The Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunities Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2686/HR 5252)


The Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunities Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2686/HR 5252)

For a Microsoft Word version of this document see http://www.benton.org/benton_files/ATORA0904.doc

On June 28, 2006, by a 15-7 vote, the Senate Commerce Committee approved the Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunities Reform Act.

It took until August 4 for the Committee to release the final text of bill as amended at the June mark-up. In a year when key Republican lawmakers are promising sweeping telecommunication reform legislation, eyes are watching this bill as Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) tries to round up 60 votes needed to move the legislation to the Senate floor. If Sen Stevens can gain passage for the bill during the Senate’s brief return in September, it would be met in conference by the House-passed Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006 (H.R. 5252 – See http://www.benton.org/index.php?q=node/1882 for more on the House bill).

The Senate bill would: 1) streamline video franchising for telephone companies and others; 2) spell out broadband Internet consumer rights, but without nondiscrimination language urged by Net Neutrality advocates; 3) firm up and expand the universal service fund (USF); 4) clarify Internet telephone service (Voice Over Internet Protocol or “VoIP”) interconnection rights, duties, and jurisdiction; 5) authorize municipal broadband systems, subject to nondiscrimination safeguards; 6) impose a permanent moratorium on state and local Internet-access taxation, a three-year moratorium on state and local wireless taxation, and further preemption of state and local regulation of wireless services; and 7) institute various mandates targeting broadcasters and other media players, among numerous other measures. Below find a summary of the major provisions in the bill.


I. Streamlining the Video Franchising Process

II. TV and Internet Content

III. Internet Neutrality
IV. Universal Service Reform

V. Municipal Broadband
VI. Wireless Innovation Networks
VII. Digital Television
VIII. Low Power Radio
IX. The Federal Communications Commission

X. Internet & Wireless Telephone Service Taxes
XI. Research
XII. Conclusion
Endnotes

I. Streamlining the Video Franchising Process

A main driver for this year’s legislative push to update telecommunications law is the desire of telephone companies to offer cable TV-like video services. Nervous about possible delays in reaching local franchise agreements with tens of thousands of communities around the country, telephone companies have asked both federal and state lawmakers to streamline the process by creating national or state-wide video franchises.

The Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunities Reform Act of 2006 updates current cable law by changing the term “cable operator” in the Communications Act to “video service provider” – in essence, making incumbent cable operators and new competitors equals in the regulatory field. The FCC is given 4 months to update its rules and establish a comprehensive, Federal legal framework for the franchising of video services that use public rights-of-way.

Local franchise authorities

  • Streamlines video franchising, giving localities 90 days to grant video applications using FCC form, subject to appeals. Cable can apply in market upon approval of new entrant. IP video covered, but FCC can’t regulate it.
  • Local franchise authorities would be prevented from awarding exclusive franchises and the term of franchises could be no shorter than 5 years and no longer than 15 years.
  • Local governments would retain their authority to regulate the use of public rights of way in a way that is reasonable, competitively neutral, and non-discriminatory. Permit fees are limited to the direct costs incurred issuing the permit.

New Entrants

  • To gain the right to provide video services in a community, a company would have to simply apply to a local franchising authority. The FCC is given 30 days from enactment to promulgate this form. The local authority is given 15 days to publish a public notice of the application if this is required by state or local law. The local authority is also required to quickly share with the applicant its franchise fee and public, educational and governmental use channel (PEG) requirements. If the company accepts these terms, it may begin offering service 15 days after completing its application. If the local franchise authority fails to respond the company within 90 days, the franchise is awarded on the 91st day for a term of 15 years with franchise fees and PEG requirements equal to that of the current, local cable operator.

