Wednesday, March 13, 2019
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The House Communications Subcommittee held a hearing on the Save the Internet Act, which Democrats introduced recently in the House and Senate. But, the partisan bickering showed the net neutraltiy fight will continue regardless of the talk from both sides about the bipartisan agreement that Congress needs to step in to clarify government internet oversight. Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) warned Republicans at the outset that the new bill was what they were dealing with at the hearing, and that they could take up other topics at another time. Chairman Doyle said that the bill's absolute prohibition on rate regulation, unbundling, and other sections of common carrier regulations the FCC had forborne in the 2015 Open Internet Order removes the majority of the Title II overhang that the bill's opponents have complained about in the past, so he suggested there should be less opposition on the other side. That was not the case. Ranking Member Bob Latta (R-OH) said he wasn't sure why they were holding the hearing so soon after a previous net neutrality hearing. He said that the hearing and its Title II-based bill will likely mean that folks will start digging in their heals and nothing will get done given that even some Democrats don't support Title II. Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) said that while it was time for bipartisan legislation that could actually become law, but that the Save the Internet Act was not it. He said it will not become law. He said they could permanently ban blocking, throttling and paid prioritization without Title II.
The issue of overbuilding got a lot of attention in a Senate Communications Subcommittee hearing on "The Impact[s] of Broadband Investments in Rural America." Overbuilding existing commercial service with government money has long been one of Internet service providers biggest issues with how government broadband subisidies are administered. Subcommittee Chairman John thune (R-SD) said with both the US Dept of Agricutlure and Federal Communications Commission providing broadband funding, he could see how the money could be "inadvertently used" to overbuild. He asked whether Congress should require agencies to coordinate to avoid "wasteful overbuilding." Other issues getting attention were the need for coordination between agencies to avoid "nonduplicity" among programs and the need for more accurate broadband maps.
Deere & Company met separately with advisors to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai and Commissioners Carr, Starks, Rosenworcel, and O'Rielly on March 6, 2019 to discuss the deployment of mobile and wireline broadband services and facilities that cover underserved rural areas of agricultural operations, including cropland. Deere said today’s high precision agriculture and smart farm technologies require broadband connectivity. They discussed the need for improved data collection and mapping techniques that accurately identify gaps in mobile broadband coverage in areas of agricultural operations, and discussed potential mapping tools that could be developed using FCC cell tower data in combination with publicly available Department of Agriculture nationwide crop information.
On January 25, 2019, Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai with concerns about Charter Communications. Rep Brindisi asked:
- How does the FCC intend to monitor and enforce the 2016 requirement that Charter expand high-speed broadband to 2 million new customers?
- As of January 2019, how many customers of the needed 2 million has Charter brought access to?
- Should Charter not meet the conditions of the 2016 FCC agreement by the 2021 deadline, will the FCC commit to immediately revoking the agency's approval of the merger?
On Feb 27, Chairman Pai replied saying the FCC:
- Required Charter to deploy high-speed broadband to two million additional customer locations no later than May 2021 and meet interim annual broadband deployment obligations leading up to that date.’ To comply with the condition, Charter has been required to provide two reports per year that an Independent Compliance Office then reviews.
- May extend the conditions under the Order until completion of the required deployment and require a 5% increase in the yearly deployment obligations.
- May impose other appropriate sanctions and remedies under applicable law, including a monetary forfeiture.
On January 17, 2019, Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (D-Puerto Rico) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai expressing concerns with a USTelecom petition requesting forbearance from the certain requirements of the section 251 (c) of the Communications Act. She is concerned that the level of competition in the Puerto Rico telecommunications sector is not similar to that of the rest of the United States and she wants to ensure that any relief did not impede network restoration and reconstruction efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. On Feb 28, Chairman Pai replied saying, "Please be assured that we will take into consideration the issues and concerns presented by all stakeholders—including those of your constituents—as the Commission deliberates on the appropriate course of action."
