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Any regulation of zero rating is unnecessary market interference

Members of the wireless industry got together yesterday in Washington, D.C. to debate what the Federal Communications Commission’s next move on zero rating ought not to be. Inside Sources reported that the wireless confab included T-Mobile, Verizon, Facebook, and other parties. Zero rating allows wireless services subscribers to access certain content providers without that access being charged against the consumer’s data plan. T-Mobile’s “Binge-On” service is a recently deployed example of this type of service.

Pro-net neutrality groups like Free Press, Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation believe that zero rating violates the Commission’s open internet order by throttling data streams while favoring certain content providers over other providers.  For example, under 47 CFR 8.7, a person engaged in the provision of broadband internet access service shall not impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of internet content, application or service, or use of a non-harmful device, subject to reasonable network management.

One issue will be whether a service like “Binge-On” actually throttles traffic pursuant to this rule. The Commission so far has opted to a light touch approach to zero rating-type services, which wireless carriers have likened to 800-number services where the 800-number customer or its telephone service provider ate the cost of a long distance call from a customer. The Commission should find that there is no throttling because treatment of data traffic will be the same for all content providers, whether access to their content is done via “Binge-On” or not. The Commission’s political constraints go beyond the letter of their rules.

The Commission has been fervent about its clear and fair “rules of the road”; that all traffic be treated equally, that it may not want to rock the boat with the pro-net neutrality posse or their alleged four million post-card writing supporters. There is a chance that the Commission may opt for the safety of saying no to “Binge-On” with the claim that its best to err on the side of caution and avoid having its net neutrality rules go sliding down a slippery slope.

A call against “Binge-On” and other zero rating services is a strike against investor interests especially for investors in smaller carriers like T-Mobile. If T-Mobile is to acquire more market share it will do so with bolder offerings like “Binge-On.” The service appears to be an effective way for promoting the company’s other offerings, so much so that T-Mobile is finding that some customers, having had free access to participating websites are opting for additional and more expensive service. If there is an opportunity for government to show how anti-investor some policies can be, treating zero rating as anti-net neutrality would be one of them.

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Today’s data markets require data that brings value

Today’s data markets require that there be valuable data to trade but the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t quite see it that way.  Last week the Commission voted to accept a report that concludes that 17% of the American population or approximately 55 million people, do not have access to advanced broadband.  The Commission’s determination is based on new speed standards based on the speeds that approximately 70% of broadband customers are purchasing today.

From my view of the world here in Atlanta I can’t say that the Commission has much of a case when it argues that there is no choice among competing broadband providers even when you take income into account.  Here in the West End where median income in the 30310 area code is approximately $24,606, we have seven wireline and wireless providers of internet access.  They are Comcast (100 Mbps to 1 Gbps); AT&T (10 Mbps to 25 Mbps); Verizon (10 Mbps to 25 Mbps); T-Mobile (10 Mbps to 25 Mbps); Platinum Equity (6 Mbps to 10 Mbps); Sprint Nextel (6 Mbps to 10 Mbps); and MetroPCS (768 kbps to 1.5 Mbps).

The 30331 area code has a median income of $36,349 and the same choices in internet access carriers, with the only difference being the decrease in speed provided by Platinum Equity (3Mbps to 6 Mbps).

Our more affluent neoghbors to the north in Buckhead enjoy median incomes of $65,642.  Sprint is not available as a service choice for the residents of Buckhead, but no worries.  Platinum Equity provides service speeds of 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps while Level 3 provides 1 Gbps speeds.

You can see these speeds yourself using a nifty broadband-by-zip code calculator provided by the National Broadband Plan Map.

Not to completely dis my neighborhood but the West End is not the epicenter of finance and industry.  While we have a couple grocery stores, a community and arts center, too many churches, a middle school, and a few banks, we are not generating the income that puts us on the list of high value data providers, not at an income of $24,606.  You find that action up in Buckhead.  There are enough banks, law firms, and high tech firms for you yto throw a cat at.  These are the sources of high value data.

Three of the Commission’s members would no doubt nake the argument that with higher speed broadband, the high value data economic activity I allude to would exist in the West End or even Camp Creek.  I would argue with them.  The SnapChats of the world are being bought and sold for billions while only having a staff no larger than the numerous fast food joints that pepper the West End.  These firms are not generating high value data that is made available for trade via data markets that consumers and producers access via broadband links.  The data comes from high income consumers who may not be necessarily employed in tech.

No. Raising speed standards out of sense of duty to equate everyone with everyone is not the approach our progressive friends on the Commission should be taken in order to promote broadband deployment.  Also, trying to preempt state law in order to encourage the deployment of municipal broadband is not the answer especially in neighborhoods like mine.  Half of us simply can’t afford broadband.

