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Democrats Quiz FCC’s Ajit Pai About Favorable Treatment of Sinclair Broadcasting

Phillip Dampier August 14, 2017 Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Sinclair’s deal with Tribune will make them by far the largest TV station ownership group in the country, owning 16% of the TV stations in the U.S. (Image: Mother Jones)

After a hard-hitting piece analyzing the close ties between President Donald J. Trump, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, and Sinclair Broadcasting appeared in this morning’s New York Times, a group of leading House Democrats serving on the House Energy & Commerce Committee have written Mr. Pai asking for answers about his possible “favorable treatment” of Sinclair Broadcasting since becoming Chairman of the FCC.

These reports, according to the letter, raise two overarching questions:

  • Whether actions taken by the FCC under your leadership show a pattern of preferential treatment for Sinclair, and
  • Whether a series of interactions between your office, the Trump Campaign and Trump Administration, and Sinclair demonstrate inappropriate coordination.

The letter’s signers — all Democrats — are Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (ranking member of the full committee), Rep. Mike Doyle (ranking member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee), and Rep. Diana DeGette (ranking member, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations).

The 12-page letter presents Pai with multiple examples of potential collusion and favorable treatment of a television station group that airs mandatory pro-Trump Administration commentaries on all of its local newscasts, employs a former Trump campaign aide, has sought private meetings with administration officials , and has made substantial campaign contributions.

The Times article appears to be the source for most of the concern expressed in the letter, which lays out multiple issues and seeks Mr. Pai’s comments and explanations.

At the beginning of the Trump Administration, the Democrats claim, Mr. Pai has undertaken a number of actions in his role as Chairman of the FCC that fall squarely in line with the corporate expansion agenda at Sinclair Broadcast Group. Among the most important was Mr. Pai’s sudden decision to bring a party-line vote to reinstate an archaic UHF Discount rule, which allows a company to downgrade the reach of its UHF stations for the purposes of determining if it is within the FCC’s limit of one station owner reaching no more than 39% of the country. This “discount” was established at a time when analog television signals on the UHF band (Channels 14+) were at a distinct coverage disadvantage over stations occupying the VHF (Channels 2-13) band. The discount was retired after the U.S. switched to digital television broadcasting, which largely eliminated this coverage disparity.

TV station owners saw a revival of the UHF Discount not as a way to deal with reception differences, but rather as a loophole to launch new acquisitions by discounting the coverage of their current stations. Only one company – Sinclair Broadcasting – stood to gain the most from the reinstatement of the UHF Discount. Almost on cue, two weeks after Pai brought this obscure rule up and reinstated it on a 2-1 vote, Sinclair announced a blockbuster merger with Tribune to acquire stations that will allow Sinclair to cover 70% of the United States, a number impossible to achieve without Pai’s support for the UHF Discount.

Democrats argue this was not what Congress intended, and it allows one station owner to own and control approximately double the number of stations the ownership cap would normally prohibit. They argue such a deal will reduce the diversity of media voices in communities across the country, especially in markets where Sinclair will own and operate more than one television station.

The New York Times provides this chart illustrating the vast expansion of stations if it wins control of Tribune Media.

The Democrats are also upset the FCC, under Pai’s leadership, appears to be in a hurry to get this deal reviewed and likely approved. It set a review window of just 30 days for public comment, considerably shorter than earlier, less controversial acquisition deals. Critics of the deal contend that the FCC is giving inadequate consideration of the deal’s lack of public interest benefits, and Sinclair’s application is vague and its claims are difficult to validate. Pai seems unconcerned, leading some to believe he intends to rubber stamp his approval with minimal conditions.

Ajit Pai, Chairman of U.S Federal Communications Commission. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Under Pai’s watch, the Democrats charge, Sinclair has already benefited from a ‘rush to approval’ mentality at the FCC. Sinclair’s earlier deal to acquire stations owned by the Bonten Media Group was also convenient, coming shortly after the FCC under Mr. Pai revoked guidance that would have required the FCC to closely scrutinize the transaction. The FCC granted the deal, despite the fact several of Bonten’s stations are in areas where Sinclair now holds operating agreements to manage other local stations. Large station groups have used these agreements as loopholes to effectively gain day-to-day control of stations without actually transferring their ownership.

