Policy Watch: FCC Broadband Update

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to meet this morning and offer a status report on the National Broadband Plan, which is to be delivered to Congress on March 17, a month later than expected. (See FCC Delays National Broadband Plan.)

The Commission claims it needs the extra time to pore over and distill a massive amount of information and comments collected from the docket, public workshops, and hearings, and to ensure the Commissioners are fully briefed before the plan is sent along.

In the meantime, the FCC docket's been filling up with comments about its proposal to create formal network neutrality rules, and the Commission's making moves that intend to clear out valuable 700MHz real estate. Here is the latest:

  • Not that a mere proposal for network neutrality rules has hit a nerve or anything, but the FCC received more than 120,000 comments in the docket dedicated to the proceeding, according to Multichannel News. The deadline for comments was Thursday, January 14. (See FCC Sets Sail on Internet Rulemaking .)

  • The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) was among that massive group, asking the Commission to move ahead with "vigilant restraint" as it looked to codify and expand the "principles" gracing its original Policy Statement.

    The NCTA doesn't want the FCC to codify those rules, claiming it could discourage investments. However, if the FCC does move ahead on rulemaking, it urged the Commission to apply rules that impact all Internet access providers, including wireless providers.

  • The American Cable Association (ACA) , speaking for independent MSOs, chimed in as well, proposing policies that aim to safeguard risks associated with deploying and investing in broadband in rural, low-density areas.

    More specifically, the group warned the FCC not to make rules containing "Hummer-size loopholes for powerful content companies" that can exploit small MSOs. The ACA's point of emphasis is Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS)'s business model for ESPN360, which offers a broadband-based subset of sports programming. The ACA's complaint is that Disney denies access to it unless MSOs pay Disney wholesale fees that all subscribers must pay. "Disney's refusal to engage in a direct relationship with customers is the antithesis of an open Internet where consumer sovereignty reigns," the ACA wrote.

  • Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) was also among the thousands commenting on the net neutrality proceeding, arguing that the FCC should allow carriers to prioritize Internet traffic, as long as other content isn't impaired in the process, according to The Hill.

    Amazon's motive for priority could be linked to offerings such as Amazon Unbox, an over-the-top video download service.

  • The FCC last week also issued an order prohibiting the distribution and sale of unlicensed wireless devices (microphones for the most part) that use the 700MHz frequency, a move that further clears the band for last year's digital TV transition and enables the rollout of communications services for public safety and the deployment of next-gen 4G wireless devices.

    Groups and consumers using microphones that operate in the 700MHz band have until June 12, 2010, to find devices that use "appropriate frequencies."

  • In a possible, related move, Scientific American reports that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is considering adding provisions for so-called "white spaces" in the National Broadband Plan.

    In late 2008, the FCC adopted a proposal that allows unlicensed devices to use white spaces (unused portions of the TV band) to deliver mobile broadband services to rural and underserved areas. But critics, including the cable industry, claim that the use of such devices can cause interference and knock out digital TV services. (See FCC Rocks the 'White Spaces' Vote and Cable Worried About 'White Space' Tech.)

    In case you missed it, here's some other recent regulatory news of note:

    — Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

  • Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:44:28 PM
    re: Policy Watch: FCC Broadband Update

    FCC's also considering a rule to remove the "terrestrial loophole" that allows MSOs to prevent access to some regional sports networks and some other types of programming. They're commenting now ahead of the vote, but this one looks like it will be a slam dunk.

    However, Commissioner McDowell just noted that "the fcc is not Congress; we cannot rewrite statues." so he's against this.



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