Franchise Fees

  • Local franchise authorities may still collect franchise fees from video service providers, but the fees may not exceed 5 percent of the provider’s gross revenue.(1)

PEG Channels

  • New video service providers receiving franchises are required to provide as many public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels as the provider in that local area that provides the most PEG channels.
  • For new providers in areas where there is no current service, the FCC shall determine the number of PEG channels – up to 3. Support for PEG channels and institutional networks would be capped at 1% of a provider’s gross revenues.
  • The cost of operating institutional networks could be deducted from the 1%.
  • Only every 15 years, beginning in 2021, could a local franchise authority request that a provider increase the capacity of the video service network reserved for PEG channels; the increase may not exceed one PEG channel or 10% of the channel capacity currently used for PEG.
  • A video service provider would not have any editorial control over PEG content; the production of that content would be the responsibility of the franchising authority. The video provider would simply be responsible for ensuring that all subscribers receive all PEG programming and that information about the programming is available in navigational guides.

Consumer Protection and Service

  • Within 4 months on enactment of the bill, the FCC would be required to issue new customer service and consumer protection rules for video service. These rules would go into effect 2 months after being adopted by the FCC.
  • Local franchising authorities would have the authority to enforce these rules. Complaints could also be referred by franchising authorities to a state attorney general or state consumer protection agency on a case-by-case basis.

Redlining

  • According to the bill, a video service provider could not deny access to its service to any group of potential residential subscribers because of income, race or religion. State attorney generals, through a consumer complaint-initiated process, would enforce this.
  • If a court found against the provider was in violation of law, the court could 1) ensure that the provider remedy the violation and 2) assess a civil penalty. Unlike in previous drafts of the bill, there is no provision here to revoke the provider’s local franchise.
  • Beginning 3 years after enactment, all local franchising authorities are directed to report to the FCC on video service provider deployment. The FCC, in turn, is to submit a report to Congress. The bill, however, does not include a specific build out requirement to reach all areas of a community. Currently, cable operators are required to serve their entire community as a condition of a franchise.

IP-Enabled Video Service

  • Video services provides over the Internet are termed “IP-enabled video service.”
  • The bill states that these services are subject to only Federal regulation, but prohibits the FCC from regulating these services.

The National League of Cities, the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the International City/County Management Association have raised concerns about the bill cautioning that it would:

  • permit local telephone companies to pick and choose the neighborhoods in which they want to provide video and broadband services, while allowing them to bypass other neighborhoods completely.
  • replace strong state and local consumer protection and customer service standards with federal standards drafted by federal bureaucrats not accountable to state and local communities and consumers.
  • unilaterally preempt other carefully crafted state and local laws that encourage competition and protect the public interest.

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II. TV and Internet Content

The bill directs pay TV service providers to submit an annual report to the FCC on family tiers, a description of the channels the company includes in those tiers, the retail price, marketing efforts, and the subscribership for those tiers. The FCC is directed to aggregate the data in these reports each year and submit it to Congress.

The bill also gives the FCC 6 months after enactment to complete an open proceeding and issue findings on violent television programming and its impact on children.(2)

Satellite TV Service

  • The bill directs the FCC to require that satellite licensees offer the same services offered to contiguous states to noncontiguous states to the degree it is technically feasible to do so. This provision is designed to fix a problem whereby Alaska and Hawaii residents are not afforded the same satellite TV service as other states because they are beyond the reach of certain satellites. NOTE: The Chairman and ranking member on the committee are from Alaska and Hawaii respectively.

Digital Content Protection

  • The bill gives the FCC the authority to impose the “broadcast flag” (3)requirements the Commission adopted in 2004 for TV, but that the courts struck down. The bill also requires the Commission to impose similar controls on digital radio.
  • The bill requires the FCC exempt from these rules digital signals sent around a home network. Broadcasters are prohibited from using protections that would limit the redistribution of news and public affairs programming.
  • The FCC is required to set up an advisory committee, the “Digital Audio Review Board,” with representatives nominated from the information technology industry, the software industry, the consumer electronics industry, the broadcast radio industry, satellite radio industry, cable industry, audio recording industry, music publishing industry, performing rights societies (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; Broadcast Music Inc; and SESAC), public interest organizations, representatives of recording artists, performers and musicians and any other group the FCC determines will be affected by adoption of the broadcast flag regulations.
  • Within 1 year of enactment, the Board is to propose a broadcast flag regulation that represents a consensus of its members and is consistent with fair use principles.
  • The FCC is given 7 months to adopt a rule based on this recommendation.
  • If the Board does not offer a consensus recommendation, the FCC is instructed to adopt new rules as long as they do not impede the rollout of digit radio.

