The Federal Communications Commission is currently in the process of redefining much of rural and low-income America in reverse when it comes to internet access. The good news: There is still time to tell them that’s a bad idea. In fact, just recently, the FCC listened to calls from stakeholders, as well as 12 members of the US Senate, to extend the time allotted for people to weigh in.
So let’s all get cracking! Let’s not let the agency change the rules for its own homework assignment so it doesn’t have to do the project. Congress told them in no uncertain terms to get real, high-functioning connectivity to all Americans, to every corner of our nation. No one should have to settle for less.
The Federal Communications Commission’s recent inquiry into reducing the minimum speeds for broadband—something that sparked criticism among open internet advocacy groups—is the latest example of how FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has failed to champion policies that would enable rural broadband to succeed once it’s built.
The most recent indication that the rural broadband promised under Pai’s chairmanship might not be the digital divide fix the FCC thinks is the agency’s approach to its annual evaluation of broadband standards, which is mandated by Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the subsequent Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2008. According to the notice adopted on Aug. 8, the FCC will “seek comment on whether a mobile speed benchmark of 10Mbps/1Mbps is appropriate for mobile broadband”—and, more to the point, if mobile broadband is good enough to replace fixed broadband. While seemingly innocuous, this is a marked pivot from the standards adopted under former Chairman Tom Wheeler, which established 25Mbps/3Mbps as the minimum. Given Pai’s initial opposition to those standards as a commissioner (ones that were in line with telecommunications lobbyists) and the short period for comment of the current inquiry, the new move seems like a clear move against innovation. More importantly, the new inquiry’s focus on lowering broadband speeds at a time when the FCC has demonstrated a commitment to rural broadband seems like an easy out in defining what progress for the latter would look like. In other words, the move would shrink the onus on internet providers to provide customers with the best possible service—and rural communities will have the most to lose before they get a chance to gain.
Signs of digital distress: Mapping Broadband Availability and Subscription in American Neighborhoods
The internet is now a fundamental component of the American economy, creating new ways to educate, employ, bring services to, and entertain every person. Broadband, especially wireline broadband in American homes, is the essential infrastructure for unlocking the internet’s economic benefits. However, broadband infrastructure is far from ubiquitous, both in terms of where it operates and who subscribes to it, and those deficits are not shared evenly across the country. As such, policymakers must understand how the national digital divide varies depending on the place.
The following research assesses both components of the digital divide, and for the first time studies them in every American metropolitan area and neighborhood. Identifying local gaps—and not just in where telecommunications infrastructure goes, but also who subscribes to it—more comprehensively portrays the extent of digital disconnect.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has put the 20th Wireless Competition Report on the agenda for the FCC’s September Open Meeting. Technically, the Wireless Competition Report is a non-rulemaking agency report to Congress, similar to the many reports the FCC does on everything from the prices paid for cable services to the state of the Satellite industry. But the Wireless Competition Report has become something of a big deal in recent years, owing to the refusal of the FCC since 2010 to find whether or not there is “effective competition” in the wireless industry.
Chairman Pai is now putting it back at the Commission level and the Report is once again finding that we have “effective competition” — whatever that means. So it seems like a good time to run through the Wireless Competition Report, what it is, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, and how it gets used and/or abused. And, of course, how it relates to network neutrality, since everything in the world relates to net neutrality these days.
Leaving aside the discussion for a minute on whether tech platforms like Google and Amazon actually might meet the definition of a monopoly under our nation’s antitrust laws (a precise and economically rigorous definition usually left to the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, or the federal (and sometimes state) court system), we seem to have forgotten about an important part of the digital ecosystem and whether it has a monopoly problem. It’s the one that’s hiding in plain sight and the evidence is in your mailbox (or inbox) every month when you get your cable bill.
Why does is matter if cable internet service providers have market power? When companies monopolize they may hurt consumers because they no longer have the incentives to compete on price or service, with the unsurprising result that even while profits for companies increase consumer satisfaction plummets and prices continue to rise.
[Commentary] At the moment, the Federal Communications Commission defines home “broadband” as providing 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload (“25/3”). Many communities can only get that speed from a cable provider – assuming they have one that serves their communities. If the FCC discovers that certain identifiable groups of people, like rural Americans, don’t have access to broadband that meets the standard, then the law requires the FCC to take steps to ensure that those left behind get the access they need. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s Proposal: Lower the Standard for Broadband So We Can Say Everyone Has Access.
Rural Americans who care about getting real broadband not only need to file at the FCC, but also need to contact their Senators and members of Congress. Members of Congress from both parties have made it clear to the FCC that rural Americans continue to lack choices for affordable broadband that meets their needs.
[Harold Feld is senior vice president of Public Knowledge]
What I want to talk about today: the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to harness the power of communications technology to improve the lives of the American people and boost economic growth and US competitiveness. I’d like to focus on three specific priorities. Think of them as the three "I's": Inclusion, Investment, Innovation.
[Commentary] There is a national conversation taking place on how to get broadband providers to go the last mile, and strike a balance with electric utilities to utilize their existing or planned infrastructure. And, private investment remains an essential component to any broadband buildout. The Energy and Commerce Committee, of which I am a member, is currently considering legislation to streamline federal permitting processes, create common contracts for siting wireless facilities on federal properties, and create an inventory of federal assets. One of the key roles of Congress is to facilitate policy and programs that help unserved or underserved communities. The infrastructure bill that will likely be debated later this year must include provisions for rural broadband deployment.
Many bureaucrats in Washington simply don’t understand the challenges we here in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio face. We will not be left behind anymore. There’s a lot of intellectual capital here in rural Appalachia…and, America needs to start tapping into it.
[Commentary] Giant Internet service providers and their armies of policy allies often try to frame the effort [to dismantle network neutrality] as a noble quest for deregulation, often insisting they're somehow "restoring internet freedom" in a bare-knuckled attempt to pander to partisan constituents. But by any sane measure the Federal Communications Commission's quest is little more than a massive gift to despised duopolies like Comcast -- at what might be the worst possible time for a severely dysfunctional industry. But there are signs that even many traditional big ISP allies think Ajit Pai's plan is absurdly extreme.
Telecom isn't a normal industry; it suffers from regulatory capture on both the state and federal level, which acts to prop up noncompetitive duopoly fiefdoms nationwide. Removing oversight of this sector without fixing any of the underlying corruption and dysfunction doesn't magically forge Utopia; it simply makes companies like Comcast less accountable than ever. And again, with broadband competition diminishing as many telcos refuse to upgrade their networks, that's a recipe for disaster.
With high-speed internet access in West Virginia’s rural areas seriously wanting, Sen Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) is pushing policy proposals favored by players on the right and left. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the Mountain State ranks 48th in the nation for broadband coverage. That helps explain why Capito co-chairs the Senate’s Rural Broadband Caucus, and why she’s willing to try practically anything. Last week, Sen Capito joined Sen Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-NY), in introducing the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act, which would channel as much as $50 million in grants annually to build out broadband infrastructure through a Department of Agriculture entity, the Rural Utilities Service.
The legislation introduced by Sen Gillibrand would provide as much as 75 percent of the construction and select deployment costs of a high-need broadband project, and it mentions prioritizing applicants such as state, local and tribal government stakeholders and nonprofits. Typically, low-interest loans and grants made through the Rural Utilities Service have gone to local co-ops and utilities.