Friday, May 29, 2015

FCC Chair Proposes Expansion of Lifeline Program Subsidy to Include Broadband

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed expansion of the Federal residential telcom subsidy program, Lifeline.  Launched in 1986, the program adds a small fee to consumers' monthly phone bills to ensure that all Americans have access to basic telecommunications services.  Recipients get the monthly subsidy, which is paid to their telecom provider of choice, for application toward the cost of one 'landline' or wireless phone account per household.

The proposal does not call for an increase in fees.  Instead, it would allow recipients a choice in applying the subsidy toward voice or broadband service.  Should the agency's commissioners approve the proposal at their June 18 meeting, a public comment period will then be scheduled for determining minimum standards for phone and broadband service. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Give Oligarchs An Inch And They'll Become Rulers

An article in today's Washington Post reporting on the Federal Trade Commission's lawsuit against AT&T ('The FTC is Suing AT&T For Throttling Its Unlimited Data Customers') provides Americans a preview into a future without net neutrality.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Great Wireless Spectrum Crunch Hoax

Taken as a whole, the excitement surrounding communications technology today is intoxicating. It seems as if every day brings forth some new some new company announcing its use of telecommunications hardware, software, digital technologies, and computer networking in some combination for stimulating the economy and improving the individual and collective quality of life.

The truth of the matter is sobering. The U.S. lags seriously behind other developed nations when it comes to the deployment, capacity, accessibility, and robustness of its telecommunications infrastructure. Japanese and South Koreans, for example, enjoy universal broadband at downstream data speeds to homes 2-3 times faster than Americans (the average downstream data speed to residential consumers in the U.S. is ~ 11 Mbps).

U.S. telecom corporations claim they too can provide quality of service (‘QoS’) at levels and pricing points comparable to that in other industrialized nations. However, the U.S. market is a vast physical space that presents a number of challenges private enterprise appears unable by itself to meet. As recently as 2009, American politicians, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and consumers argued over the definition and establishment of universal broadband service. The result was a minimalist mashup of regulations and benchmarks known as the National Broadband Plan (‘NBP’). Created as a roadmap to universal broadband for Americans, the NBP is nonetheless vulnerable to the machinations of America’s telecom oligarchy.

The NBP focused on addressing two aspects of America’s digital divide: accessibility and affordability. The goal for accessibility, IIRC, is 4 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream be available to 97-98% of the continental U.S. by 2016. Affordability wasn’t defined in dollars and cents by the NBP as much as implied as a positive natural outcome of market competition. Accordingly, no singular topology was recommended or given preference among fixed-wire (incl. cable and fiber), wireless (satellite, Wi-Fi/WiMAX, and cellular), and hybrid systems. Both the F.C.C. and Congress provided scant direction on devices for connecting to the Internet; e.g., there is no requirement that Device ‘A’ purchased from Vendor ‘B’ be able to operate across Networks ‘C’, ‘D’, or ‘E’, or that Networks ‘C’, ‘D’, or ‘E’ permit access to Device ‘A’ from any vendor.

Effectively, the Federal gov’t permits telecoms wide latitude in the operation of their broadband networks as if competition truly exists in the market. It does not. Consider that today’s fixed-wire and wireless telecoms evolved from local cable monopolies and remnants of the Bell System. Given the reality fixed-wire and wireless systems are capital intensive to build and maintain establishing them as legal monopolies is both logical and practical. But legal monopolies are customarily obliged to satisfy a number of requirements guaranteeing public access. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 did not fully uphold that philosophy, thereby dramatically altering the relationship between territorial monopolies and consumers in favor of businesses. Deregulation of the telecom industry opened the door for companies like Comcast and Bell South to acquire then consolidate operations across county and state boundaries whereby they could assimilate or destroy competition from then-nascent Internet service providers (ISPs) and cellular phone networks, including CompuServe and Cellular One. With their new, virtual monopolies in place and protected by legacy territorial agreements, the telecom providers rolled out services as determined by short-term, bottom-line driven agendas. The lack of competition has given them license to employ tactics like using up excess supply ahead of addressing (consumer) demand. Cable broadband providers’ wielding of monopoly-like power also explains how they are able to market the latest innovations in the most affluent neighborhoods while foregoing service to other, mostly low-income communities. Their mobile phone subsidiaries follow a nearly identical business model.

