Tag Archives: broadband

Federal court rules against @FCC in Comcast case, lacks authority to regulate net neutrality

As reported by the Associated Press, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia has ruled against the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) failed to show it had the Title 1 authority under the Communications Act of 1934 to tell Comcast what to do to enforce network neutrality rules over broadband Internet providers. The ruling is a significant victory for Comcast Corporation, which had been involved in a dispute with the FCC over network filtering of P2P filesharing software after its customers complained that the cable giant was interfering with P2P apps.

“The commission has failed to tie its assertion of ancillary authority over Comcast’s Internet service to any statutorily mandated responsibility,” stated a three-judge panel of the DC U.S. Court of Appeals.”

The FCC made the following statement:

 “The FCC is firmly committed to promoting an open Internet and to policies that will bring the enormous benefits of broadband to all Americans. It will rest these policies — all of which will be designed to foster innovation and investment while protecting and empowering consumers — on a solid legal foundation.
 
“Today’s court decision invalidated the prior Commission’s approach to preserving an open Internet. But the Court in no way disagreed with the importance of preserving a free and open Internet; nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end.”

 

Today’s decision followed a January hearing where the federal court judges showed skepticism of the FCC’s authority to require broadband Internet providers to give equal treatment to packets as they moved over telecom networks. As Karl Bode writes at DSLreports, before Comcast’s win over the FCC:

Again, no FCC fine was levied, no new rules were imposed, and Comcast barely saw a wrist slap for lying to consumers and the press multiple times, in both filings and in print, about throttling all customer traffic, 24/7 using user packet forgery.

Comcast ultimately shifted to a clear 250 GB monthly cap and a more intelligent and less blunt force method of targeting network congestion. Still, Comcast never much liked the precedent the FCC’s actions set, so Comcast lawyers have spent the last few years trying to argue that the FCC never had the authority to dictate how Comcast manages its network. The FCC found themselves on uncertain legal footing because the rather flimsy network neutrality principles (pdf) created by previous FCC administrations were painfully vague.

The decision creates a roadblock in the FCC’s path towards moving forward with elements of its national broadband plan. The decision might mean, for instance, the FCC lacks the necessary powers it requires to shift spectrum from TV companies to wireless providers.

As a result of the ruling, Comcast and other broadband service providers may reasonably be expected to filter P2P filesharing again. As Cecilia Kang reports at the Washington Post the FCC’s loss in the court “comes just days before the agency accepts final comments on a separate open Internet regulatory effort this Thursday. And the agency will be faced with a steep legal challenge going forward as it attempts to convert itself from a broadcast- and phone-era agency into one that draws new rules for the Internet era.”

The full text of the Comcast vs FCC ruling is embedded below. As comment from the FCC and Comcast becomes available, I’ll post it here.

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Executive Summary of FCC National Broadband Plan released [#BBplan]

This morning, the Federal Communications Commission provided an executive summary (PDF) of its National Broadband Plan. I’ve embedded it below.

The FCC mobile broadband testing apps is likely to factor into gathering data for those speed assurances.

The New York Times published a story on the FCC’s National Broadband Plan this weekend that provides some context for why the release “is likely to generate debate in Washington and a lobbying battle among the telecommunication giants.”

Stacy Higginbotham’s article on the role of competition in the FCC broadband plan at GigaOm is also definitely worth a read, including an excellent analysis of the summary above. As she observes:

Taken together, better information about broadband speeds and pricing, special access reform, making it easier to build out municipal fiber, and open set-top boxes will likely have the greatest impact on consumers, while the ability to get better data on services could have the most far-reaching effect if the FCC decides to use that information to promote competition.

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FCC goes mobile, launches iPhone, Android apps for crowdsourced broadband speed testing

Test your broadband speed? Yep, there’s an app for that.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) built upon its growing new media prowess with the launch of iPhone and Android applications today.

The FCC’s new apps will allow users to test the speed of mobile broadband service and report deadzones where mobile broadband is not available. The FCC iPhone app is a free download from iTunes or the Android marketplace.

“Transparency empowers consumers, promotes innovation and investment, and encourages competition,” said Chairman Julius Genachowski in a press release. “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. By informing consumers about their broadband service quality, these tools help eliminate confusion and make the market work more effectively.”

The Consumer Broadband Test and the Broadband Dead Zone Report are also available as fixed applications at Broadband.gov. According to the FCC, the Ookla, Inc. Speed Test and the Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) running on the Measurement Lab (M-Lab) platform are used to power the app.

