Tag: "fcc"

Posted November 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

When considering Iowa, what comes to mind? Open fields? Livestock? High-quality Internet access? According to the FCC, if you live in Iowa, your broadband problems are over. Of course, as ILSR Research Associate Katie Kienbaum points out in her recent piece in the Des Moines Register, the reality in the Hawkeye State is quite different than the FCC’s flawed stats report. The reason is the FCC’s infatuation with satellite Internet access — a view that has some real consequences for Iowa and its people. Read the piece in its entirety here or at the Des Moines Register:

 

FCC says satellite connectivity is good enough for rural Iowans. It’s not.

Everyone in Iowa has access to broadband, according to the federal government. In fact, two-thirds of Iowans can supposedly subscribe to at least three different broadband providers.

Surprised?

You should be. The hundreds of thousands of rural Iowans who struggle to get good connectivity are.

The sizable disconnect between federal statistics and reality is a result of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) classifying satellite Internet access as high-speed broadband. Since every census block in Iowa has access to satellite connectivity, everyone is officially considered served.

However, by accepting satellite Internet access as “good enough,” the federal government is dooming rural Iowans to second-rate connectivity, effectively shutting them out of the modern economy.

Anyone stuck with Internet access from a satellite provider will tell you that it’s not true broadband. Speeds are much slower than cable or fiber, and high latency, or signal transmission time, makes it practically impossible to use for video or phone calls. On rainy days, you might not get service at all. This poor quality isn’t even reflected in the price. Satellite providers often charge more than other types of Internet access providers, while forcing subscribers to decipher complicated data plans and sign on to long contracts.

If we exclude expensive and unreliable satellite Internet access from the data, Iowa actually has much worse connectivity than the federal government claims. More than 10 percent...

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Posted October 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

On October 24th, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly spoke before the Media Institute at their “Free Speech America” Gala. In a speech for the telecom-backed group, O’Rielly delivered exactly what many of the big hitters in the audience would want to hear. He falsely accused, with nothing to back up his claims, municipal networks of posing  an “ominous threat to the First Amendment.”

Whaaaa?

Karl Bode reported on the event, noting that O’Rielly goes on to falsely claim that local governments have or will attempt to limit free speech through municipal networks. Bode immediately addressed the baseless statements and reached out to Christopher, who confirmed that, ”There is no history of municipal networks censoring anyone's speech.” Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica also wrote a well-reasoned article reminding readers that O'Rielly previously called rules to protect against censorshop by ISPs "baseless fearmongering." Huh... that sounds right. 

Apparently, the impressionable O'Rielly had been reading up before his speech and had just put down a copy of a document from the Free State Foundation, an organization funded in part by deep pocketed ISPs. The document implied that community networks would be more likely to interfere with free speech. Such is the disinformation game.

The American Civil Liberties Union has addressed this concern in the past because they oppose any efforts to censor speech, whether by government or corporations. In their paper on municipal broadband networks, they wrote:

And indeed, First Amendment principles prevent the government from targeting certain ideas or viewpoints for censorship or reduced access. Governments risk violating the Constitution if they create blacklists of disfavored websites, only permit access to “approved” websites, engage in content filtering, or ban anonymous online browsing or writing.

Subscribers living in communities with publicly owned networks often boast about how satisfied they are with their connectivity, customer service, and the benefits their networks have brought....

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Posted October 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

For all their attempts to tout their accomplishments, the current FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai is failing miserably at the their promise to shrink the digital divide in America. In a recent commentary in The Hill, policy and program manager for Next Century Cities Cat Blake explains how, rather than reducing the gap between Internet haves and have-nots, policy changes under the new administration is making the problem worse. Cat offers a few specific examples of policies and actions taken by the current FCC that have not only aggravated the problem of digital inclusion, but masked the realities of its severity.

Lifeline Under Attack

The federal Lifeline Program offers subsidies for phone and Internet access connections for low-income folks. Blake writes that this tool, one of the most effective in allowing people to obtain access to the Internet, is one of Pai’s targets — a big target:

Pai’s proposed changes would cut off approximately 70 percent of the 10 million program participants — including approximately 44,000 individuals in DC alone — widening the digital divide among the country’s most vulnerable populations. Lifeline is the only federal program that provides subsidies to disadvantaged Americans for 21st century communications services and it is relied upon by victims of domestic violence, military veterans, homeless youth and others to stay connected.

Broadband Deployment

Pai has continuously claimed that the current FCC has “taken significant steps to expand broadband deployment in previously unserved parts of our country.” While the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report offered a six percent increase in the number of people with access to broadband — increasing to 95 percent — Blake notes that the increase wasn’t purely due to deployment:

That 95 percent, however, includes 10.5 million people who have access only to satellite service, which was not considered an adequate broadband connection under former FCC leadership….The agency’s documented expansion of broadband is actually the result of an explicit decision to lower federal standards of acceptable service, as opposed to a change in the amount of Americans actually served by high-speed internet….In...

