FCC and FTC’s Memorandum of Understanding to Protect Online Consumers

Benton Foundation reports…

The Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced their intent to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under which the two agencies would coordinate online consumer protection efforts following the adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order.  “The Memorandum of Understanding will be a critical benefit for online consumers because it outlines the robust process by which the FCC and FTC will safeguard the public interest,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Instead of saddling the Internet with heavy-handed regulations, we will work together to take targeted action against bad actors. This approach protected a free and open Internet for many years prior to the FCC’s 2015 Title II Order and it will once again following the adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order.” “The FTC is committed to ensuring that Internet service providers live up to the promises they make to consumers,” said Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen. “The MOU we are developing with the FCC, in addition to the decades of FTC law enforcement experience in this area, will help us carry out this important work.”

The draft MOU, which is being released Dec 11, outlines a number of ways in which the FCC and FTC will work together to protect consumers, including:

  • The FCC will review informal complaints concerning the compliance of Internet service providers (ISPs) with the disclosure obligations set forth in the new transparency rule. Those obligations include publicly providing information concerning an ISP’s practices with respect to blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, and congestion management. Should an ISP fail to make the required disclosures—either in whole or in part—the FCC will take enforcement action.
  • The FTC will investigate and take enforcement action as appropriate against ISPs concerning the accuracy of those disclosures, as well as other deceptive or unfair acts or practices involving their broadband services.
  • The FCC and the FTC will broadly share legal and technical expertise, including the secure sharing of informal complaints regarding the subject matter of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The two agencies also will collaborate on consumer and industry outreach and education.

 

FCC new plan for Net Neutrality – pros, cons and will it increase costs

The Washington Times reports on the FCC plan for Net Neutrality (to be voted on at the FCC’s Dec. 14 meeting)…

The Federal Communications Commission took aim at a signature Obama-era regulation Tuesday, unveiling a plan that would give Internet providers broad powers to determine what websites and online services their customers see and use.

Under the agency’s proposal, providers of high-speed Internet services, such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, would be able to block websites they do not like and charge Web companies for speedier delivery of their content.

The news isn’t unexpected. Many had predicted that the plan would be unveiled just in time for the holiday. Over the summer many Net Neutrality advocates staged an Internet slow-down to demonstrate the potential of repealing Net Neutrality.

Politico outlines some of the changes…

President Donald Trump-appointed Pai’s plan would jettison rules that prohibit internet service providers from blocking or slowing web traffic or creating so-called paid internet fast lanes, the people familiar with the changes said.

Pai also will follow through on his plans to scrap the legal foundation that the FCC’s old Democratic majority adopted in 2015 to tighten federal oversight of internet service providers, a move he contends has deterred the industry from investing in broadband networks. Internet providers have feared that legal foundation, if left in place, could set the stage for possible government price regulation of internet service.

The chairman’s approach, to be voted on at the FCC’s Dec. 14 meeting, would also get rid of the so-called general conduct standard, which gives the FCC authority to police behavior by internet service providers it deems unreasonable.

The plan includes transparency rules that would require internet service providers to inform their customers about their practices on issues such as blocking and throttling. Major internet providers, including Comcast, have publicly said they will not block or throttle web traffic.

The FCC will look to another agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to police whether internet service providers are acting in an anti-competitive manner.

What could this mean to consumers?

A main fear is the potential rise in costs for consumers. I can’t say what will happen but this issue seems to come up often – so I thought it might be helpful to set out a benchmark to compare if things change. In April the Minnesota Broadband Coalition looked at the average cost of broadband access.  Here’s what was tracked:

What are folks saying? Politico outlines opinions concisely…

Supporters of the existing rules, including tech giants like Netflix and left-leaning digital activists, say they are necessary to ensuring the internet remains a level playing field. But critics, including Pai, have said they are too burdensome and deter investment in broadband networks.

Senators Franken, Klobuchar and others ask the FCC to reconsider broadband changes

A team of senators including both Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken have sent a letter to the FCC asking them to consider the impact of proposed broadband policy changes…

Dear Chairman Pai:

We encourage the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to accelerate the deployment of advanced networks to all Americans. However, we have concerns that the Commission will vote on an item this week that could harm consumers. It is critical that we work to enhance networks across the country, we protect existing service for consumers during and after the technology transitions.

As currently drafted, the Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure and Investment Report and Order lessens notifications to consumers about changes to their landline service (virtually eliminating advance notice of copper retirement to retail customers), eliminates the “de facto” retirement rule, and changes the definition of “service” to reduce access to critical communications for consumers in an attempt to lessen regulatory barriers on phone service providers. These changes cause serious concern for rural Americans including the elderly, low-income, and consumers living with disabilities who reply on landline phone service.

