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The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act revamps broadband labels

There is one quiet provision of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that slipped under the radar. Congress is requiring that the Federal Communications Commission revamp broadband labels that describe the broadband product to customers, similar to the labels for food. The Act gives the FCC one year to create regulations to require the display of a broadband label similar to the ones created by the FCC in 2016. Internet service providers (ISPs) are going to hate this. It requires full disclosure of prices, including any special or gimmick pricing that will expire.

Do We Still Need the Universal Service Fund?

There is currently a policy debate circulating asking who should pay to fund the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund. For decades the USF has collected fees from telephone carriers providing landline and cellular phones – and these fees have been passed on to consumers. As landline telephone usage has continued to fall, the fees charged to customers have increased. To fix this, there have been calls to spread fees more widely.

Technology Neutrality: A Policy Failure

Christopher Ali, a professor at the University of Virginia, says in his upcoming book Farm Fresh Broadband that technology neutrality is one of the biggest policy failures of our time. Technology neutrality is a code word for allowing all internet service providers (ISPs) and technologies to be eligible for grant funding. It has been argued, mostly by ISPs that use slower technologies, that the Federal Communications Commission should not be in the game of picking winners and losers.

Reporting the Broadband Floor

Recently, Deb Socia posted a brilliant suggestion online: “[Internet service providers] need to identify the floor instead of the potential ceiling. Instead of ‘up to’ speeds, how about we say ‘at least’”. ISPs must report the slowest speed they are likely to deliver. I want to be fair to ISPs and I suggest they report both the minimum “at least” speed and the maximum “up to” speed. Those two numbers will tell the right story to the public because together they provide the range of speeds being delivered in a given Census.

Changing the Definition of Broadband

A group of Senators recently sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking to raise the definition of broadband to 100/100 Mbps. This speed has been discussed for several years as the logical step forward from the current 25/3 Mbps speed set by the FCC in 2015. It’s clear to everyone in the industry that homes are using a lot more broadband than they did in 2015 – with the biggest change being simultaneous uses of multiple broadband streams in the typical home. The change in broadband definition would trigger the following:

How Good is Low-Income Broadband?

The two biggest cable companies, Comcast and Charter, have taken lots of public bows in 2020 talking about how they are making sure that homes with students have affordable broadband during the pandemic. Comcast is serving low-income students with its Internet Essentials product. Charter has a similar product called Spectrum Internet Assist that delivers 30/3 Mbps for $14.99 with a WiFi router for $5 per month.

Why Fiber?

 If you’re going to build broadband and have a choice of technologies, why is fiber the best choice?

Western Governors Take a Stance on Broadband

The Western Governor’s Association (WGA) represents all of the states west of the line starting with Texas north to North Dakota, includes Alaska, Hawaii, and the western American territories. In July, the WGA issued a policy position paper that lays forth goals for broadband for 2020 through 2028. 

Broadband Choice for Apartment Buildings

Ryland Sherman recently wrote an article for the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society that recommends that Congress acts to change the rules that allow landlords to block ISPs from their buildings. He also points out that any meaningful change also will require eliminating the ability of ISPs and landlords to negotiate exclusive contracts that block other ISPs from entering buildings.