Monday, February 24
February being Black History Month, our Co-Chairman Larry Irving has penned an op-ed for The Root looking back at efforts to close the digital divide. An excerpt:
Secretary Brown was a firm supporter of the e-rate proposal that provided low-cost Internet connectivity to schools and libraries across America. He worked to develop policies and establish grant programs designed to connect schools, libraries, hospitals and rural health clinics. It’s a straight line from Secretary Brown’s commitment to connecting schools to the Internet two decades ago to the ConnectEd program the Obama administration supports today. Secretary Brown understood that, particularly in the early days of the Internet, millions of Americans would have their first experience with the Web in public institutions, and he fought to ensure those institutions had the resources they needed to serve their public.
Perhaps most importantly, he understood that there was a “digital divide,” and that it was the role of government to assist industry in bridging that divide. The digital divide would have been deeper and more pervasive but for Secretary Brown.
It is his signature on the front page of the first report defining the digital divide and stating that we, as a nation, have an obligation to ensure that all Americans have access to essential technological tools. He knew that with government and industry working together and with the formulation of smart policies, we could drive Internet connectivity rates higher. In slightly more than two decades, we have gone from 2 million people with access to the Internet to almost 3 billion people having access worldwide. Much of that growth is the result of the vision and the work of Ron Brown.
Today we are at another technological inflection point, another time of great disruption. The mobile revolution and the so-called “IP transition” promise to be even more disruptive than the cable revolution and the Internet revolution. And they promise to provide great opportunity for the smart and the agile. Women and men of vision must step forward to embrace these twin revolutions and work to ensure that these new technological tools are used to improve education, increase access to health care and fitness tools and provide for greater productivity and economic opportunity for our community.
Check out Irving’s full op-ed at The Root.
Friday, February 21
We’re excited to announce we’ve added another stellar name to our Broadband Ambassadors. Kristian Ramos is a Public Relations Strategist with experience working with both the House and Senate. His most recent gig was with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Earlier this week, Ramos penned a piece for the Huffington Post on the need to update the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Here’s an excerpt:
Our new younger and ethnically diverse populations are already interacting with broadband in a huge way. For example according to Nielson, Hispanic consumers adopt smartphones at a higher rate than any other demographic group and watch more hours of videos online and on their mobile phones than the average American. But we need them and other segments of our new America to engage more in the opportunities that broadband technologies provide.
In order to ensure that these new broadband apps and services continue to benefit consumers, Hispanics or otherwise, one aspect must be addressed - what is the proper regulatory framework that should be in place to provide the best incentives for creators to innovate and for carriers to build out nationwide all broadband networks? How do we reach more of our diverse nation?
Check out Ramos’ full op-ed at the Huffington Post.
Wednesday, February 19
There’s nothing like a little international competition to motivate action. Take Sputnik. Or JKF’s “missile gap.” Or Finland’s recent schooling of the time-to-watch-from-the-sidelines Olympic hockey team.
The battle over global broadband offers a prime example, Washington-style. Many broadband boosters here in our nation’s capital lament a Bandwidth Gap with other nations, including many in the European Union. Some have even suggested that Europe offers the best model for future American broadband policy.
It is worth observing, however, that many European experts disagree. For example, in September European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes lamented:
The world envied Europe as we pioneered the global mobile industry in the early 1990s (GSM), but our industry often has no home market to sell to (for example, 4G). Consumers miss out on latest improvements or their devices lack the networks needed to be enjoyed fully. These problems hurt all sectors and rob Europe of jobs it badly needs. EU companies are not global internet players… 4G/LTE reaches only 26% of the European population. In the US one company alone (Verizon) reaches 90%!”
This Battle of the Bandwidth is nicely highlighted in a new report from AEI’s Roslyn Layton that focuses on the important contrasts between European and American broadband policy. Those differences are profound, focusing on incentives for private investment. Only 2% of European households subscribe to Internet services offering connections faster than 100Mbps, according to the EU’s 2013 Digital Agenda Scoreboard. While Europe’s share of broadband investment is less than 20%, the U.S. attracts 25% with a smaller population — per capita investment here is double that in Europe. The EU estimates that it faces a shortfall of €110–170 billion ($150–230 billion) by 2020 if it is to reach its connectivity goals.
