In this bonus edition of Let’s Get Nerdy, our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman breaks down how the business special access marketplace has changed since the 1990s, and discusses whether FCC special access rules are still necessary.
Recently, we held a discussion on updating the Lifeline program for the broadband age. Moderated by our own Rick Boucher, “Modernizing the Federal Lifeline Program for Broadband and the 21st Century” featured:
Ronald A. Brisé
Commissioner, Florida Public Service Commission
Randolph J. May
President, Free State Foundation
Senior Fellow, Food Assistance Policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee
Vice President and Chief Research and Policy Officer, Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC)
In what proved to be a lively discussion, each of the participants made a number of great points. Some quotes:
By removing the carriers from the process you remove the incentives that have led to some of the [waste, fraud, and abuse] problems. — Randolph J. May
I think it’s important to realize that SNAP is the program that covers the broadest group of low income people. Medicaid is getting closer now in the states that took the Medicaid expansion but in other states Medicaid misses out on a lot of childless adults. — Dottie Rosenbaum
I don’t think there is a conflict between being a safety net program and the concept of a handout providing that the parameters are set. — Ronald A. Brise
We found that getting people online for that first year, encouraged them to want to become consumers of broadband, because they realized the relevance to not only themselves, but to their families. — Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee
We actually recommend in our white paper the process of coordinated enrollment. Commissioner Clyburn at the FCC before we published this white paper recommended the same thing. — Rick Boucher
The full transcript of the discussion is available here. Our thanks to all the participants for taking the time to discuss this critical issue.
A new paper from Anna-Maria Kovacs, Ph.D., CFA published by the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy makes a convincing case that the FCC can save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars as it reboots Lifeline for the broadband age.
The full paper, “Regulation in Financial Translation: Rebooting Lifeline for Broadband,” is available for download, but here are some highlights:
The FCC’s FNPRM states that the FCC seeks to make the program more efficient by “targeting support to those low-income consumers who really need it while at the same time shifting the burden of determining consumer eligibility for Lifeline support from the provider. We further see to leverage efficiencies from other existing federal programs and expand our outreach efforts.” An effective way to accomplish this goal is to link Lifeline to SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] for eligibility verification and enrollment.
As Kovacs points out in the paper, reducing waste, fraud and abuse of the Lifeline program is important. But just as important is ensuring those reduction efforts aren’t duplicative. Again, from the report:
As the FCC’s FNPRM indicates, the job of verifying that households have low-income is already being verified by other federal agencies. Most notably, the USDA verifies the eligibility of those households that quality for SNAP. SNAP not only enrolls those households whose low income qualifies them, but de-enrolls them if their income rises. In other words, SNAP already does the job the FCC duplicates at a cost of roughly $600 million. Thus, the first argument for relying on SNAP for eligibility verification is that doing so would save roughly $600 million in wasted administrative efforts.
$600 million is obviously a lot of savings. But as Kovacs goes on to note, the benefits of linking Lifeline to SNAP go beyond the monetary because:
It would provide automatic enrollment for low-income households that need Lifeline, and make it easier for them to apply the discount to the technology and provider of their choice. By making it easier for both providers and low-income households to participate in Lifeline, the FCC would also enhance competition.
With bipartisan support in Congress, the FCC now has a unique opportunity to completely overhaul and reshape the program for the 21st century. The central challenge is to add broadband as a Lifeline benefit without a significant increase in program costs. Tinkering with the existing program or making minor modifications to program administration at the edges will likely fail to deliver the promise of ubiquitous and modern high-speed broadband access for low-income consumers.
In today’s installments, our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman continues to focus on Special Access and regulations. Here he talks about what the U.S. can learn from a decade of empirical data collected by the European Union on wholesale access regulation.
Rounding out the discussion, Mehlman talks about the likely impacts of the FCC requiring that IP services replacing copper be offered to CLECs at wholesale rates.
I am always encouraged by the ways in which technology is improving the classroom experience for students around the country. Through network-enabled devices and high-speed broadband, students and their teachers are able to harness all the Internet has to offer, including apps and content sources that can improve educational outcomes and open doors of opportunity throughout the country.
Both in school and out, students are using mobile devices and the digital economy to explore new ideas and prepare for successful futures. Innovation in the technology industry has jump-started this introduction of technology into the educational experience for millions of students, and it is always worth pointing out some exciting examples of how technology is being put to use for educational innovation.
Just last week, Discovery Education and DirecTV joined the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to celebrate National Energy Awareness Month and ENERGY STAR® Day. This event was great. In addition to bringing students in to meet with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in person, the three organizations teamed up to provide a “virtual field trip” to schools around the country, which allowed them to tune in to watch the event remotely. By infusing technology into the event, more students not only watched the conversation, but joined it, bringing unique perspectives and questions from around the country.
