Tag: FCC

FCC has now identified existence of reduced broadband service competition in the US


The FCC aims to restore competition in the business broadband market, may help slash costs | PC World

My Comments

AT&T Touch-Tone phone - image courtesy of CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

Is the US telecommunications industry heading back to the days of these phones, where competition didn’t exist?

The US-based broadband and IT press are identifying that the country is slowly creeping back to days of “Ma Bell” where there wasn’t any lively competition occurring in the telecommunications and Internet-service sector. They see the recent behaviour exhibited by AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and co as the undoing of the work by previous administrations to bring competition to this sector.

Examples of this include established “Baby Bell” telcos and cable-TV companies frustrating the provision of Internet service by private or public competitors such as Google Fiber or local governments. This is being facilitated through state governments passing model legislation to prohibit local governments from providing Internet service or communications-service infrastructure; or litigation taking place concerning the provision of infrastructure for competing communications services.

This is leading to situations where customers face poor customer service, price-gouging and onerous terms and conditions when they sign up for communications services like telephony, cable-TV or Internet service. But it isn’t only affecting households, rather the same situation also affects businesses who are after the essential communications services that “keep their axe sharp”.

For example, businesses are paying through the nose to set up any kind of leased-line or “middle-mile” telecommunications services that facilitate such things as ATMs or credit-card terminals. Even competitive wireless telecommunications providers are paying through the nose for the necessary backhaul from the mobile-antenna towers so their customers’ phones can work. Even if you just have an Internet service for your business like a DSL service, you will also end up paying dearly for this service to match your business’s needs and this can be a noose around your business’s neck especially if you are a small or medium-sized business.

One of the many consumer-activist groups, the Consumer Federation Of America, came forth with the results of a study on this topic. Here they identified that the incumbent carriers were overcharging businesses by US$71 billion for broadband services over last the 5 years.

The FCC are addressing this issue by focusing on how competitive the different communications and Internet-service markets really are and looking at ways to regulate to assure competition.

Here, according to FCC’s Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC would identify markets that aren’t competitive and make sure established players don’t harm consumers and businesses or kill innovation. This would be approached by creating a tailored regulatory framework to address non-competitive markets with the barometer for a non-competitive market being with two or less independent operators providing telecommunications and Internet service.

I would look at issues like the ability for a company to lease access to infrastructure whether as full copper or fibre infrastructure; or as access to the “poles, pits, pipes and towers” that the infrastructure runs through. This can also include the ability for a European style of operation where there is a “wholesale-retail” method of selling communications services, allowing for different retail operators to sell the same wholesale bandwidth.

Other issues that Uncle Sam would need to examine include continual surveillance of the market on an antitrust basis such as potential mergers or buyouts to assure competition. This would include dealing with the political influence that established operators are waging with state legislatures and the judiciary to prevent the existence of competitive markets.

To the same extent, the issue of broadband deployment in to the USA’s underserved areas like poorer communities or rural areas still needs to be tackled so as to prevent carrier “redlining”.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

FCC plans to subsidise broadband for low-income households

Article US Flag By Dbenbenn, Zscout370, Jacobolus, Indolences, Technion. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

FCC Crafting Plan to Subsidize Low Income Broadband | Broadband News & DSL Reports

From the horse’s mouth


Commission Document (Press Release)

Lifeline – explanation guide (worth reading for those of you who don’t live in the USA)

My Comments

The Federal Communications Commission’s Chairman Tom Wheeler has put a proposal amongst the fellow Commissioners to create a subsidised broadband program for the USA’s low-income households.

This will be a modification of the Lifeline subsidised-telephony program which the Reagan administration started in the 1980s in order to extend its remit to broadband Internet service. The Lifeline program, funded by a universal-service-obligation levy that is paid by the US’s telephone customers or the telco they use, provides a discount on telephony services to eligible low-income households.

The modification will also incorporate stronger anti-fraud measures so that the money goes to the subsidised-communications programs rather than telcos “taking the money and running”.

It has been found that marginalised communities like blacks and Latinos are not likely to as connected as white people. But there is an “elephant in the room” that is not mentioned concerning computer literacy which drives the desire to connect to broadband service. From my recent experience with helping some households with their personal IT, I have seen some cases where computer literacy being linked to general literacy. Here, a subsidised-broadband program could also be about facilitating local computer-literacy programs in the affected neigbourhoods such as through schools offering “after-hours” classes or community centres running workshops.

