Tag: "policy"

Posted January 15, 2014 by Christopher Mitchell

As we noted yesterday, the DC Circuit of Appeals has decided that the FCC does not have authority to implement its Open Internet (network neutrality) rules as proposed several years ago.

But the court nonetheless found that the FCC does have some authority to regulate in the public interest, particularly when it comes to something we have long highlighted: state barriers to community owned networks. For example, see North Carolina and recent efforts in Georgia.

States have been lobbied heavily by powerful cable and telephone companies to create barriers that discourage community owned networks. Nineteen states have such barriers (see our map with the states shown in red), largely because communities have nowhere near the lobbying power of massive cable and telephone companies, not because the arguments against municipal networks are compelling.

For those who remember a certain Supreme Court decision called Nixon v Missouri, the Court has once weighed in the matter of state barriers to community networks. In the '96 Telecom Act, Section 253 declares "No State or local statute or regulation, or other State or local legal requirement, may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service."

However, the Supreme Court decided in 2004 that Congress was insufficiently clear in its intent to preempt state authority - that "any" did not mean "any" but rather meant something else. In making this decision, it ignored a legislative history with plenty of evidence (see Trent Lott for instance) that suggested Congress meant "any" to mean "any."

ANYway, we lost that one. States were found to have the right to limit the authority of communities to build their own networks. But we have long felt that a different grant of authority gave the FCC the power to overrule state limits of local authority to build networks, Section 706.

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Posted January 14, 2014 by Christopher Mitchell

In a decision announced a few hours ago, the DC Circuit of Appeals has largely ruled against the Open Internet, or network neutrality. These are rules established by the Federal Communications Commission to prevent massive ISPs like Comcast and AT&T from degrading or blocking access to certain sites on the Internet. Decision here [pdf].

The goal is to prevent these big firms from being able to discriminate - to pick winners and losers. For instance, Comcast could charge subscribers an extra $10 per month to access Netflix while not charging to visit similar sites that it owns. The rules were intended to prevent that.

However, the FCC has a history of decisions that have benefited big telecom corporations more than citizens and local businesses. Those decisions limited how it can protect the public interest on matters of Internet access.

This court decision decided that the way the FCC was attempting to enforce network neutrality was not allowed because of how it has decided to (de)regulate the Internet generally. In essence, the FCC said that it didn't want to regulate the Internet except for the ways it wanted to regulate the Internet. And the Court said, somewhat predictably, that approach was too arbitrary. Moving forward, the FCC has the power to enforce this regulation, but it will have to change the way the Internet is "classified," in FCC lingo - which means changing those historic decisions that benefited the big corporations.

Groups like Free Press are pushing to make this change because it will ensure the FCC has the authority it needs to ensure everyone has access to the open Internet.

The lesson for us is that communities cannot trust Washington, DC, to ensure that residents and local businesses have universal, fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. Communities should be investing in themselves to build networks that are accountable to the public and will not engage in anti-consumer practices merely to maximize their profits. Such behavior is inappropriate on matters of essential infrastructure.

Even if the FCC now gets this right and protects the public interest, that may last only as long as this FCC is in power. Communities that trust the FCC to protect them in this...

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Posted January 9, 2014 by Christopher Mitchell

This the second in a series of posts exploring lessons learned from the Seattle Gigabit Squared project, which now appears unlikely to be built. The first post is available here and focuses on the benefits massive cable companies already have as well as the limits of conduit and fiber in spurring new competition.

This post focuses on business challenges an entity like Gigabit Squared would face in building the network it envisioned. I am not representing that this is what Gigabit Squared faced but these issues arise with any new provider in that circumstance. I aim to explain why the private sector has not and generally will not provide competition to companies Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Gigabit Squared planned to deliver voice, television, and Internet access to subscribers. Voice can be a bit of hassle due to the many regulatory requirements and Internet access is comparatively simple. But television, that is a headache. I've been told by some munis that 90% of the problems and difficulties they experience is with television services.

