The broadband infrastructure of the United States is a little on the poor side when compared to some other nations. According to a new FCC report, the best way to fix that is to open up broadband access and increase competition. The FCC hasn’t considered requiring open access to broadband facilities since 2002. The principal of ‘open access’ says telecoms, like cable companies, should allow access to their physical infrastructure for competing businesses that don’t own infrastructure. Telephone carriers (i.e. DSL) are required to do this, cable providers are not.
The study was quoted as saying, “The lowest prices and highest speeds are almost always offered by firms in markets where, in addition to an incumbent telephone company and a cable company, there are also competitors who entered the market, and built their presence, through use of open access facilities.” The US is also expected to use stimulus finds to increase access to broadband.
The 232-page report estimates that building out the US infrastructure would cost at least $20 billion, and as much as $350 billion. The wide disparity in cost is the result of uncertainty as to what speed should be offered. The report says one-third of Americans have broadband access at home but do not subscribe, and 4% have no access at all.
AT&T announced today that they’ll be enabling the use of VOIP on their 3G network specifically for the iPhone. Skype was extremely excited to hear the news given that 10% of all iPhone and iPod touch users have downloaded the Skype application.
The announcement was initially released by AT&T in an FCC filing, soon to be published, explaining that they will open their 3G network to internet calling applications, including Skype.
It should be interesting to see where this leaves the much debated Google Voice application, rejected from the Apple App store earlier this year. While AT&T’s decision isn’t as sustainable as a government policy, it should put significant pressure on other carriers to allow similar network access.
Although the task force didn’t name any decent ways to express dissent, it is suggested that indignant consumers learn the art of protesting from the true masters of the art: the Palestinians, who have pioneered some of the most effective and economical techniques, including stone pelting and the fabled catch-and-hurl-back-teargas-grenade technique.
Coming back to the subject of broadband access, the task force is busy preparing a report on ways to enhance broadband penetration in rural and urban areas. The panel will submit its final report to Congress in February. It said in an interim report that anywhere between $20 and $350 billion might be needed for installing necessary wireless and landline infrastructure. Its estimate depends on the internet speed.
The panel said in its report that while nearly 2/3 of Americans are wallowing in broadband bliss and 1/3 have access but haven’t subscribed, 4% have no access whatsoever. The panel also expects smartphones to march ahead of blander phones by 2011.
AT&T has sent a rather pointed letter to the FCC accusing Google of violating Network Neutrality standards. No, that isn’t a typo. AT&T’s beef is that Google Voice will not connect calls to some numbers that traditional telecoms are required to connect. This is because of so-called “common carrier” laws.
Some rural local telephone carriers charge long distance companies extremely high fees to connect calls to certain numbers on their networks. These are usually numbers for conference call centers, adult chat lines, or party lines. Sneakily, revenues from these connections are shared with the owners of the lines. Google Voice does not connect these calls, and AT&T thinks that isn’t fair.
It is interesting that Google, a company that strongly supports Net Neutrality, is taking this course of action. AT&T seems to want them to be treated like any other telecom, but in Google’s response, they lay out their rationale for why AT&T should shut it.
Google says that first and foremost, Google Voice is a free service. To make it workable, they simply cannot spend money to connect those calls. They also say that Google Voice is software, and software isn’t covered by common carriers rules. Finally, they claim that since Google Voice is an invite-only beta service, it doesn’t need to comply with all regulations.
So, is this just AT&T trying to distract the FCC, or is Google really in the wrong here?
The two largest wireless providers in the US, Verizon and AT&T, are not cool with the FCC’s new push for Network Neutrality. On Monday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave a speech outlining plans to create a set of binding Net Neutrality rules that would extend to the wireless industry. AT&T claimed regulation was not needed saying, "AT&T has long supported the principle of an open Internet and has conducted its business accordingly."
The companies also argue that wireless service is a different animal, and Net Neutrality practices may not be feasible. "On a wireline broadband network, you know where your customer is," said Verizon VP of Regulatory Affairs. "So you can build capacity to handle the peak demands. But on a wireless network, you have a crowd converge on a site that suddenly has 10 times or 100 times the users competing for the same resources."
AT&T and Verizon both pointed out that they were behind the FCC initiative for wired broadband, just not for their wireless networks. Verizon also called attention to their policy to allow any compatible, certified device to use its 3G network. Consumer advocates say that there are multiple non-neutral practices taking place on wireless broadband networks to be dealt with. VoIP applications, like Skype, often find themselves barred from operating on cellular 3G networks. With the FCC already investigating competition in the wireless industry, this may lead to still more hearings. Should Net Neutrality extend to cellular data networks? Let us know in the comments.
