Thursday, May 14
The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) has assembled an impressive list of co-signers for a letter to the FCC encouraging the Commission to rapidly and comprehensively reform the Lifeline universal service program for the digital age. An excerpt from the letter:
Success in upgrading this 30 year-old program will require policy makers to embrace a new approach. Commissioner Clyburn outlined her thoughts on the subject in a 2012 speech at the American Enterprise Institute referencing immediate Lifeline reform where she stated that reform must occur in a manner that, “…increases the value of other federal investment, reduces administrative burdens, reduces incentives for waste, fraud and abuse, addresses privacy concerns of consumers, streamlines the program to encourage participation and leverages efficiencies from other programs.”
On behalf of the constituents that entrust our organizations to ensuring parity in telecommunications services and other public benefits, we believe that the Commission has the tools necessary to create a new twenty-first century model for the Lifeline program that would serve the needs of low income consumers in an efficient, secure and respectful fashion.
You can read the MMTC letter, which includes its recommendations on how best to reform Lifeline, at the FCC’s website. And for more on the subject, check out our white paper “Bringing the FCC’s Lifeline Program Into the 21st Century.”
Thursday, May 07
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has penned an op-ed for Multichannel News on the need to reform the Commission’s Lifeline program. An excerpt:
The FCC’s Lifeline program, originally established in 1985, was designed to ensure that Americans have universal access to telephone service because it was found that such access was “crucial to full participation in our society and economy, which are increasingly depending upon the rapid exchange of information.” The FCC emphasized at the time that its “responsibilities under the Communications Act require us to take steps … to prevent degradation of universal service and the division of our society … into information ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ ”
Today, a full three decades after the creation of Lifeline, the program still only funds voice service. It has been stuck in a bygone era since its inception and is in need of serious reform.
Commissioner Clyburn goes on to list her recommendations for reform, which include:
• Establishing minimum service standards for any provider that receives a Lifeline subsidy. This will ensure that we get the most value for each universal service dollar spent and better service for Lifeline recipients.
• Relieving providers of responsibility for determining customer eligibility. Lifeline is the only federal benefit program I know of where the provider determines the consumer’s eligibility. That must cease. For providers, this change would yield significant administrative savings, and for consumers, it would bring dignity to the program experience.
• Leveraging efficiencies from existing programs. A coordinated enrollment system would allow customers to enroll in Lifeline at the same time that they apply for other benefit programs; and
• Instituting public-private partnerships and coordinated outreach efforts. The lack of a centralized effort is leaving too many who qualify behind.
Commissioner Clyburn’s recommendations dovetail nicely with IIA’s own assessment of how best to bring Lifeline into the digital age. As we outlined in our white paper “Bringing the FCC’s Lifeline Program Into the 21st Century,” there are four key steps the FCC should make:
• Bring the Lifeline Program into the 21st Century by making broadband a key part of the program’s rubric;
• Empower consumers by providing the subsidy directly to eligible people instead of companies;
• Level the playing field between service providers to broaden consumer choice and stimulate competition for their purchasing power;
• 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.
Friday, May 01
Earlier today, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher returned to Sirius XM’s “Morning Briefing” to once again talk technology and regulations with host Tim Farley. Asked to respond to presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul’s pledge to overturn the FCC’s recent Title II classification, Boucher argued that a congressional repeal be ineffective (the President would simply veto the resolution), and that a bi-partisan bill offered by Republicans would be a better path — especially for Democrats, since the current net neutrality rules could be swept away in the next election.
Here’s audio of the interview.
Monday, April 20
Our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman penned an op-ed for Multichannel News on how increased competition in Special Access is active proof that the free market is working. An excerpt:
[I]n a smooth functioning market, there will be many providers offering a variety of options, including different options based on speed. Not everyone wants to pay for the fastest speeds available. Though inconsistent with the Washington narrative of regulate-to-prevent-“inequality”, as we’re seeing in health care and some tax proposals, in the real world consumers and businesses prefer to choose what’s best for them.