Events like this show how important innovation in the technology sector is and why we need to continue to make the right kinds of regulatory and legislative choices that allow all players in this innovative industry to provide critical solutions and new offerings. Working together we can avoid false choices between arbitrary winners and losers. Just recently, the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) released their annual “Investment Heroes” report that showed that the technology industry was leading the pack when it comes to investments in America. As the EPA’s “virtual field trip” shows, this innovation is already changing educational models for the better, which has ripple effects throughout the economy.
While the PPI report illustrates the dollars being invested in the economy, the underlying story may be more important. These dollars are also investments in America’s students, schools and education system. When we deliver new tools and services to schools to open students’ eyes to the world around them, we are able to better prepare them for tomorrow’s workforce, giving them the skills they need to compete on a global scale.
Last week’s “virtual field trip” event sought to engage students in a conversation about being good stewards of the global environment. It is another great example of how technology solutions can be deployed to expose students to new ways of thinking about the world around them. The more we can innovate and deploy these kinds of solutions and ideas, the better off America’s students will be.
Is broadband a social determinant of health? Prominent health care leaders, practitioners, and researchers came together last week in Detroit to answer that question during a discussion that I co-moderated with Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Mignon Clyburn. The FCC Connect2Health Task Force’s Broadband Health Tech Forum was part of its “Beyond the Beltway” series, which is encouraging efforts to improve healthcare in communities across the nation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your zip code is a greater indicator of your health than your genetic code. Why? The quality and availability of care is vastly different based on where you live.
Low-income Americans are at a distinct disadvantage for managing chronic diseases, for example. Heart disease and diabetes are among the top 10 causes of death in the African-American community, and Latinos are challenged by a 66 percent higher rate of diabetes than Caucasians. Thankfully, there’s consensus that technology can go a long way toward closing the health divide.
The digital divide is directly linked to the health divide. Without Internet connectivity, people lack the tools that they need to become educated on critical health issues, to find nearby healthcare providers, and to take advantage of the exciting health applications and tools that are available. While some Americans with diabetes are using Internet-connected devices like AgaMatrix to monitor blood glucose, others are left in the dark. Broadband empowers underserved populations to take charge of their health.
One panelist pointed out that the digital divide is creating health problems in unexpected ways. Many Americans who lack broadband at home are going to the local McDonald’s to use the Internet. To do so, they’re required to purchase at least one item. Imagine how your health would be impacted if you were drinking super-sized soft drinks and eating Big Macs every time you wanted to check your email.
During the discussion in Detroit, Commissioner Clyburn emphasized the importance of adding broadband to the federal Lifeline program as part of the Commission’s reform efforts. Making the subsidy available for high-speed Internet will help close the digital divide and – bonus – concurrently shrink the health divide. Modernizing the Lifeline program is a key to improving access to health care services, regardless of socio-economic background or geographic location.
The goal of the Broadband Health Tech Forum in Detroit was to start a critical conversation that translates into action – and it appears that the event did just that. Panelists and audience members alike were inspired, vowing to stay connected and work together toward solutions. Broadband is a social determinant of health. In fact, it’s foundational for health equity.
Originally published byBloomberg BNA. Republished here with their permission.
Net Neutrality: Washington’s Chance at a Bi-Partisan Win-Win Solution
By Rick Boucher
Rick Boucher served in the US House for 28 years and chaired the House Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet. He is honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) and head of the government strategies practice at the law firm Sidley Austin.
Net neutrality. It’s the longest standing communications policy debate of the 21st Century, and a decade after it started, it’s still raging and far from resolved.
I share these observations as a Democrat and long-standing supporter of strong network neutrality protections and as a deeply involved participant in the writing of the Communications Act of 1996.
I’m motivated by a desire to put this controversy to rest on terms that would allow both Democrats and Republicans to declare victory and realize their main policy objectives and, coincidentally, strongly benefit the public interest.
Title II Vulnerability
First, why do I say that the controversy is far from resolved? After all, in the name of network neutrality protection, the FCC just reclassified broadband as a Title II common carrier service. Doesn’t reclassification of broadband resolve the controversy and assure network neutrality protection?
Actually, no. It has only escalated the controversy and jeopardized the future for net neutrality guarantees. In fact, reclassification of broadband is perhaps the most tenuous federal agency decision in recent memory given that it suffers from severe potential legal infirmities and enormous political risk.
I’ll be specific.