It was no surprise today when Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski gave a speech on Network Neutrality. In the speech, at the Brookings Institute, Genachowski suggested formalizing the FCC’s “principals” of neutral networks, making them official policy. The FCC Chair proposed two specific rules. The first would prevent ISPs from slowing any specific type of Internet traffic. This would, however, still allow for reasonable network management practices. The second rule would require ISPs to be completely transparent about what sort of network management practices they were using.
Network Neutrality has been of more mainstream interest since congressional hearings on the subject began a few years ago. Amidst all the talk of “a series of tubes’, very little got done. Now Genachowski is making his case in no uncertain terms. “I am convinced that there are few goals more essential in the communications landscape than preserving and maintaining an open and robust Internet,” said the FCC Chair. He went on to clarify that the proposed changes would also apply to wireless providers.
For their part, ISPs are almost universally against the changes. They claim that Net Neutrality requirements would prevent them from managing their networks. Genachowski attempted to assuage their fears, explaining that violations of the proposed rules would be handled individually. The FCC will begin seeking public input and feedback at its meeting in October. So, do you feel we need regulation to ensure a neutral Internet?
More details of Apple’s rejection of Google Voice for the iPhone have come to light. When Google, Apple, and AT&T submitted their letters to the FCC back in August, a large portion of Google’s was redacted. Speculation was that the section (which dealt with what Apple actually told Google) contained descriptions of sensitive correspondence between the two companies.
Today Google allowed the FCC to post the full text. Sure enough, the previously redacted section detailed the contact Apple had with Google. This culminated with none other than Apple Senior VP of Marketing, Phil Schiller, calling Google on July 7 to say the Google Voice app was rejected. This seems to directly contradict Apple’s assertion to the FCC that they hadn’t rejected Google Voice, but were still studying it.
Now the plot thickens even more, as Apple put out a statement saying, "We do not agree with all of the statements made by Google in their FCC letter. Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application and we continue to discuss it with Google." Rejected or not, it still means iPhone users don’t have a Google Voice app. Is Apple arguing semantics here, or just straight-up lying?
When the FCC got involved in the rejection of the Google Voice application for the iPhone, opinions were mixed. While iPhone users almost universally wanted to know where to point the blame, they were also unsure if government intervention was the way to go. Regardless of where you fall on the issue the verdict is in, and it now appears Apple is the guilty party.
In a written response to the FCC, AT&T claims the telecommunications company had “no role in Apple’s consideration of Google Voice or related applications”. The filing also revealed another juicy tidbit of information we’ve all been wondering about for months now. AT&T has actually been involved in the app approval process on at least a handful of occasions, but from what we can tell, this was limited to bandwidth hogging applications such as Pandora, and MobiTV that Apple feared would impact the overall stability of the 3G wireless network.
Apple, knowing that it was caught red handed, was quick to point out in its FCC filing that they have “not rejected the Google Voice Application” and that they “continue to study it”. It appears that the primary reason for the rejection is limited to concerns over how Google Voice alters “the iPhone’s distinctive user experience”. Apple fanboys will no doubt take this reasoning as the directive of Steve Jobs and leave it be, but Google was quick to remind us that Android forces no such restrictions.
“Google doesn’t screen or reject Android Market apps on the basis of content or functionality”. Everyone who uses an iPhone knows they are locked into Steve’s world, but should iPhone users accept that?
Oh, Time Warner. When you’re not imposing some ridiculous bandwidth caps on your customers, you’re fighting for them in the war against net neutrality! And, while the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it’s nice to know that Time Warner Cable might actually have some.
“Now is not the time, nor is this the appropriate proceeding, to engage in a debate about the need for net neutrality obligations,” two Time Warner lawyers said to the FCC earlier this week. “Debates in this proceeding about new net neutrality regulations would only divert attention from these important goals, delaying the distribution of funds while generating considerable contention when the Commission should instead be fostering a spirit of collaboration.”
According to the two lawyers, the money should strictly go towards broadband deployment. This, in turn, would give them more customers (for them to impose miniscule bandwidth caps upon), and, according to their logic help pump some more of that much needed money into the ailing economy.
Love it or hate it, there’s no looking over the big possibilities that the stimulus package holds for the future of our nation’s broadband infrastructure – and starting tomorrow the folks at the FCC are going to start discussing just how they’re doing to divvy the cash up.
With $7.2 billion of the total $787 billion allocated from the package, the FCC will begin looking for ways to outfit those living in rural areas with access to high speed Internet. They’ll also start looking at ways to improve the speeds of existing broadband infrastructure.
This is quite the undertaking, no doubt about it! Good thing they’ve got until next February.