Monday, March 9, 2020
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Limited federal data on broadband coverage has presented a hurdle for states as they try to do their part in erasing the digital divide in local communities. Despite the common observation that Form 477 data from the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t cut it, states have different approaches and different timelines when it comes to their cartographical solutions.
Wisconsin: The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin has been doing broadband mapping in some form since at least 2013, the year that the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program came into being. At first, the mapping initiative was simply about supporting that program. The mapping still serves this function today. For Wisconsin, the “real push” to produce more accurate information than the Form 477 data began in late 2018. The state has diligently built relationships with Internet service providers to set up the next step of charting more granular broadband coverage patterns. The challenge now is coming up with data collection standards that won’t put too much of a burden on providers, who don’t want to jump through an excess of hoops.
North Carolina: In Feb, North Carolina announced the release of its Broadband Indices, which allows users to view broadband availability and adoption in the state at the county and census tract level.
West Virginia: Kelly Workman, administrative director for the West Virginia Development Office, said the state has been using broadband speed tests since 2014 in an attempt to validate FCC mapping. The speed testing ended up confirming what the state suspected: Areas defined as completely served by the FCC are, in actuality, not completely served. West Virginia has continued to build upon its mapping effort. Workman said the team maps out the work of any state- or federally funded project.
I was General Counsel of the Federal Communications Commission when it sought the preemption of state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that limited the ability of municipalities to promote broadband. We failed in that effort, but the case laid out the key facts. The FCC found that the provision of municipal broadband in Chattanooga, Tennessee, led to lower rates, increased investment, and improved service from an incumbent broadband provider. Similarly, in Wilson, North Carolina, when faced with a municipal broadband entrant, an incumbent cable company held rates flat even as it raised rates in nearby geographic areas by up to 40 percent for comparable offerings. By the FCC’s calculation, new competition saved Wilson’s approximately 50,000 residents more than $1 million per year. This is a familiar story, known to the members of CLIC but not given sufficient attention generally. The competition story needs to be told: We can expect people with only one choice to pay monopoly prices, and people with only two choices to pay the higher prices typically charged by duopolies. People with three or more choices typically pay less. Clearly, people who can barely afford to pay a competitive price, say, low-income Americans, are particularly vulnerable to artificially high prices.
The Trump Federal Communications Commission’s overzealous efforts to remove broadband providers from any obligations to protect internet users defies what Congress clearly intended for these critical communications services. Our national goal of achieving universal broadband service faces several roadblocks without the FCC’s Title II authority. The agency will also have difficulty upholding public safety if we don’t restore this crucial legal standard. These harms are already playing out. Feb. 25 marked the comment deadline in the Trump FCC’s ongoing Lifeline proceeding: The agency is once again waging war on the poor and trying to make it harder for poor people to access Lifeline services. And, on Feb. 27, the Hous Commerce Committee held a hearing to examine eight bills to improve public safety communications during natural disasters and other emergencies. Tied up in both of these inquiries is the question of whether the FCC can properly support and protect the American people given its decision to abandon its Title II authority.
Now more than ever we need the Senate to pass the Save the Internet Act. The legislation, which the House of Representatives passed in 2019, would restore Net Neutrality. It would also reinstate the FCC’s authority to protect broadband customers and ensure that broadband is accessible and affordable. We also need states to step up to protect their constituents’ internet rights: Already four states have passed pro-net neutrality laws, and five more have issued executive orders saying they won’t do business with any company that fails to adhere to open-internet principles. And we need a president who will fight for Title II net neutrality and appoint FCC officials who are committed to the same. The stakes for ensuring that people have reliable access to broadband are higher than this administration will ever admit.
[Jessica J. González is the co-CEO of Free Press Action]
The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill, the Broadband DATA Act, aimed at improving the Federal Communications Commission’s data collection process for broadband mapping. Since the bill has already passed the Senate, but will return due to procedural reasons, we will likely see the Senate pass this bill soon and then send it to the President’s desk for a signature. The bill reflects bipartisan agreement that we need more accurate broadband maps, and Public Knowledge supports legislation to fix inaccurate mapping. However, this legislation does not go far enough in requiring Internet service providers to report granular data. If Congress requires ISPs to provide better and more transparent data, many of the broadband mapping issues will diminish. The government currently does not have the information it needs regarding broadband services, but ISPs do. This bill is a missed opportunity by Congress to pass much stronger legislation for consumers.
Michigan State University's Quello Center reported this week that middle and high school students with high-speed Internet access at home have more digital skills, higher grades, and perform better on standardized tests, such as the SAT. Regardless of socioeconomic status, students who cannot access the Internet from home or are dependent on a cell phone for Internet access do worse in school and are less likely to attend college or university. The deficit in digital skills contributes to lower student interest in careers related to science, technology, engineering, and math. Here we excerpt the report's major findings and conclusions.
A federal appeals court grappled March 5 with whether average consumers know the difference between the ads and the organic search results that appear on Google. Arguing before the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, 1-800 Contacts — which is seeking to reverse a Federal Trade Commission decision that its trademark agreements violated antitrust law — contended that they don’t understand. Federal law allows a company to protect its trademark if use of the trademarked term could confuse consumers. The online contact lens retailer argued that consumers would be confused if they search for “1-800 Contacts” on Google or Bing but instead see ads for other companies. But two of the three judges on the panel weren’t so sure. “Even an old guy who is old enough to remember Kodak and film knows the first four things you get on Google, which are labeled ‘ad,’ you should disregard and move down to the next thing,” said Circuit Judge Peter W. Hall, a George W. Bush appointee. Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch was also skeptical. “Is that the standard, everyone has to know that? Twenty years from now when our kids are up there and doing this stuff, we’re not even going to be having this conversation,” he said. FTC attorney Imad Dean Abyad told the appeals court that 1-800 Contacts’ agreements with rivals were the same as an offline agreement to divide up market. “1-800 is claiming that digital [ad] space as its own exclusive territory and has agreed with its rivals that they would not advertise in that territory,” he said. Abyad also said that 1-800 Contacts’ agreements were overly broad because they barred rivals from using the company’s name in any kind of ad, even a comparative one. Courts have consistently found that comparative ads aren’t trademark violations. “This is not about protecting trademarks,” he said. “This is about 1-800 protecting its much higher price.”
House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) and Senate Antitrust Subcommittee Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) sent a letter with members of their respective subcommittees, expressing serious concerns over the Justice Department’s handling of the proposed T-Mobile/Sprint merger. The letter, also signed by Sens Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Reps Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Val Demings (D-FL), and Lucy McBath (D-GA), called on Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Makan Delrahim to address reports that he encouraged Dish Network Corporation’s (Dish) Chairman to urge members of the Senate to contact the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission during its review of the proposed T-Mobile/Sprint Merger. The letter also requests written answers to a list of questions, as well as the submission of relevant Justice Department documents and communications. “Law enforcement and regulatory decisions must be based on an objective assessment of the law and the facts, not on political pressure applied by one federal agency against another by way of private sector proxies,” the lawmakers wrote. “The Antitrust Division should focus on vigorous antitrust enforcement, not providing lobbying advice to private parties to influence the regulatory processes of other federal agencies.”
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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