The following stories have been tagged fcc ← Back to All Tags

Rural Broadband Association to FCC: "Satellite Is Not Broadband"

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:

Data intensive applications, such as streaming content, online back‐ups, video conferencing and downloading of large files, can cause subscribers to quickly exceed these monthly capacity limits. Other applications that are extremely data intensive, such as telepresence and some medical and educational applications are not even practical.

Common Cause, Network Neutrality, and the FCC Come Together in Episode 73 of Community Broadband Bits Podcast

We welcome Todd O'Boyle of the good government group Common Cause to our Community Broadband Bits podcast this week. He is the Director of the Media and Democracy program there, which recently released an explanation of network neutrality in comic form, which we discuss in our discussion.

We also talk about the impression of municipal networks in Washington, DC, and what the FCC can do about mandating meaningful disclosure of political ads without any action from Congress. These are all issues that impact whether government is responsive to local needs or to a few powerful interests.

Todd and I previously collaborated on two case studies related to his hometown, Wilson in North Carolina. We wrote a case study of that municipal fiber network and The Empire Lobbies Back regarding Time Warner Cable's response to that successful fiber network.

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 23 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.

Thanks to Mudhoney for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

New Free Press Infographic: Stop the Corporate Cyclops From Gobbling Up Local Media

When we think of the enormous cyclops we don't usually imagine him in a suit and tie but the Free Press does and it works. In their recent Media Giants infographic, the Free Press uses the hulking one-eyed beast to represent corporate behemoths slowly taking control of our media through smaller shell companies.

As media power is consolidated, every one else's voices fade. We all become like the one-eyed cyclops: seeing things through his limited vision. The Free Press sums it up like this:

Media companies are using shady tactics to dodge the Federal Communications Commission’s ownership rules and snap up local TV stations across the U.S.

Gannett, Nexstar, Sinclair and Tribune are on major buying sprees. To grow their empires, these corporations are using shell companies to evade federal caps on how many stations one company can own. And so far the FCC has done nothing to stop this trend.

In some communities, one company owns two, three and even four local TV stations — and airs the same news programming on all of these outlets. The result: An echo chamber where all the news looks and sounds the same.

Take action now through the Free Press' campaign or contact your elected officials directly.

Postcard to Welcome FCC Chair Tom Wheeler

As part of the Media Action Grassroots Network, we are releasing this postcard and have tweeted it to welcome FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and suggest an action the FCC should take.

Mag-Net Wheeler postcard

Industry Lobbyists Oppose Gigabit Communities Race to the Top Proposal - Part 2

This is Part 2 in a two-part series discussing comments submitted to the FCC in response to a petition filed by Fiber-To-The-Home Council proposing a new Gigabit Community Race to the Top program.

In Part 1 of this post, I focused mainly on the complaints filed by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) against FTTHC’s Race to the Top proposal. While there was nothing new in those arguments (we see them all the time from industry spokespeople), I wanted to highlight their errors in light of this promising proposal to promote community networks. This post will focus on some of the more technical arguments which further demonstrate the industry’s false assertions.

NCTA attacks the FCC’s authority to implement Race to the Top, claiming that neither Section 254 (addressing universal service) nor Section 706 (addressing “advanced telecommunications capability”) of the Telecom Act authorize such a program.

The cable lobby’s argument against Section 254 authority hinges on the statute’s requirement that universal service funds only support services in small and rural markets that are “reasonably comparable” to those available in the rest of the country. Therefore, NCTA argues, Race to the Top would “enable a small number of communities to receive faster broadband speeds than the vast majority of Americans in urban areas have chosen to purchase.”

NCTA essentially believes its members get to dictate American broadband policy. If the majority of Americans “choose to purchase” only single-digit Mbps (megabits-per-second) broadband because that’s the only affordable option in their area, then the FCC cannot subsidize faster networks, anywhere. Or so argues the NCTA.

Even more tortured is the NCTA’s argument against the FCC’s Section 706 authority to implement Race to the Top. Section 706 instructs the FCC to regularly assess the deployment of “advanced telecommunications services,” and when it finds that such services are not rolling out fast enough, the FCC must make efforts to accelerate deployment.

NCTA thinks it’s clever to point out that the FCC “has never defined ‘advanced telecommunications capability’ for purposes of Section 706 to mean gigabit services” and it “has rightly made no finding that the deployment of gigabit services is not reasonable and timely.” But the reason the FCC has not made such definitions or findings is because they are self evident.