The Democrats also argue that Sinclair is well positioned to be in the lead of Next Gen TV, ATSC 3.0 technology that will replace the current digital TV standard in the United States in the next few years. Sinclair is the biggest cheerleader of the new technology, and Mr. Pai coincidentally has put a rush on getting ATSC 3.0 approved and into the marketplace. ONE Media 3.0, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sinclair, just happens to own six critical patents essential for using the Next Gen TV standard. That means every station in the country moving to the next broadcast platform will have to pay royalties to Sinclair estimated in the billions.

As the Times reports, whenever Sinclair sought something from Washington as part of its corporate agenda, the FCC’s Mr. Pai quickly aligned himself and the FCC’s Republican majority to fulfill Sinclair’s wishes.

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) is ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

The Democrats also question whether there is direct coordination between the Administration, Sinclair, and the FCC:

  • After the election, President Trump reportedly met with the Executive Chairman and former CEO of Sinclair and discussed changing FCC rules to help Sinclair. A news account stated that after the election, President Trump met with David Smith, Sinclair’s Executive Chairman and former CEO. According to this report, “potential FCC rule changes were discussed” after President Trump asked Mr. Smith, “What do you need to happen in your business?”

  • Before you became Chairman of the FCC, you reportedly met with then President-elect Trump in New York. Reports indicate that on January 16 of this year, you met with then-President-elect Trump in New York in a meeting that did not appear on your official calendar.

  • In March, shortly after you became Chairman of the FCC, you met with President Trump in the Oval Office. An FCC spokesperson confirmed that the meeting occurred, but did not indicate what was discussed during the meeting. When asked directly about your meetings with President Trump, you declined to disclose what you discussed, saying “I am not at liberty to say.”

  • The week after the election, you reportedly attended a company conference for Sinclair’s general managers, during which you met with Sinclair’s CEO. According to a Politico report, in January of this year, you met with Sinclair’s former CEO, David Smith, as well as the newly named Sinclair CEO, Chris Ripley.

  • The President’s campaign reportedly “struck a deal” with Sinclair to “secure better media coverage.” This arrangement came to light after the election, when Jared Kushner reportedly revealed that in exchange for access to then-candidate Trump and his campaign, “Sinclair would broadcast Trump interviews across the country without commentary.” Sinclair representatives have defended this arrangement by claiming that the Clinton campaign was offered the option for extended interviews with local anchors as well, but did not accept.

  • In April, Boris Epshteyn, who was “most recently Special Assistant to The President and Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations for the Executive Office of President Trump,” and formerly a “senior advisor to the Trump campaign,” joined Sinclair to provide on-air political commentary. Epshteyn’s segments are “must-run” programming for Sinclair stations, with nine segments airing per week. One report has criticized the segments as “propaganda” and reporting on Sinclair’s selection of “must-run” programming has raised “suggestions that Sinclair pushed right-leaning views.”

The Democrats are requesting Mr. Pai answer their letter and provide additional information no later than Aug. 28.

FCC Planning to Allow Sweeping Mergermania for Local TV Stations

Phillip Dampier July 26, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

(Image: Free Press)

Along with a new TV season starting this fall, the Federal Communications Commission plans to launch a new season of sweeping deregulation in the broadcasting industry, allowing a handful of companies to acquire masses of local TV stations as a result of easing ownership limits.

Bloomberg News reports FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, with likely support from fellow Republican commissioner Mike O’Rielly, will unveil new rules that will allow TV station owners like Nexstar, Tegna, E.W. Scripps, and Meredith to acquire dozens of local stations, even in cities where they already own stations.

The new rules, likely to pass on a party line vote, would allow companies to own two of the four most-viewed stations in a market, in addition to several other lesser-rated outlets. Broadcasters are also heavily lobbying Republicans to insert another new rule that would lift the current ban on owning both the local daily newspaper and a TV station.

Broadcasters have been itching to launch a sweeping wave of station ownership consolidation to boost advertising revenue, cut costs, and gain more leverage over cable and satellite companies as they continue to raise fees charged for consent to carry those stations on pay television lineups.

The Obama Administration not only supported existing rules designed to protect local media diversity, it also strengthened them. The former administration believed that allowing local stations to consolidate was stripping some cities of competing local newscasts, reducing diversity of voices on local stations, and shifting local broadcasting further away from its public service obligations.

Public policy groups have criticized deregulation efforts for decades, particularly the 1996 Telecom Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton. That legislation lifted ownership limits on radio stations, triggering a sweeping consolidation tsunami that allowed companies like iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel Communications) to build an empire of more than 1,200 stations nationwide (as many as eight stations in a single market) after a $30 billion spending blitz.

