Thursday, February 10, 2011

WCAI Applauds President Obama’s National Wireless Initiative

U.S. President Barack Obama Thursday outlined his plan for expanding high-speed wireless Internet service to 98% of Americans as part of the Administration’s National Wireless Initiative. The speech came after President Obama viewed a demonstration of a WiMAX system operated by Northern Michigan University in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on EBS spectrum.

“WCAI applauds the Obama Administration’s commitment to bring wireless broadband service to all Americans, including in rural areas, and to promote investment in America’s broadband infrastructure,” WCAI President and CEO Fred Campbell said in a statement. “As the only broadband platform that is capable of providing access everywhere, all the time, and at affordable prices, wireless broadband is essential to improving education, creating new jobs and growing the American economy. We look forward to working with President Obama, the FCC and Congress to implement this initiative.”

The key elements of the administration’s plan are:

  • Freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum, including the use of “voluntary incentive auctions” and more efficient use of government spectrum, estimated to raise $27.8 billion over the next decade.
  • Provide at least 98% of Americans with access to 4G high-speed wireless via a one-time investment of $5 billion and reform of the Universal Service Fund.
  • Catalyze innovation by devoting $3 billion of the spectrum proceeds to a Wireless Investment (WIN) fund supporting research and development of emerging wireless technologies and applications.
  • A $10.7 billion commitment to support the development and deployment of a nationwide wireless broadband network to afford public safety agencies with far greater levels of effectiveness and interoperability. An important element of this plan is the reallocation of the D Block for public safety and $500 million within the WIN Fund.
  • $9.6 Billion of spectrum auction revenue will be devoted to deficit reduction.
Further information may become available when the Administration releases its budget proposal next week.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It Was 15 Years Ago Today….

Author: Bob Quinn, Sr. Vice President - Federal Regulatory, AT&T

Maybe that doesn’t have the toe tapping groove of the opening line from Sgt. Pepper but it seems a fitting way to mark the 15th Anniversary of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. And, maybe the occasion won’t get the same play that Facebook got for its 7th anniversary last week, but that law was the first major overhaul of America’s communications rules since the 1930s.
Think back to what “communications” meant when Congress wrote that law.

People were dialing up the Internet to access their Prodigy or CompuServe accounts. But perhaps the great technological innovation of 1996 was America Online’s introduction of the Buddy List to make IM’ing easier. Speaking of AOL, around that time, there was a memorable Time magazine cover story with the headline, “AOL Wins!” Try saying that in front of a mirror today and keeping a straight face. On the wireless front, about 38 million Americans were subscribers and their phone calls went out over the nation’s 24,000 cell towers. Today, there are about 295 million subscribers whose communication goes out over more than 250,000 cell towers.

Your phone was only slightly smaller than your shoe (The first Motorola StarTac wouldn’t hit the market until later in 1996). You watched movies on your VHS recorder, which had finally won the technology battle with Sony’s Betamax, although there was a new DVD technology just coming on the market. You may have finally purchased a car with a CD player but you probably still ran with a Walkman (the Discman still skipped while running). And this new DirecTV satellite video service was making me think I might want to replace my Continental Cable service. iPods? iPhones? iPads? Didn’t exist. I mean, Steve Jobs wasn’t even working at Apple again yet. Satellite radio? Sorry, not for another couple years. Laptops….really expensive. You Tube? Facebook? Google? Mark Zuckerberg was 12, and Larry and Sergey were PhD candidates who had known each other less than a year. Heck, the Today Show was hosted by Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel instead of Matt and Meredith.

So, a lot’s changed since then.

At the time, no one envisioned the world we live in today. The entire regulatory silo landscape underlying the ’96 Act has collapsed. Cable, Skype and Google competing with plain old telephone service? Long distance a distant memory? Cutting the cord and going wireless only? Watching “TV” over the Internet? Surfing the Internet on a wireless broadband connection? Not really part of the plan in the mid-90s. The idea of integrated services wasn’t fully understood 15 years ago. Does anyone really think we fully grasped the importance of broadband in 1996? Of course, not. How could we? No one could have predicted the extraordinary impact it would have on our lives.

And here we are operating under a regulatory structure that was built around a marketplace that has virtually disappeared. Which leads us to today’s FCC Open Meeting.

The FCC is expected to launch a proceeding that has an almost eerie feeling of late-90s “déjà vu all over again.” The Commission is once again looking at whether to reform two subsidy programs whose problems have hung over the communications marketplace for more than a decade: the Universal Service Fund (USF) and Intercarrier Compensation (ICC).

