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FCC Tells Lobbyists to Just Say What Their Corporate Clients Want

Phillip Dampier November 15, 2018 Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Stockdale

The Federal Communications Commission wants the scores of lobbyists that visit with agency staffers regularly to get to the point of exactly what they want the FCC to do on behalf of their corporate clients instead of delivering long-winded presentations that often run overtime and cause lobbyists to back up at FCC headquarters.

FCC Bureau Chief Donald Stockdale sent that clear message at a Federal Communications Bar Association event on Wednesday, telling attendees that too many lobbyists are burying the FCC staff in jargon and long, confusing presentations that explain the client’s business but do not clearly state what their client expects of the FCC. He wants lobbyists to plainly state their client’s desired policy goals within the first 2-3 minutes of a meeting with agency staffers.

Stockdale also complained too many lobbyists are overrunning their assigned 30-minute time slots, creating problems for everyone. He noted a recent presentation where a lobbyist spent 30 minutes discussing his corporate client’s business model, but only revealed the true reason he was there — to lobby for policy changes — at the end of the meeting after time ran out.

To assist the FCC in the era of the Trump Administration, the Commission’s staff advised lobbyists to create a simple-to-follow guide showing the FCC exactly what steps should be taken to achieve the corporate client’s policy goal. Currently, many lobbyists only specify a goal and do not include a roadmap showing the Commission how to meet those goals.

FCC Proposes Another Grand Giveaway of Public Rights-of-Way to Cable Operators

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a new policy allowing cable companies to deduct the fair market value of their obligations to serve the public interest from franchise fee payments to towns and cities.

The proposal, MB Docket No. 05-311 — Cable Franchise Fee Deduction, will turn cable franchise laws upside down in virtually every state, reducing local government revenue and threatening public, educational, and government (PEG) access channels, access to cable in schools and other educational institutions, and undermining local control over the placement of wireless cell equipment and other infrastructure that some cable operators propose to install.

Critics of the proposal claim it would continue a concerted effort to shift oversight and regulatory controls away from local communities and states to a federal government that currently has a policy of favoring the interests of telecommunications companies over the interests of community leaders and the public.

Concord, Calif. Mayor Edi Birsan warned the FCC that if it adopts its proposal, it would strip his city, along with others, of its ability to manage where cable companies place cellular equipment and at what price.

Birsan

“Local governments may lose their authority to manage a cable company’s deployment of non-cable facilities, such as ‘small cells,’ Birsan wrote in a letter to the FCC. “This preemption would threaten to extend to fees for use of the rights of way, meaning:

  • Cable companies can use local rights of way for any purpose, regardless of the terms of the franchise, and avoid having to pay fair compensation to the local government for the use of publicly funded assets in the rights of way.
  • Cable companies could potentially install “small wireless facilities” with little to no public input, without having to meet any aesthetic or equipment size requirements aimed to mitigate blight and preserve community character.
  • Cable companies would gain a significant advantage against their competitors, including telecommunications providers even though the FCC has just adopted an order lowering their deployment standards, resulting in a race-to-the-bottom deployment strategy for both cable and telecommunications companies.”

Officials in King County, Wash., which includes the city of Seattle, were critical and suspicious of the FCC’s argument that the burdens of providing benefits to communities as defined in franchise agreements are slowing down the deployment of broadband services, a claim Tanya Hannah, chief information officer of the Department of Information Technology and Christina R. Jaramillo, manager of the Office of Cable Communications found had little merit and no evidence to back it.

Hannah

“It is not obvious that if a cable operator’s profit increases by one dollar that the operator will invest an additional dollar in broadband infrastructure deployment,” they wrote in a joint letter to the FCC. “Many cable companies are functional monopolies. Because the data transfer speed of fiber-line cable systems significantly exceeds the speed of wireless systems, cable broadband is the preferred broadband service if the prices for other broadband services are comparable.”

The two officials made it clear that since the FCC was proposing to impose these changes retroactively on town and cities around the country, the result would be detrimental to local government finances.

“If the FCC were to allow the value of the proposed franchise fee offset activities that were done in the past to be deducted from current or future franchise fee payments, the results to local  governments would be debilitating,” the officials wrote. “It could essentially end all monetary fee payments to King County by Comcast and WAVE Broadband for a number of years. This is not a feasible option. It is not realistic and it is not fair.”

The Alabama League of Municipalities told the FCC the issue was about basic state sovereignty, and Alabama does not want the federal government to run its affairs.