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Posted September 27, 2018 by lgonzalez

On September 26th, Republican FCC Commissioners adopted an Order that usurps local control and, in keeping with this administration’s prior policy decisions, strengthens the power of the largest companies, obtaining nothing in return.

Bad Reasoning

At issue are local governments’ ability to determine the amount of fees to charge mobile carriers that want to place 5G equipment in rights-of-way. In addition to establishing fees, the Order sets strict timelines in which cities and towns must respond to carrier applications. The FCC decision eliminates local communities’ ability to negotiate in order to protect their own rights-of-way and the poles, traffic lights, and other potential structures in them.

To back up their decision to adopt the new policy, the Republican controlled FCC relied on the incorrect claims that application and attachment fees in larger communities are so excessive that they create a burden which prevents carriers from investing in rural communities. Former FCC Chief of Staff and one of the architects of the 2010 National Broadband Plan Blair Levin echoed the thoughts of policy analysts and thought leaders in telecommunications:

"[E]ven if one accepts the FCC claim about the $2.5 billion—which is highly questionable—that amount is about one percent of what the FCC and industry claim is the necessary new investment needed for next-generation network deployments and, therefore, is not likely to have a significant impact," he wrote.

The FCC does not require mobile carriers to commit to expanded coverage in smaller communities within the Order. Next Century Cities describes the situation in a press release:

These low fees would create a de facto public subsidization of industry investment. … The FCC is just giving private wireless companies all of the benefits of a utility without any traditional public interest obligations.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who has continued to oppose the Order, described the giveaway:

"Comb through...

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Posted September 25, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at least 35 percent of tribal residents do not have access to fixed broadband. In comparison, only 7.7 percent of all U.S. residents lack access to fixed broadband, defined as minimum speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

However, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that this disparity is probably even starker.

The report, prepared at the request of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, finds that the FCC’s broadband data is inadequate and inaccurate. As a result, the data overstate sbroadband availability nationwide, particularly in tribal areas. Additionally, the report notes that the FCC fails to engage tribes in the data collection process.

Bad data isn’t just a bureaucratic recordkeeping problem. Tribal communities can miss out on federal funding to improve connectivity in unserved and underserved areas if the FCC data shows that they already have access to broadband.

Reporting Methodology Overstates Access

For the most part, the FCC gets its information on fixed broadband availability through Form 477. Internet service providers (ISPs) submit the form twice a year, listing the census blocks they serve and the highest speeds they advertise.

This data collection methodology inherently exaggerates Internet access. Since ISPs report coverage by census block, an entire block is considered served even if the provider offers, or could offer, access to only one home.

logo-GAO.jpeg Many tribal lands are located in rural areas, the report notes, where large census blocks result in vast overstatements of broadband availability. Census blocks can also contain both tribal and non-tribal lands, further obscuring the extent to which tribal communities lack connectivity.

“Tribal lands are the canary in the coal mine,” Sascha Meinrath, an American Indian Policy Institute board member and Pennsylvania State University professor,...

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Posted September 4, 2018 by lgonzalez

A year ago, we last had Jonathan Chambers of Conexon on the podcast to discuss the pros and cons of the Connect America Fund. Since then, the FCC has held an auction to expand connectivity in rural areas as part of the Connect America Fund Phase II (Auction 903) and recently released news of the winning bidders. In episode 321 of the podcast, he’s back for another conversation on the process and the results.

In addition to a brief history on the Connect America Fund, Jonathan and Christopher spend some time discussing the arguments for and against federal funding dedicated to rural deployment. Do ISPs really want to serve residents and businesses in rural areas? Based on the results of the auction, the answer is yes.

As Jonathan notes, this year’s bidding process has been more transparent in years past, but in order for the program to be a true success, there also needs to be accountability. Christopher and Jonathan also discuss the results from this auction and the strong showing that rural electric cooperatives made in the auction. They talk about some of the technological challenges that may arise for some of the bidding firms that promised results that may be beyond their capabilities. Christopher and Jonathan also discuss some of the areas of the country where firms receiving Connect America Funds will deploy.

You can view lists of bid winners and the news release about the auction at the FCC website. There are also maps available at the FCC, to offer visual representations of areas to receive infrastructure, along with eligible areas, and related documents.

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

This show is 51 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here....

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Posted August 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

Shortly after Republican FCC Commissioners repealed federal network neutrality protections late in 2017, state lawmakers began introducing legislation to protect their constituents. California’s AB 1999, introduced as one possible antidote to the FCC failure in judgment, passed the General Assembly on August 29th and is on its way to Governor Jerry Brown.

Read the final version of the bill and the Legislative Counsel Digest here.

