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.
Thursday, February 26
Today the FCC voted 3-2 to impose Title II regulation on the Internet. In response, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher had this to say:
The FCC’s decision to embrace Title II regulation over the Internet now creates an opportunity for Congress to craft a non-partisan legislative solution that provides the legal certainty necessary to preserve and maintain an “open Internet” without the burdens of utility-style regulation. After more than a decade of wrangling about the proper regulatory classification of broadband services and the scope of the FCC’s authority, it is time for Congress to provide the certainty that consumers and industry need. IIA looks forward to working with members of Congress to ensure that the promise of broadband remains available for entrepreneurs, innovators and America’s consumers without a return to the days of utility regulation.
Wednesday, February 25
Earlier today, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher testified before the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on the effects the FCC’s Net Neutrality proposal will have on the future of the Internet. In his testimony, Boucher — who served on the House Energy and Commerce and Judiciary Committees, along with the subcommittees on Communications, Technology and the Internet during his time in Congress — urged Congress to take up the issue via legislation. An excerpt:
If a Republican wins the 2016 presidential election, the new Administration would be unlikely to support a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court if the rules are struck down by a U.S. Court of Appeals. It would be unlikely that in such an event the FCC in a Republican administration would initiate a new network neutrality proceeding. In fact it is probable that an FCC with a Republican majority would, as an early order of business, undertake a reversal of the reclassification order that will be approved tomorrow.
For these reasons, the network neutrality assurances of tomorrow’s reclassification order rest on a tenuous foundation. They are at risk of being lost. Legislation is, therefore, a superior solution. It would be virtually impenetrable from a judicial challenge, and would resolve this debate with a statutory permanence and degree of certainty not available through the regulatory process.
Read Rick Boucher’s full testimony.
Wednesday, February 18
With the FCC expected to vote on regulating the Internet under Title II next week, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher appeared on Sirius XM’s The Morning Briefing to break down the potential negative effects the FCC plan could have. Give it a listen.
Monday, February 16
Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed from our own Rick Boucher and the author of our latest report, Fred Campbell, on the perils of following Europe’s lead to regulate the Internet. An excerpt:
Net-neutrality proponents assume that the impact of common-carrier regulations will be minimal and that the U.S. will maintain its technology lead forever, but the European regulatory example suggests that such an outcome is far from certain. It is more likely that imposing regulations crafted for last century’s monopoly telephone service will have a crippling and chilling effect on broadband investment. Investment drives innovation: As the Internet Innovation Alliance study demonstrates, Europe has fallen badly behind the U.S.
You can read the full op-ed over at the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).
Wednesday, February 04
Says Congress should resolve the Open Internet debate with targeted legislation aimed at reinstating the 2010 Open Internet Rules and not imposing public utility regulation on broadband
WASHINGTON, D.C. – February 4, 2015 – In response to press reports highlighting the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) policy direction on new Open Internet rules, IIA issued the following statements from Rick Boucher, a former Democratic congressman who chaired the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet and serves as honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), and former Assistant Secretary of Commerce under Clinton – now IIA Founding Co-Chairman – Larry Irving:
From Congressman Boucher:
“I urge Chairman Wheeler to reconsider his plan to treat broadband services under common carrier rules. Subjecting broadband to public utility regulation under Title II is unnecessary for assuring continued Internet openness and would carry deeply harmful consequences. Internet infrastructure investment would be stifled at a time when we have a national goal of extending high-speed Internet service to 98 percent of Americans.
“A better way to preserve the open Internet, protect consumers and promote innovation is to encourage the private investment necessary to support the deployment of high-speed, next-generation broadband nationwide. I’m confident in Congress’ ability to secure a win for our nation with a bi-partisan legislative solution that empowers the FCC to re-promulgate the 2010 Open Internet Rule but precludes the imposition of onerous Title II regulations. This outcome would protect the Open Internet by remedying the D.C. Circuit’s objection that the Commission lacks the statutory authority to act and maintain the existing light-touch regulatory environment that is welcoming to high-speed broadband investment.”
