Tag Archives | FCC

Court Throws Out Verizon, MetroPCS Suits Over Net Neutrality

A federal judge has thrown out both Verizon and MetroPCS’ suits against the FCC over net neutrality, but don’t get your hopes up just yet. The decisions appear to revolve around a technicality: that both companies just filed way too early.

In order for the FCC to be sued over the rules, it must be in the 30 days following its publishing in the Federal Register. That has not happened yet. While the carriers attempted to deal with this issue by saying it was a move to protect its spectrum rights, the court just did not buy that.

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Could Comcast Derail Obama’s Broadband Agenda?

President Obama has made broadband a key part of his telecommunications agenda. To get there, he has tasked the Federal Communications Commission with the responsibility to make changes to Internet regulations and promote his “National Broadband Plan,” an ambitious effort to reform the industry and expand broadband access across the country.

There’s an elephant in the room however, and it’s name is Comcast. The telecommunications company is challenging the FCC’s authority on Internet regulation in court, and if successful it could seriously inhibit the agency’s efforts to move its plans forward. Comcast’s beef goes back to 2008, when the FCC censured the company for its bandwidth-throttling efforts against BitTorrent and others.

If the court rules in Comcast’s favor, the FCC may lose the necessary powers it requires in order to shift spectrum from television companies to wireless providers in order to advance broadband access. The agency also has other options, including reclassifying Internet service under more tightly regulated telephone service laws, but even that isn’t fraught with trouble.

Telecommunications companies would no doubt be unhappy that they wouldd be required to share lines with their competitors, and we all know that probably means lawsuits. It would also mean Internet providers would have to accept quite a bit more regulation then they’ve been used to. More lawsuits. All in all, the Comcast case really seems to hold the key to Obama’s broadband plans.

Personally, I find it sad that it has come to this to decide whether this country really gets serious with high-speed Internet access. I know among the more conservative readers on here, government regulation is not very popular. But its a simple fact in this capitalist society that the almighty dollar is what companies are most interested in. Regulation does put a crimp on profits, and I believe nobody can really argue that.

We’re getting to the point where the Internet is no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity. At that point, regulation of the industry is necessary in order to ensure that it is accessible by all, rather than only where it is the most highly profitable. Of course, its not going to be as profitable for a company to offer Internet access in rural North Dakota as downtown Los Angeles.

But should access be determined by geographical location, or potential profit margins? Therein lies the argument. And now it appears a court case in Washington, DC could possibly set the course of broadband access for years to come.


FCC Begins Benchmarking ISPs’ Broadband Claims

The Federal Communications Commission has begun to benchmark Internet service speeds across the United States to allow consumer to compare the real world performance of their ISP with its advertised speeds. I’d like to see some action.

The program is under the aegis of the National Broadband Plan, which was created with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to accelerate broadband deployment in the United States. The FCC is gathering data down to the level of home address.

“The FCC’s new digital tools will arm users with real-time information about their broadband connection and the agency with useful data about service across the country,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement to Reuters. The benchmarks will be combined with other data and presented to Congress as part of the agency’s broadband proposal.

Consumers may visit the agency’s Broadband.gov Web page to run the rest from their PCs or download the FCC Broadband Test app for Android and the iPhone. (When I ran the test, a script froze Firefox 3.6 on my Mac to the point where I had to manually kill the process, but Safari worked without a hitch.)

The Broadband.gov test, which is powered by Ookla Net Metrics, mirrored the results given from other testing engines in my area. I have Time Warner’s Road Runner service in Manhattan. My results were: 9165kbps download speed/490 kbps upload speed.

Time Warner is cagey about putting its advertised speeds out on the Web. Its “Speeds Levels” page for Road Runner lists capabilities – not speeds. I had to look at the fine print for a comparison made with DSL services at the bottom of the page to see that it promises a standard download speed of up to 10 Mbps.

Typically, my speeds vary throughout the day. A Speakeasy speed test returned downstream results of 3.5Mbps yesterday afternoon. I informed Time Warner about the issue through its e-mail support, and received a boilerplate answer about resetting my modem and router as a response.