The last three FCC Broadband Progress Reports have found that advanced telecommunications services, defined as at least 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up (4/1), are not being deployed in a timely manner. If 4/1 broadband is rolling out too slowly, then surely gigabit broadband is rolling out even slower. As a matter of simple logic, accelerating gigabit broadband deployment will also accelerate 4/1 broadband deployment (once fiber is installed, network operators can choose whatever speed they want). Therefore, it follows that if the FCC has the authority to accelerate 4/1 broadband deployment under Section 706, it likewise has the authority to accelerate gigabit broadband deployment.

NTCA Logo

A separate attack on the FCC’s authority was advanced by the Rural Broadband Association (NTCA), which consists of competitive local exchange carriers that already qualify as eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs). NTCA argues that the FCC is forbidden by law from granting universal service funds to non-ETCs, which is technically true. Aside from this complaint, NTCA fully supports Race to the Top. In other words, NTCA supports a Race to the Top program that only subsidizes ETCs, like its members.

NTCA’s argument disregards one of the FCC’s key powers - forbearance. Forbearance allows the FCC to selectively suspend certain regulations when it finds that the regulation would do more harm than good. Since Race to the Top is based on a competitive bidding process, unnecessarily restricting the number of eligible bidders would make the program less competitive, more expensive and ultimately less effective. So the FCC would certainly be justified in suspending the ETC requirement for Race to the Top, especially since the program has its own eligibility requirements to ensure funds are used effectively.

In conclusion, FTTHC’s Gigabit Community Race to the Top proposal holds much promise precisely because it would be open to a wide variety of applicants including nonprofits and municipalities, and because it focuses on last-mile fiber networks. We optimistically look forward to the FCC opening a formal rulemaking proceeding so we can address the weak opposing arguments discussed here.

Surprise! Industry Lobbyists Oppose Gigabit Community Race to the Top Proposal - Part 1

This is Part 1 in a two-part series discussing comments submitted to the FCC in response to a petition filed by Fiber-To-The-Home Council proposing a new Gigabit Community Race to the Top program.

The Fiber-To-The-Home Council (FTTHC) recently submitted a proposal to the FCC to create a Gigabit Communities "Race to the Top" program. The proposal suggests granting unclaimed portions of universal service funds (USF) to qualifying entities in small and rural markets willing to build gigabit networks. While the proposal may need some adjustments, the idea holds potential for encouraging community owned networks and we hope the FCC takes the next step by opening an official rulemaking proceeding.

What makes this proposal so promising for community networks is that it may not require grantees to qualify as “eligible telecommunications carriers” (ETCs), a technical requirement placed by the FCC on USF recipients. This requirement virtually assures that USF funds go to already established telcos and not to upstart community networks.

Instead, Race to the Top lays out its own qualifying criteria which opens the door for a broader variety of recipients, including co-ops, nonprofits and municipalities, taking a similar approach as the federal stimulus BTOP program. Furthermore, Race to the Top has the potential to improve on BTOP in one major aspect by focusing on last-mile networks, which BTOP grants largely shied away from.

The FCC comment period for this initial proposal has closed and the majority of submitted comments are supportive. But I want to highlight some of the misleading comments submitted by a few industry lobby groups - National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) and USTelecom. This post will focus on the NCTA, the main lobbying apparatus of the massive cable corporations. A future post, Part 2, will discuss the others.

NCTA opposes the petition on multiple grounds which jump out in bold headings like “Funding Gigabit Networks is a Poor Use of Federal Subsidies” and “Overbuilding of Existing Networks Is Wasteful.” These comments rely on the illusion that cable service is already adequate in rural areas, and where it is not, cable companies will fill the gaps (eventually). A skeptic could also read these comments as a cry for market protection, a plea to not increase competition.

These assertions strike at the heart of why community owned networks are so important - they reflect community self-determination. Communities should not have to wait for a profit-driven corporation to meet local needs; certainly not when it comes to critical infrastructure like broadband.

logo-ncta-old.jpg

NCTA’s aversion to any form of competition is clear from its request that the FCC “not devote limited USF resources to… markets that already have broadband service.” Keeping in mind that industry incumbents consider “broadband service” to mean anything as slow as a few hundred kbps (kilobytes per second), NCTA essentially believes universal service funds should play no role in providing alternatives to outdated networks.

