What's on the agenda for policymakers.

Waiting on Redl

The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration still lacks official leadership in the Trump administration, following Senate difficulties to advance even a committee vote earlier in August on NTIA administrator-nominee David Redl. But NTIA is still chugging along with career staff dating to the Obama administration, such as NTIA chief of staff Glenn Reynolds and spectrum management associate administrator Paige Atkins. Both attended a NTIA-convened spectrum meeting in Colorado.

Reynolds referred to Redl's absence as "the elephant in the room" and assured meeting participants that their work would be "used and emphasized and studied by both the career staff and by the political leadership that we fully expect to get on board in the near future." He also lamented what he judged as tight budget constraints and "difficult decisions" on prioritizing. NTIA staffers are, in the meantime, looking to telecom-savvy administration officials such as the National Economic Council's Grace Koh and Office of Science and Technology Policy's Kelsey Guyselman: "We're working with them to keep the trains moving until we have our new political leadership on board," Reynolds said. Reminder: Redl, Guyselman and Koh all worked together recently as GOP telecom staffers for House E&C.

Google protest just the start as far right targets Bay Area

In the wake of deadly protest violence in Charlottesville, the liberal Bay Area will find itself at the epicenter of conservative demonstrations beginning this weekend. Even though planning for two of the Bay Area protests apparently began before the clashes in Virginia, the death of a 32-year-old woman there and the images of protesters with torches reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, is casting a glaring spotlight on far-right actions here. Three hard-right actions are planned this month, starting at Google in Mountain View on Aug 19, with another Aug. 26 in San Francisco and a third in Berkeley on Aug. 27. This region, famous as a center of resistance to President Donald Trump and a haven of political correctness, makes an attractive target for the far right, said Texas Southern University history professor Cary Wintz. “You’re taking your fight directly to Satan,” Wintz said.

Net Neutrality Backers Vow to Push FCC Despite Short Comment Extension

Though they received only a two-week extension to a deadline for public comments on proposed changes to network neutrality rules, rather than the eight weeks they had sought, net neutrality proponents say they remain focused on making sure the Federal Communications Commission continues to hear from the public.

On Aug 11, Daniel Kahn, chief of the Competition Policy Division for the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, announced that the Aug. 16 deadline for comments had been extended until Aug. 30. Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said that while a longer extension would have bolstered net neutrality proponents’ arguments, the most important thing was ensuring the FCC actually listened to the public. “Most of us feel that while we’d like more time to make our arguments better, the truth is what’s most important is if the comments would be heard with an open and fair mind and not presumptively judged ahead of time — which seems to be the signals that are coming out of the leadership of the FCC,” Black said.

Congress starts work on net neutrality — but does it understand the issue?

[Commentary] The proposed witness list for a September network neutrality hearing at the House Commerce Committee betrays a dismaying ignorance about why net neutrality is an issue.

The committee set the hearing up as something of a clash of titans, inviting the chief executives of the largest broadband providers and the biggest Internet companies, such as Google, Facebook and Netflix. The only thing missing was a steel cage. The point of having net neutrality rules isn’t to protect multibillion-dollar Internet companies. It’s to give other companies a chance to join or topple them. The rapid pace of technological change makes even companies with enormous economies of scale vulnerable to disruption, especially when consumers can easily switch from one shiny online object to the next. Curiously, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and other Republicans have voiced less concern about the prospects of these smaller online businesses — the ones likely to inject a crucial dose of innovation into the 21st century economy — than the ability of giant, consolidating broadband providers to invest in faster, more widely available services. Better broadband connections in rural America, poverty-stricken inner cities and other underserved areas is a most worthy goal. But those connections shouldn’t come at the cost of net neutrality.

If Republican lawmakers don’t like applying decades-old utility-style regulation to broadband providers, they need to work with Democrats to give the commission explicit new authority to protect the open Internet from interference. Otherwise, the fight over how to do that will be always-on too.

FCC Extends Restoring Internet Freedom Reply Deadline to Aug. 30

By this Order, the Federal Communications Commission extends the deadline for filing reply comments in response to the Restoring Internet Freedom Notice of Proposed Rulemaking until August 30, 2017. The Restoring Internet Freedom Notice of Proposed Rulemaking set dates for filing comments and reply comments of July 17 and August 16, 2017, respectively. While it is the policy of the Commission that “extensions shall not be routinely granted,” we find that an extension of the reply comment deadline is appropriate in this case in order to allow interested parties to respond to the record in this proceeding. We find that permitting interested parties an additional two weeks in which to file their reply comments will allow parties to provide the Commission with more thorough comments, ensuring that the Commission has a complete record on which to develop its decisions.

