Carterfone & AT&T Breakup Enabled Opening of Equipment Business

In 1984 AT&T in exchange for government permission to enter the computer equipment business agreed to a breakup of its subsidiaries into several Regional Baby Bells. The breakup was very beneficial for consumers and resulted in greater competition. Unfortunately, in the 2000s AT&T Corp., as it came to be known was allowed to re-merge with two of the original Baby Bells from the Ma Bell System: SBC Communications and later Bell South. Another Baby Bell MCI eventually become part of Verizon Communications which is a co-owner of Verizon Wireless.

What some people don’t know is in 1968 the FCC ruled that wire-line telephones had to be made compatible with any telephone company. The Carterfone decision as it was called paved the way for the innovation of the fax machine and allowed innovation in the phone equipment business that the AT&T monopoly otherwise sought to curtail. Today the wireless market for cellular phones and tablets looks a lot unfortunately like the phone equipment market pre Carterfone with wireless carriers allowed to dictate which handsets work with which carriers. It is imperative that this be resolved eventually for the benefit of the consumer.

Right now the Federal Communications Commission is accepting comments on a proceeding regarding interoperability rules for carriers with 700 MHz of wireless spectrum (12-69). They also have an open proceeding on Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) rules for holders of AWS spectrum (12-70). I would encourage anyone who has not had a chance to comment on these proposals to file comments as soon as possible in support of interoperability requirements for carriers using both 700 MHz and AWS spectrum. Furthermore, anyone wanting to contribute their opinion(s) on such rules are certainly welcome in doing so and public input is certainly a good thing. Otherwise the corporations against interoperability and any rules benefiting the public’s interest would be the only ones to speak out. We need to show their is support for pro consumer policies like these that also benefit smaller wireless companies and are thus pro competitive. AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless might not like these rules but the proposed rules benefit smaller companies and consumers a like.

I have already commented myself in these proceedings and mentioned having an open equipment market for cellular phones and tablets that can work with the carrier of the individual’s choice and would encourage others to do so as well. Please note that the FCC’s next Open Commission meeting is on Friday April 27th at which time they will vote on some proposed rules in proceedings related to standardized and enhanced disclosure pertaining to broadcaster’s public interest obligations (00-168) that while still open the commenting period for rules has passed, and on a few other proceedings related to USF contributions etc.

Advertisements

T-Mobile Call Center Layoffs Results in AT&T Disingenuous Attack on FCC

A few weeks back it was announced that T-Mobile USA which survived a takeover attempt from AT&T Mobility would layoff several call center workers. AT&T which has also laid off call center workers reacted saying their merger could have saved these jobs. Never mind the fact that many duplicative jobs would have been lost as a result of the merger in retail and engineering and that the takeover was anti-competitive as AT&T believes that it could have saved these jobs had the merger occurred.

AT&T is now publicly criticizing the FCC like a sore loser upset at the denial of their merger. Even though they got a nice consolation prize in the form of 700 MHz of unused wireless spectrum from Qualcomm that regulators allowed AT&T to acquire they want to resort to petty attacks against this agency. The fact is the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission denied the merger because it was found to be anti-competitive and not in the public’s interest to have even fewer choices in the nationwide market for wireless service providers.

Their deceptive attempt to Monopolize Everything using their PR campaign “Mobilize Everything” rightly backfired on them and now they need to just move on. AT&T’s arrogance in assuming the merger was a done deal and suggesting to the public their opinion didn’t matter if they were opposed to the merger helped torpedo the takeover. From the start the “inevitable” merger of AT&T Mobility with T-Mobile USA was rightly under intense government scrutiny as it proposed making an already concentrated wireless market even less competitive. Fortunately, regulators were not willing to allow anymore consolidation on such a massive scale in the U.S. wireless market despite all of AT&T’s lobbying and advertising the merger was killed.

Communications & Journalism Lifeblood of Democracy

Google+ icon

Quality journalism is the lifeblood of democracy. There is no doubt that is true as the Founding Fathers believed that if they had to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without government they would choose the latter. An informed electorate is important. Communications too are important. Access to communications technologies like broadband, e-mail, SMS and cellular phones that allow us to quickly send/receive messages are crucial to all modern societies. Without a method to communicate to others it becomes harder for individuals to share information with each other. Even in the era of newspapers individuals had the ability to communicate their opinions to others in their community by writing a letter to the editor of their local paper. In a time before e-mail or the Internet such opinion letters had to be mailed to the newspaper’s station.

When an individual’s letter to the editor gets published in the newspaper everyone in a community with a copy of the paper could read the opinion pieces that were published. If someone read an opinion piece printed in the paper they could then reply to the piece and submit their reply for publication in the next issue of the newspaper. Of course individuals could even mail  personal letters to one another. Private letters mailed from one individual to another can still be sent via U.S. Mail today but it was extremely crucial for communicating long distances before the telegraph, telephone, radio, or even the Internet were invented.

