FCC Funds Broadband Companies to Build Internet Infrastructure in Rural Communities

infrastructure, internet access

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Over 1.7 millions people in the country side areas will soon be able to enjoy internet access after a successful auction organized by the Federal Communications Commission. More than half of the rural population will get to access to high speed internet with download speed of 100 mbps. At least 19% of them will be able to access gigabit connection. The rest will enjoy an internet connection speed of at least 25 mbps.

FCC chairman, Ajit Pai told the press that he has always been trying to improve the broadband service for rural area. He said he is motivated by the people he saw in the rural communities who always try to use internet to help others. He hope that many people will choose to stay back in the rural community and not move away since they are now providing broadband access. It is the goal of FCC that everyone in rural regions can access a decent speed internet at home in the next 10 years.

The agency created the auction 2 years ago calling out to providers to start offering internet broadband services to customers in the rural areas. The auction was officially started nearly 2 months ago on the 24th July. Universal Service Fund is the company that contributed the two billions dollars to the Connect America Fund for subsidizing the broadband companies interested in building the infrastructure. About $1.5 billions of the fund has been allocated to 103 providers. The cost is enough for covering the broadband for about 10 years.

There are 3 companies that will receive a combined funding of $12 millions. The first company is Viasat who received $5.43 millions as subsidy for building the infrastructure in West Virginia. Viasat also receive other funding that total up to $122.5 millions which makes it the largest auction beneficiary. Viasat’s minimum internet standard is 25 mbps download speed.

The second company is Citynet who received $6.51 million as funding for carrying out the work on 898 locations. The third company is Hardy Telecommunications who receives $47,435 for setting up an infrastructure with gigabit connection in Hampshire County. Hardy Telecommunications offers internet in the gigabit performance, which is the highest standard in the performance tier. No funding is provided for Frontier to carry out the work in West Virginia.

The auction was participated by over 220 companies and has 103 winning bidders. The winning bidders will constructing infrastructure in the rural area of the 45 states to connect the residents their to internet. The priority is given to bidders who is able to offer internet services with high speed, low latency and generous bandwidth. There is no restriction on the type of technology the bidder uses to build the infrastructure.

Winning bidders are required to submit long form application that explain how they will plan to use the fund. They will only receive the funding following the approval of their long form applications. The building of the infrastructure must be completed by the 6th year. The FCC will soon launch another auction called Mobility Fund Phase II auction to increase the coverage of 4G LTE in rural areas.

Astranis emerges from stealth with a new satellite technology for connecting the world

There’s a new entrant in the race to provide internet connectivity to the roughly four billion humans on the wrong side of the world’s digital divide.

Launching from stealth today with a fresh $13.5 million investment led by Andreessen Horowitz is Astranis — the developer of a novel satellite technology that aims to transmit data down to specific terrestrial locations with each satellite it launches.

That’s a significant shift from the way companies like SpaceX and OneWeb are building their satellite networks. Both of those companies are launching satellites into low earth orbit — which means that their satellites orbit the earth every ninety minutes.

For those companies to provide the kind of uninterrupted connectivity that consumers demand, they’d need to have a network of hundreds — if not thousands — of satellites in place to have a fully operational network.

Astranis is planning to launch its satellites into geostationary orbit — farther from the earth and in a location that will remain fixed… which means its satellites can provide connectivity almost immediately after launch.

That differentiation was enough to compel Andreessen to make its first investment in the space space and bring on additional capital from previous investors including Y Combinator, 50 Years, and Refactor Capital .

While the long term goal may be to address the problem of the digital divide, as Astranis co-founder and chief executive John Gedmark writes in his blog post, in the near term, don’t expect to see Astranis satellites powering connectivity in emerging markets.

Astranis founders Ryan McLinko and John Gedmark

It’s not about connecting immediately the next 3 billion people but the next large swath of people that need a connectivity solution for more sparsely populated areas,” says Martin Casado, a partner with Andreessen Horowitz and director on the Astranis board. 

Casado says that customer adoption will come because regional providers that hold licenses for spectrum need to use the spectrum they own or risk losing it. Satellite communications become the only way for these license holders to provide services in areas that are too expensive to be connected in any other way.

“Put simply, getting internet access to a remote region requires significant up-front effort and cost that underdeveloped and sparsely populated areas are unable to bear,” Casado wrote in a blog post about the investment. “This is because the only practical methods for bringing broadband to an area are to trench fiber, set up point-to-point microwave towers, or send massive half-billion dollar satellites into space and as a result, charge exceedingly high rates.”

An advocate for connecting rural areas and indigenous communities in the U.S. through the non-profit Mural Net, Casado has experienced the frustration of trying to get access to sparsely populated communities. “The problem of rural access is so complicated that even in the nation that birthed the internet, less than 20% of populations have connectivity in some rural tribal areas.”

Astranis tackles the immediate connectivity conundrum with its geostationary positioning, and the cost and bandwidth problem with a new model of smaller-sized satellites (roughly the size of a refrigerator) and new software-defined radio technology, according to Gedmark.

Unlike previous generations of satellites which could be massive machines that transmitted analog signals, the software defined radio technology enables higher throughput and frequency flexibility to make transmission easier and cheaper, Gedmark says.

While, Gedmark declined to discuss the specifics of the satellite’s cost, he did say that Astranis’ satellites would cost tens of millions of dollars — instead of hundreds of millions of dollars. For customers that means the magic number will be close to the industry’s targeted $75 per megabit per second per month for dedicated bandwidth, Gedmark said. “If you can get below that number you can get a lot more people online. The real goal is to get down to tens of dollars per megabit per second per month.”

There’s no doubt that Gedmark and his co-founder Ryan McLinko have the pedigree to compete with the aerospace giants pursuing satellite connectivity. Before founding Astranis, Gedmark served as the executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation — the industry association for companies including SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic — and worked as the director of rocket flights for the XPrize foundation’s launches. Meanwhile, McLinko led mechanical and electrical spacecraft research and development for Planet.

Even if the company is able to take a small percentage of the market from SpaceX and OneWeb with that kind of pricing, it would be a huge success given that the satellite telecommunications market is now worth roughly $120 billion, Gedmark estimates. And that’s without including the 4 billion people how currently can’t access the internet.

For us… it’s all about solving this problem,” says Gedmark. “The way to do that is to be in control of the satellites ourselves and get them up as fast as possible.”

State-by-State Net Neutrality Laws Breakdown

Illustration of future prediction for Net Neutrality legal issues.
This post will be updated weekly through Q2 2018 with the latest updates on Net Neutrality state laws and legal initiatives.

As a result of the FCC’s Restore Internet Freedom Order, elected officials have begun taking up the issue of net neutrality at the state level, with the goal of passing a variety of local-level Net Neutrality state laws.

So far, officials across 26 states have taken action aimed at preventing ISPs from engaging in throttling or blocking content or services, engaging in paid prioritization of traffic, or otherwise mismanaging data traffic traveling over broadband networks within state lines.

In both federal and state bodies of government, the net neutrality debate falls along party lines, with Democrats in favor of rules enforcing net neutrality, and Republicans favoring a hands-off approach to the issue.

State-Level Pro-Net Neutrality Regulatory Strategies

Illustration expressing the three strategies states use to promote Net Neutrality.

US states are using three strategies to preserve elements of Obama-era Net Neutrality laws: Suing the FCC, enhancing requirements for ISPs to get government grants, and creating their own ground-up legislation.

First Strategy: Suing the FCC

Following the FCC’s vote, 22 Attorneys General, led by New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, have filed a suit against the FCC, asking the court to find the Restore Internet Freedom Order as “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.” The suit follows an investigation into allegations of fake comments in support of the repeal appearing on the FCC’s public comment Website. The investigation was carried out by the New York’s AG office.

States suing the FCC as of February 23, 2018: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and District of Columbia.

Second Strategy: Enhancing requirements for state or government grants

Legislators in 12 states have introduced legislation which would require ISPs to adhere to a set of net neutrality rules in order to be eligible for state and local government and agency contracts.

States pursuing enhanced grant requirements as of February 23, 2018: California, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Wisconsin.

Third Strategy: Direct State-Level Net Neutrality Rules

In 20 states, officials have introduced legislation that would create a set of net neutrality principles that ISPs offering broadband service to residents and business within the state must follow. Here, state approaches vary: some bills outline the creation of a certification process for ensuring ISPs are maintaining net neutrality, others hand over enforcement authority to different state bodies, and some identify violation fines.

States pursuing this strategy as of February 23, 2018 include: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

State-by-State Net Neutrality Legal and Legislative Action

Alaska State Net Neutrality Laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsAlaska Broadband Map
Alaska state Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D) introduced House Bill 277, with six Democrat cosponsors, which establishes Net Neutrality state laws for any ISP operating within the state. Under Alaska state law, ISPs are already considered utilities. The bill is currently in committee.

California State Net Neutrality laws

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Two state Senators are tackling the issue with two different pieces of legislation in California. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León (D) introduced Senate Bill 460, the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018, which would create a set of net neutrality rules that ISPs operating within the state must follow, and which bars state agencies from entering into contract with any ISP unless the ISP certifies, under penalty of perjury, to adhere to net neutrality rules. Fellow state Sen. Scott Wiener (D), along with 13 other Democrats, introduce Senate Bill 822, that would enable the state’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to establish new regulations on how ISPs treat Internet traffic. Both bills are still in committee.

Colorado State Net Neutrality laws

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No legislation has been introduced at the state level, though two Democrat representatives, Rep. Leslie Herod and Rep. Chris Hansen, have told local media they’re working on a solution. These two legislators have also called for Colorado’s state Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman (R) to join the multi-state suit against the FCC.

Connecticut State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsConnecticut Broadband Map
Connecticut state Sen. Bob Duff (D) introduced a placeholder Senate Bill 2 that would hold ISPs accountable to net neutrality pledges by creating a certification process to ensure ISPs do not engage in blocking, throttling or prioritizing Internet traffic within the state. The bill would also give the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority the ability to enforce net neutrality within the state with civil penalties. The bill is currently still in committee.

Connecticut’s Attorney General George Jepsen (D) announced in January that the state will be joining others in suing the FCC.

Delaware State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsDelaware Broadband Map
Delaware state Sen. Delcollo (R) introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 44 establishing the General Assembly’s opposition to the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules. The resolution also urges Congressional members to “enact legislation reinstating and requiring the preservation of net neutrality.” The resolution, which had four Republican and nine Democrat cosponsors was passed January 25 with bipartisan support.

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn (D) announced in January that the state would join others in suing the FCC.

Georgia State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsGeorgia Broadband Map
Georgia state Sen. Harold Jones (D) introduced Senate Bill 310, with six Democrat cosponsors, aimed at preserving the open Internet by barring ISPs from blocking or throttling content, applications or services in broadband service offered in the state. The bill is currently in committee.

Hawaii State Net Neutrality laws

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Both the state House and Senate are now considering their own versions of Net Neutrality state laws or legislation aimed at forcing ISPs to comply with net neutrality principles. State Sen. Stanley Chang (D) and six other Democrats introduced Senate Bill 2088, which would require ISPs operating within the state follow net neutrality principles. After a public hearing, the bill has been deferred.