In the future, the FCC says it will making additional broadband testing applications available for consumer use. Consumers can also submit availability information by e-mail to fccinfo@fcc.gov. And, perhaps taking a page from Google’s playbook, this application is in beta. According to the Consumer Broadband Test information page, “this beta version is the FCC’s first attempt at providing Americans with real-time information about their broadband connection quality.”

I ran a quick test on my home cable Internet connection.

My downlink isn’t quite fiber optic speed, but I found it close to existing tools. The test depends upon Java, though many users are likely to have that installed at this point.

I tried out the mobile app as well, which used the GPS in my iPhone to discover my location. According to the FCC mobile broadband testing app, I’m getting 1.42 Mbps download speed from AT&T 3G here in Capitol Hill and .11 Mbps upload.

Beats GPRS, if not a Clearwire 4G connection — or my wifi.

Privacy concerns?

The FCC states that it’s “committed to protecting the personal privacy of consumers utilizing these tools, and will not publicly release any individual personal information gathered.” It’s posted a privacy statement to that effect.

Crowdsourcing citizen reporting

The larger context of the release of the FCC mobile broadband testing app is worth noting. The FCC will release its National Broadband Plan next week.

Part of that plan will certainly incorporate assessing where broadband service is exists, how robust it is and, perhaps, how closely service matches advertised rates.

This kind of data could serve in much the same vein as the FTC’s consumer complaint assistant works at FTComplaintassistant.gov. The FCC has given citizens a tool to report service quality and availability around the country. Equipped with that data, commissioners may be able to make more informed policy decisions as they roll out the broadband plan.

Now it remains to be seen whether citizens use it or not.

UPDATE: On Saturday night, March 13th, the FCC tweeted that over 80,000 tests had been registered using the Broadband Speed Test. It was unclear how many tests were through Broadband.gov or the apps.

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National Broadband Plan takes shape with Digital Literacy Corps, USF update

“Despite widespread deployment, nearly a third of Americans have not embraced broadband,” said FCC Commissioner Baker this morning at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  Baker spoke at the Digital Inclusion Summit, an event co-hosted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Knight Foundation to offer perspective the state of the nation’s connectivity and a preview up the upcoming National Broadband Plan, due to be delivered to Congress on March 17.

FCC Chairman Genachowski said that there has been the unprecedented “open process” for the Plan, including livestreams of 40 public workshops, 70 posts at blog.broadband.gov that generated thousands of comments. That process has brought “vital points into focus,” said Genachowski. Rural, minorities, disabled, senior, tribal communities are all lagging in broadband adoption and access. “The cost of digital exclusion is high and growing every day,” he said. In fact, a recent study from the Digital Impact Group estimated the aggregate economic cost of digital exclusion at $55 billion per year.

Key news from the Digital Inclusion Summit:

  • The FCC and the KnightFoundation announced $100,000 in prizes for a “civic computer programming contest,” “Apps for  Inclusion.”
  • While eight days remain until the release of the National Broadband Plan (See Broadband.gov),  the FCC has indicated that it will include a “National Digital Literacy Corps,” an update to Lifeline and work on building out public, private and nonprofit partnerships.
  • The Plan may also include spectrum for free wireless broadband. As reported in Reuters, the FCC may also “dedicate spectrum to free wireless Internet service for some Americans to increase affordable broadband service nationwide. One way of making broadband more affordable is to ‘consider use of spectrum for a free or a very low cost wireless broadband service,” the FCC said in a statement.”

An “Apps for Inclusion” Challenge

Ibargüen speaks at the Newseum (Courtesy FCC)

Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen presented a summary of the Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, comparing information to basic commodities to good streets and clean water.

“If information is a core need, and if it is to be delivered digitally, then logically to be a fully participating citizen one must have access,” he said.

Ted Olson, Knight Co-Chair, would echo that sentiment later. “Information is as vital as air and water to democratic communities,” said Olson. “Citizens must have it to thrive.”

In voicing his support for broadband and new media literacy, Ibargüen noted a recent study from Pew Internet that the Internet has surpassed newspapers as a primary means of getting news for Americans, including many “non-traditional” means like personal feeds, social media and mobile applications.  Ibargüen compared broadband to the national infrastructure projects of past generation. “I can’t wait to build the equivalent of Eisenhower’s highways — or for that matter the railroads under Lincoln,” he said.

The Knight Foundation and FCC Apps for Inclusion Challenge will award cash prices to developers who can create easier online access to services and information. “This contest reflects on three beliefs that are key to our work at Knight Foundation,” said Ibargüen in a prepared release. “First, our ideal of informed, engaged communities; second, our conviction that universal broadband is key to achieving this ideal; and third, our deep interest in using new approaches to connect with innovators.”

