Speaking during an online symposium Sept. 21, Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chairwoman of the FCC, said that when it comes to radio-frequency spectrum policy, the stakes never have been higher. She spoke during the 2021 NTIA spectrum policy symposium, “Modernizing U.S. Spectrum Strategy and Infrastructure for 21st-century Global Leadership.”
“Mobile technology has already reshaped almost every facet of our lives and our economy,” the agency chief said. “Now, 5G is poised to unlock the potential of countless technologies that we’ve been talking about and slowly developing for years: the internet of things, telemedicine, virtual and augmented reality, precision agriculture, smart transportation networks, smart energy grids, I could go on. This, in turn, will drive the future of industry and expand the potential for machine learning and the possibilities of artificial intelligence.”
Rosenworcel said that to guide the future of 5G wireless communications, the FCC focuses on freeing up more spectrum, especially in the mid-band frequency range. The agency also focuses on expanding the reach of fiber facilities and diversifying equipment in 5G wireless communications networks, she said. Additionally, she said the FCC focuses on building security and resiliency in the supply chain, and on fostering American leadership in setting the technology standards of the future.
“In each of these principles — whether it is freeing spectrum, expanding broadband, diversifying networks, securing communications, or leading internationally — we have embraced the idea that no single entity can meet this challenge alone,” Rosenworcel said. “We need a whole-of-government approach to get this done and one that is open to commercial innovation and opportunity. To do this, we need to draw on the strengths in our national DNA — our hard-wired belief in the creative possibilities of the future, the power of coordination, and the rule of law. This is how we turn spectrum scarcity into spectrum abundance.”
Rosenworcel said that it is vital that the FCC keep an open door and an open mind and advance policies that are consistent with the facts, the law and its most critical mission, which she said was to ensure that world-leading communications reaches everyone, everywhere in the United States.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.
In the latest of a series of 5G Ready Hard Hat presentations, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr recognized another inspiring 5G worker — Jeremy Buckles, a tower climber based in the Denver area who oversees the International Department of Safety for SBA Communications. Carr said he had the opportunity to climb with Jeremy on two separate occasions, first in Nevada and again in Mississippi. The presentation, filmed earlier this year, is available here.
Carr’s first 5G Ready Hard Hat recognition, in 2019, went to Shama Ray, a former firefighter, paramedic and chief medical Officer, for her work as a tower technician and leader for women in wireless. Carr’s presentation to Ray is available here.
Carr’s 2019 presentation to Brandon Foster and Ammon Snyder, tower climbers based in South Dakota, is available here. And his 2020 recognition of Jessica Reich, a former professional violinist, firefighter, EMT and teacher turned tower climber, is available here.
“When Americans turn on their smartphones, tablets or other connected devices, they expect them to work. They’re not thinking about the tower climbs, fiber splices, and other infrastructure work that it takes to power all of that connectivity. So, I think it is important to recognize the valuable jobs that tower techs and telecom crews accomplish every day,” Carr said.
Carr continued: “Jeremy epitomizes the best of the best of America’s tower industry. He is a perfect example of the opportunities available for talented, skilled and dedicated tower climbers. He began his career in this industry as a tower climber at a small company. Today, he oversees the International Department of Safety for a global infrastructure company across 15 countries. This demonstrates the upward mobility that is available in this industry for those that work hard and smart. Jeremy also works to ensure that workers in this industry are safer each and every day. I am proud to recognize Jeremy for his achievements with this 5G Ready Hard Hat Presentation.”
“America continues to lead the world in wireless thanks to America’s tower crews, whose hard, often gritty work is critical for the buildout of 5G and other next-generation infrastructure,” according to an FCC prepared statement. “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more Americans than ever before are relying on the infrastructure work being performed every day by these crews—whether those Americans are accessing the network for remote work, distance learning or telehealth.”
There has been an uptick in the soap opera that pits Congress against tech giants. It would be so much more interesting, were it not a battle between technological neophytes (Congress) and the major Silicon Valley players. It also would be much more interesting if the discussions were intellectual, instead of noggin-thumping by Congress. That seems to be the state of many of our elected officials nowadays.
I come at this from a light, jocular perspective, but I heard so often about Congress’ doltish preening about the tech giants. It is getting way too old to keep viewing the same tired theatrics of such congressional hearings. It seems that members of Congress grandstand, while witnesses generally try to be inoffensive or just run out the clock, particularly when they are annoyed about the hearings’ focus.
