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Analyst: FCC Simply Unwilling To Stand Up To Major Carriers
And the national broadband plan's going to fail because of it...
by Karl Bode 10:10AM Thursday Mar 04 2010
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.

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ArrayList
netbus developer
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Brighton, MA
Reviews:
·RCN CABLE
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1 recommendation

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:
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?

The FCC is Dwayne. The country needs a John McClane.
--
sbcglobal.net speedtest result 11/11/09 - 5256kbps
gorehound

join:2009-06-19
Portland, ME

Re: of course

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.

ArrayList
netbus developer
Premium
join:2005-03-19
Brighton, MA
Reviews:
·RCN CABLE
·Comcast

Re: of course

said by gorehound:

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.
and doesn't turn into a puppet.. *cough*joe the plumber*cough*
--
sbcglobal.net speedtest result 11/11/09 - 5256kbps

45071419

join:2006-07-30

1 edit

.

Man, living in a corrupt 3rd world country is starting to suck.
openbox9
Premium
join:2004-01-26
Germany
kudos:2

1 recommendation

Re: .

Try visiting a real corrupt 3rd world country and then we can debate "suckiness".
Sammer

join:2005-12-22
Canonsburg, PA

1 edit

Re: .

said by openbox9:

Try visiting a real corrupt 3rd world country and then we can debate "suckiness".
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.
openbox9
Premium
join:2004-01-26
Germany
kudos:2

Re: .

Have you been to a country that's actually considered 3rd world?

TKJunkMail
Premium
join:2005-12-09

Re: .

Have you?
openbox9
Premium
join:2004-01-26
Germany
kudos:2

Re: .

Yes.

FFH5
Premium
join:2002-03-03
Tavistock NJ
kudos:5

Re: .

said by openbox9:

Yes.
Many in US have been to a 3rd world corrupt country - Mexico.
openbox9
Premium
join:2004-01-26
Germany
kudos:2

Re: .

True, but I'm not counting my visits to countries in the Americas.
Skippy25

join:2000-09-13
Hazelwood, MO

Re: .

Of course as usual you have one upped the entire BBR user base and proven you are still better, smarter, and more diverse then the rest of us. Well played!
openbox9
Premium
join:2004-01-26
Germany
kudos:2

Re: .

Most definitely not my intent and I'm not sure how you even came to that conclusion. But, when claims that our country is a third world, I will defend her to the very end.
nevtxjustin

join:2006-04-18
Dallas, TX
Yes...Dallas, TX

Bill Dollar

join:2009-02-20
New York, NY

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.
old_wiz_60

join:2005-06-03
Bedford, MA

The FCC won't do anything..

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.

FFH5
Premium
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Tavistock NJ
kudos:5

Re: The FCC won't do anything..

said by old_wiz_60:

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.
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.

Karl Bode
News Guy
join:2000-03-02
kudos:42

Re: The FCC won't do anything..

For once I think we agree Tom. Fancy that.
Expand your moderator at work

Michael C

join:2009-06-26
Cedar Park, TX

Re: The FCC won't do anything..

Congress sure does blow.....it blows hard!

funchords
Hello
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Yarmouth Port, MA
kudos:6

2 recommendations

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."

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."
Key words to me:
•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

mod_wastrel
iamwhatiam

join:2008-03-28
kudos:1

Whoa!

You mean the government--aka our elected and appointed representatives--are failing in their responsibility--nay, duty--to represent the best interests of the citizens of this country and--yet, again--are cow-towing to the lobbyists and their money (which, by the way, came from those very same citizens) instead?

Stop the presses!

Fixes (among others): (1) don't elect anyone who actually wants to hold public office, and (2) don't elect anyone unless he/she can pass a lie-detector test during every public speech/statement he/she makes.

Rogue Wolf
Mourns the Loss of lilhurricane

join:2003-08-12
Troy, NY

Re: Whoa!

So, basically:

"Don't elect anyone"

Montgomery Brewster had the right idea. Where's my "None Of The Above" lever?

mod_wastrel
iamwhatiam

join:2008-03-28
kudos:1

Re: Whoa!

Pretty much... though, honestly, I think it's one of those "you can't get there from here" dilemmas.
Sammer

join:2005-12-22
Canonsburg, PA

1 edit

National Broadband Plan needs to encourage fiber!

Any national broadband plan that's worth more than the paper it's printed on will encourage fiber to the premises to at least 80 million homes within the next decade. This should include proposing a new federal law which gives local governments the right to do so when the local incumbent telephone company and local cable company refuse to do so. Such a law wouldn't require incumbent phone companies or cable companies to do anything but it would overrule other laws (including state laws) when they choose not to upgrade to FTTP and allow local governments with the consent of local voters to do so without fear of lawsuits from the incumbent providers.