House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline(D-RI) said he's concerned with a broad range of implications tied to the multi-billion-dollar merger deal between T-Mobile and Sprint. "I'm particularly concerned about the impact on consumers, on the price of services, on choice," he said. Also at the hearing, T-Mobile CEO John Legere commented on Huawei. He said that his network does not now include technology from Huawei, that a new T-Mobile-Sprint 5G network would not contain such tech—something that concerns many on Capitol Hill—and that he would even help others try to clear their networks of the technology.
Democratic Reps tore into a visibly uncomfortable Legere over his decision to stay at President Donald Trump’s hotel in Washington while his company seeks government approval for a $26 billion merger with Sprint. T-Mobile spent nearly $200,000 at the Trump hotel in the months following the announcement of the deal, Legere acknowledged at the hearing. But he defended the practice by pointing out that T-Mobile had spent roughly $1.7 million on hotel stays across the nation’s capital during that entire period. It still didn't sit well with Rep Hank Johnson (D-GA). "It doesn’t pass the smell test with the American public. It looks like you’re trying to purchase influence,” he said.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere told the House Judiciary Committee that his network does not now include technology from Chinese Telecom Huawei, that a new T-Mobile-Sprint 5G network would not contain such tech, and that he would even help others try to clear their networks of the technology. That was just one of many pledges he was making to help sell lawmakers on his plan to buy Sprint. Others included job gains rather than losses and lower prices rather than high. Gigi Sohn, a distinguished fellow at Georgetown University Law Center and former top counselor to then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, said she kept hearing those promises but there was no mechanism to enforce them. She also said that while T-Mobile might lower per-unit pricing, which means less for more speed or bandwidth, it would still be raising actual prices.
On February 12, 2019, 9 senators wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai urging the FCC to reject the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. The senators said the deal is likely to raise prices for consumers, harm workers, stifle competition, exacerbate the digital divide, and undermine innovation. "Furthermore, we remain unconvinced that the merger would speed up the deployment of next-generation 5G networks or extend affordable coverage to all Americans," they wrote. On Feb 27, Chairman Pai replied saying, "the Commission will evaluate whether this proposed transaction is in the public interest. Although I am unable to discuss the merits of this pending proceeding, I can assure you that the Commission is conducting an open and transparent process as required by FCC rules and regulations and that our decision will be based on a careful analysis of the record that has been developed."
On December 20, 2018, five Members of Congress wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to urge the FCC to move forward with its 5.9 GHz proceeding and enable access to unlicensed technologies. On Feb 28, Chairman Pai answered saying the FCC would move forward to ensure that the 5.9 GHz band is put to its highest and best use taking into account current uses and new opportunities for increased use.
Sen Tom Udall (D-NM) and Reps Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Deb Haaland (D-NM) introduced a bill to make it easier to put wireless internet on school buses in order to help students without broadband access at home get online to study, learn, and complete homework. The legislation would require the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate Program to reimburse school districts that place Wi-Fi technology on school buses carrying students to school or school-related extracurricular activities. The bipartisan bill was cosponsored by Sens Cory Gardner (R-CO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The Benton Foundation and EducationSuperHighway met with Federal Communications Commission Wireline Competition Bureau staff and separately with legal advisors to Chairman Pai and Commissioners Rosenworcel and Starks on March 7, 2019, to discuss a white paper on E-rate. The paper identified three implementation areas that are preventing schools and students from taking full advantage of E-rate-enabled special construction projects: 1) the use of an undisclosed cost model to review a market-based competitive bidding process; 2) the use of an un-vetted questionnaire to review applications; and 3) the ambiguity around use of the cardinal change rule to force denial or reinstitution of bidding processes.