Chairman Pai Teeing Up Media Ownership Order

Apparently, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is working on a media ownership order that would allow newspaper-broadcast and radio-TV cross-ownership. The item also could remove the prohibition on owning two of the top four-rated stations in a market, and "tweak" the eight-voices test for allowing duopolies (two stations in a market owned by a single entity). Currently newspaper-TV and radio-TV combinations cannot be co-owned in the same market, with the exception of some grandfathered combos. The duopoly restrictions currently prohibit common ownership of two TV stations in a market if it would result in fewer than eight independent outlets, which means no station co-ownership in smaller markets. Reducing the number of independent voices (stations) in a market would expand the number of markets where dual ownership would be allowed.

The item is not expected to deal with the UHF discount or 39 percent national station ownership cap, apparently. While it initially looked like it could be circulated to the other commissioners for a vote at the Sept 28 meeting, that timeline would likely be pushed to at least October.

Lawmakers Eying Elimination of FCC’s Media Cross-Ownership Rule

Republican Reps are seeking to eliminate the Federal Communications Commission’s newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership rule through draft legislation reauthorizing the federal agency. The 1975 rule bars media companies from owning and operating newspapers and TV stations in the same local market. The FCC reauthorization draft bill that was discussed during a House Commerce subcommittee oversight hearing on July 25 includes a section called “elimination of daily newspaper cross-ownership rule.”

Democratic Reps are reportedly largely opposed to eliminating the rule. “Committee Democrats will not support any efforts to eliminate the broadcast and newspaper cross-ownership rule,” a Democratic aide said. “We should not be making it more difficult for independent voices in the media to thrive, especially as the Trump administration continues its misguided attacks on the free press.”

Senate lawmakers are also planning on releasing an FCC reauthorization bill before the end of 2017. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) said after a panel executive session on Aug 2 that FCC reauthorization will be one of the first things that the committee addresses when lawmakers return from the August recess. It is unclear if the committee’s legislation will also include a provision eliminating the media cross-ownership rule as part of the agency’s reauthorization.

The Future of Broadband in Underserved Areas

At a recent panel convened by the Wireless Future Project at New America, Ellen Satterwhite, of the American Library Association, noted that 40 percent of libraries cannot meet the minimum speed requirements set by the Federal Communications Commission (100Mbs for small libraries and 1Gbs for large ones) because of high costs or lack of access. We need only look at Idaho to get a glimpse of this absurd pricing: One library there pays $1000 per month for 5Mb service, while another pays $650 per month for 40Mb service.

So how can we ramp up connectivity in these areas? One potential solution that has shown promise is fixed wireless internet. This, in a nutshell, involves beaming internet access from a broadcasting tower directly into people’s homes via a small receiver on their roof. These sorts of point to multi-point (P2MP) fixed wireless services are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in Middle America, in part because of the relative ease of deployment and the ability to provide gigabit-level speeds. You might be wondering, then, how we can encourage fixed wireless. At the panel, advocates and industry leaders discussed the possible benefits of expanding, or sharing, wireless spectrum access in the 3.7-4.2GHz band to wireless internet service providers, or WISPs. This would be a boon to rural WISPs like Jeff Kohler’s Rise Broadband. Kohler noted that companies like Rise are starting to “feel the squeeze” on the spectrum they’re currently allowed to operate on. He also noted that the cost per customer is considerably less as well, often being roughly $250 for someone using fixed wireless, where the average rural fiber consumer could be upwards of $1,000. In fact, the overall cost of deploying “wireless fiber” for his company was roughly one-tenth of the price of standard fiber.

Dispute Over Public Officials and Social Media

An emerging debate about whether elected officials violate people's free speech rights by blocking them on social media is spreading across the US as groups sue or warn politicians to stop the practice.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Gov Paul LePage (R-ME) and sent warning letters to Utah's congressional delegation. It followed recent lawsuits against the governors of Maryland and Kentucky and President Donald Trump. Politicians at all levels increasingly embrace social media to discuss government business, sometimes at the expense of traditional town halls or in-person meetings. "People turn to social media because they see their elected officials as being available there and they're hungry for opportunities to express their opinions and share feedback," said Anna Thomas, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Utah. "That includes people who disagree with public officials." Most of the officials targeted so far — all Republicans — say they are not violating free speech but policing social media pages to get rid of people who post hateful, violent, obscene or abusive messages.

Network Neutrality Fake Out

As the number of online comments in the Federal Communications Commission's network neutrality proceeding soars to record highs, groups on both sides of the debate are calling on Congress to investigate mounting allegations of fake public input. The latest allegations come from the conservative-leaning National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), which said a whopping 5.8 million pro-net neutrality comments submitted between July 17 and Aug. 4 using the same one sentence appear to be fake. The docket has been plagued for months by charges that many of the comments are duplicates, filed under fake names or submitted without the permission of the people who supposedly signed them. The growing controversy is raising questions about how the comments will be used when the FCC mulls a final order. "It's almost unimaginable how anybody thinks this could do any good," NLPC President Peter Flaherty said.