Public interest groups urge lawmakers to craft a public-centered broadband plan

Reclaim the Media/WashPIRG

In Seattle, public interest groups Reclaim the Media and WashPIRG are releasing a new report, A Public Interest Internet Agenda, a guide for policymakers creating strategies to connect more urban and rural households to affordable, high-speed broadband Internet.
The report was prepared by member groups of the national Media and Democracy Coalition, including Reclaim the Media.

The report should provide immediate guidance to the Federal Communications Commission, which has been given a deadline of February 2010 for preparing a national broadband strategy. The FCC’s new Chairman, Julius Genachowski, has called for “a process that will be open, transparent and will allow public participation in ways that are unparalleled," and the FCC has begun to schedule public hearings to guide its work.

"The US has fallen behind in universal Internet access, in affordability and in speed, thanks to years of hands-off public policy," said Reclaim the Media executive director Jonathan Lawson. "We need a concerted national effort to get back on track, and policymakers specifically need to hear from the unserved and underserved sectors of our community, not just the telecommunications carriers who have let us fall so far behind. The community-generated recommendations in this report bring balance back to the discussion."

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FCC chair commits to net neutrality

Joan McCarter, Daily Kos

Good news for all American consumers who use the Internet: in a speech today at the Brookings Institution, FCC Chair Julius Genachowski made a strong commitment to preserving Net Neutrality in the face of increased efforts by providers block services and applications, saying "If we wait too long to preserve a free and open Internet, it will be too late." He continued:

We’ve already seen some clear examples of deviations from the Internet’s historic openness. We have witnessed certain broadband providers unilaterally block access to VoIP applications (phone calls delivered over data networks) and implement technical measures that degrade the performance of peer-to-peer software distributing lawful content. We have even seen at least one service provider deny users access to political content. And as many members of the Internet community and key Congressional leaders have noted, there are compelling reasons to be concerned about the future of openness.

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Verizon, AT&T: Net neutrality not OK for wireless

Marguerite Reardon, CNet

The wireless industry is gearing up to fight new Net neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission is formulating to keep the Internet open. On Monday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave a speech at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., outlining plans to turn the agency's principles for open Internet access into official regulation. In addition to making sure that network operators cannot prevent users from accessing lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, or attaching unharmful devices to the network, Genachowski wants to add two more rules.

The first would prevent Internet access providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management. The second principle would ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement.

Broadband providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Communications have opposed regulation or new laws that would dictate how they could run their networks. Up until this point, the Internet has been free of any regulation. And these companies would like to keep it that way.

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FCC to propose Net Neutrality rules

Brad Reed, Network World

Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski will propose a new network neutrality rule during a speech at the Brookings Institute on Monday, the Washington Post reports.

Anonymous sources have told the Post that Genachowski won’t offer too many details about the proposed rule and will likely only propose “an additional guideline for networks to be clear that they can’t discriminate, or act as gatekeepers, of Web content.”

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Guess what texting costs your cell phone provider?

Eric Bender, Time

When my teenage son ignores me while tapping away furiously on his cell phone, I have the consolation of knowing that he has joined the quickest-growing form of two-way communication in human history.

A decade ago, just about no one in the U.S. sent these messages, known as Short Message Service (SMS) texts. This year, we will zing out 1.2 trillion of them, predicts market-intelligence firm IDC.

That translates to a barrage of messages from each user, especially teens, who seem to be receiving new text messages — a.k.a. "blowing up" — more than they take new breaths. The average U.S. mobile teen now sends or receives an average of 2,899 text messages per month, according to Nielsen Mobile. "With teens, the act of picking up a phone and calling someone is dropping away," notes Christopher Collins, a senior analyst with Yankee Group.

What's most amazing about the texting craze is just how inexpensive it is for mobile carriers to provide this wildly popular service. SMS messages are not only extremely short (maxing out at 160 characters), but they also cleverly exploit today's digital phone networks, leveraging transmission channels between phone and cell tower that were originally designed to coordinate voice calls. "They cost the mobile carriers so little that you could argue that they're free," says Collins.

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Re-defining broadband

Christopher Mitchell, MuniNetworks

The FCC recently asked for comments about how broadband should be defined. There was a marked difference between those who put community needs first and those who put profits first. Companies like AT&T and Comcast were quick to argue that the FCC should not change the definition of broadband for reasons ranging from too much paperwork to the suggestion that rural people have no need for VoIP. The honest approach would have been for these companies to say they do not want a higher definition because it will change their business plans, likely requiring them to invest in better networks for communities, and that will hurt their short term profits.

On the other side were groups that argued for a more robust definition of broadband - something considerably less ambitious than our international peers but an improvement over the current FCC definition.

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Connected Nation--one link to derail new broadband policy

Art Brodsky, Connected Nation

Starting this week (Sept. 10), the House Telecom Subcommittee is going to start looking at the broadband stimulus program and, perhaps next week, examine how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is doing under the new management. The national broadband plan, required under the Federal stimulus program, should also be a topic of discussion when the Subcommittee holds an oversight hearing.

It would be a shame if the stimulus mapping/grant program and the broadband plan were considered in isolation, because they are, together, pieces of the same puzzle. Certainly the telephone and cable industries are considering them together, and using the leverage on one to influence the other to reach the inevitable conclusion that no new broadband policies are needed and that everything will be just fine if we leave the companies in control. Ignore our slumping world rankings for broadband. Ignore the lack of choice. Let’s try to connect the dots into a long silver thread.

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Alaska consumer group wants cable TV regulation

Elizabeth Bluemink, Anchorage Daily News

An Anchorage consumer group is pushing for state regulation of Alaska cable television.

Only one city in Alaska has regulated cable TV rates: Juneau. In contrast, in most Lower 48 communities, the rates cable companies charge customers are locally regulated, the Federal Communications Commission says.

So how has lack of regulation affected Alaska?

Badly, according to AkPIRG, the consumer group.

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Appeals court strikes down caps on cable companies' size

Frank Ahrens, Washington Post

Comcast, the nation's largest cable television provider, can grow bigger if it wants to after a federal court decision Friday that tossed out a rule preventing cable companies from controlling more than 30 percent of the U.S. market.

The rule, set by the Federal Communications Commission in 1993, has been in legal challenge nearly since its inception, with cable companies arguing that it was unconstitutional and the FCC and some consumer advocates saying it was necessary to prevent one company from controlling the market and gouging consumers. The FCC imposed the cap after Congress passed the 1992 Cable Act, which said the agency must set "reasonable limits" on the number of customers a cable company can have.

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Commerce Dept acquiesces to telecoms on datasecrecy

Fawn Johnson, Dow Jones

The U.S. Commerce Department said Friday it agreed to drop a request for sensitive revenue and infrastructure data from telecom carriers as part of an Internet mapping project that will spur President Barack Obama's goal of blanketing the country with high-speed broadband.

The agency released a clarification Friday of its data requirements.

The agreement comes about a week after a wide-ranging group of telecom associations complained that the Commerce Department was seeking sensitive and irrelevant information.

The deal also resolves a potential standoff between the government and carriers that probably would sue rather than turn over revenue numbers about their Internet subscribers.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey