Facts Are Indeed Stubborn Things

Posted by: Jim Cicconi on April 26, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Today, like many others, we’ll file our reply comments in the FCC’s Open Internet proceeding.  While some are suggesting this deadline may be anticlimactic given the DC Circuit’s recent decision, I think it’s important—though perhaps for a different reason than most.  Here’s why.

Those who argue the need for significant government regulation always bear a special burden under our laws and Constitution—they have to prove their case.  Yet, after six months in the FCC’s comment process, and nearly six years of arguing the issue, proponents of extreme net neutrality regulation have failed utterly when it comes to making their case.  To be sure, they’ve used fear masterfully to create the impression of a crisis, and hyperbole to manufacture a threat.  But when the time has come to put-up-or-shut-up, those same groups have failed to identify any existing problem they are trying to solve, or indeed any specific conduct the government must act to correct.

Over and over again, we hear them cite the single instance where the FCC felt compelled to take action, namely the Comcast-BitTorrent case.  But one (1) example does not a compelling case make.  Indeed, thanks to the DC Circuit, the Comcast case ironically now stands for the opposite proposition—namely, that government must have compelling reasons if it’s going to substitute its judgment for that of the free market, and when it acts it must do so only with clear legislative authority. 

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FCC’s About Face on Roaming

Posted by: Bob Quinn on April 21, 2010 at 12:33 pm

AT&T has been a big supporter of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.  That Plan recognized and highlighted the need for significant reforms in areas like universal service, intercarrrier compensation, a renewed vigor and focus on adoption, and the identification of spectrum to fuel the public’s insatiable demand for wireless broadband. The Plan also recognized that massive private investment – by its own estimate $350 Billion – was necessary to build the broadband networks of tomorrow. At the time the Plan was published, we cautioned that regulatory policies must first and foremost continue to support that investment, lest those policies become an impediment to achieving the goals contained in the Plan. Today, in my opinion, the FCC took a significant step backwards.

In the Plan, the FCC clearly recognized the vital role that spectrum plays in the wireless industry and acknowledged that spectrum is a scarce and valuable resource. Indeed, in the leadup to the Plan, Chairman Genachowski referred more than once to a looming “spectrum crisis.”  But today, in one of its first actions following the release of the plan, the Commission has removed a key incentive for a company to invest in, and build out, long-held spectrum licenses in less-populated, rural areas of the country.

Let me back up a bit and explain the concept of roaming in the context of the wireless industry. Roaming is the process by which one wireless carrier avails itself of another carrier’s network when its customer travels out of a specific coverage area but still wants to make wireless calls. All wireless providers, including AT&T, roam on other carriers networks. For the past 20 years, roaming arrangements have been worked out between carriers on a business-to-business basis.

In 2007, the FCC decided that there should be an “automatic roaming” provision to allow any carrier to have the right to roam on another carrier’s network, and that the failure to allow for roaming under reasonable terms and conditions would be considered a violation of the Communications Act. Go forth and roam if you want to.

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A Balanced Framework for the Internet

Posted by: Jim Cicconi on April 19, 2010 at 11:08 am

The audience sitting in front of Neelie Kroes at ARCEP’s conference on net neutrality last week was largely European Internet and telecom executives and their regulators, but perhaps the more appropriate audience is located some 4000 miles to the west. Drawing on her deep experience as former EU Commissioner for Competition, the current Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Kroes delivered a thoughtful and analytical speech that recognizes the critical importance of following a cautious, balanced and flexible policy framework for the Internet.

In her speech, Commissioner Kroes opens by endorsing fully the four policy principles that have guided the FCC’s treatment of the Internet for the last five years, and she adds her hearty endorsement for the FCC’s recently-proposed transparency principle. But Commissioner Kroes then takes direct aim at the restrictive nondiscrimination principle that the FCC is proposing now to apply to broadband service. In her words,

“some are interpreting [this] non-discrimination principle as essentially preventing telecom operators from seeking commercial payments or agreements with content providers which deliver their highly capacity-consuming services through broadband networks and require a certain level of service for their transmission to be effective. That prospect raises a number of delicate and complex issues. These issues must be very carefully assessed before the EU gives any possible regulatory response.”

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Reclassification Redux

Posted by: Hank Hultquist on April 15, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I had the pleasure yesterday of engaging in the blogosphere’s version of a friendly local pub discussion over pints with the estimable Harold Feld of Public Knowledge. As is often the case when I read Harold, I learned a few things, the most interesting of which is that we appear to agree on an important point – that reclassification, in the sense of going back to rules that applied to phone companies’ broadband services prior to 2005, would not give the FCC any greater authority to regulate the services ISPs provide their customers than it has today.

In other words, Harold and I agree that with such a reclassification, ISP services would remain information services subject to Title I. Facilities-based ISPs would have a separate obligation to offer the underlying transport components of the their service on a common carrier basis under Title II, but that would not entail any additional FCC authority over their ISP services.

I also learned – and I have to say that I was surprised to learn — that Harold would be perfectly comfortable under such a regime with allowing ISPs to block, degrade, or filter the Internet to their heart’s content (…of course, we’d never do anything like that). Harold’s theory appears to be that as long as the underlying transport is available on a common carrier basis, a thousand ISPs, I mean flowers, will bloom and consumers can freely decide which version of the Internet they want. Harold appears to base this theory on the proliferation of ISPs in the dial-up world. Personally, I think reciprocal compensation (a.k.a., the ‘90s version of traffic pumping) probably had more to do with the emergence of all those ISPs than the Computer Inquiry rules. But that’s a debate for another day.

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Public Safety and the Country’s Broadband Agenda

Posted by: AT&T Blog Team on April 15, 2010 at 11:34 am

Authored By Jim Bugel, AT&T Assistant Vice President, Public Safety and Homeland Security

BugelOn Tuesday, I spent the morning at the Federal Communications Commission, participating in the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau’s workshop on critical infrastructure.  It was the second formal discussion on public safety issues the Bureau has organized since the FCC delivered its National Broadband Plan to Congress last month.

Maintaining a secure and reliable network is a top priority for AT&T so I appreciated the opportunity to emphasize the importance of network management tools to combat cybercrime.  It is imperative that we have the flexibility to be smarter and faster than our adversaries online to protect our customers.  I actually blogged in more detail about this right after the plan was released.

I’d like to highlight some other key issues concerning public safety that the Commission should be commended for making such a critical part of our country’s broadband agenda.

I was particularly pleased to see the Commission back a recommendation (page 320) that would make it easier for the timely release of federal assistance during a disaster to maintain or restore public safety communications.  This recommendation is in line with one made a couple years back with which I’m very familiar.

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