First, the FCC’s reclassification order is legally vulnerable. For starters, it flies in the face of the Communications Act of ‘96. In that law, we specifically created the category of “information services” to ensure that Internet service providers who use telecommunications to make information available to the public will not be subject to monopoly-style regulation designed for the era of wired telephones. Until this year’s reclassification decision, the FCC had consistently treated Internet access as an information service. Suddenly, the FCC has now reversed ground, ignored years of precedent and reclassified broadband as a telecommunications service so that it can protect network neutrality through telephone regulations descended from the 1930s.
The courts do not look kindly on abrupt agency reversals where long-held interpretations are suddenly thrown out the window without a clear indication of changed circumstances warranting the regulatory about-face. In this case, the underlying facts have not changed, and consistent with judicial precedent, the courts will hold the FCC’s feet to the fire on its decision to ignore and reverse a long-standing interpretation that defines broadband as an “information service.”
The courts will also examine the FCC’s deficient notice prior to the rule change, in which the agency failed to put a possible reclassification at the center of its rulemaking proceeding. That shortcoming may well have deprived interested parties of the opportunity to provide informed comments and presents a very real legal risk that the FCC’s decision will be overturned.
Avoidance of Political Risk
Yet, the ultimate risk to the FCC’s net neutrality decision may be political. Current polling indicates roughly a 50 percent chance that a Republican will win the presidency next year. If that happens, the FCC would revert to a three-to-two Republican majority, and it’s virtually certain that a new Republican FCC would return to the classification of broadband as an information service. Network neutrality protections would be lost, and philosophically the Republicans would have little interest in finding an alternate means to continue them.
The FCC’s reclassification order rests on a bed of sand, but one thing it has done is open the door to a legislative opportunity for Democrats to achieve their long-held goal of statutory permanence for network neutrality protections.
During the telecom debates of the past decade, Republicans have consistently opposed net neutrality legislation. Now, in the interest of obtaining lighter regulatory treatment for broadband as an information service, Republicans have signaled their willingness to enshrine meaningful network neutrality protections in a statute in return for not applying common carrier regulation to the Internet.
By accepting the Republican offer, Congressional Democrats would achieve their long-held goal of statutory permanence for network neutrality in exchange for a return of broadband to the information services status it has enjoyed since its inception for all but a few months of this year. Net neutrality guarantees would be virtually immune from legal challenge and far removed from political risk.
Why wouldn’t Democrats want to take advantage of this unique opportunity? It’s a true compromise: net neutrality regulations in statute, enforceable by the FCC, in exchange for a return to information services regulatory treatment of broadband, also in statute, as Republicans want. There’s no reason not to take the deal for either party and also thereby remind the FCC that no matter which party controls it, Congress is the ultimate arbiter of telecom policy.
The issues are crystallized. For the moment, both Democrats and Republicans enjoy roughly equal leverage, and each can give to the other the thing it wants the most. In that circumstance, even in a Congress not prone to legislating, the passage of a law is clearly possible.
As a Democrat and network neutrality proponent, this is a deal I hope the Democrats will accept.
In chart form, that gap in investment looks like this:
Downes also explores the levels of competition on either side of the pond, once again finding the U.S. — with its light-touch regulation — is far ahead of the E.U.:
Most damaging to an argument in favor of continuing the European policy of mandatory unbundling is the devastating impact that policy has had on infrastructure investment. Since 1996, and even during the most recent recession, private network operators in the U.S. have spent freely, racking up investments of $1.4 trillion — over 20% of the world’s total Internet infrastructure. The result is that the U.S. now has multiple high speed networks using a variety of wired and mobile technologies, including fiber optics, high-speed cable, VDSL (high-speed fiber/copper hybrid), 4G LTE and satellite.
Downes goes on to examine the differences in availability and adotion between the U.S. and E.U., so you should head on over the Harvard Business Review to get the full story. But for now, this section of his story sums matters up nicely:
The U.S. doesn’t have a perfectly functioning broadband market (or any other market), but a bi-partisan decision by Congress to leave broadband Internet access largely unregulated since 1996 has clearly worked better than the opposite approach taken by the Europeans. The European Commission is right to be working quickly to overhaul an obviously failed strategy.
In his debut post at Medium, our Co-Chairman Larry Irving writes about bringing the Lifeline program into the digital age. An excerpt:
The Lifeline Program, which was extended to wireless phones in 2005, now provides phone service to 14 million people. But times have changed, and the telephone no longer is the principle tool of communication for many Americans. Broadband Internet is now a critical part of our communications infrastructure. In 2015, broadband Internet is as essential as basic telephone service was in 1985. It is time that our Lifeline policies reflect that reality.
Fortunately, members of the FCC recognize the need for updating Lifeline policies. Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, in particular, have outlined thoughtful approaches that can help bring the Lifeline Program into the 21st Century.
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