Because every American
should have access
to broadband Internet.

The Internet Innovation Alliance is a broad-based coalition of business and non-profit organizations that aim to ensure every American, regardless of race, income or geography, has access to the critical tool that is broadband Internet. The IIA seeks to promote public policies that support equal opportunity for universal broadband availability and adoption so that everyone, everywhere can seize the benefits of the Internet - from education to health care, employment to community building, civic engagement and beyond.

The Podium

Blog posts tagged with 'Congress'

Thursday, June 26

Getting the Act Together

By Brad

At The Hill, Julian Hattem reports there is renewed interest in updating America’s Telecommunications Act:

The top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee is pushing for Congress to overhaul the law governing the Internet, television and phone service.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the ranking member of the powerful panel, said on Wednesday that the Senate would likely begin work to update the law next year, and seemed to shine on the notion that Republicans would have taken control of the upper chamber.

“The world moves so fast that it’s hard for even the most technologically savvy and digitally-connected person to keep up with everything, so it should be no surprise that our laws have fallen woefully behind,” he said at an event on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Free State Foundation, a free market-oriented think tank.

We need 21st Century laws for a 21st Century world.”

One benefit of updating the 1996 Act would be a possible end to the never-ending — and exhausting — net neutrality debate once and for all. Here’s hoping Sen. Thune can rally the troops to make it happen.

Monday, June 23

The Never-Ending Net Neutrality Debate, Episode 7,432

By Brad

At The Hill, Kate Tummarello reports that House Republicans want to take the net neutrality issue out of the FCC’s hands:

Republicans on a House panel want the country’s antitrust regulators, not its telecom regulators, to take the lead on net neutrality.

During a Friday hearing held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Law, Republicans questioned the need for net neutrality regulation from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“The Internet has flourished precisely because it is a deregulated market” and should be kept open through “vigorous application of the antitrust laws,” House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said.

The idea, according to Tummarello, is for the Federal Trade Commission to take the reigns:

“As regulatory proceedings continue to stretch on, a question I have is whether there might be a more efficient and more effective way to safeguard against potential discriminatory behavior than federal rulemaking,” Subcommittee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) said in his opening statement.

“That is where antitrust law comes in.”

Thursday, June 05

Break Through the Gridlock

By Brad

At The Hill, George S. Ford, chief economist of the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, warns that dysfunction in Congress could soon have a dramatic effect on Internet adoption:

[W]hen the Internet was in its nascency, Congress sought to encourage adoption by keeping prices affordable. To do so, Congress passed the ITFA, which imposed a three-year moratorium on the imposition of (new) state and local taxes on Internet access. Given that state and local governments aggressively and discriminatorily tax communications services, the moratorium aimed to reduce prices significantly and, consequently, encourage adoption. Since 1998, this moratorium has been extended three times, and is due to expire again in November 2014. While there is generally broad bipartisan support to extend — if not make permanent — the ITFA’s moratorium, given congressional gridlock, there are no guarantees.

With November 2014 rapidly approaching, the question policymakers now need to ask themselves is how a failure to extend the ITFA will affect these efforts to expand broadband adoption? Using both economic theory and empirical evidence, it is possible to make some predictions about the economic effects of failing to extend the ITFA. It isn’t pretty.

Ford predicts a potential loss of 30-60 million broadband connections if Congress fails to act on extending ITFA. Not pretty indeed.

Tuesday, June 03

Recommendations for E-Rate

By Brad

Via Kate Tummarello at The Hill, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have some ideas for how the FCC can successfully update an existing program to bring more technology to schools:

A bipartisan group of lawmakers laid out recommendations for the Federal Communications Commission to modernize its E-Rate program to fund technology in classrooms.

“The funding priorities must reflect the changing nature of the Internet, so that our classrooms and students have access to today’s technology,” a group of 46 lawmakers told the FCC in a letter on Monday.
“America’s school and libraries are in need of a technological update to accelerate next-generation education reforms, support teachers and enhance student learning through universal access to high-speed broadband.”

 

Thursday, May 29

Already Working on a Bill

By Brad

The latest flare up in the never-ending net neutrality debate involves the possibility that the FCC could regulate Internet service under Title II. At The Hill, Kate Tummarello reports the very idea of Title II has already inspired work on a bill from House Republicans:

A new House Republican bill would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from going forward with a proposal for stronger regulations on Internet service providers.

Late Wednesday, Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) — vice chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on communications — introduced a bill that would keep the FCC from reclassifying Internet providers to treat them more like traditional phone companies, which are heavily regulated.

“The Internet has remained open and continues to be a powerful engine fueling private enterprise, economic growth and innovation absent government interference and obstruction,” Latta said in a statement announcing his bill.