From Larry Irving:
“Imposing Title II regulation on broadband Internet primarily will benefit lawyers. Endless litigation will create additional uncertainty in the market and impact Internet innovation and investment as companies and investors try to figure out what provisions do or do not apply in a new Title II world.
“Democrats primarily have driven the net neutrality debate, but today Republicans in Congress stand ready to work on a bipartisan basis on legislation aimed to ‘keep the Internet open.’ If an open Internet is the goal, why is the only acceptable mechanism for achieving that goal a centuries-old regulatory framework? Preserving the open Internet through bi-partisan legislation, achieving and declaring victory on an important issue, steering clear of interminable and disruptive litigation, and reducing consumer costs by veering away from antiquated Title II regulation would seem to be the better alternative.
“For more than two decades, from the earliest days of the Internet, I along with most Democrats involved in development of our nation’s Internet policy, have advocated a light regulatory touch for the Internet. I still believe that to be preferable to utility-style regulation for the fast-moving and constantly evolving Internet. But, as important, to craft the right solution for America, we need to end the partisan politics around the Open Internet issue and work towards and embrace bi-partisan solutions.”
Tuesday, January 13
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher has taken to the pages of Roll Call to argue that Congress should act now to ensure net neutrality. An excerpt:
The coming month, before the FCC acts presents a timely opportunity for Congress to step in and resolve the debate on terms that would seemingly be agreeable to Democrats and Republicans, broadband providers and consumers seeking continued access to robust high-speed Internet services. The FCC promulgated its open Internet rule in 2010 against a backdrop of consensus that had been reached through lengthy discussions among the stakeholders. While not all of the parties were in agreement, a critical mass of consumer groups, broadband providers and policymakers created the consensus that resulted in the FCC’s open Internet framework. It’s notable that among broadband providers, AT&T publicly expressed support for the rule, and it was ultimately approved with the FCC’s Democratic members voting affirmatively. Even more noteworthy is that in the four years since the open Internet rule was adopted, broadband providers have integrated its requirements into daily operations, and high-speed Internet access service has expanded absent consumer complaints of violations.
Check out Boucher’s full op-ed over at Roll Call.
Thursday, January 08
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher recently penned an op-ed for Bloomberg on the critical need to reform Lifeline. An excerpt:
Each day brings new examples of how broadband-delivered Internet services are fundamentally changing the nature of communications. In the 1980’s, the wired telephone was the predominant communications platform for almost everyone. Today, just five percent of Americans rely exclusively on “plain old telephone service.” The rest use a variety of communications devices, a growing number of which are broadband-enabled.
So the question is not just whether to expand Lifeline to include broadband, an idea endorsed by two FCC commissioners and the chairman at the agency’s December open meeting; the question is how to incorporate broadband without exploding the cost of the program.
You can check out Boucher’s full op-ed over at Bloomberg.
Tuesday, November 18
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher has an op-ed in The Hill on how outdated regulations are limiting competition when it comes to broadband. An excerpt:
Consumers are fleeing the old network in droves. Only 5 percent use it exclusively, and another 28 percent use it in combination with a wireless service. Two-thirds of communications users have left the old network entirely. Every dollar telcos are required to spend on a network consumers are abandoning is a dollar not spent on deploying the modern networks that consumers prefer. Viewed in this light, the USTA plea for relief is entirely understandable — and it’s entirely justified.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he wants more “meaningful competition” in high-speed broadband, particularly between telecom companies and cable providers. As Wheeler put it, these new broadband entrants are “well-positioned to give cable a run for its money, offering consumers greater choice.” This is exactly how it should work.
Check out Boucher’s full op-ed over at The Hill.