When leaders in Silicon Valley assess the new antitrust fever among candidates and policymakers, the prospect of corporate breakups isn't their biggest worry. Instead, insiders fear missing the next cycle of industry change if they're distracted and hobbled by antitrust conflicts. If executives are busy answering lawmaker inquiries and defending regulator lawsuits, they're less likely to be protecting their businesses from upstart challengers. And if they're under constant regulatory scrutiny, they'll be less able to either elbow aside or snatch up the competition. For antitrust advocates, the corporate breakup endgame may not matter if, even without such a dramatic outcome, they can still achieve a key goal — ensuring that dominant incumbents can't squash or swallow the next wave of tech innovation.
March 8, the Presidential campaign of Elizabeth Warren, not to be confused with the actual office of Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), announced Warren’s plan for addressing the tech giants. What makes Warren’s contribution a potential game changer is that she goes well beyond the standard “break ’em up” rhetoric that has dominated most of the conversation to date, and focuses on sustainable sector specific regulation. What makes it so important and smart structurally is that the proposal:
- Actually Defines Something That Can Be Regulated.
- Gives Clear Lines of Demarcation For Its Proposed Structural Separation, And Imposes Rules To Keep Them Separate.
- Recognizes That Dominance Matters In Sector Specific Regulation.
- Recognizes the Importance Of Multiple Enforcement Remedies.
Going forward, I would like to see legislators (and other potential Presidential candidates, of course) either endorse Warren’s approach or put forward their own solutions so that the debate we need can finally happen. After years of handwringing on one side and broad statements about breaking up companies on the other, we actually have a vehicle for a very real policy debate.
A new front has opened in the battle between the US and China over control of global networks that deliver the internet. This one is beneath the ocean. While the US wages a high-profile campaign to exclude China’s Huawei Technologies from next-generation mobile networks over fears of espionage, the company is embedding itself into undersea cable networks that ferry nearly all of the world’s internet data. About 380 active submarine cables—bundles of fiber-optic lines that travel oceans on the seabed—carry about 95% of intercontinental voice and data traffic, making them critical for the economies and national security of most countries. Current and former security officials in the US and allied governments now worry that these cables are increasingly vulnerable to espionage or attack and say the involvement of Huawei potentially enhances China’s capabilities.
Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feintsein (D-CA) made it clear that her state's tough privacy legislation will have to be the floor for any federal privacy legislation. The hearing was on that California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), as well as the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation adopted by the European Union. Sen Feinstein suggested the California bill should be even tougher, make more privacy control decisions opt in, rather than the opt out in which CCPA is based. "I won't support any privacy bill that weakens the California standard," she said, and added that a federal bill would also need to include data breach notification, legislation she pointed out she has been trying to get passed since 2003. Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) talked in more broad strokes about the need to educate consumers about how their information is being monetized by media companies, and the fact that while a TV station or print publisher is responsible for the information on their platforms, Web content providers have a legal carveout that gives them liability protection as so-called neutrality platforms.
On January 24, 2019, 15 senators sent Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai a letter urging the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission to broadly investigate the sale of Americans' location data by wifeless carriers, location aggregators, and other third parties. On Feb 27, Chairman Pai replied: "As you know, the Commission launched an investigation of these practices last year. The Commission takes its responsibility in this regard seriously. Accordingly, and to maintain the integrity of such investigations, the Commission’s practice is not to comment further until the investigation has concluded."
With increased tracking of children and teens online and the collection their personal data a widespread practice, Sens Ed Markey (D-MA) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced legislation to update children’s online privacy rules for the 21st century. The legislation updates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by prohibiting internet companies from collecting personal and location information from anyone under 13 without parental consent and from anyone 13- to 15-years old without the user’s consent. The legislation also creates an “Eraser Button,” so parents and kids can delete personal information and a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors” that limits the collection of personal information. The bill also establishes a first-of-its-kind Youth Privacy and Marketing Division at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which will be responsible for addressing the privacy of children and minors and marketing directed at children and minors. “The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act remains the constitution for kids’ privacy online, but today we introduce an accompanying bill of rights,” said Sen Markey, original House author of COPPA. “In 2019, children and adolescents’ every move is monitored online, and even the youngest are bombarded with advertising when they go online to do their homework, talk to friends, and play games. In the 21st century, we need to pass bipartisan and bicameral COPPA 2.0 legislation that puts children’s well-being at the top of Congress’s priority list. If we can agree on anything, it should be that children deserve strong and effective protections online.”
