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FCC Opens Spectrum; Creates Citizens Broadband Radio Service

On April 17th, FCC Commissioners voted unanimously to expand the use of spectrum previously reserved for U.S. Army and Navy radar systems. The FCC Report and Order creates the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) which establishes rules for shared use by licensed and unlicensed users.

This is a step forward to ensuring we are getting the most use out of the spectrum - by allowing different entities to share the spectrum when it is not being used in some geographic areas for the purpose it was originally allocated for. Milo Medin of Google explained this plan at Freedom to Connect - watch his presentation here.

According to the FCC Press Release [PDF], sharing will be managed with a three-tiered approach:

In addition to the protected incumbent tier, the Report and Order authorizes two commercial tiers of use in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. The General Authorized Access tier, which allows any user with a certified device to operate without seeking any further Commission approval, will permit low-cost entry into the band, similar to unlicensed uses. A Priority Access tier will make geographically targeted, short-term priority rights to a portion of the band available through future spectrum auctions. One or more Spectrum Access Systems, operated by private commercial entities, will facilitate coexistence among the different user tiers.

Public Knowledge applauded the decision. Senior Vice President Harold Feld:

Today’s FCC’s actions lay the groundwork for changes in the very way we use wireless, allowing different levels of interference protection and network architecture that will make the wireless world of the future as radically different as the smartphone and the WiFi hotspot are from touchtone phones and the CB radios.

New America's Michael Calabrese, Director of New America's Wireless Future Project commended the FCC and pushed for more action:

"Today's bipartisan FCC vote to create a Citizens Broadband Service is a historic step that lays the foundation for spectrum sharing. While exclusive licensing will persist for many years, there is little left to be cleared for traditional auctions. There is, however, a potential spectrum superhighway of grossly underused federal and satellite spectrum that needs to be opened for low-power sharing by both unlicensed users and by priority access licensees who pay for interference protection. The Commission should move quickly to extend this new Citizens Broadband Service to other similar bands with immense fallow capacity, thereby ushering in a new era of wireless broadband abundance."

The Verge quoted FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler:

"Since they don’t make spectrum anymore, and since spectrum is the pathway of the 21st century, we have to figure out how we’re going to live with a fixed amount," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during Friday's session. "Sharing is key to that." 

In order to address the problems and challenges that may arise as spectrum is shared between public and private users, the FCC Order also calls for a public comment period. 

Our hope is that this step forward begins to allow more unlicensed technologies that will build on the success of Wi-Fi - allowing residents, neighborhoods, communities, etc., to build high capacity wireless networks. Wi-Fi works well within the home but this spectrum could be used to create similar high capacity networks in neighborhoods.

Still Time to Register for F2C 2015…But Hurry!

If you are still contemplating whether or not to trek to New York City on March 2nd and 3rd for Freedom to Connect 2015, now is the time to take action. Tickets are going fast and seats are limited. ATTENDANCE IS BY REGISTRATION ONLY and this year the event is hot!

Register online through EventBrite.com.

A working agenda has just been posted. An email from David Isenberg, who tirelessly plans and promotes the event every year, described some of the issues to be discussed:

  • The aspects of the Internet's protocol suite that make it the success it has become
  • The all-fronts attack on the Internet by the National Security Agency
  • How community controlled networks, especially the fiber to the home networks being built by communities such as Chattanooga TN and Wilson NC, as well as alternative networks being built by Google, Ting and others, are challenging incumbent telcos and cablecos
  • Title II as the centerpiece of the FCC Open Internet Report and Order

The agenda will continue to develop as planning progresses, so be sure to revisit.

Guest speakers include:

  • Chris Mitchell from ILSR and MuniNetworks.org
  • Susan Crawford, Cardozo Law School
  • Harold Feld, Public Knowledge
  • Jim Baller, Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide
  • Deb Socia, Next Century Cities
  • Gigi Sohn, FCC
  • Tim Wu, Columbia Law School

...and many, many others.

If you are unable to attend, you can still livestream Tuesday's event for a $25 fee. Sign up at http://freedom-to-connect.cleeng.com/.

Answering Questions About Title II and Munis - Community Broadband Bits Episode 138

As we near the FCC open meeting at the end of next week, when it will decide on both the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions regarding their wish to expand as well as a proposal to reclassify Internet access a Title II service in order to ensure it can maintain the same open Internet we have long loved. We have mostly focused on the muni petitions, but after hearing some concerns from some munis regarding Title II, we realized we have to delve into the Title II reclassification more deeply.