Thursday, November 13
Over at Bloomberg Law, our Co-Chairman Larry Irving and Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher have penned an op-ed on why the FCC should focus on Section 706 rather than Title II when it comes to net neutrality. An excerpt:
Everyone agrees that broadband providers should not become content gatekeepers. That’s been clear since 2010 when the FCC initiated its inquiry into how best to maintain an open Internet. Moreover, the facts make clear that the underlying success of the Internet in the two decades since its commercialization has been based on light-touch federal regulation and private sector, commercially-negotiated arrangements among service providers that have led to very few real complaints about supposed “gatekeepers.”
Under section 706, the FCC could prohibit so-called “paid prioritization” anytime such a practice has the effect of slowing down content or degrading the quality of service that any broadband customer receives, and which represent the alleged potential harms that lie at the core of the concerns expressed by activists urging Title II reclassification.
This fall’s intense debate is not about whether to preserve an open Internet. It’s about which of two available approaches the FCC could use is best.
Check out the full op-ed over at Bloomberg Law.
Tuesday, October 14
Earlier today, our own Rick Boucher joined the Kojo Nnamdi Show on Washington D.C.‘s WAMU to discuss the transition to all-IP networks and what that will mean for communication and innovation. Check out an archive of the conversation here.
Thursday, October 02
There are several commonly disseminated myths aimed at perpetuating confusion and misinformation during the pendency of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet proceeding. Facts, however, cut through the clutter and allow for a discussion rooted in reality rather than rhetoric.
Title II reclassification of broadband is not necessary to preserve an Open Internet.
Here’s why the FCC can and should move forward with Open Internet rules designed under its Section 706 authority rather than reclassifying broadband services under Title II of the Communications Act:
TITLE II AND SECTION 706: Myths vs. Facts
Myth: Title II regulations helped bring about the Internet boom of the early 2000s.
Fact: Although an initial investment spike occurred immediately after the passage of the 1996 Act, that investment was short-lived. That initial spate of investment was primarily directed at technologies and business models that were quickly outstripped by more modern technologies. In fact, the majority of the investment in our country’s broadband infrastructure occurred after the FCC’s 2003-05 decisions to decrease regulations on the broadband industry. This surge in investment laid the groundwork for high-speed Internet to become a leading driver of our nation’s economic growth and to spur the incredible innovation consumers enjoy today.
Myth: Title II-like regulations helped Europe leapfrog the U.S. on broadband deployment.
Fact: Europe gave up its leadership position when it began its path toward heavy-handed regulation that deterred broadband investment and deployment.
According to an independent study, today nearly 82% of U.S. consumers enjoy access to next-generation, high-speed broadband networks (over 25Mbps) while only 54% of Europeans have comparable access. In rural areas, the U.S. again leads in access, 48% to 12%. Next-generation wireless broadband (LTE) is available to 86% of Americans but only 27% of Europeans.
European broadband policies are built on extensive, public utility-style regulation that has depressed broadband investment. In contrast, the U.S. light-touch regulation model has enabled U.S. broadband network operators to invest more than double per household than Europe does: $562 versus $244 in Europe.
Myth: Applying Title II regulations to broadband networks and providers will prevent companies from creating Internet “fast lanes”.
Fact: The FCC has stated that no ISP has ever engaged in paid prioritization schemes. No evidence exists that ISPs have ever or are likely to create fast lanes and slow lanes.
Reclassifying broadband under Title II would not prevent such. In fact, under Title II, public utilities have always been allowed to offer prioritized services. Telephone companies routinely offer installation and repair priority along with service level guarantees to those willing to pay extra money.
According to FCC Chairman Wheeler, the 2010 net neutrality rules were never intended to cover these privately-negotiated business deals, only the last mile of the Internet.
Myth: Wireless networks and wireline networks are virtually interchangeable these days and should have the same net neutrality rules.
