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Archive for April 2010

Implications of Comcast Decision on National Broadband Plan Implementation

April 7th, 2010 by Austin Schlick - General Counsel

Much already has been written about the D.C. Circuit’s decision yesterday in the so-called Comcast/BitTorrent case (Comcast Corp. v. FCC). Some important facts are at risk of being lost in the discussion.

The Comcast/BitTorrent case began in 2007, when Internet users discovered that Comcast was secretly interfering with its customers’ lawful use of BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer applications. After first denying that the practice existed, Comcast eventually agreed to end it. In 2008, the FCC issued an order finding Comcast in violation of federal Internet policy as stated in various provisions of the Communications Act and prior Commission decisions.

In yesterday’s ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that the Commission’s 2008 order lacked a sufficient statutory basis, because it did not identify “any express statutory delegation of authority” for putting an end to Comcast’s undisclosed interference with its own customers’ communications. That’s an important ruling: It undermines the legal approach the FCC adopted in 2005 to fulfill its statutory duty of being the cop-on-the-beat for 21st Century communications networks.

Does the FCC still have a mission in the Internet area? Absolutely. The nation’s broadband networks represent the indispensable infrastructure for American competitiveness and prospects for future job creation, economic growth, and innovation. The Court did not adopt the view that the Commission lacks authority to protect the openness of the Internet. Furthermore, in 2009, Congress directed the agency to develop a plan to ensure that every American has access to broadband. Just three weeks ago, the Commission released its National Broadband Plan. The Plan contains more than 200 recommendations for bringing high-speed service to underserved individuals and communities, and using broadband to promote American competitiveness, education, healthcare, public safety, and civic participation.

The Comcast/BitTorrent opinion has no effect at all on most of the Plan. Many of the recommendations for the FCC itself involve matters over which the Commission has an “express statutory delegation of authority.” These include critical projects such as making spectrum available for broadband uses, improving the efficiency of wireless systems, bolstering the use of broadband in schools, improving coordination with Native American governments to promote broadband, collecting better broadband data, unleashing competition and innovation in smart video devices, and developing common standards for public safety networks.

At the same time, yesterday’s decision may affect a significant number of important Plan recommendations.  Among them are recommendations aimed at accelerating broadband access and adoption in rural America; connecting low-income Americans, Native American communities, and Americans with disabilities; supporting robust use of broadband by small businesses to drive productivity, growth and ongoing innovation; lowering barriers that hinder broadband deployment; strengthening public safety communications; cybersecurity; consumer protection, including transparency and disclosure; and consumer privacy. The Commission must have a sound legal basis for implementing each of these recommendations. We are assessing the implications of yesterday’s decision for each one, to ensure that the Commission has adequate authority to execute the mission laid out in the Plan.

Public/Private Partnership to Help Small Businesses with Broadband

April 6th, 2010 by Dave Vorhaus - Expert Advisor, Economic Opportunity

When the National Broadband Plan was released last month, Chairman Genachowski emphasized that it was the beginning of a long process, not the end. But one of the plan’s recommendations on a timely topic is already coming to fruition.

Recommendation 13.3 in the Economic Opportunity chapter calls for the executive branch to develop a public/private partnership that can provide technology training and tools to bolster digital literacy, web usage, e-commerce, and online communications tools and expertise among small, disadvantaged businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises in low-income areas.  The Small Business Administration, SBA’s volunteer arm, SCORE, and many of the leading firms from within the tech sector have been working diligently to get this partnership off the ground, and are ready to unveil the plethora of training tools, services, applications, counseling and financial support they have marshaled to help drive broadband use by these small businesses.

The partnership effort will officially kick off with an event at The Ronald Reagan Building this Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. EDT. Chairman Genachowski, SBA Administrator Karen Mills and SCORE CEO Ken Yancey will all speak about the importance of broadband to small businesses in general and this consortium in particular. In addition, representatives from founding private sector partners AT&T, Best Buy, Cisco, Constant Contact, Google, HP, Intuit, Microsoft, Skype and Time Warner Cable Business Class will outline their visions for the small business market and explain how this effort will help see those through to reality. We’d encourage all those who are able to register for the event and join us in person, or watch the event live online at www.fcc.gov/live and join the conversation on Twitter feed using #BBplan.
 

Getting More Older Americans Online

April 6th, 2010 by Mark Wigfield - Spokesman, Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

OBI Executive Director Blair Levin provided introductory remarks at an event sponsored by a group whose mission is to increase broadband adoption among older Americans, called Project GOAL (Get Older Adults Online).  The Plan reported that only 35% of older Americans have broadband at home, compared to 65% of the general public. The Plan makes a number of recommendations designed to increase adoption rates for older Americans.

Thank you, Debra, for the introduction.

And many thanks for your many contributions in helping develop America’s Broadband plan.

In the preface to the Broadband Plan, we asserted America itself was the author of the Plan.

True--our team at the FCC put the final pen to paper, locked for months in a conference room full of old drafts and cheap Chinese food and Pizza—please don’t tell the First Lady about our diet.

But we really believe America wrote this Plan because so many helped in its formation.

The public contributed ideas:

  • in hearings across the country, from San Diego to Charleston;  and
  • in the more than 30 workshops held at the FCC, which were simulcast online so that everybody could participate—as long as they had a broadband connection.

[Read the full speech here.]