As a result of its heavy indebtedness, the company has struggled to pay back its $20 billion outstanding debt and has committed to multiple rounds of slashing expenses at its stations, resulting in dramatic cuts in local service and staff, and turning many of its stations into automated music jukeboxes with no local announcers or staff. Listener ratings declined as a result and on April 20, the company warned investors that it may not survive the next 10 months without bankruptcy reorganization protection. These groups worry consolidation will have a similar effect on free over-the-air TV’s sense of localism.

Ironically, Sinclair Broadcasting, now attempting to acquire the station portfolio owned by Tribune Media, will not be able to participate in the next wave of consolidation because it arguably has already broken another long-standing FCC rule prohibiting one company from owning over-the-air TV stations that reach more than 39% of the U.S. audience. That rule would not be changed as a consequence of the current deregulation proposals, but it would surprise no one to see Mr. Pai and Mr. O’Rielly attempt to repeal or modify it next year.

Pai and O’Rielly have been extremely critical of ownership restrictions in general. Pai has thus far advocated loosening local-TV limits, but O’Rielly has gone further calling for their complete repeal, arguing it “defies belief” that over-the-air stations have limits while they compete with “literally hundreds of competitive pay TV channels and essentially unlimited competitive internet content”

The Obama Administration argued the difference between over the air broadcasting and pay TV networks was primarily in their public service obligations. As a license holder, TV stations are required to provide service in the public interest in return for being granted a license to use the publicly owned airwaves. Since pay television networks do not use public property, they are not required to meet those obligations. Local stations, particularly those with local newsrooms, also have a long tradition of being critically important in times of public emergencies. Without an in-house staff, stations airing little or no local programming would be unlikely to continue that tradition.

Large TV owner conglomerates are already arranging financing for the impending station roundup. John Janedis, an analyst with Jeffries, told Bloomberg all of the larger TV station owners are eager for the relaxation of ownership rules so they can purchase their peers.

“The reality is everyone is talking to everybody,” Janedis said. “There are a lot of buyers out there.”

Net Neutrality: A Taste of Preferential Fast Lanes of Web Traffic in India

Unclear and unenforced Net Neutrality rules in India give a cautionary tale to U.S. internet users who could soon find Net Neutrality guarantees replaced in the U.S. with industry-written rules filled with loopholes or no Net Neutrality protections at all.

As India considers stronger enforcement of Net Neutrality protection, broadband providers have been merrily violating current Net Neutrality guidelines with fast lanes, sometimes advertised openly. Many of those ISPs are depending on obfuscation and grey areas to effectively give their preferred partners a leg up on the competition while claiming they are not giving them preferential treatment.

Medianama notes Ortel advertises two different internet speeds for its customers – one for regular internet traffic and the other for preferred partner websites cached by Ortel inside its network. The result is that preferred websites load 10-40 times faster than regular internet traffic.

Ortel’s vice president of broadband business, Jiji John, said Ortel is not violating Net Neutrality.

“Cache concept is totally based on the Internet user’s browsing. ISP does not control the contents and it has nothing to do with Net Neutrality,” John said in a statement.

Critics contend ISPs like Ortel may not control the contents of websites, but they do control which websites are cached and which are not.

Alliance Broadband, a West Bengal-based Internet provider, goes a step further and advertises higher speeds for Hotstar — a legal streaming platform, Google and popular movie, TV and software torrents, which arrive at speeds of 3-12Mbps faster than the rest of the internet. Alliance takes this further by establishing a reserved lane for each service, meaning regardless of what else one does with their internet connection, Hotstar content will arrive at 8Mbps, torrents at 12Mbps and the rest of the internet at 5Mbps concurrently. This means customers can get up to 25Mbps when combining traffic from the three sources, even if they are only subscribed to a much slower tier.

Alliance Broadband’s rate card. Could your ISP be next?

Which services are deemed “preferred” is up to the ISP. While Alliance may favor Google, Wishnet in West Bengal offers up preferential speeds for YouTube videos.

The ISPs claim these faster speeds are a result of “peering” those websites on its own internal network, reducing traffic slowdowns and delays. In some cases, the ISPs store the most popular content on its own servers, where it can be delivered to customers more rapidly. This alone does not violate Net Neutrality, but when an ISP reserves bandwidth for a preferred partner’s website or application, that can come at the expense of those websites that do not have this arrangement. Some ISPs have sought to devote extra bandwidth to those reserved lanes so it does not appear to impact on other traffic, but it still gives preferential treatment to some over others.

