There’s No Debating It: Broadband’s Shaky Progress; Cruz’s Title II Misinformation; and Freeing the Set-Top Box

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Robbie’s Round-Up
Week of January 25-29, 2016

FCC: More Work Needed to Bring Broadband to Everyone in U.S.
The Jan 8 edition of the Round-up, “Broadband Research and Digital Inclusion” discussed the Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 Broadband Report, which was adopted (but not released) at the FCC's Open Meeting on Jan 28.

The FCC’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report concludes that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. Here’s why:

  • While the nation has made significant progress in broadband deployment, 34 million Americans still lack access to broadband meeting today’s benchmark speeds of 25 Mpbs for downloads/3 Mbps for uploads.
  • A persistent digital divide has left approximately 40 percent of the people living in rural areas and on Tribal Lands without access to service at the FCC’s speed benchmark.
  • In addition, while connectivity for schools has greatly improved since the FCC began modernizing its E-rate program, 41 percent of schools have not yet met the FCC’s short-term goals for connectivity capable of supporting digital learning applications.
  • No satellite broadband service met that speed benchmark during the reporting period.

The report determines that today’s communications landscape requires access to both fixed and mobile broadband services, which offer both distinct and complementary functions. However, because the FCC has not yet established a mobile speed benchmark, deployment of mobility is not reflected in the current assessment.

Additional key findings include:

  • Overall Deployment: 34 million Americans (10 percent of the population) lack access to fixed broadband at speeds of at least 25 Mbps for downloads/3 Mbps for uploads.
    • Deployment improved significantly from last year’s report, which found 55 million (17 percent) without access to 25/3 Mbps service
  • Persistent Urban/Rural Disparity: Americans living in rural areas and on Tribal lands continue to disproportionately lack access, as 39 percent of the rural population (23.4 million Americans), and 41 percent of residents of Tribal lands (1.6 million Americans) lack access to 25/3 Mbps service
    • By contrast, only 4 percent of urban Americans lack access to 25/3 Mbps broadband
    • These numbers show improvement from last year’s report, when 53 percent of rural residents lacked access, and 63 percent of the residents of Tribal Lands lacked access
  • Broadband speeds for schools: Only 59 percent of schools have met the FCC’s short-term goal of purchasing service that delivers at least 100 Mbps per 1,000 users, and a much smaller percent have met the longer-term goal of 1 Gbps/1,000 users.

The FCC concludes that more work needs to be done by the private and public sectors to expand robust broadband to all Americans in a timely way. The FCC will continue working to accelerate broadband deployment and to remove barriers to infrastructure investment, in part by direct subsidies, and in part by identifying and helping to reduce potential obstacles to deployment, competition, and adoption.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly criticized the commission’s decision that “advanced telecommunications capability” requires access to both wireless and wired broadband. He said the idea that wired and wireless broadband couldn't be subsitutes for each other was "erroneous." "This is just another avenue to pre-ordain next year’s negative finding,” he said.

Fellow Commissioner Ajit Pai said that the findings of the report showed the Obama Administration's failings when it came to encouraging the spread of broadband. “After seven years, $63.6 billion spent, and plenty of rhetoric, this Administration’s policies have failed to deliver 'advanced telecommunications capability' — or broadband — to the American people in a reasonable and timely fashion,” he said. “The standard set forth by Congress is not being met. Rural America is being left behind.”

Sen Ted Cruz and Title II
Presidential candidate Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX), during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, blasted the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order and the decision to regulate broadband networks under Title II of the Communications Act. A video was released by Protect Internet Freedom, a conservative group fighting the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

Sen Cruz said the Title II decision makes the Internet a “regulated public utility”, and alleged that if the FCC rules hold up in court, “anyone who wants to innovate has to go to government regulators to get permission to launch some new website, to do something novel on the Internet.”

To be clear, nothing in the Open Internet Order would give government control over who launches a website. Sen Cruz’s response ranged from twisting the meaning of words and intentions, to flat-out lying.

Tim Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press, wrote an analysis of the remarks, saying “Cruz’s response is so full of whoppers that it has to be taken apart, sentence by sentence, to fully demonstrate the depth of his dishonesty.”

Trump vs Fox News
The ongoing battle between presidential candidate Donald Trump and Fox News heated up again this week. Trump requested Fox remove anchor Megyn Kelly as one of the moderators for the Jan 28 debate, the final one before the Iowa caucuses on Feb 1. Rather than submit himself to what Trump described as “really biased” and unfair treatment by Kelly, Trump decided he would not attend the debate, and instead host an event in Iowa to “raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors”.

In a press release, Fox News stated Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, essentially leveled a threat toward Kelly. The news organization said, “Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards, as do threats, including the one leveled by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski toward Megyn Kelly. In a call on Saturday with a FOX News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn had a ‘rough couple of days after that last debate’ and he ‘would hate to have her go through that again.’ Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so. We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees.”

A lot of chatter, opinions, and analysis has been made surrounding the feud. Paul Waldman, writing for The Washington Post, pointed out that both Trump and Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes know what they’re doing. “In the end, Trump gets what he wants (lots of media attention, and a reinforcement of his persona as a guy who goes around pissing everyone off because he’s so brave and politically incorrect) and Fox get what it wants (viewers and ad revenue). Everybody wins.”

Ultimately, Trump did not attend the debate on Jan 28. Fox News said they declined his condition that the news organization contribute $5 million to his charities: "Trump offered to appear at the debate upon the condition that Fox News contribute $5 million to his charities. We explained that was not possible and we could not engage in a quid pro quo, nor could any money change hands for any reason.”

Set-Top Boxes
In an effort to help consumers and increase innovation, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated a proposal to the other FCC commissioners that would “tear down the barriers that currently prevent innovators from developing new ways for consumers to access and enjoy their favorite shows and movies on their terms.” Set-top boxes are the units used to watch a pay-TV service like cable or satellite TV. 99% of pay-TV customers lease set-top boxes from their cable, satellite, or telecommunication provider, and they spend an average of $231 a year to rent them.

Chairman Wheeler, in an Recode op-ed, referenced the FCC’s 2007 action that opened up wireless networks to non-carrier-provided devices, allowing consumers to choose one’s cable modem and Wi-Fi router, as a model for set-top boxes. Chairman Wheeler’s plan envisions numerous benefits for consumers, including more choice, greater flexibility, increased innovation, more competition, and better prices.

Cable and media companies, which face a potential loss of billions of dollars in rental fees for set-top boxes, are concerned that a plan to open up that market could disrupt their business. John McKinnon for The Wall Street Journal writes:

At a minimum, they say, it could upend the way the channel positioning they have carefully negotiated, providing certain programmers premium spots in their lineup in exchange for higher payments. They also warn that tech companies could gain unfair access to valuable consumer data—such as which channels they watch and when—and sell their own ads against the programming. Cable companies say they operate under stricter privacy standards.

“The proposal, like prior federal government technology mandates, would impose costs on consumers, adversely impact the creation of high-quality content, and chill innovation," Comcast wrote. "It also flies in the face of the rapid changes that are occurring in the marketplace and benefitting consumers."

On February 18, the FCC commissioners will vote on whether or not to launch a proceeding to consider the proposal.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI From Benton

Events Calendar for the Week of Feb 1-5

By Robbie McBeath.