This afternoon the Federal Communications Commission voted on a Broadband Progress Report, which once again reaches the erroneous conclusion that the United States is not making reasonable and timely progress toward deploying “advanced telecommunications capability” (a.k.a. broadband). The report’s conclusions rest on a highly strained reading of the evidence, and do not conform to the statutorily-directed purpose of the report.
This is the second broadband progress report based on the controversial threshold, with only 25 Mbps or greater qualifying as “broadband.” I would call this an arbitrary benchmark, but it actually seems carefully chosen to paint a particular picture of industry, defining away competition and supporting a finding of slow progress to trigger the Commission’s authority to regulate broadband providers under its recently expanded section 706 jurisdiction. Even a quick glimpse of the National Broadband Map data from 2014 makes clear the different picture painted by a 25 Mbps standard vs. a 6 or even 10 Mbps definition.
On the other hand, to the extent the FCC genuinely believes that 25 Mbps should be the expected broadband standard, it shows the Commission as captured by the ideology of digital
This morning saw the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) third attempt to defend net neutrality rules in court, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit hearing oral argument in US Telecom v. FCC. A three judge panel, composed of Judges Tatel, Williams, and Srinivasan, heard from a series of lawyers, with the main arguments against reclassification made by Peter Keisler and defended by FCC General Counsel Jon Sallet. Sallet did an impressive job with the hand he was dealt, skillfully defending the FCC’s gerrymandering. That said, he did run into some tough questions from the judges—questions the FCC simply doesn’t have good answers for.
This case is a big one, with a lot more at stake than particular rules to protect the open Internet. When the FCC was pushed into reversing course for its open Internet order, classifying broadband providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act instead of staying the course with rules grounded in section 706, it fundamentally changed the underlying framework of how this country regulates the communications industry. These changes are so sweeping, involving multiple changes in regulatory definitions and statutory
At last Wednesday’s Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on wireless spectrum, senators and witnesses alike expressed a general desire to “free up” more spectrum for wireless broadband. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said, “Spectrum legislation is not only necessary, but it has traditionally been bipartisan.” Along the same line, Sen. Brian Shatz (D-HI) said, “there is a real opportunity for bipartisan consensus” on spectrum legislation. It’s true, spectrum policy, although often difficult and complex, is rarely mired in partisan disagreement. Growing demand for additional wireless capacity for streaming video, Internet of Things (IoT), and machine-to-machine communications makes clear that relatively low-cost opportunities to repurpose spectrum are no-brainers we can all get behind.
However, a bit further down in the weeds there was a point of disagreement among the witnesses that is worth teasing apart. It has to do with mechanisms to seek out inefficient uses of spectrum by the federal government. There was general agreement on the panel that federal users will be a significant source of spectrum in the future, but not exactly consensus on the particular mechanisms to repurpose that spectrum.
There has been a lot of talk
The recent announcement that Verizon Communications Inc. intends to acquire AOL Inc. generated a surprising amount of media coverage, and unfortunately some groups are using the news as an excuse to push for expanded privacy regulations that would stifle innovation and competition in the burgeoning mobile ecosystem.
By telecom standards, this is not a huge transaction. At $4.4 billion, it is a full order of magnitude smaller than either the AT&T-DirecTV deal or the ill-fated Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. And Verizon’s purchase of the 45% stake Vodafone had in Verizon Wireless was almost 30 times larger. Nevertheless, reporters flocked to the story, perhaps drawn by potential jokes about promotional CDs or the opportunity to poke fun at the 2 million Americans who remain AOL dial-up subscribers.
More likely interest in the deal was driven by its implications for the business Verizon wants to become. AOL is well known for its content, such as Huffington Post and TechCruch, but its growth is now in online ad sales—especially in video ads. The nation’s leading wireless company is looking down the road and seeing mobile video (presumably sprinkled with advertisements) as the future.
I keep telling myself that the claims of tech populists about net neutrality could not get wackier, but then they go and say something that makes you realize, “yes they can.” Case in point, Alex Nogales, of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, writing this week:
“We just won a historic victory, a critical step towards equality for Latinos in the digital age. Yet many American Latinos are unaware of this win and the tremendous potential it brings for us and our families to achieve full participation in the American Dream: better educations, better jobs, more financial stability and more political power. No, unfortunately, I am not talking about important and much needed reforms to education, immigration, criminal justice, and the other major issues before us today. But this victory has far reaching implications for the way we leverage our burgeoning political power in these kind of fights in the months and years to come. So what is this beautiful, mysterious victory? On February 26, the Federal Communications Commission voted to adopt “Network Neutrality” rules.”
