Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Internet service franchises offer local governments potential work around to incumbent-sponsored state video franchises

Mediacom questions Iowa City deal with ImOn | The Gazette: Jeff Janssen, vice president of sales and marketing with ImOn Communications, said Tuesday he had not seen the Mediacom letter, but said ImOn has lease agreements similar those with Iowa City in other communities like Hiawatha and Marion.

Janssen also noted a franchise agreement only becomes required when cable TV is added to the list of service offerings. ImOn’s current plans for Iowa City are strictly for telephone and Internet services, he said.

“Franchise agreements are all around cable TV,” he said. “Once we decide, or if we decided to offer cable TV in Iowa City, we would get that franchise agreement, we are required to.”

This issue was bound to emerge sooner or later. In the early 2000s, legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies realized that with the emergence of the Internet and its capability to deliver TV programming, local governments would come under intense pressure from their constituents to require ISPs offering video services to provide Internet connections to all premises under municipal franchise agreements. That would have required substantial capital investment incompatible with the incumbents' business models based on milking their existing wireline "footprints" -- and not modernizing and expanding them to reach every doorstep.

To head off this prospect, the legacy incumbent cable and telephone company lobbies went into high gear to get state laws enacted putting states in charge of so-called "video franchises" and usurping local government authority over video services.

But that left a potential loophole for local governments to franchise Internet services other than video -- what's at issue in this Iowa case. Watch for this gambit to take off elsewhere, especially in states where there are also laws barring local governments from building and/or operating their own Internet services. Local governments could get around both restrictions by creating Internet service franchises and partnering with private ISPs as their franchisees. (Also referred to as "telecommunications franchises" in this item on a recent Brookings Institution panel discussion). They could also pressure the legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies by requiring them to obtain an Internet service franchise serving all premises if they wish to offer Internet services other than video within their jurisdictions.

With interest in wireline-delivered video declining among "cord cutting" consumers and incumbents relying more on Internet service for revenue, that pressure could be quite intense. It would also give localities a powerful tool to bring service to all of their residents and businesses given the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's lack of interest in enforcing its recently adopted rulemaking reclassifying Internet as a common carrier telecommunications service subject to the universal service and anti-redlining provisions of Title II of the Communications Act.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Pew study paints grim picture of U.S. consumer telecommunications market

Home Broadband 2015 | Pew Research Center: Still, the fact that more Americans have only a smartphone for online access at home has consequences for how people get information. Those who are “smartphone-dependent” for access do encounter distinct challenges. Previous Pew Research Center findings show that they are more likely than other users to run up against data-cap limits that often accompany smartphone service plans. They also more frequently have to cancel or suspend service due to financial constraints.
This study paints a grim picture of the state of telecommunications in the United States. On the sell side, market failure leaves many premises without landline Internet service. Service providers redline and refuse to serve neighborhoods where the business case can't be justified. On the buy side, in neighborhoods they do offer landline service, it's perceived as unaffordable. That forces many to rely on mobile wireless service via smartphones that has its own affordability issues and suffers from serious user limitations.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Redlined in Bradley County, Tennessee

Broadband providers battle over service in Bradley County | Times Free Press: Dr. Terry Forshee, president of Cherokee Pharmacy stores in Cleveland and Dalton, is eager for that growth. He said he can't get broadband at his South Bradley County home near Red Clay State Park.

"Charter Communications has had 27 years to bring cable down to me, but I'm still three miles away from service," he said. "I'm waiting, and I call every month to both Charter and AT&T, but I can't get anyone to come to my residence."

Forshee said he is trying to build his obesity education business, Take Charge, into a national company. But that's hard to do when he can't get high-speed Internet service at home.

Sandy Wallis lives in northern Bradley County, less than a quarter-mile from where Charter Communications and AT&T lines end.

"I've lived in my house for 30 years waiting on Charter and AT&T, and I've had to send my kids into town to do their homework (where broadband is available)," she told the Chamber gathering. "We need better service."

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet rules adopted earlier this year require Internet Service Providers fulfill requests for service under universal service and non-discrimination provisions of the Communications Act. Internet service is treated as a common carrier telecommunications utility under the rules. So far, however, there are no indications the FCC is enforcing these requirements in response to reports of ISP redlining such as these.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Comcast's and AT&T's "unfair competition" complaints unfounded

Marion County cities call for broadband extension | Times Free Press: Telecommunications providers such as Comcast and AT&T have lined up solidly against allowing municipal providers to expand. They say it's unfair for government-owned services to compete against private industry.
Comcast and AT&T would have a valid complaint if telecommunications infrastructure was a competitive market. Their problem is it's not. It functions as a natural monopoly due to high cost barriers to entry that keep private competitors out. Natural monopolies lend themselves to direct government provision of services (such as as highways) or government granted franchises such as the old Bell Telephone system and local cable franchises. If AT&T and Comcast want to compete, they should get into the grocery, airline or automobile industries.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Broadband operators must conquer the home to meet threat from Google and Apple

Broadband operators must conquer the home to meet threat from Google and Apple: The threat posed by the big Internet players, especially Google and Apple, to traditional Telco operators has been talked about for over a decade, but has not yet materialised substantially as far as core services such as broadband and pay TV are concerned.

That is now changing fast as the battle enters the home where the prizes may initially be small but will amplify greatly over the next few years. Indeed with relatively few homes yet having a network worthy of the name, it is all up for grabs in what could become a winner takes all game around the emerging IoT (Internet of Things). (Emphasis added).
Very true. It's far too premature to be thinking about IoT given the primitive and deficient state of telecommunications infrastructure that's still largely based on the pre-Internet telephone and cable TV networks.

Northern California health care organization struggles with telecom infrastructure deficiencies

Deficient Internet telecom infrastructure is hamstringing a rapidly growing non-profit health care organization that administers Medicaid benefits for more than 500,000 beneficiaries in 14 Northern California counties including Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Marin, Mendocino, Modoc, Napa, Shasta, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Trinity and Yolo.

“The biggest challenge we’re facing is (inadequate) broadband Internet,” in the region, Elizabeth Gibboney, CEO of the Partnership HealthPlan of California, told a health care symposium sponsored by the California HealthCare Foundation in Sacramento this week. In particular, Gibboney cited her organization’s need for modern connectivity to support safety net clinic sites and telehealth consultations with specialists as well as teleworking staff.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Reps. Huffman, Thompson, and Nolan Introduce the Rural Broadband Infrastructure Investment Act | Congressman Jared Huffman

Reps. Huffman, Thompson, and Nolan Introduce the Rural Broadband Infrastructure Investment Act | Congressman Jared Huffman: Washington, DC – Congressmen Jared Huffman (D-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), and Rick Nolan (D-MN) today introduced the Rural Broadband Infrastructure Investment Act, which would unlock new opportunities for broadband deployment on California’s North Coast and in rural communities across America. The bill would make North Coast communities eligible for $670 million in federal broadband financing; promote regional broadband solutions by allowing the Rural Utility Service (RUS) to offer broadband grants in addition to loans and loan guarantees; and increase overall RUS broadband investment to $50 million annually from $25 million. The legislation builds on the successful legacy of the Rural Electrification Act, which brought power and telephone service to rural communities across America during the New Deal.