Monday, May 05

Looking Over the Deal

By Brad

Also via The Hill, this time from Kate Tummarello and Julian Hattem, the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable is scheduled to get some scrutiny from the House:

Lawmakers in the House this week will get their first chance to press Comcast and Time Warner Cable executives on the two companies’ proposed $45 billion merger.

The House Judiciary Committee hearing comes almost exactly a month after the Senate took a look at the merger and is likely to cover similar ground.

Already, Tummarello and Hattem go on to report, a number of members of the Senate have made it clear they’re not too keen on the merger. Which means it’s time to buckle up for a legislative fight.

 

Wednesday, April 16

House Dems to the FCC

By IIA

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As the FCC continues to design its upcoming incentive spectrum auction, 78 House Democrats have penned a letter — led by Congressmen John Barrow and Bennie G. Thompson — encouraging the Commission to maximize the benefits of the auction by ensuring they are open to all entities willing to bid. An excerpt from the letter:

For the auction to be a success, the Commission should maximize participation by both broadcasters incented to relinquish their spectrum rights and bidders seeking to buy those rights in the spectrum auction. In fact, inviting as many bidders as possible to compete in an open and fair auction on equal terms will allow for the full market price for spectrum to be realized and, in turn, lead to higher compensation to incent greater broadcaster participation resulting in more spectrum for the auction.

We agree with the position taken by the House Democrats. As our Honorary Chairman, former Congressman Rick Boucher, wrote in an op-ed for Light Reading last year:

In order to meet these multiple needs simultaneously, it’s essential that the auction be open to all financially qualified bidders. Some have suggested that the largest mobile carriers be restricted in their ability to participate fully in the auction in order to favor smaller carriers. Limiting the ability of the largest carriers to purchase the spectrum their customers are demanding will mean fewer services for consumers and lower auction proceeds, rendering very difficult the challenge of meeting all of the competing and urgent demands for the auction revenues.

Moreover, it is not at all clear that spectrum acquisition restrictions on the largest carriers would actually promote competition.

Tuesday, April 08

Looking Back and Looking Forward: The VIdeo

By Brad

Miss our Internet Academy on the future of America’s telecommunications policy yesterday? We’ve got you covered.

Monday, April 07

Talking Communications Policy

By Brad

Earlier today we held our latest Internet Academy, which featured former House Energy and Commerce Chairmen Rick Boucher and Jack Field discussing the past and future of America’s communications policies. We’ll have archive of the event up soon, but in the meantime, The Hill‘s Julian Hattern has a write-up. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 25

Preparing the Kids

By Brad

Congressman Adam Kinzinger and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai have penned an op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times on the need to better train kids for the digital economy. The full op-ed is definitely worth checking out, but here’s an excerpt:

To prepare our children for digital-age jobs, we need to get them online today. Our students’ futures are too important to let this opportunity for far-reaching reform slip from our grasp.

A student-centered E-Rate program would give kids in small towns a better chance to compete with those growing up in big cities. Real reform would help children in Illinois and throughout small-town America see a brighter tomorrow — and we stand ready to ensure that E-Rate lives up to that promise.

Monday, March 17

The National Broadband Plan, Four Years Later

By Jamal Simmons

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Any architect will tell you that it’s impossible to build a house without a blueprint. This is true even more in telecom. Fortunately, the country just celebrated the fourth birthday of the National Broadband Plan, our blueprint for the future of broadband.

Often, government reports sit on shelves gathering dust. Thankfully, this one did not. Acting on a request from Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) produced a report that was a vision for a connected future of universal broadband and a clarion call to move forward with innovation rather than letting America fall behind other countries.

The Plan started with a clear vision: every American deserves broadband. Not only that, every American needs broadband as it becomes increasingly critical for applying for jobs, learning new skills, communicating with others, and accessing our government. As the report said, “broadband can be our foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.”

Over the last four years, there has been great progress. When the report was adopted, over 100 million Americans did not have broadband and 14 million Americans did not even have access to infrastructure that would enable broadband applications. Now, those numbers are significantly smaller, thanks to private sector investment and government’s continued focus. According to a White House report from last June, “about 91 percent of Americans have access to wired broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps downstream, and 81 percent of Americans have access to similarly fast mobile wireless broadband.”

In fact, that 2013 report notes that the definition of “broadband” has essentially shifted to speeds greater than 10 Mbps rather than the government’s historic definition of broadband beginning at 3 Mbps, which is good enough for one user at a time to load photos onto Facebook in a household, but not fast enough to download HD video from Netflix. Average delivered broadband speeds have doubled since 2009 to keep up with consumer needs.