Enter Chris Lewis, VP of Government of Affairs for Public Knowledge. I've always enjoyed talking with Chris on various issues around telecom policy and we asked him to come on and answer some of the questions we have heard.

We talk about the prospects of rate regulation, unbundling, transparency requirements, and the process for filing complaints until Title II. Overall, our conclusion is that the rules as we understand them, are quite reasonable and should not pose a problem to munis that are already committed to providing a high quality service.

You can read a Fact Sheet about the proposed rules here.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 22 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Supporters Rally Behind Wheeler, Chattanooga, and Wilson: "I Recommend Approval"

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released a statement yesterday supporting the concept of local authority for community broadband infrastructure. Chattanooga and Wilson filed petitions to scale back state restrictions last summer. In his statement, Wheeler officially recommended the Commission approve the petitions. If approved, the petitions have the potential to liberate local communities from state restrictions. 

Along with a number of other organizations that advocate local authority, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance supports Chairman Wheeler who said:

Communities across the nation know that access to robust broadband is key to their economic future – and the future of their citizens. Many communities have found that existing private-sector broadband deployment or investment fails to meet their needs. They should be able to make their own decisions about building the networks they need to thrive. After looking carefully at petitions by two community broadband providers asking the FCC to pre-empt provisions of state laws preventing expansion of their very successful networks, I recommend approval by the Commission so that these two forward-thinking cities can serve the many citizens clamoring for a better broadband future.

Chris Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at ILSR.org and the editor of MuniNetworks.org said:

The Chairman's statement is a breath of fresh air. This approach will allow communities with little or no choice in providers to take control of their own connectivity. When local communities have the authority to invest in publicly owned infrastrucuture without state barriers, more businesses and residents have fast, affordable, reliable Internet access. Even just the possibility of a community network can incent large scale providers to improve their services. We are pleased to see Chairman Wheeler both talk the talk and walk the walk of restoring local decision-making authority.

A statement of support quickly followed from the Georgia Municipal Association:

Prohibiting government from providing this economic development infrastructure, or limiting its ability to do so, is counter to the wishes of the community and to the best interest of cities, states and our nation. 

Next Century Cities, the coalition of over 50 communities working to restore local Internet choice, recently delivered a letter [PDF] from 38 member cities to the FCC, urging the Commission to consider local autonomy. Deb Socia, the Executive Director, applauded the statement:

If we want truly next-generation broadband, then cities across the country need to be in the driver’s seat. That’s why they are looking to the FCC to uphold their ability to make the best choices for their communities and residents.

Public Knowledge wrote:

Every community should have the right to determine its broadband needs and the path of its digital future, including the ability to pick competition over monopoly for broadband services. Chairman Wheeler has taken an important first step by advancing these two petitions forward.

The Media Mobilizing Project, involved in efforts to improve connectivity in Philadelphia, stated that it strongly supports Chairman Wheeler's plan to restore local authority:

Philly, every city in PA, and every community nationwide deserves the right to explore high quality competition to our communications monopolies - to drive prices down, quality up, and access to everyone, poor and working people and beyond.  We look forward to Chairman Wheeler's continued leadership on this issue, and expanding options for our communities - who strongly believe that access to high quality communications is a human right.

From Common Cause:

"What a great step approval would be toward bringing broadband to every American,” agreed former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now serving as special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “We built this country with federal and community partnerships for vital infrastructure, and what's more vital than broadband for the 21st century?  A big high-five to Chairman Tom Wheeler and the colleagues who have joined him to push this move.”

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) also passed a "big high-five" to the Chairman:

CLIC applauds Chairman Wheeler for his leadership and recognition that local communities play an integral role in ensuring broadband competition for their residents. This is a big step forward and just the beginning — we look forward to working with the Chairman, the rest of the Commission and other stakeholders to remove barriers to better broadband around the country.

For more on the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions, we encourage you to listen to episode #120 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, in which we debunk a series of arguments against restoring local authority. 

Chris also had an informative interview with Harold Feld on section 706 in episode #84. In that interview, published well before the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions were filed, the Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge dissected how the DC Circuit Court came to the conclusion that paved the way for the petitions.

Good stuff!