Links to the internet should grow organically with broadband providers meeting demand for their services when consumers signal they are ready to purchase them.  We will need to see a turnaround in economic development and incomes to see the broadband speed equality that progressives on the Commission desire.

 

http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/30/data-markets-the-emerging-data-economy/

 

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Losing the Internet global market for the broadband access trees

The New York Stock Exchange Tech-Media-Telecom Index fell 101.46 points or 1.35%, partly on news that the European economy was worse for wear.  Equity investors ran for the debt-income hills choosing to move their stash into government bonds.

I don’t think the fall in the tech, media, telecom sector had much to do with comments made today by panelists participating in a Federal Communications Commission forum on the law and economics of net neutrality.  The takeaway from that panel for most was that no matter what net neutrality rules the FCC comes up with, whether based on Title II, section 706, or some ungodly pairing of the two, there will be blood in the form of litigation.

The other takeaway in my opinion is how so far the FCC has completely ignored the opportunity to describe how regulation, especially under a Title II regime, is supposed to help maintain optimum performance of a globally competitive interconnection of 67,000 networks when a significant portion of the globe is experiencing an inept economic performance.

If economic performance stays this sluggish worldwide, information services companies will have to really emphasize to consumers the value of their content and information products if they are to stay afloat.  But when the FCC is seriously contemplating codifying a policy that would give equal treatment of a video of a dancing cat with life-saving online medical services, it is difficult to see capital and investment moving freely to activity that brings the most value.

Morningstar notes that the FCC’s tough stand on competition and net neutrality has deflated the value of wireless Internet access platform providers, casts doubt on pending acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner Cable, and lessens the chances of Sprint and T-Mobile walking hand-in-hand down the mergers and acquisitions aisle.  According to Morningstar, the inability to consolidate may make Sprint and T-Mobile’s ability to garner additional spectrum or eek out a profit all the more difficult.

If the FCC wants to maintain its economic regulation focus on the providers of broadband access platforms while positively impacting the end-to-end global nature of the Internet, it may want to ease up on the “consolidation is bad” mantra and either stick to a broadband policy based on section 706 or better yet abandon rulemaking on the Open Internet altogether.

 

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No response to Wheeler’s response on wireless

There was no appreciable response to Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler’s comments at the CTIA show in Las Vegas mentioning that the FCC may reconsider the distinction between fixed broadband and wireless broadband as it draws closer to issuing new rules on net neutrality or the Open Internet.

The goal of the Open Internet proceedings “is to establish rules of the road for Internet openness that will provide certainty in the market place and facilitate the continuation of the virtuous cycle of investment and innovation”, Mr. Wheeler said.

Consumers are increasingly relying on mobile broadband, noted the chairman, and acknowledged the wireless industry’s position that mobile broadband carriers face constraints that their fixed broadband cousins do not.

AT&T(T:NYSE); Sprint (S: NYSE); and Verizon (VZ: NYSE) saw their share values fall today but it wasn’t clear from media headlines whether the fall was in response to the possibility that fixed and mobile may be treated the same under net neutrality rules or his policy of challenging wireless broadband company mergers such as the attempted AT&T-T-Mobile combination or the more recent attempt by Sprint to acquire T-Mobile.

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Fred Campbell points out flaw in FCC “pick winners” strategy

If the Federal Communications Commission is really interested in ensuring the deployment of broadband, its broadcast spectrum policy of allowing Sprint and T-Mobile to get more low band spectrum in hopes of getting broadband rolled out to rural customers may be dead on arrival.  That’s my takeaway from a blog post by Fred Campbell of the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology.

Mr. Campbell highlights Sprint and T-Mobile’s earlier conclusions that deploying mobile rural broadband is an expensive proposition.  having spectrum is one thing.  Building the actual infrastructure is another.  Deployment is still about the bottom line and building towers and laying cabling over less densely populated areas relative to urban areas is still not cost effective.  Quoting Mr. Campbell:

“As a result, Sprint and T-Mobile have chosen to rely primarily on roaming agreements to provide service in rural areas, because it is cheaper than building their own networks. The most notorious example is Sprint, who actually reduced its rural coverage to cut costs after the FCC eliminated the spectrum exemption to the automatic roaming right. This decision was not driven by Sprint’s lack of access to low frequency spectrum — Sprint has held low frequency spectrum on a nationwide basis for years.”

I would go one step further.  By taking away from AT&T and Verizon the opportunity to get more lower frequency spectrum and shifting it to Sprint and T-Mobile, broadband deployment suffers a double whammy.  Not only will rural customers not see additional mobile broadband deployment from Sprint and T-Mobile, rural and urban consumers won’t see additional broadband deployment by AT&T and Verizon either.  All this picking and choosing does is erode AT&T and Verizon’s ability to grab a little more market share while serving their current customers and adding new urban and rural consumers.

This is not how you enhance a competitive environment in wireless.