The U.S. Postal Service is still important today especially for people lacking broadband access who live in rural and remote areas to communicate messages with others. The mission of the U.S. Postal Service is to provide a universal mail service that no privatized mail carrier does which enables people in rural and remote areas to have mail service. Given the problems the U.S. Postal Service is having lately and the partisan attacks by Republicans in Congress against the Postal Service I intend to discuss what’s wrong with the Postal Service, possible reforms of the Postal Service that can allow it to still carry out its stated mission and save it from privatization in a future article. For now though I close with these words journalism is a public good that also needs defending.

Advancing Broadband Availability Through Digital Literacy

Google+ icon

Access to high-speed Internet services – also known as broadband – has become a basic public necessity like water or electricity. Yet despite its importance, broadband in America is far from universal.  Part of the solution is improving digital literacy for all Americans so they can acquire the skills they need to connect to the Internet. However, that still leaves the competition issues I raised earlier unaddressed that will need addressing to bring down costs, provide consumers more choices and result in better service. It is my hope the competition issues will be addressed at some point in the near future by the FCC.

Now as for digital literacy as I have stated the FCC has proposed using some USF funds to foster greater broadband adoption through investment in digital literacy training. Broadband adoption is important as is broadband deployment and I am glad to see the FCC taking actions to help bridge the digital divide. It is my hope that the FCC’s rulings in broadband matters help the people that need it not cement the power of  the monopoly phone and cable companies. The status quo on broadband is unacceptable.

The future of all media lies in the Internet. Think about that for a moment. This means all information, communication, commerce and entertainment is increasingly going online. Increasingly new technologies and telecommunications services like broadband will play a greater role in our economy. With employers looking for new workers increasingly advertising job openings on the Web job seekers will need both the skills to access the Internet and a broadband connection to apply for positions and remain competitive. That is why broadband competition and digital literacy are so important.

Advancing Broadband Availability Through Competition & Digital Literacy

Google+ icon

We need to decide whether like universal mail service or universal basic telephone service whether to make universal broadband a reality. That being said the decisions we make as a country will determine whether such service will remain a luxury marketed by monopoly cable and phone companies to the few who can afford their exorbitant prices and live in areas where they deploy access to broadband or like any public utility/telecommunications service be made universally available to all.

Part of the solution is improving digital literacy for all Americans so they have the skills they need to access the Internet. Already the National Telecommunications Information Administration in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Commerce has established the website digitalliteracy.gov and institutions of higher learning often conduct digital literacy workshops for their instructors so they can learn how to use new technologies in their classrooms. Digital literacy courses are often provided so students can also learn how to use new technologies.

Now as to whether the FCC has the constitutional authority to provide USF funds for digital literacy training I do believe they have authority and should use it. I encourage the FCC to vote in the affirmative on the proposal for advancing broadband availability through digital literacy training which the FCC is soliciting comments on at this time. In fact, I have provided the FCC my comments on existing digital literacy initiatives launched by educational institutions that have succeeded. Next post will cover the USF Transformation Order  in more detail along with my thoughts on other FCC proposals affecting the future of the Internet.

Advancing Broadband Availability Through Competition

Google+ icon

Access to high-speed Internet services – also known as broadband – has become a basic public necessity like water or electricity. Yet despite its importance, broadband in America is far from universal. Broadband Internet Providers have been allowed to remain largely deregulated and to only market service in areas of they’re choosing. We need to decide whether like universal mail service or universal basic telephone service whether to make universal broadband a reality. That being said the decisions we make as a country will determine whether such service will remain a luxury marketed by monopoly cable and phone companies to the few who can afford their exorbitant prices and live in areas where they deploy access to broadband or like any public utility/telecommunications service be made universally available to all.

In order to do so though the FCC has to restore competition mandates on broadband providers by reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Competition and investment not a weak Network Neutrality regime are what’s needed but this FCC has been unwilling to do so. That being said in Comcast v. FCC the courts already ruled that the FCC lacks ancillary authority even to enforce Network Neutrality rules. What can be done? Either the President should encourage the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to step in to enforce Network Neutrality rules on broadband providers as that agency has authority over information services or instruct the FCC to reclassify broadband to ensure it has the authority to regulate broadband providers.

Broadband reclassification would the best choice as it enables the FCC to set the competition mandates needed for broadband that have kept the dial-up Internet access market competitive. That being said as the U.S. State Department under the Obama Biden Administration has sought to promote Internet freedom abroad we must have regulatory policies firmly in place to protect and promote it at home. The FCC’s historic decision last October to transform the Universal Service Fund into a Connect America Fund for making universal broadband a reality while lauded by public interest groups also drew concern as well. Media reform and public interest group Free Press which runs SaveTheInternet.com asked its members before the FCC voted on the USF Transformation order to submit comments in the Connect America Fund proceeding (10-90) urging the Commission to reject the telecom industry’s ABC Plan. Free Press wanted to ensure the proposed reforms would not further enrich big telecom giants at our expense.

