FCC: Americans Lacking Broadband Access Declines

The number of people lacking access to fixed high-speed Internet access has declined more than 30%, according to new data from the Federal Communications Commission.

This comes as welcome news to Americans living in rural parts of the country looking to stream Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Redbox TV, among other over-the-top video services.

Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that the FCC determine annually whether advanced telecommunications capability, i.e. broadband access for streaming video, music, data, is being deployed to all Americans “in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

The FCC’s “Broadband Deployment Report” found that for the third consecutive year advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.

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The report found the number of Americans lacking access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 25/3 Mbps continues to decline, going down by more than 14% in 2018 and more than 30% over the course of 2017 and 2018. The number of Americans without access to 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband with a median speed of 10/3 Mbps based on Ookla data declined approximately 54% between 2017 and 2018.

The vast majority of Americans — more than 85% — now have access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 250/25 Mbps, a 47% increase since 2017, with the number of rural Americans having access to 250/25 Mbps fixed terrestrial broadband service more than tripling between 2016 and 2018.

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“Under my leadership, the FCC’s top priority is to close the digital divide, and I’m proud of the progress that we have made,” chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “In 2018 and 2019, the United States set consecutive records for new fiber deployment, with the number of homes passed by fiber increasing by 5.9 million and 6.5 million, respectively.”

Pai said growing up in rural Kansas drove home the need for access to new technology in communications and technology. Since being appointed by President Trump to chair the FCC, Pai has made deregulation a cornerstone of his tenure — including spearheading the overturn of Obama-era “net neutrality” guidelines mandating equal access to broadband networks for video services.

“I have a deep commitment to expanding broadband to all corners of the country,” he said. “That’s why we’ve taken aggressive steps to remove regulatory barriers to broadband deployment and reform our ‘Universal Service Fund’ programs.”

The gains have been fueled in part by the broadband industry’s $80 billion investment in network infrastructure in 2018, the highest annual amount in at least the last decade. In 2019 alone, fiber broadband networks became available to roughly 6.5 million additional homes, the largest one-year increase ever, with smaller providers accounting for 25% of these new fiber connections.

But despite these gains, Pai said the job isn’t done affording all Americans have access to digital “opportunity.”

“I look forward to commencing Phase I of our ‘Rural Digital Opportunity Fund’ auction in October, which will bring high-speed broadband to millions of currently unserved Americans,” he said.

FCC’s Pai Says Streaming Video Competition Negates Need for Pay-TV Rate Regulation

Ongoing proliferation of over-the-top video services has created an effective argument against continuing basic rate regulation on pay-TV operators,  says FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

In an Oct. 3 in blog post, Pai said increased availability of subscription streaming video services has established credible competition to pay-TV; and thereby negates the need to further regulate basic cable rates.

The Commission on Oct. 25 is set to address a request by Charter Communications seeking to recognize that AT&T’s bundled streaming video packages offered in Hawaii and Massachusetts are comparable to its cable TV packages.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

The 1992 Cable Act mandated basic rates in areas lacking effective competition in the video marketplace. Due to the evolving video landscape, rate regulation is now limited to certain parts of Hawaii and Massachusetts.

Pai would like to end that.

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“Charter is now subject to effective competition from AT&T’s streaming service,” he wrote. “Adopting this order would be a major step toward the Commission recognizing the realities of the modern video marketplace, and the increasingly important role that streaming services are playing in it.”

The move, which has been applauded by business groups, could redefine the way the government recognizes, taxes and regulates OTT video.

Federal attempts in 2015 to regulate streaming video were challenged by lawmakers eager to promote OTT investment and infrastructure in their districts.I

Indeed, Pai, who pushed the FCC to reverse its net-neutrality safeguards adopted under the Obama Administration, warned against regulating OTT video back in 2015.

“Some have proposed extending to over-the-top providers many of the rules that currently apply to cable operators and satellite providers, regulations that in many cases are over two decades old,” Pai told an industry group at the time.

“I strongly oppose this idea. Given the remarkable success of the over-the-top video industry — success driven in part by regulatory restraint — I don’t believe we should change our regulatory approach,” he said.