Oh yeah, you may think that a subsidised broadband program for low-income communities will lead towards waste in the form of constant YouTube-viewing or “one-handed surfing” (viewing of pornographic material). But broadband is become increasingly relevant because it is becoming the norm to do business online including applying for jobs, getting a business up and running, or interacting with government agencies.

The Universal Service Fund programs like Lifeline and eRate have been subject of criticism due to fraud and waste occurring within carriers and other companies. Primarily this is where the companies simply “take the money and run” and the FCC are in the dark about how it is being used. There is also the issue of how to raise this money, especially where new or increased universal-service-obligation levies on Internet and other communications services are not popular with customers where they are paying a premium for these services.

Other factors that the FCC want to consider include redefining the minimum “at the door” bandwidth that constitutes a broadband service along with overriding protectionist state laws that protect incumbent operators by prohibiting the existence of competing broadband service.

The former issue concerns the actual bandwidth that a customer benefits from because of DSL services that are affected by line distance and quality or cable services which are affected by the line quality and number of subscribers. The latter affects cities being able to “open the door” to fibre-optic installations or Wi-Fi hotzones ran by themselves or independent operators like the Google Fiber installations or municipal Wi-Fi hotzones.

I would still like to see this also factor in mobile-broadband setups which will be considered important with homeless and nomadic people. This is more so as the scope of homelessness is encompassing continual couch-surfing or living in emergency and “inn-like” accommodation like refuges, hostels and motels rather than a long-term home. Similarly, the Lifeline program could be evolved to encompass mobile telecommunications for people in these situations.

Similarly, there has to be a minimum level of quality expected for carrier-supplied customer-premises equipment that is used for Lifeline-subsidised Internet services. Here, it would prevent ISPs and telcos supplying underperforming equipment to these customers.

What is really needed for the US broadband market is to see real competition rather than a cosy duopoly or cartel of providers providing the service. This will then lower the prices that people pay for broadband and increase real value-for-money for these services.

FCC passes rules to enforce Net Neutrality


US to enforce net neutrality – Strategy – Telco/ISP – News – iTnews.com.au

FCC Passes Strict Net Neutrality Regulations On 3-2 Vote | TechCrunch

FCC Votes ‘Yes’ on Strongest Net-Neutrality Rules | TIME

From the horse’s mouth


Press Release

My Comments

He's spoken up for Net Neutrality and competitive Internet service

He’s spoken up for Net Neutrality and competitive Internet service

I have previously given a fair bit of covered to the issue of Net Neutrality and competitive Internet service in the USA.

Now the FCC have voted 3:2 to pass rules that place Internet service providers in the USA under the remit of Title II of the US Communications Act. This treats them like regular communications services rather than as information services and proscribes discrimination of data traffic sent to their customers.

It has been part of an ongoing battle by FCC, human-rights organisations, technology lobby groups and Internet content providers against established telecommunications and cable-TV companies to assure a level playing field for Internet-hosted data traffic. This is because of the existence of “over-the-top” TV and telephony services like Netflix, Hulu, Skype and Viber offering services competing with established cable and telephone services.

The rules ban paid prioritisation and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services and are described as the “bright-line rules”. They also include forbearance so that certain rules like telephone operator service requirements don’t apply to data carriers like ISPs.

But, as I have observed, incumbent telecoms and cable-TV firms along with conservative pro-business reduced-government lobbies have been standing against the Title II rules. The counterclaims offered include increased government regulation of Internet service with the inability to innovate and I would see them being valid as long as sufficient and sustainable real competition exists in the Internet service market.

The other gap that hasn’t been looked at is establishing a mandate for universal broadband access especially in to rural areas where there isn’t the likelihood of gaining decent broadband service. This includes provision of this goal using cost-effective technology.

What then needs to happen is for action to take place to assure real competition for telecommunications, pay-TV and Internet service in the USA and to proscribe redlining of communities that are deemed to be unworthy of decent Internet service. This can be taken on not just by the FCC but by other federal government departments like the Department Of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission.

What will also be interesting to see is whether these rules will withstand a legal challenge that Comcast, AT&T and the like put up in the US Supreme Court.