This is only a beginning: President Obama’s recent State of the Union set a goal that 99% of students would have access to ultra-high speed broadband in schools and libraries over the next four years.

That kind of achievement only happens with massive levels of private sector investment, and the private sector has begun doing its part. Over the last four years, tens of billions of dollars of investment from the private sector have been directed towards expanding broadband access and increasing broadband speed. Investment in wireless broadband alone jumped over 40% between 2009 and 2012.  In fact, two companies in this sector – AT&T and Verizon – were named “Investment Heroes” by the Progressive Policy Institute for their commitment to America’s telecommunications future. This is appropriate as the Plan stated that “broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.”

To meet that challenge, government must encourage more private investment, while ensuring equitable access for every American to benefit from all that broadband has to offer. As the report stated, “the role of government is and should remain limited.” 

As with many such efforts, this won’t happen without effort. The National Broadband Plan made clear that the nation would eventually have to make the transition from the aging telephone network to a system based on new broadband technologies. An FCC technology task force made the point even more clearly – that transition must happen over the course of this decade.

In fact, most consumers have already made this transition voluntarily. Less than one-third of residential consumers still use “plain old telephone service” at home (U-verse or Skype anyone?). The FCC has recently approved trials for these next-generation networks, which is a major step forward towards the all-broadband future foreshadowed in the Plan.

Four years after the National Broadband Plan, we have a vibrant, robust, cross-platform competitive system in which more and more Americans are gaining access to faster and faster broadband every day. There is more work to do, so let’s keep moving forward and not inhibit it through policies and regulations that would slow investment rather than increase it. If we want to be sure that every American has access to broadband, we should follow the vision set out in the National Broadband Plan for universal broadband, and move quickly toward the transition to modern high-speed broadband networks and services. 

Wednesday, March 12

A More Transparent Commission

By Brad

Over at The Hill, Pete Kasperowicz reports on recent moves by the House to open the doors at the FCC:

The House voted Tuesday to require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate more transparently, including by ensuring public input on regulations.

The bill’s author, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), said the bill is partially a response to a proposed FCC rule to study the editorial decisions of newspapers. That proposal drew harsh criticism late last year, and Walden said it was a “dangerous” outcome that threatened the First Amendment rights of these papers.

“Somehow, an item as controversial as this study made it all the way through the FCC without so much as a commission vote,” Walden said during floor debate. “Americans deserve greater… transparency and accountability from their government.”

Interestingly, the bill passed through the House easily.

Thursday, February 27

A Focus on Spectrum

By Brad

The transition to all-IP networks may be the hot tech topic inside the Beltway these days, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other pressing issues. Like the need to free up more spectrum for wireless use, which as Kate Tummarello from The Hill reports, is getting some much-needed attention from members of the House:

As the Federal Communications Commission prepares for its 2015 airwaves buy-back and auction, a pair of House lawmakers has launched a new congressional caucus focused on spectrum.

The caucus, announced Thursday by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), will examine spectrum-related issues, including licensed spectrum — such as the kind used by federal agencies and wireless companies — and unlicensed spectrum, which powers Wi-Fi systems.

“As our economy increasingly relies on spectrum, this Caucus will be an important mechanism for our colleagues and congressional staff to engage on the spectrum policies, both licensed and unlicensed, facing our economy,” Matsui said in a statement.

Tuesday, February 11

Small Steps

By Brad

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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.

Thursday, February 06

Boucher Looks Forward

By Brad

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.

Monday, February 03

Answering Upton and Walden’s Call

By IIA

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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 23

First Do No Harm

By Bruce Mehlman

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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 [1996] 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.

Wednesday, January 08

Time for an Overhaul

By Brad

Via Julian Hattem of The Hill, two Republican lawmakers have taken a deep dive into the 1996 Communications Act and are urging a major overhaul:

Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who lead the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its communications and technology subcommittee, released a white paper outlining flaws that have emerged since the law was last updated more than a decade ago. The paper is the first action in the multi-year effort to update the landmark Communications Act.

The 1934 law created and outlined the powers of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but has not been significantly modernized since 1996.

Updating the law “is critical to ensuring that the communications and technology sectors, the bright spot of our national economy, have laws and regulations that foster continued innovation and job creation,” Upton and Walden said in a joint statement. “This is the first step in a multi-year open and transparent effort and we look forward to broad input from the many interested parties.”