The current draft of the bill deletes provisions concerning sports programming on pay TV services. Many video service providers complain that it is difficult to compete with local cable operators because their affiliated cable channels buy the rights to sports programming and will not sell access to these channels on competing systems. Earlier drafts of the bill asked the FCC to adopt new rules that would increase competition in the sports programming market by prohibiting exclusive contracts for sporting events. A previous draft also ensured that local broadcasters could preempt, at their own discretion, children’s educational programming in order to air news or sports events.

Protecting Children

  • The FCC is directed to adopt new rules to prevent the offering of child pornography by video service providers.
  • Website operators would be required to provide warnings of sexually explicit material on their sites.
  • The legislation would also make it unlawful to knowingly deceive another person into viewing obscene material or Internet content that is harmful to minors.
  • The bill would make it the responsibility of video providers (broadcasters, cable operators, etc) to prevent interactivity with commercial matter during any children’s programming.
  • The FCC is to conduct a study on providing radio and TV programming on school buses and submit a report to Congress.

The bill would also exempt independent broadcast TV network affiliates from indecency fines if the stations air indecent programming but were not given reasonable opportunity to preview the material or if the network has not alerted stations that the program includes content that could be considered indecent.

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III. Internet Neutrality

In August 2005, the FCC adopted a policy statement on the regulation of broadband networks. The statement includes four principles. To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet consumers are entitled to:

  • Access the lawful Internet content of their choice.
  • Run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
  • Connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
  • Competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

Collectively these four principles have come to be known as “network neutrality.” When adopting the principles, the FCC explicitly indicated that they are not enforceable principles. Net neutrality advocates argue that the FCC should be given new authority to enforce these principles and to preserve the fundamental openness that has been the hallmark of the Internet – largely based on these principles. They also argue for a fifth principle ensuring nondiscrimination. Broadband providers argue that there isn’t a problem that needs fixing, that the FCC already has sufficient authority, and that any new statutory language would amount to regulating the Internet.

The Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunities Reform Act of 2006 includes a Consumer Internet Bill of Rights which directs Internet service providers to allow subscribers to: access and post lawful content, access the web pages of the consumers’ choosing, run any applications of the consumers’ choosing, connect any legal devise to the network and receive “clear and conspicuous” information about connection speeds, capabilities and pricing. Broadband providers are also directed to offer high-speed Internet services without requiring consumers to also subscribe to additional telecommunications services.

The legislation also states that no government may limit, restrict, ban, prohibit, or otherwise regulate content on the Internet because of the religious views, political views, or any other views expressed in such content unless specifically authorized by law; and no Internet service provider engaged in interstate commerce may limit, restrict, ban, prohibit, or otherwise regulate content on the Internet because of the religious views, political views, or any other views expressed in such content unless specifically authorized by law.

Subscribers may file complaints at the FCC if they feel their provider is violating the Consumer Internet Bill of Rights. The FCC may fine providers up to $500,000 for each violation.

The FCC, however, may not adopt new rules to implement this part of the bill. The bill, directs the FCC to study the situation. The Commission is to provide an annual report to Congress on developments in Internet traffic processing, routing, peering, transport and interconnection and how these developments impact the free flow of information over the Internet. The report is to include information about the business relationships between broadband service providers and online user services, and the development of services available over the Internet. And, if the FCC identifies significant problems, it can make recommendations to ensure that consumers can access lawful content and run Internet applications and services. But the Commission may not include a recommendation that it be given additional rulemaking authority.

This provision has been roundly criticized by the Internet and public interest community alike for lacking an enforceable network neutrality provision. A net neutrality amendment failed in committee along largely party lines, and is expected to be the predominant issue should the bill reach the Senate floor.