Remarkably, Indian ISPs frequently give preferential treatment to peer-to-peer services that routinely flout copyright laws while leaving legal streaming services other than Hotstar on the slow lane, encouraging copyright theft.

American ISPs have already volunteered not to block of directly impede the traffic of websites, but this may not go far enough to prevent the kinds of clever preferential runarounds ISPs can engineer where Net Neutrality is already in place, but isn’t well defined or enforced.

The Great American Telecom Oligopoly Costs You $540/Yr for Their Excess Profits

Like the railroad robber barons of more than a century ago, a handful of phone and cable companies are getting filthy rich from a carefully engineered oligopoly that costs the average American $540 a year more than it should to deliver vital telecommunications services.

That is the conclusion of a new study from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, authored by two men with decades of experience representing the interests of consumers. They recommend stopping reckless deregulation without strong and clear evidence of robust competition and ending rubber stamped merger approvals by regulators.

The trouble started with the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, a bill heavily influenced by telecom industry lobbyists that, at its core, promoted deregulation without assuring adequate evidence of competition. It was that Act, signed into law by President Clinton, that authors Gene Kimmelman and Mark Cooper claim is partly responsible for today’s “highly concentrated oligopolistic markets that result […] in massive overcharges for consumer and business services.”

“Prices for cable, broadband, wired telecommunications, and wireless services have been inflated, on average, by about 25 percent above what competitive markets should deliver, costing the typical U.S. household more than $45 per month, or $540 per year, for these services,” the report states. “This stranglehold over these essential means of communication by a tight oligopoly on steroids—comprised of AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Comcast Corp., and Charter Communications Inc. and built through mergers and acquisitions, not competition—costs consumers in aggregate almost $60 billion per year, or about 25 percent of the total average consumer’s monthly bill.”

The cost of delivering service is plummeting even as your bill keeps rising.

The authors also claim that these four companies earn astronomical profits — between 50 and 90% — on their services, compared with the national average of just under 15% for all industries.

The only check on these profits came from the 2011 rejection of the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, which started a small price war in the wireless industry, saving customers an average of $5 a month, or $11 billion a year collectively.

But antitrust enforcement alone is inadequate to check the industry’s anti-competitive behavior. Competition was supposed to provide that check, but policymakers too often kowtowed to the interests of telecom industry lobbyists and prematurely removed regulatory oversight and protections that were supposed to remain in place until real competition made those regulations unnecessary.

Attempts to force open closed networks to competitors were allowed in some instances — particularly with local telephone companies, but only for certain legacy services. Newer products, particularly high-speed broadband, were usually not subject to these open network policies. The companies lobbied heavily against such requirements, claiming it would deter investment.

The framers of the ’96 Act also mandated an end to exclusive franchise agreements that barred phone and cable companies from entering each others’ markets. This was intended to allow phone and cable companies to compete head to head, setting up the prospect of consumers having multiple choices for these providers.

Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai frequently cites the 1996 Communications Act as being “light touch” regulation that promulgated the broadband revolution. But in reality, the Act sparked a massive wave of corporate consolidation in broadcasting, cable, and phone companies at the behest of Wall Street.

“[Cable companies] refused to enter new markets to compete head to head with their sister companies [and] never entered the wireless market,” the authors note. “Telephone companies never overbuilt other telephone companies and were slow to enter the video market. Each chose to extend their geographic reach by buying out their sister companies rather than competing. This means that the potentially strongest competitors—those with expertise and assets that might be used to enter new markets—are few. This reinforces the market power strategy, since the best competitors have followed a noncompete strategy.”

Wall Street sold consolidation on the theory of increased shareholder value from eliminating duplicative costs and workforces, consolidating services, and growing larger to stay competitive with other companies also growing larger through mergers and acquisitions of their own:

  • The eight regional Baby Bells created after the breakup of AT&T’s national monopoly in the mid-1980s eventually merged into two huge wireline and wireless companies — AT&T and Verizon. The authors note these companies didn’t just acquire those that were part of the Ma Bell empire. They also bought out independent companies like GTE and long distance companies like MCI. Most of the few remaining independents provide service in rural areas of little interest to AT&T or Verizon.
  • The cable industry is still in a consolidation wave combining large players into a handful of giants, including Comcast and Charter Communications, which also have close relationships with content providers. Altice entered the U.S. cable business principally on the prospect of consolidating cable companies under the Altice brand, not overbuilding existing companies with a competing service of its own.

