Wednesday, June 12, 2019
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Stories From Abroad
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) took to the floor of the Senate in an attempt to force a vote on a bill to reinstate net neutrality on the one-year anniversary of its reversal. “Under Sen. McConnell’s leadership, the Republicans are trying to bury this bill in a legislative graveyard,” Sen Markey said, referring to the Save the Internet Act passed by the House in April. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) noted that the Senate approved a measure nearly identical to the one in the House in 2018.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) blocked the vote, arguing that much of what Democrats warned would happen following the repeal has yet to take place. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has no desire to take the bill up, and any floor speeches or letters from consumer advocacy groups probably won’t change his mind.
The Voices for Internet Freedom coalition called on the Senate to pass the Save the Internet Act, which would restore strong and enforceable Net Neutrality rules. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has held up the bill, which passed the House of Representatives in April, despite the overwhelming bipartisan support among voters for the Net Neutrality protections the legislation would reinstate.
The Save the Internet Act would restore the Federal Communications Commission’s strong 2015 Net Neutrality rules, and overturn the Trump administration’s decision to destroy those rules. It would restore the legal framework that prevents internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from blocking, throttling or charging websites and apps extra fees for priority delivery to their customers. That legal framework in Title II of the Communications Act is also essential for the FCC to promote broadband affordability, buildout, choice and broadband users’ privacy.
On the one-year anniversary of the repeal of network neutrality, Engine, who advocates on behalf of startups, released a letter signed by over 160 startups in support of the Save the Internet Act (HR 1644/S 682). The legislation would restore the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order, which allowed startups to grow and succeed by keeping the Internet a level playing field. Startups rely on a free and open Internet to survive. That’s why small, medium, and large startups from communities across the nation joined together to voice their support for the Senate to pass strong net neutrality protections. Implementing strong net neutrality protections is critical for fostering competition and innovation within the startup ecosystem. We urge Senate leadership to quickly pass a clean, unamended version of H.R. 1644 / S. 682 as soon as possible.
It's been a year since the Obama-era network neutrality protections, which ensure all internet traffic is treated equally, came off the books. The fight continues as net neutrality activists plan protests June 11 to mark the first anniversary. Senate Democrats are also trying to force a vote on the Save the Internet Act, which the House passed in April. The legislation would restore the Federal Communications Commission's authority to police the internet and would restore the 2015 rules, including a ban on blocking, throttling or paid prioritization.
- What's going on with the lawsuits? The US Federal Appeals Court for the DC Circuit in Feb heard oral arguments in the case challenging the FCC's repeal of the 2015 rules. Two of the big questions being asked in this lawsuit are whether the FCC had sufficient reason to change the classification of broadband so soon after the 2015 rules were adopted and whether the agency has the right to pre-empt states, like California, from adopting their own net neutrality laws. A decision in the case is expected sometime this summer.
- What happened to California's net neutrality law? The new law was supposed to take effect Jan 1. But last fall, the state struck a deal with the Justice Department to temporarily not enforce the new law until a lawsuit challenging the FCC's repeal of the federal regulations is resolved.
- Does this mean no one is policing the internet? The Federal Trade Commission is the new cop on the beat. It can take action against companies that violate contracts with consumers or that participate in anticompetitive and fraudulent activity. But critics, which include consumer advocates and House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA), complain the FTC doesn't have the technical expertise to handle net neutrality complaints.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai sent a letter to Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) on May 28, 2019, in response to her letter regarding broadband mapping. Chairman Pai said the FCC initiated a new data collection for mobile broadband coverage as part of the Mobility Fund Phase II and began a review of the Form 477 process to ensure the FCC’s broadband data was more accurate, granular and useful to the FCC and the public. Chairman Pai said a public feedback mechanism could improve the FCC’s broadband coverage maps and Form 477 data, suggesting the FCC’s speed test app is one way consumers can currently participate in collecting data about broadband deployment.
A group of attorneys general from 10 states filed a federal lawsuit in a bid to block a proposed merger between the wireless carriers T-Mobile and Sprint, a $26 billion deal that has yet to receive the Justice Department’s approval. The lawsuit, led by Letitia James of New York and Xavier Becerra of California, contends that competition will suffer and consumer prices will rise if the companies combine. Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Virginia and Wisconsin joined the complaint, which was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan. The 10 attorneys general argue that a combined T-Mobile/Sprint would have incentive to raise prices and reduce service quality if they’re allowed to merge. While the two companies long have said that their combination would help them deploy next-generation wireless services, known as 5G, the states questioned if the two carriers could actually live up to their commitments to deliver better mobile broadband nationwide.
"Direct competition between Sprint and T-Mobile has led to lower prices, higher quality service, and more features for consumers,” they wrote in their complaint. "The cumulative effect of this merger, therefore, will be to decrease competition in the retail mobile wireless telecommunications services market and increase prices that consumers pay for mobile wireless telecommunications services.”