This is a well intended but grossly underfunded bill. Too little, too late. As Fletcher Kittredge, chief executive officer of Great Works Internet and a member of the Maine Broadband Coalition put it earlier this year, "[t]his is not a million-dollar problem. It is far larger.”

Allocating millions isn't going to build telecom infrastructure the runs in the billions to build. Constructing fiber to serve every premise in the City of Santa Cruz, California, for example, would cost an estimated $30 million -- a major chunk of the $50 million the federal bill would appropriate to the RUS for the entire United States. (h/t to Steve Blum's Blog).

Friday, December 04, 2015

Massachusetts Broadband Institute pulls funding from WiredWest, advises towns to walk away from proposed contract | masslive.com

Massachusetts Broadband Institute pulls funding from WiredWest, advises towns to walk away from proposed contract | masslive.com: The WiredWest agreement creates "unnecessary financial and operating risks" for member towns, wrote Nakajima, and would require fundamental restructuring to move forward.

One problem identified by MBI is that under the WiredWest model, towns would transfer ownership of their physical network to WiredWest in perpetuity, while retaining legal responsibility for any debt service associated with the buildout.

In essence, the towns and state would pay for the fiber-optic network, and WiredWest would end up owning it.

MBI also questioned whether the WiredWest business model would work. WiredWest has been courting small towns with the promise that if they take on significant borrowing, and gain commitments from 40 to 55 percent of households for service, that customer fees would not only cover network operating costs, but cover the cost of municipal debt service after several years.

"WiredWest's plan to repay debt service to the towns will be difficult or impossible to achieve at reliable subscription rates. ... Towns should assume that they will have to repay most if not all of the debt that they borrow," wrote Nakajima.

This development illustrates the enormous financial challenges facing state and local government-initiated telecommunications modernization infrastructure projects. The fundamental financial risk facing them -- as well as Google Fiber -- is the same one that deters incumbent legacy telephone and cable companies from upgrading and building out their last mile networks: a business model based on selling month to month subscriptions for a package of services and the associated uncertainty of not knowing how many households will subscribe and keep their service active.

This is why I lean towards viewing telecom infrastructure as public works like roads and highways. They serve all occupied premises and aren't predicated on premise occupants having vehicles or driving on them. But they bring long term value to premises regardless.

Also, roads and highways are not a competitive market but rather a natural monopoly. That's why I advocate federal government (via a 501(c)(1) nonprofit) sponsorship of construction of universal fiber to the premise infrastructure to serve all American homes and small businesses in my recently issued eBook. I believe government is the most appropriate ownership model for a natural monopoly since natural monopolies don't lend themselves to market competition. As long as the nation attempts to address its telecom infrastructure deficits with market-based "competitive" models, it will be  continually vexed and prone to setbacks and failure -- and fall even further behind the rest of the industrialized world.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Hillary Clinton's telecom infrastructure initiative vague, parrots incumbent talking points

Hillary Clinton's Infrastructure Plan: Building Tomorrow's Economy Today: Connect all Americans to the digital economy with 21st century Internet access. Clinton believes that high-speed Internet access is not a luxury; it is a necessity for equal opportunity and social mobility in a 21st century economy. That’s why she will finish the job of connecting America’s households to the Internet, committing that by 2020, 100 percent of households in America will have access to affordable broadband that delivers world-class speeds sufficient to meet families’ needs.

Clinton's initiative doesn't detail how her plan will fill in the gaps in America's incomplete and patchwork telecommunications infrastructure and "finishing the job" of serving all U.S. households.

Clinton will also build upon the Obama Administration’s efforts to increase not just broadband access but also broadband adoption, both by fostering greater competition in local broadband markets to bring down prices and by investing in low-income communities and in digital literacy programs. In addition, Clinton is committed to expanding the Obama Administration’s efforts to connect “anchor” institutions — like public school and public libraries — to high-speed broadband. 

Here, Clinton's statement reiterates the three classic talking points -- the latter two long offered up by legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies -- that have distracted from the primary goal of building telecom infrastructure over the past 15 years or so:

Increasing competition in local "broadband markets"

The fundamental flaw here is local or "last mile" telecom infrastructure is not a market any more than other infrastructure such as electrical power distribution lines, water lines and roads and highways. It's a natural monopoly. Calling for competition here ignores basic economics.

Digital literacy programs

This is a favorite stalling tactic of the legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies to divert attention away from infrastructure deficits and keep the calendar fixed at 1996 when many people were just starting to connect their home computers to the Internet via dial up service. The argument is people only need the Internet if they're "digitally literate" so we don't have to be in a hurry to invest in infrastructure and can look good by calling for increased digital literacy.

Connecting anchor institutions

Like digital literacy, this makes for nice talking points and sound bites. After all, who could be against better Internet service for the kids at school and city hall. Unfortunately, telecom infrastructure projects to serve these settings don't typically extend to the adjacent neighborhoods and homes where students and constituents live and need better connectivity to interact with these community institutions.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Telco business model -- not regulation -- curtails infrastructure investment

FCC Forbearance Vote a Welcome First Step | USTelecom: “While more remains to be done to update communications regulation to reflect the realities of today and to level the playing field among wireline, wireless and cable competitors, we applaud Chairman Wheeler for recognizing the importance of giving wireline companies greater freedom to compete, innovate and invest their capital efficiently in modern networks. We urge the full commission to adopt the reforms proposed, and to continue to eliminate antiquated requirements that distort the market, ultimately to the detriment of consumers.”
The legacy telephone company lobby oddly continues to blame regulation for chilling its investment in landline telecommunications infrastructure. The real reason is telcos simply lack a business model that can support extensive, long term capital investment. Regulation or the lack thereof doesn't fundamentally alter the equation.

Transition from copper to fiber plant? Show me the fiber.

From a Communications Workers of America (CWA) Nov. 29, 2015 blog post:
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) filed reply comments at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of an FCC proposal to adopt clear criteria to evaluate a telecom carrier’s request to discontinue, reduce, or impair legacy service. As communications infrastructure changes from copper to fiber, the fundamental goals of communications policy remain the same: universal service, consumer protection, public safety and national security, and competition.
Note the emphasized text on the transition from copper to fiber. Reading further leads to some major cognitive dissonance that suggests telcos aren't in fact transitioning from copper to fiber but instead retiring their landline outside plant and sending residential and small business customers to satellite and their mobile wireless offerings:
CWA urged the FCC to add an additional criteria: affordability. If an alternative service is more expensive -- such as wireless with data caps or satellite service for Internet access -- then it is not an adequate substitute to legacy wireline service.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Lifeline Internet access first requires universal service -- and FCC not enforcing

L.A. County backs plan to ensure Internet access for seniors and the poor - LA Times: Undergirding the county leaders' support for expanding the lifeline programs is the increasing prevalence of digital technology in the economy and social programs.