Such consolidation wiped out the very companies the ’96 Act was counting on to disrupt existing markets with new competition. Comcast, Charter, and Verizon even have agreements to cross-market each others’ products or use their infrastructure for emerging “competitive” services like mobile phones and wireless broadband.

“By the standard definitions of antitrust and traditional economic analysis, a tight oligopoly has developed in the digital communications sector,” the report states. “While some markets are slightly more competitive than others, the dominant firms are deeply entrenched and engage in anti-competitive and anti-consumer practices that defend and extend their market power, while allowing them to overcharge consumers and earn excess profits.”

“The impact of this abuse of market power on consumers is clear. According to the most recent Consumer Expenditure Survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ‘typical’ middle-income household spends about $2,700 per year on a landline telephone service, two cell phone subscriptions, a broadband connection, and a subscription to a multichannel video service,” the report indicates. “Adjusting for the ‘average’ take rate of services in this middle-income group, consumers spend almost twice as much on these services as they spend on electricity. They spend more on these services than they spend on gasoline. Consumer expenditures on communications services equal about four-fifths of their total spending on groceries.”

The authors point out the Obama Administration, unlike the Bush Administration that preceded it, was the first since the 1996 Act’s passage to begin implementing policies to enhance and protect competition, and also check unfettered market power among the largest incumbent providers:

  • It blocked the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, which would have removed an important competitor and affect wireless rates in just about every U.S. city. The Obama Administration’s opposition not only preserved T-Mobile as a competitor, it also made that company review its business plan and rebrand itself as a market disruptor, forcing wireless prices down substantially for the first time and collectively saving all wireless customers in the U.S. billions from rate increases AT&T and Verizon could not carry out.
  • It blocked the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger, which would have given Comcast unprecedented and unequaled control over internet access and content providers in the U.S. It would have immediately made other cable and phone companies potentially untenable because of their lack of market power and ability to achieve similar volume discounts and economy of scale, and would have blocked emerging competitors that could not create credible business plans competing with Comcast.
  • It blocked informal Sprint/T-Mobile merger talks that would have combined the third and fourth largest wireless carriers. Antitrust regulators were concerned this would dramatically reduce the disruptive marketing that we still see today from both of these companies.
  • It placed restrictions on Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal and Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Comcast was required to effectively become a silent partner in Hulu, a vital emerging video competitor. Charter cannot impose data caps on its customers for up to seven years, helping to create a clear record that data caps are both unnecessary and unwarranted and have no impact on the cost of delivering internet services or the profits earned from it.
  • Strong support for Net Neutrality, backed with Title II enforcement, has given the content marketplace a sense of certainty and stability, allowing online cable TV competitors to emerge and succeed, giving consumers a chance to save money by cutting the cord on bloated TV packages. If providers were given the authority to discriminate against internet traffic, it would place an unfair burden on competitors and discourage new entrants.

The authors worry the Trump Administration and a FCC led by Chairman Ajit Pai may not be willing to preserve the first gains in broadband and communications competitiveness since mergermania removed a lot of those competitors.

“The key lesson in the communications sector is that vigorous regulation and antitrust enforcement can create the conditions for market success. But balance is the key,” the reports warns. “Technological innovation and convergence are no guarantee against the abuse of market power, but the effort to control the abuse of market power should not stifle innovation. If the Trump administration jettisons the enforcement practices of the past eight years, then the telecommunications sector is likely to see a wave of new consolidation and a dampening of the price cutting and innovative wireless and broadband services that have been slowly emerging.”

Stop the Cap!’s Net Neutrality Comments to FCC

July 17, 2017

Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
Office of the Secretary
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Ms. Dortch,

Stop the Cap! is writing to express our opposition to any modification now under consideration of the 2015 Open Internet Order.

Since 2008, our all-volunteer consumer organization has been fighting against data caps, usage-based billing and for Net Neutrality and better broadband service for consumers and businesses in urban and rural areas across the country.

Providing internet access has become a bigger success story for the providers that earn billions selling the service than it has been for many consumers enduring substandard service at skyrocketing prices.

It is unfortunate that while some have praised Clinton era deregulatory principles governing broadband, they may have forgotten those policies were also supposed to promote true broadband competition, something sorely lacking for many consumers.

As a recent Deloitte study[1] revealed, “only 38 percent of homes have a choice of two providers offering speeds of at least 25Mbps. In rural communities, only 61 percent of people have access to 25Mbps wireline broadband, and when they do, they can pay as much as a 3x premium over suburban customers.”

