Historical Context for the Imminent Demise of Network Neutrality

On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission will vote 3-2 along party lines to obliterate the regulations that preserve the principle of network neutrality in the United States. Many have written more eloquently than I can on the policy implications; some excellent examples reside here, here, and here.

But the spectacularly misnamed “Restoring Internet Freedom” Order represents much more than a big wet kiss to internet service providers, giving them carte blanche to engage in data-discrimination dependent on content-creators’ – and your – ability to pay to send and receive. It functionally removes the FCC from having any role to play in making sure that ISPs don’t balkanize the online world to extract maximum revenue, pushing that responsibility into the lap of the Federal Trade Commission – though one Commissioner has already gone on record saying the FTC doesn’t have the legal authority or technical expertise to handle it.

As added bonuses, the Order also preempts any and all state laws that might seek to preserve the principle of network neutrality going forward, and allows ISPs to play fast and loose with the disclosures they must make regarding what you actually get when you pay for broadband service. Read More

NextRadio Cuts Costs to Spur Adoption

It’s been a good year for NextRadio. The Emmis-developed smartphone application that enables FM listening on compatible devices is making great headway with wireless carriers. After paying Sprint to become the first-adopter, well-coordinated lobbying and social media campaigns this summer convinced T-Mobile and AT&T to request that the device manufacturers they work with enable FM reception. (Verizon remains a holdout, but that campaign continues).

With the consumer-side adoptive trend gaining momentum, efforts are now afoot to bring more broadcasters into the NextRadio fold. The back-end system that broadcast stations interface with is called TagStation; it maintains the NextRadio directory, provides all images and supplementary content to the audio broadcast, and manages the in-app advertising experience. Stations can sign up with TagStation for free, which means they’ll be listed in the NextRadio app and can display their logo to users. Read More

NextRadio Reaches Carrier Milestone

The radio industry’s efforts to carve out space for itself on mobile phones took some big strides foward this summer. In late July, AT&T announced that it would seek to enable FM reception capability in the Android devices it offers. This month, after a NextRadio-led Twitterstorm, T-Mobile declared it would do the same.

This is an important milestone for the NextRadio effort: three of the four major wireless providers in the United States have embraced the notion that terrestrial radio should be part of the media mix on mobile platforms. It will be interesting to see how long Verizon, the #1 carrier in the country, decides to hold out on offering FM radio as a feature in its phones. That it took until 2015 for this to happen is testament to the gatekeeping-power of the wireless oligopoly in the United States. Read More

AT&T Lightly Chastised for Airwave Piracy

Late last week the Federal Communications Commission released a Notice of Apparent Liability against AT&T for running microwave radio links without the proper licenses. These links are often used as point-to-point backhauls to move data long distances, and sometimes they are used to connect cell nodes in remote locations to the larger network.

The shenanigans first came to light in 2011, when the FCC found an AT&T microwave link in Puerto Rico that was operating on the wrong frequency. The company subsequently conducted a review and found that hundreds of its microwave links were operating outside of licensed parameters and, in some cases, were not licensed at all. AT&T claims these links were part of acquisitions it made from 2009-2012, and in simple terms neglected to file the right paperwork to adequately license them. But the scale of the problem isn’t minor: at least 240 point-to-point microwave licenses in all require either major modifications or minor modifications to be brought into compliance. All have been operating outside license parameters (or without licenses at all) for three to four years. Read More

Hardening the Oligopoly in Wireless Broadband

Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge has some incredibly insightful analysis on the proposed purchase of T-Mobile by of AT&T.

The $39 billion deal would effectively reduce the number of national wireless broadband service providers to three (AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint – and as a Sprint customer, why do I have a feeling this development will f*ck me, too?).

Brodsky’s piece catalogs the immense amount of backstage preparation AT&T accomplished to sow the seeds of government approval for the buyout. However, he also touches on one implication of this deal that deserves more attention: it’s “the one issue that never seems to go away – Net Neutrality.” Read More