The Reps.’ white paper is available here. On a related note, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher — who was chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet when the 1996 Act was put together, marked the 17th anniversary of the Act back in February. As he wrote then in an op-ed for Roll Call:

Seventeen years after the 1996 Telecommunications Act was signed into law, we find ourselves at another major inflection point. The IP transition is already under way, driven by technological advances and consumer preferences. FCC Chairman Genachowski has taken farsighted steps to create a process for addressing the policy questions that transition brings, and one of the giants of the industry has made helpful suggestions for a national dialogue through a single, focused proceeding for clarity and meaningful participation by all interested parties.

It is my hope that regulators can, once again, come to a consensus on how best to regulate fairly. Only with a level playing field will competition thrive and more investment in America’s broadband infrastructure increase. Let the conversation begin.

Wednesday, October 23

A Step in the Right Direction

By Rick Boucher

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Earlier today, the House Communications Subcommittee held a hearing on what’s commonly known in the tech industry as the “IP transition.”

That may sound like a rather dry affair, but the issues being discussed are anything but dry or boring. In fact, when it comes to our nation’s communications infrastructure — and, really, the health of our vital tech economy — conversations like the one held today are critical.

While the hearing itself was short on fireworks, it was not without surprises. Both Public Knowledge’s VP Harold Feld and AT&T’s Senior VP Jim Cicconi agreed on much – for example, that well-constructed trials are needed and that as the transition moves forward, certain principles must continue to be adhered to. As Cicconi testified:

[T]his transition from the old to the new should consider things we’ve all come to see as fundamental — universal connectivity, consumer protection, reliability, public safety, and interconnection.

The fact that Feld and Cicconi agree not just on the importance of those “things we’ve all come to see as fundamental,” but on the importance of moving forward with the transition itself, shows just how much things have changed in a short amount of time.

The legacy copper telephone network that has served our country so well for over a century is rapidly being abandoned by consumers, who are increasingly choosing wireless and VoIP for their communication needs. At the same time, providers like AT&T and Verizon are required to continue investing billions maintaining the network of old.

This point was not lost on Rep. John Dingell, who stated during the hearing that the billions now spent on legacy networks “would be better spent on the IP backbone of the future.”

But the IP transition is about more than the direction of investment dollars. As Cicconi told the Subcommittee:

Four years ago the FCC issued a National Broadband Plan as directed by the Congress. That plan concluded that bringing modern broadband services to all Americans is vital, and that to do so we must have communications policies rooted in the future, not the past.

Put another way, if we’re ever going to achieve the goals of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, the IP transition needs to be encouraged through smart policies. That starts with looking at regulations crafted in 1996 or earlier that no longer apply to — and may in fact hold back — the vast array of choices consumers now have.

Put still another way, the IP transition is really a national broadband goal. The only question, which today’s hearing started to address, is how best to get there.

For AT&T’s part, the company has already put forward a plan with the FCC to conduct “test trials” akin to the one conducted during the transition to digital broadcasting in order to identify any potential problems as the legacy network is upgraded and the few customers who still have legacy service move to modern connections. As Cicconi testified:

We feel trials are critical. As careful as our planning is, no one can anticipate every issue that may arise when we actually transition off the legacy wireline infrastructure. Trials will help us learn while we still have a safety-net in place. And as we learn, all of us — industry, government, customers and stakeholders — can then work together over the coming years to address any problems we find.

 
On this point too, Public Knowledge’s Feld agreed, although his organization’s vision for how the trials should be conducted differed from AT&T’s. And encouragingly, Rep. Dingell also stated the FCC should “work with AT&T to set IP trials in motion,” adding that the trials would be an “invaluable case study for businesses, government, and consumers.” Rep. Shimkus and Rep. Waxman agreed that we should move forward with the trials, as well.

As Cicconi noted during his testimony, the transition is already well underway, but it won’t be a quick process. Nor should it be, because every time we make a great leap forward, we should know exactly where we’re going to land. Now is the time for all parties to work together on ensuring the transition goes as smoothly as possible. That’s what today’s hearing was about.

Any time you have industry, government, and consumer groups in agreement on something, you know it’s time to act. Today’s hearing was just one of many discussions yet to come on the IP transition, but it was a critical step in the right direction.

Thursday, July 25

Tinkering With the FCC

By Brad

At The Hill, Brendan Sasso reports on some movement from the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on FCC reforms:

Democrats allowed the subcommittee to approve the bills on a voice vote on Thursday after Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the subcommittee and author of the legislation, promised to work to address their concerns over the August recess.

Republicans argue the bills would provide more openness and transparency at the FCC, but Democrats warn they would open the agency up to more litigation and would hamper its ability to protect consumers.

Most agree the FCC needs to tweak its practices given our new technological landscape, but whether a bipartisan agreement can be reached is still up in the air.

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