“The record is clear that it will lead to higher prices and less competition and that the companies’ promises are speculative, not merger-specific and unenforceable,” said Gigi Sohn, a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy.
Federal Communications Commission media ownership deregulation took its latest trip to Philadelphia (PA) June 11 as the FCC defended its latest rule changes against a challenge by Prometheus Radio Project in the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Prometheus filed suit against the FCC's fall 2017 decision, under Chairman Ajit Pai, that eliminated the newspaper-broadcast and the radio-TV cross-ownership rules, among other deregulations. Joined by the Media Mobilizing Project, Prometheus wants the court to reverse the 2017 decision and require the FCC to "fully comply" with the court's direction to have the FCC explicitly consider the impact diversity in these types of decisions. "The FCC has failed to meet its statutory obligation to promote gender and race diversity in ownership of broadcast stations," said attorney Cheryl Leanza, who joined Benton Senior Fellow Andrew Schwartzman and others is arguing the case.
The judges hearing the appeal were Thomas Ambro, Anthony Scirica and Julio Fuentes, the same three that have heard the case since the FCC's media ownership deregulation was first stayed in 2003 following a challenge by Prometheus. It is the fourth legal challenge to FCC media ownership rules by effectively the same parties, something Prometheus has pointed out. According to Schwartzman, the judges made it clear they were tired of the case coming back and wanted it resolved. He said there was no mention of "standing"-which had been an issue. That doesn't mean the court couldn't come back with a decision based on standing to bring the suit, but it seemed unlikely it would not go to the arguments in the case. He said the judges had "lots of problems" with both sides, but gave the FCC a hard time for basing a decision that could affect women and minorities on data about race. Judge Scirica seemed more sympathetic to the FCC arguments, said Schwartzman.
The House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee held the hearing "Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 1: The Free and Diverse Press", beginning its look at antitrust issues related to the practice of journalism in the age of online platforms with enormous market power. The News Media Alliance, whose president, David Chavern, was testifying, has called on Congress to give news outlets an antitrust exemption so they can flex some collective muscle and negotiate for compensation for all that news content being aggregated and distributed by Facebook, Google and other platforms. Also testifying were Gene Kimmelman of Public Knowledge, Sally Hubbard of Open Markets Institute, Matthew Schruers of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), David Pitofsky, general counsel at News Corp, and Kevin Riley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Bipartisan legislation that would create that antitrust exemption, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, the has been introduced in the Judiciary Committee by Antitrust Committee Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) and full Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-GA).
In what has become known as the homework gap, an estimated 17 percent of US students do not have access to computers at home and 18 percent do not have home access to broadband internet (nearly 3 million students), according to an Associated Press analysis of census data. The consequences can be dire for children in these situations, because students with home internet consistently score higher in reading, math, and science. And the homework gap in many ways mirrors broader educational barriers for poor and minority students. Students without internet at home are more likely to be students of color, from low-income families or in households with lower parental education levels. Janice Flemming-Butler, who has researched barriers to internet access in Hartford’s (CT) largely black north end, said the disadvantage for minority students is an injustice on the same level as “when black people didn’t have books.”
In June 2018, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules to address increasing demand in the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program. Specifically, the FCC: (1) increased the annual RHC Program funding cap; (2) provided for the annual RHC Program funding cap to be adjusted for inflation; and (3) established a process to carry-forward unused funds from past funding years for use in future funding years. The FCC also directed the Wireline Competition Bureau to announce a specific amount of unused funds from prior funding years to be carried forward to increase available funding for future funding years. The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) projects that, as of the third quarter of this calendar year, $83.22 million in unused funds is available for use in future funding years beginning in funding year (FY) 2019. The FCC now directs USAC to carry-forward unused funds from prior funding years to the extent necessary to cover FY 2019 RHC Program demand as of the close of the FY 2019 filing window on June 30, 2019.6
Stories From Abroad
Over the last decade or so, access to broadband services has become increasingly important. While many in the UK already benefit from the provision of broadband, some, especially those located in more rural and remote areas, do not – they may not be able to access the Internet and when they do, their connection and consumer experience may be poor. After trying to resolve this through a stream of different initiatives, the UK government announced a broadband universal service obligation (USO) of 10 Mbps in late 2015. Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator, launched a consultation in April 2016 and sought the views of interested parties. The consultation attracted considerable interest, but after the submissions from orchestrated campaigns are discounted just over 100 responses remain. But who contributed and what did they say? To explore these two questions, this paper adopts a qualitative approach, using NVIVO, to analyse the responses to the consultation. We show that contributions were highly diverse, reflecting both the complexity of the issue as well as its politicised nature. A lack of agreement among the responses is revealed and divergent views on key issues like the appropriateness of 10 Mbps, whether this should change, how it should be funded or what technologies should be used exist. In this paper, we provide a critical discussion of and derive implications for the broadband USO. We tentatively conclude that those in rural and remote areas that the USO intends to help are caught between two countervailing forces – speed and cost deployment – that interact to ensure that whatever resolution to provide broadband access, some will likely be unhappy.
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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