One of the major absurd positions is that of repeatedly demanding these platforms censor more political speech from Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, with each with looking for different changes. But some really show their ignorance. For example one recent came from Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas), who suggested that the government should create a list of groups they unilaterally deem to be domestic terror organizations and then provide it to tech companies as guidance for what discussions they should track and remove – in other words, to treat these groups of tech giants the same way as ISIS and Al Qaeda. I rest my case.
Is this the status quo going forward, or will Congress get past this and try to work up some legislation to deal with these bad boys? It seems like they are trying. I dread to think of the theatrics on the horizon around what Congress is dreaming up to do battle with them.
Do understand that I believe there most certainly is a case to be made to corral these tech giants to some degree. They have abused some of their technology power over the years. One of the arguments to that point is that these companies do not just run services – they actually have taken ownership of the internet platforms their services use. The view is that they use their commanding positions unfairly at the expense of social media and other similar platforms. To wit, critics accuse them of hurting consumers in a more subtle way by killing off smaller companies and strangling other businesses.
Apparently, the courts agree with with the tech companies, or they just cannot hold their feet to the fire under the current laws. As June passed into July, a U.S. district court threw out the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust case against the tech colossus, Facebook.
Frankly, I am not surprised, and I have taken the position that the feds will not succeed; see my missive as to why here. I am glad it went that way right now. Although antitrust is the right approach, it is hard to succeed when the present antitrust laws are just dated.
New legislation to tackle digital monopolies is necessary, because traditional definitions of market dominance or consumer harm do not reflect the reality of today’s digital markets. The present laws are antiquated and have little relevance in today’s digital environment (another column link if you are interested).
Therefore, the problem is not with the feds. They are doing what they get paid to do, working with the best they have. The problem is with the old-guard legislature, which is also stuck in the 1970s when it comes to antitrust. Fortunately, it appears that Congress is trying to jump into the 21st century by pulling together some legislation.
Congress has proposed five major pieces of legislation to try and address the so-called monopolistic tech giants and their power.
Some of the bravado out of Congress is along the lines of that from Rep. Ken Buck (a Republican from Colorado, where I happen to reside, so I know his gasconade), who said, “Big Tech has abused its dominance in the marketplace to crush competitors, censor speech, and control how we see and understand the world.” That is simply one of many grandstand speeches made by the “bust-em” faction in Washington. However, to be fair, there is largely bipartisan support for this line of thinking.
But enough of that. Let us take a bit of a drill-down on what is in the legislative hopper, in no particular order, and see what Congress is up to. The bills have catchy names prominently evoking America, opportunity and competition.
The first is the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act. This funding act would update filing fees for mergers. It’s about time, because those fees are more than 20 years old. The revenue would go to the governing agencies that enforce the antitrust laws.
Next is the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, a renaming of the Platform Anti-Monopoly Act. This one has the most teeth. It would significantly change the nature of digital platforms and, with them, the internet itself, claim some analysts. It is a two-part bill that platforms into passive intermediaries. However, this produces a slew of unintended circumstances by undermining many of the features that make them valuable to consumers. Its passage will be a challenge.
Then there is the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act. This prohibits acquisitions of competitive threats by dominant platforms and acquisitions that expand or entrench the market power of online platforms. This is an interesting bill, because it shifts the burden of proof for transactions when a dominant platform is involved. They have to prove that the merger would not unfairly harm competition, eliminate consumer choice or prevent new competition from entering the market.
The Ending Platform Monopolies Act eliminates the ability of dominant platforms to leverage their control across multiple business lines to self-preference and disadvantage competitors in ways that undermine free and fair competition. In plain English, it creates a separation of powers between the structural nature of companies such as Amazon and the small businesses that use Amazon as a gatekeeper, for example.
It is an interesting dichotomy, because Amazon is both the enabling platform and the member’s competitor. This tries to address situations where Amazon can use its power to stifle or unfairly compete against those that sell on it.
The last one is the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching Act. This bill would increase the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC), power, as well as the government intervention into this market. The main language requires dominant online platforms to provide competing platforms the ability to connect and communicate with their systems, a function known as interoperability. It also requires these dominant platforms to allow users to transfer their data from one competing platform to another and mandates some data security.