Long Lines for the iPad and Staying Ahead of the Curve

April 2nd, 2010 by Phil Bellaria - Director, Scenario Planning, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

By Phil Bellaria - Director, Scenario Planning, Omnibus Broadband Initiative and John Leibovitz - Deputy Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

With lines expected to go out the doors of Apple stores nationwide when the iPad is released tomorrow, it's a good time to think about the changing ways Americans are accessing broadband.  More and more, it seems Americans don’t want to be tethered to a desktop computer -- or even a laptop -- but want a light mobile device they can curl up on the sofa with to watch an on-line movie, stow in a backpack for subway reading, or pass around the office with the latest vacation pictures.  The broadband connections that enable this flexibility are wireless – a fact that points out the need for more spectrum for mobile broadband that we identified in the National Broadband Plan.

Many iPads will rely solely on Wi-Fi to connect to broadband, and the Plan recognizes how Wi-Fi broadband access on unlicensed spectrum can relieve the growing pressure on licensed cellular networks. The Plan calls for the FCC to free up a new, contiguous nationwide band of spectrum for unlicensed use over the next ten years. These bands have the added benefit of providing economical broadband access in rural areas that aren’t well served now.

Other consumers will buy iPads configured to also connect to AT&T’s commercial licensed networks, adding to the fast-growing volume of data traffic that has already been fueled by smart phones, like the iPad’s little brother, the iPhone, and laptop aircards. The growth is exciting – and a call for action to stave off network congestion. Consider this: AT&T’s data traffic has grown by 5000% over the past three years. Cisco estimates that smartphones alone can generate 30 times more data traffic than a basic feature phone. And laptops can generate many times the traffic of a smartphone.

Before long, we’ll have an idea about what the iPad’s impact on spectrum use will be. But we shouldn’t wait. The FCC’s National Broadband Plan has outlined the fundamentals of a bold spectrum policy for the future. It includes short-term steps, such as carriers building out 4G networks, more cell phone towers, and migrating to more efficient equipment. But long-term, it’s clear that we’ll need to act on the Plan’s call for more spectrum.

Failing to do so will frustrate consumers with balky networks and hamstring innovation in a sector where America leads the world.

Working Together on Broadband Speed Disclosure for Consumers

April 2nd, 2010 by Peter Bowen - Applications Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Understanding what broadband speeds and performance you will actually experience at home is critical when trying to choose a service or understand what applications and content your service can access once you’re purchased that connection.  The speed you get at home can depend on many things – the speed tier of the service, the degree of congestion on the network, computer processing speeds or multiple devices sharing a connection, to name a few. Including only one factor would be like planning a trip based on just one leg of the journey, even though in the end, the trip’s real time and cost will depend on every leg – a better flight won’t save you money or time if you must travel to an inconvenient airport. The National Broadband Plan focused on the whole picture -- the actual broadband speeds experienced by consumers -- for exactly this reason. What we found was that there is a 40% to 50% gap between the actual speeds that consumers experience and the advertised maximum speeds that ISPs provision.
 
Recently, the National Cable Telecommunications Association (NCTA) filed comments protesting the data we used from a company called comScore for projecting the average national gap between advertised speeds and actual speeds experienced. Citing to a document prepared by NetForecast, a company hired by Comcast to test usage meters, NCTA complained that the FCC used comScore results as an absolute indicator of individual ISPs’ performance. NCTA noted that because the data doesn’t account for delays caused by a user’s computer, or between client and server, or conflicts from the test traffic itself, and other reasons it did not reflect ISP performance.
 
Well, exactly. It’s true that the performance gap can be driven by many factors beyond the ISP’s performance – a slow computer, a shared connection, bad internal wiring, or the general vagaries of IP traffic on the Internet, to name a few. But our conclusions weren’t meant as an “absolute indicator” of an ISP’s performance, as NCTA says.  Instead, we were pointing out what a typical consumer actually experiences, no matter the reason. We noted that this gap often creates confusion for consumers, and can make it difficult for them to choose the right provider or speed service tier. Consumers need to know real-world facts to make real-world choices.
 
Besides, the FCC is, in fact, putting in place testing to measure absolute provider speeds -- an important and related issue, but a separate issue. In 2009 the UK regulator published a report noting that actual speeds delivered by ISP’s were roughly 57% of the advertised speeds and even lower at peak times, and we aim to replicate their approach and make our results available to the public this year. So a few weeks ago, we put out bids, which I blogged about on March 15, to hire a firm to independently test these absolute speeds. We look forward to getting that information..
 
By the way, providers have had a chance to provide us with more data themselves over the last 6 months. Back in September, we asked providers for better data to refine the comScore analysis – new facts and figures, rather than rhetoric and empty attack. NCTA suggests flaws in the advertised speeds of comScore, but ISPs have and could provide data (in aggregate) on the advertised speeds of their consumers to bolster or refine comScore, Form 477 and other data that the commission relies upon. But no provider has stepped forward.
 
We have seen increasingly positive signs that all parties – consumer groups, providers and others – are willing to work with the FCC to create standards for disclosure that benefit consumers. Consumers are confused about broadband performance, but if all parties decide to work together, collectively we can solve this problem.



Capture The Phone Numbers Using Your Camera Phone

If you have a camera and a 2D matrix code reader on your mobile phone, you can capture the FCC Phone numbers right to your phone by following these three easy steps:
Step 1: Take a photograph of one of the codes below using the camera on your mobile phone.
Step 2: Use your phone's Datamatrix or QR Code reader to decode the information on the photograph. Please note, these code readers are device specific and are available to download on the internet.
Step 3: Store the decoded address information to your phone's address book and use it with your Maps or GPS application.

Datamatrix and QR FCC Phones