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The FCC today voted unanimously to begin conducting voluntary trials to ensure a relatively smooth and reasonable transition away from the PSTN and copper networks. The push for such trials began in earnest after Verizon refused to repair the DSL and copper POTS lines of hurricane Sandy victims, instead forcing them to instead use an inferior wireless-based product
known as VoiceLink, which doesn't work with alarm systems, has numerous glitches, and doesn't provide data connectivity.
Verizon's insistence that this was "good enough," and the immense public backlash to that claim, forced the FCC to admit that this transition might need a regulatory guiding hand.
In an FCC announcement
, the FCC says the carrier deadline for the voluntary trials are due by February 20, followed by a public comment period ending March 30. The trials themselves will be conducted for one year. The FCC insists that the process of ensuring a smooth transition away from the PSTN will be guided by four major principles:
•Public safety communications must be available no matter the technology
•All Americans must have access to affordable communications services
•Competition in the marketplace provides choice for consumers and businesses
•Consumer protection is paramount
Keep those promises at the very front of your mind as this effort moves forward. Particularly the ones promising affordability, choice and competition -- since there's a very good likelihood this transition will make all three dramatically worse.
Carriers, bewitched by the immense profits in wireless and bored with the slower returns from fixed-line residential networks, have set the stage to hang up on tens of millions of DSL and POTS users in similar fashion over the next few years, informing them that very expensive and heavily capped wireless service is good enough (tip: it's not
Broadband has always been a lip service favorite among politicians, rhetoric about "innovation" and a "connected tomorrow" distracting us eternally from the country's high prices, lack of competition and total government apathy to both. Last night's State of the Union
was no exception, President Obama re-iterating a rather vague promise made last June
that the FCC would help bring 100 Mbps broadband to 99% of schools in the next four years.
As a sort of counter-point to former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps' claim that we should classify ISPs as common carriers to preserve net neutrality
, the EFF has penned a blog post
effectively arguing that the FCC really isn't going to save us from network neutrality violations because they're a broken agency in the pockets of industry. Unlock Copps, the EFF fears that giving the FCC any additional authority opens the door toward even worse rules and regulations:
In light of these threats it is tempting to reach for easy solutions.
As we've been discussing
, if ISPs are going to violate network neutrality now that we have no protection rules, it won't be by the outright blocking of content or services, given that would bring down the hammer of government intervention. Instead, more subtle ways of being anti-competitive are going to be the norm; anti-competitive behavior will be buried under faux-technical necessity (see Verizon's incessant blocking of competing products and services
) or the guise of "innovative" pricing -- whatever keeps most consumers generally confused and apathetic and therefore regulators and the press quiet.
As I noted yesterday, new FCC boss Tom Wheeler has been saying all the right things as people attempt to get a bead on just what kind of an FCC leader he'll be. Wheeler, a former cable and wireless industry lobbyist, has spent his first few weeks in office absolutely gushing about just how dedicated he plans to be in regards to boosting industry competition
After being one of the only towns or cities to hold up Google Fiber because of liability concerns
, Overland Park this week appeared poised to do a 180 and approve the deal
, which city officials tell me remains identical to other deals in the region. Unfortunately for the city, locals who attended a town meeting Monday night informed me that instead of accepting the deal, Google stated
that their deployment to Overland Park was going to experience an "indefinite continuance."
While Overland Park is home to Sprint -- and local incumbent Time Warner Cable certainly has a history of scuttling competition using underhanded tactics
-- there has been no evidence that Overland Park's trepidation was anything other than the city looking out for its own best interests.
Earlier this week Verizon performed a complete 180 and proudly announced they'd be bringing FiOS to the 600-person community of Fire Island, New York
, after previously telling the Sandy-ravaged locals (with no other communications options) they'd never have DSL lines repaired. Verizon had tried to argue that the Verizon Voice Link wireless service they foisted upon residents was good enough, despite the fact the service was less reliable and functional than a fixed line, and didn't include data connectivity.