The bill also directs the FCC to revise biennially its definition of broadband to reflect a data rate greater than 200 kilobits per second and is consistent with what is generally available to the public.

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IV. Universal Service Reform

Contributions to Universal Service

Representing a state with a large number of rural communities, Sen Stevens has always had a particular interest in the web of subsidies that makes basic telephone service more affordable in rural communities and for low-income households, and advanced services – like Internet connections – for schools, libraries and rural health care sites. Of late, consumers have been adopting cell phones, Internet phone services and all-distance packages in lieu of traditional long-distance phone service thus using fewer long distance minutes and paying less for their service upon which contributions are based. At the same time, the fund has grown dramatically in recent years as wireless carriers have been allowed to access universal service funding. These divergent trends have strained the current contribution mechanisms for the Universal Service Fund (USF).

The Stevens bill addresses these trends by requiring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), within 6 months of enactment of the legislation, to:

  • Require every provider of a telecommunications service, broadband service or, IP-enabled voice service (VoIP) to contribute to the Universal Service Fund whether or not they are eligible to receive USF support.
  • Develop a contribution mechanism that is competitively and technologically neutral and is specific, predictable and sufficient. Contributions could be assesses on any combination of:
    • intrastate, interstate or international revenue (the current system is based only on interstate revenue),
    • working phone numbers, or
    • network capacity including broadband connections.
  • Prevent the double collection of funds for the same service.
  • Provide a USF discount for group plans where a family may have multiple phones under one account.

In addition, the bill:

  • Preserves state universal state programs.
  • Permanently exempts the USF from the Anti-Deficiency Act – a rule that if applied to the E-rate program or other USF programs, would delay critical funding to needy schools, high-cost rural phone services, and lifeline phone users. The bill requires that USF be accounted for consistent with government Generally Accepted Accounting Practices’ standards, that the E-Rate program not commit more funds in a year than its program cap, and that excess funds be deposited in the US Treasury.
  • Permits Native American libraries and consortia to receive E-Rate funding
  • Directs the census bureau to collect broadband deployment data.
  • Defines broadband service as “a transmission speed of at least 200 kilobits per second in at least one direction.”
  • Concerning VoIP providers, the bill: 1) prohibits telephone companies from refusing to carry VoIP traffic; 2) mandates accessibility for the disabled; and 3) requires extra measures to make VoIP phones useful during emergencies.

Distributions from the Universal Service Fund

The bill also addresses how USF monies are distributed by:

  • Requiring telephone carriers that receive USF support to offer broadband(4) service within five years of enactment of the act.(5)
  • Creating a new broadband deployment fund within the USF that would make available up $500 million per year to provide broadband service(6)to unserved areas.(7)
  • Tightening the requirements telephone companies must meet in order to receive universal service funds including remaining functional in an emergency and providing consumer protection and service quality standards. Carriers would also have to present a 5-yr plan demonstrating how universal service funds would be used to improve coverage, service quality, or capacity in every wire center that would receive support.
  • Ensuring universal service support to multiple connections or lines.
  • Establishing waste, fraud, and abuse review and requiring state commissions to conduct random audits. For example, the FCC would create performance goals and measures for the E-rate program to determine how well it meets the telecommunications needs of schools and libraries.
  • Includes a “phantom” provision requiring voice providers to label traffic with “sufficient information to allow for traffic identification” by other communication networks “that transport, transit, or terminate such traffic” .. “including information on the identity of the originating provider, the calling and called parties.”

The $500 million broadband fund could help achieve the national goal of making high-speed Internet service available throughout the country. The FCC is given 6 months to create the program. But critics may suggest that the new fund may not be big enough to accomplish this goal: it is about one fifth the size of the E-rate fund(8) that has been used to wire the nation's schools and libraries to the Internet, one-fourth the size of US Department of Agriculture's Development Broadband Loan and Loan Guarantee Program(9) (which has not been very successful in increasing rural broadband deployment), and about one-twentieth the size of what many economists have said that "universal" broadband would take.(10) The FCC is required, however, to make recommendations to Congress annually on whether the fund needs to be increased or decreased.

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V. Municipal Broadband

In June 2005, Sens Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced the “Community Broadband Act.” That bill has two main clauses:

  • No State may prohibit any public provider from providing advanced telecommunications service (including Internet service).

  • To the extent any public provider regulates competing private providers of advanced telecommunications services, it shall apply its rules without discrimination in favor of itself.

    The Stevens’ bill borrows the Lautenberg/McCain bill’s name and prevents states from barring municipalities from considering broadband options and choices. In allowing municipal broadband, the bill rolls back exiting state broadband barriers, seeks to encourage public-private partnerships, and includes compromise language requiring modest notice duties and other procedural requirements. The bill also includes language barring local governments from adopting regulations that would favor public over private networks. The compromise has been embraced by pro-municipal broadband groups.

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    VI. Wireless Innovation Networks

    In February 2006, Sens George Allen (R-VA), John Kerry (D-MA), John Sununu (R-NH), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Wireless Innovation Act of 2006 or the ‘WIN Act.’ The legislation focused on freeing up valuable spectrum for wireless broadband which is currently being underutilized by broadcasters. The bill’s aim was to require the FCC, within 6 months, to take action in its ongoing proceeding regarding the unlicensed use of unused radio spectrum currently reserved for broadcasting, commonly referred to as "white space."(11) The bill also directed the FCC to 1) permit unlicensed, non-exclusive use of unassigned, non-licensed television broadcast channels, 2) establish technical guidelines and requirements for the offering of unlicensed service in such band to protect incumbent licensed services and licensees from harmful interference; and 3) require unlicensed devices operating in such band to comply with existing certification processes.

    The Stevens bill borrows the Allen bill’s name and also aims at making unused broadcast spectrum available for unlicensed devises. However, the bill follows more closely with the American Broadband for Communities Act introduced by Sen Stevens the same day as the Allen bill. In its current form, the Stevens provisions would:

    • Allow certified unlicensed devices to use eligible broadcast television frequencies starting 9 months after enactment.
    • Give the FCC 9 months to adopt minimal technical rules to facilitate this use and 1) protect licensed spectrum users from harmful interference, 2) require FCC certification of unlicensed devises, and 3) require manufacturers to include a way to disable or modify devices that cause interference.

    The provision has been largely supported by the high-tech and public interest communities, but opposed by broadcasters.

    In addition, the legislation also includes the Rural Wireless and Broadband Service Act of 2006 which would encourage wireless deployment in rural and underserved areas. The legislation calls for the FCC to report to Congress every two years on spectrum leasing and the development of secondary spectrum markets and the deployment of spectrum-based services especially in rural areas. The FCC and NTIA are called to create a publicly assessable database that identifies spectrum licensees. The agencies are also asked to conduct a band-by-band analysis of spectrum management every 5 years and identify for Congress bands that are “not being utilized in an effective of efficient manner.”

    Finally, the Commission is asked to initiate a rulemaking to reconfigure spectrum band plans so as to designate up to 6 megaHertz of spectrum for small geographic license areas taking into account the desire to promote wireless service in rural and insular areas.

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    VII. Digital Television

    Although Congress passed legislation to speed the digital television transition earlier this year,(12) a number of issues were not addressed.(13) This part of the Stevens bill aims to ease the Nation’s transition to digital-only television broadcasting by February 2009. Specifically the bill:

    • Requires labels on all analog TV sets sold in the US warning consumers of the pending analog switch off in February 2009.
    • Bans the sale of analog TV sets in the US after March 1, 2007.
    • Requires all analog and digital TV sets sold in the US include blocking technology like the V-chip.
    • One month after enactment, the FCC is directed to begin a public outreach program to educate consumers about the digital TV transition. By October 15, 2007, the FCC is to share with Congress a plan for a national public outreach program.
    • The FCC must maintain a website and telephone hotline providing information about the transition.
    • Each broadcast television licensee would be required to air 2 30-second public service announcements each day for 3 months beginning December 2007 to inform consumers about the federally-subsidized digital-to-analog convertor box discount program. Beginning November 17, 2008, broadcasters would have to start running the same amount of PSAs alerting consumers to the coming analog switch-off.
    • Within 2 months, the FCC is to create an advisory committee, the DTV Working Group, to consult with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and State and local governments to promote consumer outreach and provide logistical assistance to consumers, including converter box delivery and installation.
      • The Working Group shall consist on staff from the FCC as well as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and other federal agencies, television broadcasters, video programming distributors, consumer electronics manufacturers and manufacturers of peripheral devices, broadcast antenna and tuner manufacturers, retail providers of consumer electronics equipment, consumers, providers of low-income assistance programs, educational institutions, community groups, consumers and public interest groups including the American Association of Retired Persons, the Television Ratings Oversight Board, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and the Seniors Coalition.
      • The Working Group is to ensure that the converter box subsidy program includes a means to reach and assist elderly, disabled, low-income and non-English speaking households with the delivery and installation of the boxes.
      • The Working Group is also to advise the FCC by July 15, 2007 on creating and implementing a national plan to inform consumers about the transition and to ensure the plan includes Public Service Announcements, toll-free hotlines, and retail displays. It will also update the FCC on the efforts of the private sector to inform consumers about the transition.
      • All licensees in designated markets will also be required to submit a joint plan to the FCC and the Working Group addressing public outreach/PSAs. That plan is to include a description of how each broadcaster will fulfill the PSA requirements and market research by each broadcaster projecting consumer demand for converter boxes to help inform converter box retailers.
      • The Working Group is also to work with the FCC and the NTIA to ensure that converter box subsidies go to the consumers with thee greatest need.
    • Permits cable operators to transmit an analog signal of any television station to their subscribers with analog TVs to ensure continued viewing of broadcast signals for cable subscribers with analog TVs.
    • Reinstates video description rules developed by the FCC to aid the blind.
    • Allows continued Spanish-language analog TV broadcasts on Mexican border into early 2011,
    • Requires the FCC to submit transition coordination reports with respect to Canada and Mexico.

    Missing from the DTV transition language are provisions long sought by the public interest community to ensure that legally mandated broadcaster public interest obligations are being met.

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    VIII. Low Power Radio

    The bill includes the Local Community Radio Act of 2006. These provisions would remove some restrictions that have hampered the growth of low power FM radio stations, especially in urban markets.

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    IX. The Federal Communications Commission

    The bill includes both structural and procedural changes for the FCC.

    First the bill creates an Office of Indian Affairs to 1) work with tribes to ensure they have adequate access to communications services, 2) consult with tribes before enacting rules that could have a special impact of the tribes, 3) advise the FCC on tribal law and sovereignty, 4) conduct outreach to tribes, and 5) assist tribes with complying with Federal law.

    The bill also creates an Office of Consumer Advocate at the FCC. The office is to be headed by a director appointed by the FCC Commissioners and would serve a 4 year term. The Director would serve as an attorney for and represent all residential consumers generally in matters before the FCC. An Advisory Committee would be appointed to aid the Director. Four members of the Committee would be chosen by the FCC Chairman and 3 members would be chosen by the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA).

    The bill directs the FCC to conduct, every year, an inquiry regarding the extent to which communications service providers have deployed their own facilities. The Commission is to share its findings with Congress.

    In this section of the bill, the legislation also further federalizes wireless by preempting state/local regulation of wireless “terms and conditions.” The FCC is mandated to write, within one year, consumer-protection and customer-service rules, including on truth in billing.

    Concerning the Commission’s media ownership rules, the bill directs the FCC to 1) share with the public specific changes to rules before ruling on them, 2) nullify the changes the Commission sought to cross-ownership rules in 2003 and 3) complete a proceeding on enhance minority media ownership.

