Analyst: FCC Simply Unwilling To Stand Up To Major Carriers
And the national broadband plan's going to fail because of it...
We've been very hard lately
on the FCC's broadband plan, noting repeatedly that it fails to tackle competition, and that the agency seems completely unwilling to make any significant decision that would ruffle feathers at the nation's wealthiest and largest carriers. Recent comments by plan architect Blair Levin
only served to support that assessment, indicating that Levin and several high-ranking officials at the FCC fear incumbent lobbying influence and possible political fallout from actually trying to change things. That's business as usual at the FCC.
"(the plan) accomplishes very little for affordability, quality, speed, or availability of broadband in the U.S."
-Broadband analyst Dave Burstein
Dave Burstein has been writing about broadband for more than a decade, and there's probably nobody in the sector whose head is more stuffed with constantly-revised, telecom-related facts. He's been talking with the FCC and rehashing the plan in its current state
, and in a newsletter to industry watchers has concluded that with a few exceptions, the plan "accomplishes very little for affordability, quality, speed, or availability of broadband in the U.S."
Why? According to Burstein, lots of talented and bright people collected data and worked on the plan internally at the agency, but the end result is a timid mess due to three factors. One, it's not clear that the money or Congressional support is there to accomplish what needs to be done. Two, Levin and a number of FCC higher ups are playing it politically safe, and the political influence of carriers like AT&T is too potent in DC. Three, FCC boss Julius Genachowski is unwilling to impose tough, substantive regulation where necessary (see point number two).
"Genachowski made it almost impossible for the plan to accomplish very much when he pulled strong government action off the table," says Burstein. "Where the market doesn't work, you need to use government power to get results -- that could be direct regulation or indirect influence," he says. "Companies that large are constantly coming to government for favors, from tax breaks to merger approvals. Refuse those occasionally and they have to make a deal. Almost every government except the U.S. sees the regulator as a negotiator for a better deal for consumers," argues Burstein.
Here in the States, regulators exist these days for one purpose: to get a better deal for the company with the most money. Half of the time, they wind up employed at those same companies, either directly or via hired think tank. With companies like AT&T now freelancing as NSA analysts
and wielding one of the most potent lobbying operations in the world (with the ability to change the law should they break it
), it's fair to wonder where AT&T ends and Uncle Sam begins these days.
For those in the sector who equate "regulation" to puppy murder, Burnstein's saying you don't even need
regulation much of the time -- you just need government officials that are willing to take a stand and upset incumbent carriers now and again on principle. Every indication is that at no
point have Levin and Genachowski been willing to really stand up to companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast when it comes to the national plan.
"Julius has adopted a policy of relying on voluntary cooperation of the carriers to get things done rather than using the authority he has," says Burstein. "Except for net neutrality -- promised repeatedly in the campaign -- he hasn't been willing to make a decision they would strongly oppose," he notes. He's actually being kind to the FCC, given most analysis of the FCC's early network neutrality rule drafts indicate that like the national broadband plan, they new rules also lack backbone
The result of this timidness? A national broadband plan that looks
like it covers a lot of territory but accomplishes very little in terms of really helping consumers with broadband price, availability and quality. "High speed Internet in the U.S. is telco and cable both watching each other closely for how high they can raise prices," notes Burstein. "Verizon and AT&T have raised basic DSL rates 30% recently despite their own costs going down." We reported AT&T's latest price hikes just this morning
The FCC will be beginning a public relations onslaught soon as they gear up for presenting the plan to Congress in thirteen days, and it's going to be important for the press to look beyond the plan's shiny exterior to the hollow cavern within. The press will be wowed by some of the numbers put forth, but much of it will be empty if they bother to dig -- like Genachowski's claim of delivering 100 Mbps to 100 million homes, something that will happen with or without government help thanks to DOCSIS 3.0
. Cable already passes 125 million homes, and DOCSIS 3.0 upgrades would be relatively inexpensive to deploy fully -- assuming competitive motivation is there (hint: it's not).
That's not to say there won't be some scattered noble efforts within the plan, but they'll be focused on uncontroversial accomplishments, most of which in one way or another put money in the pockets of the biggest operators. Like the creation of a national emergency wireless communications network (guess who'll get that contract?), or the expansion of available spectrum for the nation's incumbent wireless operators. There's an endless ocean
of things covered by the plan that are simply fluff, including giving taxpayer dollars to what's essentially an ad campaign for cable service
One thing you'll notice as we get closer to the plan announcement is that the FCC and
major carriers will do their best to steer the conversation away from limited competition and high prices
, and toward more nebulous fare like a need for "digital education," (see recent commentary from Verizon
, or this recent FCC slideshow
as a good example of this). Prepare yourselves for the sales job of the century. Just keep your receipt.
of course they are afraid to make the tough call. they are a bunch of wimps.
This made me think of my favourite part of the 1988 Holiday Classic "Die Hard":
quote:The FCC is Dwayne. The country needs a John McClane.
Dwayne T. Robinson: I've got a hundred people down here, and they're covered with glass.
John McClane: Glass? Who gives a shit about glass?
sbcglobal.net speedtest result 11/11/09 - 5256kbps
Re: of course
said by gorehound:and doesn't turn into a puppet.. *cough*joe the plumber*cough*
yup business as usual in washington.we need to get a president elected who has nothing to do with politics.
a normal everday man who will in fact stand up to the greedbags out there.
sbcglobal.net speedtest result 11/11/09 - 5256kbps
Re: . Try visiting a real corrupt 3rd world country and then we can debate "suckiness".
said by openbox9: Another decade or so of what we have now and what we have had for about a decade and we'll get to where those countries are.