In the state’s House, Rep. Kaniela Ing (D) and seven Democrat cosponsors introduced House Bill 1995, which would establish a set of net neutrality principles that ISPs operating within the state must follow, and seeks to establish a task force to “explore the possibility of establishing a state-owned public utility company to provide broadband internet service.” The bill is currently in committee.

Idaho State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsIdaho Broadband Map
Idaho state Rep. Paulette Jordan (D) has proposed House Bill 425, a bill that prohibits ISPs operating within Idaho from “blocking lawful content, applications, services or nonharmful devices, subject to reasonable network management,” as well as prohibits them from “impeding or degrading” lawful traffic, and can not engage in paid prioritization.” The bill is currently in committee.

Illinois State Net Neutrality laws

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Illinois state Rep. Ann Williams (D) and four Democrat cosponsors filed House Bill 4819, entitled the “Broadband Procurement and Disclosure Act,” which bars state contracts from being awarded to ISPs “unless the contract provides specified terms concerning access to and impairment of Internet services.” The bill is currently in committee.

Iowa State Net Neutrality laws

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No legislation has been introduced at the state level, but local media has reported that lawmakers are currently drafting a net neutrality bill. Iowa’s Attorney General Tom Miller joined the multi-state lawsuit against the FCC.

Kansas State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsKansas Broadband Map
State Rep. Brett Parker (D) introduced House Bill 2682, which proposes requiring ISP entering into contracts with the state to honor net neutrality rules. This bill would also require ISPs to disclose to its customers its network management practices, “for consumers to make informed choices regarding the use of such services.” The bill’s cosponsors include four Democrats and one Republican. The bill is currently in committee.

Kentucky State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsKentucky Broadband Map
Attorney General Andy Beshear has joined the multi-state suit against the FCC.

Louisiana State Net Neutrality laws

No legislators have introduced any bills to the state body. Local media has reported that Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) is mulling an executive order to address the issue.

Maine State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsMaine Broadband Map
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills (D) has joined the FCC lawsuit.

Maryland State Net Neutrality laws

In January, Maryland state Sen.Roger Manno (D) and five other Democrats introduced Senate Bill 287, which would restrict state funds that can be used in contracts with ISPs who do not adhere to net neutrality principles such as blocking lawful content, throttling speeds or engage in “commercial traffic preferencing.” Maryland Attorney General Frosh (D) has joined the multi-state suit against the FCC.

Massachusetts State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsMassachusetts Broadband Map
Massachusetts state Sen. Barbara L’Italien (D) and state Rep. Andy Vargas (D) introduced two versions of a bill entitled “Act Protecting Consumers by Prohibiting Blocking, Throttling, or Paid Prioritization in the Provision Of Internet Service,” in December 2017, just days after the FCC’s vote. L’Italien introduced Senate Bill 2428 to the state Senate, while Rep. Vargas introduced House Bill 4151 to the State House of Representatives. Both bills aim to devise a set of net neutrality rules for ISPs operating within the state, and give authority of enforcement to the state’s Attorney General, under the Massachusetts Antitrust Act.

State Senators have convened a special committee aimed at developing legislation to protect net neutrality rules in response to the FCC’s repeal. The bipartisan Special Committee on Net Neutrality and Consumer Protection, led by Rep. Cynthia Creem (D), Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R) includes four other Democrats and one Republican.

According to local media reports, state Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D) plans to introduce a similar bill that would require all ISPs operating in Massachusetts follow net neutrality rules. Governor Charlie Baker is also reportedly considering releasing an executive order on the issue.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) has joined the multi-state suit against the FCC.

Minnesota State Net Neutrality laws

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State Rep. Paul Thissen (D) and Sen. Ron Latz (D) announced plans to introduce legislation that would require ISPs to “ensure neutrality on all public networks” by prohibiting blocking, throttling and paid prioritization schemes from ISPs in local and state contracts. The bill will also seek to ensure that Minnesota state agencies “favor companies that agree to abide by net neutrality principles.” The bill has not yet been formally introduced the state Senate. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson (D) has joined the multi-state lawsuit against the FCC.

Mississippi State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsMississippi Broadband Map
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (D) has joined the multi-state suit against the FCC.

Montana State Net Neutrality laws

Montana became the first state to respond to the FCC’s repeal. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) signed an executive order that require ISPs with state contracts to follow net neutrality principles. The order directs the state’s Department of Administration to “incorporate into the state procurement process for Internet, data, and telecommunications services criteria requiring that successful recipients of state contracts adhere to Internet neutrality principles.”

Nebraska State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsNebraska Broadband Map
Nebraska state Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) introduced Legislative Bill 856, which would change communications provider requirements under the Nebraska Telecommunications Regulation Act in order to prevent ISPs from blocking, throttling or otherwise impacting data traffic in Nebraska. The bill is awaiting a public hearing.

New Jersey State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsNew Jersey Broadband Map
State legislators Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D) and Patrick Diegnan (D) introduced Senate Bill 1577, the “New Jersey Net Neutrality Act,” which prevents any ISPs in New Jersey from blocking or throttling traffic, or engaging in paid prioritization, in services offered to residents and businesses. An identical bill, Assembly Bill 5257, was introduced in the state Assembly, sponsored by Annette Quijano (D) and five other Democrats.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued an executive order in early February which requires ISPs with state contracts to adhere to net neutrality principles.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has joined the multi-state suit against the FCC.

New Mexico State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsNew Mexico Broadband Map
New Mexico state senator Howie C. Morales (D) introduced Senate Bill 39 that would modify the state’s Unfair Practices Act to ensure that ISPs do not block or throttle traffic, or engage in paid prioritization. The bill is currently in committee. Morales, along with Rep. Bill McCamley (D) and Rep. Carl Trujillo (D) also introduced a Joint Memorial “requesting that the New Mexico Congressional Delegation encourage Congress to review the FCC’s decision to repeal the net neutrality rule and the FCC’s rulemaking process.” New Mexico’s Attorney General Hector Balder (D) has joined the multi-state suit against the FCC.

New York State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsNew York Broadband Map
New York Sen. David Carlucci (D) and Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy (D) filed two versions of a bill that introduces a set of requirements for ISPs operating within the state to meet in regards to net neutrality. Senate Bill 7183 would also modify the state’s public service law to include ISPs, and would task the Commission to “develop and maintain a statewide plan for the monitoring of internet service providers, including the annual certification that internet service providers comply with the internet service neutrality requirements.” The bill would amend the state finance law to bar ISPs that do not uphold net neutrality rules from obtaining state and local contracts.

The Assembly version of the bill has seen 38 other legislators sign on as co-sponsors, including Independent Fred Thiele and Republican Karl Brabenec.

New York Governor issued an executive order in January directing state agencies “not to enter into any contracts for internet service unless the ISPs agree to adhere to net neutrality principles.”

New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman has filed suit against the FCC, along with 20 other state Attorneys General. The announcement came after the AG’s office released its findings of an investigation into the FCC’s commenting process on the issue of net neutrality. The investigation found up to 2 million comments were submitted to the FCC fraudulently, using the names of real US citizens.

Oregon State Net Neutrality laws

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State Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D) and Rep. Paul Holvey (D) have included net neutrality protections into an online privacy bill filed last year, House Bill 4155. The bill would bar the State of Oregon from awarding contracts to ISPs who do not adhere to net neutrality principles. The bill, which has 24 Democrat cosponsors, is currently in committee.

Pennsylvania State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsPennsylvania Broadband Map
State Sen. Larry Farnese (D) introduced Senate Bill 1033, the Open Internet Protection Act, which would prohibit ISPs from blocking, throttling traffic or engaging in paid prioritization schemes. The bill would also bar and state agency or “political subdivision” from doing business with, offering tax credits or awarding grants to ISPs who do not adhere to net neutrality; and ISPs that do not comply with these regulations would be found in violation of the state’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. The bill, which has three Democrat cosponsors, is currently in committee. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) has joined the multi-state suit against the FCC.

Rhode Island State Net Neutrality laws

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State Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D) introduced House Bill 7422, the Net Neutrality Protection Act of 2018, which bars state agencies from purchasing Internet service from ISPs that “fail to provide unbiased access to the Internet, through a commitment to the net neutrality principles.” The bill, which has three Democrat and one Republican cosponors, is currently in committee. Rep. Brian Kennedy (D), meanwhile, introduced House Bill 7076, a bill that would amend the state’s “Community Antenna Television Systems” general laws to include regulations and jurisdiction for ISPs who are awarded contracts by the state or local bodies to enforce compliance with the state’s net neutrality rules. The bill, which has four Democrat cosponsors, is currently in committee. On the Senate side, Sen. Louis DiPalma introduced Senate Bill 2008, which extends the net neutrality rules to any ISP offering broadband service in the state. The bill is currently in committee. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin (D) has joined the multi-state suit against the FCC.

South Carolina State Net Neutrality laws

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State Rep. J.E. Smith (D) introduced House Bill 4706, the South Carolina Net Neutrality Protection and Maintenance Act, which would prevent any ISP operating in the state from engaging in blocking, throttling or paid prioritization. Failure to adhere to the state’s net neutrality principles “constitute an unfair or deceptive act in trade or commerce and an unfair method of competition,” the bill declares. The bill is currently in committee.

South Dakota State Net Neutrality laws

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State Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D) and 11 other Democrats introduced Senate Bill 195, which would prevent state and local agencies from awarding contracts to ISPs that do not adhere to net neutrality principles. The bill is currently in committee.

Tennessee State Net Neutrality laws

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State Sen. Lee Harris (D) introduced Senate Bill 1746, the Tennessee Internet Consumer Protection and Neutrality Act. State Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D) introduced the same bill as House Bill 1755 in the state’s House of Representatives. The bills prohibit any ISPs operating in the state to engage in throttling, blocking or paid prioritization, and also prevents states agencies from contracting with ISPs that fail to adhere to the net neutrality principles.

Both bills are currently in committee.

Vermont State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsVermont Broadband Map
Vermont Rep. Thomas Stevens (D), Rep. Laura Sibilia (I) and Rep. Matthew Hill (D)

introduced House Bill 680, which aims to establish “consumer protection and net neutrality standards applicable to Internet service providers in Vermont.” The bill, which has 41 cosponsors that include Democrats, Independents, Progressives and one Republican, would require all ISPs operating in the state to obtain a net neutrality certificate, administered by the Vermont Public Utility Commission in order to provide broadband service to residents within the state. It would also create a “ground truth” testing mechanism, in order to “create a single objective statewide Internet speed test that permits customers to test their own broadband Internet speed and submit the results to the [public utility commission] to determine what Internet speeds consumers are receiving and where Internet service providers may be blocking,impairing, or degrading Internet traffic or content.” The bill would see the net neutrality standards enforced under the state’s Consumer Protection Act. The bill is currently in committee.

Virginia State Net Neutrality laws

https://broadbandnow.com/widgets/map.jsVirginia Broadband Map
Virginia Rep. Lee Carter (D) introduced House Bill 705 in early January aimed at preserving net neutrality within the state. The full bill reads: “A provider of broadband services shall be prohibited from offering or renewing services to consumers within any locality in the Commonwealth in which certain media is throttled, blocked, or prioritized on the basis of its content, format, host address, or source.” The bill died in committee last week.