So with cable joining the fray, incumbent telcos are now facing greater competition in special access, just as one would predict in a market that is working well – something for regulators to remember the next time competitors come knocking on their door seeking government intervention and stricter regulations as a means to help subsidize their business model. Markets work, if we will just let them.
Check out Mehlman’s full op-ed over at Multichannel News.
Monday, April 13
In response to the publication of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Title II Net Neutrality decision in the Federal Register, we encourage Congress to craft legislation in order to avoid legal challenges and market uncertainty. The publication of the decision starts the clock on potential legal challenges, and given that the FCC’s rules will soon take effect, Congress should use this window of opportunity for legislation that sets forth permanent rules to advance Internet openness, continued investment, and innovation in the nation’s vibrant 21st Century digital broadband economy.
Wednesday, April 08
This morning, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher had an op-ed published in The Hill encouraging Democrats to work across the aisle to legislatively ensure net neutrality is enshrined into law. An excerpt:
[W]hy, one may ask, would Democrats want to accept such an offer, since the FCC has now reclassified broadband as a telecommunications service, vesting the FCC with the power to apply a broad swath of common carrier rules to the Internet? Under that authority, the FCC can assure network neutrality and have residual power to regulate broadband providers in other ways that today are unforeseen. Why would Democrats want to give that up for a statute that only protects net neutrality?
The answer is both simple and compelling. The FCC’s reclassification decision rests on a bed of sand. It is highly impermanent and could be washed away with the next presidential election. Today’s seemingly firm network neutrality assurances are at serious risk of being lost in the future.
You can read Boucher’s full op-ed over at The Hill.
Tuesday, April 07
Recently I had the privilege of participating in Georgetown University’s look back at the National Broadband Plan and its impact. Although far less high-profile than many made-for-the-media-circus endeavors, the National Broadband Plan (NBBP) proved a model of creativity… efficient, effective government, your tax dollars well-spent. Much credit goes to NBBP’s fearless and far-sighted leader Blair Levin, and Blair happily enjoyed a victory lap while heaping praise upon his many able lieutenants and soldiers… both outcomes to be expected by those who know Blair well!
While others dove deep into the specific recommendations made and outcomes achieved in the report itself, I took away four core conclusions from the five-years-after look back:
1. People Matter. Being the government is not a barrier to efficiency, innovation or effectiveness… given the right team and right processes. Blair gathered a “best and brightest” of policy analysts to research and write NBBP. He neither relied on outside experts alone nor eschewed career professionals. Instead he blended a team of thoughtful go-getters such as Pew’s John Horrigan, with leading thinkers at several agencies, a “best and brightest” approach that paid dividends.
2. Process Matters. The NBBP planning efforts were highly inclusive, hearing from all sides of most issues and inviting every sector to participate. No ideological or political litmus tests applied, maximizing ideas and enthusiasm. Concurrently NBBP was highly transparent, minimizing suspicions or criticisms of the ultimate product (lessons from the failed-and-far-less-transparent 1993 “HillaryCare” and 2001 “Cheney Energy Policy”).
3. Policy Matters. Even the best process and smartest people would not have counted if they failed to ask the right questions and offer the right answers. In this case, they did both, highlighting the critical need for more spectrum for broadband services, for example, along with creative methods for finding it. NBBP likewise helped illuminate the need for and value of driving fiber deeper into networks, urging an “if you build it they will come” approach that has largely matched reality. And NBBP supplied vision of a broadband-enabled world for those many policy makers less familiar with the end-game opportunities.
