consider that the amount of contact a prisoner has with family is correlated with recidivism. That means you are paying higher taxes to house prisoners so CenturyLink and others can charge them a buck a minute or more to talk to their families.

Pai's opposition to equity extends beyond individual programs and into the content of the internet itself. Pai has proven himself an opponent of net neutrality and said in December that its days are numbered under Trump.

To be fair, Pai has claimed at times to adhere to some net neutrality... Read more

Posted January 17, 2017 by Nick

Motherboard Vice - January 17, 2017

Local Activism Is the Best Way to Preserve Net Neutrality

Written by Jason Koebler

Before President-elect Donald Trump takes office this week, take a moment to remember the height of the net neutrality battles of 2014 and 2015. Remember the letter writing campaigns, the comments filed to the Federal Communications Commission (some of them handwritten), remember John Oliver’s rant. Remember that the people fought, and the people won, and for a brief moment, big telecom monopolies had at least some limits placed on them by the federal government.

Remember it now, because very likely, the anti-regulation commissioners of the FCC, reporting to an anti-regulation president, are about to undo the rules millions of Americans fought so hard for. Under Trump, big telecom and its sympathizers will call the shots.

...

“Because we have net neutrality now, those seeds are out there,” Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, told me. “Our biggest enemy is ignorance, so when things go badly and cable bills go up under Trump, and we have to pay more to access certain sites, people will say ‘Wait a minute, this is a violation of net neutrality.’ We’re in such a better position to fight now.”

...

If conservatives on Capitol Hill, at the FCC, and in the White House are willing to deregulate the internet and hope that the free market sorts it out, we will likely see small towns and rural areas continue to be ignored with basic infrastructure that’s necessary to live in a technologically advanced society. Mitchell said... Read more

Posted January 9, 2017 by htrostle

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a draft of the #Solutions2020 Call to Action Plan and is seeking comments. The plan points to policies to make the communications sector work for everyone.

The #Solutions2020 Call to Action Plan is available here on the FCC website. Public comments are due by January 11, 2017.

What’s In It

The current draft provides policy recommendations that cover almost the entire scope of the communications sector. Here are a few highlights to give you a hint of what’s inside:

  • Reforming Inmate Calling Services by establishing reasonable rates
  • Improving gender and racial diversity in the tech and broadcasting industries 
  • Affirming local control and the role of community networks
  • Supporting the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs

Each goal is further broken down into specific policy recommendations. Although touching on many subjects, the plan is only 11 pages long. 

Proposals From the Policy Forum

This draft came out of Commissioner Clyburn’s #ConnectingCommunities tour and subsequent #Solutions2020 Policy Forum. Throughout the tour and at the policy forum, local leaders and stakeholders were able to speak directly about their needs in the community and their ideas for potential solutions. This #Solutions2020 Call to Action Plan gathers all of these ideas into one document to guide policymakers moving forward.

The public comment deadline for the #Solutions2020 Call to Action Plan is January 11, 2017. Submit comments to solutions2020@fcc.gov. See the draft release for more details.

Posted January 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

On December 6th, Deputy Assistant Jon Sallet of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division spoke at the Capitol Forum Broadband Competition Conference in Washington, DC. Sallet spent several years at the FCC and in July 2016 announced that he would begin working for the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Sallet’s remarks emphasized the importance of competition for the health of the Internet ecosystem. He pointed out that, in order for residents, businesses, and other entities to get the most out of the possibilities of Internet access, policy, regulation, and enforcement must encourage the mosaic that comes with competition. The DOJ will have decide how it wishes to apply these considerations as it faces upcoming decisions about potential mergers, such as the proposed CenturyLink and Level 3 merger or the AT&T and Time Warner merger.

When shaping our approach, he argues, we must consider four powerful elements that require a delicate balance:

  • First, competition is the best driver of innovation and consumer benefits in the Internet ecosystem; that ecosystem in which broadband connectivity is a critical component. Thus it is important to understand the state of competition, especially in those high speed connections that provide today the platform for so many complementary services provided by what we now call “the edge.”
  • Second, both antitrust law and public policy must rest upon a sound understanding of the incentives and abilities of broadband providers to artificially shape competition not only in the markets for residential Internet access but also in complementary markets across the Internet ecosystem.  Here it is valuable to reflect upon the decades-long conclusion that telecommunications networks hold gatekeeper power that can be used to threaten competition.
  • Third, government should protect competition from artificial constraint that injures consumers and, especially in dynamic markets, threatens the future of innovation. The shared, overlapping jurisdiction of the FCC and the division focuses on the review of telecommunications mergers.  Such reviews should be carried out always with a clear- eyed vision of the impact of market conditions on consumers today and innovation tomorrow.
  • Finally, the FCC has determined that an Open Internet advances economic and social goals so important that they... Read more
Posted January 4, 2017 by KateSvitavsky

Internet access for low-income households is becoming more affordable, thanks to an FCC modernization order that brings the Lifeline program into the 21st Century. 

Next Century Cities recently offered a webinar for people who want to learn more about changes to the Lifeline program; our own Christopher Mitchell moderated the event. Jaymie Gustafson, Director of Stakeholder Engagement for the Lifeline, and attorney Olivia Wein from the National Consumer Law Center shared their knowledge about the order, discussed how local governments can utilize the program in public housing, and suggested ways local governments can help make the program a success.

The program, which initially provided a $9.25 subsidy to eliminate or lower the cost of telephone services to low-income households, now allows recipients to use the funds to purchase broadband services. Gustafson noted one of the driving factors behind the modernization order:

“We know it’s so important in terms of helping children do their homework, in terms of people being able to search for and keep their jobs, in terms of accessing services, just in terms of interacting with society around you. Right now, broadband is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.”

About The Program

The Universal Services Administrative Company (USAC) governs the Lifeline program, which originated in 1985 and receives funding from the Universal Services Fund. The fund, established in 1935, supports other programs that invest in telecommunications infrastructure in addition to low-income access. Instead of receiving a voucher to purchase services from a carrier or an Internet Service Provider (ISP), the provider receives the subsidy directly from USAC; after the discount is applied to Lifeline participants' bill, the participant pays the remainder to the provider.

logo-USAC.png

Participants are eligible for the Lifeline program if they earn less than 135 percent of the federal poverty line, receive SNAP benefits,... Read more

Posted December 17, 2016 by htrostle

A northern Minnesota county has been approved for federal funding to bring high-quality Internet access to some of the community's most rural residents. Lake County (population: about 11,000) has been building Lake Connections, a county-owned community network, for the past few years. People living in the densely wooded region have always lacked adequate Internet service, but with this funding, they will have better connectivity than many city dwellers.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently authorized $3.5 million for Lake Connections through the Rural Broadband Experiment program. Lake Connections previously faced numerous delays, but this next stage of the project is ready to move forward.

Despite Best Efforts, Delays

Lake County has long been working towards a more connected future by building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The massive project covers almost 3,000 square miles, connect almost 100 community anchor institutions, and will provide connectivity to over 1,000 businesses. Grants, loans, and matching local funds to complete the project add up to approximately $70 million.

The county obtained federal stimulus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2010 (see our 2014 report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access). Incumbent providers, Mediacom and Frontier, delayed the project by alleging rule violations and fighting for ownership of utility poles. By July 2014, however, the fiber network started serving its first 100 customers.

This new $3.5 million from the Rural Broadband Experiment program will connect more far-flung residents. The funding was tentatively approved last March, but Lake County ran across a confusion in regulation on whether Lake Connections was an “eligible telecommunications carrier” (a... Read more

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