Washington State Net Neutrality laws

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State Rep. Drew Hansen introduced House Bill 2282 in early January, which would bar any ISP operating in the state from blocking, throttling or engaging in paid prioritization. The bill would see that net neutrality principles “are matters vitally affecting the public interest for the purpose of applying the consumer protection act,” and gives the state’s Attorney General the power to enforce those rules. The bill, which has six Republican cosponsors and 45 Democrat cosponsors, has passed the state’s House with bipartisan support and is now being considered by the state Senate. The bill is currently in committee.

West Virginia State Net Neutrality laws

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State Sen. Richard Ojeda introduced Senate Bill 396, the West Virginia Net Neutrality Act, to prohibit ISPs from blocking, throttling or engaging in paid prioritization. It also deems violations of these rules to “an unfair or deceptive act or practice” in violation of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act. The bill would enable consumers to bring suit against ISP violators in private civil action. The bill has 10 Democrat cosponsors and one Republican cosponsor, Patricia Rucker. However, Rucker has since requested to be removed from the list. The bill is currently in committee.

Wisconsin State Net Neutrality laws

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State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D) and Rep Jimmy Anderson (D) have introduced Assembly Bill 908 that would prevent the state agencies from awarding contracts to ISPs that do not adhere to net neutrality principles. A similar bill, Senate Bill 740, was introduced to the state Senate by Sen. Erpenbach and Sen. Chris Larson (D), with 18 Democrats. Sen. Larson (D) and Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D), along with 16 other Democrats, have also introduce Assembly Bill 909, which would reinstate net neutrality rules for ISPs operating within the state, and directs the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to “create and implement a complaint process for responding to violations of the bill’s provisions.” All three bills are currently in committee.




Context of the “Net Neutrality” vs “Internet Freedom” Partisan Debate

Illustration of Tom Wheeler and Ajit Pai.

Understanding the partisan debate around Net Neutrality regulation comes down to defining how Title I vs Title II classification changes the rules around broadband.

After a heated national debate about the importance of net neutrality enforcement, the FCC voted 3–2 along party lines to adopt the Restore Internet Freedom Order [1], a declaratory ruling to repeal the regulatory Title II classification, put in place by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015, that had enabled the FCC to enforce net neutrality rules among Internet service providers (ISPs).

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (R) heralded the vote as helping consumers and promoting competition between ISPs. However, the repeal was deeply unpopular among consumer advocacy groups, who claimed removing Title II designation would leave the wolves to guard to hen house. [2]

Supporters of net neutrality have argued that, without Title II classification, which treated broadband service as a utility-like “common carrier” service akin to telephone lines in the 20th century, ISPs will be free to block or throttle data, services and applications traveling across their networks for financial or strategic gain.

Advocates of the repeal, which include ISPs Comcast, Cox, Charter, Verizon and AT&T, along with telecom industry trade bodies, have argued that Title II classification has only served to undermine ISPs’ abilities to invest in their broadband networks and innovate new technologies.

Lingering legal questions about Net Neutrality State Laws

Illustration of legal questions.

Title I status, Preemption, and Exemption all produce issues for states that want to regulate broadband at the state level.

The net neutrality state laws issue has quickly become a lightning rod for broader debates around the role of Internet services in the public interest, states rights and federal government regulatory authority. There are three main legal questions that these events have brought to the forefront:

Title I vs Title II: Why does it matter for the public?

The thrust of the FCC’s order was to remove the Title II classification from Internet services. Title II classification, under the Communications Act of 1934 [3], establishes certain services as “common carrier” services that are regulated by the FCC as a utility, meaning that the service is deemed to be vital to the public interest and is regulated as such. But with the Restore Internet Freedom Order, FCC has reclassified Internet services as Title I, also known as “information services,” which are subject to fewer federal and state regulations.

The ambiguity around the classification of Internet services stems from the history and development of Internet technologies. Telephone companies such as AT&T and Verizon, which are regulated as common carriers under Title II, were the first to offer Internet services over telephone lines. But cable companies, which began offering Internet services with the advent of DOCSIS technologies, were regulated as information services under Title I. After a series of legal challenges, the FCC voted to classify all Internet services as Title I information services.

In the past 10 years, there have been at least 13 cases [4] of ISPs violating net neutrality, but all attempts by the FCC to step in and enforce net neutrality rules were struck down by the courts, who argued that the FCC didn’t have authority to regulate ISPs classified as Title I services. In 2015, under the leadership of former chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC was able to reclassify Internet services as Title II, and could therefore fully enforce net neutrality. That order was repealed with the recent Restore Internet Freedom Order, thereby removing the FCC’s ability to enforce net neutrality, and handing over regulatory authority to the Federal Trade Commission.

Preemption of net neutrality state laws

Some state legislators have been reluctant to attempt to create a set of net neutrality state laws or rules that would apply to ISPs operating within the state because of a preemption clause contained in the FCC’s Restore Internet Freedom Order. Preemption clauses refer to statements which attempt to preempt a state’s response to a regulatory order.

The FCC’s order claims the regulation of broadband should be governed at the federal level, and that the FCC “should exercise our authority to preempt any state or local requirements that are inconsistent with the federal deregulatory approach we adopt today.” It argues that state or local regulatory approach for broadband service would “impair the provision of such service,” by forcing ISPs to meet inconsistent regulatory rules across the states they operate within. ISPs Comcast, Verizon, and the mobile industry trade body CTIA, had all submitted ex parte filings to the FCC ahead of the net neutrality vote, urging it to include a preemption clause within the Restore Internet Freedom Order.

The FCC has used preemption in a number of regulations, but under legal challenges, the preemption clauses don’t always stand up to muster. In 2015, the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s attempt to preempt state laws governing municipal broadband networks. [5] The legal challenge came just after the FCC had re-classified Internet service as a Title II “common carrier” service, and was considered a regulatory reach at the time. The courts found that the result of the FCC’s preemption “essentially serves to re-allocate decision-making power between the states and their municipalities,” without a clear statement from Congress giving the FCC the prerogative to do so. In other words, the court found that the FCC cannot preempt state laws in order to prevent states from doing something if states are not violating any federal law or FCC regulation that directs states to do otherwise.

Impossibility exception

In a separate 2003 case, the courts upheld an FCC’s preemption which prevented states from regulating Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. [6] In that case, the FCC argued that states’ regulations of VoIP services would violate the “long-standing national policy of nonregulation of information services.” At that time, Internet services were classified as Title I services. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the FCC’s preemption in that case, but not because of the Title I classification.

Instead, the courts agreed with the “impossibility exception,” a rule which stipulates that the FCC can preempt states if the intrastate components of the service – meaning the parts of the service that occur within state lines – cannot be easily separated from the interstate components, ie the parts of the service that cross state lines. The court also noted that future advancements in technology may make the impossibility exception moot. “If, in the future, advances in technology undermine the central rationale of the FCC’s decision, its preemptive effect may be reexamined,” the court said.

What will happen next in the debate over state net neutrality laws?

Illustration of future prediction for Net Neutrality legal issues.

What’s next for the broadband debate? For better or worse, the issue will likely be decided by the majority in power at the FCC, not the majority in power in individual states.

While 22 Attorneys General are suing the FCC, the FCC could take legal action against any and all states that enshrine new net neutrality rules into law. The ISPs, themselves, may also filed suit against states that attempt to enforce their own net neutrality state laws or rules.

It’s not clear who has the upper hand here: the states that want to create their own net neutrality rules, or the FCC, which wants to prevent them from doing so. Legal experts seem to agree that both positions on the issue have waded into a gray area.

State legislators in Vermont have taken the issue of preemption, the public interest and the impossibility exception head on in the net neutrality bill its state government is currently considering. ““Vermont, more so than the FCC, is in the best position to decide for itself what the needs of its constituencies are and what policies best serve the public interest,” the bill – which has not become law yet – states. [7]

Industry advocates are worried that local-level net neutrality state laws and regulations will hamper ISPs’ ability to operate their broadband networks across state lines. Tim Wilkerson, president of the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, issued a statement last week. “The best path forward to lasting consumer protections and growing both innovation and investment is not through a disruptive patchwork of inconsistent state actions,” he said, “but rather through bipartisan federal legislation that establishes a clear and predictable national standard for net neutrality.”

It seems likely that ISPs will challenge state laws governing net neutrality if and when they become law. But it’s unclear if the courts will be convinced by the FCC’s arguments for authority in its preemption clause.

The post State-by-State Net Neutrality Laws Breakdown appeared first on Broadband Now.

FCC Concludes Satellite Internet Is Good Enough for Rural Broadband

The FCC’s 2018 Broadband Deployment Report has been raising eyebrows in Net Neutrality circles thanks to its move to classify satellite as fixed broadband — in spite of ongoing latency and pricing issues with satellite technology.

The report is contested on the partisan line since including satellite in the statistics makes it appear that only 14 million Americans don’t have broadband access (25/3 Mbps fixed and 10/3 Mbps LTE). Without satellite Internet coverage, that statistic nearly doubles to 25 million. [1]

The 2018 FCC report on broadband deployment displays terrestrial service as usual, but leans on satellite statistics to boost coverage statistics. Image via FCC Broadband Deployment Report 2018, p. 16.

The media response has been pretty standard: the left presents it as pandering to ISPs. The right is largely treating it as a chance to promote the benefits of deregulation.

Unfortunately, including satellite in service statistics isn’t just rhetoric. It results in higher than usual statistics regarding the amount of the US that is considered “served” by high-speed Internet connectivity, which in turn impacts how the FCC distributes network funding for low-income communities. [2]

In this analysis we’ll look at where satellite stands today in terms of performance and pricing, and whether or not it makes the grade for bridging the digital divide in rural America.

Is Satellite Internet Good Enough for Modern Internet Use?

When advising consumers, we generally steer them away from satellite for the following reasons:

  • Limited data allowance (caps around 10–50MB/month.
  • High pricing compared to cable, DSL, and Fiber.
  • Long minimum contracts. (Usually 2 years.)

As discussed above, the FCC conclusion on this point is contested and closely tied to Net Neutrality/Internet Freedom debates.

While contract length isn’t discussed at length in the FCC’s reports, the other two points are touched on, if only in footnotes.

Should “Latency” Be a Broadband Benchmark?

As it stands, the FCC uses only two metrics to determine fixed broadband quality: download speed and upload speed.

The issue of latency, or “ping,” is left out.

Illustration demonstrating satellite latency.

Latency refers to the “lag” on a connection, meaning the milliseconds it takes for data to travel from your computer to a remote server and back. Wired connections like cable or DSL have latency measurements well below 50ms. Satellite, on the other hand, generally measures closer to 700-800ms or more. This results in a measurable lag on video communications, gaming, and other time-sensitive applications.

This matters because the FCC broadband definition currently requires fixed service to provide a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

By this definition, satellite has just recently been able to meet the minimum. Both major US providers (HughesNet and Viasat/Exede) launched major satellite upgrades in the past couple years. Satellite data has been included in Broadband Report statistics since 2016, but this is the first year that satellite exceeded the minimum broadband speed benchmarks and meaningfully impacted service statistics.

To address this issue, it was expected that the FCC might introduce latency as a factor now that satellite is often meeting or exceeding those minimum speeds. However, the 2018 report under FCC Chairman Ajit Pai declined to do so.

