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House Democrats Lead Charge in 232-190 Vote to Restore Net Neutrality; GOP Senate Leader Promises Bill is “DOA”

Phillip Dampier April 10, 2019 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

The House on Wednesday approved a bill on a 232 to 190 vote along party lines to restore net neutrality protections first adopted in 2015, but repealed in 2018 by the Republican majority serving the Trump Administration’s Federal Communications Commission under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai.

All 231 voting Democrats voted in favor of the net neutrality measure while all but one Republican (Rep. Bill Posey of Florida) opposed it.

While the measure would never have passed a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Democrats still face an uphill battle to get the measure through the Republican-controlled Senate and on to the White House.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday the bill would be “dead on arrival” in the Senate, and McConnell was unlikely to even consent to bring the bill to the floor for a debate and vote. Separately, aides to the president strongly urged him to veto the measure should it ever reach his desk for a signature.

Republicans have defended the nation’s largest internet service providers and policies which have largely deregulated their business practices and rates, claiming it has stimulated investment and expansion by ISPs willing to spend money in a favorable business climate. Critics contend spending policies at the nation’s largest providers are based on business priorities, not government policy on internet openness.

Pai

Minutes after the House vote ended, Pai attacked the results: “This legislation is a big-government solution in search of a problem. The internet is free and open, while faster broadband is being deployed across America. This bill should not and will not become law.”

Under the current rules, ISPs are allowed to block, throttle, or charge extra for content accessed over their broadband pipes, as long as a company informs its customers it is doing so. Democrats like Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, one of the chief proponents for net neutrality restoration, compared the FCC’s repeal with firing a police force in a high crime area.

“Today, nobody is enforcing any rules. There’s no cop on the beat,” Doyle said. “You need a cop on the beat. These rules wouldn’t have been put into place if there was never this kind of behavior on the part of ISPs. We didn’t just dream all this up.”

Rep. Doyle

Three years into the Trump Administration, Doyle complains, the FCC has still done little to protect consumers from abusive ISPs.

“They’ve done nothing, nada, zip, crickets. They did nothing,” Doyle said. “It’s the wild, wild west. Let the ISPs do anything they want and consumers be damned.”

Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr disagrees.

“The U.S. has turned the page on the failed broadband policies of the Obama Administration,” Carr said in a statement criticizing the net neutrality measure as threatening to turn back the clock on the telecom industry’s progress.

Many Republicans claimed they supported measures that would prohibit ISPs from interfering with content, but were opposed to Democrats tying regulatory authority to redefining ISPs as telecommunications providers. Republicans claim that could lead to a government power grab by officials seeking rate controls and service quality regulations. Some Republicans also claim the measure would expose the internet to new taxes.

Democrats are now lobbying to get Senate Leader McConnell to schedule a Senate vote for the measure.

Comcast: Rural Broadband Must Make Good Business Sense Or You Won’t Get It

If your home or business is more than 150 feet from the nearest Comcast cable, the company will think twice before providing you with service.

Pat Ulrich and her 50 neighbors in a rural subdivision in Arkansas have waited more than 15 years for Comcast or AT&T to extend broadband service to no avail, not unless they are willing to pay an installation fee of almost $50,000.

“When we evaluate prospective new build opportunities, we take into account such factors as distance from where our nearest network exists, costs associated with a proposed build-out, and number of homes and businesses that could be served. … This subdivision is many miles from our nearest plant.” Alex Horwitz, vice president of public relations for Comcast, told Arkansas Business. A nearby neighbor of Ulrich was quoted $46,000, mostly to install over 6,400 feet of fiber optic cable to connect the subdivision to Comcast’s network.

Pulaski County, Ark.

AT&T is no help either, because the homes are too far away from the phone company’s central switching office to deliver adequate internet service.

The FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) and other broadband funding initiatives normally might offer Ulrich and her neighbors some help, except for the fact the FCC’s broadband availability maps falsely claim the subdivision is already getting broadband service, which disqualifies it from receiving broadband expansion subsidy funding.

“We built a house in 2004 and never imagined it would take this long to get reliable broadband service,” Ulrich said.

Comcast and other cable operators did, however. Unlike phone companies that are mandated to provide basic telephone service to any customer seeking it, cable companies are allowed to choose the areas they service, typically based on population density and the costs associated with providing service. For Comcast, service extensions must meet the company’s return on investment test, and Ulrich’s subdivision failed. Horowitz claimed extending service would require Comcast to route a fiber extension through an area that “is almost all rock.”

Comcast is investing in some buildouts in its service area, but mostly to serve business parks. For residential areas, the company wants to limit the amount of cable it must install to reach a prospective customer to under 150 feet. If service is not available on your street, chances are the company will quote an installation fee running into the thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately for Ulrich, even if she managed to have the FCC correct their broadband availability map, Horwitz said Comcast has not bid for any of the FCC’s CAF projects in Arkansas.

