Monday, April 15, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
White House on 5G/Rural Broadband
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News from FCC Meeting
The Federal Communications Commission eliminated a rule that would have imposed a nearly 50% increase in local telephone rates for many rural consumers on July 1. Known as the “rate floor,” the 2011 rule was aimed at limiting universal service support received by rural carriers whose rates are below a set minimum rate. However, the practical effect of the rate floor has been to artificially raise telephone rates for many rural Americans, including elderly and low-income Americans, and consumers who keep a phone for limited purposes, such as 911 calls. Absent action by the FCC, the rate floor was scheduled to rise from $18 to $26.98 on July 1, nearly a 50% increase for rural consumers. Elimination of the rate floor was supported by a diverse coalition of stakeholders, including the AARP, the National Consumer Law Center, and the National Tribal Telecommunications Association.
By eliminating the rate floor, the FCC has repealed a de facto federal government mandate that increased rates paid by rural Americans. The action is consistent with the FCC’s statutory responsibility to ensure that rural consumers receive quality services at just, reasonable, and affordable rates, and that rural carriers continue to receive the predictable and sufficient universal service support needed to serve high-cost areas.
The Federal Communications Commission continued its efforts to make millimeter wave spectrum available for 5G, the Internet of Things, and other advanced spectrum-based services, including satellite broadband services. The Fifth Report and Order adopted takes two actions. First, the Commission adopted rules to allow Fixed-Satellite Service earth stations to be individually licensed to transmit in the 50 GHz spectrum band. This action will allow Fixed-Satellite Service operators to provide faster, more advanced services to their customers. Second, the Commission established a coordination process to accommodate the military’s potential need for additional sites in the Upper 37 GHz band, while protecting the interests of non-Federal licensees in this band. The steps taken are an integral step toward the auction of the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz spectrum bands slated to begin later in 2019. The actions taken are building blocks of the nation’s 5G future and will contribute to economic growth, job creation, and our nation’s global competitiveness.
The Federal Communications Commission seeks comment on the proposed application and bidding procedures for the third 5G spectrum auction (Auction 103). This auction of airwaves in the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz spectrum bands will be the largest spectrum auction in our nation’s history. It will make available high frequency millimeter wave spectrum which will promote the development of 5G, the Internet of Things, and other advanced spectrum-based services.
The Public Notice adopted proposes to offer 100 megahertz blocks of spectrum licensed by Partial Economic Area service area. The FCC also proposes bidding procedures for the clock and assignment phases of the auction. The clock phase would allow bidding on generic blocks in two categories—one for 37 GHz and 39 GHz, and one for 47 GHz—in each PEA. The clock phase would serve both to determine winners of generic spectrum blocks and to determine the amount of incentive payments due to those incumbent licensees in the 39 GHz band that opt to relinquish their spectrum usage rights. The assignment phase would allow bidding for frequency-specific license assignments, while ensuring contiguous block assignments.
The Federal Communications Commission proposed to update its rule for over-the-air reception devices to help spur 5G deployment. As it stands, the Commission prohibits certain state and local restrictions that unreasonably impair the ability of users to deploy small, next-generation networking devices on their own property. However, the current rule does not reflect the shifts in the wireless infrastructure landscape for the development of 5G networks and technologies. Therefore, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted proposes to eliminate the restriction that currently excludes hub and relay antennas from the scope of this rule. This proposal could help spur infrastructure deployment, including in underserved rural and urban areas. The NPRM also seeks comment on how best to implement the proposed rule. Finally, the NPRM proposes to retain an exception to the rule for safety or historic preservation purposes. Revising the regulatory framework for over-the-air reception devices would allow fixed wireless providers to deploy hub and relay antennas more quickly and efficiently and help spur investment in and deployment of needed infrastructure in a manner that is consistent with the public interest.
The Federal Communications Commission granted certain telephone companies relief from regulations. In response to a petition filed by USTelecom, the FCC using its authority under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to forbear from enforcing rules and statutory provisions that are no longer needed to protect the public interest, the FCC therefore decided to:
- No longer enforce a rule that small, rural carriers set up separate affiliated companies to provide in-region long-distance service.
- No longer enforce service provisioning deadlines and the related requirement that carriers submit reports about their legacy “special access” services.
- No longer enforce the requirement that Bell companies provide nondiscriminatory access to poles, ducts, conduits, and rights-of-way. This obligation remains covered by Section 224 of the Communications Act.
