Advancing Broadband Availability Through Competition & Digital Literacy

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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

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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.

Why Internet Companies Should Oppose AT&T T Mobil Merger

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Internet companies especially those rightly supporting Net Neutrality should worry about the potential of the job killing, competition and consumer choice reducing AT&T T Mobil merger. The merger which would likely result in higher prices would also give AT&T more market power and increased incentive to discriminate against innovators and users online. Nonetheless some technology companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, and Yahoo have unfortunately chosen to support the merger. Whether or not they are aware of the risks to the wireless market and chose to ignore them or naively chose to believe AT&T’s empty promises that if it wins approval for the deal it will expand mobile broadbnd access is unclear.  One thing is certain though one web company Google is strangely silent on the issue of this merger.

Google which has been a longtime supporter of Network Neutrality at least up until last year when it reached a controversial deal with Verizon Wireless on a Network Neutrality framework exempting nondiscrimination requirements from wireless services has been silent on this telecommunications merger. Last year when they announced their pact with Verizon Wireless they were criticized by Facebook and a number of public interest groups and pro Net Neutrality activists.

On the issue of Microsoft’s support for the merger remember this is the same company taken to court by antitrust regulators in the US Department of Justice for trying to illegally monopolize the market for web browsing software. So Microsoft’s no champion of the Open Internet and their past history proves such. However, for Google a previous supporter of openness and nondiscrimination to have made that pact with Verizon Wireless was really outrageous. What’s more outrageous is their silence on the issue of the AT&T T Mobil and Qualcomm mergers as well as Facebook’s support of the merger.

Thirty First Blog Entry Mon Sept 5

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The iPad as noted is just another TV screen now for consuming, accessing and viewing content. Therefore providers should not have to pay more in carriage fees to greedy programmers to stream TV programs to such devices using apps like Time Warner Cable’s TV app for iPad. Even though these apps use the TV Everywhere authentication scheme I support the providers right to offer these apps to consumers without having to pay additional charges to programmers for doing so. Let us make it clear to greedy programmers we do not share their views that it is okay for them to double dip and demand carriage fees be paid twice. Once for providers to enable customers to view channels on their TV and a second time so viewers can access the content on tablet computers like the iPad.

My next post will discuss Time Warner Cable’s web campaign in defense of their iPad app for streaming live TV. It may also discuss their web campaign to fight higher broadcast retransmission fees. Afterward will provide a post detailing alternative applications and services you can use even if you lose channels because of a broadcast retransmission fight by your provider and a programmer to still access such programing.

Twenty Seventh Blog Entry Mon Sept 5th

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Unfortunately programmers that is the broadcast and cable TV networks that own all the channels require providers who owns the pipes that carry/distribute their TV channels to bundle channels. Even in basic cable 70+ channels are bundled that you might not even want but still have to pay for. To make matters worse greedy programmers when broadcast retransmission contracts are up for renewal with satellite and/or digital cable TV providers pressure providers to accept higher retransmission carriage fees. As providers only get to keep a small portion of the revenues they earn as profit and must spend most of it to pay their employees, maintain and update infrastructure, and pay the providers these fee increases would have to unfairly be passed on to consumers. So providers often complain and try to fight back to hold down prices. They should certainly be commended for doing so but of course that does not excuse big cable companies that provide us with TV service from engaging in ISP discrimination online.

Nonetheless it is good of the providers to look out for their customers in these retransmission fights and it would be nice to see some government intervention sometimes in helping resolve these disputes and taking away power from programmers to outrageously jack up prices to prevent future disputes. Another posting will cover broadcast retransmission and place shifting issues in further detail.

 

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Sixteenth Blog Entry Sun Sept 4th

Previously, I have written extensively about the Justice Department’s decision to use its authority to mandate competition and protect free markets with antitrust law from monopolies to block AT&T’s T Mobil merger. Now I want to write a bit more though on Network Neutrality. Network Neutrality rules of nondiscrimination are essential to maintaining the free and open Internet as a level playing field for new startups to compete, innovate and succeed or fail on their merits. In an Open Internet small businesses can grow to become big businesses and don’t need permission to innovate. My next post will describe Network Neutrality in further detail.

Don’t let big cable and phone companies succeed in redefining Network Neutrality a government takeover of the Internet. It is an absurd and false argument to trick individuals into opposing what are in fact protections for the Open Web that prevent these corporations from discriminating against us online. As I said my next article will discuss this in more depth but for now just know that Network Neutrality are a set of nondiscrimination rules preventing unfair ISP discrimination. ISPs should not be able to exempt their own services from unnecessary and unfair bandwidth caps they place on user’s Internet connections to make using competing applications and services on the Web inconvenient. So please spread the word and prevent the telecommunications industry from distorting Network Neutrality.

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Fifteenth Blog Entry Sun Sept 4th

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The Justice Department’s historic decision to deny AT&T’s T Mobil merger for being anti competitive and news that the FCC might do the same finding that the deal is against the public interest despite heavy lobbying by Ma Bell to get government regulators to approve the transaction is great news for consumers and the wireless market. As I have stated before this is a big win for consumers and will continue to write about new developments as they occur hopeful the public interest will prevail. With any luck no more anti competitive and harmful mergers will be approved and these agencies might one day hopefully soon use competition mandates and antitrust law to breakup anti competitive firms in the wireless market. I will discuss Network Neutrality in more depth in an upcoming post.