On page 16 of the report, the FCC sides with commentary by Internet providers, which suggests that latency is a non-issue for common consumer uses like watching YouTube:

NTCA argues that some types of broadband, such as satellite, may not meet a particular latency target and should be excluded from our section 706 analysis. By contrast, ViaSat objects to any latency standard, arguing that the Commission should not single out latency among all the performance characteristics that affect the end-user consumer experience. Verizon and CTIA also oppose adoption of a latency benchmark, urging the Commission instead to focus on consumer needs and experience. … We [FCC] decline to adopt a latency benchmark.

Should Pricing and Data Caps Factor Into Coverage Reports?

The 2018 report is equally dismissive of the need to consider how pricing affects consumer access to advanced Internet service. Again, the FCC report sides with Verizon’s comment submissions on the issue:

While factors such as data allowances or pricing may affect consumers’ use of advanced telecommunications capabilities or influence decisions concerning the purchase of these services in the first instance, such considerations do not affect the underlying determination of whether advanced telecommunications capability has been deployed and made available to customers in a given area. Thus, we believe such factors are extraneous to the present inquiry. In any event, as Verizon points out, to the extent that providers offer different types of data plans or pricing offerings, this range of choices for consumers “underscores how robust broadband deployment has been.”

While the pricing for satellite Internet plans is similar to Internet-only plans from cable and fiber providers, we generally steer customers towards wired options when they ask.

The reason for this is mainly the data caps used by satellite Internet providers. These data caps are perfectly reasonable considering the bandwidth limitations of satellite technology, but the limitation to 10, 20, or 50MB per month is often too little to serve a family home that wants to use modern applications such as Skype, or stream entertainment with a Roku. That said, they can be perfectly serviceable for basic access, use by children doing research and homework, etc. [3]

Practical Internet Access: Are Two-Year Contracts an Access Barrier for Low-Income Consumers?

The cost of installing a reception dish with a minimum two-year contract is not realistic for many low-income consumers, who often live in temporary or rental housing.

Finally, the elephant in the room that somehow didn’t get air time in this report: multi-year contracts.

As of 2018, the minimum contract length available from a residential satellite Internet provider like HughesNet is two years.

Again, this isn’t entirely unreasonable considering the economics of the satellite business. Providing service is expensive, and they have difficulty making money off short-term customers.

That said, minimum contracts can be a significant barrier for low-income customers who likely live in rental or short-term housing. Unlike wired broadband that can be activated on a monthly basis with a self-install box, satellite involves expensive dish equipment, complex installation with a dish in the yard, and expensive Early Termination Fees for customers who break the contract. According to broadband consultant James Webb, “if it weren’t for the data caps and minimum contracts we’d have no problem recommending it [satellite] for consumers. For now, we almost always suggest wired options like DSL and cable.”

For these reasons, many Digital Divide groups consider satellite to be a problematic solution to broadband inequality.

Left vs Right: Where Politics and Data Colide

As we’ve reported before, Broadband Deployment reports and other “fact sheets” from the FCC usually have more to do with left/right commissioner disagreements than with actually open-sourcing data about broadband adoption in the US.

The 25/3 Mbps speed benchmark, for example, tends to change with administration changes rather than consumer Internet expectations. Obama-era regulations were responsible for the current 25/3 Mbps benchmark, and the Trump-era FCC proposed lowering speeds needed to “serve” consumers within their first year in the office.

Regardless of where you stand on broadband regulation, it’s important to remember that FCC presentations of data are strongly colored by the party in power.

Satellite Internet speeds are improving, but DSL is usually better for rural customers

It used to be easy to say “only get satellite Internet if you have to.” Now that the speeds have increased thanks to launches like Gen 5, it often beats DSL in terms of speed. Meanwhile, DSL networks are getting upgrades extremely slowly due to the high cost of replacing the lines with fiber optics.

Future-facing analysts often cite Elon Musk’s low-orbit satellite mesh project as a beacon of hope for lowering cost and boosting performance of rural broadband. [4] The question is, at what point will the price and logistics of service compete directly with wired service?

It’s a question satellite companies and telecoms are rushing to answer, since untapped customers are untapped revenue streams. The situation was well summed up by satellite industry consultant Tim Farrar in a statement to Quartz: “How much cheaper does it need to get? That’s the multibillion dollar question.” [5]

For now, the FCC seems to be moving to call the existing services “good enough,” in keeping with the light-touch approach to telecom regulation. Whether or not this low-pressure approach drives innovation in the consumer broadband market or not remains to be seen as 2017–2018 data becomes available early next year.

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FCC Broadband Definition Has Changed Before and Will Change Again

Bill Clinton Speaking.

The official FCC broadband definition is a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

This standard was introduced by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015 as an increase to the previous standard of 4 Mbps download, 1 Mbps upload. The benchmark increase was justified as necessary due to “advances in technology, market offerings by broadband providers and consumer demand.” [1]

This change was in keeping with the Obama administration’s focus on increasing telecom regulation. The Obama administration was the only administration to give the telecom industry a “failing” grade in the annual Broadband Progress Report, with Obama stating that “[t]his isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.” [2]

This change was also in keeping with 2010 FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s focus on drawing attention to the “digital divide” in rural areas, as increasing the minimum speed results in less favorable coverage statistics.

FCC Broadband Definition Over Time

Data via FCC Public Records
Date AdoptedMinimum DownloadMinimum UploadFCC Comissioner
201525 Mbps3 MbpsTom Wheeler, D
20104 Mbps1 MbpsJulius Genachowski, D
1996200 Kbps200 KbpsWilliam Kennard, D

2018 Disagreements Over FCC Broadband Definition

Ajit Pai speaking with Marco Rubio at FCC.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai faced criticism in 2017 and 2018 for his proposal of modifying broadband coverage benchmarks. Image via FCC Flickr.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai earned a shower of negative media attention in recent months for his suggestion that a mobile broadband benchmark of 10 Mbps should be sufficient to mark consumers as “served” in the semi-annual Broadband Progress Report. [3]

In his proposal, Pai cited the widespread access to high-speed mobile as potentially sufficient for basic Internet access. In the past, subscribers were only considered “served” if they had access to both 25 Mbps download / 3 Mbps upload wired broadband and mobile connectivity.

This would be the first-ever reduction in the FCC standard for consumers to be considered “served” with broadband Internet. However, contrary to what has been reported widely in the media, this would not be a replacement for the wired broadband 25/3 Mbps down/up standard.

…It would, however, cause the percentage of Americans considered “covered” by the FCC to jump dramatically.

In the FCC’s own words:

we propose to maintain the current speed benchmark of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload (25 Mbps/3 Mbps) for fixed broadband, and we also seek comment about other potential benchmarks.

Past Broadband Benchmark Changes: Switch from 200 Kbps to 4/1 Mbps in 2010

The FCC upgraded the minimum definition for wired broadband to 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload in 2010. [4]

It’s worth noting that the only other major change in the broadband benchmark took place under Chairman Julius Genachowski of the early Obama administration.

In their 2010 Broadband Progress Report, the FCC justified changing the broadband definition as necessary to accommodate video alongside basic browsing:

It [4 Mbps download, 1 Mbps upload] is the minimum speed required to stream a high-quality —even if not high-definition—video while leaving sufficient bandwidth for basic web browsing and e-mail, a common mode of broadband usage today that comports directly with section 706’s definition of advanced telecommunications capability.

Prior to the 2010 change, video streaming was widely viewed as a luxury. Considering the advancing popularity of video conferencing and remote teamwork, it’s not surprising that the FCC broadband definition would be upgraded.

Interestingly, the FCC’s own speed guidelines define the minimum speed/bandwidth needed for video conferencing as 1 Mbps.

Justification for Original FCC Broadband Definition of 200 Kbps

Bill Clinton Speaking.

Clinton-era “light touch” telecom regulation has been at the center of debates over broadband standards since 1996.
Image via Gage
Skidmore/Flickr

Broadband Progress Reports issued 1999–2009 adhered to the original broadband definition of 200 Kbps established in the Telecommunications act of 1996 — the Clinton-era order that required the regular publishing of Broadband Progress Reports in the first place.

Reports in this time period didn’t account for video as a necessity for basic service, although by 2009 the definition was well out of date for real-world users who were already getting accustomed to video platforms like YouTube (launched 2005).

The First Broadband Progress Report in 1999 justified maintaining the 200 Kbps standard with this wording:

We reaffirm that a service may have asymmetrical upstream and downstream transmission paths and still be advanced telecommunications capability as long as both paths are capable of speeds in excess of 200 kbps to the network demarcation point at the subscriber’s premises. https://transition.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Common_Carrier/Reports/fcc99005-converted.pdf

However, even before the the upgrade to a 4 Mbps benchmark, annual reports classified speed into tiers and reported individual statistics according to speed range. This method separated “basic service” from the more advanced telecommunications capacity expected in urban areas.

the Statistic Is Mightier Than the Sword

Overall, FCC Broadband Reports have been as much about the conversation they start as the data inside.

Shifting benchmarks such as the FCC broadband definition can allow an administration to create seeming favorable or non-favorable results according to the regulatory agenda of the party in power. Under Obama, changing benchmarks drew attention to the digital divide and every single report concluded that broadband was not being deployed “in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

Conservative parties tend to conclude that broadband is being deployed fast enough, and that increased scrutiny and regulation isn’t the answer to increasing competition. This can be seen in the current administration’s proposal to lower coverage standards, which would create more favorable statistics to include in future progress reports.

Regardless of which side you fall on, it’s been frustrating to see that most actual upgrades to rural networks comes either as a requirement in contested merger agreements, or from small fixed wireless providers.

This post will be updated to reflect changes in the definition of Broadband from 2018–2020.

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2018 FCC International Broadband Data Report: Key Insights

Densely populated city.

Data in the 2018 FCC International Broadband Data Report [1] shows that US broadband speeds have climbed the charts to #10 among developed nations. As of 2016, the US pulled ahead of Norway, Finland, and several other European countries.

However, pricing analysis in the report shows that in spite of improving speeds and infrastructure, the prices Americans pay for broadband are still “among the worst in the developed world,” amounting to an average $58/month.

The full report is available via the FCC. Our analysis focuses on what the speed and pricing results mean today for US broadband competition.

Key Broadband Speed Insights from the 2018 FCC International Broadband Data Report

Diagram showing speed performance for broadband internationally.

The USA jockeyed their way five points up the charts from 2014–2016, while France managed a rapid 10 point rise. Diagram via the 2018 FCC International Broadband Data Report.

  • US mean weighted fixed broadband speed international ranking advanced from #11 to #10 for years 2015–2016
  • For the first time since 2014, US fixed broadband speeds exceeded those in Norway and Finland
  • The US jump to #10 by 2016 is a significant jump from position #15 in 2014
  • France made one of the largest improvements in speed, from #21 to #11 between 2014–2016.

