Tuesday, February 04
The Obama administration has long made connecting schools with high-speed Internet a priority. Now, following the most recent State of the Union address when President Obama announced a private-public partnership to do just that, everything is starting to come together. As Justin Sink of The Hill reports:
President Obama is set Tuesday to announce more than $750 million in charitable commitments from technology and telecom companies for a new effort to bring high-speed Internet to the classroom.
Speaking at a middle school in suburban Maryland on Tuesday, Obama will announce “major progress toward realizing the ConnectED goal to get high-speed Internet connectivity and educational technology into classrooms, and into the hands of teachers trained on its advantages,” the White House said in a statement.
Among those contributing are major providers AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint — each pledging up to $100 million — along with tech companies Apple, Microsoft, and more. From AT&T’s statement announcing their contribution:
“The most important investment we can make to drive long-term prosperity for our country is finding smart new ways to make technology work for schools, teachers and students,” said Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president, AT&T external and legislative affairs. “Providing access to mobile broadband for educational purposes and the tools teachers need to help their students excel is a foundational building block to improving educational results.”
Given that at least 70% of American schools are unable to offer all their students access to high-speed Internet, this is a pretty big deal.
Monday, February 03
Rick Boucher, honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), today released his recommendations on modernization of communications industry regulation, in response to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s request for input on the future of the law. Boucher served for 28 years in the House of Representatives, where he chaired the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet and was a key architect of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
“Since 1996, the way in which consumers receive communications services of all kinds has dramatically transformed,” explained Boucher. “Today’s laws severely lag technological and marketplace advancements—comprehensive statutory telecommunications reform for the 21st Century is vital.”
In December, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden launched a comprehensive #CommActUpdate, including a series of white papers as the first step toward rewriting the laws governing the communications and technology sector. To read the first white paper released on January 8, visit http://1.usa.gov/1iVVvBE.
During the last significant revision of the Communications Act 18 years ago, telephone companies offered telephone service through signals delivered over circuit-switched networks; cable companies used coaxial cables to deliver multi-channel video service; the wireless industry was in its adolescence; and the Internet was in an early stage of commercial use. Today, telephone, cable and wireless companies offer the combination of voice, video, and data to their customers in digital format over packet-routed networks that employ Internet Protocol (IP); there are more wireless than wireline communications customers; and the use of the Internet for the delivery of information of all kinds is becoming ubiquitous.
“A date should be set by the end of this decade to ‘sunset’ the public switched network and replace it with Internet-based communications platforms that are highly efficient, scalable , resilient and readily capable of handling voice, data or video communications,” commented Boucher.
Boucher recommends that the Committee initiate legislative reforms that:
1. Recognize the pervasive and rapidly developing role of broadband networks in the delivery of modern communications and the urgent need for deregulatory parity among similarly situated broadband service providers.
2. Reaffirm the current light-touch regulatory approach to broadband that broadly stimulates investment in networks and promotes both job creation and innovation.
3. Realign the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) regulatory structure to match current marketplace and technological realities, recognizing today’s cross-platform competition in which telephone, cable and wireless carriers compete head-to-head in the provision of voice, video, and data services.
4. Eliminate existing duplicative or unnecessary functions at the FCC, including its duplication of the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission’s role in reviewing communications merger transactions.
5. Enable the near-term reallocation of significant swaths of government-held spectrum for commercial auction to help address the existing spectrum deficit facing commercial wireless carriers.
6. Facilitate secondary market transactions among spectrum holders and encourage streamlined processes to enhance the efficiency of spectrum use as additional mechanisms to address the nation’s spectrum crisis.
To review Boucher’s recommendations on addressing modern communications policy needs in full, visit here.
Thursday, January 30
Says FCC-monitored trials will bring the nation one step closer to completing the transition to 21st Century modern broadband-enabled communications networks
WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 30, 2014 – Responding to today’s Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) action to “authorize voluntary experiments to measure the impact on consumers of technology transitions in communications networks,” the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) today issued the following statement:
“In launching a national framework for local trials of state-of-the-art broadband networks, the FCC ushers in the dawn of a new era of expanded consumer benefits and increased economic growth. Accelerating the ‘fourth network revolution’ will help unleash consumer benefits in education, healthcare, energy, business and rural development.
“We applaud the FCC’s new framework that enables stakeholders to address—in an open and transparent manner—the challenges posed by the nationwide move to next-generation broadband networks and creates an opportunity to establish consumer protections to ensure we ‘leave no one behind’ and pave the way for an easy and rapid transition for America’s consumers and businesses.