This Order does not address USTelecom’s additional request for forbearance from statutory provisions and FCC rules related to unbundled network elements and resale. That request remains pending, and the statutory deadline for FCC action is Aug 2, 2019
The Federal Communications Commission eliminated two rules pertaining to cable operators’ channel lineups. Specifically, it eliminated a rule which requires cable operators to maintain at their local office a current listing of the cable television channels that each cable system delivers to its subscribers. Secondly, it eliminated the requirement that certain cable operators make their channel lineup available through their FCC-hosted online public inspection file. The FCC concluded that these requirements are unnecessary as channel lineups are readily available to consumers today through a variety of other means, including the websites of individual cable operators, third-party websites, on-screen electronic program guides, and paper guides. The FCC also noted that its rules separately require cable operators to send channel lineup information to cable subscribers at least once a year and make that information available upon request at any time.
We have more work do if want to truly modernize the public file system that is the subject of our decision April 12. These filings include things like station authorizations, contour maps, ownership reports, equal employment opportunity filings, reports on children’s television programming, materials related to investigations and complaints, and joint sales agreements. They also include a political file that features sponsorship information concerning political advertisements paid for by candidates, groups, and individuals; details on when they run; and what issues of national importance they discuss. In 2012, the Federal Communications Commission decided it was time to begin uploading the contents of these public inspection files online. But now the hard truth: this system is dated. These filings are not machine-readable. They cannot be processed by a computer. That means it is all but impossible to use this system to study trends in everything from media ownership to political advertising. We should update the public file system for the digital age. It should be searchable, sortable, and downloadable. It should be transparent and useful for the public. So in our media modernization initiative, let me offer my colleagues a suggestion: if we truly want to be modern, working on a machine-readable format for the public file should come next.
News from White House-FCC Event
Thanks to President Donald Trump, America is now leading the global race to deploy secure and reliable 5G. President Trump’s policies empower the wireless industry to innovate and invest in America’s 5G capabilities, further bolstering our economy and creating millions of jobs.
America First -- To 5G. President Trump is ensuring that America wins the global race to 5G and remains the world leader in information and communications technology. The Administration is developing a National Spectrum Strategy focused on more effective and efficient spectrum management that will allow America to reach the full potential of 5G. The National Spectrum Strategy will ensure a balanced approach to spectrum management to support critical government services and future spectrum uses. To ensure rural America is not left behind, the Federal Communications Commission aims to create a new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund that will extend high-speed broadband to 4 million homes and small businesses. The United States is working internationally on telecommunication security principles that will foster reliable 5G network and supply chain development.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing a $20.4 billion rural broadband fund that could connect up to four million homes and small businesses over the next ten years. The new program will be part of the Universal Service Fund (USF), and it will be similar to an existing USF program that began during the Obama administration. In 2015, the USF's Connect America Fund (CAF) awarded $9 billion for rural broadband deployment—$1.5 billion annually for six years—in order to connect 3.6 million homes and businesses. Carriers that accepted the CAF money are required to finish the broadband deployments by the end of 2020. Chairman Pai's proposed "Rural Digital Opportunity Fund" will be the follow-on program, an FCC spokesperson said. The new fund will distribute the money in a reverse auction, a type of competitive bidding process. If the resulting broadband deployment is similar to the previous program, it would end up providing wired broadband in some areas and fixed wireless in others.
At $2 billion a year over ten years, the fund will provide more money each year over a longer period of time than the CAF program it would replace. It will also fund higher-speed services. The CAF funding only required carriers, including AT&T and CenturyLink, to deploy broadband with speeds of at least 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream. In Nov 2018, Chairman Pai said he's proposing to raise the standard for subsidized deployments from 10Mbps/1Mbps to 25Mbps/3Mbps. But the program announced April 12 will also try to go beyond the 25Mbps/3Mbps minimum. Chairman Pai's office said the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will "provide up to gigabit-speed broadband in the parts of the country most in need of connectivity."
Today, 5G is a success story—an American success story. How are we getting the job done? As the lead agency on 5G, the Federal Communications Commission is pursuing a three-part strategy called the 5G FAST Plan. First, we’re freeing up spectrum, the invisible airwaves that carry wireless traffic. Second, we’re making it easier to install wireless infrastructure. Third, we’ve taken action to encourage the deployment of optical fiber.
But in the race to 5G, our early success is still—early. We still need to do more. And we will. Today, I’m announcing two new steps the FCC will take to build on our momentum. First, the FCC intends to start its third 5G spectrum auction on Dec 10, 2019. This will be the largest spectrum auction in our nation’s history. We’ll be selling 3,400 megahertz in three different bands. For those who aren’t wireless experts, that’s a lot of spectrum. Second, to help build the infrastructure of the future, the FCC aims to create a new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund at the FCC. This money will extend high-speed broadband to up to four million homes and small businesses in rural America. These next-generation networks will bring greater economic opportunity to America’s Heartland and will help support future 5G technologies.