I have a bad case of news blues. Journalism is fast becoming a vast wasteland. Newsrooms across the land are hollowed out, or in many cases shuttered. And the internet, which was supposed to correct all this, has thus far demonstrably failed the task. I have written many times in this space about the consequences of journalism’s near-collapse for our democracy. I write again now because this is the issue that continues to drive me. Less journalism, less deep-dive investigative reporting, less real news can lead only to less informed citizens. History tells us of the cost societies pay for such a vacuum. Our country has no guarantees for its future; whether it is a successful or a failed future depends upon the choices we make. Self-government depends upon voters who know what’s going on. So the first step is for more of us to recognize the challenge. The second step is to broaden our recognition of the challenge to a national audience, to take this nascent discussion across the land and make it an issue of serious citizen concern. And then comes the really hard part: coming up with workable solutions.
[Michael Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and was the FCC's Acting Chairman from January to June 2009. In 2012, former Commissioner Copps joined Common Cause to lead its Media and Democracy Reform Initiative.]
“This is for the first time 100-plus premium channels—not the junk nobody wants—purely over the top, a mobile-centric platform, for $35 a month.” And soon, it might be the last time. This was AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson describing the promise of DirecTV Now just 27 months ago, as the company launched what would become one of the video business’ fastest growing subscription over-the-top products. AT&T, which was about to follow its acquisition of satellite TV company DirecTV by gobbling up Time Warner —and lobbying for the Trump Administration’s corporate tax cuts in the process—was telling consumers they really could have it all for less. Or maybe not “all of it,” but most of the pay TV ecosystem, anyway, for less than half the price of a traditional linear package. Two years later, with DirecTV Now on the cusp of 2 million users, and about to claim supremacy in the virtual pay TV market, AT&T paused to look at its bottom line. How could it possibly be losing money by offering a bundle, that easily cost it $50 a month per user in content licensing fees, by selling it for $10 a less on promotion to at least 500,000 customers? For AT&T, the "virtual pay-TV" thrill ride ended in the fourth quarter, when it cut those 500,000 customers off, and DirecTV Now lost 267,000 users, about 14% of its base. And now things are about to get really dark, with the operator making good on a promise made in December to trim back DirecTV Now’s bundle and up its price. One thing is clear: DirecTV Now users will pay more money for fewer channels.
After repealing the Open Internet Order and ending net neutrality, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai doubled down on his efforts to ruin online culture. He released a cringe-inducing YouTube video titled "7 Things You Can Still Do on the Internet After Net Neutrality" that featured his own rendition of the "Harlem Shake" meme. Muckrock editor JPat Brown filed a Freedom of Information Act request for emails related to the video, but the FCC rejected the request, claiming the communications were protected "deliberative" records. Brown appealed the decision, and the FCC responded by releasing all the email headers, while redacting the contents, claiming that anything more would cause "foreseeable harm." Brown did not relent, and a year later the FCC capitulated and released the unredacted emails. "So, what did these emails contain that was so potentially damaging that it was worth risking a potential FOIA lawsuit over?" Brown writes. "Pai was curious when it was going live, and the FCC wanted to maintain a veto power over the video if they didn't like it." The most ridiculous redaction of all was a tiny black box in an email from the FCC media director. Once removed, all that was revealed was a single word: "OK."
Benton (www.benton.org) provides the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband, while connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events. While the summaries are factually accurate, their sometimes informal tone may not always represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by Kevin Taglang (headlines AT benton DOT org) and Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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