“Section 220 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 provides that no person, firm, association, or corporation shall be authorized or permitted to use the streets, avenues, alleys, or public places of any city, town, or village for the construction or operation of any public utility or private enterprise without first obtaining the consent of the proper authorities of such city, town, or village,” the League wrote. “The Supreme Court of Alabama has labeled this grant of authority as ‘an essential and sovereign power in local authorities […] in the nature of a bill of rights [that] recognize certain fixed constitutional rights which shall not be invaded.'”

Under the FCC’s proposal, Alabama’s Constitution would be violated by allowing cable operators near carte-blanche access to public rights-of-way without fair compensation or permission, the League argued.

For a lot of communities, any reduction in franchise fee payments will lead to a corresponding decrease in funding for PEG television services.

“Our town’s ability to invest and support its public access television unit and the telecommunications curriculum in our schools is directly linked to the funding received from Charter Communications as part of the franchise fee (“cable tax”) agreement,” noted Robert J. Oliveira, chairperson of the Westport, Mass. Cable Advisory Board. “Any reduction in these funds would mandate a corresponding reduction in programming levels and information access to the community and curriculum support to our students.”

Public comments are due to the FCC by the end of today — Wednesday, Nov. 14. Consumers can share their opinions by visiting the docket on the FCC’s website, and then selecting + Express on the left hand side of the page, which will open an online comment form. Municipalities can file formal submissions using the + New Filing link.

Former FCC Chairman Wheeler Gratified by Election Results; Urges Hearings on Net Neutrality

Phillip Dampier November 13, 2018 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

Wheeler

Three developments — two in the courts and another at the ballot box — have encouraged former FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler to believe net neutrality can be restored, but only if a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives reignites public attention on the issue and a D.C. court finds the current FCC acted recklessly in repealing the rules.

Wheeler, a visiting fellow of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute’s Center for Technology Innovation, argues the last chapter of net neutrality has yet to be written:

The FCC’s Authority to Govern Internet Traffic Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court

On November 5, the Supreme Court declined to review the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court that twice upheld the 2015 Open Internet Rule. The industry groups that had long opposed non-discriminatory access to broadband networks had previously stopped such regulation at the D.C. Circuit. When they attempted the same thing with regard to the 2015 decision of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a three-judge panel ruled the FCC’s favor. The industry then appealed the panel’s decision to the entire D.C. Circuit and lost again. The industry then appealed that loss to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court voted 4-3 (with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh abstaining) to deny a writ of certiorari for the appeal. As a result, the lower court’s decision upholding the 2015 Open Internet Rule stands.

In order to overcome earlier court rulings that found the FCC lacked the authority to regulate broadband services, Wheeler redefined broadband as a telecommunications service, subject to stronger regulatory authority under Title II of the Communications Act. Under “common carrier” provisions, internet service providers could not engage in traffic discrimination. The industry disagreed with Wheeler’s reclassification and sued. Because the Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal, the D.C. District Court ruling in favor of the FCC stands.

Trump’s FCC Becomes a Partner of Big Telecom

The Trump Administration appointed a Republican majority to the FCC that wiped away or repealed most of the accomplishments of the FCC under Chairman Wheeler, including net neutrality.

Pai

“In 2017, the Trump FCC repealed the Open Internet Rule at the request of the network companies. In the process, the FCC also ruled that the agency had only minimal authority over internet networks,” Wheeler wrote. “Except for toothless transparency requirements, the Commission would exercise no oversight over broadband internet access services. Not only did the agency created by Congress to oversee the nation’s networks walk away from that responsibility, but it also joined with the plaintiffs in asking the Supreme Court to overrule the D.C. Circuit’s 2015 decision. When the High Court denied that request, it breathed new life into the 2015 Open Internet Rule.”

Wheeler was gratified by the news that Democrats have retaken the House, noting that presumptive Speaker Nanci Pelosi, next chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee Frank Pallone, and incoming chairman of the Telecommunications Subcommittee Mike Doyle are all vocal supporters of net neutrality. Reps. Pallone and Doyle even attempted to introduce a resolution to repeal the FCC’s decision on net neutrality, but Republicans refused to allow the issue to come up for a vote in the House.

Wheeler believes both congressmen will conduct more aggressive oversight hearings over the FCC, but until Republicans are voted out, net neutrality “is a long shot” according to Wheeler.

“Even if it was passed by the House, the Republican-controlled Senate would not likely support it. Even if they miraculously passed a bill, President Trump would no doubt veto it, having previously spoken out against net neutrality,” Wheeler said. “The only foreseeable legislative path would be with the support of the network companies, and that support would come at the price of watering down the proposal to render it virtually meaningless.”

