Monday, November 10
Today, the President encouraged the FCC to reclassify and treat broadband Internet access as a “Title II”-regulated public utility, a model designed for rotary telephones. We agree on the need to preserve an Open Internet, but IIA believes the President’s approach creates unnecessary legal and market uncertainty that would jeopardize our world leading Internet-driven investment and innovation, and ultimately inhibit further high-speed broadband deployment to America’s consumers. We can and must preserve the open Internet, but Title II is the wrong approach that would put at risk the nation’s Internet economy that today remains the envy of the world.
Thursday, November 06
Our new white paper, “Bringing the FCC’s Lifeline Program into the 21st Century,” calls for fundamental reform of the Federal Communications Commission’s existing Lifeline Program to provide access and enhanced consumer choice to 21st Century broadband services for the nation’s low-income consumers.
“The FCC’s Lifeline Program is a 20th Century government program aimed at spreading a 19th Century technology, voice service. It’s time to start a new conversation in Washington on how best to provide America’s low-income communities with greater access to 21st Century broadband communications services.”
— former Congressman, and Honorary Chairman of IIA, Rick Boucher
In our report, we highlight how this antiquated, cumbersome and complex program currently perpetuates a market imbalance that obligates only wireline telephone providers to participate and maintain the administrative systems and processes required to operate the program.
We recommend streamlining the program to provide the flexibility necessary to broaden participation among various communications providers to help bring the benefits of competition to low-income consumers — more innovation, better service, lower prices—while also lowering administrative costs. One step toward attaining this goal is to transition the current program toward a voucher model, by providing eligible consumers with a “Lifeline Benefit Card” that empowers them to purchase a range of communications services, including broadband, wireline or wireless voice services.
Today, service providers determine the eligibility of consumers for the Lifeline subsidy. The white paper recommends that, given the economic incentives that service providers have to increase enrollment, eligibility determinations for Lifeline benefits and core program administration oversight should be performed by a governmental agency rather than by communications service providers.
Our report offers the following recommendations on how best to modernize and transition the Lifeline program so that it can help ensure next-generation broadband access for low-income consumers:
1. Bring the Lifeline Program into the 21st Century by making broadband a key part of the program’s rubric;
2. Empower consumers by providing the subsidy directly to eligible people instead of companies;
3. Level the playing field between service providers to broaden consumer choice and stimulate competition for their purchasing power;
4. Safeguard and simplify the program by taking administration away from companies that are not accountable to the American public, instead vesting that governmental responsibility with an appropriate government agency.
“Only five percent of U.S. consumers still rely solely on the antiquated, circuit-switched telephone network for their communications needs. This trend is reflected in the FCC’s Lifeline Program, with 80 percent of its dollars currently going to wireless carriers.
As consumers abandon their wireline telephones for modern broadband services, the Lifeline Program — adopted during the 1980s — should be modernized and upgraded to reflect the realities of the current IP-based world. Expanding the program to focus on broadband, and simplifying its administration to welcome participation by more service providers, will help millions more Americans access modern communications services.”
— former Congressman, and Honorary Chairman of IIA, Rick Boucher
Download “Bringing the FCC’s Lifeline Program into the 21st Century” (PDF)
Tuesday, November 04
Many proponents of “net neutrality” routinely declare the Internet sky is falling. That if the government — specifically, the Federal Communications Commission — doesn’t take far greater control of the Internet, then the very platform itself will all but collapse.
Such scare tactics may rile up Americans, but ironically, it’s the very solution proponents are now pushing that could deal the most devastating blow to the free and open Internet.
Title II reclassification may seem simple — just make the Internet a public utility! — but as a new paper from Anna-Maria Kovacs shows, reclassification would have far greater consequences for the Internet than its supporters let on.
