Tag: "fcc"

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

Posted December 16, 2016 by lgonzalez

Chairman Tom Wheeler will be stepping down as FCC Chairman as of January 20, 2017; the day President Obama leaves office. The decision is not surprising, as FCC chairmen typically leave their position when a new administration takes the helm, but Wheeler had not yet made it official. His departure emphasizes the apprehensive uncertainty that has troubled advocates of municipal networks, local telecommunications authority, and network neutrality, as well as a long list of other public policy concerns that affect our future through technology.

In a statement released on December 15, Chairman Wheeler wrote:

“Serving as FCC Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life. I am deeply grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity. I am especially thankful to the talented Commission staff for their service and sacrifice during my tenure. Their achievements have contributed to a thriving communications sector, where robust investment and world-leading innovation continue to drive our economy and meaningful improvements in the lives of the American people. It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans.”

He Proved Himself

When Tom Wheeler was appointed as 31st Chairman of the FCC in November 2013, we had our concerns. He was following Julius Genachowski, one of the worst FCC Chairs in modern history, who had been appointed in Obama's first term. He had run both cable and wireless industry trade groups, but was strongly defended by Susan Crawford and Gigi Sohn when public interest groups opposed him. He strongly surpassed our hopes for what the FCC could achieve.

Historically, the FCC has been a "captured" regulator, largely operating in favor of the largest telecommunications firms in a revolving door fashion. But Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel listened to grassroots groups as well as industry, making important decisions to encourage more investment and choices in high quality Internet access. They also made historic decisions on prison phone rates and crafted new rules to make sure everyone could use the Internet, regardless of how able-bodied... Read more

Posted November 23, 2016 by lgonzalez

In early November, voters in 26 additional Colorado communities chose to opt out of SB 152. The state’s restrictive law took away local telecommunications authority in 2005. The results in many of the towns and counties were overwhelming majorities - loud and clear in favor of local authority. Now, 95 local communities across the state have reclaimed local authority.

We covered the election results in detail on MuniNetworks.org and what those results say about local communities’ desire for better connectivity. We spoke with local community leaders. As part of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Building Local Power podcast, episode #5, Christopher and I also discussed what those results say about the desire to make connectivity choices at the local level.

Beyond Colorado...

In addition to Colorado, we also talked about local publicly owned networks in other parts of the nation and how they are changing the expectations for Internet users in urban and rural America.

We also discussed the general election results that brought Donald Trump to the presidency, specifically noting the impact that his ascension brings to local communities’ ability to provide Internet connectivity to their residents. We pondered the implications of a Trump presidency on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s mission of working across partisan lines in local communities.

We invite you to check out episode 5 of the Building Local Power podcast and check out other episodes, all highlighting the work we do at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Posted November 22, 2016 by htrostle

This is episode 229 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Former head of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis Jon Chambers discusses how electric cooperatives can be the path to rural connectivity. Listen to this episode here.

Jon Chambers: There is no reason this country can't do today what our forefathers were able to do in the '30s which is delivered to rural areas the same kind of life that you can get in the rest of the country.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 229 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. More and more world telephone and electric cooperatives are offering high quality internet access to their members. Why? Rural communities are tired of waiting for national providers to bring the kind of activity they need and because the business model works. Jonathan Chambers, a partner with Conexon and former head of the FCC Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis joins Christopher this week. They talked about the role of electric cooperatives in bringing broadband to rural America. Jonathan points out how cooperative Fiber-to-the-Home of deployments works so well in rural America where so many people need and want them. Chris and Jonathan discussed political perceptions how events in DC have sculpted the current internet access situation in rural America, and how Washington could help local communities in the future. Now, here are Chris and Jonathan Chambers on rural electric cooperatives and ways federal policy can improve rural connectivity.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell and today I'm talking with Jonathan Chambers. He's a partner with Conexon and formerly the head of the FCC Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis. Welcome to the show.

Jon Chambers: Thank you, Chris. It's a pleasure to be with you.

Christopher Mitchell: I think some of the people who listened to the show may have either seen you or seen videos with you in it in which you were talking about your ideas for rural America and how you recommend the people look into those if they're able to. I wanted to start with kind of a poke at what is... Read more

Posted November 22, 2016 by christopher

Rural electric co-ops have started delivering high quality Internet access to their member-owners and our guest this week on Community Broadband Bits episode 229 is dedicated to helping these co-ops to build fiber-optic networks throughout their territories. Jon Chambers is a partner at Conexon and was previously the head of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.