As you know, millions of people and businesses, not to mention critical US government operations, across the nation rely on legacy landline phone service. Individuals in rural America, particularly those living where cell phone service is poor, utilize these landlines to conduct business, reach emergency responders, and stay in touch with loved ones. Households and businesses in our states, and across the country, cannot afford the disruption of having service altered without adequate advance notice, the assurance that an equivalent replacement exists and a clear understanding of how to obtain and use the replacement.

Furthermore, this order would affect more than landline phone service. Alarm systems, fax machines, and medical monitoring devices frequently depend on access to landline services. DSL broadband service also relies on landline phone service. If phone lines are not maintained, all of these services could be put in jeopardy. We need a reliable service standard in place to ensure that services people depend on will continue to work, and that rural Americans will not be left behind during this technology upgrade, furthering the digital divide.

Signed by:

  • Margaret Wood Hassan
  • Charles Schumer
  • Jeanne Shaheen
  • Catherine Cortez Masto
  • Al Franken
  • Tammy Duckworth
  • Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Elizabeth Warren
  • Tammy Baldwin
  • Richard Durbin
  • Sherrod Brown
  • Gary Peters
  • Bernard Sanders
  • Amy Klobuchar

Broadband makes the shortlist of topics Sen Klobuchar discusses in Jackson County

Jackson County Pilot reports on a recent visit Senator Klobuchar made to the area…

Minnesota’s senior senator stopped by the industrial park headquarters of New Fashion Pork Friday evening to talk employment, immigration, transportation, trade, rural broadband connectivity and the farm bill, among other topics. Klobuchar said she was impressed with New Fashion Pork and the Jackson County Food 4 Kids program the company spearheaded a few years ago, urged those gathered to continue lobbying lawmakers for sensible immigration law and pledged to look into impending changes to overland transportation regulations.

And more specifically on broadband..

David Preisler, executive director of the Minnesota Pork Producers and Association and Minnesota Pork Board, talked trade and the farm bill with Klobuchar, while Jackson City Council member Donnie Schoenrock, president of the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services Board of Directors, briefed the senator on local issues surrounding rural Internet connectivity.

“It’s the digital divide,” Klobuchar said, adding the solution may lie in certain changes necessary at the Federal Communications Commission level.

Klobuchar said she appreciated hearing concerns from those gathered and pledged to continue working on their behalf.

Community broadband advocates comment on Connect American Fund Auction Plans

A team of organizations interested in promoting better broadband to everyone (led by the Institute for Local Self Reliance) has submitted comments to the FCC regarding the competitive bidding procedures for the Connect America Fund.

Here is an outline of their comments:

Summary – We believe rural America will be best served by additional safeguards to ensure Connect America Funds return the greatest investment to local residents and businesses.

Concerns:

Carriers of Last Resort Guarantee – It is imperative that bidders are able to serve every premise within the relevant blocks, with the possible exception of premises that are not connected to the electric power grid.

Satellite Service & Other Technologies – We continue to have strong concerns about the Commission subsidizing high-latency satellite services that have never achieved any market success.

Distribution of funds – We agree with the proposal of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development regarding a check box for entities that have received support from states for broadband investment: “The Commission should direct an applicant submitting a pre-auction short-form application to include in its application whether it has received any additional resources through the state for broadband deployment. The addition of a simple ‘check box’ for this query in the short-form application proposed by the Commission is all that is necessary.”

Financial Health of Applicants – We agree with the Commission and others that the financial health of potential bidders is important but are concerned that the Commission has not developed an accurate measurement for such health that does not discriminate against smaller providers.

Small Providers & Anti-Collusion rules – We agree with the Rural Coalition comments regarding the importance of smaller providers participating in this auction in order for it to succeed and indeed in order to ensure rural communities are well connected, “Thus, it is essential that the Commission at every turn consider ways to simplify the Auction design in a manner that will enable small businesses to participate meaningfully without undermining the process by which support can be distributed at efficient levels.”14 We are concerned that the Commission has historically shaped rules to fit with the largest carriers, many of whom are much more focused on investing in urban areas than rural regions.

Organizations sending the comments include: Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), Public Knowledge (PK), Appalshop, Center for Rural Strategies, Access Humboldt, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Virginia Rural Health Association (VRHA), Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association (SCTCA), Broadband Alliance of Mendocino County, California Center for Rural Policy, Access Sonoma Broadband (ASB) and The Utility Reform Networks (TURN).

FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel suggests we crowdsource a broadband map

Today FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel spoke to the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. She spoke to the need of better mapping to assess the broadband situation in the US and she asked consumers to help identify and map where there is no access to broadband:

“If you’ve not been able to get service, or live in an area that lacks it, help us make a map and write me at broadbandfail@fcc.gov. I’ve set this account up to take in your ideas. I will share every one of them with the agency Chairman—and put on pressure to do something about it.”

Lawmakers to FCC: Do Not Weaken Broadband Internet Standards for Americans

Several Minnesota Legislators on this list…

Washington, D.C.- Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA), Senator Al Franken (D-MN), and Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rick Nolan (D-MN), and Keith Ellison (D-MN) sent a bicameral letter today to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai opposing his efforts to lower broadband Internet standards for millions of Americans.

The letter comes in response to a recent Notice of Inquiry that suggested the FCC will consider significantly lowering national advanced broadband standards from the current level of 25 Mbps download / 3 Mbps upload down to 10 Mbps download / 1 Mbps upload. Additionally, the FCC is contemplating a finding that Internet access through a cellphone plan is a sufficient substitute for fixed broadband at home.

“As you well know, reliable, high-speed broadband is essential to economic development, public safety, and a vibrant quality of life. Ensuring every home, school, and business has adequate access to the Internet is essential to unlocking the innovative potential of all Americans …” wrote the lawmakers. Simply moving the goalposts is not a policy solution, and weakening the definition of high speed internet is a disservice to the rural and tribal communities the FCC has an obligation to serve.”

The changes currently contemplated could immediately result in reduced connection reliability and Internet speeds for rural, tribal, and low-income communities in every state. In 2016, according to the FCC, 39% of rural America and 41% of those living on tribal land lacked access to advanced broadband, which is defined as 25 Mbps/3 Mbps under current FCC policy.

“At this time, mobile access at 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload is not a reasonable replacement for fixed advanced broadband at home. This fact is well known to any child seeking to complete a homework assignment, small business owner hoping to develop an Internet presence, or individual completing an online job application or communicating with their doctor,” added the members of Congress in today’s letter.

In addition to Reps. Huffman, Pocan, Nolan, Ellison, and Senator Franken (D-MN), the letter was signed by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), as well as Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL), David Cicilline (D-RI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), John Conyers (D-MI), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), James McGovern (D-MA), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Peter Welch (D-VT), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), John Lewis (D-GA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Michael Doyle (D-PA), John Garamendi (D-CA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Timothy Walz (D-MN), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), John Yarmuth (D-KY).

The letter is supported by Public Knowledge and Communications Workers of America.

You can read more about Rep. Huffman’s work to increase access to broadband for every Americans here.

The full text of the letter can be found here or below.

The Honorable Ajit Pai
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Pai:

We write in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) request for comment in the recent Notice of Inquiry (NOI) “Concerning Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion” (GN Docket No. 17-199). We are gravely concerned that the policies contemplated by this NOI could undo significant progress and investment by the FCC and Congress to ensure that all Americans have access to reliable, high-speed broadband. Specifically, we strongly oppose any proposal to lower speeds from the current standard of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload to 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps or to find mobile broadband as a universally appropriate replacement for fixed, home broadband.

As you well know, reliable, high-speed broadband is essential to economic development, public safety, and a vibrant quality of life. Ensuring every home, school, and business has adequate access to the Internet is essential to unlocking the innovative potential of all Americans. However, as the annual section 706 broadband report demonstrates, our nation’s rural and tribal communities continue to lag behind urban America and much of the developed world when it comes to broadband access, speed, and reliability. As the FCC has noted, thirty-nine percent of rural America and forty-one percent of those on Tribal land lack access to advanced broadband.

The FCC has a statutory obligation to take steps to deploy broadband that supports high-quality telecommunications capability to all Americans in a reasonable and timely manner. The policy changes contemplated by this NOI would run counter to the intent of Congress by attempting to fulfill that statutory obligation through definitional changes, rather than concrete action to connect more Americans online. Simply moving the goalposts is not a policy solution, and weakening the definition of high speed internet is a disservice to the rural and tribal communities the FCC has an obligation to serve.

In particular, we are concerned with any effort to weaken the FCC’s current policy finding that every American should have access to broadband services with speeds of at least 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. Finding instead that only mobile service of 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload is sufficient would result in significantly slower and less reliable Internet access for millions of Americans, particularly those with low incomes or those living in rural and tribal communities. At this time, mobile access at 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload is not a reasonable replacement for fixed advanced broadband at home. This fact is well known to any child seeking to complete a homework assignment, small business owner hoping to develop an Internet presence, or individual completing an online job application or communicating with their doctor.

We strongly urge you to maintain the highest connectivity standards, which are critical to the FCC’s statutory obligation to support high-quality telecommunications capability to all Americans.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.

Sincerely,