So what happens now that Justice has denied AT&T’s merger with T Mobil. Well as I’ve stated before no doubt AT&T will fight the lawsuit Justice filed against them in court and try to woo Justice to reconsider its terrific decision for consumers and the wireless market. We will have to continue fighting to get this merger thrown out for good and ensure Justice’s decision is not over turned but for now as I’ve stated earlier we should celebrate this win for the public interest. Screw you AT&T we’ve refused to accept your lies of the merger enabling you to deliver users better service or the deal magically giving consumers more choice. Why don’t you just cancel your transaction with T Mobil USA and Qualcomm?

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Fourteenth Blog Entry Sun Sept 4th

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Unfortunately for AT&T the Justice Department in ruling against their T Mobil merger decided that the facts of the merger’s anti competitive harms trumped politics. As a supporter of the Open Internet wanting Network Neutrality rules of nondiscrimination to prevent centralization, exploitation and control of the Web by corporations to extend to mobile broadband and wireless services I was no doubt glad that the merger was denied. No doubt AT&T will try to convince Justice to reconsider its decision and try to fight the antitrust lawsuit in court. We have to continue exposing AT&T’s lies about the merger’s so called benefits for consumers but for now let’s celebrate this win. I applaud the Justice Department for its historic and terrific ruling against Ma Bell choosing to deny them an anti competitive Ma Cell. I also call on the FCC to deny this merger also.

The Obama Administration is rightly focused on policies to create jobs in this country and is protecting jobs that would be destroyed if the merger proceeded. I am writing extensively about the decision by Justice to deny the merger of AT&T and T Mobil because this is a big win for consumers and the wireless market. It’s unfortunate that some conservatives are siding with AT&T and complaining about Justice’s decision to protect consumers and competition in the wireless market. We need to remind conservative lawmakers who their constituents really are and that if they don’t stop siding with corporate lobbyists we can and will vote them out of office. Clearly we have more work to do but for now as I’ve noted earlier let’s celebrate.

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Thirteenth Blog Entry Sat Sept 3rd

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I have previously written about the Justice Department’s decision using antitrust law to protect competition and deny AT&T Mobility a spectrum monopoly in the wireless market by filing suit to stop Ma Bell’s merger with T Mobil USA so they could establish an anti competitive Ma Cell. I have also written about my pleasure in learning the FCC might also rule against the merger finding it in violation of the public interest. I was thrilled to hear of Justice’s ruling in the matter which supposedly surprised AT&T. I hope Justice wins at court but even if AT&T somehow won the news that the FCC might also reject the merger is good news for consumers and the wireless market.

Unfortunately some Republican lawmakers have decided to play politics with the decision and use the Justice Department decision as another excuse to accuse the Obama Administration of having an anti jobs and anti business agenda for the country. No doubt they have received campaign cash from AT&T and so they are upset with Justice’s decision having reviewed the facts to deny the merger. This is an outrage and we need to make clear to our lawmakers they are supposed to serve their constituents not the corporations funding their campaigns. We the people want more competition, consumer choice and innovation in the wireless market not less. We want lower prices and better service not the higher prices the merger would bring. So hit conservative critics hard on their criticism of the Justice Department.

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Eleventh Blog Entry Sat Sept 3

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Great news for consumers and the wireless market. The United States Department of Justice has filed an antitrust lawsuit to block AT&T Mobility’s merger with Deutsche Telecom’s T Mobil USA having found the merger to be anti competitive. Despite all of AT&T’s lobbying efforts consumers who wrote to the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division asking that DOJ block the merger have succeeded in convincing Justice to deny this awful merger for consumers and innovators in the wireless market. The merger of AT&T and T Mobil USA would enable Ma Bell to establish a new anti competitive Ma Cell in the wireless market. The merger despite AT&T’s lies would actually destroy jobs in the country and reduce consumer choice. Justice having reviewed the facts made the smart choice in blocking the merger between the country’s second largest wireless carrier and the fourth. The merger after all would substantially reduce competition in the wireless phone market for post-paid cellular phone service. The Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski who says his agency is still reviewing the information submitted from supporters and opponents of the deal says his agency also has serious concerns about the transaction. Furthermore considering the FCC has never approved a merger denied by Justice it is highly unlikely they would approve this merger.

Like others supporting the national media reform movement I was disappointed with the Justice Department and FCC’s decisions to allow previous mergers that also had potential anti competitive effects. Remember they approved Qwest Century Link and Comcast NBCU. I was disappointed with the FCC’s sell out on Network Neutrality rules of nondiscrimination and the Chairman’s decision to abandon his own Third Way approach for regulating broadband providers that involved reclassifying broadband as a TItle II  public utility and an advanced “telecommunications service”. I was upset by Congressional Democrats caving to the former Bush Cheney Administration in 2008 when they voted to give telecoms immunity for their participation in the  illegal warrantless wiretapping program conducted during the Bush Administration by the NSA. However, this is a historic and terrific decision by Justice ruling in favor of the public interest and competition. Justice has refused to allow AT&T to have a spectrum monopoly. I believe Internet, broadband, communications, spectrum and media policies from Washington D.C. should be designed not to just benefit big cable and telecommunications companies but should actually serve the public interest. If the merger between AT&T and T Mobil had been approved AT&T  the second largest carrier and Verizon Wireless the nation’s largest carrier would have a near duopoly of the wireless market.  So thanks Justice for standing up to Ma Bell and denying them a Ma Cell.

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