The Inclusion Challenge follows the Knight News Challenge, which distributed $5 million dollars for digital innovation. “Citizens should be able to see voting records or campaign contributions,” said Ibargüen after his speech.

“This is an open-ended contest. Like the News Challenge, we don’t know what will come of it,” he said. “I do know that [the Challenge] has been phenomenally successful in generating ideas that we could not have imagined.”

A video montage of the Digital Inclusion Summit from the Knight Blog is embedded below:

Support from Congress, officials on broadband initiatives

Other federal officials and members of Congress were also on hand to share their perspectives on the importance of the broadband plan.

HUD Secretary Donovan spoke of creating “a geography of opportunity” through broadband, working through private, public and nonprofit partnerships. “Too often today we can predict the outcome of a kid’s life by their zip code,” he said.

“With broadband, we can use access to drive other outcomes,” said Secretary Donovan. “The ability to learn is not limited by school or resources available. Seniors and the disabled can get control of their healthcare or get better housing. It is not just about the hardware, the wiring, the computers themselves, it’s about the barriers to actualizing using the technology.”

Secretary Donovan suggested three ways to apply technological innovation where it’s needed:

  1. local outreach on the specific ways technology can improve lives
  2. digital literacy training
  3. workforce development and financial literacy training.

Secretary Donovan said they’ll need to work with nonprofit and private sectors to “bring down the cost of computers and monthly service.” He observed that “our most creative housing developers and civic institutions are nonprofit CDCs. If we’re going to be successful, we need to engage private sector and fundamentally engage that third sector.”

Representative Lee Terry (R-NE), following Commissioner Baker, said that “90% of Nebraskans have access to broadband but “puts an asterisk next to that. It’s 200 kbps. That doesn’t work in 21st Century.” Rep. Lee stated his support for reform of the Universal Service Fund to provide rural broadband.

Using a phrase that might raise some libertarian hackles, FCC Commissioner Copps called Internet access a civil right. “Access denied is opportunity denied,” he said. Full text of Copps’ remarks is available as .doc or PDF at FCC.gov.

Rep. Ed Markey, courtesy of the FCC.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) spoke at length about the importance of broadband to civic life and equal access. As the Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang observed, Markey put national broadband charge for FCC in stimulus plan. And, as Kim Hart reported in the Hill, broadband funding from the stimulus has been a contentious topic.

Rep. Markey cited the precedent of E-Rate in improving digital literacy. According to Rep. Markey, 95% of US schools and libraries are now connected to the Internet, up from 14%.

In an alliterative moment, Rep. Markey observed that the “plan is not merely for megabits and megahertz but consumers and community.”

Joey Durel, City-Parish President, spoke about “muni fiber” at Lafayette, Louisiana, where a “citizen-owned utility” company delivers up to 50 Mbps at costs lower to comparable commercial services.

As Durel has said elsewhere, commenting at DSL Reports, Lafayette muni fiber also supports 100Mbps symmetrical P2P.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) said 75% of U.S. employers require prospective employees to apply online. “Affordability is a necessity, not a luxury,” she said. Rep. Matsui referred to the Broadband Affordability Act, which would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to establish a Lifeline Assistance Program for universal broadband adoption to include low-income citizens. Before she spoke, FCC Chairman Genachowski gave Matsui and other members of credit due credit for the inclusion of the USF in the Broadband Plan.  “I want you to hear it from me before the tabloids,” he joked.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D0CA) described the importance of connecting to a wider world, removing language barriers. He observed that people are ten times more likely to use the Internet if they’ve gone to college. “What we’re doing in connecting all Americans to broadband is helping those families who are too distant from the rest of us,” he said.

Examples of success for technology education, pleas for connectivity

A diverse set of citizens also spoke at the Summit to share how access to broadband or technology changed their lives. Rhonda Locklear, a housing specialist for the Lumbee Tribe in Pembroke, NC, shared her pain in not being able to provide her child with broadband connectivity he needs for homework. “If our children don’t get what they need, they’re going to be left behind,” she said.

Korean War vet and writer Garrison Phillips talked about how the OATS program engaged and trained seniors in the use of technology. Phillips said he began blogging in his 70s, thanks to digital programs aimed at seniors, and that’s he’s grateful for Net access to information, given the challenges posed by living in a 6th floor walkup.

For AmeriCorps volunteer Alex Kurt, the success of a tech skills program in Minnesota “only highlighted how big the problem really is. For each person I help, two to three more come saying ‘I lost my job. I can’t use a computer,'” he said. More information regarding the program Kurt is involved in is available at wip.technologypower.org.