Key Broadband Pricing Insights from the 2018 FCC International Broadband Data Report

  • US pricing was “among the worst in the developed world,” coming in #21 at the bottom of the charts on the Fixed Hedonic Price Index (comparative price-to-value in laymen’s terms)
  • When adjusted for population density, income, and education, the US pricing rank advanced to from #21 to #14
  • France also had among the best price ranking (#4)
  • The average broadband price in the US market is $58.00/mo. according to FCC analysis
  • An estimated 75% of US customers receive discounted Internet service in the form of “bundled” Internet/TV/phone plans

Countries Ranked by Mean (Weighted) Download Speed 2016

Data via 2018 FCC International Broadband Data Report
RankCountryAverage download speed
1Luxembourg375.78
2Japan102.34
3Iceland90.36
4South Korea86.98
5Switzerland79.58
6Sweden73.81
7Netherlands67.54
8Denmark61.49
9Spain57.86
10United States55.07

How the FCC Measures Speed and Performance

Speed results in the 2018 FCC International Broadband Data Report were based on speed test data acquired via Ookla, the company behind speedtest.net. [2]

Opinions are varied on which speed test sources offer the best estimates of performance in a given area. (We personally use M-Labs data [3], which is integrated into Google search as well as BroadbandNow.)

Long term, we expect that integration with Google searches for “speed test” will make M-Labs results more valuable so far as localized performance estimates — at least within the US.

Pricing Measurement and Trends

The pricing measurements are detailed in the appendix of the 2018 FCC International Broadband Data Report, and worth taking a look at for the mathematically inclined. Methodology is detailed on page 52 in the report appendix.

To summarize for the rest of us: while speed rankings is based on a mix of advertised speeds and privately aggregated real-world speed test results, price rankings are based on advertised pricing alone. Unlike previous years, this year’s report includes bundled plans as well as Internet-only “standalone” plans, which significantly affect the results for the US market.

The “bundling” strategy used by many cable operators complicates the math for comparing nations since the regulations around “bundled” services such as Internet/TV varying from country to country.

Overall, the FCC report found that the US is the outlier in terms of the popularity of bundled plans, estimating that a surprising 75% of consumers receive discounted Internet through some form of TV and/or phone bundle.

The Density Dilemma

Densely populated city.

Densely populated areas tend to have faster broadband thanks to economies of scale for infrastructure development. This trend benefits smaller, densely populated countries like South Korea.

The US is often held up as an example of Internet infrastructure gone wrong.

Meanwhile, small and densely populated countries like South Korea are often held up as shining examples of Internet infrastructure done properly.

Is this fair? Not always, since the political, infrastructural, and economic conditions are so different in either country. It’s difficult to justify a direct pricing comparison between two radically different countries like, say, France and Japan.

Our team was encouraged to see this year’s report take a more measured stance on how population density, economic standing, and other factors play into “ranking” results.

For example, pricing results in the hedonic price index was organized into four “models,” with detailed explanations of the math used to weigh for factors including:

  • Population density of country
  • Income of subscriber base
  • Education of subscriber base

The model cited in the “key insights” section above draws from the model that measured for population density, income levels, and education levels.

The #14 ranking in this model still didn’t paint a very flattering picture of US pricing for services. Regardless, it puts the US squarely in the center of the charts rather than at the very bottom.

Prospects Improving for Broadband Competition

While their methods for achieving it are dramatically different, FCC chairmen under both Trump and Obama have made increasing competition and closing the digital divide key priorities for their work. [4]

Partisan disagreements aside, seeing the US rankings improve over the past five years has been encouraging for everyone involved. Wireless and fiber development alongside an emphasis on federal funding for closing the digital divide are expected to continue improving broadband availability and pricing over the coming years.

Since this data is often a year or more behind the times by the time it reaches the public through FCC releases, we’ll have to wait until later in 2018 to find out how the scoreboards react to the current deregulatory approach to solving these critical challenges in American infrastructure development.

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WISPs Are The Real Heroes in Bridging The Digital Divide

Two men observing a WISP office stack.

As of 2018, industry records show that the “digital divide” leaves nearly a quarter of the US without wired broadband access, [1] and 46 million Americans still have only one provider available. [2]

Tech corporations and politicians frequently campaign on the need to build the local networks that will bridge this divide. In spite of all the talk, efforts from tech corporations to bridge the divide have been mostly in the form of isolated experiments like Microsoft’s “white spaces.” On the governmental side, most rural network expansion still comes from begrudging concessions in corporate mergers.

Meanwhile, small Wireless Internet Service Providers, or “WISPs,” are emerging as the real heroes in this story, building out local networks to customers who the major providers can’t (or won’t) serve in rural and low-income areas.

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These small companies are surprisingly well liked. In an industry known for bottom-barrel ratings and high customer churn, WISP customers give consistently positive reviews and remain loyal customers for years. One WISP operator our team spoke to told us that as of 2008, their top source of churn wasn’t from customers switching to other providers or moving — it was that they died.

While morbid, there’s a strong point here; WISPs bring better connectivity, local jobs, and economic growth to underserved parts of the USA. Unsurprisingly, those of us who live in these areas are glad they’re standing up and doing it.

WISPs and the digital divide

Fixed wireless access point on roof.

Fixed wireless is delivered via wireless access points installed on towers or tall buildings. These devices send connections directly to customers, as opposed to cell towers which “broadcast” in all directions. Image courtesy of Skyriver.

In America, the digital divide is a starkly measurable issue and has been a key focus for both Democratic and Republican FCC chairmen over the past two administrations.

The idea of getting fiber run to every home in the US is, for now, little more than a pipe dream.

FCC statistics show that wireless broadband only held a 3% share of the market in 2016, but given the complexity of filing coverage paperwork for small businesses, our analysis suggests that share is probably a point or two higher (especially considering Fixed Wireless’ 51% nationwide coverage). [3]

WISP tower and cell tower side by side.

Fixed wireless connections are most commonly used for business purposes. For example, in this image, a fixed wireless connection brings Internet “backhaul” to the cell tower pictured on the right.

Advances in 5G technology are pushing up the speeds on these services, and the Net Neutrality debate has stirred local advocacy and spawned hundreds of local network operators. These services provide a fixed wireless alternative to the major broadband players, and whether you’ve heard of them before this point or not, they’re worth looking into.

In short, while these smaller operations don’t get as much attention as the Big Cable cartel, they are the forces actually working to bridge the divide described above, bringing reasonable speeds to areas that have been left behind by technological progress. Unlike fiber which has mostly paused so far as major providers like Verizon and Google go, fixed wireless point-to-point and point to multipoint networks are already being set up all over the country.

This is evidenced in the difference between the costs of deploying a basic WISP and laying additional fiber to get more areas wired up; though specific startup numbers are hard to come by, anecdotal sources seem to show that a company can deploy a WISP in a local area for about $100,000.[4] Compared to average costs of about $3,072 per location for laying fiber[5], the difference is apparent. At the 500-user mark, that’d mean a total approximate install cost of over $1,500,000. For Google, it cost around $1 Billion dollar per city to connect Fiber to the Home service. [6] Ouch.

WISPs vs. ISPs: What are WISPs?

WISP network diagram.

WISPs are similar to wired ISPs, but instead of using a cable to deliver the last mile, they use fixed wireless connections. These are cheap to deploy compared to fiber.

As briefly touched on above, WISPs provide a fixed wireless Internet service. This means that it relies upon a direct, line-of-sight connection from the access point (normally on top of a tower or tall landmass) to the roof of your home. Don’t get it mixed up, though; this isn’t the “wireless” Internet you’ve come to know with satellite and mobile phones.

Because these access points are usually within 3–5 miles of where you live, you can expect speeds that match what many cable providers offer; and those that dwarf what you’re probably used to in areas with only satellite, DSL, or dial-up. WISPs are also starting to take advantage of technologies such as millimeter Wave (sometimes referred to as mmW) to drive enhancements to their services.

Frequency allocation chart for USA.

Wireless Internet takes up space in the already crowded wireless spectrum. As you can see in this allocation chart, dozens of other technologies and companies are fighting for their “piece of the pie.” Image via NTIA

This is a crucial component in the 5G specification, which will supposedly bring Gigabit (1000 Mbps) speeds in the near future. For now, speeds around 500 Mbps are commonly offered for business connections, and the only thing holding them back from residential application is the equipment cost, which descends quickly with any new technology. With millimeter Wave, you’re essentially looking at super high-frequency spectrums, which differ from the lower spectrums used commonly by wireless carriers. Think of it like this:

  • High wavelength = high speeds but fragile (such as Wi-Fi)
  • Low wavelength = low speeds but durable (such as AM/FM radio)

In addition to their differences from legacy forms of connectivity, WISPs also differ from cable broadband providers in several distinctive ways. With a conventional cable ISP, you’re getting service from a physical cable or fiber connection that runs all the way to your home in some form or another.

Fixed wireless providers don’t have to lay fiber or do anything at all other than set up an antenna on your roof that connects to the access point, making it much easier to get operational quickly and efficiently.

Customers served by WISPS

So, are you trying to decide if a WISP is the best way for you to get online? If so, you may find that it’s the right choice if you:

Have been burned by cable in the past

Let’s face it. Broadband giants like Comcast and AT&T don’t have a perfect reputation amongst many customers. Complaints range the field from a lack of service options and speeds to unreasonable data caps, sudden pricing increases, and contracts. WISPs may represent a more straightforward and fair option for those disenfranchised by their past experiences.

Are looking for Internet-only options

For many users, Internet is king. In the age of providers bundling together TV, phone and web services, this often means that you’re stuck paying for services that you don’t even want because “it was the best deal available.” WISPs provide a comparatively minimal alternative, allowing you to pay a fair rate for a straight-up Internet connection and nothing else.

Live in a rural area

This one is the most obvious on the surface; if you live in a rural area far from a major urban hub, you are highly likely to only have subpar options for getting online. WISPs know this, and in recent years, these companies have made huge strides to get more and more connections set up in these out-of-the-way places.

WISPs vs Big Cable

If there’s one thing that Big Cable has remained consistent on through the years, it would be the tendency for massive corporations like Verizon and Comcast to leverage their political clout to prevent new technologies and service types from posing a tangible threat to the rigged game they’ve so carefully crafted.

This can perhaps most clearly be seen with the recent rescinding of the FCC’s net neutrality regulations, which in theory could represent yet another way for the heavy-hitters to use their vice grip to choke out any potential competition from smaller, bootstrapped players.

Fixed wireless in urban area.

WISPs like Rise Broadband have been competing with cable and fiber directly in some urban areas.

This has set off a chain reaction of sorts, rekindling talks by users in online communities about bypassing any potential cable monopolies by literally building their own ISPs. Initiatives such as startyourownisp.com are a direct example of this.

So, it’s clear that consumers and ISPs aren’t exactly known for their long-term love affairs. When it comes to WISPs, however, the story can be different.

Issues facing WISPS:

While WISPs absolutely represent an exciting potential for the future, they do admittedly have their share of roadblocks to push past before they become a serious player on par with the cable giants. Here are a few of the most common problems these operations are grappling with:

Bandwidth Allocation

wireless spectrum.

The FCC is currently debating whether to make portions of specific bandwidths available to be licensed affordability to local operations. If this were to happen, it would be a huge boon for WISPs, as the smaller, shorter-term licenses mean that they would be feasible for a local operation.

Despite this, mobile carriers are (predictably) pushing for larger, longer-term license zones that only they can afford. These decisions will potentially affect the CBRS (3.55–3.65 GHz), 3.7–4.2 GHz, and 2.5 GHz bandwidths, much of which could be used by WISPs to improve signal propagation through difficult elements such as heavy tree cover and other obstructions. How the FCC leans in the end will directly affect these companies and their ability to serve their customers.