NCTA’s self-serving definition of “broadband service” disregards other statutory requirements of universal service including “quality” and “just, reasonable and affordable rates.” 

NCTA alleges that Race to the Top “relies almost entirely on speculation about the economic and social effect” of subsidizing gigabit networks. Anyone who has been paying attention knows it is not speculation that community owned networks help local governments, schools, businesses and residents save money (I count at least six stories highlighting cost savings on MuniNetworks.org in the past month alone). We have also featured stories about how community networks improve educational opportunities, spark local entrepreneurship, expand community infrastructure, and protect user privacy.

NCTA points to cable-offered “‘business class’ broadband throughout… their hybrid fiber-coax networks” and “Metro Ethernet and other fiber-based services that offer speeds of 1 Gbps or even 10 Gbps.” What NCTA fails to mention is that in many small and rural markets where a cable incumbent offers these services, it is often the only provider of such services, which results in high prices and limited adoption (see this letter for an example of the hoops Redhat had to go through to get advanced services from Time Warner Cable).

The flaw in NCTA’s argument is that it solely treats availability as the ultimate end, completely ignoring affordability. In contrast, affordability is one of Race to the Top’s stated objectives. Time and time again, we see how community owned networks introduce much needed competition which drives prices down and adoption rates up. Race to the Top can help more communities achieve the same result.

Additional comments made by NCTA and the others attack the FCC’s power to implement Race to the Top and the idea of including entities aside from “eligible telecommunications carriers.” I will discuss these comments in Part 2.

Prometheus Joins Us to Discuss Community Radio and Internet - Community Broadband Bits Episode 61

The Prometheus Radio Project is an impressive grassroots organization that has successfully opened the radio airwaves to communities after big corporations had effectively locked up unused radio channel for years. Prometheus Policy Director Sanjay Jolly joins us for Episode #61 of our Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Our conversation ranges from the recent history of pirate radio to the many years of actions and organizing that led to the 2010 Local Community Radio Act. Local groups have an opportunity this fall to apply for licenses to broadcast - a capacity that would well complement a community owned Internet network.

The struggle for community radio has many parallels to community owned Internet networks, particularly the right of people to communicate without a few massive corporations acting as gatekeepers, mediating our broadcasts. Additionally, community radio advocates had to fight through years of junk science and misinformation hiding the plain fact that powerful broadcasters simply didn't want to face competition from locally owned stations. Seems familiar.

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 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe 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.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Governments Should Focus on Infrastructure Despite False Statistics Peddled by NY Times and Others

Having just read the New York Times story "Most of U.S. is Wired, but Millions Aren't Plugged In," I was reminded that even the top mainstream telecom journalists really have little understanding of what they write. This is a bit ranty but comes back together constructively at the end.

I just read that "nearly 98 percent of American homes now have access to some form of high-speed broadband." Really? Just what exactly does that mean? It is definitely not the current FCC minimum standard speed required to engage in basic Internet activities: 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. Not even close.

To get 98%, I can only assume that the author has started with flawed stats from the FCC that are comprised on systematically overstated DSL availability in rural areas by carriers like Windstream, Frontier, CenturyLink, and others. He likely then included satellite Internet access availability, which is explicitly not broadband due to the inevitable lag of a 50,000 mile roundtrip to geosynchronous orbiting satellites.

But we don't know. We just know that Edward Wyatt knows that by some definition, nearly everyone in America has "high speed" broadband. This is news to the vast majority of rural communities I hear from, who see maps paid for by their tax dollars claiming they can get broadband in their homes. But when they call the company to get it, they find it is not actually available, even though that company had just told the government that it is available there.

These are the statistics that are now apparently official, without any need to even note where they come from. Note that this comes after the New York Times repeatedly erred in claiming few Europeans have access to high speed networks.

Wyatt goes on to laud the Obama Administration's stimulus effort to expand broadband networks:

The Obama administration allocated $7 billion to broadband expansion as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package. Most of it went to build physical networks. About half of those infrastructure programs have been completed, with Internet availability growing to 98 percent of homes from fewer than 90 percent.

recovery1.gif

As far as federal programs go, this one worked pretty well at accomplishing its objectives. From what I could tell, a key objective was not overly upsetting existing carriers, which is why so much of the money was spent on middle mile connections that have recently been finished or are now being completed.