 

Trump Administration Pledges to Veto Net Neutrality Bill

As expected, White House officials April 8 said they would recommend President Donald Trump veto House Democrats’ efforts to revive net neutrality guidelines enacted in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission under President Obama.

The current FCC, under Trump-appointed chairman Ajit Pai, reversed the guidelines, favoring so-called “light touch” regulation.

Following the 2018 midterm elections, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) introduced H.R. #1644 (Save the Internet) that would reinstate net neutrality classifying the Internet as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

The bill, which has 197 co-sponsors, seeks to stop Internet service providers from enacting speed lanes for higher-paying Web traffic and throttling third-party competitive services.

The legislation is up for possible vote in the Democrat-control House as early as April 9. If passed, it would be reconciled in the Senate and then sent to Trump for his signature or veto.

The White House (and many Republicans) argue that the current FCC last year sought to “restore Internet freedom” by adopting so-called “light-touch” regulation that it said enabled the Internet and entrepreneurs to “thrive” for nearly two decades.

In a tweet, the Office of Management and Budget said that since the FCC reversed its position on net neutrality, the United States has risen to sixth from 13th in global fixed broadband download speeds.

It said ongoing rollout of fiber technology benefited from a change in the law, underscored by an increase in capital investment by $2.3 billion.

“H.R. 1644 would undermine this success by repealing the FCC’s current rule,” the OMB tweeted. “If H.R. 1644 were presented to the President, his advisors would recommend that he veto it.”

 

 

Lawmakers Introduce ‘Save the Internet’ Bill

As expected, Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate March 6 introduced legislation aimed at overturning the FCC’s 2017 repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order, or net neutrality.

Dubbed “Save the Internet Act,” the bill seeks to re-classify the Internet as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934 prohibiting Internet service providers from blocking, throttling or creating fast lanes and slow lanes by charging extra fees to prioritize content.

“Since the FCC foolishly repealed net neutrality, we’ve seen a wild west where monopoly telephone and cable companies have been free to do what they want at the expense of consumers,” Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner, said in a statement in support of the legislation.

Copp contends there exists evidence of broadband providers throttling speeds, degrading video quality, and creating service plans that favor their own content over competitors.

“The harms will only get worse the longer net neutrality remains repealed,” he said.

Jason Pye, VP of legislative affairs with FreedomWorks, a lobby group supporting small government, lower taxes and free markets, said repeal of net neutrality guidelines was an attempt to correct government overreach.

“This Democratic proposal is yet another solution in search of a problem,” said Pye. “Our Internet grew, innovated, and thrived under a light touch regulatory framework. The Democrats’ bill would inhibit future innovation and would only serve to increase big government control over the lives of everyday Americans.”

Regardless, the bill must pass Congress and then be signed by President Trump – a long shot considering Trump’s appointee to run the FCC – Ajit Pai – personally pushed for the net neutrality repeal.

 

 

FCC: Nearly Half of 22 Million Public Comments on Net Neutrality Fake

During the 2017 run-up to the Federal Communication Commission’s repeal of net neutrality guidelines enacted in 2015 during the Obama Administration, the agency solicited public comments on the proposed decision not to treat the Internet as a public utility.

The FCC on Dec. 14, 2017 voted 3-2 along party lines to nullify the Open Internet Order affirmed under previous chairman Tom Wheeler. In doing so, Internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Charter were no longer prohibited from charging online streaming services such as Netflix market rates for broadband access, among other issues.

In new FCC disclosures following Freedom of Information Act requests by The New York Timesand other media groups, it was revealed that nearly 11 million of the 22 million comments received online regarding net neutrality were fraudulent, including 500,000 comments received from Russian sources.

The revelation underscores the widespread influx and influence social media can have on more than national elections. Indeed, about 8 million fake comments originated from domain sites associated with FakeMailGenerator.com. Another 2 million comments used stolen identities.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, in a statement to Congress, claimed that much of the “overheated rhetoric” against his proposed net neutrality rollback originated from fraudulent sources. In fact, most of the authentic comments reportedly consisted of form-letter responses.

Regardless, the New York State Attorney General’s Office in October opened an investigation to the fake comments, including subpoenaing public action groups on both sides of the issue.