"Technology is a key component of our economy, and it is unconscionable that so many county residents lack access to broadband," said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-wrote the motion passed Tuesday by the board. "These individuals are being marginalized and ignored."

The policy expressed here is Internet service is now as vital as telephone service was before it. Hence per the position adopted by the county, it too requires a "lifeline" rate subsidy for lower income households to ensure universal access. However, before there can be universal access, there must be universal service.

Early this year, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission adopted its Open Internet rulemaking classifying Internet service as a common carrier telecommunications utility service like telephone service. That legal classification under the Communications Act includes a universal service obligation on providers to offer Internet service to any household requesting it. But thus far, the FCC has shown no inclination to enforce the rule, which became effective in June.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Telecom infrastructure is interstate; crash federal modernization program needed

Senator Wants Transparency in Federal Broadband Grants: King sent the letter after his office was contacted by several rural Maine residents who want to know if their neighborhoods will receive broadband service or if their existing service will be upgraded as a result of the subsidies. He didn’t have an answer for them.

“High-speed broadband is a gateway to opportunity in the 21st century, but today, too many people in rural Maine lack adequate access – and that’s not fair to them or to our state’s economic future,” King said Monday. “The FCC’s Connect America Fund can help change this, but to be successful, every dollar must be spent efficiently, effectively and in a transparent way.”

As long as the United States limits its thinking to discrete neighborhoods and "rural and community broadband," modernizing and building out its telecommunications infrastructure will prove to be a frustratingly slow and inscrutable process as Senator King's constituents are experiencing.

Telecommunications is interstate and so is the infrastructure that delivers it. Instead of tinkering at the edges, the nation should instead engage in its signature big thinking and undertake a bold crash program to ensure every American home, small business and vital institution has a fiber optic connection to the Internet. Senator King's constituents and those of every other American representative have waited long enough.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fiber to the premise can't accurately be described as "on fire" in U.S.

Fiber to the Home Council : Blogs : Survey Says: Speedy Fiber Changing the Way We Use the Internet: Washington, DC (November 16, 2015) – The Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Council Americas has released the results of a survey by RVA, LLC showing that fiber deployments in the United States grew 13 percent in 2015.

“From our survey of North American broadband providers, we’ve found that fiber to the home deployment has continued to grow steadily and 2015 marks the second biggest year for expansion since the technology became available,” said Michael Render, President of RVA, LLC. “The industry is poised for substantial growth over the next five years.”

“Fiber’s on fire in the U.S.,” said Heather Burnett Gold, President of the FTTH Council. “Now, nearly one fifth of the world’s fiber connections are here in the United States. Offering faster speeds and better reliability, fiber sells itself.”

Fiber to the premise (FTTP) Internet service could hardly be described as "on fire" in the United States with some 55 million Americans living in areas of the nation lacking infrastructure capable of supporting high-quality voice, data, graphics and video (i.e. FTTP service) according to a U.S. Federal Communications Commission assessment issued earlier this year. And with slim prospects of obtaining such service in the foreseeable, they would rightfully laugh ruefully at such outlandish claims as overstated hype.

Vermont's failure to ensure universal premise Internet service demonstrates need for national telecom infrastructure initiative

Some Vermonters Are Still Stranded In A Broadband 'Wilderness' | Vermont Public Radio: The importance of good broadband for work and education has been stated many times. Yet, as many clamor for faster speeds, there are hundreds of Vermonters still without anything the state considers broadband service.

* * *

Most have satellite broadband but aren’t satisfied with it. They say at
the prices they’re willing or able to pay, slower speeds and limits on
downloads keep them from doing much more than checking email.

* * *

But nearly two years after Gov. Shumlin’s self-imposed deadline for providing broadband to every address in Vermont, there are still those who are stuck in the wilderness.


This situation isn't likely to change in Vermont and other states anytime soon unless as I discuss in my recent book Service Unavailable: America's Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis, the federal government steps in with an aggressive and well funded national telecommunications infrastructure initiative. Given how far the nation has fallen behind in the generation since the Internet came into popular use, a crash program is needed to catch up.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mobile wireless service won't solve America's telecommunications infrastructure crisis

Congress Seeks to Bolster Nation’s Broadband: (TNS) -- A draft bill making the rounds among Senate lawmakers would require selling even more airwaves than initially agreed to in the recent budget deal.

The language is part of a proposal that would move forward several bipartisan efforts aimed at boosting high-speed Internet access nationwide. The wide-ranging discussion draft bill in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee comes after a series of hearings in recent weeks by the committee and its House counterpart where Republicans and Democrats have called for auctioning government-held airwaves to the private sector to increase the amount of wireless spectrum available to carry voice and data over the air. (Emphasis added)

"Boosting high-speed Internet access nationwide" isn't solely about mobile wireless as this story suggests. The biggest component of the United States' Internet access problem is landline-delivered premise -- and not mobile -- service. According to a U.S Federal Communications Commission estimate issued earlier this year, approximately 55 million Americans – about 17 percent of the population -- live in areas unserved for basic Internet service capable of supporting high-quality voice, data, graphics and video. Meeting this need requires fiber to the premise infrastructure. It can't be served by mobile wireless services alone because they can't offer adequate bandwidth to meet premise needs given the multiple connected devices used in the home.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Last-Ditch Attempt to Start a 5th U.S. Telecom

A Last-Ditch Attempt to Start a 5th U.S. Telecom: Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive, said on Tuesday that he intends to build an American mobile carrier called Rama. It’s good timing—the window for building a fifth major American telecom is closing, and soon, it may not be possible anymore.

* * *

Even if Rama ends up winning the spectrum it needs, it faces an uphill
battle. First, the company will have to start the slow and expensive
process of actually building the towers and infrastructure that make up a
wireless network. Palihapitiya said he wants to use “microcells,” or
tiny cell towers installed on people’s homes, to help build the network
quickly and provide better coverage. (Emphasis added)

The apparent strategy here is to use telco and cableco residential landline to backhaul the microcells. That of course will generate strong resistance from the large incumbent telcos and cablecos that also play or want to play in the mobile wireless space and prompt them to put restrictions in their residential service contracts disallowing the use of premise Internet service to support commercial mobile networks.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Massachusetts town case in point why federal government (and not state and local government) should finance telecommunications infrastructure

Montgomery voters reject high speed internet | WWLP.com: Monday night, more than 200 residents voted on whether to connect every Montgomery home to the World Wide Web as part of the “wired west movement.” Wired west is an initiative to connect all under-served Massachusetts communities to a high speed fiber. The state covers 35% of
the cost, with the town having to cover the rest.