We salute the Commission for recognizing the need to modernize these broken systems. To state the obvious, we will not realize President Obama’s goal of universal broadband, if USF and ICC are not aligned to the realities of today’s innovative technologies and marketplace. Broadband simply will not be made available to some consumers if the government continues to reward and require providers to offer plain old telephone service in the same way those providers have been delivering service for the past 100 years.

It truly is time to re-examine our communications priorities. At AT&T, we think we should have a clear vision of where we are going. Here is what we think the world will look like: we will move the goal of all Americans having universal access to voice service to one where the goal is provide universal access to broadband service. Broadband is and will continue to be an interstate service and the service will not be “split” (or separated if you like) between federal and state jurisdictions.

The PSTN will ultimately go the way of the Betamax, the VHS player and the Walkman and we will understand that that is a good thing. Broadband subsidies will be only for broadband, will be explicit and provided only in areas where broadband would not exist without the subsidy. We will not subsidize different competitors in a market. The regulatory obligations that attach to those subsidies will be explicit as well.

In recent days, the Commission has seen a parade of companies (often regulatory adversaries) including Google, AT&T, NCTA, NTCA, Verizon, Sprint and others urge reform of the broken, non-transparent subsidy programs. The fact that such a disparate group of competitors has come together should be a sign that the time for the Commission to act is now. I think the Chairman’s speech yesterday and the action by the Commission today do a great job of beginning this long overdue journey.

Reprinted from the AT&T Public Policy Blog.

Monday, February 7, 2011

WCAI Issues Statement on FCC Chairman Genachowski’s Remarks on Universal Service Reform

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Monday addressed the Universal Service reform at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. His remarks came in advance of the Feb. 8 FCC vote on modernizing the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation system.

“WCAI lauds the commitment of Chairman Genchowski and the Commission to reforming the Universal Service Fund,” WCAI President and CEO Fred Campbell said in a press statement. “For America to remain competitive in a global economy, it must connect everyone to wireless and other broadband networks. Fundamental reform of USF is a necessary step in reaching this goal.”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The National Association of Broadcasters Is Wrong about Spectrum

It appears that the National Association of Broadcasters (“NAB”) is trying to thwart incentive auction legislation by arguing there is no spectrum crisis. In a letter sent to the leaders of the Senate and House Commerce Committees, NAB claims that wireless carriers are sitting on $15 billion of spectrum. They base this claim on an article published by

The article’s allegation that wireless providers are sitting on spectrum is just plain wrong. For example, the article claims that AT&T won’t use its 700 MHz spectrum anytime soon (even though it will begin deployment this year), and that “[t]elecommunication companies should loose [sic] it or use it.” The reality is that, if 700 MHz licensees don’t use their spectrum in a timely manner, they will lose it. The buildout requirements applicable to the 700 MHz band are the strictest the FCC has ever adopted and were designed to ensure that 700 MHz licensees quickly deploy next generation 4G networks based on the LTE standard. Those FCC standards already contain a “use it or lose it” provision that provides more than enough incentive for rapid deployment at 700 MHz. (Disclaimer: I was Chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau when the 700 MHz rules were adopted and the auction was held.)

The author of the article apparently believes wireless providers should have begun deploying their 700 MHz networks the moment they received their licenses. Of course, that was impossible. New standards and hardware need to be developed whenever a new spectrum band is made available, which takes time. Hardware designers hadn’t even begun designing chipsets, test equipment, and base stations for LTE when the 700 MHz auction was held, and the LTE standard continues to be further refined and developed. Given this reality, the timetables for deployment in the 700 MHz band are very aggressive: These networks are already under construction only a few years after the auction was held and are relying on the earliest hardware implementations of the LTE standard. In contrast, the broadcasters’ transition from analog to digital took more than 20 years. Work on the digital television standard began in the late 1980’s, but the digital transition wasn’t complete until 2009 – and even then it was the result of a Congressional mandate rather than the voluntary efforts of the broadcasters.

The facts also show that even this aggressive deployment of 4G networks on current spectrum won’t be enough to satisfy consumer demand. AT&T’s mobile network traffic increased 5,000 percent after it began offering the iPhone, and data usage levels continue to rise. If more spectrum isn’t made available, service providers will face a spectrum crisis as early as 2014. America can’t afford to let this happen, and American consumers won’t stand for it.