Hey FCC –how about some accountability with those benchmarks? Most Americans get broadband from regional monopolies or oligopolies, and I bet that their actual performance doesn’t always match what those providers advertise.

In October, the FCC concluded that open access to broadband infrastructure is a catalyst for competition and deals for consumers. That competition couldn’t come soon enough.

Now the FCC has the ammo to at least prompt better service levels. I am stuck with Time Warner. My only other option is Verizon, but my building isn’t wired for it–yet. More. Choice. Please.


FCC Demands Answers from Verizon on Fees

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sent a letter to Verizon demanding answers about why it increased early termination fees for smart phone users as well as whether customers are charged for inadvertently accessing Verizon’s Internet services.

At dispute is that Verizon doubled early termination fees (ETF) for new customers that signed up to its wireless services with a smartphone. The company also charged a $2 fee of a number of customers who accessed its mobile Web by inadvertently loading their browsers.

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FCC Votes for Net Neutrality, McCain Wants to Stop Them

john_mccainWell net neutrality fans, your enemies list just got one person bigger. John McCain is the latest to come out against the FCC’s work, and has even proposed legislation to stop the agency in its tracks.

On Thursday, the FCC approved a measure to begin the process of formalizing a set of net neutrality rules that would ban ISPs from selectively filtering or throttling content. Texas Rep. Barton tried to stop the FCC from voting on the measure in the first place by pleading with commissioners to stop the vote from occurring.

This was an exercise in futility: Chairman Julius Genachowski had already worked to seal the support of the two other Democratic commissioners, making approval all but certain before the vote occurred.

Enter McCain. The Arizona senator introduced the Internet Freedom Act, which would expressly prohibit the FCC from making rules on net neutrality in the simplest terms. Using the Republicans’ favorite phrase of late–“government takeover”–McCain said net neutrality would stifle competition and hurt the job market.

Much like Barton, McCain also took issue with the inclusion of wireless Internet in the FCC’s planned policy, saying the lack of regulation has helped the industry grow rapidly. It’s unclear if such a measure could pass: however at least 70 House Democrats have already written the FCC expressing concern over the proposal, Reuters reports.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out as net neutrality was one of Obama’s campaign priorities. You can bet there will be a lot of vote counting being done in the coming months: Republicans will have to get a super majority as I would almost expect the President to veto any legislation like this if it makes it to his desk.


House Republican Asks FCC to Stop Open Internet Vote

joe_bartonIf you’re a fan of net neutrality, meet your next enemy. Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who has asked the FCC to stop a planned vote on open Internet rules.

PresidentObama has pushed for the change, and it appears as if it will pass, as Chairman Julius Genachowski apparently has the support of the commission’s two other Democrats, reports the WSJ.

Essentially, what these rules would do is make it illegal for ISPs to selectively slow down or block certain Internet content, while at the same time compelling them to reveal how their networks are managed. Barton sees this as a  problem apparently, and so do the big telcos.

He believes it would be “potentially catastrophic” to the broadband industry, which is a take that’s certainly at complete odds with about two dozen smaller providers who have lauded the imminent vote. To them, it offers a more level playing field and will be an impetus for growth.

Big telcos are complaining that this hampers their investments in the broadband network, and are pulling the Obama card–he’s a big proponent of nationwide broadband.

Wireless Internet is also covered by this proposal, which to date has been unregulated. Barton here believes such regulations would “retard the deployment” of the wireless web.

It’s hard to read here exactly who is right and wrong. In defense of the big telcos, these folks have spent quite a bit on building out broadband. Then again, sticking up for the little guy, a few companies control basically the entire US Internet, effectively shutting others out.

But why would the Republicans want to get on this side of the issue? After all, Obama’s broadband policy is intended to help those who many of these folks claim to represent–our rural citizenry and small business. Ah, politics in Washington these days.


GOP Moves to Block Net Neutrality

Julius GenachowskiA Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal that would require Internet service providers to treat all network traffic equally was met with resistance by Republicans on Capitol Hill today.

FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski is expected to unveil a policy that advocates network neutrality this week. If the policy is implemented, providers would no longer be able to interfere with information that flows through their networks. ISPs, including Comcast, have managed peer-to-peer network traffic to alleviate network congestion, and oppose the concept.

Senate Republicans also stand in opposition to net neutrality, and moved to deny the FCC funding for developing or implementing new Internet regulations. Genachowski was appointed to the FCC by President Obama.

“I am deeply concerned by the direction the FCC appears to be heading. Even during a severe downturn, America has experienced robust investment and innovation in network performance and online content and applications,” Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said in a statement. ” She said that regulations could stifle innovation, and that the marketplace would respond to companies that exhibit questionable behavior.

Vinton Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet Protocol and Google evangalist, and Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, favor network neutrality. Berners-Lee believes that ISPs seek to shift customers to a tiered pricing model, where access to information pipelines will be tightly controlled.

I agree with Berners-Lee, and would rather see preemptive regulation than for Internet users to lose the benefits of the Internet. Toll booths would impede–not encourage–innovation. What do you think?


Courts Throw Out FCC Cable Market Share Limits

ComcastIn a potentially huge victory for Comcast, the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC threw out a rule limiting cable companies to under 30 percent of the market. The courts claimed that the FCC failed to take into account competition from satellite and fiber-optic providers when considering competition.

Comcast currently controls about 25 percent of the cable market, with about 23.7 million customers. With the law now vacated, the company will have an easier time looking for potential acquisitions to expand its reach.

The rule has an interesting history: it was first implemented in 1992 as part of an effort to control monopolization of the cable industry. The court declared the law unconstitutional in 2001, and had it set aside. That didn’t stop the FCC: in 2007, on a 3-2 vote it re-instituted the policy.

Analysts say that its unlikely that Comcast will acquire large cable operators, as there is not a significant enough benefit to doing so. However, with no roadblocks, the nation’s largest cable operator is pretty much free to get as big as it wants.


Incoming FCC Chief Wants Inquiry of Handset Exclusivity

Yesterday, Senators grilled AT&T on the subject of mobile phone handset exclusivity deals. Today, it was revealed that incoming FCC chief Julius Genachowski plans to take a look at these deals as well, saying he wants to promote competition and choice. Genachowski’s plans were revealed as part of a response to questions from the same  committee that held hearings on the subject this week.

Senator John Kerry pleaded with the FCC to act after the Rural Cellular Association, a interest group representing 80 rural carriers, complained about the practice. Genachowski acknowledged RCA’s petition, saying he planned to act on it if confirmed.

The moves to end exclusivity deals would signal a major victory for rural carriers, which are typically shut out of such deals. In addition, it would also likely mean broader availability of top handsets regardless of carrier.

Current acting chairman Michael Copps also has spoke out against the deals, saying “the Commission as the expert agency should determine whether some of these arrangements adversely restrict consumer choice or harm the development of innovative devices, and it should take appropriate action if it finds harm.”

He is also asking officials within the FCC to start investigating these deals, meaning by the time Genachowski is confirmed an inquiry could already be well underway.


Attention, Analog TV Holdouts: You Have Until June 12th

Predicta TVI’m kind of tired of the whole subject, but just in case you haven’t heard and care: The House has passed the bill that delays the digital-TV transition from February 17th to June 12th. If you’ve got any analog TVs bumping around the house that aren’t connected to a digital source, you’ve got slightly under four additional months to (A) buy a converter, (B) supply them with a digital-ready set-top box, or (C)  buy a snazzy new TV.

That is all.

No, wait–part of the reason behind the delay is the mess that is the government’s $40 coupon program for converter boxes–too many people who need the coupons don’t have them. My buddies at consumer electronics info site Retrevo aim to help with a Good Neighbor Coupon Exchange Program. They’re serving as an intermediary to put people with extra coupons in touch with folks who can use them. And they’re also offering a 20-page survival guide for the whole transition.

OK, now that is all. For now, at least…