 

Comcast Pledges Net Neutrality Support as Government Safeguards Expire

Comcast reiterated support for so-called net neutrality provisions the same day (June 11) the Federal Communication Commission’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” took effect, rolling back many safeguards intended to mandate a level playing field on the Internet.

In a blog post, Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable, said the nation’s largest cable pay-TV operator would not change how it handles third-party streaming services on its broadband network.

“We still don’t and won’t block, throttle or discriminate against lawful content,” Watson wrote. “We’re still not creating fast lanes. We still don’t have plans to enter into any so-called paid prioritization agreements.”

Yet, throttling is precisely what Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings accused Comcast and other Internet Service Providers of doing in 2014. Hastings said Netflix was forced into paying “a toll” to “some big ISPs” so its subscribers wouldn’t be subjected to buffering and pixilated images.

“The essence of net neutrality is that ISPs such as AT&T and Comcast don’t restrict, influence, or otherwise meddle with the choices consumers make,” said Hastings at the time. “The traditional form of net neutrality which was recently overturned by a Verizon lawsuit is important, but insufficient. This weak [pre- 2015] net neutrality isn’t enough to protect an open, competitive internet; a stronger form of net neutrality is required.”

Hastings’ grumblings reached President Obama, who, together with former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015 helped push through tougher safeguards for streaming services – much to the chagrin of ISPs.

Under new FCC chairman Ajit Pai – a former cable lobbyist and Obama appointee – the agency did away with what Pai considered “unnecessary, heavy-handed regulations” imposed by Wheeler that characterized the Internet as a utility and regulated under the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

Watson contends the Internet can be better safeguarded under the same regulatory-light (i.e. scant government oversight) approach that helped create it.

“We continue to believe the best way to ensure lasting net neutrality rules that protect consumers and promote investment is for Congress to enact legislation,” he wrote.

Senate Votes to Overturn Net Neutrality Repeal

The U.S. Senate May 16 voted to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of so-called net neutrality provisions enacted under President Obama.

The 52-47 vote spearheaded by senate Democrats and three Republicans would use the Congressional Review Act to essentially veto the FCC’s 3-2 vote last December to deregulate the broadband industry that was set to go into effect in June.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined Democrats in the resolution.

Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox, applauded the move. “Net Neutrality aligns with Redbox’s pro-consumer position of providing a multitude of viewing options across physical and digital formats,” he said.

Richard Siklos, VP, corporate communications at Netflix, also expressed his support for the Senate move, telling Media Play News, “We are supporting the effort through the Internet Association.”

Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman issued the following statement on the passage of the CRA to restore net neutrality rules for consumers:

“The Internet industry commends the Senate for its work to reinstate net neutrality rules through the CRA and urges the House of Representatives to work to protect people’s access to a free and open internet. Guaranteed access to the entire internet is not a partisan issue. An overwhelming majority of Americans support net neutrality protections that ban blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. It is time for Congress to pass strong, enforceable net neutrality protections—through the CRA or bipartisan legislation—that provide consumers the protections they deserve.”

The resolution must now go to the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a 235-193 seat majority — and are not as pro-net neutrality.

Should it pass the House and gain President Trump’s signature (no small task), Internet Service Providers on cable, satellite and telco would again be subject to regulation as a utility, which was used as a framework to establish rules barring blocking, throttling and paid priority for media content delivered over the Web.

“Net neutrality is the free speech issue of our time,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who spearheaded the agency’s repeal of net neutrality, said it was disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a “narrow margin.”

“But ultimately, I’m confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail,” Pai said in a statement.

 

Ajit Pai, FCC Oppose Federal Involvement in 5G

Speculation regarding the federal government possibly taking over implementation of a national 5G mobile network was met by disapproval from the Federal Communications Commission.

The National Security Council entertained a PowerPoint presentation outlining the pros and cons of government/private 5G rollouts, according to Axios.com. A 5G network is about 1,000-times faster than the current 4G, capable of downloading a full-length HD movie in one second.

Some security agencies contend the federal government would help expedite 5G deployment at a time when other countries such as China are actively pursuing the technology. China reportedly is spending more than $400 billion on 5G.

