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This is Part 1 in a two-part series discussing comments submitted to the FCC in response to a petition filed by Fiber-To-The-Home Council proposing a new Gigabit Community Race to the Top program.
The Fiber-To-The-Home Council (FTTHC) recently submitted a proposal to the FCC to create a Gigabit Communities "Race to the Top" program. The proposal suggests granting unclaimed portions of universal service funds (USF) to qualifying entities in small and rural markets willing to build gigabit networks. While the proposal may need some adjustments, the idea holds potential for encouraging community owned networks and we hope the FCC takes the next step by opening an official rulemaking proceeding.
What makes this proposal so promising for community networks is that it may not require grantees to qualify as “eligible telecommunications carriers” (ETCs), a technical requirement placed by the FCC on USF recipients. This requirement virtually assures that USF funds go to already established telcos and not to upstart community networks.
Instead, Race to the Top lays out its own qualifying criteria which opens the door for a broader variety of recipients, including co-ops, nonprofits and municipalities, taking a similar approach as the federal stimulus BTOP program. Furthermore, Race to the Top has the potential to improve on BTOP in one major aspect by focusing on last-mile networks, which BTOP grants largely shied away from.
The FCC comment period for this initial proposal has closed and the majority of submitted comments are supportive. But I want to highlight some of the misleading comments submitted by a few industry lobby groups - National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) and USTelecom. This post will focus on the NCTA, the main lobbying apparatus of the massive cable corporations. A future post, Part 2, will discuss the others.
The Obama administration allocated $7 billion to broadband expansion as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package. Most of it went to build physical networks.
Time Warner Cable subscribers across the country who enjoy CBS programming are out of luck. The two media giants have reached an impasse in their fight over retransmission consent so several major markets are now missing out. CBS has also taken the fight one step farther, blocking TWC broadband subscribers from accessing CBS.com video content.
Public Knowledge as launched a campaign to end this viewer lock-out. From their recent call to action:
It doesn't matter whether CBS or Time Warner Cable is the bad guy here. The only one losing here is you, the viewer.
Some members of Congress are standing up to the media giants. The bipartisan "Television Consumer Freedom Act," [PDF] co-sponsored by Senators John McCain and Richard Blumenthal, takes the first steps at fixing this mess.
But an army of special interest lobbyists likes things the way they are, and they don't care that you are caught in the middle. For this bill to move forward, your members of Congress need to hear from you.
Patrick Lucey of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, posted this excellent story around the time we published our rant about the FCC's cave-in to industry pressure for no good reason. We liked it so much, we asked to repost it.
The FCC does not have a good sense of what is happening outside DC in terms of broadband availability and data. This has been a conscious choice - it has refused calls (even those made by the FCC itself) to collect useful data that would lead to data-driven policies to encourage the investment we need.
Not only has the FCC refused to collect data, it refuses to take action as companies like Time Warner Cable refuse to tell potential subscribers what the cost of service is. We have first hand experience along these lines - our goal was to document actual consumers prices for Internet access beyond promotional pricing. When we asked Time Warner Cable sales reps for prices after introductory deals expire, they would not quote a price. They would not give an estimate or provide any examples.
If you are looking for evidence of a failed market, we submit that when a seller can refuse to quote the price that one will pay in 7 months for the service, or even ballpark it, with impunity, the market is busted. Time Warner Cable isn't worried about driving customers away - it many areas of the country it is only real option for not too slow Internet access. So it does as it pleases.
We also contacted the FCC and asked staff where we could find information on the actual prices of broadband. The person on the other end sounded defeated as her voice dropped. "Oh, we don't collect that," she said, "We don't know any one who does. Have you tried calling the providers?"
Call us old fashioned, but we think it's crazy. Even though Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, etc. are some of the largest corporations in our country, affecting the household finances of tens of millions of Americans, their prices for connectivity are masked in a Cloak of Invisibility with the tacit approval of the regulatory body charged with protecting the public.
The Free Press documents a recent missed opportunity to rectify past decisions that have led to a data black hole:
Yet the challenge remains: monopolies have a high instinct for self-preservation. And more than half a dozen states have passed legislation limiting municipalities from building public broadband networks in competition with private businesses. South Carolina passed its version last year. A similar bill narrowly failed in Georgia. Supporting these bills, of course, are the nation’s cable and telephone companies.Not really "supporting" so much as creating. They create the bills and move them with millions of dollars spent on lobbyists and campaign finance contributions, usually without any real public debate on the matter. Eduardo focuses on Google Fiber rather than the hundreds of towns that have built networks - as have most of the elite media outlets. Google deserves praise for taking on powerful cable and DSL companies, but it is lazy journalism broadly that has ignored the networks built by hundreds of towns - my criticism of the press generally, not Eduardo specifically. The person who deserves plenty of criticism is former FCC Chairman Genachowski. From the article:
According to the F.C.C.’s latest calculation, under one-third of American homes are in areas where at least two wireline companies offer broadband speeds of 10 Mbps or higher.We have 20 million Americans with no access to broadband. The rest are lucky to have a choice between two providers and even then, most still only have access to fast connections from a single provider. When the National Broadband Plan was unveiled, we were critical of it and believed it would do little to improve our standing.