In upstate New York, most residents have just one significant provider capable of meeting the FCC’s 25Mbps broadband standard – Charter Communications. In the absence of competition, many customers are complaining their cable bills are rising.[2]

Now providers are lobbying to weaken, repeal, or effectively undermine the 2015 Open Internet Order, and we oppose that.

We have heard criticisms that the 2015 Order’s reliance on Title II means it is automatically outdated because it depends on enforcement powers developed in the 1930s for telephone service. Notwithstanding the fact many principles of modern law are based on an even older document – the Bill of Rights, the courts have already informed the FCC that the alternative mechanisms of enforcement authority that some seem motivated to return to are inadequate.

In a 2-1 decision in 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit ruled:

“Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such. Because the Commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet Order.”[3]

In fact, the only important element of the pre-2015 Open Internet rules that survived that court challenge was a disclosure requirement that insisted providers tell subscribers when their internet service is being throttled or selected websites are intentionally discriminated against.

Unfortunately, mandatory disclosure alone does not incent providers to cease those practices in large sections of the country where consumers have no suitable alternative providers to choose from.

Reclassifying broadband companies as telecommunications services did not and has not required the FCC to engage in rate regulation or other heavy-handed oversight. It did send a clear message to companies about what boundaries were appropriate, and we’ve avoided paid prioritization and other anti-consumer practices that were clearly under consideration at some of the nation’s top internet service providers.

In fact, the evidence the 2015 Open Internet Order is working can be found where providers are attempting to circumvent its objectives. One way still permitted to prioritize or favor selected traffic is zero rating it so use of preferred partner websites does not count against your data allowance.[4] Other providers intentionally throttle some video traffic, offering not to include that traffic in your data allowance or cap.[5] Still others are placing general data caps or allowances on their internet services, while exempting their own content from those caps.[6]

Our organization is especially sensitive to these issues because our members are already paying high internet bills with no evidence of any rate reductions for usage-capped internet service. In fact, many customers pay essentially the same price whether their provider caps their connection or not. It seems unlikely consumers will be the winners in any change of Open Internet policies. Claims that usage caps or paid prioritization policies benefit consumers with lower prices or better service are illusory. One thing is real: the impact of throttled or degraded video content which can be a major deterrent for consumers contemplating disconnecting cable television and relying on cheaper internet-delivered video instead.

Arguments that broadband investment has somehow been harmed as a result of the 2015 Order are suspect, if only because much of this research is done at the behest of the telecom industry who helped underwrite the expense of that research. Remarkably, similar claims have not been made by executives of the companies involved in their reports to investors. Those companies, mostly publicly-traded, have a legal obligation to report materially adverse events to their shareholders, yet there is no evidence the 2015 Order has created a significant or harmful drag on investment.

In a barely regulated broadband duopoly, where no new significant competition is likely to emerge in the next five years (and beyond), FCC oversight and enforcement is often the only thing protecting consumers from the abuses inherent in that non-competitive market. Preserving the existing Open Internet rules without modification is entirely appropriate and warranted, and has not created any significant burdens on providers that continue to make substantial profits selling broadband service to consumers.

Transferring authority to an overburdened Federal Trade Commission, not well versed on telecom issues and with a proven record of taking a substantial amount of time before issuing rulings on its cases, would be completely inappropriate and anti-consumer.

Therefore, Stop the Cap!, on behalf of our members, urges the FCC to retain the 2015 Open Internet Order as-is, leaving intact the Title II enforcement foundation.

Respectfully yours,

Phillip M. Dampier
Founder and Director

Footnotes:

[1] https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/consulting/articles/communications-infrastructure-upgrade-deep-fiber-imperative.html#1

[2] “Thousands of Time Warner Cable Video Customers Flee Spectrum’s Higher Prices.” (http://bit.ly/2tjHJ8f); “Lexington’s Anger at Spectrum Cable Keeps Rising. What Can We Do?” (http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/tom-eblen/article160754069.html)

[3] http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/3AF8B4D938CDEEA685257C6000532062/$file/11-1355-1474943.pdf

[4] https://cdn3.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/7575775/Letter_to_R._Quinn_12.1.16.0.pdf

[5] https://www.t-mobile.com/offer/binge-on-streaming-video.html

[6] http://www.chicagotribune.com/bluesky/technology/ct-data-cap-policies-20151214-story.html

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