4. Politics Matters. In this case, avoiding the unnecessary political morass named Net Neutrality. To have observed the President on the campaign trail, one might have concluded that the #1 broadband issue was Net Neutrality and preventing some nefarious monopolists from hijacking the “People’s Internet.” To its great credit, the NBBP recognized the difference between serious policy questions and partisan political hype in search of marketplace realities and assiduously avoided the issue. (Officially, these political appointees deferred to the FCC that wanted to take the issue head on… yet while the FCC spent a year stuck in the political mud, the NBBP charged forward). In reality the NBBP planners understood that the light-tough regulatory approach identified by President Clinton and maintained by President Bush paid extraordinary dividends, as we saw in a roaring broadband economy. Recent decisions to roll back those long-standing policies are a gamble at best, and an unnecessary one. Broadband and especially wireless has thrived in a light-touch regulatory framework, but we’ve just plucked a whole bunch of feathers from the golden goose. Maybe it won’t impact egg production, but maybe it will. Time will tell.
Thursday, April 02
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher has an op-ed in Thomas Jefferson Institute’s Jefferson Policy Journal arguing for bipartisanship, rather than heavy-handed regulation, to keep the Internet growing. An excerpt:
Not surprisingly, the policies that have fostered this growth and today’s open Internet have largely been bipartisan. Everyone favors good, clean, well-paying technology jobs and the companies that generate those jobs. This bipartisan consensus extended to the Federal Government as well. Back in the 1990s, during the Clinton Administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) raced to do all it could to get the Internet to as many Americans as possible and to keep it free from overly burdensome public utility regulation that then applied to telephone companies. Two decades later we see the results of bipartisan efforts in the form of the free, open, privately-networked Internet that we enjoy today.
And equally unsurprisingly, anything that threatens this consensus and the Internet on which our economy increasingly depends should be of first importance to Virginia.
Unfortunately, the FCC’s new “net neutrality” rules attempt to promote an open Internet by imposing regulations designed for public utilities, such as gas and water companies. Imposing these so called “Title II” regulations on the Internet introduces unnecessary uncertainty into the broadband marketplace, and it could threaten the future investment that is essential to promoting an innovative, growing, and vibrant Internet-centric economy.
By treating the competitive multi-media Internet as a 20th Century “common carrier”, the FCC’s decision opens the door to Internet regulations modeled on the rules that were developed for the Ma Bell telephone monopoly and for other monopolies that offered a single service and were regulated in virtually all aspects of their businesses. Under the light touch regulation that has applied to the Internet since the Clinton era, investment across the information ecosystem has produced an Internet economy that is the envy of the world. A regulatory environment welcoming to investment was at the foundation of that success, and it is now threatened.
Monday, March 30
1. The courts
3. A new president
4. The budget
These are the five perils Julian Hattem of The Hill recently highlighted as potential pitfalls for the FCC’s new net neutrality rules. Hattern’s full piece is required reading for anyone concerned about the future of the Internet, since it casts a light on sheer amount of uncertainty the rules are already causing.
An excerpt about the threat of deadlock from the piece, featuring our own Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher:
For now, given the FCC’s current makeup of three Democrats and two Republicans, any company asking for exemptions to the net neutrality rules is likely to be rejected.
But if that should happen to change — for instance, if a Democratic president is unable to move his or her nominees through a GOP-controlled Senate after the current commissioners’ term expire — the agency could be stuck in a 2-2 deadlock, which would automatically grant an exemption, known as forbearance.
“It’s not too far out there,” former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who helped write the 1996 law undergirding the FCC’s authority, recently told The Hill.
“In that circumstance, if a forbearance petition is filed and they don’t act on it, it could be deemed granted.”
Wednesday, March 25
In the wake of the FCC’s controversial decision to regulate broadband services under Title II, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher spoke with Jim Puzzanghera at the Los Angeles Times about the possibility of Congress formally enshrining net neutrality into law. An excerpt:
Rick Boucher knows as well as anybody that net neutrality is the type of complex technology topic that Congress finds difficult to handle even when Democrats and Republicans are getting along.
But the former 14-term House member, a longtime player on Internet policy who now heads a telecommunications industry trade group, is optimistic that the controversial Internet issue could be a surprising source of compromise in a time of partisan gridlock.
“Each side can give the other the thing it wants the most,” Boucher, a well-respected Democrat who is honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance. “This is an optimal moment to legislate.”
Check out Puzzanghera’s full piece over at the Los Angeles Times.