If Cesar Chavez were alive, I wonder what he would say. How would a man who
Recently, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler gave a speech arguing that “A 25 Mbps connection is fast becoming ‘table stakes’ in 21st century communications,” with the implication that anything less than 25 mbs is not really broadband.
This is an odd sort of statement, as it appears to be based not on any real analysis, but simply on the Chairman’s opinion. He tried to provide some rationale for this number when he stated “It’s not uncommon for a U.S. Internet connected household to have six or more connected devices – including televisions, desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. When these devices are used at the same time, as they often are in the evenings, it’s not hard to overwhelm 10 Mbps of bandwidth.” I don’t know about you, but I personally am generally not using two devices at once. And as the Census Bureau reports, the average household size in the U.S. is 2.58 people with the median size being less. So, the majority of households are not overwhelming 10 Mbps of bandwidth.
So, if sub-25 Internet connections are not really broadband what does this mean in terms of what nations have
I can see the headlines now: “ISPs tell Wall Street and Washington mostly, but not quite exactly, the same thing about Title II.” Doesn’t quite have the right ring to it…
Instead, Brian Fung at the Washington Post has been reporting a number of stories attempting to show that network operators are telling Wall Street and Washington two entirely different stories and musing on some potential policy implications of such possible discrepancies.
Yesterday afternoon, Bob Quinn with AT&T expressed his surprise at the line of stories. I must say I agree with Mr. Quinn – Fung is really stretching his interpretations. Here I suggest we go to the primary sources: The transcripts of interviews with executives from Comcast and Time Warner Cable that Mr. Quinn reproduces are quite up-front with their thinking on Title II. They clearly state that the Title II framework is bad policy and bad for investment. Nobody in D.C. has claimed that the world will melt under Title II. But, let’s be clear, to the extent any of these statements can be read to say carriers can live under Title II with forbearance done properly (a
The Open Technology Institute recently released the latest version of its “Cost of Connectivity” report. We at ITIF have repeatedly criticized past “Cost of Connectivity” reports for their flawed methodology (criticisms, by the way, shared with many others). The most recent OTI report continues this tradition, relying only on advertised broadband plans in a handful of cities. In keeping with this tradition, we offer the following constructive criticism in hopes that OTI will continue to improve their methodology going forward. One big improvement in this year’s report is the decision to drop the comparison of “Triple Play” bundles, with the recognition that the variation in cost and quality of programming bundles from country to country is too great to offer a meaningful comparison. Hopefully next year’s report will recognize the U.S. broadband market for the success it is and leave us with even less ammo for criticism.
It is not clear that we can draw any real conclusions from this year’s collection of data, given the tiny sample size and the disparity between advertised and actual speeds in Europe, not to mention the remarkable differences in history, culture, and
Rashomon, for those readers who aren’t big film buffs, is a 1950’s Japanese masterpiece about a rape and murder mystery told through four different points of view. The film’s brilliant technique, now commonplace in modern narratives, presents different witnesses’ contradictory, self-serving accounts of the crimes with the audience left to sort out the truth. All the spin in policy debates these days can make interpreting current events feel like a similar exercise, with some advocates being all too eager to seize on and promote a particular interpretation, no matter how strained it may be. Case in point: Harry Reid’s recent letter to David Segal of Demand Progress on net neutrality.
Appreciating the subtleties of Reid’s letter requires some context. The most recent iteration of the now decade-long debate over net neutrality has actually seen widespread agreement over the general principles of the open Internet. All the major carriers insist they have no interest blocking or degrading traffic or splitting up websites into tiers or packages. The real controversy is over the appropriate jurisdictional framework for the FCC to build its rules on. There are two possible starting points: either
In 1998, Congress recognized that taxation could slow the growth of the Internet adoption and suppress the enormous potential of the digital economy and so it passed the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) to prohibit states from imposing new taxes on Internet access. After being renewed in 2001, 2004, and 2007, ITFA is once again set to expire and there is a lively debate over whether it should reauthorized and made permanent.
Unfortunately, not all participants in the debate are presenting the facts accurately. Michael Mazerov, a Senior Fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ State Fiscal Project, recently wrote a blog post opposing the extension, and one of his key assertions was that there are no differences in broadband subscription rates between states with and without taxes placed on Internet access. To back this dubious claim, Mazerov cites a 2006 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
But there’s only one problem: the GAO didn’t say this. In fact, when presenting its finding, the GAO states very clearly that their ability to properly analyze the problem was compromised by a lack of broadband pricing data. The only