Try visiting a real corrupt 3rd world country and then we can debate "suckiness".
Re: . Many in US have been to a 3rd world corrupt country - Mexico.
This is all so depressing Insiders in Congress who put the national broadband plan in the stimulus Act did it because they knew that Congress doesn't do anything at all these days. They wanted the FCC to kick the duopoly market in the butt, and the national broadband plan was the excuse for the FCC to get busy.
But they were thinking the FCC would be lead by someone like Kevin Martin, who despite all his flaws, wasn't afraid to piss off industry (and in the process, make them deal) or piss off the bought-off politicians in his own party. Instead, the president nominated his ol law school buddy and fundraiser, Julius Genachowski, to head the FCC. Genachowski didn't even originally want this job -- he wanted the Whitehouse CTO position until he found out that has no real power.
Genachowski isn't a ball breaker. He's not a fighter. And he certainly isn't a leader. On net neutrality, the only issue he's kind of taking a stand on, his original proposal was much more robust, but once the telecom lobby played hardball, he watered down the proposal, and now it is not going anywhere.
He'll make lots of nice sounding speeches about his "plan," but at the end of the day, his Chairmanship will fail the consumer.
Re: The FCC won't do anything..
said by old_wiz_60:I really don't think any "gifts" & "donations" are going on at all. And the FCC being corrupt is unlikely. What is going on is that the FCC is a typical bureaucracy that rolls over based on whatever wind is strongest. And that strong wind, and their budget & fate; blows from Congress. Now we can have a whole other conversation on whether Congress is corrupt.
cause they are beholden to the carriers. They want to keep getting their "gifts" and "donations" from the carriers. The FCC is as corrupt as the rest of the government.
Yarmouth Port, MA
Levin: "there isn't going to be a lot of appetite for that" The FCC seems to think its mission is to serve as a cushion between the public and the carriers.
Wikipedia does a good job with the FCC's actual mission:
As specified in section one of the Communications Act as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (amendment to 47 U.S.C. §151) it is the FCC's mission to "make available so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges." The Act furthermore provides that the FCC was created "for the purpose of the national defense" and "for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications."Key words to me:
Consistent with the objectives of the Act as well as the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), the FCC has identified six goals in its 2006-2011 Strategic Plan. These are:
* Broadband: "All Americans should have affordable access to robust and reliable broadband products and services. Regulatory policies must promote technological neutrality, competition, investment, and innovation to ensure that broadband service providers have sufficient incentives to develop and offer such products and services."
* Competition: "Competition in the provision of communication services, both domestically and overseas, supports the Nation's economy. The competitive framework for communications services should foster innovation and offer consumers reliable, meaningful choice in affordable services."
* Spectrum: "Efficient and effective use of non-federal spectrum domestically and internationally promotes the growth and rapid development of innovative and efficient communication technologies and services."
* Media: "The Nation's media regulations must promote competition and diversity and facilitate the transition to digital modes of delivery."
* Public Safety and Homeland Security: "Communications during emergencies and crisis must be available for public safety, health, defence, and emergency personnel, as well as all consumers in need. The Nation's critical communications infrastructure must be reliable, interoperable, redundant, and rapidly restorable."
* Modernize the FCC: "The Commission shall strive to be highly productive, adaptive, and innovative organization that maximises the benefits to stakeholders, staff, and management from effective systems, processes, resources, and organizational culture."
•Adequate facilities -- we pay #1 prices in the world but our average speeds are more like 20th or something (depending on the survey), nowhere near the first tier.
•Competition -- most have one choice, some have two, some have zero. This is not enough for a meaningful choice. We wouldn't have to be talking about certain ISP policies so much if customers there had a large number of choices.
•all the people of the United States -- that's why the FCC isn't a cushion between the carriers and us, they're supposed to represent us.
Can you see the Open Internet duty above? I can.
FCC -- behave differently. Don't try to smooth the contours of the way carriers want to do things to try to appease a demanding and over-charged public, BE THE PUBLIC. That's your job.
Robb Topolski -= funchords.com =- District of Columbia -- KJ7RL
Tweet! Tweet! -- »twitter.com/funchords
FCC Anyone who thinks the answers for our problems can be found in Washington DC is already beyond hope. Most of our problems are in and from Washington DC.
"Don't steal. The government hates competition."
Beyond AM. Beyond FM. XM
FCC Can Only Do So Much Yes, the FCC is weak-kneed, lacks backbone, and has other ailments. But as Levin pointed out in the recent Ars Technica interview, FCC decision are challenged in the courts (unlike other countries), and the incumbents have very deep pockets to pay their legal teams. The statutory language the FCC has to work with can be maddeningly vague--see UNE . Etc., etc.
Still, I was disheartened when Levin said that the FCC is not going to push unbundling-- a total cave in. Unfortunately, the only way to get the monopolists attention is for another big player to come on the scene and threaten them. I am somewhat optimistic that Google, essentially a content provider, is experimenting with their FTTH network. That will _change_ behaviors.
Re: I say if... The problem I see with this approach is that the VAST majority in Congress are already wealthy. Yes, some of the perks like retirement and medical will be difficult to pry from their hands, but that's because most wealthy people are such because of greed. It would be very difficult for someone like myself, who makes ~100k per year, between current wages and military retirement, to actually run for Congress, much less be able to live on congressional salary (the requirement to maintain 2 households would just about use up the salary a freshman congresscritter makes, not to mention travel btwn home an DC, etc., and I have NO money anywhere else in my family, either mine or my spouse).
Re: This says it all...
said by scooper:If that's the case it's time for the people to consider overthrowing tyranny again even if that means a second Revolutionary War.
Government by the corporation, of the corporation and FOR the corporation.