“We hope that, in the days ahead, the FCC’s vision for local market trials will mean more rapid deployment of next-generation networks that provide new broadband choices, better products, services and devices with enhanced functionality. Upgrading the nation’s communications infrastructure will fuel our economy, maximize investment and promote America’s global competitiveness. Conducting geographically-limited, closely-monitored IP demonstrations with consumer protections in place will build on the momentum of two-thirds of American households already choosing to live in an all-IP world.”
Wednesday, January 29
Our own Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons has an op-ed for The Hill highlighting the need to connect our kids with high-speed broadband. Here’s a taste:
I grew up in Detroit during the de-industrialization of America in the 1970s and 80s. Despite our collective idealization of the old days of manufacturing when men like my grandfather could raise a family of six on his blue collar auto plant wages, that world is not coming back.
Instead we must prepare our children for the jobs of the future that will require more skills and a willingness to keep adapting throughout their careers. Consumers spent over $2 trillion dollars on IT products and services in 2013, and one study reported that Apple paid app developers $5 billion dollars, Google $900 million and Microsoft $100 million. Yet despite our increasing diversity, another study found 83 percent of tech startups’ founding teams are all-white; 5 percent Asian and 1 percent African American. Only 10 percent of startup founders are women. Allowing those trends to continue is bad for the tech industry, bad for the people being left out and bad for the economic prospects of the United States. Much like the gene pool of families that intermarry over generations, our country’s innovative DNA will deteriorate without diversifying beyond the narrow band of elites now setting the pace in the tech industry.
You can read the full op-ed over at The Hill.
Sprint and T-Mobile have been doing the merger dance for a few months now, but as Ben Munson of Wireless Week reports, it’s likely to be an uphill climb:
U.S. Justice Department officials told Sprint CEO Dan Hesse and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son that any potential Sprint/T-Mobile merger would be met with “skepticism.”
The Wall Street Journal spoke with individuals briefed on the conversation who said the meeting reinforced Son’s seriousness in making the merger happen.
Last night, President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union Address. One highlight from his speech was a renewed pledge to connect every school in America with high-speed Internet. As Kevin Fitchard of GigaOm reports:
Last year, Obama announced a program to extend broadband access to 99 percent of schools over four years, and on Tuesday he said the administration is working with the Federal Communications Commission, Verizon, Sprint, Apple and Microsoft to fund such a project. According to the White House, details of these “philanthropic partnerships” will be released in coming weeks and will help connect 15,000 schools and 20 million students with wireless and wireline broadband in the next two years.
The Hill‘s Julian Hattem has more:
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the commission has made a point to make the program as efficient as possible.
“By applying business-like management practices to E-Rate, we can take steps this year that will make existing funds go farther to significantly increase our investment in high-speed broadband connectivity for schools and libraries for the benefit of our students and teachers,” he said in a statement after Obama’s remarks.
“In the Internet age, every student in America should have access to state-of-the-art educational tools, which are increasingly interactive, individualized and bandwidth-intensive,” Wheeler added.
Thursday, January 23
Last week, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology began the long march toward a new Telecommunications Act, which hasn’t been updated since 1996.
If you tuned in, you probably asked yourself why it’s taken so long to kick-start the process — a fair question given how much the Internet has changed since new episodes of Seinfeld were on the air. While the 1996 Act was certainly effective in creating America’s broadband boom, like all legislation it has quickly been eclipsed by the speed of technology. If the lawmakers who penned the Act had anticipated something like Netflix or the iPhone would arrive in less than 20 years, they probably would’ve made some edits. They would also probably be billionaires by now.
That’s not a jab at the men and women behind the 1996 Act — a roster of lawmakers that included our own Rick Boucher — but rather, a reflection of the seismic shift that has occurred in our lives since the Act was signed into law. High-speed Internet has become such a powerhouse in our daily lives that for many of us it’s hard remember life offline. And now that most of us now carry a computer disguised as a phone in our pocket — a computer that’s always connected via mobile broadband — another major shift is underway. One that will certainly help shape the next Telecom Act.