The U.S. will need world class telecommunications and fiber to the premises is the only way to get there.
Pingo52

join:2010-03-08
Fayetteville, WV

Re: National Broadband Plan needs to encourage fiber!

That isn't realistic. What your asking is, for government to make a law to increase the speed of already existent broadband.

You obviously want FIOS or the like so your already in place internet connection can speed up. The initiative is to spread broadband access to under-served communities where broadband lines, copper or fiber, do not exist at all. This requires a fiber backbone of course, but fiber to every home in America should not be government financed. That would be trillions of dollars in fiber line and fiber nodes.

A more cost effective solution would be to invest into research that extends the distance that fiber nodes and DSLAMs can effectively push their frequencies.

We all know that fiber is THE medium to eventually replace copper. But 10 years is an impossible time line and the cost would mean an even greater depression than we already have.
elray

join:2000-12-16
Santa Monica, CA
Reviews:
·Time Warner Cable
·EarthLink

Huh?

Broadband is already very affordable. The last thing we need is government distorting the market and doubling our cost. Look what they've done with E-Rate and USF.

We've seen a 99% decease in cost-per-bit-per-second since America became Web-aware. The only cost that has increased are the taxes we pay.

Gbcue
Premium
join:2001-09-30
Santa Rosa, CA
kudos:8

Change?

Where's the Change?
openbox9
Premium
join:2004-01-26
Germany
kudos:2

Re: Change?

Next to the transparency.

cableties
Premium
join:2005-01-27

Most of our government

lacks teeth.

But they sure don't mind many hands playing in their pockets!
--
Splat

BillRoland
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Ocala, FL
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1 recommendation

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

ArrayList
netbus developer
Premium
join:2005-03-19
Brighton, MA

Re: FCC

the problems are in washington yes. but who put them there? the incumbents thats who. and by incumbent i mean incumbent lobbyist.
--
sbcglobal.net speedtest result 11/11/09 - 5256kbps

Technoverse

join:2010-03-04
Glen Ridge, NJ

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.

IT Guy
Ow, My Balls
Premium
join:2004-07-29
Las Cruces, NM
Reviews:
·CenturyLink

I say if...

Our government "leaders" are going to do a piss-poor job, let's give them a piss-poor salary. How about minimum wage and dropping their pensions and health care too. These people are worthless and I think it's time to light a fire under their asses to start representing the people of the United States instead of the mega corps. A drastic cut in pay and benefits will certainly get the message through or at least pave the way for people who want to represent the people of the U.S., truly want to make this a better place to live and aren't motivated to be politicians because of the money, benefits and gifts they receive (bribes). Also, I'm in favor of term limits. Just my 2 cents.
--
Don't worry, scrote. There are plenty of 'tards out there living really kick-ass lives.
viperlmw
Premium
join:2005-01-25

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).

IT Guy
Ow, My Balls
Premium
join:2004-07-29
Las Cruces, NM
Reviews:
·CenturyLink

Re: I say if...

Very valid points there. Still, something needs to be done to discourage the rampant greed and corruption. I believe Congress, et al is the root of many of the problems we face today. Or maybe I'm just being too naive.
--
Don't worry, scrote. There are plenty of 'tards out there living really kick-ass lives.
scooper

join:2000-07-11
Youngsville, NC
kudos:2

This says it all...

Government by the corporation, of the corporation and FOR the corporation.
Sammer

join:2005-12-22
Canonsburg, PA

Re: This says it all...

said by scooper:

Government by the corporation, of the corporation and FOR the corporation.
If that's the case it's time for the people to consider overthrowing tyranny again even if that means a second Revolutionary War.

Tron4Net

join:2010-01-14
Corrales, NM

Re: This says it all...

Hell, Man! If this is necessary, so be it!

kyisp

@iglou.com

100Mbps

Isn't it odd that the telcos are complaining they can't roll out 100Mbps by 2020 yet Virgin Media in the UK is making 100Mbps available to 3.2 million subscribers next year.

Tron4Net

join:2010-01-14
Corrales, NM

We need to do something and .......

not just complain about! If a MOD is reading this, how about getting a petition of ALL the people who join DSLReports and sending it to the appropriate parties. Yeah, maybe it won't do much but I will NOT just sit here with my fellow Netizens and hold my D!ck in my hand and just complain! If someone has a better idea, I'm all ears!!!
DVD9

join:2010-02-18
Falmouth, ME

America is the EVIL Empire


The Evil Empire


The government of the United States (institutions in Wash DC, Wall Street, elite Universities, Fortune 500 corporations) are united against the American people and the rest of humanity.
--