Why FCC’s Tom Wheeler is not caving in to cable and telco pressure


Net Fix: Why FCC’s Wheeler is ‘defying the greatest lobbyists in the world | CNet

My Comments

I had come across this interesting article in CNet about FCC’s current commissioner, Tom Wheeler and the way he is standing up for the consumer, real competition and Net Neutrality. There were people who were saying that he would cave in to the cable and telecommunications industry because of his work with them but he has determined that the end user is his customer.

In 1984, he was involved with the NABU idea which was a special home computer that would be connected to the cable TV infrastructure to deliver games and news information to consumers. This was a closed-loop system that required the use of particular equipment all the way. Compare this with Steve Case who had built up America Online which was centred around commonly-available home computers and modems along with the common telephone network. This was a service that led to and underpinned the dot-com era. The NABU system had to have him get permission from each and every cable operator to set that up in every market. This had given him a first-had experience of what happens to closed-loop telecommunications systems that don’t work on an open framework where you end up with them stifling innovation and them suddenly collapsing.

But Tom Wheeler got his hands wet with the nascent cable-TV industry where he lobbied against the NAB to build the service with programming and make it viable in the minds of consumers. This was where he met his wife Carol who was lobbying for the National Association Broadcasters.

His current reign as FCC Chairman has made him to be the equivalent of Joseph Kennedy Snr. in 1934 when he set up the Securities & Exchange Commision in the first bid to regulate Wall Street. Here, this was about standing up to powerful interests especially that of the US business moguls. It was also about getting things done at the FCC rather than the niceties, like what had happened in the UK at Ofcom when they humiliated British Telecom to provide competitors access to the local loop at reasonable prices.

But what has he done in his position as FCC Chairman?

  • He has had the e-rate program which provides tech finding to schools and libraries modernised. This has lead to it benefiting from US$45 billion of revenue from a wireless-spectrum auction that took place in January 2015.
  • He eliminated the decades-old sports-blackout rule concerning the broadcast of sports fixtures organised by the popular sports leagues like NFL. This was where TV stations and networks, including cable and satellite TV setups, couldn’t broadcast a sports fixture in the town it was played unless the match was sold out.
  • He raised the minimum bandwidth of an Internet service to be classed as a broadband service from 4Mb to 25Mb like what most of Europe calls a broadband service. This was to raise the game when it came to DSL services offered by the incumbent telcos.
  • He sided with T-Mobile to make AT&T and Verizon charge reasonable data-roaming rates for 4G LTE services
  • He is intending to pre-empt state laws which preclude the establishment of competing fixed-broadband infrastructure by cities, communities and competing operators
  • This is part of an effort by the FCC to bring teeth to the concept of Open Internet. Tom Wheeler even caused President Obama to take action to have broadband Internet deemed a Title II Utility in the same concept as fixed telephone service. This is where the service gains various legal protections and requirements

His term at the FCC is about the fact that he represents the US communications-service end user who is watching TV, listening to the radio, making calls on a fixed or mobile phone, or using a regular or mobile computing device  to benefit from the Internet.

Personally I see Chairman Tom Wheeler as someone who could bring the USA in to line with Britain, France and the Nordic countries where they don’t kowtow to established telecoms monopolies or cartels but bring forward real competition. His work could be underscored by the bodies at the Department Of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as a way to effectively shake up the telecommunications industry and stop it going backwards.

US President Obama takes action on Net Neutrality


Obama’s Plan To Save The Internet, Detailed | Gizmodo

Battle lines drawn: Obama’s net neutrality stance puts rift on display | Mashable

Radio Broadcast

Obama moves to bolster free flow of internet traffic | ABC The World Today (Listen here)

My Comments

US Flag By Dbenbenn, Zscout370, Jacobolus, Indolences, Technion. [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsA common issue that is being raised in relationship with the Internet service in the USA is “Net Neutrality”. This is where there is the desire for any one who provides content to the Internet to gain access to the Internet’s bandwidth on an equal footing to each other.

It is in contrast to the likes of AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner Communications who want to sell a faster pathway and guaranteed access to their subscribers’ bandwidth to companies who are willing to pay for it.

I have also seen the issue of Net Neutrality in a similar context to real service-provider competition in most of the USA. This is because one company, typically an incumbent telephony provider or cable-TV company provides Internet service to a neighbourhood via a particular technology. An example of this is Comcast providing cable TV and Internet via coaxial cable, along with AT&T providing landline telephony and DSL Internet service via telephone lines and, AT&T even providing cell phone (mobile phone) and mobile data via the airwaves in that same neighbourhood.

The situation that comes about in most US markets is that these companies establish cartels in order to control the service that people benefit from. Here, this has led to poor customer service and Internet-access packages that represent poor value-for-money, including the arrival of bandwidth-throttling for some cable-Internet services. This situation was leading towards an environment reminiscent of the telephony service in the US before the Carterfone decision and the enforced breakup of AT&T (Ma Bell) in the early 1980s.

Here, when you don’t have Net Neutrality and you have the status quo associated with uncompetitive Internet service, the companies can charge Internet content providers an arm and a leg to gain access to that neighbourhood.

This issue was going to take a long time to be sorted because the US politicians in both the Congress and the state governments were effectively being paid by “Big Business”. But Barack Obama, the US President, had taken action to have the FCC provide the level playing field for Internet service.

Here, he outlined a plan where there would be no blocking, no throttling, increased transparency and no paid prioritisation of Internet traffic. Here, he wanted to see the FCC place all Internet traffic on the same footing as telephone traffic by classifying it under Title II of the 1934 Telecommunications Act which guarantees the reliability of telephone traffic, in a similar equivalence to having the broadband Internet treated as a “utility”.

One issue that would be of concern is that outgoing FCC commissioners would be heading to top positions in the US’s broadcasting and telecommunications firms especially if they did what these companies wanted. This is although the President of the United States Of America, as head-of-state and head-of-government is technically the FCC’s Commander-In-Chief and has that level of oversight.

At least a US President has had the guts to stand up for Net Neutrality, especially with a pro-consumer angle rather than pandering to “Big Money”.

FCC intends to place over-the-top Internet TV on a par with cable TV


FCC Moves to Give Internet Video Same Rights as Cable Co’s | Broadband News and DSL Reports

From the horse’s mouth

US Federal Communications Commission

Tech Transitions – Video And Future (Blog Post)

My Comments

The recent US Supreme Court decision against Aereo has shown up how facilities-based multichannel TV providers i.e. cable and satellite TV providers have the upper hand with negotiating access to content offered by the Hollywood studios and sports leagues.

But the FCC are considering allowing “over-the-top” Internet TV providers access to this same content on a par with the likes of Comcast and DirecTV. This is also in response to the fact that many American TV viewers are ending up with cable or satellite TV packages full of content they don’t want i.e. “57 channels and nothing on”.

The issue with the current situation is that Internet-based “over-the-top” TV providers aren’t placed on an equal footing to the big cable-TV providers. This is similar to how the US Congress passed laws requiring satellite TV providers like DirecTV and DISH to have access to the channels on an equal footing to cable-TV providers and this opened the doors to competition.

The opportunities provided by the Internet-based “over-the-top” services are many including the ability to provide TV content packages that are pitched at niche markets in a cost-effective manner. This includes providers that could focus on foreign-language content, wholesome family-friendly programming, and content pitched at expatriates. As well, it opens up the concept of increased carriage-service competition which can increase viewer choice and, hopefully, access to what the viewer really wants.

There is also the concept of taking a “technology-neutral” approach which also allows pay-TV companies and content providers to use a choice of technology to distribute the TV content to the end-user. This means that the likes of HBO, CBS, Comcast and co to implement Internet-based approaches thus increasing reach to a wider market. There is also the hope that this approach will heat up the demand for next-generation broadband through the US and increase the average bandwidth that Americans can enjoy.

For this to work, the FCC need to pass these rules without being sabotaged by Big Money. which is a problem that still dogs American politics.

FCC To Get Real Teeth On Internet Service Quality


US watchdog to enforce advertised broadband quality | IT News

From the horse’s mouth


Complaint form

My Comments

There has been recent coverage about the state of US Internet service, which has been highlighted by the long Comcast customer-service call published on the Net. It is also in conjunction with issues raised concerning the consolidation of the US broadband Internet service market to protected duopolies for fixed and mobile service.

Now the FCC have passed a new rule concerning Internet service quality. This rule requires the carriers and Internet service providers to be honest about what they advertise for their bandwidth and service quality. It also opens up FCC’s complaints channel to consumers who have issues with these carriers regarding their Internet service.