That shift is the transition from the old telephone network to high-speed broadband based networks, which the FCC has announced will begin with test trials in pockets of America. What’s interesting about the transition is it’s both a major change and a minor one. It’s major because it’s nothing less than a complete overhaul of our communications infrastructure. At the same time, it’s minor because for many of us, the transition has already happened. Get your phone service from your cable and Internet provider? You’ve made the transition. Is your home wireless only? You’ve made the transition.
While the IP Transition wasn’t the major focus of the House hearing this past week, the path that brought us to this point was well represented. The testimonies of former FCC Chairmen Richard Wiley and Michael Powell in particular highlighted how a light regulatory touch has brought about the arrival of a high-speed broadband world. As Wiley told the Subcommittee in his prepared remarks, “The  Act’s purpose was as simple in theory as it was complex in implementation: to provide for a pro-competitive, deregulatory national policy framework designed to accelerate the deployment of advanced services and open all telecom markets to competition.”
When examined that way, the 1996 Act was a smashing success. But as both Wiley and Powell pointed out in their testimony, the key to that success was avoiding the ever-present urge among policymakers to wield a heavy regulatory hammer. “Any consideration of a new Communications Act should be guided by the oath to ‘first do no harm,’” Powell told the Subcommittee, adding: “The communications infrastructure and market in this country have thrived, in stark contrast to the challenges with the power grid, or the transportation system.”
That same spirit of ‘first do no harm’ will be critical as we transition to next-generation broadband networks, particularly since the transition will mean the expansion of broadband access to millions of Americans. That’s a goal we can all get behind, and it’s one that will take billions in private investment to achieve.
Ensuring those billions flow means regulators and policymakers should do all they can to enable the private sector to invest and deploy high-speed broadband. That means moving quickly to kick off transition trials in local markets — something the FCC has already signaled its willingness to do — and revisiting existing rules that may slow the transition down.
“[T]he reality is that the government has great difficulty in writing laws or promulgating regulations that can keep pace with advancing technology,” Wiley told the Subcommittee, “especially so in a dynamic and ever-changing industry like communications.” While the former FCC Chairman was talking specifically about the Telecom Act, his words of warning also apply to the IP Transition. Whatever form the next Act ultimately takes, it will be signed into law in an all-IP world.
Here’s hoping regulators play their part in the IP Transition in a way that reflects the realities of our vibrant and competitive communications industry. More investment means better networks and increased access to broadband. And all it will take to get there is the type of light regulatory touch that got us here in the first place.
Tuesday, January 21
At the Minority Media and Telecom Council’s 5th Annual Broadband and Social Justice Summit last Thursday, former FCC Chairman William Kennard recounted several stories from his life and recent service as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. The central point of his talk — which also happens to be a good guidepost for policymaking in our ever-diversifying America — was that we may have come in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.
Kennard wasn’t the only one at the MMTC summit to extol the virtues of our diverse democracy. Nor was he alone in highlighting the necessity of keeping the doors open for everyone to participate in the broadband economy. Michael Powell, FCC Chairman under George W. Bush, said getting started on the multi-year process of drafting a new Telecommunications Act, which hasn’t been touched since 1996, would address our modern challenges.
That goal is fraught with complications and the danger of regulatory overreach.
Current FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn addressed another crucial step using the same let’s get going framework. The transition to all-IP networks, she told attendees, will kick-start the next wave of innovation, and the FCC should enable a smart process that makes sure everyone benefits and safety concerns are met. Meanwhile, Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton highlighted how high-speed and high-capacity broadband in classrooms across America through the E-Rate and ConnectED programs will help the next generation of Americans be ready for the next generation of jobs.
It wasn’t all policy talk at this year’s summit, however, as innovation — and the benefits of access to high-speed Internet — were well represented by students from the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science. Highlighting its focus on encouraging kids to pursue their coding dreams, the school presented apps students are developing. But instead of ideas common among Stanford educated hipsters in San Francisco like restaurant recommendations or presentation sharing apps, these Washington, DC kids’ apps were focused on issues like combating obesity, more efficient garbage pickup and, tragically, trying to locate missing girls of color because the news media spends so little time focused on them. America could use the innovative talents of more kids like these.
We may all be in the same boat today, but the students from Howard Middle School — and millions of other kids across the country — will soon be in one we can’t even begin to imagine. That means our job is to make the critical investments in broadband today to ensure their future boat is built for speed.
Friday, January 17
Just before the end of 2013, the New York Times published the article “U.S. Struggles to Keep Pace in Delivering Broadband Service,” a piece that compared broadband deployment in the States with the likes of the Latvian capital of Riga and Seoul, South Korea.