The question is how a nation sustains such wide discrepancies between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ with 93-94% broadband ‘coverage’ of the continental U.S. but ~70% residential broadband penetration. Part of the answer is pricing; approximately 2/3rds of consumers who want but do not have broadband cite retail broadband prices as unaffordable. Enter the mobile phone industry with their cellular-based radio channels updated with digital technology and phones capable of handling data as well as voice services. Cellular networks are far less expensive for companies to deploy and maintain than fixed-wire networks. However, they feature much slower data speeds and compatible devices tend to be both more expensive and less capable. (The average term price for a ‘4G LTE’ smartphone is more than for an Internet-ready netbook PC equipped with Wi-Fi and productivity software.)

Some of our nation’s broadband providers are proposing their cellular phone networks as the solution to the challenges with modernizing America’s telecom infrastructure. Rebranding themselves as ‘mobile network operators’ (‘MNOs’), companies including AT&T and Verizon Wireless want to expand their grids of terrestrial radio repeaters (‘cells’) while adding radio frequencies (repurposed from other uses, including over-the-air television) to achieve the coverage standards put forth by the NBP. But the MNOs also claim consumer demand on their networks is growing at a rate where they’ll soon run out of capacity. Their plans for the future depend on the Federal gov’t reassigning or repurposing more of the light spectrum from existing broadcasters, white spaces, etc., as the total amount of spectrum available for any use at any given point in time is finite. While their proposition is theoretically plausible – Sprint, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile are among the MNOs who currently offer ‘4th generation’ (or, ‘4G’) wireless broadband service meeting the NBP’s benchmarks over portions of their cellular networks – and certainly expedient to their economic interests, it’s an open question whether a repurposing of spectrum as the MNOs desire is warranted, efficient, or in the best interests of consumers.

As U.S. MNOs publicly warn of an impending wireless spectrum crunch, they admit privately Wi-Fi is 90+% under capacity (!). Moreover, industry executives and systems engineers are aware most wireless data transfer occurs over the faster, more robust, open, and free-to-use Wi-Fi networks. The fact that only one U.S. broadband provider is aggressively developing solutions around Wi-Fi/WiMAX technologies suggests innovation for innovation’s sake is not among the industry’s priorities. Considering the size of the mobile wireless market already controlled by the MNOs, collective resources at their disposal, emphasis on proprietary, yet cost-prohibitive fixed-wire, cellular-, and satellite-based broadband networks (with industrial-age business models), and limited remaining spectrum available for development, it stands to reason we consider the nation’s telecoms have virtually no incentive to build a world-class system on par with today’s Japan or South Korea. America’s digital divide doesn’t appear to be shrinking as much as it looks like Digital Divide 2.0 is emerging.

The urgency with which U.S. telecoms are pushing new products and services at consumers therefore represents somewhat of a consumer scam. A rethinking of the nation’s telecommunications policy is needed; one that introduces legitimate competition to the industry and provides robust protections for consumers. A wholesale regulatory overhaul isn’t necessary as much as reforming existing laws as to facilitate their enforcement, with special emphasis on requiring ‘open’ systems of fixed-wire and wireless network operators and raising net neutrality standards. The American public should not support a further repurposing of spectrum by the government for any proprietary usage until the telecom sector demonstrates alternatives for achieving universal broadband coverage are found to be impractical, unaffordable, or have been otherwise exhausted.      

Monday, June 18, 2012

Vote for Ignition:CC's Food Menu

What types of food should Ignition:CC offer?

  1. pre-packaged items (i.e.; chips, popcorn, bakery goods, etc.)
  2. hot & cold deli-style sandwiches
  3. pizza
  4. soups
  5. grilled items (i.e.; hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.)
  6. microwaveable nosh (i.e.; breaded fish sticks, chicken fingers, etc.)
  7. some combination of items 1-6 (please specify)
  8. all of the above
  9. none of the above.
Enter your suggestions below or vote on Facebook

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

MD Techspace Start Up Announces Immediate Job Openings

Ignition Cyber Club has immediate openings for 30 associates to develop a location near College Park, Maryland.  Teleworkers, gamers, software developers, students, social media pros, and event planners are encouraged to apply. 

Ignition:CC associates:

  • work their own hours
  • may choose to be compensated in cash or services in-kind
  • receive equity shares in the venture.

E-mail for details and information on how to register.  Employment will be determined on a first-come basis.