Florence Pearson and her daughter speak at the Newseum. Picture courtesy of FCC.

“I was handicapped. I had to have someone else type my work for me,” said Florence Pearson, Education Director at Head Start in NYC, as quoted on the KnightBlog and pictured on the left with her daughter. “[After training,] all I can see are possibilities for myself and my family. I went in with fear and came out with the motivation to tackle the computer and make my children proud.”

And what does the FCC and broadband mean to Irvin Aviles, a computer technician from Baltimore? “Broad opportunities for a common community,” he said, explaining how training and certification led to employment for the father of four at Time Warner Cable in Baltimore.

Launching a National Digital Literacy Corps

“If today’s disparities are not addressed, our digital divide will soon become a digital canyon,” said FCC Commissioner Clyburn, who said a “National Digital Literacy Corps” will be part of the National Broadband Plan.

“Broadband is one of our generation’s most important challenges, primarily because it presents one of our most monumental opportunities,” said Clyburn. Universal broadband and the skills to use it can lower barriers of means and distance to help achieve a more equal opportunity for all Americans.”

According to Clyburn, next week’s Plan will recommend a three-part National Digital Literacy Program that will consist of

  • a National Digital Literacy Corps
  • a one-time investment to bolster the capacity of libraries and community centers
  • an Online Skills portal for free, basic digital skills training.

Why? “As political dialogue moves to online forums; as the Internet becomes the comprehensive source of real-time news and information; and as the easiest access to our government becomes email or a Web site, then those who are offline become increasingly disenfranchised,” said Clyburn. “Until recently, not having broadband was simply an inconvenience. Now it’s becoming essential to opportunity and even citizenship. As I have said before, if the adoption gap is not addressed soon, today’s digital divide will soon transform into a digital canyon.”

“Altogether, 93 million Americans do not have broadband at home. And adoption rates are much lower among certain populations, including rural Americans [50%], the elderly [65%], persons with disabilities [42%], low-income Americans [40%], African Americans [59%], and Hispanics [49%]. Among the 13 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 who do not have broadband at home, 6 million are either Hispanic or African American. These disparities won’t just disappear over time if we sit back and do nothing.”

Full text of Commissioner Clyburn’s announcement of the Digital Literacy Corps is available as a PDF.

Principles of the National Broadband Plan

“Targeted solutions should aim to direct resources at populations less likely to be online with broadband,” said Clyburn. Collaborative solutions acknowledge the need for government leadership and coordination in this area; but also rely on the private, non-profit and philanthropic sectors. And local solutions understand that, while the decision to adopt is an individual one, the path to adoption is social.”

“The staff has come up with a number of recommendations with these goals in mind,” said Clyburn.  “To help with cost, the Plan recommends expanding low income Universal Service support to broadband, and exploring using spectrum for a free or very low cost wireless service.  Partnerships between the public, private, non-profit and philanthropic sectors, can help address the relevance barrier by encouraging comprehensive solutions that combine hardware, service, training and content, and by conducting outreach and awareness campaigns that target underserved communities.”

Applying “Gov2.0″ in practice

The use of social media and other collaboration technology online has been notable in many branches of government. The FCC launched Reboot.gov earlier this year, following OpenInternet.gov and Broadband.gov.

Even if FCC.gov remains dated, the FCC itself has moved quickly to use crowdsourcing tools for questions,  @FCC took questions about the digital inclusion at summit using the event’s #BBplan hashtag or using email sent to newmedia@fcc.gov. (Authors of “questions from Twitter,” however, were not unattributed.) Several of the tweeted questions were answered and webcast at FCC.gov/live. That virtuous feedback loop using a combination of online collaborative tools and a livestream is one of the better examples of so-called “government 2.0″ technology I’ve seen in action.

The FCC and Knight Foundation also distributed USB flash drives with PDFs of remarks, reports and relevant links, along with paper versions of the same. That move was both digitally savvy and helpful to members of the media or general audience.

Following the broadband debate ahead

As Amy Gahran pointed out in her post on the National Broadband Plan at the Knight Digital Media Center, this moment presents opportunities for community news and civic engagement.

Given the stakeholders involved in this project, the months ahead will likely be contentious as well. Gahran is spot on in this observation:

“Large, established businesses such as cable companies, broadcasters, and telcos have much at stake and are throwing substantial lobbying muscle toward protecting their interests. Expect that the there will be changes to the plan between the time it goes to committee and the version that eventually makes it to the floor of Congress.

Gahran shared events and resources that will be of use to readers in the D.C. area and beyond in following both the debate around broadband policy and implementation.

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