The problem is, the article failed to do justice to the success of U.S. broadband providers in serving customers. It was also misleading in its use of Riga and Seoul as the standard for broadband measurement; the article could as easily have cited Kansas City, with its 1 gigabit speeds, and found the rest of the world to be inadequate in comparison.
Here’s a better gauge of broadband deployment: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration reports that the U.S., despite its vast geography and dispersed cities, has higher average speeds and lower prices than Europe generally. In fact, entry-level broadband pricing in the U.S. is the second lowest globally, behind Israel, according to the International Telecommunications Union.
I wasn’t the only one baffled by the Times’ approach. At this morning’s AEI Tech Policy Summit, Roslyn Layton, Ph.D. of the Center for Communications, Media and Information Technologies — who also lives in Denmark — tackled the Times’ article directly, telling attendees, “I always hear that everything is better in Europe… there are pockets of next-generation service, but it’s hardly a ‘utopia.’”
Layton also highlighted the fact that U.S. broadband investment is two times greater than investment in the European Union, and that, as she put it, “The U.S. is getting one quarter of all the money being invested in broadband networks across the world.”
That’s a lot of investment, and as a result of all that private money flowing into networks, America now has both fixed and wireless broadband systems that are fast, robust, and affordable – all thanks to a light-touch regulatory framework that encouraged some $1.2 trillion in investment since 1996, with billions more expected as more spectrum is made available for wireless broadband. In contrast, Europe’s highly-regulatory, leased access regime has limited broadband infrastructure investment and slowed deployment of next-generation networks.
Riga and Seoul may have faster speeds, but when it comes to deployment of broadband, they’re anomalies rather than benchmarks. Contrary to the inference in the Times’ article, the U.S., with its pro-investment regulatory policy, has eclipsed all of Europe in both network speed and affordability. That’s not a struggle, it’s a success.
Tuesday, January 14
Wall Street and K Street are separated by a mere 225 miles, but for many companies they are worlds apart. In particular, industry observers would do well to compare everything said to policymakers with statements by the same competitors made to Wall Street investors. Defense companies, for example, warned policymakers that sequestion would spell the death of the defense industry, yet defense stocks more than doubled since the law prescribing the spending cuts was passed and defense players figured out how to deal with the changes, as they promised Wall Street they would. Telecom companies likewise present sometimes radically-divergent world views on K Street and Wall Street.
Take Sprint. In a January 7 filing at the FCC, Sprint argued that the special access market “in almost every part of the country does not support competition for core DS-1, DS-3 and similarly sized Ethernet channel termination facilities [.]” Sounds pretty dire. Unfortunately, in its conversation with the FCC, Sprint failed to include some other important facts it shared with its understandably-bullish investors. Specifically:
• Two years ago, Sprint entered the market for competitive alternatives for their back haul services to replace incumbent telephone company special access in its network – under the project name “Network Vision.”;
• Sprint initiated a competitive bidding process for its “Network Vision” project that it expected to have 25-30 “significant backhaul providers.”
• Following the competitive bid process, Sprint awarded numerous contracts for their backhaul services to competitive backhaul providers. In fact, in a filing at the FCC, Verizon confirmed that it bid for Sprint’s backhaul business in this process, yet was awarded only 6% of Sprint’s backhaul sites in Verizon’s incumbent telephone company footprint.
• Sprint recently provided details regarding its Network Vision project to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and noted in its 2013 10-K filing that “Network Vision will encompass approximately 38,000 cell sites. We have more than 13,500 sites on-air and have launched LTE in 88 cities. Further deployments of Network Vision technology, including LTE market launches and enhancements of our 3G technology, are expected to continue through the middle of 2014. We expect Network Vision to bring financial benefit to the Company through migration to one common network, which is expected to reduce network maintenance and operating costs through capital efficiencies, reduced energy costs, lower roaming expenses, backhaul savings, and reduction in total cell sites.
• In short, Sprint told the SEC not only that Network Vision was proceeding but that it expected further deployments through 2014.
Investors will reasonably conclude that the market is competitive for what Sprint terms “core DS-1, DS-3, and similarly sized Ethernet channel termination facilities.” And Sprint seems to have a reasonable competitive position and strategy that is proceeding apace. Good news for customers and investors, but tougher news for those aiming to perpetuate the perception that our highly-competitive telecommunications network lacks competition in the special access market.