On April 12, the Federal Communications Commission announced a plan for promoting 5G which includes the nation’s largest spectrum auction in Dec 2019 and the promised future creation of a $20.4 billion rural broadband investment fund, “The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund,” to help close the digital divide. Harold Feld said, "April 12’s announcement raises many questions. Most importantly, where will this money come from and over how many years? Is the Administration promising to provide new money for rural broadband through existing authority, or is the Administration going to need to ask Congress to provide new money? How will this differ from the Connect America Fund? The Obama Administration began a process of auctioning spectrum for 5G in 2016, and repurposed the existing Universal Service Fund for rural telephone service to create the “Connect America Fund” for rural broadband deployment. Because Chairman Pai eliminated all sources of FCC authority over broadband in the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” in 2017, it is difficult to see how the Administration can do anything but modify the existing Obama-era programs.
"While updating these programs may prove helpful, they will not do much to change the unfortunate state of rural broadband in the short-term or do much to accelerate 5G deployment without real reform to directly address new deployment. For this reason, we urge Congress to press Chairman Pai for further details, and to work on new funding for rural broadband in accordance with the principles developed by the Broadband Connects America Coalition. Chairman Pai and the Trump Administration have an unfortunate history of promising big things for rural broadband with great fanfare, but have either failed to deliver, or simply taken credit for programs developed by the Obama Administration. Hopefully, this will not be the case again.”
Sens Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Internet Exchange (IX) Act (S 1166), which will help to improve internet access for consumers, especially those in rural areas. Internet Exchanges (IXs) are physical locations where networks come together – they allow subscribers of different internet service providers to communicate with one another. IXs also provide opportunities for content delivery networks (CDNs) and others to cache content closer to end-users, thus reducing latency and increasing network efficiency to improve the online experience for consumers, especially in rural areas. IX facilities also provide opportunities for data centers and cloud computing to be collocated at IX sites, thus increasing efficiency and boosting local economies. Currently, IXs are concentrated in big cities and in the coastal states.
The bill has two primary sections:
- Authorizes matching grants to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a division of the Department of Commerce, to help establish new IX facilities where none exist, or to help an existing one expand if it is the only IX facility in a core based statistical area.
- Permits eligible recipients under the E-Rate program (for schools and libraries) and Telehealth program to use such funds to contract with a broadband provider to obtain a connection to an IX facility, or to pay for the costs of maintaining a point of presence at an IX facility.
Sen Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced comprehensive federal privacy legislation to protect American consumers’ personal information. The Privacy Bill of Rights Act would establish rules for both online and offline companies and bans the use of individuals’ personal information for harmful, discriminatory purposes, such as housing and employment advertisements targeted based on demographics like race and gender. It also includes cybersecurity standards and provides the Federal Trade Commission with rulemaking authority. Specifically, the Privacy Bill of Rights Act:
- Prohibits companies from using individuals’ personal information in discriminatory ways
- Requires companies to protect and secure the personal information that they hold
- Establishes a centralized FTC website that tells consumers about their privacy rights and requires companies to use easy to read short-form notices provided directly to consumers
- Ensures companies collect only the information they need from consumers in order to provide the requested services
- Enables State Attorneys General to protect the interest of their residents and bring action against companies that violate the privacy rights of individuals. Individuals will also have a private right of action empowering them to defend their own privacy rights.
In an era of ubiquitous data gathering by tech companies, your personal information — where you go, who your friends are, what you read, eat and watch, and when you do it — is being used for purposes many people never expected. As privacy concerns have mounted among consumers, policymakers and regulators, tech companies have come under intensifying scrutiny over their data collection practices. Technology companies have for years responded to court orders for specific users’ information. The new warrants go further, suggesting possible suspects and witnesses in the absence of other clues. Often, Google employees said, the company responds to a single warrant with location information on dozens or hundreds of devices. Law enforcement officials described the method as exciting, but cautioned that it was just one tool.
An Ilinois bill that sought to empower average people to file lawsuits against tech companies for recording them without their knowledge via microphone-enabled devices was defanged this week after lobbying from trade associations representing Silicon Valley giants. On April 10, the Illinois State Senate passed the Keep Internet Devices Safe Act, a bill that would ban manufacturers of devices that can record audio from doing so remotely without disclosing it to the customer. But after lobbying from trade associations that represent the interests of Google, Amazon—makers of the microphone-enabled Google Home and Alexa smart speakers, respectively—and Microsoft, among other companies, the interests of big tech won out. In the bill’s original form, users could file a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s office that could lead to penalties of up to $50,000. But after technology trade associations, led by the Internet Association objected, claimed that the state’s definition of a “digital device” was too broad, and that the Act would lead to “private litigation which can lead to frivolous class action litigation,” the bill was scaled back.
The harsh reality behind Big Tech's power consolidation is clear in these five trends:
- Data begets data, and that begets power
- Size begets more heft and dollars.