IP Transition Discussion on WAMU Kojo Nnamdi Radio Show

Discussion over the "IP transition" has taken a back seat in the media lately as news outlets focus on the question of local authority over the right to invest in fiber network infrastructure. The IP transition is the gradual change from older analog mostly copper networks to packet-switched IP approaches that may use any medium (copper, fiber, wireless, etc). Some big carriers, like AT&T, are pushing to change the traditional rules applied to telephony and telecommunications as part of this technological change.

In October, Kojo Nnamdi interviewed Jodie Griffin from Public Knowledge, Technology Reporter Brian Fung, and Rick Boucher, a lobbyist from the Sidney Austin law firm. The show, The Future of Phone Service, is archived and available for you to hear.

As technology creates options for how we speak with each other, rules, regulations, and policies must also stay current. In this interview, Nnamdi and his guests touch on some of the basic concerns we face moving forward. From the WAMU show description:

American phone companies began laying the nation’s vast copper wire telecom network in the 1800s. But today less than one-third of the country uses the old copper lines, and a mere 5 percent rely on them exclusively. The advent of fiber optic cable and wireless phone service makes the copper network obsolete. We explore the fate of landline phone service and concerns about pricing, safety and access as the nation transitions to an all-digital phone future.

If you are interested in learning more about the pros and cons in the IP transition debate, we encourage you to visit Public Knowledge's IP Transition issue page. They provide legal, anecdotal, and statistical data. PK also provides an advocacy toolkit to help you understand the transition and give you the info you need to defend your rights.

Call to Action: Support Stronger Rules for Mobile 911

An increasing number of Americans are abandoning their landlines for the convenience and economy of mobile devices. Unfortunately, doing so also makes it more difficult to locate the caller in an emergency. In order to correct the problem, the FCC has proposed a stronger set of rules that will increase location accuracy for 911 calls.

As can be expected, 911 Dispatchers and First Responders support the proposed rules. Public Knowledge recently wrote about the changes that could save an additional 10,000 lives per year.

Currently, wireless companies are not required to use specific cell tower information to lead emergency medical personnel to an apartment or the floor from which a call originates. They need only to supply specific information if the call is made from outdoors. As more and more people depend on mobile devices, both indoors and out of doors, our rules need updating.

Public Knowledge has posted a call to action to support stronger rules and ensure more successful rescues:

As a result of consumers’ growing reliance on wireless and reported failures in locating callers on time, the FCC has proposed rules that require carriers to give 911 dispatchers callers’ locations within 100 meters after their first connection with a cell phone tower, and 50 meters after the dispatchers search using location accuracy, such as GPS. They have also included a requirement for vertical location, or the ability to find what floor and building callers are located in.

We encourage you to read and sign the petition drafted by Public Knowledge and to let the FCC know that policy needs to keep pace with technology.

Verizon CEO: LTE Cannot Replace Fiber

Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead is not doing any favors for Comcast as it pursues approval to acquire Time Warner Cable. In August, he came out and publicly stated that no, LTE is not equal to fiber. The Verge quoted Mead, who was refreshingly honest about technical limitations and Comcast's motivations for making such outrageous claims:

"They're trying to get deals approved, right, and I understand that... their focus is different than my focus right now, because I don't have any deals pending," Mead said, a reference to the fact that Comcast is looking for ways to justify the TWC buy. "LTE certainly can compete with broadband, but if you look at the physics and the engineering of it, we don't see LTE being as efficient as fiber coming into the home."

A number of other organizations also try to educate the general public about the fact that mobile Internet access is not on par with wireline service. For example, Public Knowledge has long argued that "4G + Data Caps = Magic Beans." 

Our Wireless Internet Access Fact Sheet dispels common misconceptions, shares info about data caps, and provides comparative performance data between wireless and wired connections. While mobile Internet access is certainly practical, valuable, and a convenient complement to wired connections, it is no replacement. Wireless limitations, coupled with providers' expensive data caps enforced with overage charges, can never replace a home wired connection. Doing homework, applying for a job, or paying bills online quickly drives families over the typical 250 GB limit.

Speaking from experience, my own family of three routinely surpasses 250 GB per month and we are not bandwidth hogs compared to many other families in our social circle. Fortunately for us, the "enforcement of the 250GB data consumption threshold is currently suspended," as I am reminded every billing cycle.

Considering Mead's experience in both wired and wireless, how could any of us question his perspective:

Before moving to Verizon's wireless unit, Mead held executive roles in the company's landline business, responsible for traditional telephone service and high-speed internet to the home. "We know both sides of that pretty well," he continued. "So that may be a little bit of a stretch, and the economics are much different."