Kovacs’ paper, “Regulations in Financial Translation: Investment Implications of the FCC’s Open Internet Proceeding,” is a dense 27-page read, but don’t let the length — or the dry academic title — deter you from digging in. In the paper, Kovacs takes the temperature of communication investors as the FCC continues to mull over reclassification. And while the majority of investors don’t expect the Commission to use the “nuclear option” of Title II, as it’s commonly known, that doesn’t mean they’re breathing easy. As Kovacs writes (all emphasis mine):
From the perspective of investors, Title II reclassification makes no sense. It does not solve the problem of paid prioritization that the vast majority of net neutrality advocates are demanding the FCC solve, but it carries the risk of enormous collateral damage to both infrastructure and edge providers. It would bring stultifying regulation that would choke the Internet ecosystem that has become on of the primary engines of economic growth for the U.S. and the world. It would encourage other governments to follow suit, endangering the success of American digital service — and application-providers abroad.
This stultifying regulation, Kovacs rightly argues, would be especially brutal to mobile broadband investment, where America leads the rest of the world by leaps and bounds. Kovacs again:
U.S. mobile Internet traffic is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 50% per year between 2013 and 2018. Keeping up with that traffic will require ongoing capital investments as well as additional spectrum. During 2014-2015, mobile broadband Internet access providers (mobile BIAs) are expected to raise about $57 billion for spectrum purchases, as indicated by the FCC’s reserve price for the 2014 AWS-3 auction and the Greenhill report’s valuation of the broadcast spectrum the FCC hopes to sell in early 2016. That $57 billion is, of course, in addition to the $68 billion in capital investments that mobile BIAs will spend over those two years. Thus, for the FCC’s spectrum auctions to be successful, mobile BIAs will need to raise 84% more funding during 2014-2015 that they do in normal years. With increased price competition and a shrinking revenue base — something the wireline industry has endured for years but that is new to wireless — these companies are facing an increasingly skeptical investment community that will have little tolerance for regulatory shock, on either the fixed or mobile side.
That’s a whole lot of numbers (and acronyms) to digest, but boiled down it means a) Providers need more spectrum; b) Billions will need to be raised to purchase that spectrum; c) Investment dollars could easily dry up in the face of regulatory actions like reclassifying under Title II.
Kovacs goes on in the paper to make the case that the FCC has sufficient authority to ensure the Internet remains open under section 706, which makes it possible for the Commission to create rules specifically for this purpose. While those rules would still face judicial review, they would also keep the FCC (which, remember, is made up of appointed officials) from overreach. In contrast, Kovacs points out, Title II…
...automatically invokes price regulation, resale and interconnection obligations, customer privacy rules, and numerous other obligations, which have been implemented via many thousands of regulations at the FCC and various state commissions.
Thousands of government regulations. Does that sound like a free and open Internet?
But what about forbearance, the provision with mythical powers that Title II proponents point to as a counterpoint to the excessive regulations argument? Well, Kovacs makes plain why the idea of the FCC using forbearance powers doesn’t sit well with investors:
While the FCC is allowed to forbear from some of those obligations if it can justify the forbearance to the courts, investors who have watched the attempts of ILECs to obtain forbearance are all too aware of the difficulties of that process. For example, investors have watched ILECs lose most of their market share yet still be treated by the FCC and state commissioners as if they were dominant carriers for PSTN voice service. As a result, they have little faith that the FCC would apply Title II to BIAs but then forbear from all the regulations that come with that.
Look, when it comes down to it, we all want the Internet to remain open. It’s in the best interest of consumers and providers to keep it that way. But we also need to keep investment dollars flowing into our communications infrastructure. As Kovacs’ paper shows, Title II won’t really do either. Instead, it could have the complete opposite effect. Want the Internet sky to fall? Saddle it with regulations created when Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office.
Tuesday, October 28
In an interview at an event thrown by tech site Re/code, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki dropped some info on just how big the site has become:
One nugget that Wojcicki shared was that 50 percent of YouTube views are now coming from mobile devices. She also said that the site is growing 50 percent each year in terms of watch time (although she conceded that YouTube watch time still doesn’t come close to the average amount of time consumers watch TV each day).