Although the intent is honorable, it showcases Congress’s lack of understanding by leaving much to the FTC by directing them to create a Technical Committee inside the FTC comprised of relevant businesses, agencies and experts to develop these standards for adoption by the FTC. However, it generally just established the mandates with little definition of how all of this should take place or what the purview of the new FCC committee should be. This matter is left to the FTC and might well take quite some time to develop.
Overall, the bills offer a sorely needed update to otherwise outdated regulations dealing with the digital economy. However, we know how government works. The final versions of these bills, if they pass at all, are likely to be shot full of holes by special interests or watered down by the typical infighting of Congress. Falling back on my favorite aphorism, all that glitters is not gold, there are many out there that believe any legislation may be only superficial in the end.
Nevertheless, change is needed. Whether it comes on a timely basis and actually has some teeth is yet to be determined. The tech giants are not going to take this lying down. That camp is, in general, united in their opposition and sounding alarms about losing control over their intellectual property (Apple) or security (Amazon).
Do not forget, these targeted tech giants are flush with cash, enabling them to hire the best lawyers money can buy. I see this as a long and winding road with little knowledge of what the pot of gold (or lead) waiting there will resemble (and, by the way, the EU is on a similar path).
Ernest Worthman is an executive editor with AGL Media Group.
The FCC is inviting a new round of comments in a proceeding examining competitive access to broadband in apartment and office buildings. The new call for comments aims to better understand how the FCC can promote increased competition, consumer choice and lower prices for Americans living and working in these buildings.
“Across the country throughout the pandemic, the need for more and better broadband access has never been clearer,” said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “With more than one-third of the U.S. population living in condos and apartment buildings, it’s time to take a fresh look at how exclusive agreements between carriers and building owners could lock out broadband competition and consumer choice. I look forward to reviewing the record.”
The Wireline Competition Bureau is seeking comment on three main issues related to broadband deployment in Multiple Tenant Environment (MTE) buildings. The first focuses on revenue sharing agreements between MTE owners and service providers, and whether such arrangements inhibit entry by competitive providers or affect the price and quality of service options for consumers.
Second, the FCC seeks comment on exclusive wiring arrangements and whether such arrangements do not preclude access to new entrants or inhibit choice for tenants. The FCC also asks for input on whether exclusive marketing arrangements create confusion and lower choices for tenants.
This week, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is visiting Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri for events with Arkansas’ Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.).
The events are focused on federal and state partnerships, and the transformative effect that next-generation connectivity is having on rural areas, including on agriculture, education, telehealth and the economy.
On Sept. 7, Carr joined Hutchinson at an event highlighting a series of rural broadband fiber expansion projects that include funding from federal programs and that are administered by the Arkansas Rural Connect Broadband Program. Carr also visited a manufacturer of equipment for satellite, broadband, wireless and telecommunications industries in the Little Rock area.
On Sept. 8, Carr joined Hill and Hutchinson at the Arkansas Farm Bureau’s Arkansas Connectivity Summit in Hot Springs to discuss plans to improve high-speed broadband in rural Arkansas and the importance of federal and state partnerships and coordination.
On Sept. 9, Carr is scheduled to kick off the day with nearly a dozen electric cooperatives providing high-speed internet in Northwest Arkansas and Northeast Oklahoma. He will then visit a Native American-owned telecom company in Oklahoma that manufactures and builds telecom infrastructure. Carr’s schedule includes a walking tour of downtown Tulsa to visit recently deployed 5G small cells.
After that, Carr is expected to join Mullin for a visit with an infrastructure company that is working on the newest digital broadcast television standard, ATSC 3.0. Carr’s schedule includes a visit with a small, rural wireless internet service provider in eastern Kansas to discuss the importance of connectivity for education and the local economy.
Carr will close out Sept. 9 by visiting a COVID-19 Telehealth Program recipient in Kansas that has used federal funding to expand the use of telehealth services for 60,000 patients in highly rural and low-income areas.
On Sept. 10, Carr has plans to join Long to visit a family-owned business that supplies solutions for the tower climbing industry. Carr is expected to end his trip by meeting with students gaining the skills necessary to land a good-paying job in the tower and telecom fields at State Technical College of Missouri, one of the community colleges programs that Carr has discussed as part of his 5G jobs initiative.