*  *  *
Only 140 people came out to vote on this issue last June, and it was rejected. A group of residents petitioned to hold another vote.

“It’s been difficult, for example I work at home, I’ve had problems with the speed of the internet. It’s actually affected my ability to run my business out of my home so that’s been a frustration,” said Sonia Ellis, a Montgomery resident.

128 people were for high speed internet while 103 were against it, but It required a two thirds majority. The project would have required the town to pay more than $600-thousand.

This is a case in point showing that relying on state and local government to finance the construction of universal fiber to the premise telecommunications infrastructure isn't good public policy. Many billions of dollars are needed to ensure every American home and small business has an FTTP connection that they should have had by 2010 but for the absence of sound policy and planning. As I argue in my recent eBook Service Unavailable: America's Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis, it's a job that requires the federal government to fund like building roads and highways in the pre-Internet era.

Bath Twp. man battles for broadband connection | www.daytondailynews.com

Bath Twp. man battles for broadband connection | www.daytondailynews.com: Malogorski wants to be able to show photos and videos of his work to the world online, but he has been struggling to get reliable broadband internet service for himself and his neighbors for years.

“I can’t figure out why we’re living in this hub of technology for the Midwest — Wright-Patt is the most important employer around here, so it’s very technically oriented. It doesn’t make any sense that we don’t have it,” said Malogorski, who lives on Ohio 4 between Upper Valley Road and Bath Road.

“Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is right beyond the treeline across the four-lane highway,” he said as he stood in his front yard pointing to the base, then the utility pole on his property, with AT&T and Time Warner Cable lines clearly visible above him.
This is a common example of telecommunications infrastructure disparities in the United States. Oftentimes people are located close to existing infrastructure that doesn't extend to their neighborhoods, discrediting the notion that rural areas lack infrastructure. They do have infrastructure. It's just arrayed in an incomplete, vexing crazy quilt of small "footprints" of neighborhoods with landline service and those without. That situation remains unlikely to change given the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's lack of enforcement of its policy adopted in 2015 classifying Internet service as a common carrier utility and thus mandating providers fill in the unserved pockets.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Combining two flawed subsidy programs won’t build FTTP infrastructure

Fellow blogger Steve Blum of Tellus Venture Associates suggests coordinating the U.S Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund (CAF) Internet telecom infrastructure construction subsidies with a state subsidy program administered by the California Public Utilities Commission to multiply the amount of money available for such projects. (See Blum's blog post here)

Combining two fundamentally flawed subsidy programs, however, won’t produce a beneficial result considering the underlying weakness of both. Each is primarily structured to subsidize bandwidth, not infrastructure. They do so by defining subsidy eligible areas based on existing low bandwidth levels supported and delivered by legacy infrastructure rather than subsidizing the construction of modern fiber to the premise (FTTP) infrastructure in high cost areas. If an incumbent provider is providing that minimum bandwidth level, the area is deemed ineligible. That furthers the goal of the legacy telephone and cable companies to preserve the status quo by making it more difficult for others to finance FTTP builds in their service territories.

This is a key shortcoming because the primary problem in California and the nation is outdated and inadequate telecom infrastructure that needs to be replaced with FTTP infrastructure. Also, incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) are not motivated to construct FTTP infrastructure in high cost areas regardless of the availability of subsidies. Their business strategy is to focus on more profitable mobile wireless services and on cherry picking high end private communities and parts of low cost, urbanized areas for very limited FTTP builds.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Blair Levin's "broadband competition" fantasy

Achieving Bandwidth Abundance: The Three Policy Levers for Intensifying Broadband Competition | ISOC-DC: The trial and many errors of my own work have led me to believe in the following bottom line: that the highest priority for government broadband competition policy ought to be to lower input costs for adjacent market competition and network upgrades. Today I will make the case for that bottom line and illustrate where I think the greatest opportunity is; to create a virtuous cycle of upgraded mobile stimulating low-end broadband to upgrade, which in turn causes an upgrade of high-end broadband which, by using its assets to enter mobile, accelerates the need for mobile to accelerate its upgrade further.

Blair Levin, a Brookings Institution fellow who drafted the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan issued
in 2010, somehow believes boosting mobile wireless "competition" to offer greater bandwidth will generate synergistic "competition" among landline premise Internet service providers and result in "bandwidth abundance." 

It's utter hogwash for the simple fact that telecommunications infrastructure -- regardless of whether it supports mobile or premise service -- is not a competitive market. Never has been and never will be due to high cost barriers to entry and uncertain return on investment as a mathematical expression in Levin's presentation illustrates. 

Levin's fantasy scenario would have us believe that if Verizon deploys next generation 5G mobile service, that would somehow spur Comcast or AT&T, for example, to upgrade and build out fiber to the premise (FTTP) infrastructure in areas where Verizon has rolled out 5G mobile. It's wishful economic sophistry. Levin offers no explanation as to how or why that would occur.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Market forces cannot address U.S. telecom infrastructure needs -- because infrastructure is not a market

Lawmakers eye broadband deployment issues | TheHill: When asked about that contention, witness Deb Socia, Executive Director of NextCentury Cities, argued that broadband was essential enough that government should step in to improve access.

She said that she believe “we’re coming to the place where we need to think of it in the same way, that it is essential infrastructure and that we need all hands on deck.

“And if the market can’t solve the problem then we need to figure out how to solve the problem.”

Socia's point goes to the nub of America's telecommunications infrastructure problem. Telecom infrastructure is not a competitive market and never will be. Market forces therefore cannot offer a solution. Indeed, as I posit in my eBook Service Unavailable: America's Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis, the nation's excess reliance on market forces has in fact brought about the issue of inadequate infrastructure wherein large numbers of Americans lack sufficient infrastructure to reliably deliver modern Internet-based telecommunications services to their homes and small businesses.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tennessee cooperative official compares 1930s electrification to today's telecom infrastructure challenge

Officials Urged To Let Local Utilities Cooperate On Providing Broadband - Chattanoogan.com: Mike Knotts, director of government affairs, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, brought a somewhat different perspective to the conversation when he said, “Advanced telecommunications will be as important to the next 100 years of electric system operation as steam power was to the first 100 years.”

He said the number one barrier to providing adequate Internet access is “purely customer density” and suggested looking at the model of rural electrification in the 1930s. “What cured the problem of rural electrification was the ability to create nonprofit entities that were able to amortize those expenses over much, much longer periods (than private companies). That was the very simple magic that took, in 10 years, less than 10 percent of American farms being electrified to 100 percent — not much more in the secret sauce other than that.”

Actually, Mr. Knotts, there is a another ingredient that's missing today: capital. Unlike today, in the 1930s the federal government stepped up with significant funding and not just talk, window dressing and "funding leads."