All told, it’s estimated YouTube generates something like $5 billion a year in ad revenue. Given the company’s growth, that number is sure to go up.
As the net neutrality debate continues to percolate, AT&T has submitted an innovative idea. As Julian Hattem of The Hill reports:
Company officials last week met with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lawyers to argue that the agency should not ban Internet “fast lanes” that individual users want placed on their service.
For instance, a business might want to give workers faster access to certain websites over others when traffic gets clogged, to incentivize employees to stay on task rather than surf the web, AT&T argued.
“To preemptively and categorically block consumers from making these types of choices over their own Internet access connection before anyone even knows what the service might look like would needlessly stifle innovation and deny consumers the ability to tailor their own Internet service to their own needs,” AT&T said in an FCC filing summarizing its meeting.
Letting users control which, if any, traffic gets priority (for instance, Netflix) has the potential to quiet the fears that mammoth companies, rather than consumers, will dictate the future of the Internet.
Wednesday, October 22
At an event yesterday in College Station, Texas, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai called for the Commission to be more transparent when it comes to the thorny issue of net neutrality. Via The Hill‘s Julian Hattem:
“I was disappointed when the FCC decided to hold each one of its recent net neutrality roundtable discussions at our Washington headquarters,” he said at the start of the forum hosted by the George Bush School of Government and Public Service. “And that’s why I wish that my colleagues were here with me today.”
“On this issue and other critical issues, the FCC shouldn’t be hiding in our nation’s capital,” he added.
Kudos to Commissioner Pai for bringing this discussion out of the Beltway himself. Regardless of which side of the net neutrality debate you fall on, we can all agree that more transparency and openness from the FCC would benefit everyone.
For a glimpse of how government meddling in the Internet can be detrimental to consumers, check out Hungary. As David Meyer of GigaOm reports:
Hungarian internet service providers will be forced to pay a new “internet tax” on the data use they enable, if the country’s parliament passes a new tax bill.
Reports suggest that this bill will go through, as the ruling Fidesz party has a two-thirds parliamentary majority. It would levy a tax of 150 forints, or around 62 U.S. cents, on every gigabyte of data used by ISPs’ customers – an internet-focused extension of an existing tax on phone calls and text messages.
As many fear the ISPs will pass the costs on to their customers, Hungarian internet users are predictably apoplectic, and some have reportedly planned demonstrations for this coming weekend.
Tuesday, October 14
Earlier today, our own Rick Boucher joined the Kojo Nnamdi Show on Washington D.C.‘s WAMU to discuss the transition to all-IP networks and what that will mean for communication and innovation. Check out an archive of the conversation here.
Thursday, October 09
If you missed our event today with the Pew Research Center, you can watch the archived video below.
Wednesday, October 08
In an op-ed for Roll Call, Bret Swanson — President of Entropy Economics and one of our Broadband Ambassadors — argues that even the so-called Title II ‘Lite’ could have disastrous results. An excerpt:
In a new legal analysis, in fact, the Phoenix Center says “Title II Lite” is an impossibility. Any imposition of Title II on broadband, Phoenix argues, will bring tariffing and thus price controls to the entire net. It will convert all edge providers, by definition, into customers of the broadband service providers. And the FCC will not, contra the “lite” advocates’ assertions, be able to forbear from the numerous and weighty rules of Title II.
Law allows for forbearance — itself a long and convoluted process — if there is competition. The FCC, however, has defined the BSPs as “terminating monopolies” — Comcast, in other words, has a monopoly on Comcast customers. Competition is thus impossible and therefore, argues Phoenix, is forbearance. Because of the complex, interconnected nature of the net, where software and content firms are also network firms, and vice versa, where consumers are also content providers, the inability to forbear would mean Title II spreading across every node and layer of the net and likely affecting the entire ecosystem.