Indeed Free Press questioned whether the FCC’s USF Transformation order would amount to a rip-off for consumers or result in real reforms that benefit the public. Ultimately the FCC didn’t rubber stamp the ABC Plan written by AT&T and Verizon but it missed an opportunity to bring real pro-consumer reforms to a wasteful system. The question now is as the FCC seeks to implement the National Broadband Plan, and reform other parts of the Universal Service Fund like the Lifeline & Link Up programs how they will enact some of these reforms. Next post I’ll address the need for broadband competition and to advance digital literacy to improve broadband adoption in more detail.

Stop CISPA The New SOPA

Google+ icon

As if the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act weren’t bad enough now Congress will be debating CISPA an online snooping bill pretending to be a cyber security bill. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing & Protection Act allows government and corporations to spy on our electronic communications making it easier for big businesses to intimidate us and threaten our ability to speak freely online. That is why this new dangerous legislation must be stopped now. Unfortunately some of SOPA’s biggest corporate opponents including Facebook support CISPA. You heard that right Facebook is supporting CISPA which violates our right to privacy. Also among CISPA’s corporate supporters are the tech giants Microsoft and Intel plus telecoms AT&T and Verizon.

CISPA is expected to head for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives during the week of April 23rd which is why its so important for opponents to mobilize now to educate as many people as possible in advance what CISPA is and how bad this legislation is. If you haven’t heard of CISPA yet its no surprise these companies don’t want people to know about it. It’s reached a point that Facebook has reportedly started deleting public  Facebook posts criticizing them for supporting CISPA. They don’t want Facebook users to know their pro CISPA or what CISPA is. If you haven’t already please visit SaveTheInternet.com and sign their petition to “Stop The Online Spying Bill” now. Then call your Representative and tell them to vote no on HR 3523 the Cyber Intelligence Sharing & Protection Act when it comes up for a vote. Also tell your friends about CISPA and urge them to take action also. We must spread the word whether its by sharing such actions via social networking accounts or e-mail but only share with people you know spam hurts the campaign.

If we mobilize now I know we can beat CISPA too and protect our civil liberties online but we must act now to do so. Tell Congress they cannot circumvent the law with vaguely defined cyber security threats. If CISPA passes any company can claim their privacy violations were for cyber security purposes. This is why CISPA must be stopped. We defeated Hollywood’s lobbyists and stopped the Internet Blacklist bills PIPA & SOPA and I know we can beat CISPA too.

Stop Verizon & Big Cable’s Shenanigans

As if the “inevitable” AT&T T-Mobile merger rightly killed by federal regulators wasn’t bad enough now Verizon Wireless and a handful of big cable companies want to enter into anti-competitive marketing agreements to divide up the Internet amongst themselves. The agency resale and joint operating entity agreements are part of an anti competitive spectrum licensing transfer filed by SpectrumCo (a consortium of cable companies including Comcast NBC, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks) and Cox Communications. If this  sweetheart deal between Verizon Wireless and Big Cable  is approved what little broadband competition still exists in the fixed wire-line market would disappear with Verizon Communications expected to discontinue expansion of their  land-line FIOS Phone, Internet and TV services into new markets if it does not abandon FIOS service altogether. There’s no way to sugarcoat it these deals would be a disaster for consumers, competition and violate the intent of Congress when they passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The good news is public interest groups have convinced the FCC in examining whether to approve the license transfer or not to request the companies involved provide them more information on their marketing agreements. As such the FCC must review the commercial agreements and the spectrum transfer in combination even if its review of the marketing agreements are part of a separate proceeding.

After all Comcast’s Executive Vice President David Cohen has admitted that the deals are part of an integrated transaction. There was never any discussion about having the spectrum sale without the commercial agreements. Both the Justice Department and the FCC are examining the deals in combination which public interest groups say should be denied anyways because of the massive spectrum concentration that would occur should the deals be approved. After all both Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility have plenty of existing spectrum compared to smaller rivals  in both the national post-paid and pre-paid market(s) and the regional post-paid/pre-paid market(s) like Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, MetroPCS, Leap Wireless (Cricket) and C-Spire Wireless.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to comment yet on the proposed transaction(s) please e-mail the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division at antitrust.complaints@usdoj.gov or file comments with the FCC at their website using docket 12-4. Also contact your member of Congress including your Representative and your U.S. Senators urging their opposition to the transactions. The U.S. Senate recently held an antitrust subcommittee hearing on the proposed deals where Verizon Wireless and Big Cable faced strong criticism. Let’s keep up the pressure and stop Verizon & Big Cable from carving up the Internet amongst themselves.