In a blog post
the cable industry's chief trade group the NCTA promises that no matter how the Verizon and FCC net neutrality case
turns out, cable broadband customers should have confidence that "they will continue to enjoy the same fast and open Internet experience that millions of Americans cherish every day." Denying they have any interest in harming Internet video competitors, the industry (now led by ex-FCC boss Michael Powell) first promises they simply love net neutrality:
"The cable industry has consistently endorsed – and fostered the development of – an open Internet," said the NCTA. "Long before the FCC’s adoption of net neutrality rules, the cable industry made clear that it does not – and would not – block our customers’ ability to access lawful Internet content, applications or services."
Except for that time when Comcast was caught throttling BitTorrent traffic
by a user in our forums
using the protocol for entirely legal reasons, resulting in a massive country-wide media firestorm as the public realized carriers were engaging in rather clumsy and ham-fisted traffic discrimination, right? The public outcry from that incident forced the cable industry to implement more intelligent and nuanced forms of traffic management.
After Time Warner Cable took a public relations beating for pushing mandatory low caps (as low as 5 GB) and high per byte overages (as high as $5 per additional gigabyte) on consumers back in 2009
, the company has been stepping very carefully in what is quite obviously their relentless desire to charge consumers broadband overages. Early last year their metered billing option returned to a few tiny markets as a voluntary (for now) option
Under Essentials, the company promises users a $5 discount off their bill if they sign up for the plan, which features a 5 GB cap and $1 per gigabyte overages.
*There has been a concerted push recently by the broadband industry to try and insist that the United States broadband market is secretly flawless, awesome and highly competitive, despite the fact that absolutely every independent source of broadband data (from Akamai
and the FCC
to the OECD
and OOkla's Net Index
) suggests we're absolutely and utterly mediocre at every metric that counts. That's not to say we're not improving in some very select regions
(thanks to things like Google Fiber, Verizon FiOS and DOCSIS 3.0), but overall we're quite indisputably, utterly average when it comes to broadband worldwide.
Long after this week's surveillance firestorm erupted, the White House has finally seen fit to grace the public with some justifications for their wholesale secret spying on pretty much everyone, everywhere, all the time. In a speech (full video here
), Obama effectively stated that spying on such a ridiculous scale is a "critical" tool in the country's arsenal, and that both
of the programs
exposed in more detail this week were approved by Congress, and therefore perfectly ok.
A report over at Public Integrity
notes that more and more corporations are throwing money at civil rights groups, and in exchange convincing them to parrot support for bad public policy. We most recently saw this during AT&T's attempted takeover of T-Mobile, when oodles of minority groups that should be supporting more competition, lower prices, and fewer job cuts -- suddenly began magically repeating AT&T talking points on the subject
While there's absolutely no doubt that Google Fiber has been a positive thing for the industry, critics have singled out two problems with Google's ultra-fast offering. One, the company backed off of open access promises
that would have allowed multiple companies to come in and truly compete over the infrastructure.
As I've been discussing a lot lately
(because it's the most important issue facing the broadband sector right now), both AT&T and Verizon are in the process of gutting regulations that require they continue offering copper landlines -- and by proxy DSL -- to tens of millions of Americans. Both companies insist that they're simply interested in "modernizing regulations" and ushering us into an "all IP age." In reality, both companies simply want to exit the fixed-line market in areas they're unwilling to upgrade.
The Justice Department is under fire for obtaining two months of telephone records for twenty different lines used by reporters and editors for The Associated Press. Said data included phone numbers, names, calls made, and potentially call duration. story continues..
Early last year we noted that AT&T, the company that really started the network neutrality debate to begin with
, had come up with yet another awful new idea: charging app makers a fee if they wanted to send data to consumers without impacting their usage caps. While AT&T presented the idea as akin to a 1-800 number for data or "free shipping," what it actually is a troll toll imposed by AT&T allowing them to rake in new cash -- and impose their power on a content ecosystem and app marketplace that operates better with companies like AT&T out of the way.
Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell today announced that he'll be leaving the FCC
for an unspecified job elsewhere. McDowell was the likely front-runner to lead the FCC if Romney had won the election.
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