Fact: In the 2010 rules, to which all carriers committed, the FCC stated that special characteristics of mobile broadband infrastructure make it essential to give mobile providers additional flexibility in how they manage the traffic on their networks. Due to resource constraints, such as the limited amount of spectrum available for consumer use, mobile networks operate differently than wireline networks. A stringent regulatory environment established under Title II, and intended primarily for a monopoly-era copper wireline world, would be onerous.
The FCC still imposed two conditions on wireless networks in 2010. First, wireless networks cannot block access to legal websites, with exclusions for reasonable network management. Second, wireless network providers were required to disclose their network management practices, performance and terms and conditions of their broadband services.
The current approach acknowledges how wireless networks are different from fixed networks but still protects consumers and enables investment and innovation in the intensely competitive wireless marketplace.
Myth: ISPs harm the open Internet through discriminatory practices. The only way to keep the Internet open is to reclassify Internet services as telecommunications services.
Fact: The Internet, without Title II regulations, is and has been open since its first public use. It continues to thrive in the current regulatory environment. In contrast, Title II regulation would stifle investment and hinder innovation. Innovative new services and business models would have to be vetted and approved by the FCC, slowing the Internet’s vitality and growth.
Ensuring a fair and open Internet through authority granted by Section 706 is a better path. Section 706 permits the FCC to prevent paid prioritization while encouraging innovation and investment from ISPs and other Internet companies.
Myth: Title II can be easily adapted to today’s modern communications systems.
Fact: The past 20 years have seen stunning technological advancements in the communication industry. Americans can now access a wealth of information in myriad new ways. The transformation of the communications industry has caused companies to no longer fit neatly into legal categories envisioned by the 1996 Telecommunications Act or, even more obviously, the Title II rules written in 1934. That’s why companies not normally thought of as “broadband providers” could find themselves categorized and regulated as telecommunications carriers because their service overlaps with the services provided by ISPs if Title II regulations are placed on broadband services. For example, when Google connects you to a business you searched, should it be considered subject to Title II? Or if a provider of email enables a video messaging session, would it open itself up to Title II regulation on the grounds that it is a facilities-based provider or reseller? Could be. And that’s the fear.
Myth: The FCC could apply Title II to broadband, but exercise its forbearance authority when dealing with innovative companies and services.
Fact: Reclassifying broadband services as telecommunication services under Title II would burden 1/6 of the nation’s economy with stringent, investment-inhibiting government regulation. The government would have expansive power over all broadband services, likely including all edge providers and consumer broadband applications and services. The process necessary to analyze and identify which areas of the nation’s broadband economy the FCC would spare from heavy government intrusion would be both lengthy and costly. Additional time and resources would probably be squandered in the litigation that will inevitably follow.
Myth: Unlike Title II, the FCC does not have the power to promote an open Internet under the limited provisions of Section 706.
Fact: Relying on Section 706 to protect consumers and ensure an Open Internet is a superior choice to the overbroad, utility-style Title II regulatory framework of the 1934 Communications Act.
The FCC’s Section 706-like approach in 2010, created rules that found the right balance between regulations necessary to advance consumer protection goals and the need to attract new investment to broadband to ensure future deployments of modern high-speed networks. Under those rules, access to capital grew and we saw massive growth in the digital app economy, video over broadband, VoIP, the advent of tablet computing, and the rise of mobile e-commerce.
Moreover, a Federal Appeals court has given Section 706 its seal of approval and the FCC can assert this authority with confidence. In fact, the courts have said that the FCC is empowered to create rules “governing broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic…that they will preserve and facilitate the “virtuous circle” of innovation that has driven the explosive growth of the Internet.”
The facts are clear: Reclassification of broadband under Title II is unnecessary to ensure continued Internet openness and would backfire with harmful consequences for innovation and investment. The FCC should instead make use of its powers under Section 706 to protect consumers, promote innovation and encourage nationwide deployment of next-generation broadband.