Before you can deliver ESPN, the Family Channel, or Comedy Central, you have to come to agreement with big channel owners like Disney, Viacom, and others. Even massive companies like Comcast have to pay the channel owners more each year despite its over 10 million subscribers, so you can imagine how difficult it can be for a small firm to negotiate these contracts. Some channel owners may only negotiate with a provider after it has a few thousand subscribers - but getting a few thousand subscribers without good content is a challenge.

Many small firms (including most munis) join a buyer cooperative called the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) that has many of the contracts available. But even with that substantial help, building a channel lineup is incredibly difficult and the new competitor will almost certainly be paying more for the same channels as a competitor like Comcast or Time Warner Cable. And some munis, like Lafayette, faced steep barriers in just joining the coop.

FCC Logo

(An...

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Posted January 6, 2014 by Christopher Mitchell

A few weeks ago, a Geekwire interview with outgoing Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced that the Gigabit Squared project there was in jeopardy. Gigabit Squared has had difficulty raising all the necessary capital for its project, building Fiber-to-the-Home to several neighborhoods in part by using City owned fiber to reduce the cost of building its trunk lines.

There are a number of important lessons, none of them new, that we should take away from this disappointing news. This is the first of a series of posts on the subject.

But first, some facts. Gigabit Squared is continuing to work on projects in Chicago and Gainsville, Florida. There has been a shake-up at the company among founders and it is not clear what it will do next. Gigabit Squared was not the only vendor responding to Seattle's RFP, just the highest profile one.

Gigabit Squared hoped to raise some $20 million for its Seattle project (for which the website is still live). The original announcement suggested twelve neighborhoods with at least 50,000 households and businesses would be connected. The project is not officially dead, but few have high hopes for it given the change in mayor and many challenges thus far.

The first lesson to draw from this is what we say repeatedly: the broadband market is seriously broken and there is no panacea to fix it. The big cable firms, while beating up on DSL, refuse to compete with each other. They are protected by a moat made up of advantages over potential competitors that includes vast economies of scale allowing them to pay less for advertising, content, and equipment; large existing networks already amortized; vast capacity for predatory pricing by cross-subsidizing from non-competitive areas; and much more.

So if you are an investor with $20 million in cash lying around, why would you ever want to bet against Comcast - especially by investing in an unknown entity that cannot withstand a multi-year price war? You wouldn't and they generally don't. The private sector invests for a return and overbuilding Comcast with fiber almost...

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Posted December 26, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

The show was published over a year ago, but it holds up as a good explanation for both network neutrality and the danger of Comcast and other massive cable companies becoming too powerful. The popular podcast 99% Invisible interviewed Susan Crawford on the subject last November.

It is worth listening to and keeping as a reference for those who do not understand the threat. That said, I think the show oversimplifies the dynamic of high speed access -- the big phone companies are not totally irrelevant, just mostly irrelevant when it comes to delivering faster, more reliable services. And this is not technological determinism so much as poor management choices and the pressure Wall Street puts on firms to harvest profits rather than investing for the future.

Posted December 17, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

On December 19, 2013, TechFreedom is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Kingsbury Commitment with lunch and policy analysis. The event will include a luncheon keynote address by FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai followed by a panel of policy leaders moderated by TechFreedom President Berin Szoka.  

The panel:

From the announcement:

Join TechFreedom on Thursday, December 19, the 100th anniversary of the Kingsbury Commitment, AT&T’s negotiated settlement of antitrust charges brought by the Department of Justice that gave AT&T a legal monopoly in most of the U.S. in exchange for a commitment to provide universal service.

The Commitment is hailed by many not just as a milestone in the public interest but as the bedrock of U.S. communications policy. Others see the settlement as the cynical exploitation of lofty rhetoric to establish a tightly regulated monopoly — and the beginning of decades of cozy regulatory capture that stifled competition and strangled innovation.

So which was it? More importantly, what can we learn from the seventy year period before the 1984 break-up of AT&T, and the last three decades of efforts to unleash competition? With fewer than a third of Americans relying on traditional telephony and Internet-based competitors increasingly driving competition, what does universal service mean in the digital era? As Congress contemplates overhauling the Communications Act, how can policymakers promote universal service through competition, by promoting innovation and investment? What should a new Kingsbury Commitment look like?