In America that money is being put to work, most aggressively by those facing the least legacy regulation, such as IP networks, cable networks and wireless. Such light-touch regulation has fueled robust intermodal competition in the development and deployment of next-generation broadband networks to satisfy a seemingly bottomless consumer appetite.
Those who criticize the state of broadband in our nation typically focus only on one technology, fiber to the home, and choose to ignore the vibrant intermodal competition — such as cable, wireless — that has delivered cutting edge broadband services that are available to millions of Americans, yet largely unavailable to Europeans.
Some criticize America’s delivery broadband service in comparison to the Nordic countries in Europe. Yet, a closer look reveals that the successes in these countries may actually be a result of having policies that look similar to the policies here at home. As Layton notes, Denmark, a country with high broadband penetration, has demonstrated two keys for success:
1. Technological agnosticism. No one broadband technology is favored over another.
2. Market-led broadband development. The government does not decide which technology citizens should have, nor does it give government subsidies for broadband deployment.
Layton’s right. It’s time to put the “Europe is better” argument to rest. Ultra-fast broadband for everyone sustained and serious levels of investment, enabled by policies that promote investment and competition.
The numbers are in, and when it comes to CAP EX spending, cable and wireless providers are once again stepping up this year, according to Investor’s Business Daily. The majority of that investment will be going to improving and modernizing networks, whether it’s fixed or mobile broadband. Good news for consumers, and even better news for the economy as a whole.
We’re excited to announce a new video series we’ve put together that we’re calling “Let’s Get Nerdy.” The goal is to take tech policy issues that are currently top of mind in our nation’s capital and explain how they are relevant to Americans across the map. With a series of questions, an expert will guide us through a deep-dive into the topic of the month.
For our first installment, we interviewed a lawmaking legend (who also happens to be our Honorary Chairman), former Congressman Rick Boucher. Congressman Boucher was a key participant in the construction of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and here he answers three questions about a huge initiative being spearheaded by the House Energy & Commerce Committee to update the Telecommunications Act to reflect the technology of today.
Ready to get nerdy? Let’s go!
At the Silicon Flatirons conference, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler shared this excerpt from the book Digital Crossroads. “When, in 1996, Congress last enacted major revisions to the [Telecommunications] Act, it did not clearly foresee the rise of broadband Internet access services, let alone their eventual centrality to all forms of electronic communications.” What did the market look like in 1996, and how has it changed?
In a recent editorial for The Hill newspaper, you pointed out that most consumers — essentially, anyone who has a cellphone or who gets telephone service from a cable provider — have already made the switch to 21st century high-speed broadband networks without government action. What role can Congress and the FCC play to accelerate and complete the so-called IP (or Internet Protocol) Transition?
The IP Transition is fundamental to the mobile revolution of which we’re all a part. Consumers have proven that they have an insatiable thirst for wireless services that run on the limited, invisible airwaves known as spectrum. As it looks to update the Telecommunications Act, what can the House Energy & Commerce Committee do to help ensure that carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint have the spectrum needed to keep up with consumer demand?
Our thanks to Congressman Boucher for sharing his unique perspective on regulatory modernization as a key architect of the ‘96 Telecommunications Act. Until next time, stay nerdy!
Thursday, February 13
Hmmm… not much happening out there today — WAITASECOND!
Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) today announced that their Boards of Directors have approved a definitive agreement for Time Warner Cable to merge with Comcast. The agreement is a friendly, stock-for-stock transaction in which Comcast will acquire 100 percent of Time Warner Cable’s 284.9 million shares outstanding for shares of CMCSA amounting to approximately $45.2 billion in equity value. Each Time Warner Cable share will be exchanged for 2.875 shares of CMCSA, equal to Time Warner Cable shareholders owning approximately 23 percent of Comcast’s common stock, with a value to Time Warner Cable shareholders of approximately $158.82 per share based on the last closing price of Comcast shares. The transaction will generate approximately $1.5 billion in operating efficiencies and will be accretive to Comcast’s free cash flow per share while preserving balance sheet strength. The merger will also be tax free to Time Warner Cable shareholders.
This transaction will create a leading technology and innovation company, differentiated by its ability to deliver ground-breaking products on a superior network while leveraging a national platform to create operating efficiencies and economies of scale.
Comcast and Time Warner Cable are the two biggest cable providers in America, so of course this proposed deal is going to receive heavy scrutiny. As The Hill‘s Kate Tummarello writes:
The deal would bring Comcast’s total number of subscribers to 30 million, with the company gaining 8 million subscribers from Time Warner. But as a part of the deal, Comcast also agreed to sell off systems that serve 3 million subscribers.