The FCC, which has jurisdiction over 5G, contends private – not government – channels drove innovation and investment in 4G. A blueprint that should be emulated for 5G, according to FCC chairman and Trump appointee Ajit Pai.

“What government can and should do is to push spectrum into the commercial marketplace and set rules that encourage the private sector to develop and deploy next-generation infrastructure,” Pai wrote in a statement. “Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future.”

Unlike net neutrality, which the FCC repealed following a 3-2 vote along partisan lines, the agency appears to be on the same page when it comes to 5G.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who voted against repealing net neutrality, says that while the U.S. must lead in the deployment of 5G, localities have a central role to play; the technical expertise possessed by industry should be utilized and cybersecurity must be a core consideration.

“A network built by the federal government, I fear, does not leverage the best approach needed for our nation to win the 5G race,” Clyburn said.

AT&T CEO Seeks Internet Bill of Rights

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson Jan. 24 penned an open letter on the telecom’s website asking Congress to enact an “Internet Bill of Rights.”

Stephenson contends legislation – unlike net neutrality – is required to not only ensure consumers’ rights, but also provide consistent rules for all Internet companies across all websites, content, devices and applications.

“It is time for Congress to end the debate once and for all, by writing new laws that govern the Internet and protect consumers,” Stephenson wrote.

The executive’s concern might appear sincere to Rip Van Winkle. But to anyone else paying attention to the net neutrality debate, AT&T is no fan of regulation.

As one of the nation’s largest Internet service providers (ISPs) along with Comcast, Verizon and Charter Communications, AT&T in 2015 spearheaded legal challenges against FCC-enacted net neutrality guidelines under the Obama Administration mandating an open Internet, among other provisions.

The FCC, in turn, alleged AT&T and Verizon violated open Internet provisions by exempting data caps for proprietary video services on their wireless networks.

In a Dec. 1, 2016 letter from Jon Wilkins, chief, wireless telecommunications bureau at the FCC, the agency said the telecom’s sponsored data program denied “unaffiliated third-party streaming services the same ability to compete on AT&T’s network at similar [financial] terms.”

While Stephenson, in the letter, made no mention of the current FCC under Trump-appointed chairman Ajit Pai – which rolled back net neutrality provisions earlier this year – he pledged AT&T would not block websites, censor online content, throttle, discriminate, or degrade network performance based on content.

“We have publicly committed to these principles for over 10 years,” he wrote.

Gigi Sohn, a former senior staffer at the FCC under chairman Tom Wheeler, bristled at Stephenson’s feigned altruism.

“They’ve done everything in their power to undermine consumer protections, competition, municipal broadband,” Sohn told TechCrunch.com.

She and other net neutrality advocates say the importance of the Internet in the 21st century mandates it be regulated as a utility.

Sohn, and others, believe Stephenson’s ulterior motive is to get Congress to regulate so-called “edge providers” such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Twitter and Microsoft, among others, which have helped redefine how consumers access information and entertainment with little or no regulation or taxation.

FCC chairman Pai, in a speech last November, decried edge providers as the real threat to the Internet and consumer rights through ideology and other subjective criteria.

“They might cloak their advocacy in the public interest, but the real interest of these Internet giants is in using the regulatory process to cement their dominance in the Internet economy,” Pai told R Street Institute, a New York-based free market think tank.

 

Internet Trade Group Vows Net Neutrality Legal Fight

The Internet Association, a trade group comprised of major online companies, including Netflix, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, is planning legal action following the Federal Communications Commission’s December rollback of net neutrality provisions.

The FCC, in a 3-2 vote along partisan lines, backed a proposal from chairman Ajit Pai to stop regulating the Web as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

Specifically, the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” gives Internet Service Providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon more influence over third-party broadband access and costs, among other issues.

Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman, in a Jan. 5 statement following formal FCC disclosure of the rollback, said the action will gut net neutrality protections for consumers, startups, and other stakeholders.

Beckerman said the group intends to act as an intervenor in judicial action against the order and, along with member companies, continue pushing to restore “enforceable” net neutrality protections through the legislative process.

“The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule, as expected, … defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet,” Beckerman said.