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Time to stop whining about lack of competition and build national telecom infrastructure

No 'Bundle' of Joy: Cost of TV, Internet and Phone Service Rising - NBC News: "What we're finding is that consumers in the U.S. pay more for less … than their peers around the world," said Sarah J. Morris, senior policy counsel at think tank New America's Open Technology Institute.

In a 2014 study, the institute found that home broadband connectivity at every speed was more expensive on average in the U.S. than in Europe. It also found that major American cities lag in both speed and pricing compared to overseas counterparts like Seoul, Hong Kong, Paris and even Bucharest, Romania.

"A lot of this breaks down to competition … even though the ISPs like to claim the market for broadband Internet access is competitive, when you really break it down, it's not," Morris said. "This exacerbates low speed for high cost."

Morris is correct. Telecommunications infrastructure and its vertically integrated, bundled service offerings by telephone and cable companies is a naturally monopolistic market. But complaining that a monopolistic microeconomy lacks competition isn't going to make it competitive. It's about as productive as complaining about the weather.

An example of a highly monopolistic form of infrastructure is roads and highways. They cost so much to build and maintain that with the exception of some privately operated toll roads, most are owned and operated by the government. Having a private competitive market with many road builders and operators would be uneconomic and wasteful. For drivers, it would make no sense to have a choice to take Road A, Road B or Road C from a given point to a given destination. One well maintained road with sufficient capacity would do just fine. Same thing with Internet service. One fiber highway and many fiber trunks and lines reaching all American homes, schools and businesses -- a national telecommunications infrastructure -- is what America needs, as I argue in my recently published book Service Unavailable: America's Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Obama flat wrong, at odds with FCC in framing telecom infrastructure as competitive market

Municipal Broadband Battles | Al Jazeera America: Amid concerns in some markets that big telecoms and cable companies are providing service that is too slow and too expensive, some cities are starting their own Internet services, spending millions of dollars to bring super-high-speed, or gigabit, Internet service to their communities through a new fiber-optic infrastructure. Proponents call it the single most important piece of infrastructure of the 21st century, attracting businesses, bolstering education and raising property values.

President Barack Obama has declared community broadband, as it’s called, a key to economic prosperity. “Today I’m making my administration’s position clear on community broadband. I’m saying I’m on the side of competition,” he said. (Emphasis added)
The problem with the president's framing telecom infrastructure as a competitive market is he's just flat out wrong. It can never be a truly competitive market with many sellers and choices for consumers due to the high cost of deploying fiber to the premise infrastructure. Those high costs have kept telcos and cablecos from upgrading their legacy infrastructures and building out fiber to all customer premises in their service territories to replace the outdated metallic cables designed for voice telephone and cable TV service of decades past. Instead, they've built limited fiber to the premise in selected high density "footprints" and redlined countless American neighborhoods, leaving many still on dialup that was state of the art technology when Bill Clinton was serving his first term as president.

Moreover, by furthering the notion that telecom infrastructure is a competitive market offering, Obama is at odds with the Federal Communications Commission that -- at Obama's urging -- adopted a common carrier regulatory framework early this year predicated on telecom infrastructure as a monopolistic market. Consequently, the FCC's Open Internet rulemaking requires Internet service to be offered to all customer premises requesting it -- as telephone service before it -- under the universal service and nondiscrimination provisions of Title II the federal Communications Act.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Title II universal service obligation could bolster cities' case in Verizon FiOS buildouts

Like NYC, Pittsburgh Claims Verizon Didn't Meet FiOS Promises | DSLReports, ISP Information: While Verizon long-ago froze further FiOS deployments, the company did strike sweetheart deals with numerous east coast cities that gave the city a citywide franchise and numerous tax benefits, in exchange for the promise of full city FiOS coverage. But as we noted at the time, most of those agreements came with fine print that allowed Verizon lawyers to wiggle over, under, and around any uniform fiber deployment obligations. Shockingly, cities like New York City are now thinking about suing the telco for missing deployment promises.

You can add Pittsburgh to the list of cities who believe they were swindled by Verizon. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has, several years later, started noting huge coverage gaps in the city's FiOS coverage. Peduto was one of 14 Mayors that recently wrote a letter to Verizon begging the company to upgrade its lagging DSL networks.

The U.S Federal Communication's Commission recently promulgated regulations classifying Internet as a common carrier telecommunications service and subject to universal service obligations under Title II of the Communications Act could strengthen the cities' case against Verizon. Local governments have successfully asked the FCC to intervene on their behalf when legacy incumbent providers used state laws to bar municipalities from building their own fiber telecom infrastructure. They could do so in this instance as well in a major test of the FCC's willingness to hold big incumbents accountable under its new rules.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Local governments seek federal preemption of Internet regulation

In the early 2000s as legacy cable companies contemplated offering Internet-protocol (IP) based services including Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), they feared local governments that franchised their decades-old cable television services would demand they offer IP services to all neighborhoods within their jurisdiction. That prospect was very real possibility given their residents had other options for television service including over the air broadcast and satellite, but would need landline infrastructure built out in order to provide universal Internet access as demand for Internet service jumped. Also, by offering voice service via VOIP, cablecos began emulating telephone companies that are required to offer universal service to any premise requesting it.

To head off what to them appeared to be a costly prospect, cablecos heavily lobbied state governments to preempt the locals by giving state public utility commissions franchise authority over IPTV. While nominally limited to video services, for both cablecos and phone companies the move forestalled for many years any local requirements they upgrade and build out their Internet infrastructure since their video services are typically bundled as part of landline premise Internet service.

Now more than a decade later, local governments are getting in on the preemption game. Since their oxen were gored by their states at the behest of the legacy incumbent cablecos and telcos, they are looking to the federal government for relief. An example is the Federal Communications Commission’s order earlier this year to preempt statutes in two states barring local governments from building their own infrastructure. Doing so would allow local governments to get around the state sanction of the incumbents’ redlining practices.

In Arizona, local governments appear to be looking to the feds to resolve a dispute involving the city, a legacy cableco and Google Fiber over the city’s regulation of video services. “The City believes these questions will more likely be resolved more definitively in the future by the Federal Communications Commission or a similar authority,” said Scottsdale Chief Information Officer Brad Hartig in a statement. (H/T to DSLReports).

In California, two legacy telcos are making an argument that would place Internet services in a regulatory non man’s land, subject to neither state nor federal jurisdiction. Frontier and Verizon contend regulation of Internet service falls under federal jurisdiction per the FCC’s order classifying Internet as a common carrier telecommunications service under Title II of the federal Communications Act. But at the same time, they argue that order does not preempt California law giving the California Public Utilities Commission jurisdiction over legacy (non IP-enabled) telephone service but not Internet services. (Item here at Steve Blum’s Blog)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

U.S. facing telecom infrastructure crisis due to poor policies and planning, according to new book




A generation ago, it became clear that telecommunications was shifting to the Internet. However, as a nation, the United States failed to build the infrastructure to reliably support and deliver it to all Americans.