Reliability

While fixed wireless as a technology has made strides in recent years, it still has several weak points that can affect performance in certain areas. As touched on above, trees, buildings, and uneven terrain can all be detrimental to a good signal, because again, this tech relies on a line-of-sight from the access point to the roof of your home. Providers we spoke to while researching this story frequently reported difficulty serving wooded areas, where only a physical wire like DSL can provide reliable speeds.

Weather can also present a challenge. “Rain fade” is an issue in climates with frequent precipitation, effectively degrading the wireless signal as it travels through the air. This can be mitigated with proper planning, however, and new technologies aimed at building more robust networks are on the horizon.

Security

Though this issue is arguably more perceptual than actual, some voices in the industry have expressed concerns over encryption and authentication techniques used with wireless networks. That said, though the issues facing wired and wireless networks can vary, both mediums are generally understood to be roughly equal in terms of security.

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What you can do to support WISPs

Two men observing a WISP office stack.

Organizations like WISP PAC are working to educate lawmakers about the needs of small businesses in the wireless Internet space.

If you’re feeling inspired and energized by the idea of ditching your cable provider for a WISP, where can you go from here? For starters, you can find out if there are any wireless ISPs operating in your area.

If none are currently available, you can consider contributing to WISP PAC, whose mission it is to bring bipartisan awareness and support for emerging fixed wireless operations to Congress. Co-founder of Rise Broadband and Chairman of the WISP PAC Jeff Kohler had this to say when our team contacted him:

“Politicians must be open to learning about the realities of our industry and support us in areas such as continued access to spectrum, eliminating burdensome regulations that affect small business, and allowing access to government subsidies on a technology neutral basis. Residents can do the same – write to your Senators and Representatives and tell them to listen to the needs of those trying to provide these services.”

Finally, if you’re technically inclined and entrepreneurial, there is a growing movement of local groups building out their own WISPs or mesh networks to create your own cable alternative.

While they may not be the only answer to America’s digital divide (SpaceX’s super-fast satellites come to mind), it’s clear that going forward, WISPs will have an increasingly vital role in getting people in rural areas and beyond connected to the Internet. In what is undoubtedly an added bonus for consumers, they seem to be aiming to do so fairly and securely as well.

The post WISPs Are The Real Heroes in Bridging The Digital Divide appeared first on Broadband Now.

How to Save Money on Your Internet and TV Bill

Screenshot of the Google Voice homepage.

The average cable bill in the US has risen 39% in the past five years, reaching almost $100 per month. [1]

…Which is pretty wild when you consider that the average Internet and TV subscriber only uses around 29 GB of data. [2]

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Consumers are responding by “cutting the cord” from cable TV in favor of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu — to the tune of 500,000 canceled subscriptions or more quarterly. [3]

The bad news: data caps and high Internet costs mean that simply “cutting the cord” from cable TV isn’t the answer to a cheaper cable bill for everyone.

The good news: the abundance of TV options on the market has driven Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer competitive bundling options. With a little bit of legwork and research, you can save as much as half on your monthly Internet and TV bill.

In this post we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to optimize your cable Internet and TV plan — from bundling, to streaming, to VoIP service.

Shopping for cable: the big picture

Saving on cable takes time and effort, but even a $10/month savings adds up to $120 annually. Image via Vitaly/Unsplash

1. Shop all of your providers

The first step to getting a good deal on Internet and TV service is the same as getting a good deal with anything; shop around.

You can use our provider search tool to get a big picture of what your options are at your address, or check provider websites directly if you have more time to sleuth.

If your existing Internet, TV, and phone services aren’t coming from a single provider, call and ask what discounts they offer for combining your Internet/TV/phone services. Providers like Xfinity and Fios will often give you a deal to combine add TV service. (Of course, this isn’t a good idea if you don’t actually use TV or phone service. Never buy services you rarely use for a short-term discount.)

Lastly, be sure to write down their offers to quote when you call the competition.

2. Compare the final price, not the promotion

Promotions are great. Consumers love them, and ISPs love to hand them out. That being said, it’s important to make sure you know when any promotional prices are going to end — and what your monthly rate will be after it runs out.

Only sign up for a promotional rate when you’ve seen the final rate and end date. Whatever a rep says on the phone, check that it’s consistent with the offers in print or on their website before signing.

3. Be aware of contracts and early termination fees

Another factor to consider is the length of your contract and fine print on early termination fees (ETFs).

For the most parts, contracts and ETFs are unavoidable, as month-to-month plans are more expensive and only make sense for students and short-term residents. Avoid plans with high ETFs if you have a choice — they’re a red flag for entrapment, as ISPs generally raise rates incrementally over time, or add on fees for extra content like sports. [4]

If you’re looking to switch from your current plan, weigh your ETF against the potential savings to determine how many months it’ll take to make back if you go through with paying the fee in order to switch providers. Some providers like Spectrum will offer to pay your ETF for you to get you to switch, but generally required that you sign a new 1-2 year contract with them.

How to pick the right TV plan

TV screen on a wall.

TV plans make the most sense for families or daily sports viewers. Everyone else should look at streaming options first. Image via @designecologist/Unsplash

1. Choose plans that have the channels you want, rather than every single channel.

TV plan ads tend to broadcast the same message: “Millions of channels! Billions of options! Endless choices!”

…yet the average American watches only 17 of the dozens-to-hundreds available on most cable TV packages. [5]

So, the secret to saving money here is convincing your cable TV provider to cut down the channels they deliver in exchange for a fee reduction.

Some cable TV providers (Verizon FIOS, for example) allow you to cherry-pick channels as part of their sign-up process — but, for the most part, getting channels “a la carte” is a question of calling your provider and haggling once you’re already a customer.

Haggling with reps is no fun, but with a little persistence you can usually get them to cut some channels in exchange for a deal. The trick: have information on competing promotional plans from other providers on-hand when you call, and have a good payment history so they’ll be incentivized not to let you switch. I’ve shared some more tips on this process here.

2. Access local stations via antenna

Local TV over-the-air or from a satellite service like DirecTV is often much more affordable than traditional cable if you mostly watch local and sports channels.

If your TV habit mostly centers around big-name channels like PBS, NBC, Fox, and CBS, you might be able to cut the cable and the broadband data bill by simply switching to local TV or HDTV via antenna — for free.

Since the FCC approved the Next Gen TV upgrade in late 2017, you can expect to start seeing 4K content and improved “smart TV” features on local TV as soon as mid-2018.

First, check what channels are available for antenna reception in your area; the FCC has a handy site that shows you the options by zip code, although in my experience the listings at NoCable.org are a bit easier navigate and more accurate.

Antennas are readily available on Amazon for as little as $30. The main thing to keep in mind is range and direction. Cheaper antennas will be fine if you’re within 30 miles of the broadcast source, with the price (and size) increasing for those of us out in the boonies.

Check where the signals you want to pick up are being broadcast from (available at either of the tools linked above); go for uni-directional if they’re all on one side and omnidirectional if they’re coming from multiple directions.

LifeHacker has a nice rundown on technical specs, and how to make your own if you’re really pinching pennies.

3. Cut the cord and use Over-the-top content providers like Netflix

If you have only one provider in your area and you can’t get a sufficiently enticing bundled deal for TV/Internet/phone service, it might be time for you to “cut the cord” from traditional cable TV.

Over-the-top (OTT) services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon deliver most of the same shows available on cable TV for low prices averaging around $15 per month. Rather than coming direct from the cable company, OTT services stream the content through your broadband Internet connection. Combined with a sit-on-top streaming device like the Roku or Apple TV, streaming TV setups have been a major trend the last few years.

…The catch with streaming is that it can eat up your broadband data fast. ISPs have been rolling out monthly data caps — partly in response to the cord cutting trend — so that “unlimited” plan you signed up for five years ago might actually top out at a couple hundred GB. (Data caps range anywhere from 100 – 1000 GB depending on your ISP. Check out our data cap rundown to see where you stand.)

With the average “cord cutting” cable subscriber in the US sucking up around 212 GB of data monthly, streamers can quickly find themselves blowing through their data cap and racking up huge overage fees. [2]

The trick to cutting the cord is figuring out how much broadband data you actually need so you can pick a plan that matches your streaming habits — with a data cap that doesn’t set you up for surprise bills.

How to pick the right broadband Internet plan

1. Know how much bandwidth you need

84% of the US population uses the Internet on a regular basis, and chances are you’re one of them. ( http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/06/26/americans-internet-access-2000-2015/)

The thing is, not every Internet user is created equal. While some of us only consume a few GB per month checking email and reading the news, others require several hundred GB for streaming, video communication, and gaming.

Unfortunately, most of us use the “Goldilocks” method when picking an Internet plan — just grabbing the medium-sized one that seems like “enough.”

But there’s a better way: Monitor your Internet usage to find out how much you actually use, and select your plan size accordingly. (Since ISPs can charge you overage fees or even cut you off for exceeding your data cap, you should probably be keeping tabs on this anyway!)

Some ISPs (Comcast, for example) have rolled out usage meters along with the data caps. While the meters aren’t always perfectly accurate, it’s better than nothing if you’re just looking for a quick estimate. There are methods for manually monitoring usage on your home network, but they are beyond the scope of this post and only really feasable for advanced users.

2. Buy your own router & modem

Most broadband plans come with rental hardware, including a modem and router. If you move a lot (or simply don’t like to monkey with technical setups) the $5-10 per month rental fee might be worth it to you.

…However, an $8 per month rental fee costs you about $100 per year — which is about the same as buying your own router — so owning your own modem and router can save you hundreds in the long run.

We’ve written about picking out and setting up modems and routers before. The main thing to be concerned with is making sure the brand and model you buy are compatible with your ISP, and capable of handling the bandwidth you’re paying for.

3. Know your data cap

Data caps — AKA the ISP’s ceiling on how many GB of broadband data you can consume in a month — are quickly becoming the industry standard.

Check where your plan stands on our data cap rundown, and double-check with your provider before you sign up. Most ISPs will tack on overage fees if you break the limit, so tracking your bandwidth use is very important — especially for cable-cutters.

How to pick the right home phone plan

landline phone on a wall.

Landline phones are mostly digital these days, and only worth it if you use the advanced features or have international calling needs. Image via Adriani Koos/Unsplash.

1. Be aware of the extra fees associated with telephone lines

Landline phones are expensive for what they offer: generally $30-60 per month for “Skype without video”. However, they haven’t quite gone the way of the dinosaur yet — so you can bet that major ISPs are happy to bundle in home-phone service along with your cable TV and broadband Internet.

The industry term for TV/cable/broadband packages is “triple play.” Long-term triple play customers have a lot of leverage with ISPs because they consider them much less likely to switch or cancel when they get all their services from one company. Sometimes they’ll even raise your bill if you drop phone service, if you’re a long-term customer on a bundled rate.

However, it’s important to be aware of taxes and fees you might be subject to when you actually use your landline — everything from “access charges” to state taxes. These often aren’t included in your monthly rate at point of sale, so be sure to ask your ISP rep for a quote of fees relevant to your district.