Monday, September 15
This morning, IIA filed Reply Comments with the FCC urging the Commission to embrace its 706 Authority instead of Title II reclassification in order to preserve an open Internet. In our comments we warned that reclassification would reverser decades of Commission precedent and potentially hurt the Internet ecosystem’s continued success and future of innovation.
Section 706 has worked well to protect the open Internet that everyone wants to preserve, while minimizing harm to investment and innovation. Section 706 remains viable and effective. By contrast, Title II is an antiquated regulatory framework designed for the era of monopoly telephone service that would undermine today’s competitive broadband marketplace and disserve consumers, dissuade entrepreneurs and inject unnecessary regulatory uncertainty threatening future dynamism in the broadband ecosystem.
— IIA Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman
Reliance on Section 706, we argue, enables proper balance between necessary regulation to advance such goals as consumer protection and the imperative of attracting new investment to broadband to ensure further deployments of ever-fast systems that will support the applications of tomorrow. It is also the only way to ensure the innovation and continued explosive growth necessary to meet the ambitious goals of the National Broadband Plan.
The FCC already has enough authority under Section 706 to keep the Internet open with high-speed access for consumers and flexibility for entrepreneurs to innovate. Reclassifying broadband as a utility is like using a sledgehammer when a screwdriver will suffice. Title II is a blunt instrument that might break the Internet’s record of innovation and investment, while Section 706 is a better tool for fixing any problems that arise.
— IIA Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons
Title II, we also note, was not the primary catalyst behind the massive investment that occurred following the enactment of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and that if regulators wanted an example of the chilling effect Title II could have on broadband, Europe offers a good example.
European policies built on extensive, public utility-style regulation and wholesale network unbundling have depressed broadband investment and access to next-generation networks overseas, as fully 82% of U.S. consumers enjoy access to high-speed broadband networks compared to only 54% of European consumers. Section 706 fortunately offers us an alternative path that will enable the private investment necessary to deploy modern broadband networks—wireline, wireless, and cable—and continue the virtuous circle fueled by light-touch regulation of the Internet ecosystem.
— IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher
To read our Reply Comments in full, visit here.
Tuesday, July 08
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds more Americans than ever are moving away from traditional landline phone service. As The Hill’s Julian Hattem reports:
More than 4 in 10 American homes are landline phone-free and relying exclusively on cellphone service, according to a government survey released Tuesday.
That’s an increase over recent years, yet the growth of cellphone-only households might be slowing over time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded.
The CDC has been mapping cellphone usage for years. The new analysis covered the last six months of 2013.
Given this ongoing trend of people giving up the traditional phone — along with the increasing cost of maintaining the network millions are leaving, it’s no surprise the FCC is currently working with carriers to sunset the traditional network in favor of Internet-powered networks.
For more on the transition to all-IP networks, check out this op-ed from our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher on a beta trial underway in Florida.
Friday, June 20
We’ll find out soon enough whether the U.S. soccer team can survive the World Cup’s “Group of Death” with two strong European competitors (England and Germany). But for broadband, it’s clear who’s winning: the U.S.
It’s basic economics that if we as a society want less of something—for instance, smoking—we will impose a tax on it or restrict it by regulation, and consumption will fall. The opposite is also true: if we want more of something, deregulation and lower taxes will, by the operation of markets, lead to more of it.
The price, availability and quality of broadband follows the same rules. If we want more and faster broadband—and we do—then excessive and inappropriate regulation of broadband, such as some activists’ proposals for “Title II” common carrier regulation, is the wrong way to go. On top of all the legal and technological problems Title II would bring, we can confidently predict that it would sharply inhibit broadband investment.
A new paper from Christopher Yoo of Penn Law School’s Center for Technology Innovation and Competition takes a fresh look at the data and shows that the US is far ahead of Europe on virtually every relevant metric of broadband deployment. The reason, not surprisingly, is that the US regulates broadband lightly while European countries impose investment crippling wholesale unbundling requirements on broadband providers.