Today, the nation is paying the price for its lack of an orderly transition plan to move from legacy metal cable systems designed to support the analog voice telephone and cable television service of decades past to fiber optic-based infrastructure optimized for the Internet in the 21st century.

According to a new eBook, Service Unavailable: America’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis, the United States – the nation that innovated the Internet – now stands at least two decades behind where it should be and requires a crash federal infrastructure initiative to catch up.

In much of the nation, many locations have no Internet service options due to inadequate infrastructure -- and have little prospect of obtaining service in the foreseeable future. According to the U.S Federal Communications Commission, as of 2015 approximately 55 million Americans – about 17 percent of the population -- live in areas unserved for basic Internet service capable of supporting high-quality voice, data, graphics and video. Meanwhile, demand for Internet bandwidth is growing exponentially as U.S. residential and business premises use multiple Internet-connected devices, straining the capacity of legacy landline infrastructure and wireless services.

Consequently, the nation now faces a telecommunications infrastructure crisis. As time passes, the crisis deepens as Americans grow increasingly reliant upon robust and reliable Internet connectivity that only fiber can accommodate now and into the future.

Just as the interstate highway system supported commerce in the twentieth century, the United States needs an information highway bringing fiber connections to all Americans no matter where they live in the information-based economy of the new century.

Authored by longtime telecommunications blogger Frederick L. Pilot, Service Unavailable drew praise from Michael Copps, who served on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission from 2001 through 2011:

“Pilot digs deep in the facts and emerges with a spot-on, realistic assessment of America's stultifying broadband shortfall,” Copps wrote in a foreword to the book. “He shows how two decades of federal inaction permitted huge telecom incumbents to ration scarcity rather than build bandwidth abundance. And he demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt that without a true national mission to build this essential infrastructure, we will continue to stifle economic opportunity for millions of citizens and shackle America's global economic performance, too.”

Service Unavailable is offered through Amazon.com and iBooks.

Aging legacy copper infrastructure isn't solely a regulatory issue

Regulatory Relief Would Speed FCC’s Broadband Deployment Goals | USTelecom: Removing barriers to investment is a concrete action the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can take to accelerate broadband deployment, USTelecom said in recent comments responding to an inquiry on the state of broadband availability. To that end, the commission should approve USTelecom’s forbearance petition requesting Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs) be relieved of directing investment to legacy telephone networks and allowed to redirect that money to next-generation broadband networks. USTelecom said its member companies are required to invest in legacy networks that soon will become obsolete while other broadband providers- cable, wireless, and competitive fiber providers do not have this requirement, and that forbearance relief for ILECs would help the FCC achieve its goal of deploying broadband to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.




This isn't a problem caused solely by regulatory requirements. Rather, it's a train wreck borne of poor policy and planning. Had an orderly plan to migrate from copper-based legacy telephone service to fiber-based Internet protocol-based telecommunications been put in place and executed starting two decades ago, the United States would not be in the current dire situation where legacy copper plant is literally rotting on the the poles. As it does, it grows increasingly less reliable to support voice telephone service -- and emergency call response -- in areas where the copper has not been replaced by fiber -- as well as copper-based DSL where it is offered.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Germany promises 50Mbps broadband for all, 10 times faster than global average

Germany promises 50Mbps broadband for all, 10 times faster than global average: As around 70 percent of Germany is already connected to networks of 50Mbps or faster, it will be a relatively ‘cheap’ task to connect the final 30 percent. The German government is putting aside €2.7 billion for the project, but will be looking for matched funding from local providers who will benefit from extending the reach of high-speed broadband networks.

“The German Federation will contribute up to 50 percent of the costs. A combination with development programs provided by German states is possible and can offer a further 40 percent of financing. The community would then have to provide the remaining 10 percent,” a spokesperson said.

The implicit policy assumption here is that by providing generous federal government and German state contributions along with a minor (10 percent) community contribution, the incumbent providers will have incentive to undertake Internet infrastructure construction and modernization.

The economics don't work out quite the same way in the United States. Unlike Germany, it isn't "relatively cheap" to build telecommunications infrastructure to reach the 55 million Americans who according to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission aren't offered service meeting even half Germany's benchmark. Instead of an ambitious initiative to bring fiber to nearly all American premises, U.S. policy is to provide small subsidies to incumbent telephone companies to build one off, 1990s-era DSL projects using existing copper outside plant serving small numbers of premises that don't even meet the FCC's benchmark and are already obsolete given burgeoning Internet bandwidth demand.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

FCC's Sohn: Forget Incumbents, Build Your Own Broadband Networks | DSLReports, ISP Information

FCC's Sohn: Forget Incumbents, Build Your Own Broadband Networks | DSLReports, ISP Information: Don't wait for incumbent ISPs to build networks in uncompetitive areas, build your own networks. That was the message from FCC staffer Gigi Sohn at the NATOA Annual Conference in San Diego this week, ironically just days before Google announced that San Diego will likely be an upcoming Google Fiber launch market. According to Sohn cities tired about lackluster, uncompetitive service now have the power to do something about it.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission's call to localities to "build your own" Internet telecommunications infrastructure likely coincides with its apparent policy not to immediately enforce its recently adopted Open Internet rulemaking classifying Internet as a common carrier telecommunications utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Notwithstanding that the FCC's order and rulemaking specifically declined to forbear enforcement of the law's anti-redlining universal service provision at Section 254(b)(3) requiring ISPs to provide access to advanced telecommunications in all regions of the nation.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Hyper local view of Internet telecom infrastructure misguided, reinforces network access disparities

City Broadband Plans: One Vision, Four Markets, Four Issues | Benton Foundation: My message today is simple: every city needs its own broadband plan.

At one time, I would have agreed with this statement by Blair Levin, who wrote the 2010 U.S. "National Broadband Plan" while serving on the staff of the Federal Communications Commission. I even went as far as paraphrasing the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill by declaring "all broadband is local" on this blog.

I no longer hold that view. It's not just about "broadband" in a given municipality or as is more often the case, a particular neighborhood. Instead, the truly important issue is ubiquitous Internet telecommunications infrastructure in keeping with the FCC's recent reclassification of Internet service as a common carrier utility. And that infrastructure is fundamentally interstate -- much like the federally funded interstate highway system -- and global. In that regard, it's not directly comparable to the municipal and cooperative electric power systems created in the early 20th century that generated and distributed power consumed locally. The Internet is a telecommunications network that reaches far beyond the borders of a given city or town and whose true value is recognized by Metcalfe's Law, which holds a network increases in utility as more users are added to it. In short, it's all about the network and not "broadband" or discrete "gigabit cities."

The hyper-local focus on this essential infrastructure for the 21st century is well meaning and understandable in the absence of strong federal leadership and support. But it's also misguided and dangerous because it serves to reinforce incremental thinking and Internet infrastructure disparities that have plagued the nation for a generation. It's also unrealistic to expect local governments to shoulder the financial burden as they continue to deal with the adverse impacts of the 2008 economic downturn and are strapped to fix crumbling roads, schools, sewer and water infrastructure and fund enormous public pension obligations.