2. Only buy services you use daily

Landline service gets a bad rap, but they can be a great deal if it’s something you use every day for US-based calls. Thanks to digital voice technology, many providers even offer unlimited international calling to some countries these days, so it can save you money if you call outside the US frequently and happen to have a solid digital voice plan available in your area.

Just like with cable TV and broadband, the trick to saving money is figuring out the plan that matches your call habits. Since ISPs like to hold on to “triple play” customers, maintaining a landline can also add to your leverage when you call to negotiate your rate down the road — which you should do, because monthly fees tend to slowly creep up if you don’t call your ISP and request a deal once a year.

3. Consider third-party VoIP options like Google Voice

Screenshot of the Google Voice homepage.

Google Voice and similar digital phone services allow you to maintain a regular phone number over the internet, often for free.

That said, there are ways around paying for a traditional landline if you’re willing to get creative.

There are two basic ways to get landline service: through a telephone line, and through broadband internet. Landline service through broadband is called VoIP (voice over IP), and it works by translating voice calls into data packets for digital delivery.

The advantage of VoIP is that it works around regulatory fees and taxes, and saves the extra line by piggybacking on what you already have.

Lately, ISPs have started to offer VoIP (Voice over IP) service bundled with broadband — presumably to make up for lost profits from declining use of landlines. As a general rule, though, ISP-sourced VoIP will still be subject to fees and taxes and ultimately will cost you about the same as a traditional landline.

Luckily, setting up VoIP through third-party services is straightforward and the hardware investment is minimal. All you need is:

  • A VoIP adapter ($30–75)
  • An ethernet cable
  • A Google Voice account

HowToGeek has a helpful technical guide to setting up VoIP.

Bundles can save you money, but you have to be smart about it

The “cable cutting” trend and increased bandwidth needs of the average consumer have left cable companies scrambling to reorganize to keep customers and maximize revenues.

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While bundling your services from one company can save you on your monthly bill, consider the points above carefully when deciding which combination of services make sense for your TV, broadband, and telephone needs.

Consumers have more “a la carte” options than ever before in 2016 — those who shop around rather than sticking with the list price will be rewarded when the cable bill comes.

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Who Are the FCC Commissioners and Where Do They Side on Net Neutrality?

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.

The war over how to regulate the internet has a key problem: the process for creating regulation is so complex that even vehement supporters and opponents of Net Neutrality and other key issues often have little knowledge of where this regulation actually comes from, or how it’s created.

Interestingly, the group that’s responsible for managing these regulations, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is quite small. Just five commissioners cast votes on everything from Next Gen TV standards to wireless spectrum allocation.

These five commissioners have a huge impact on the lives of every American who uses the Internet — which is to say, virtually all of us, with the exception of a few hermits.

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In this breakdown, we’re going to take a look at which way each FCC commissioner leans on current issues like Net Neutrality, then dive into an outsider-friendly answer to what the FCC actually does.

Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman

Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman appointed by President Donald Trump.

Ajit Pai is a prominent supporter of light-touch broadband regulation with a personal focus on connecting rural America to high-speed Internet. Image Source: US Dept of Agriculture/Flickr

Party Affiliation: Republican

Appointed By: Donald J. Trump

Key Issue: Transitioning back to light-touch regulatory policies & bridging the Digital Divide in rural America

Policy Focus

In broad strokes, Chairman Pai is in favor of repealing and replacing Net Neutrality with “light-touch” regulation similar to what has been employed before during the Clinton administration. He believes that too much preemptive legislation is actually anti-competition, and asserts that it is a major stumbling block on the road to bolstering our aging communications infrastructure, especially in rural and low-income areas.

On the issue: “From the dawn of the commercial internet in the 1990’s until 2015, we had light-touch regulations, where the agency or where the country or where the country monitored the market, let it develop organically, and then took target action if necessary, if there was an example of anti-competitive conduct. And it’s under that light-touch framework that the companies like Google, like Facebook, like Netflix were able to become globally known names. And that’s the kind of success that we want to promote in the future with light-touch regulation.” [1]

Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner

Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner.

Mignon Clyburn is a supporter of existing Net Neutrality regulations with a personal focus on creating anti-monopoly media ownership rules. Image Source: Federal Communications Commission/Wikimedia

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Appointed By: Barack Obama

Key Issue: Revising media ownership rules

Policy Focus

Clyburn is a strong advocate for enhanced accessibility in communications for disabled citizens, and works with the representative groups for the deaf and hard of hearing. Clyburn supports an open marketplace, and does not have a far-left position on the internet, but instead chooses to go for targeted regulations.

Clyburn is in favor of keeping net neutrality as it currently stands, making her feelings clear in a statement to Recode: “Rolling back these basic consumer and competition protections should be highly alarming to anyone who cares about the free and open internet.”
[2]

Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel

Jessica Rosenworcel is an advocate for maintaining and building on current Net Neutrality rulings. Image Source: Federal Communication Commission/Wikimedia

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Appointed By: Donald J. Trump

Key Issue: Retaining Obama-era Net Neutrality rulings

Policy Focus

Rosenworcel is a staunch advocate for retaining the FCC’s current rulings on net neutrality, as she believes that a more free and prosperous Internet exists with these rules in place. When asked by Reuters to comment on a report released by the FCC on the current state of the US broadband market, she did not mince her words:

“For my part, any transaction before us will require someone to explain how consumers will benefit, how prices will not rise, and how innovation will not dissipate in the face of so much more industry concentration. Someone will also need to explain how having fewer potential big bidders in upcoming spectrum auctions will not render our most potent distribution mechanism substantially less powerful” [3]

Michael O’Rielly, FCC Commissioner

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly

Michael O’Rielly is an advocate for free market economics in the broadband industry, with a special emphasis on the need to update regulations to account for modern media such as TV streaming services. Image Source: Federal Communications Commission/Wikimedia

Party Affiliation: Republican

Appointed By: Barack Obama

Key Issue: Promoting free market economics

Policy Focus

O’Rielly’s stance on net neutrality is that the current regulations are too burdensome, instead favoring a replacement set of policies that promote free market economics.

“We must define the media market as it exists today. That means the inclusion of newspapers, radio stations, and television stations, but also their competitors: MVPDs, over-the-top providers, Internet sites, social media platforms, streaming music services, and satellite radio. Once we accurately acknowledge the market we are regulating, we can have an honest debate about what rules ultimately make sense.” [4]

Speaking about the new path to be taken by the now Republican-majority FCC, O’Rielly had this to say: “It is my hope that Commissioners and staff alike will embrace the new spirit of openness and take the step of getting on the same page. This has the best chance of producing lasting and positive changes for Americans.” [5]

Brendan Carr, Commissioner

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.

Brendan Carr is a strong supporter of returning to Clinton-era light touch regulatory policies. Image Source: Federal Communications Commission/Wikimedia

Party Affiliation: Republican

Appointed By: President Donald J. Trump

Key Issue: Promoting free market economics

Policy Focus

Similarly to the other Republican members of the FCC Commission, Carr has a strong focus towards free market economics, and wants to dismantle the burden of government regulation on companies, specifically with regards to net neutrality.

Chairman Ajit Pai recently appointed Carr to lead the agency’s wireless infrastructure proceedings, and Carr is moving forward by favoring the free market to get there, and to relieve a lot of FCC rules that in his view are overstepping their boundaries.

“We [Clinton-era FCC policymakers] removed regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment, we encouraged the private sector to take risks, and we minimized the cost of deploying broadband. Those policies—not government regulation—led to massive investment in networks and brought about the broadband revolution that consumers in the U.S. have enjoyed.” [6]

What is the FCC?

In their own words, the FCC “regulates interstate and foreign communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.”

Translation: the FCC is largely responsible for the fate of the Internet, as well as other services like TV and radio that are quickly moving towards Internet-based transmission.

Originally, the vision for the agency was that it would regulate interstate and foreign communications by wire and radio in the public interest. That scope has expanded a quite a bit today, as the Internet swooped in to “disrupt” everything from news to communication.

The commission itself is composed of five members who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. One of these members is designated by the President as Chairman, while the rest act as commissioners on the leadership council. Only three members can be affiliated with the same political party at a time, and none are allowed to have any financial interests related to official commission business.

What does an FCC Commissioner do?

FCC Commissioners serve terms that are five years in length, unless they are filling an unexpired term. Their primary role is to establish and put forth legislation that responds to the communications needs of Americans as they stand today. They also serve as teachers and advocates of various public initiatives in the realm of communications.

The Commission itself meets once a month for an open meeting to discuss the latest issues and proposed regulations. They keep an open calendar of these meetings, and meetings are followed up by press releases detailing their decisions alongside commissioner statements.

Why does the FCC matter?

If the FCC’s classifications and regulations seem too overwhelming (and borderline self-defeating at times), you may be tempted to dream up a world where the agency doesn’t exist at all. Despite this, the agency has a few functions that just about everyone can agree are important for today’s tech-driven world.

New and innovative standards like Next Gen TV are exciting and packed with advancements, but they are also rife with controversial user tracking initiatives that, if left unregulated, could represent a tangible issue for many. In this case, the FCC’s role revolves around putting in place regulations that seek to protect consumers while still allowing for technological progress to run its course.

Another example of the FCC’s potential value lies in ensuring that companies are properly incentivised to update and modernize our aging communications infrastructure. Though opinions differ on just how to do this, both sides of the aisle largely agree that it’s something that needs to be done.

Joining the Conversation

Regardless of your political affiliation, almost everyone can agree that realigning the FCC’s approach to broadband regulation to encourage more competition is a positive goal. Unfortunately, government isn’t known for moving quickly when it comes to technology — as anyone who’s had to navigate a .gov website can attest to.

Now, the FCC looks set to announce their formal vote to rescind the Internet protections put in place by the Obama administration imminently, with the actual vote likely to take place in December. [7] Considering the 3-2 Republican majority currently, it is likely to pass.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, how the committee proceeds from here will likely be pivotal in shaping the Internet of tomorrow.

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Here’s a list of ways you can keep tabs on the FCC, as well as a few ways to let them know how you feel about Internet access issues:

The post Who Are the FCC Commissioners and Where Do They Side on Net Neutrality? appeared first on Broadband Now.

Why Is the American Internet Empire Crumbling?

Example of what a fixed wireless application looks like.

The colossal labyrinth of pulses and wires we refer to as “the Internet” is sort of like the jumble of wires and plugs behind your uncle’s VCR. Sure, it works — but it’s largely improvised, and for the love of God don’t touch anything.

Much like that old VCR, America’s network infrastructure is often a bit dated in terms of infrastructure.

This has become increasingly clear in the past year as policy changes around Net Neutrality and regulatory standards have been riling up consumers, Internet providers, and Internet access advocacy groups alike.

Common ways of delivering Internet access: telephone wires and towers.

Much as these wireless panels are grafted onto an antique structure, Internet access often comes through outdated copper telephone and TV wires. Image courtesy of author

Overall, one thing is clear; the US has some issues when it comes to the modern innovation it helped give birth to.

The heart of the trouble goes deeper than policy changes around how content is delivered. While it’s popular to blame providers, the underpinnings of the issues are in truth much more complex.

