Summer Telecom round-up: How events from this summer will affect your phone and Internet service

There was a mixed bag of news this summer involving the Federal Communications Commission and actions affecting our phone, TV and broadband service.

Among the best news was the Commission’s unanimous vote in July to open nearly 11 gigahertz of high-frequency spectrum for wireless broadband. This will spur better and faster mobile service, including advances in online healthcare and education. Reuters has a good analysis.

Also, last month, the Commission and industry leaders announced a joint effort to curb robocalling.  A new industry task force, will work with the Commission to solve this growing problem.

In another hopeful development, a growing chorus of public and Congressional condemnation appears to be giving the FCC second thoughts on its ill-advised effort to regulate cable TV set-top boxes. Independent programmers and content creators continue to express concern, and leading voices in the African-American and Latino communities blasted the proposal this summer, as did dozens in Congress, including Representative Yvette Clarke and Senators Harry Reid and Pat Leahy. We at WIPP expressed our own concerns about how the proposal could specifically harm women and minority programmers in the media marketplace.

Last month, the U.S. Copyright Office voiced grave concerns over the proposal’s legality and potential to promote piracy.

Unfortunately, it’s not all blue skies. In contrast to the cooperative effort on robocalling, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler seems insistent on pushing a unilateral and expensive Federal overreach on Internet privacy and business broadband.  Both are unfortunate examples of Federal “solutions” that are much worse than any perceived problem.

On privacy, the Commission seeks to carve out Internet Service Providers for new regulations, while exempting entire classes of other online companies.  The Internet’s ongoing mergers and agreements, coupled with the growth of encryption, show how backwards-looking this approach really is. The Harvard Business Review has a good summary.

Chairman Wheeler’s proposed updated regulations to special access services (also known as “business data services”) is even more problematic.  He’s pushing to reinstate rules that the FCC itself scrapped as unnecessary back in 1999. Rather than resurrecting these outdated rules, a smarter and more obvious solution would be to facilitate new forms of broadband deployment.  For an analysis of the likely economic damage from Chairman Wheeler’s proposal, click here.

The Courts: Wise policy goes 1 for 2
Not all the important telecom news occurred at the FCC.  Two court decisions this summer deserve attention:

  • Internet regulation. In June, a three-judge panel for the DC Court of Appeals upheld the FCC’s 2015 order giving itself expanded powers over our Internet service. The judges upheld the FCC’s authority to use a 1934 law to regulate both wired and wireless broadband.  This case is being appealed to the full DC Court of Appeals. Among many problems, the new regulations are likely to delay better broadband services as the FCC flexes its oversight authority and broadband companies confront expensive legal uncertainties.

 

  • Municipal broadband. On a more hopeful note, taxpayers can breathe easier thanks to a ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  On August 10, a unanimous three-judge panel nixed the FCC’s attempt to overturn municipal broadband laws in North Carolina and Tennessee.

 

The real issue in this case wasn’t the ability of localities to deploy their own broadband.  They had the right to do that before and still do.  But state officials did not want their localities using tax dollars to fund deployment outside their areas.  The FCC’s objection to this was so convoluted that the U.S. Justice Department would not even defend it.  FCC Chairman Wheeler has announced that the Commission will not appeal.  Daniel Lyons at TechPolicyDaily has an excellent summary.

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