If it is to realize the full value of the Internet, the United States should instead adopt a bold, wholistic and robustly funded national Internet infrastructure initiative to bring fiber infrastructure to all homes, businesses and institutions.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Cable companies facing enormous shifts in market, regulatory environments

Cable companies like Comcast, Time Warner and others are facing enormous shifts in the market and regulatory environment that are likely to prove very challenging to navigate going forward. Earlier this year, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission subjected cable companies to Title II of the Communications Act in its Open Internet rulemaking deeming Internet service providers -- cable companies top the list measured by total customer premises served -- common carrier telecommunications utility providers under Title II. 

That's hugely incompatible with cable's business model based on offering subscriptions to bundles of TV channels to selected -- and not all -- customer premises in their service areas. At the same time as this regulatory sea change is occurring, the marketplace is also being disrupted as consumers increasingly shun these offerings.

Cable's subscription-based model is far better suited to the FCC's previously adopted classification of Internet service as a specialized information service -- and the cablecos' market positioning of themselves as entertainment and not telecommunications providers. Now it's gone except in the unlikely event the courts step in and restore it. Meanwhile, consumers are turning elsewhere for video entertainment.

Gov. Beshear, Rep. Rogers launch statewide broadband network – The Ohio County Monitor

Gov. Beshear, Rep. Rogers launch statewide broadband network – The Ohio County Monitor: Reliable, high-speed Internet is coming to every county of the state, and supporters say the broadband project will be the key catalyst for profound and sweeping growth in job creation, health access and education.

To celebrate the construction of the statewide KentuckyWired, I-Way broadband network, Gov. Steve Beshear, Congressman Hal Rogers, state and local officials and hundreds of citizens gathered at Hazard Community and Technical College to learn more about KentuckyWired and how Kentucky’s future will benefit from broadband.

The broadband project will begin in eastern Kentucky and over the next three years will spread throughout the state.

*  *  *

The leaders also called on communities and local providers to get ready for the project by preparing the “last mile,” or the Internet hookups from the broadband “highway” to homes and businesses. (Emphasis added)

It's one thing to build middle mile Internet infrastructure such as the project reported here. But the value of that middle mile infrastructure can only be fully realized when it connects homes, businesses and institutions via last mile infrastructure. Merely issuing calls to communities and local providers to build it is no assurance that last mile infrastructure be constructed in a timely manner, particularly given the business model and financial challenges. There needs to be a holistic plan to build a complete telecommunications system. Otherwise there's the very real risk of ongoing Internet access disparities as I previously commented.

Friday, August 28, 2015

AT&T to deploy "wireless local loop" fixed premise service in high cost areas

AT&T will apparently use wireless technology to provide fixed premise Internet telecommunications services using funding from the Connect America Fund (CAF) to subsidize infrastructure costs in high cost areas of the nation. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission announced this week that AT&T accepted $428 million in annual subsidies from the CAF to serve 2.2 million rural consumers in 18 states. Since the FCC requires CAF recipients to provide connectivity of "at least" 10Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps for uploads, the wireless gambit could potentially meet that standard. AT&T's wireless strategy was communicated to the FCC in a letter dated August 27, 2015 (H/T to California-based Steve Blum of Tellus Venture Associates):

We anticipate meeting our CAF Phase II obligations through a mix of network technologies, including through the deployment of advanced wireless technologies on new wireless towers that will be constructed in previously unserved areas. We will diligently pursue the necessary tower siting and permitting processes so that these new towers can be completed in a timely manner.

As previously mentioned in this space, the so-called "wireless local loop" (WLL) infrastructure strategy proffered in 2014 as part of AT&T's proposed takeover of DirecTV will also help AT&T meet its universal service obligations under the FCC's recently adopted Open Internet regulatory scheme classifying Internet as a common carrier telecommunications service. The strategy will also provide alternative premise service delivery infrastructure as AT&T retires its legacy copper cable outside plant.

The upshot for AT&T customers: Those that were never offered DSL service when AT&T rolled it out more than a decade ago might now see premise service roughly equivalent to DSL sometime in the next five years while those outside the very limited range of its U-Verse triple play DSL-based service could find themselves switched from legacy DSL to WLL.

An unresolved problem, however, is as Internet bandwidth demand continues its inexorable rapid rise, the WLL technology will be obsolete as soon as it's deployed and falls short of the FCC's current minimum benchmark for Internet service of 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up adopted earlier this year.

U.S. paying price for lack of orderly transition plan to fiber telecom infrastructure

FCC Orders Rules for Copper Retirement | POTs and PANs: The biggest issue I see with getting rid of copper is where the phone company doesn’t have an alternate landline network ready for the transition. It doesn’t seem like a big issue to me when a company like Verizon wants to move customers from copper to FiOS. There have already been tens of millions of customers who have changed from copper to either FiOS fiber or to a cable company network who have experienced and accepted the required changes.

But AT&T has said that they want to walk away from millions of rural copper customers. That would force customers to migrate to either the cable company or to cellular wireless. This could be a huge problem for business customers because there are still a lot of business districts that have never been wired by the cable companies. And even where a business can change to a cable company network, they are not always going to be able to buy the services they want from the cable company. For example, those businesses might be using trunks or Centrex today that isn’t supported by their cable provider. These businesses are going to be facing an immediate and expensive upgrade cost to keep the kind of service they have always had.

Doug Dawson lays out the effects of the train wreck caused by the lack of an orderly transition plan in the U.S. to migrate from copper to fiber telecom infrastructure that should have been put in place a generation ago. The consequences of this and misplaced reliance on market forces in a monopolistic microeconomy are now coming home to roost. More on this in my forthcoming book, Service Unavailable: America's Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis, available in September.

Friday, August 07, 2015

FCC inquiry could set stage to further reduce pressure on telcos, cablecos to deploy last mile infrastructure

Now that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission appears to be whiffing on enforcing Title II’s universal service and anti-redlining provisions relative to Internet service despite deeming Internet service a common carrier utility in a rulemaking earlier this year, it appears to be setting the stage to give big incumbent telephone and cable companies another potential pass on modernizing and building out their last mile infrastructures.

The FCC signaled that possible gambit this week in opening its annual review as required by Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to determine whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely manner.

In previous reviews, the FCC examined advanced telecom infrastructure providing both landline premise as well as mobile wireless and premise satellite service but opted to include only premise landline service in its determination, citing “significant concerns about the quality and reliability of the mobile and satellite service data” as well as factors including latency and usage allowances.

The 2015 review determined infrastructure deployment remained untimely as in previous reviews dating back nearly two decades and that 55 million Americans – 17 percent of the population – lack access to advanced telecommunications services capable of supporting high-quality voice, data, graphics and video.

For its next annual review, the FCC announced an inquiry this week seeking comment on whether mobile wireless and satellite should be included:

While fixed terrestrial broadband service can have advantages for high-capacity home use, mobile broadband has become increasingly important for many uses, including connecting on social media, navigating during travel, communicating with family and friends, receiving timely news updates, and more. In the event mobile broadband is added to the assessment, the FCC is seeking comment on what speed of service should serve as the benchmark for assessing availability. The FCC is also proposing to consider the availability of fixed satellite broadband in its annual assessment of fixed broadband availability.

Such a move could also pave the way for creating a benchmark lower than the new speed standard of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up established in the 2015 Section 706 review since this level of service is not offered by mobile wireless and satellite providers. That would make it easier for the FCC to declare advanced telecom infrastructure is in fact being timely deployed. Doing so would effectively sanction the deplorable status quo that has existed for many years where about one in five customer premises remain unable to obtain premise landline Internet service.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Early indications that FCC not enforcing Title II Internet universal service, anti-redlining provisions


--FCC accepts AT&T assertion of Title II compliance on its face

--Consumer complaint against Comcast closed despite demand for $535,000 to establish Internet service

 

Earlier this year, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission deemed Internet service a common carrier utility under Title II of the Communications Act and thus subject to the law’s universal service and non-discrimination obligations. New FCC rules implementing the policy became final on June 12, 2015 and withstood judicial petitions by large telephone and cable companies and their trade associations to block them from taking effect.

Going forward, it remains to be seen whether the FCC will enforce Title II universal service and anti-redlining requirements against the large, dominant telephone and cable companies that provide much of the nation’s premise landline Internet service in tightly proscribed “footprints” within their service areas. Early indications are that the FCC is opting to not enforce these requirements even though it specifically declined to forbear their enforcement in its March 12, 2015 Open Internet Order and Rulemaking, finding that doing so would not be in the public interest. Harold Feld of Public Knowledge termed universal service “the quintessential common-carrier obligation.”

Nevertheless, it appears the FCC rather than enforcing key Title II obligations is choosing to merely pass complaints of violations on to providers and then summarily closing them out once the provider communicates with the complainant. I offer my own experience as evidence.

On June 15, 2015, I attempted to place an online order for Internet service for my home office premise in Northern California and received this screen:



I also obtained the following communication from an AT&T agent in a June 15, 2015 online chat session:

Agent: Unfortunately, neither AT&T Business U-verse nor DSL services are available in your area. There may be several reasons why AT&T Business Internet Service is not available in your area. The most common reason is that there are a set number of ports to deliver service in each area, and we've reached capacity. It's also possible that your business is outside of the range to receive service.

A subsequent attempt to order a small business bundle of phone and Internet service resulted in this email from AT&T:

Dear Fred Pilot,
I'm sorry but internet services are not available to this address at this time. Do you want to continue with the phone line and long distance order?
Thank you for choosing AT&T.

Sincerely,

Shelley Zeigler
AT&T Small Business Online
 

* * *

I filed a complaint with the FCC on June 15, 2015 contending AT&T by failing to fulfill my order for Internet service was in violation of the FCC's recent Open Internet Order and specifically Title II SEC. 201(a) of the Communications Act that requires common carriers to "furnish service upon reasonable request therefor."

On July 30, 2015, I received this update from the FCC:

Hi Frederick,
Your Ticket No. 342043 was served on your carrier for its review and response.
Your carrier has provided the FCC with a response to your complaint. You should receive a copy of the response from the carrier within 7-10 days via postal mail. As such, no further action is required. Your complaint is closed.
Thank you for your complaint and help in furthering the FCC’s mission on behalf of consumers.

*  *  *

On July 18, 2015 I received an email from the manager of the AT&T Office of the President stating that AT&T reviewed my complaint and “determined that neither DSL or U-verse are available at this time,” adding that “AT&T also finds that it is not in violation of the Open Internet Order referenced in the FCC complaint.” 

Bottom line: The FCC closed the case based on AT&T’s assertion that it is not out of compliance with Title II SEC. 201(a). The FCC’s position appears to be we’ll accept AT&T’s word it’s in compliance with the law and move on. That’s hardly what could be termed enforcement by an entity established as a regulatory agency.

Since Comcast also nominally serves my ZIP Code, I also attempted to order Comcast’s 25Mbs Internet service from its consumer website. The site responded “The address you entered could not be recognized” and offered four other addresses in my ZIP Code with numbers matching my own. A few days later, Comcast left a voice mail stating my address was "not serviceable."

I filed a complaint with the FCC alleging Comcast was in violation of Title II Section 201(a) and a ticket was opened. Subsequently, Comcast sent me an email indicating Comcast could service my address if I paid $535,000 to expand its network:


To: Frederick Pilot
Sent: Monday, June 29, 2015 8:58 AM
Subject: RE: Comcast/ESL01973870/Pilot/AE  
Good Morning Mr. Pilot,   I hope your weekend was well. I have just received word from our serviceability team. The serviceability team has confirmed that your address is over a mile from Comcast’s nearest network. The estimated cost to have the Comcast network expanded to your home is $535,000.00. 
Kind regards
Alyssa Executive Customer Relations Comcast | West Division Office: 1-888-966-7794 Ext. 3007906 M-F: 8:00a – 4:30p PDT        


Another email from Comcast clarifying that I (and not Comcast) would have to bear the cost:


WST - Comcast Executive Customer Relations 5
Jun 29 at 10:06 AM
To:  Frederick Pilot
Mr. Pilot,   If you would like to discuss paying the estimated fee of $535,000.00 to have the lines ran to your home I can get you in touch with our construction team. Please let me know how you’d like to proceed.
Alyssa Executive Customer Relations Comcast | West Division Office: 1-888-966-7794 Ext. 3007906 M-F: 8:00a – 4:30p PDT

*  *  *

I added these emails to my FCC complaint file, pointing out the demand for such a large sum in order to provide Internet service potentially violates two additional Title II provisions:

  • Section 254(b)(3) requiring Internet Service Providers to provide access to advanced telecommunications in all regions of the nation at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates charged for similar services in urban areas.
  • Section 202(a) of the Communications Act insofar as it is an unjust, unreasonable and discriminatory charge in order to effect a common carrier communications connection per Section 202(b). 

Apparently this additional information didn’t pique the interest of the FCC, which closed out the complaint on July 17, 2015:


FCC Consumer Complaints July 17, 2015 08:29

Hi Frederick,
Your Ticket No. 351820 was served on your carrier for its review and response.
Your carrier has provided the FCC with a response to your complaint. You should receive a copy of the response from the carrier within 7-10 days via postal mail. (None was received as of 7/31) As such, no further action is required. Your complaint is closed.

Thank you for your complaint and help in furthering the FCC’s mission on behalf of consumers. 


A follow up query to the FCC asking why the complaint was closed produced no response.
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