The event begins at 11:30 a.m. EST at...

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Posted December 11, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Public Knowledge and the Center for Media Justice have an eye on the transition from traditional copper landline telephone service to Internet-protocol services. As we move forward, both organizations continue to educate citizens on telecommunications policy and how it can affect us.

On December 12, at 2:00 p.m. EST, both groups will collaborate for a webinar on the transition. What's the Hang Up: A Webinar to Understand the Phone Network Transition and Defend Your Communication Rights, will offer info on the transition and will introduce participants to the "What's the Hang Up" toolkit, designed to help consumers get involved as we move forward. Presenters will be Stephani Chen, Amina Fazlullah, and Sean Meloy.

From the webinar announcement:

The largest telephone companies in the U.S. have announced they want to upgrade the technology that delivers phone service to an all internet-protocol (IP) based telephone network.  The telephone has made universal communications possible keeping families connected, becoming a lifeline in times of crisis, and an economic engine for small businesses.

In order for our communities to continue to experience the benefits of the telephone, we must get involved.  Over the coming months the Federal Communications Commission and other government agencies will be considering how to roll out this transition.

You can register online for the presentation. For some great information on the transition, listen to Chris interview Harold Feld from Public Knowledge in episode #52 of the Broadband Bits podcast.

Posted December 10, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

When it comes to building a community owned wireless network, few have more experience than Matthew Rantanen, our guest for the Community Broadband Bits podcast this week. Rantanen has an impressive list of titles, two of which are Director of Technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association (SCTCA) and Director of the Tribal Digital Village Initiative.

We discuss the need for better network access on reservations generally and how several reservations in southern California were able to build their own wireless networks using unlicensed spectrum and the power of the sun. This success has inspired others, including in Idaho, to take similar approaches to ensure modern connectivity.

We also discuss the importance of unlicensed spectrum to ensure that underserved communities can build the networks they need without having to ask for permission and the role that Native Public Media plays in expanding access to media across North America.

Read the transcript from this conversation here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 16 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Haggard Beat for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted November 29, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

We continue to oppose the federal government's foray into creating a high tech surveillance state where the National Security Agency effectively has unlimited power to spy on Americans. The New York Times has released an op-doc embedded below that offers good reasons all Americans should be concerned, even if most are not doing anything they believe needs to be "hidden."

We previously discussed how community owned networks help to prevent against both corporate and federal government spying in this post.

Posted November 23, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) recently filed a report with the FCC as it examines the role of the Universal Services Fund (USF) in communications. Telecompetitor reports that NTCA filed the report as part of comments on November 7, 2013. The report by Vantage Point telecommunications engineering firm criticizes the argument that satellite is a magic pill for rural broadband availability. You can view a PDF of the report at FCC.gov.

The report lists high latency, capacity limitations, and environmental impacts the three main obstacles that complicate satellite usage. In the Executive Summary, the report goes on to note:

While satellites will continue to provide an important role in global communications, satellites do not have the capacity to replace a significant amount of the fixed wireline broadband in use today nor can they provide high‐quality, low‐latency communications currently available using landline communication systems. While recent advances have increased satellite capacity, the capacity available on an entire satellite is much smaller than that available on a single strand of fiber. 

Telecompetitor speculates that the organization was motivated in part by the potential loss of USF funding to NCTA members. From the article: 

The FCC has previously stated that as it transitions today’s voice-focused Universal Service Fund to focus instead on broadband, it envisions that homes in the areas that are most expensive to serve would receive broadband from a satellite (or possibly broadband wireless) provider. And depending how far the FCC is able to stretch its limited pool of USF dollars, it wouldn’t be surprising for the commission to consider expanding the number of homes targeted for satellite service – a move that eventually could leave some NTCA members without USF funding.

Regardless of the motivation, the fact remains that satellite is a poor replacement for wireline services. Latency, lack of capacity, and environmental factors degrade the quality of the service; data caps degrade its effectiveness. From the report:

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