  • The geography problem: America is huge and fiber is expensive. (connecting a building can cost anywhere from $500–$50,000 depending on distance and local regulation). [1]
  • The politics problem: US regulation is generally more relaxed than other developed countries. The regulations that do exist tend to be outdated, and companies aren’t incentivized to compete directly.
  • The “First Mover” problem: America invented the Internet, and the “technology debt” of all that money sunk into now-outdated copper networks is hard to justify building over at scale. Countries like South Korea that are known for incredible Internet infrastructure have the benefit of building out their digital infrastructure from scratch on mature technologies, with all the benefit of our mistakes and hindsight.

Before diving directly into the issues (and what can be done about them), however, let’s briefly take a look at how the web you’re familiar with today came into existence, starting right at the peak of the Soviet Union’s influence.

From there, we’ll explore the nuances of the way your connection is structured and ultimately delivered to your doorstep–and why it’s a fragile system in need of change.

The Internet: A Network Built on Cold War Fears

Like many great technology achievements, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was encouraged by the Cold War. Image source:
Wikimedia

On October 4th, 1957, the Soviet Union surprised the world by launching the first man-made satellite into orbit around the Earth.

Known as Sputnik, the device didn’t have much in the way of technology onboard its beachball-sized hull, but that didn’t stop Americans from beginning to feel that they were actually falling behind in terms of technological progress. As a result of this revelation, a greater emphasis on developing and researching technological projects began to take shape at all levels of American society. From the government to the private sector, and even in the classroom, science was nudged towards the forefront of the people’s interests.

It was this renewed vigor that gave rise to the first wide-area network, called the ARPANET, which delivered its first message in 1969.

Throughout the following two decades, this initial network grew into thousands of similar connections between various points all around the globe.

IP network digital visualization

Since the ARPANET, connectivity has exploded across millions of IP-connected networks and devices. Image Source:
Wikimedia

In 1991, however, things changed forever once again.

That year, a Swiss computer programmer named Tim Berners-Lee [2] introduced the masses to the concept of a World Wide Web; a system of interconnected information hubs that any user could freely navigate to and interact with. Far from the simple peer-to-peer file sending capabilities of ARPAnet, Berners-Lee laid the groundwork for the all-consuming Internet we know today.

America’s Internet Report Card

At the time of this posting, the USA average download speed is 22.69 megabits per second (Mbps). [3]

…For reference, that’s less than half the average speeds for countries like Norway, Hungary, and the Netherlands. In addition to having slower speeds than many other countries, Americans also pay more per megabit as well. For instance, new data [4] shows that a 500 Mbps connection in Los Angeles runs users an average of $299 dollars per month, whereas a 1000 Mbps down speed can be had in cities like Paris, France for a mere $35 and some change.

Meanwhile, South Korea, a country that did not develop a robust network infrastructure until the late 1990’s and early 2000’s [5], enjoys the fastest average speeds in the world, according to data from Internet monitoring firm Akamai. [6]

America, meanwhile, placed 14th on the list, behind countries like Belgium, Romania, and the Czech Republic. South Korea’s success in this regard isn’t entirely a fair comparison to make, as the country is both much smaller and much more densely populated than the US, allowing for shorter lines to be run, reducing costs significantly in the process.

South Korean cityscape with lights.

South Korea is often held up as an example of an efficient national Internet Infrastructure. Image Source:
Oleksii Khodakivskiy/Unsplash

All the same, the country serves as a stark reminder of what is possible with a concentrated effort centered around ensuring that all of its citizens have stable, fast connections to the Internet. In terms of consumer choice, things are much rosier in the lower half of the Korean peninsula as well.

Though there are still only three major providers in South Korea at the moment (KT Corp, SKBroadband, and LGU+), numerous smaller options exist that keep the country in a constant state of healthy competition, making consumers the clear winner at the end of the day.

How wide, you say? Recent numbers show that as many as 50 million US households only have access to one service provider offering at least 25 Mbps download speeds – or none at all. [7] For how much time Americans spend on their devices, we certainly don’t seem to have many options when it comes to how we get connected, or how much we pay for the ability to do so.

So, why is it that the world’s largest (and most-developed) economy has landed in such a poor position when it comes to giving users attractive options for their Internet service? The shortest answer: money. The slightly longer explanation: our last mile network infrastructure is severely lacking, and there’s very little incentive for those in power to do anything about it.

An Anatomy of America’s (Aging) Internet Infrastructure

Copper telephone wires.

Aging copper infrastructure (and the makeshift regulation surrounding it) is one of the core challenges facing broadband improvement in the USA. Image Source: Alex Martinez/Unsplash

Understanding how your devices communicate with the wider Internet is crucial to truly grasping America’s current connectivity problem, but it’s easier to comprehend than you might expect.

There are three critical “tiers” that provide the structure we use to connect to the Internet, and in order to understand why download and upload speeds are so poor in the US relative to other countries, you need to have at least a basic grasp on each of them.

Tier Three

The third tier is commonly described as the “last mile” for your connection, and it’s also the easiest to understand for most. Controlled by just a few players (Primarily Charter, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon), this section involves the physical wires that run from your home or apartment to a nearby hub.

These hubs equate to central groups of routing equipment that dot the landscape in cities across America, with cables underground and above on poles that collect and organize individual connections into digital data (ones and zeros).

Tier Two

From here, your data is pooled together with those of others in your area, expanding into the second tier, where things get a bit more complex. That’s because this wider structure of the web in America is owned by many different companies, all of which have to get along in order to provide users with uninterrupted speeds.

The main idea is that tier two providers are incentivised to “peer” with larger tier one providers like Cogent, Level 3 and AT&T in order to gain access to all of the various routes connected to the wider Internet.

These peering connections happen at “Internet exchanges” distributed across the globe.

Map of Internet Exchanges in the US.

This map shows the location of Internet Exchanges in the USA. Image source:
Telegeography

Now imagine that all of the middle-men owners of these connection points got along perfectly with one another. Data could move freely around the world, and we’d all live in some sort of blissful ultra-connected utopia (okay, maybe it wouldn’t be that blissful, but still).

The unfortunate reality is that these companies are constantly competing and negotiating with each other, working out complex peering deals that sometimes get held up for months in the deliberation process, slowing your data down as a result. [8]

Tier One

The last (and largest) portion is commonly referred to as the “backbone” of the Internet. This is the globe-spanning network of cables [9] you might have imagined when thinking to yourself about how you communicate with users all over the surface of the planet.

Map of submarine fiber cables in the Internet backbone.

For the most part, this section is also controlled by heavy hitters such as Verizon and AT&T, amongst several other companies who you’ve probably never heard of.

Roadblocks To Improvement

Unsurprisingly, the largest performance slowdown happens at the last mile, which acts as a bottleneck for the rest of the wider network.

Speaking with our office’s residential Internet expert Jameson Zimmer, he described this last mile as “basically hijacking telephone and cable lines and slipping a different product into the pipes.” (Yes, we know the Internet isn’t “a series of tubes,” but it’s a helpful way to think about it.)

The few companies that own this infrastructure often operate without robust competition, which leaves the pricing power on a key communication tool at the mercy of a handful of companies who — as is normal for companies in a free market economy — have to put their shareholders first.

Technician installing fiber in the last mile.

Maintenance and network upgrades in the last mile are expensive and surrounded by complex legality. Image Source:
Savannah River Site/Flickr

To make matters more complex from a business perspective, the need to maintain expensive rural copper networks in order to keep residents connected to critical communication and 911 services has resulted in a labyrinth of maintenance requirements. This prevents many providers from allocating resources to fiber upgrades, even when they want to. Today’s top Internet speeds have long left these earlier copper technologies in the dust, with connections creeping up to gigabit (1,000 Mbps!) speeds and beyond. [10]

This is a prime example of how being the first mover on a preeminent technology isn’t always an advantage in the long-run. The very things that make America a strong force for change in the world (a spirit of innovation and a free and open market) are actually holding us back in this regard, and the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality approach to rural networks certainly isn’t helping.

Simply put, it’s no surprise that ISPs don’t act like nonprofits or utility companies when it comes to improving their customer’s connectivity.

In a world where being connected is increasingly considered an integral aspect of being a productive member of society, that obviously creates a serious problem when large swathes of the population struggle to pay for speeds that are overall slower than other developed nations.

America’s Digital Future

Coaxial cable and wires on side of building.

Replacing the jumble of outdated cabling in the last mile is a key focus for regulators and providers alike, as well as paving the way for integrated wireless solutions like 5G. Image Source:
Khara Woods/Unsplash

This is where the great net neutrality debate comes into play. WIth the FCC entangled in a complex web of interests, it’s up to those in Congress and in business alike to be proactive, thinking up and engineering solutions that will pave the way for future growth.

Until major service providers are given sufficient reason to augment and improve their aging infrastructure in America, nothing will happen. Whether this change is spurred on by clever technological innovations or more government intervention still remains to be seen, but it’s increasingly likely that we’ll need a bit of both in order to get the job done.

In the first example above, a company called Monkeybrains is beginning to offer direct, high-speed Internet access to users by utilizing quickly-evolving fixed wireless technology. By doing so, they are effectively bypassing a stretch of wires in the last mile and allowing users to pay rates as low as $35 per month (after a $250 initial installation fee) for connection speeds that rival those offered by traditional coaxial and fiber cables.

Example of what a fixed wireless application looks like.

Fixed wireless and similar “hybrid” wireless technologies have been advancing rapidly alongside the push for 5G connectivity. Image Source:
Wikimedia Commons

It isn’t just smaller entities getting in on this, however; Google has been slowly pivoting towards their fixed wireless offerings since acquiring Webpass in 2016. Of course, this only applies to those who live in cities where these companies are already operating, for the moment at least. A true networking revolution will require this kind of innovative thinking on a nationwide scale, which is something that we’ve still yet to see.

More recently, the tech giant announced that their smart-city spinoff, Sidewalk Labs, has penned a deal with the city of Toronto to turn 800 acres of land bordering Lake Ontario into an “Internet city.” Projects like this may be a tremendous boon to future city planning with robust consumer networks in mind, allowing for even greater innovation on a municipal level.

So, where do we go from here? We understand the problem, and why it’s so difficult to get around, and we also know what needs to happen in order to truly bring on the change we so desperately need.

Ultimately, America’s Internet problem doesn’t have one swift, all-encompassing fix. The only path forward relies upon improved and modernized regulations, and meaningful competition amongst the heavy hitters.

Common Proposed Solutions to US Broadband Issues

In closing, here are some further reading resources on some of the specific proposed solutions currently popular with pro-competition broadband advocates.

  1. Municipal bonds: A municipal bond system that would attempt to make the 30-year payoff for local fiber infrastructures much more reasonable.
  2. Shared wiring requirements: A system for sharing wiring in the last mile, allowing more small companies to compete on customer service and incentivizing competition to areas that historically have had none.
  3. Increased and updated regulation: A broad, all-encompassing overhaul of our regulatory bodies to encourage a greater rate of innovation and change. (As emphasized by Tom Wheeler, FCC Commissioner under Barack Obama.)
  4. Decreased and updated regulation: Continued deregulation to reduce regulatory burdens on Internet providers. (As emphasized by Ajit Pai, FCC Commissioner under Donald Trump.)

The post Why Is the American Internet Empire Crumbling? appeared first on Broadband Now.

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