Top antitrust lawmakers vowed to examine the acquisition closely.
In a statement, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) — chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce’s Subcommittee on Antitrust — said they will hold a hearing on the proposed merger.
“This proposed merger could have a significant impact on the cable industry and affect consumers across the country,” Klobuchar said, adding that she will “carefully scrutinize the details of this merger and its potential consequences for both consumers and competition.”
This is going to be a long regulatory battle, so buckle up. The full Comcast statement about the deal is here.
Tuesday, February 11
Any update to the Communications Act will take a while to make happen, especially since — as Julian Hattern for The Hill highlights today — the Senate is unlikely to get started soon:
The Senate won’t be following the House’s lead this year to overhaul the sweeping law regulating the TV, radio and other communications services, which has not been updated since the rapid growth of the Internet.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has begun to probe ways to bring the Communications Act into the 21st Century, but Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said on Tuesday that the Senate Commerce Committee, of which he is a member, probably won’t be following suit in 2014.
“I doubt we’ll do anything this year but I know that the House has been saying that they want to open that and certainly we’ll be seeing what they want to do,” said Pryor, chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on Communications, at a winter meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in Washington.
Still, any step toward updating the relic of an Act is a positive one. As our own Rick Boucher — who played a major part in the last update of the Communications Act — wrote in a recent op-ed for Roll Call. As Boucher wrote:
Today, the FCC is both catching up and leading. It must catch up to the large majority of Americans who have made their own personal transition to smartphones, tablets and other devices that provide 24/7 connectivity to the Internet and its treasure trove of information and entertainment. At the same time, the agency also must lead by joining Congress in crafting an updated regulatory framework that supports continued innovation and network expansion and extending a helping hand to guide the minority of Americans who have not yet joined the digital world.
To complete the journey, Congress and the FCC must clear the road of outdated rules that made sense for the telephone monopoly era of the 20th century but which now slow the shift to the multitasking digital networks of the future. For example, the old rules require local phone companies to invest billions of dollars every year in the old voice telephone network that droves of Americans abandon every day. Every dollar spent on the aging, single-purpose analog phone system consumers are fleeing is one less dollar invested in multifunctional modern digital networks consumers prefer.
Friday, February 07
A lot can change in 18 years. Case in point: The way we communicate now compared to how we did it back in 1996, when Congress last gave the Telecommunications Act an overhaul.
To see just how much things have changed on the technology front since 1996, check out our post at BuzzFeed titled “18 Nearly Unrecognizable Things From 18 Years Ago.” To entice you, know that it includes things like this:
Thursday, February 06
Back in 1996, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher played a major role in crafting the Telecommunications Act. For the Act’s 18th anniversary, he penned an op-ed for The Hill arguing that outdated regulations and the shift to broadband-based networks need to be the focus of any Act going forward. As Boucher writes:
The ’96 Act accomplished everything we intended. It unleashed a golden era of competition, service improvements, technological advancements and massive investments in high-speed broadband-capable networks. With the right public policies in place — policies favoring investments and newer technologies consumers want — this golden age will continue for all Americans.
The transition to IP networks, and the policy modernization that will accompany it, represent the largest telecom changes since the ’96 Act. It’s going to be an exciting several years.
Check out Boucher’s full op-ed at The Hill.
In a piece for TechWire, our very own Co-Chairman Larry Irving highlights the promise of “big data,” and argues it will take a strong public-private partnership to fully tap its potential. Here’s a taste:
We are still in early days of the Big Data era. Many of the issues that might inhibit increased use of Big Data for pro-social purposes (privacy, security, availability and reliability of data sources) will have to be addressed for governmental and corporate purposes if we are going to continue to use big data effectively. But in these early days of the Big Data era we have the opportunity to develop this emerging field with societal goals at the front of the equation rather than as an afterthought. And, if corporations, governments, non-profits and foundations work in a coordinated fashion we can harness the power of Big Data to make significant inroads in areas such as health care, climate control, energy consumption, clean water and education. If we get this right, we can reduce costs for and increase productivity of the organizations tackling the hardest issues on our planet. Working together, we can leverage Big Data to solve the world’s biggest issues.
Check out the full piece over at TechWire.