Robbie's Round-Up (September 28-October 2, 2015)
You’re reading the Benton Foundation’s Weekly Round-up, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) telecommunications stories of the week. The round-up is delivered via e-mail each Friday; to get your own copy, subscribe at www.benton.org/user/register
Week of September 28-October 2, 2015
Roundin' Up The Week's Top Telecommunications and Media Policy Stories
FCC Proposed Rules on Wi-Fi Routers, Open Source Advocates Concerned
The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comment on proposed rules on Wi-Fi routers to ensure they are not modified in ways that could cause interference with other important systems, such as medical devices and Doppler Weather Radars. But the proposed rules may go too far and lead to manufacturers locking down all middleware rather than worrying about where to draw the line. That possibility has open source advocates worried about hampering innovation. This could be a huge loss to the tinkering community and the innovation that results. Routers are easy to repurpose as hotspots, wireless repeaters, network storage devices, and low-cost wireless networks, and they can be cheaply and quickly patched together as a communication stopgap after emergencies, so the effects of a lockdown would be very negative and far-reaching. It is technically possible to prevent modifications while still allowing third-party software changes, but it will take cooperation among open source software developers, manufacturers, and the FCC. The FCC is currently asking for feedback on the proposed rules. Initial comments are due Oct 9 and reply comments are due Nov 9.
A Step Towards Fairness in Inmate Calling Services
On Sept 30, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn released news of new rules that would establish reasonable rate structures for ALL inmate calls -- local, long-distance, and international -- while limiting or banning excessive fees on calls.
As the New York Times reports, “Rates for phone calls from jails and prisons are typically far more expensive than normal commercial charges and can cost as much as $14 a minute. Service fees often add another 40 percent, resulting in phone bills as high as $500 a month...The proposed rules would impose a rate of 11 cents a minute on state or federal prison calls and cap the cost of calls made from local jails at 14 to 22 cents a minute, based on the size of the jail.”
The proposed rules draw on the lessons learned from a 2013 Order that Commissioner Clyburn adopted as acting Chairwoman. As a result of the interim rate caps it established, prisons saw higher volumes of interstate calls -- 70 percent in some cases. The data confirmed what should be obvious: unaffordable rates discourage contact, while a more affordable regime promotes communication. Studies have shown that contact between inmates and their families and loved ones during incarceration can make a real difference in maintaining community ties, promoting rehabilitation, and reducing recidivism.
The FCC will vote on the new rules this month. For more on this subject, be sure to read Andrew Schwartzman’s, “Finishing The Job On Prison Phone Calls”. (You can also find the piece at the bottom of this article, in our ICYMI section)
Republicans Questioned The Constitutionality of Plan to Transition Internet Authority
On Sept 22, Republican leaders of the Judiciary committees in Congress sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office questioning whether the Obama Administration’s proposal to give up oversight of parts of the Internet address system is unconstitutional.
In 2014, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) proposed to end its authority over the servers and other infrastructure necessary for computers around the world to reach websites, in a process known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) transition. Basically, the idea is to transfer the “phone book of the Internet” from NTIA’s stewardship over to a “global stakeholder community”. The catch? On top of concerns that the transition could give authoritarian regimes an opportunity to seize power over the Internet, some Republican lawmakers argue that the plan could violate the constitutional requirement that only Congress has the power to “dispose of...property belonging to the United States.”
Republican leaders of the Commerce Committees in both chambers -- Sen John Thune (R-SD), Rep Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep Greg Walden (R-OR) -- are backing legislation that would allow the Internet transition to go ahead as long as Congress is given time to review the details of the plan. That bill, the Dotcom Act, passed the House 378-25 in June, but Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) has been blocking the legislation from reaching the Senate floor, arguing that Congress should have a chance to deny the transfer of authority.
The IANA Transition is likely to roll ahead, despite the controversies. Expect future conflict between Congress and the Obama Administration as the transition plays out.
BroadbandUSA Funding Guide
Last week, Round-Up covered the Broadband Opportunity Council Report and Recommendations. The recommendations included having the National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s BroadbandUSA initiative compile links to policies and grant guidance related to broadband This week, we saw this come to life, as BroadbandUSA released its Broadband Funding Guide. The guide serves as a starting point for communities to explore potential federal financing options for broadband networks. In the coming weeks and months, BroadbandUSA will be releasing additional publications to assist communities as they seek out ways to ensure their residents have access to cutting-edge broadband technology.
Also this week, NTIA head Lawrence Strickling took stock of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), saying the program financed 230 projects that deployed more than 114,000 miles of new or upgraded plant, as well as upgrading or launching public computer centers and promoting adoption. He said the new plant had connected "nearly 26,000 community anchor institutions such as schools and hospitals and installed or upgraded more than 47,000 personal computers in public access centers." Strickling also said that translated into "hundreds of thousands of people as subscribers to broadband services."
- The U.S. and China agree not to conduct economic espionage in cyberspace (Washington Post)
- From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users’ Online Identities (The Intercept)
- US State Department Launches Global Connect Initiatives at UN General Assembly (Department of State)
- FISA Court Gets First Public Advocate (ars technica)
- Money, Data, and Democracy (Lucy Bernholz Op Ed)
- FCC Chairman Wheeler releases agenda for October Open Meeting (FCC)
- Your next Comcast bill may be priced per gigabyte (Fortune)
Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)
- Turns Out Our Mobile Broadband Is As Mediocre As Our Wireline Broadband. (Harold Feld Blog)
Events Calendar for the Week of October 5-9, 2015
- Oct 6 -- AEI Panel "Domestic Surveillance on Foreign Shores: The Case of Microsoft's Servers in Ireland"
- Oct 7 -- Senate Commerce Committee Hearing “Removing Barriers to Wireless Broadband Deployment”
- Oct 7 -- House Communications Subcommittee “Improving Federal Spectrum Systems”
- Oct 8 -- FCC Disability Advisory Committee
ICYMI from Benton
- Alan Inouye, who leads technology policy for the American Library Association, “Presidential candidates: Local economies in the digital age deserve attention”
- Kevin Taglang’s “How Is the FCC Protecting Consumers in the Digital Age?”
- Andrew Schwartzman’s “Finishing The Job On Prison Phone Calls”