Community Broadband Media Roundup - September 19, 2014

The media is picking up on Chairman Wheeler’s notice to big telecom: 4Mbps is not going to cut it anymore. Wheeler said speeds closer to 10Mbps should be classified as high speed. A good step, but by the end of this Media Roundup, you’ll be questioning what that paltry 10 Mbps can do for communities…

Michael Nielsen with Motley Fool pointed out reasons that big telecom should be scared: competition, competition, competition. Meanwhile, AT&T patted itself on the back because they say 98% of its customers have download speeds of 6 Mbps or higher (so they claim). So yes, congratulations are in order, in the most minor way possible. 

Want another reason big telecom should be scared? Free Marketeers are on board with Net Neutrality. From James J. Heaney: 

“… it seems odd for a conservative – whether an old-guard big-business Bush-era conservative or a new-guard Paulite libertarian conservative – to support Net Neutrality.

Except I do Internet for a living, and I am one of the lucky ones who actually knows what Net Neutrality means and what it’s responding to.  And, folks, I’m afraid that, while L. Gordon Crovitz and Rich Lowry are great pundits with a clear understanding of how Washington and the economy work, they don’t seem to understand how the Internet works, which has led them to some wrong conclusions.”

AT&T/DirecTV Merger:

Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin reported on our comments about the AT&T/DirecTV merger, noting what the merger could mean for aging infrastructure:

“AT&T’s proposed $48.5 billion acquisition of DirecTV will reduce competition for TV subscribers, increase AT&T’s “incentive to discriminate against online video services,” and give AT&T more reasons to neglect its aging copper network, consumer advocacy groups argue in a petition to deny the merger.”

The Hill also published an article citing ILSR and Public Knowledge’s comments:

‘"[the organizations] told the agency in a petition that the merger would be bad for consumers, especially against the backdrop of other media deals such as Comcast’s bid to buy Time Warner Cable. “Companies may think they need greater scale to enter new markets or keep up with their rivals. But unless they can show how this would benefit consumers, it is immaterial,” they wrote. “If anything, the FCC should be more skeptical of mergers that come in waves, since in the aggregate consumers suffer from a more highly concentrated, centralized marketplace, with fewer choices, homogenous offerings and increased likelihood of coordinated effects.”’

Internet Access Competition Update:

Did you know that communities that have a service provider that offers a 1 Gig service have a per capita GDP that’s 1.1 percent higher than other communities that have little or no gigabit services? That’s the report from Sean Buckley on Fierce Telecom this week.

But cities that didn’t win the “gigabit google lottery” are taking action on their own. According to Denise Linn of Next City, Louisiville has identified three companies that will invest in a gig in areas of town. 

“Though Louisville’s future network will not be supported with public funds (in contrast to projects in Wilson, North Carolina or Lafayette, Louisiana, for example), initial momentum certainly came from the bottom up. Demand for faster speeds was fostered and articulated by the city’s residents, academics and the business community.”

Of course we think a publicly-owned network is a better bet for the city, but this is a good step.

Meantime, a conference on gigabit networks sparked three communities in Connecticut to explore their options. They modeled their request after Louisville.  Fierce Telecom and The Westminster Dispatch had the story: 

"As soon as we started the conversation about gig networks, we heard from businesses, universities, high-tech start-ups, mayors and first selectmen – really such a variety of stakeholders – about how greater Internet speeds at lower costs are essential to their functioning," Katz said in a West Hartford Patch article. "We knew it was an important economic development tool, but we've learned gig networks are also essential for medicine, precision manufacturing, education, e-government, many different people in different sectors clamoring for gig networks."

Jason Myers reported that the initiative is “open to any and all municipalities in Connecticut." Organizers hope that network partners will be encouraged by more cities joining the initiative. 

Big News from the land of 10,000 lakes: Joan Engebretson reported in Next City that Paul Bunyan Communications — a co-op in Northern Minnesota will be home to the nation’s largest public gigabit service as early as 2015. The “GigaZone” will cover about five thousand square miles. 

“Expanding broadband is a great equalizing force for boosting rural economies. Today you don't need to live off a major highway or in a bustling city to find a good job, start a new business, or get a high quality education but today you do need a high-speed Internet connection," said Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has championed the effort of rural broadband access at the national level since being elected.”