    The FCC is also directed to revise broadband service providers reporting requirements so that information includes zip code plus four digit locations of where service is available; percentage of households and businesses in those areas that are offered and subscribe to services; the average price per megabyte for the service; and the providers actual average throughput in those areas. The FCC is to use US census Bureau data to provide Congress with a report on areas not served by broadband service providers.

    The bill also directs the FCC and the NTIA to develop a plan to increase sharing of spectrum between Federal and non-Federal government users within the next year. The agencies are also asked to establish a pilot program for implementation of the plan.

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    X. Internet & Wireless Telephone Service Taxes

    The bill makes permanent the moratorium on Internet-access taxes and multiple/discriminatory online taxes. Creates a three-year tax moratorium on new wireless-specific taxes (E911, USF fees are exempted).

    These provisions has concerned municipalities because it fails to keep local governments financially whole, striping state and local governments of tax authority over broadband and wireless telecommunications services.

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    XI. Research

    The bill directs the National Science Foundation to establish a program of basic research in advanced information and communications technologies focused on enhancing the availability and affordability of these services to all Americans.

    The NSF is to create a Federal Advanced Information and Communications Technology Board composed of individuals with expertise in this area including representatives from the NTIA, the FCC, the National Institute of Standards and technology and the Department of Defense.

    The NSF, in consultation with the Board, would make research grants covering many topics including affordable broadband access, network security, interoperability, privacy and low-power communications. The grants would go to universities, non-profit research institutions and/or consortia of research institutions. Grants could total $190 million between fiscal year 2007 and 2011.

    XII. Conclusion

    Media reports have Sen Stevens working to gain 60 votes for the bill to ensure a vote in September 2006. However, many senators in tight elections seem hesitant to vote on the bill and on Network Neutrality before November. Sen Stevens has not ruled out a vote on the bill in a lame duck session after the election as well.

    In the House, Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton’s Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006 (H.R. 5252) waits for this bill to conference. Track the progress of both bills at http://www.benton.org/index.php?q=tracking_legislation

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    Endnotes:
    1. Franchise fees may be reduced, if the franchise authority and provider agree, in exchange for service to government buildings.
    2. See FCC Notice of Inquiry In the Matter of Violent Television Programming and Its Impact on Children (MB Docket No. 01-261).
    3. The “broadcast flag” is a technology designed to allow a copyright holder to dictate the terms under which digital content gets used.
    4. Here defined as at least 3 megabits per second in at least 1 direction, regardless of the technology used.
    5. A carrier could apply for and receive a waiver, however, if the cost of deployment of broadband technology is too high, it is not technically feasible, or would materially impair the carrier’s ability to continue providing telephone service throughout its service area.
    6. Here defined as a transmission speed of at least 100 kilobits per second in at least one direction. This definition is to be reviewed and revised by the FCC each year.
    7. Satellite carriers are eligible to receive those funds.
    8. The $2.25 billion a year E-rate program is nearly 5 times larger than the $500 million a year broadband program in the bill.
    9. The Rural Utilities Service (RUS), an agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture runs the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee program which for FY 2005 made available $2.157 billion in loans – more than 4 times more than the $500 million a year broadband program in this bill.
    10. For example Rob Rich, executive vice president of communications infrastructure technologies at research firm the Yankee Group estimates it costs $20 billion for universal broadband access -- about $10 billion for all the un-wired suburban and urban homes left in densest parts of the United States, and another $10 billion to DSL-enable much of rural America. See:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4626449/
    11. See in the matter of Unlicensed Operation in the TV Broadcast Bands, ET Docket No. 04-186
    12. See "Getting to February 2009: Implementing the Digital TV Transition" (http://www.benton.org/index.php?q=node/1257)
    13. See "Getting to February 2009: Outstanding DTV Transition Issues" (http://www.benton.org/index.php?q=node/1258)

    For a Microsoft Word version of this document see http://www.benton.org/benton_files/ATORA0904.doc

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