Res ipsa loquitur, the lawyers like to say, and Yoo says exactly that: “The data speak for themselves, and the empirical evidence confirms that the United States is performing much better than Europe in the high-speed broadband race[.]”
Look at the data from different angles (as CTIC’s interactive micro-site permits), and it tells the same story: access to next-generation networks (over 25 Mbps), the U.S. leads 82% to 54%; access to next-generation networks in rural areas, 48% to 12%; and LTE coverage, 86% to 27%. Unsurprisingly given these figures, the U.S. (meaning U.S. network operators) invests more than twice as much per household as Europe does—$562 vs. $244. Better service, with less packet loss in the U.S.. And entry-level broadband prices are lower here, too.
Why is the U.S. winning? It all comes down to fundamentally different models of regulation and the incentives each provides for investment: Europe relies on regulations that treat broadband as a public utility and foster competition among multiple leased access providers on incumbent provider platforms. New entrants lease incumbents’ facilities at wholesale cost (also known as unbundling). The U.S. regulatory light- touch has generally left buildout, maintenance, operation and modernization of Internet infrastructure to private companies and focuses on promoting facilities-based competition, in which new entrants are expected to construct their own networks.
The regulatory structure government chooses directly affects broadband availability, quality and price.
Focus on that investment statistic for a minute: there’s over twice as much investment per household in the U.S. as in Europe, which leads to more coverage.
We’ve already had a glimpse of what can happen if the U.S. government tries a different path, that of Title II regulation. When the FCC announced in 2010 that it was considering Title II reclassification of broadband as a possible approach to ensuring network neutrality, there was an immediate negative effect on the stock prices of the network operators who were deploying broadband across the country. On average, the market capitalization of the four largest ISPs in the United States lost a combined $18 billion and the market value of one of those entities dropped 15% overnight. The ability of these companies to acquire the financing necessary for aggressive broadband deployment diminishes as their value in the market declines. This was but one early sign of the kinds of problems that broadband providers will encounter in continuing their world leading broadband deployment performance if the FCC turns to Title II regulation.
So the light regulatory model of the U.S. brings greater adoption, more investment, and faster speeds, while due to the heavy-handed leased access regime on which Europe built its policies, the continent is now lagging far behind.
None of this is surprising to anyone who knows a bit of economics, but it’s a useful reminder as the FCC considers what sort of rules would best achieve our nation’s broadband goals. We can ill afford to neglect history and economics by imposing telephone-era, public utility regulation that will dampen investment at precisely the moment when carriers will have to undertake even greater expenditures to acquire spectrum in the upcoming incentive auction and then spend more to deploy facilities to bring wireless broadband to the entire US population at 4G levels. As Yoo writes, “we have a real-world basis for assessing the impact of imposing telephone-style regulation on the Internet[.] As regulators in the United States contemplate rules for next-generation networks, it would be wise to consider how going down the path of stiff telephone-era regulation has fared elsewhere.”
Because whatever happens in Brazil, the U.S. has already beaten Europe in the broadband competition for economic growth.
Monday, May 19
IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher recently sat down with fellow former Representative Jack Fields on C-SPAN’s The Communicators to talk about the 1996 Telecommunications Act (which both congressman were instrumental in crafting) and how to update for our current technological reality. You can watch the interview here.
Wednesday, May 07
In the upcoming incentive auction for wireless spectrum, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeks to advance widespread deployment of mobile broadband in rural America with the infusion of additional 600 MHz “low” band spectrum into the wireless market.
What’s the best approach to achieving the goal of expanded rural service? Don’t restrict the auction by cutting out companies that currently serve rural America and want to expand their presence there.
FCC Chairman Wheeler kicked off a lively debate on this issue in his recent blog post maintaining that:
“The low-band spectrum we will auction is particularly valuable because it has physical properties that increase the reach of mobile networks over long distances at far less cost than spectrum above 1GHz. Today, however, two national carriers control the vast majority of that low-band spectrum. This disparity makes it difficult for rural consumers to have access to the competition and choice that would be available if more wireless competitors also had access to low-band spectrum.”