AT&T Fiber Buildout Could Steal Two Million Charter and Comcast Customers

As AT&T continues to build out its fiber to the home network in its landline service areas, the company estimates it could achieve 50% market penetration by 2023, triggering a growing wave of consumers dropping cable in search of a better deal.

Cowen, a research firm, issued a report to clients indicating if AT&T achieves its expansion goals, it will be a tough competitor to Comcast and Charter.

Both cable companies have pulled back on promotional and customer retention pricing in recent years, allowing customers to follow through on threats to disconnect service. AT&T Fiber is expected to be a frequent destination for those unhappy cable customers. As AT&T’s fiber network expands, it could eventually grab one million customers each from Comcast and Charter, as well as another 200,000 cancelling service with Altice’s Suddenlink.

If the estimates prove accurate, the costs to earnings will be considerable — Comcast will lose around $1.1 billion, Charter $885 million, and Altice $162 million.

AT&T claims it has expanded fiber to the home service to three million homes each of the last two years. It plans to continue expanding fiber buildouts for an additional three years, wiring up communities where a return on investment can be achieved.

To stem customer losses, the cable industry will likely have to relent on pricing and promotions in areas where AT&T Fiber already provides competitive service.

The cable industry has enjoyed a strong speed advantage over most phone companies for the last few years as nearly 100% of cable operators now offer gigabit download speed. In contrast, phone companies are offering gigabit speed in only about 25% of their footprint, with many telco service areas still stuck with low-speed DSL, often unable to achieve the FCC’s minimum broadband speed of 25 Mbps.

Cable ONE Acquires Fidelity Communications in $525.9 Million Cash Deal

Cable ONE today announced it has acquired family owned cable operator Fidelity Communications, in a $525.9 million cash deal.

Fidelity serves 134,000 residential and business customers in smaller communities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. Cable ONE showed interest in Fidelity because many of its small cable systems are not too far away from existing Cable ONE systems that also target smaller communities.

Fidelity systems typically sell broadband at speeds of 50 Mbps ($64.99) and 100 Mbps ($89.99).

Fidelity does not usage cap its customers, Cable ONE does.

Cable ONE has also been criticized for charging the highest price residential broadband service in the country.

Fidelity currently serves customers in:

Arkansas
Alexander
Bauxite
Beebe
Benton
Bryant
Cherokee Village
Hardy
Haskell
Hensley
Highland
Little Rock
Mabelvale
Mammoth Springs
Maumelle
North Little Rock
Pulaski
Shannon Hills

Louisiana
Erwinville
Glynn
Jarreau
Lakeland
Morganza
New Roads
Oscar
Rougon
Ventress

Missouri
Adrian
Buffalo
El Dorado Springs
Gerald
Harrisonville
Lebanon
Nevada
New Haven
Owensville
Rolla
Salem
Sullivan
Thayer
West Plains

Oklahoma
Lawton

Texas
Atlanta
Carthage
Hallsville
Jefferson
Marshall
Queen City

FTC Launches Investigation of ISP Privacy Policies

Phillip Dampier March 27, 2019 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

(Image by Brad Jonas originally for Pando.com)

The Federal Trade Commission has sent compulsory questionnaires to seven of the nation’s largest cable, phone, and wireless companies as it opens an examination of internet service provider privacy practices.

The orders were sent to: AT&T, AT&T Mobility, Comcast/Xfinity, Google Fiber, T-Mobile US, Verizon, and Verizon Wireless.

“The FTC is initiating this study to better understand internet service providers’ privacy practices in light of the evolution of telecommunications companies into vertically integrated platforms that also provide advertising-supported content,” the FTC wrote in a press release. “Under current law, the FTC has the ability to enforce against unfair and deceptive practices involving internet service providers.”

The FTC wants details about:

  • The categories of personal information collected about consumers or their devices, including the purpose for which the information is collected or used; the techniques for collecting such information; whether the information collected is shared with third parties; internal policies for access to such data; and how long the information is retained;
  • Whether the information is aggregated, anonymized or deidentified;
  • Copies of the companies’ notices and disclosures to consumers about their data collection practices;
  • Whether the companies offer consumers choices about the collection, retention, use and disclosure of personal information, and whether the companies have denied or degraded service to consumers who decline to opt-in to data collection; and
  • Procedures and processes for allowing consumers to access, correct, or delete their personal information.

While Congress has been focused on privacy issues affecting social media, the FTC is concerned that telecommunications companies may be collecting vast amounts of information from customers that could be sold or shared with partner companies. The agency wants to get a better understanding of exactly what kinds of information is being collected and how it is being used, especially as telecom companies acquire content companies which could use that information to display targeted online advertising.

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