The rule has done nothing about competition in the US telecommunications and Internet scene and if the competition issue was raised continuously there, it could see the quality of service rise there. This also touches the arrival of third party Internet services like municipal wireless services or Google Fiber offering a high-value fibre-to-the-premises broadband service.

The Universal Service Fund now extends its remit to the USA’s rural broadband needs


FCC’s ‘Connect America Fund’ redirects phone fees to provide rural broadband – Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Press Release – PDF

Executive Summary of FCC order – PDF

Connecting America page

My Comments

The FCC have taken further steps to bring the reality of proper broadband service to rural areas closer to America.

Here, they have passed an Order to reform the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation schemes in order to cut out wast and extend the scope of this universal-service-obligation mechanism to broadband data and cellular wireless service. This scheme has also been renamed the “Connect America Fund” due to this new remit.

They see it as a job-creating economy stimulus because of the concept of extending real broadband Internet to the rural areas. This could be true due to the ability for larger employers who value broadband like research-driven industries to set up shop in small towns where the land is cheaper. Other established small businesses like Main-Street shops or “Motel-6”-style motels are in a position to benefit in many ways.

This fund also has established a “Mobility Fund” which helps cellular-telephony / wireless-broadband carriers to extend their wireless footprint into the rural areas, including the Tribal areas.

The FCC have placed requirements for proper accountability regarding service provision. Here, it must be proven that the carriers are actually deploying the broadband services to the rural areas in question and that the services are real modern networks.

But there is a gap concerning the definition of the broadband services in this press release. Here, there isn’t a determined headline speed for the data services and the FCC haven’t qualified the point of measurement for a rural broadband service. This can lead to installation of DSLAMs in an exchange yet link these modems to the customers via decrepit telephone infrastructure. As I have observed, this environment leads to reduced DSL service reliability and bandwidth.

There is also another gap concerning the improvement of broadband coverage in peri-urban areas which were standalone rural towns. As I have said before, these areas may be servicing a farming industry or an area of outstanding beauty but they could be working with decrepit communications infrastructure. These areas should be worked on when it comes to building out telecommunications coverage.

They have also modernised the intercarrier compensation funding regime to encompass VoIP services. This is especially as more American households and businesses head towards VoIP telephony setups, whether to reduce call costs or take advantage of features in these setups.

From this, I have seen some positive steps to cover the rural parts of the US with real broadband and I hope that the FCC doesn’t become a toothless tiger in this respect.

FCC to set the first yardstick for Net Neutrality

News articles

HP Blogs – FCC does define rules on net neutrality – The HP Blog Hub

FCC Approves First Net Neutrality Rules | Datamation

From the horse’s mouth

FCC Website

Report and Order concerning Net Neutrality (PDF) – FCC

Press Release (PDF) – FCC

My comments

Through this action. the FCC have become the first national-government telecommunications department in a major English-speaking country to use their executive power to  “set in stone” a minimum standard for “Net Neutrality”.

Basically, their standard requires wireline services (cable Internet, ADSL, optical-fibre) to pass all lawful Internet content and allow users to connect non-harmful devices to their Internet services. This would therefor prohibit limiting of access to “over-the-top” Internet video, VoIP and similar services. Similarly it requires wireless services (3G, WiMAX, etc) not to blocking sites that compete with their business offerings like VoIP services.

There is still a problem with the wireless services in that they could block access to competing app stores on platforms that permit such stores, set up “walled gardens” when it comes to mobile content or provide “preferential tariffs” for particular services. This can be of concern to those of us who, for example, use client-side applications and commonly-known URLs to gain access to the Social Web rather than the carrier’s preferred “entry point” bookmarks or URLs. Similarly, the carrier could gouge people who go to favourite media Websites rather than the ones that the carrier has a partnership with. This last point may be of concern when mass-media outlets and wireless-broadband carriers see the “mobile screen” as another point of influence over the populace and establish partnerships or mergers based on this premise.

Net Neutrality will also have to be considered an important issue as part of defining the basic Internet service standard for the country so that service providers or gavernments can’t provide it just to people who purchase upper-tier service for example.

A good issue would be for other national-government or trading-bloc communications authorities to tune this definition further so that if there is the goal of Net Neutrality, it becomes harder to avoid the standard.