While no disagreement exists on the need for more spectrum and the policy goal of expanding mobile broadband availability in rural America, the realities of today’s marketplace suggest an alternative view on the best way to bring affordable and ubiquitous mobile broadband services to more of America’s heartland.
Sprint and T-Mobile contend that that the success of the spectrum auction depends on the FCC’s ability to limit AT&T (T) and Verizon’s (VZ) future spectrum purchases. Yet, neither Sprint (S) nor T-Mobile (TMUS) has publicly committed to use any additional spectrum to serve rural America. Instead, a recent study by Dr. Anna Maria Kovacs reveals that these wireless entities have informed Wall Street that they would limit high-speed wireless broadband coverage to a population of only 250 million. For America’s rural consumers, their plan means far less broadband service coverage from Sprint and T-Mobile than what these companies offer to their existing voice service customers. In fact, it appears that their goal in utilizing new spectrum is to limit enhanced broadband service mainly to the nation’s urban centers.
If satisfying Wall Street’s demands for Sprint and T-Mobile to use newly acquired spectrum only to serve revenue-rich urban and suburban broadband customers is the nation’s primary goal, the FCC may be on the right track. On the other hand, if expanding mobile broadband deployment to rural Americans everywhere, from the mountains of western Virginia to the open ranges of the West, best serves the public interest, the FCC may want to choose a different path.
Unlike Sprint and T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon have stressed that they will use additional spectrum to serve nearly a population of 300,000,000, bringing advanced mobile broadband services to less densely populated areas. In fact, these companies already serve large portions of rural America directly (not just through partners), offering the same competitive nationwide pricing and calling plans that they offer in the suburbs or cities.
Excluding certain companies from the auction in an attempt to engineer greater “competition” isn’t going to work. Modern broadband networks require significant capital investment to build out these new services to difficult-to-reach populations. The companies that are most likely to make that capital investment are the ones who currently serve rural America and have announced their intention to expand rural access with newly acquired spectrum.
Availability of high-speed mobile broadband depends on service providers that agree to actually deploy cell towers there—something both Sprint and T-Mobile have failed to commit to doing in the future. They seem perfectly content to focus their core efforts on areas where revenue per square mile will be highest. The “back 40” of Manhattan contains a lot more people, after all, than the back 40 of a ranch in New Mexico or Montana.
While these two foreign-owned entities are free to advance their business interests in Washington and Wall Street corridors, America’s rural customers depend on the FCC to separate fact from fiction and help deliver broadband to every corner of the nation.
Non-existent investment commitments and theories on managed competition are no basis to rig an auction. If we seek a real “pop” in high-speed mobile broadband use in rural America, let’s look at the population each company has agreed to serve. Our spectrum policies shouldn’t exclude from the auction the prospective bidders who have actually announced plans to serve more of America’s heartland.
Wednesday, April 16
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.
Monday, April 14
At the Washington Post, Cecilia Kang has an extensive profile of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. An excerpt:
“I’m not sitting here sucking eggs,” Wheeler said at his first public meeting in November, a warning shot of what was to come. “I’m looking seriously at these issues.”
Such candor has defied early assumptions about President Obama’s FCC pick. The former lobbyist was pegged by many as a lame-duck regulator, likely to lay low and stick to worker-bee issues.
Instead, the 68-year-old has eagerly grasped a national megaphone on the defining — and the utterly arcane — telecom policy issues of the day.
Kang’s full profile is worth checking out. And for an extensive look at the issues Wheeler’s FCC faces, read our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher’s op-ed from November for Bloomberg Government.
Tuesday, April 08
Miss our Internet Academy on the future of America’s telecommunications policy yesterday? We’ve got you covered.