5.6 Million Rural Americans Gain Access to High-Speed Internet
A draft report on broadband deployment circulated this week by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to his fellow commissioners asserts that the number of Americans who lack access to fixed broadband has dropped more than 25% since the commission’s previous report on the same subject, sharply narrowing the digital divide. The draft report itself has not been publicly released.
According to the press release describing the draft “2019 Broadband Deployment Report,” 19.4 million Americans at the end of 2017 lacked access to the commission’s benchmark speed of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps compared with 26.1 million Americans that lacked such access at the end of 2016. “Moreover, the majority of those gaining access to such high-speed connections, approximately 5.6 million, live in rural America,” the commission said.
Additionally, fiber was deployed to 5.9 million new homes in 2018, and broadband-provider capital expenditures increased in 2017 after experiencing declines in 2015 and 2016.
The report concludes that broadband is being deployed “on a reasonable and timely basis.” A vote on the draft report is expected “in the coming weeks.”
NTCA Meets With Starks Adviser on Current Priorities
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association met February 15, 2019, with Randy Clarke, acting legal adviser for wireline and public safety for the newest FCC commissioner, Geoffrey Starks, to discuss several key association policy priorities.
Consistent with recent meetings with other FCC staff, the association raised the concern that the current rate-floor policy could lead to local voice telephony rate increases of up to $9 per month on rural consumers as of May 1, and that some carriers have limited time to decide whether to pass along such increases.
Second, on the issue of network performance testing, the association argued that implementation must be delayed until:
- Standards and systems for performance testing are finalized.
- Vendors have had the opportunity to design a variety of solutions that conform to the finalized standards and offer options for deployment to smaller operators.
- Each carrier has had a reasonable chance or “on-ramp” to “test the testing” through a grace period following its own deployment, during which time that carrier can ensure its selected testing solution is calibrated to produce accurate and reliable results consistent with the expectations and demands of the program.
Last, the association said the commission should “confine any action with respect to intercarrier compensation only to those areas in which clear and convincing evidence on the record confirms concerns exist with respect to particular practices or routing patterns.”
Pai Sends More Rate-Floor Letters to Legislators
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai continued to respond to legislators who have written him to express their concerns about a possible increase to the commission’s rate floor for rural broadband providers.
U.S. House Reps. Mark Pocan, Ro Khanna, Peter Welch, James P. McGovern and Vincente Gonzalez sent a letter to Pai on February 4, 2019, expressing concerns about the rate-floor freeze for local voice services. That rate, set at $18/month for Universal Service Fund recipients, is scheduled to expire June 30 of this year.
“Discussions regarding the rate floor freeze were likely to occur at the FCC this first quarter—well before the deadline,” the representatives wrote. “Yet, due to the government shutdown, it is our concern that these discussions will be pushed back, and providers will have no choice but to start planning for phone bill increases in the next few months.” The legislators concluded by asking the commission to “place high priority on exploring a longer-term rate freeze for rural communities.”
In letters dated February 7, 2019, Pai responded to each of the representatives, saying he shared their concerns regarding the effect of the rate floor on rural America.
“Despite the recent lapse in appropriations, I plan to take action to protect rural Americans from unjustified, government-mandated rate increases in the coming months,” Pai said.
FCC Report Shows Robocall Volume Remains High
A “Report on Robocalls” released last week showed that robocall volume remains high and may be increasing.
“Since 2017, the commission has enabled voice service providers to block certain obviously-spoofed calls, authorized the creation of a reassigned numbers database so consumers do not get calls intended for others, and pushed the industry to implement Caller ID authentication, a key to stopping spoofing,” said the report, which was prepared by the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau in consultation with the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Nevertheless, FCC data “indicate that robocall volume remains high and may be increasing.” The number of complaints about unwanted calls—robocalls and telemarketing calls included—numbered 172,000 in calendar year 2015; 150,000 in 2016; 185,000 in 2017; and 232,000 in 2018.
FTC data, based on the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry and its Consumer Sentinel Network, show that DNC complaints increased from 3,578,710 in fiscal year 2015 (2,125,968 of which were classified as robocalls), to 5,340,234 in 2016 (3,401,614 of which were classified as robocalls), and 7,157,370 in 2017 (4,501,967 of which were classified as robocalls). In fiscal year 2018, FTC data show a decrease to 5,780,172 DNC complaints (3,790,614 of which were classified as robocalls).
The report also compiles robocall data from nongovernment sources, and it recounts industry efforts to authenticate caller ID and eliminate unlawful spoofing through the development of protocols for caller ID authentication and a new framework.
Notes in the News for February 21, 2019
FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks on February 14 announced staff changes, including the appointment of William Davenport as chief of staff and senior legal adviser, and the departure of Daudeline Meme, who has served as acting chief of staff and legal adviser.
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has hired Joel Miller as his chief of staff and media legal adviser.
NTCA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs and Business Development Michael Romano spoke February 20 at the Oklahoma Telecom Association Critical Issues Forum.