Will a Court Find Trump’s FCC “Arbitrary and Capricious?”

On Feb. 1, the D.C. Circuit Court will hear arguments over a lawsuit challenging the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality. Wheeler says if the D.C. Circuit rules against the FCC and vacates the decision to repeal net neutrality, Wheeler’s 2015 Open Internet rules will be reinstated.

“In their zeal to gut oversight of their activities, the internet networks and their Trump FCC allies may have shot themselves in the foot,” Wheeler wrote. “There is a strong case that the Trump FCC acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner when it repealed the 2015 Open Internet Rule and walked away from any responsibility over the most important network of the 21st century. If the D.C. Circuit makes such a finding, net neutrality would once again be the law of the land. Although the Trump FCC would probably spitefully ignore its enforcement and even force adoption of a new rule to free the broadband companies, that action would simply bolster the Democrats in the House.”

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Obama-Era Net Neutrality That Republican-Dominated FCC Repealed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused a request by the Trump administration and the telecommunications industry to wipe away a lower court decision that had upheld Obama-era net neutrality rules aimed at ensuring a free and open internet, though the justices’ action does not undo the 2017 repeal of the policy.

The high court decision not to throw out the 2016 U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruling leaves a legal precedent in place that could help net neutrality supporters in any future legal battle if that policy is ever re-introduced.

The rules championed by Democratic former President Barack Obama, intended to safeguard equal access to content on the internet, were opposed by President Donald Trump, a Republican.

The Trump administration and the telecom industry had wanted to erase the 2016 ruling even though the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission in December voted to repeal the net neutrality rules. The policy reversal went into effect in June.

The Supreme Court’s brief order noted that three of the court’s conservative justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – would have thrown out the appeals court decision. Neither Chief Justice John Roberts nor new Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh participated in the decision.

Industry trade group USTelecom, one of the groups that challenged the 2015 net neutrality rules, said the high court’s action was “not surprising.” USTelecom said it would “continue to support” the repeal “from challenges in Washington, D.C. and state capitals.”

Rosenworcel

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat who backed the net neutrality order in 2015, said on Twitter that the commission had “actually petitioned the Supreme Court to erase history and wipe out an earlier court decision upholding open internet policies. But today the Supreme Court refused to do so.”

The Justice Department also has filed suit to block California’s state net neutrality law from taking effect in January. The state agreed in October to delay enforcement of the law pending appeals of the net neutrality reversal.

The FCC voted 3-2 in December along party lines to reverse the rules adopted under Obama that had barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization.

The new rules, which gave internet service providers greater power to regulate the content that customers access, are now the subject of a separate legal fight after being challenged by many of the groups that backed net neutrality.

The net neutrality repeal was a win for providers like Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc. It was opposed by internet companies like Facebook Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc, which have said the repeal could lead to higher costs.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham

Ajit Pai Plans to Remain as FCC Chairman “For the Foreseeable Future”

Phillip Dampier October 30, 2018 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Pai

Despite the potential for a Democratic Party takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives that is likely to usher in a new era of more aggressive oversight of the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission, current chairman Ajit Pai “plans to lead the FCC for the foreseeable future.”

Multichannel News reports Pai is unlikely to leave his post just two years after being appointed to the position by President Donald Trump, despite an ethics controversy over alleged assistance given to Sinclair Broadcast Group to allow the company to acquire more stations despite a federal ownership cap on the number of stations that can be owned by a single entity. Pai also was responsible for a highly controversial decision to cancel net neutrality provisions enacted during the Obama Administration.

“Chairman Pai remains focused on his key priorities, including bridging the digital divide, fostering American leadership in 5G and empowering telehealth advancements,” said Brian Hart, director of the FCC’s office of media relations.

Should both the Senate and House flip to Democrats in next week’s midterm election, Pai’s agenda of deregulation, media consolidation, and elimination of many Obama-era consumer protections would be in peril and subject to determined Congressional oversight.

Pai has taken heat from consumer groups for ending a set-top box competition program that could have forced television providers to accept equipment obtained competitively in the retail market. He also faced criticism for reinstating a program giving UHF TV station owners the opportunity to acquire more stations, directly benefiting Sinclair and allowing it to pursue its since failed merger with Tribune Broadcasting.

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  • Ian S Littman: To be fair, you aren't wrong. Spectrum likely knows it won't have any competition for years in Lamar, so they'll quickly get take rates of >70% (re...
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