Jon is a strong proponent for ensuring rural residents and businesses have at least the same quality Internet access as urban areas. We talk about his experience and frustration at the FCC, which was content to shovel money at telcos for the most basic infrastructure rather than setting higher expectations to ensure everyone had decent Internet access. We talk about how Co-Mo rolled out fiber to its members without federal assistance, inspiring electric cooperatives around the nation to follow suit.

In our discussion, I reference Jon's blog post "FCC to Rural America: Drop Dead." In it, he cites some of the reactions in the FCC from his advocacy for real rural solutions rather than signing big checks to big telcos for delivering slow and unreliable Internet access. One of quotes from a Democrat: "Republicans like corporate welfare, so we’re going to give money to the telephone companies to keep the Republicans on the Hill happy."

Neither political party comes off looking very good when it comes to rural connectivity, which fits with our impression. But Jon confirms another of our experiences when he says that when he works with rural communities, politics doesn't come up. They just focus on solutions.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 36 minutes long and can be played below 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... Read more

Posted November 16, 2016 by lgonzalez

A few of us from the Community Broadband Networks Initiative recently attended the BBC Community Toolkit Program & Economic Development conference in downtown Minneapolis. On the first day, Gigi Sohn, Special Counselor for External Affairs for Chairman Wheeler at the FCC received the award from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice for the Local Internet Choice National Champion. The Obama administration’s FCC, under the guidance of Chairman Wheeler and the sage advice of Gigi, has become enlightened to the positive potential of community networks. 

Pressing On

To their credit, the agency has dealt with a number of issues, including network neutrality and a number of other consumer centric matters. We have reported on some of them, but the most central to our work has been the issue of state laws that restrict the deployment and expansion of municipal Internet networks. Gigi, as one of Chairman Wheeler’s top advisors on this matter, played a pivotal role in helping the agency pursue municipal networks as a critical aid to local control, competition, and the ultimate national goal of ubiquitous Internet access.

Gigi reflected on the court battle that reversed the FCC ruling from 2015 preempting state barriers that prevent North Carolina and Tennessee municipal utility Internet networks from serving nearby communities. She noted that advocates shared truths about community networks with data about economic development, competition, and quality of life. The benefits of local authority became clear but, unfortunately, the courts showed us that this is not a battle to be fought on the federal level. The court may have agreed with the fact that municipal networks are beneficial, but they did not believe the FCC had the authority to preempt state laws, even if they are counter-productive.

In other words, in order to obtain local Internet choice, the fight has to also be local:

The battlefield is no longer the FCC and the courts, but state legislatures. And the battle plan is no longer to file convincing... Read more

Posted November 16, 2016 by Scott

At a recent WRAL TechWire event, former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chief of staff Blair Levin urged North Carolina communities to seek a repeal of a state law that restricts local telecommunications authority, reports WRAL TechWire.

“When the new General Assembly returns to Raleigh, tell the assembly to tear down the law that prevents faster, cheaper broadband,” Levin said in a keynote address at the WRAL TechWire Executive Exchange in Wilson, N.C. Wilson's municipal Greenlight network is among the first in the nation to offer high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access.  

Currently, North Carolina law HB 129 prevents Wilson from expanding its Internet access service area beyond Wilson County and discourages other communities from investing in similar infrastructure. HB 129 was the subject of a legal battle when the city of Wilson (pop. 50,000) wanted to provide Internet access to neighboring Pinetops (pop. 1,400) and other communities beyond the limitations of the state law. They challenged the law, as did Chattanooga, which faced slightly different restrictions in Tennessee.

In February of 2015, the FCC ordered that Wilson could serve communities beyond the county borders, but both states appealed, challenging the agency's authority. The federal appeals court reversed that ruling in August 2016.

Under the provisions of the North Carolina law, Wilson could lose it's exemption to offer service at all, but by temporarily providing free telephone and Internet access to Pinetops, they protect their exemption. Two state legislators have vowed to take action and try to get the state law changed during the next legislative session.

Levin Praises Wilson... Read more

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