But very few households were directly served by the stimulus programs. NTIA chose to invest largely in middle mile networks that also connected community anchor institutions - rarely residents. If any last mile investment will result from the middle mile, it probably hasn't been built yet because the middle mile has just been completed or will be soon.

So while the stimulus was certainly better than doing nothing, it has had little impact on the growth from the invented 90% statistic to the invented 98% statistic.

The grand conceit of the article is what big cable and telephone companies have been telling us for years - we don't have an availability problem, the problem is that Americans just don't take advantage of these awesome connections we want to sell them! To paraphrase something I heard Yochai Benkler once say, Americans are not stupid, if you give them a crap product at a high price, they won't buy it.

The point of my frustration boils down to where we should focus our limited resources.

There is a real literacy component to the digital divide and that is a problem. However, solving that problem can be done with comparatively modest investments in programs to teach computer/technical/media literacy. This has been demonstrated by numerous foundations and others in civil society. Blandin Foundation in Minnesota does an excellent job of this. Existing Internet Service Providers can and should help fund these programs because it increases their customer base.

The danger of government focusing on the literacy divide rather than on actual availability, as some influential folks like Blair Levin have argued, is that solving the access divide - making fast, affordable, and reliable access truly available to 98% or more of US households - is a very challenging problem that civil society cannot solve and the private sector will not solve.

Some elected leaders LOVE to focus on the literacy divide because no one opposes those programs. That doesn't mean it is a good use of resources. Sometimes using resources effectively means challenging a few powerful firms that will vigorously oppose any change to an intolerable status quo because they are banking historically high profits by creating artificial scarcity.

Government exists so we can do together what we cannot do alone. Examples include electrifying the entire nation, building roads, and eventually an interstate highway system. Government should be focused on ensuring just about every American has access to fast, affordable, and reliable networks. Not by bragging about deeply flawed statistics provided by self-interested corporations but by making the necessary investments at the local level.

This is my final point - different levels of government have different strengths. We don't want to see a federal network. These networks should be responsive to communities, which means owned and operated locally. But the federal level needs to do its part in demanding accurate data that reflects the true nature of access to the Internet in America - not settling for whatever politically-connected firms want to offer.

We Need Video Reform, Let D.C. Know What You Think

Time Warner Cable subscribers across the country who enjoy CBS programming are out of luck. The two media giants have reached an impasse in their fight over retransmission consent so several major markets are now missing out. CBS has also taken the fight one step farther, blocking TWC broadband subscribers from accessing CBS.com video content.

Public Knowledge as launched a campaign to end this viewer lock-out. From their recent call to action:

It doesn't matter whether CBS or Time Warner Cable is the bad guy here. The only one losing here is you, the viewer.

Some members of Congress are standing up to the media giants. The bipartisan "Television Consumer Freedom Act," [PDF] co-sponsored by Senators John McCain and Richard Blumenthal, takes the first steps at fixing this mess.

But an army of special interest lobbyists likes things the way they are, and they don't care that you are caught in the middle. For this bill to move forward, your members of Congress need to hear from you.

For more detail on how we got here, read Harold Feld's recent Policy Blog on the PK website. PK makes it easy for you to inform your D.C. represenation that you want video reform. 

You can also look up your U.S. Representatives and your U.S. Senators to contact them directly via phone or email.

Jim Baller Discusses Municipal Broadband History - Community Broadband Bits Episode #57

Jim Baller has been helping local governments to build community owned networks for as long as they have been building them. He is the President of and Senior Principal of the Baller Herbst Law Group in Washington, DC. Jim joins us for Episode #57 of the Community Broadband Bits[/glossary] podcast to discuss some of the history of community owned networks.

Jim has a wealth of experience and helped in many of the most notable legal battles, including Bristol Virginia Utilities and Lafayette.

We start by noting some of the motivations of municipal electric utilities and how they were originally formed starting in the late 19th century. But we spend the bulk of our time in this show focusing on legal fights in the 90's and early 2000's over whether states could preempt local authority to build networks.

In our next interview with Jim, we'll pick up where we left off. If you have any specific thoughts or questions we should cover when we come back to this historical topic, leave them in the comments below or email us.

You can learn more about Jim Baller on his website at Baller.com.

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 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

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

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.