Let the People Serve the People

As local communities have investigated ways to protect themselves from throttling, paid prioritization, and other activities no longer banned, they’ve looked at investing in publicly owned infrastructure. Rural communities where national Internet service providers are less motivated to deploy have always struggled to attract investment from the same large companies known to violate network neutrality tenets. Assembly Member Ed Chau’s AB 1999 addresses rural communities’ need for better connectivity, solutions that can preserve network neutrality, and challenges in funding broadband infrastructure.

California’s community service districts (CSDs) are independent local governments created by folks in unincorporated areas. CDSs provide services that would otherwise be provided by a municipality. Residents usually join together to form a CSD and do so to establish services such as water and wastewater management, garbage collection, fire protection, or similar services. A CSD also has the ability to create an enhanced infrastructure financing district (EIFD) in order to finance the development of a broadband network.

The EIFD statute granting the authority allows communities, including CSDs, to join together regional projects for a range of financing purposes. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and various bonding mechanisms are a few examples.

The law currently on the books, which AB 1999 will change, requires CSDs to first determine that no private entity or person is willing to offer broadband in their sector before they are allowed to invest to do so. If they manage to get past the requirement but an entity or person enters the picture and is willing to provide those services, the...

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Posted August 8, 2018 by lgonzalez

The Connect America Fund provides annual federal funding to some of the largest telecommunications providers, but it can be hard for local officials to know where these dollars go.

This report digs deep into the federal subsidies for Internet service in Minnesota. Researcher Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors led a Blandin Foundation project that explored how federal Connect America Fund dollars have been used in two Minnesota telephone exchanges. In the end, researchers found that these networks would likely not meet Minnesota’s state connectivity goals.

While digging through a paper trail of right-of-way agreements and local permits, researchers also went out into the field to find the actual infrastructure in the communities. They identified DSLAMs where fiber-optic lines connect to the copper DSL lines that run to people’s homes.

Using the locations of the DSLAMs, researchers mapped where people can likely receive federal government defined broadband of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The maps also show where people can likely get 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload which is the standard for the Connect America Fund subsidy. 

The 27-page report goes into detail on the connectivity available in the two telephone exchanges. The researchers conclude by explaining:

“In sum, CAF II investments in Minnesota are being spent to build networks that don’t meet today’s federal definition of broadband and won’t meet state goals for the future. Moreover, lack of transparency in proposed CAF II network plans and timelines is making it difficult for impacted communities to plan accordingly to ensure their broadband needs are being adequately met.“ (Page 22)

Download Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges Left Underserved from the Blandin Foundation.

Posted August 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

For years, national cable and telecom companies have complained that they work in a tough industry because “there’s too much broadband competition.” Such a subjective statement has created confusion among subscribers, policy makers, and elected officials. Many people, especially those in rural areas, have little or no choice. We wanted to dive deeper into the realities of their claim, so we decided to look at the data and map out what the large carriers offer and where they offer it. In order to share our findings with policy makers, local elected officials, and the general public, we’ve created a report that includes series of maps to illustrate our findings and our analysis, Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom.

Download the report.

Choice, Data, the FCC

In this analysis, we examined Form 477 Data from ISPs and submitted to the FCC. While the data paints a grim picture of where competition truly exists, those who read the report should remember that Form 477 Data breaks down information into census blocks. As a result, the Form 477 overstates broadband service availability and the size of coverage areas. With this in mind, we believe the reality on the ground is even worse than what FCC data shows. 

In the report, we shared our thoughts on the data from the FCC:

We have deep hesitations about using this data because of its many inaccuracies, but there is no other feasible option. In any event, this provides a conservative baseline for the problems in the market - though we believe the true level of competition is worse than this analysis shows, neither is tolerable in a country that claims to support a market-driven solution for supplying broadband Internet access. 

Important Findings

We broke down data from some of the largest ISPs by the numbers they serve and the areas where they serve. The report provides insight into where each...

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Posted August 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

If you couldn’t make it to Pittsburgh for “Making Connections” with Next Century Cities in July, you can still almost be there. The Internet Society has now archived the video footage of the event — speeches and panels — and made them available online.

Among the videos, we recommend Blair Levin’s keynote and the panel moderated by our Christopher Mitchell. In Blair’s speech he speaks about the importance of local authority as communities across the U.S. try to find the best way to deploy high-quality Internet access. Blair’s speech focuses on how smart cities and smart policy depend on learning and how the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Council (BDAC) is earning a failing grade. Through its imbalance in membership, misconceptions about the power of the telecommunications industry, and inability to negotiate properly it's placing too much power in the hands of already powerful ISPs.

The results won’t bring broadband to those who need it, won't facilitate smart city technologies, and seems designed only to confirm what they want to believe, which is that local communities should not have control over their own connectivity solutions. 

You can check out all the videos from the event here.

Read the text of the speech or watch video of Blair’s speech and the panel that follows:

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