- Automation screws a lot of workers.
- Algorithms favor the fortunate in big business.
- Tech is also making big, bigger in media.
It’s no longer debatable: The system makes the big, bigger and the rich, richer. The rest of America stagnates or suffers. Since 1980, the incomes of the top 1%tripled, the top 10% doubled, and the bottom 60% of prime-age workers were flat. This may manifest on the campaign trail as a referendum not only on reversing the tax cuts and implementing a Green New Deal, but then moving in the exact opposite direction — President Donald Trump as the last gasp of trickle-down economics. It's hard to imagine a more worthy debate at a more important time for America. It's tempting to fixate on Trump. But the real action is the policy and philosophical debate unfolding before us.
Roughly six-in-ten self-described urban residents (62%) say their local news media mainly cover the area they live in, while a majority of those who describe themselves as rural residents (57%) say the opposite is true – their local news media mostly cover some other area, a concern raised by many journalism watchers following newsroom cutbacks and media consolidation. Self-described suburbanites are more evenly split. Urban residents are also more likely than those in rural and suburban areas to feel that their local news media have a lot of influence on their communities: 44% of urban residents say so, compared with 30% of those in rural areas and 38% in suburban areas.
Residents in the three types of communities also differ on how important they think the internet is for getting local news. Urban residents are more digitally focused in their local news habits, placing greater emphasis on the internet for local news. About four-in-ten urban residents (37%) say the internet is their most important source of local news, compared with 32% in suburban areas and 26% of those in rural areas. They are also more likely than rural residents to often get news from websites and apps (29% for urban vs. 23% for rural, along with 27% of suburban residents).
Over 20 years ago, the US Supreme Court unanimously decided Reno v. American CivilLiberties Union (ACLU), which found the communications decency provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to be unconstitutional. Applying a strict scrutiny judicial review standard under the First Amendment, the Supreme Court concluded that unlike broadcasting (where the FCC’s “indecency” content regulation consistently has been upheld due to the unique characteristics of that medium), no government regulation would be constitutionally permissible—even for online child protection. This means that there continues to be no content restrictions (aside from child pornography) on what Internet users in the United States can send or receive online. Time and technological changes have demonstrated that the Reno decision continues as a critical element in explosive Internet development. An open terrain for content, with a First Amendment firewall from government intrusion in place, contributes greatly to the powerful forces of its online supply and demand. The Reno precedent represents a free speech legacy for all those using the Internet as a vital source of news, information, and entertainment.
[Stuart N. Brotman is the Howard Distinguished Endowed Professor of Media Management and Law and Beaman Professor of Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Shiela Hawkins is a doctoral candidate in the College of Communication and Information at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.]
A committee that advises the Federal Communications Commission on consumer-related matters now includes a representative of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which lobbies against municipal broadband, net neutrality, and other consumer protection measures. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his Consumer Advisory Committee's new makeup on April 10. One new member is Jonathon Hauenschild, director of ALEC's Task Force on Communications and Technology. He and other Consumer Advisory Committee will serve two-year terms. ALEC writes model state laws and urges state legislatures to adopt them, and it has helped convince about 20 states to pass laws that make it difficult or impossible for cities and towns to offer broadband service. Hauenschild, who wrote on Twitter that he's "looking forward to helping advise the FCC on consumer matters," has told the FCC in filings that it should stop regulating net neutrality and preempt state and local broadband laws. He's argued that California's net neutrality law is "disastrous." On the topic of municipal broadband, he argued that states should ensure that municipalities have "tried all other options before launching a municipal network including public-private partnerships." The FCC's 27-member Consumer Advisory Committee "provides advice and recommendations to the Commission on a wide array of consumer matters specified by the Commission."
The group's membership for 2019 and 2020 does include some consumer advocates, such as representatives of the National Consumers League, Consumer Reports, the Consumer Federation of America, and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates. But the committee is also heavy on industry lobbyists. AT&T is on the committee, as are the four most prominent lobby groups representing home and mobile broadband providers. NCTA and ACA—which both dropped the word "cable" from their names in order to improve their reputations—are representing the cable industry. Phone companies are represented by USTelecom and mobile lobby group CTIA.
Pete Buttigieg brought data, flow charts, and McKinsey-esque analysis to South Bend (IN) government—as well as a bit of philosophical humanism. Since he became mayor seven years ago, unemployment in the city has fallen, from 13 percent in 2010 to 3.2 percent last fall—below the national rate—and South Bend has seen its first significant population increase in half a century. Mayor Buttigieg invested city dollars in transforming its largest factory—the prosaically named edifice known as Building 84—into 800,000 square feet of offices where tech and biotech companies are now headquartered. Other former factories are being converted to apartments, and downtown has seen its first new construction in almost 30 years.
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