Seattle’s new Chief Technology Officer has broadband on his mind. GovTech profiled Michael Mattmiller this week

“The Federal Communication Commission is now considering altering the definition of broadband Internet -- increasing the speed from 4 Mbps to 10 Mbps. For a city to keep up with the changing standards, it must consider new avenues, Mattmiller said, like eliminating red tape. The city council is now reviewing proposed changes to the Seattle Department of Transportation’sDirector’s Rule 2-2009, which made it difficult for broadband providers besides Comcast to develop their networks in the city.”

And finally, we thought Santa Monica’s public network was fast before— now they’re raising the bar yet again. The city now boasts a 100 Gigabit per second fiber network.

“This is only the latest milestone in a long line of advancements Santa Monica has made in the broadband arena. We are considered a leader in social tech and have leveraged our fiber optic network to advance free Wi-Fi in public parks and major bus routes, provide internet to our libraries, and connect our schools and college locations. These efforts have contributed to education, economic development, and provide impressive Internet speeds for large conferences and events. We are proud to be the 1st, 100 Gigabit municipal network in the U.S.,” said Jory Wolf, the City of Santa Monica’s Chief Information Officer.

Let that sink in.

ILSR Co-Signs FCC Comment Endorsing More Open Spectrum

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has joined with Public Knowledge, Common Cause, and the Open Technology Institute, in submitting reply comments to the FCC last week as the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC). The issue at hand is the FCC’s proposal of new rules for how to govern the 3.5 GHz band, a range of the electromagnetic spectrum useful for many different types of communication. 

The PISC comment focused on the importance of getting away from the long-standing FCC policy of simply auctioning off big slices of spectrum for telecom companies to use exclusively, which inhibits innovation and enables a monopolization of the communications marketplace. Verizon and AT&T, who hold licenses to large swathes of the spectrum already, are lobbying to FCC to keep the status quo in place. PISC (and ILSR) support a more open arrangement, allowing multiple users to share the same underutilized spectrum segment, while still avoiding interference. The full text of the comment is available here. 

The language and policy of spectrum management can seem arcane to people unaccustomed to it, but how we regulate and use the electromagnetic spectrum has wide ranging consequences for almost all the technology we use in our daily lives. For a general primer on the importance and possibilities of a more open spectrum licensing policy, see the wireless commons articles we published earlier this summer.

You can view the full text of the PISC comment through the link below.

Verizon Engaged in IP Transition With No Rules: Where is the FCC?

Public Knowledge, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), and a long list of other public interest groups, recently filed a letter with the FCC urging the agency to launch an investigation. Specifically, the alliance asks the FCC to look into reports that Verizon is forcing customers to move from copper lines to fiber IP-based service. From the letter:

The Commission must begin investigating this issue quickly, lest inaction send carriers the message that abandoning customers in violation of their legal obligations is acceptable. Delay will only lead to carriers hanging up on more customers at a time when basic communications service is more important than ever.

In California, New York, New Jersey, and DC, large corporate carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, and Frontier are not maintaining traditional copper lines. Public Knowledge and TURN note in their letter that in Maryland, the state's Office of the People's Counsel found that "Verizon routinely migrates customers from the copper network to unregulated services with inadequate procedures for customer notice and consent."

We noted last summer that Verizon faced criticism for transitioning residents in the Catskills and in New York City to VoiceLink without disclosing the full limitations of the service. This was the tip of the iceberg. Verizon has failed to repair copper lines when requested. People in some areas of New York City have been told they must upgrade to FiOS in order to get phone service. There are even some customers who have been told they cannot order stand alone telephone service.

Because IP-based services are not yet regulated, carriers will not be obliged to provide services to everyone or to maintain communications infrastructure as they must with copper lines. 

The full text of the letter [PDF] and exhibits [PDF] provide details on Verizon's purposeful neglect of existing copper lines, customer service tactics to push customers on to IP services, and more about the company's nation-wide strategy. From the letter:

The problems that have garnered public attention so far are geographically widespread, and the Commission must take seriously the likelihood that these problems are occurring in many more states, leaving an unknown number of people with substandard basic communications service. This state of affairs is unacceptable. The Commission must now assert its leadership in this area, work with states where consumers are being denied adequate basic service, investigate places where customers are losing reliable basic voice service, and ensure that our country is living up to its commitment to provide basic communications service to everyone.

TURN wants Verizon customers to contact them, if they have experienced similar problems with the provider.