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"This is crazy. Lowering standards doesn't solve our broadband problems."
Pai should recuse himself from inmate calling decisions, prisonersrsquo; advocate says.
FCC apologizes, says guards were on “heightened alertrdquo; due to threats.
Vote to begin net neutrality rollback scheduled for May 18.
Business Internet price caps eliminated even when customers have only one choice.
O'Rielly: Subsidies hurt competition, let bureaucrats pick winners and losers.
Predictions of net neutrality's demise have been flying ever since the GOP rout in November. Many consumers are on edge, fearing a return to abysmal speeds for Netflix and other streaming content, as well as skyrocketing broadband prices.

But where do American businesses -- especially IT pros -- stand on the issue of regulatory change? After Trump's victory, Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who this week was named as chairman of that agency, vowed to "fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation." Investment, innovation, job creation -- what's not to like, right?To read this article in full or to leave a comment, please click here
Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee in September 2016.Getty Images | Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call reader comments 75 Share this story Comcast, AT&T, and industry lobbyist groups representing ISPs are heaping praise on Ajit Pai, who was appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman by President Donald Trump yesterday. Pai, a Republican commissioner and former lawyer for Verizon, has vowed to undo net neutrality rules and opposed numerous consumer protection regulations passed under his predecessor Tom Wheeler. With Republicans taking control of the commission, Pai has promised "to remove outdated and unnecessary regulations" imposed on ISPs. "We commend [Pai's] tireless efforts to develop and support policies that benefit American consumers and spur greater investment and innovation in broadband technologies to connect all Americans and drive job creation," Comcast Senior Executive VP David Cohen said in a statement yesterday. "This is a terrific appointment for the American consumer and the companies the FCC regulates and we look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Pai in his new role.” AT&T Senior Executive VP Bob Quinn concurred, saying that "No one is more prepared to reframe the agency to address the needs of this rapidly changing marketplace.

Chairman Pai will work with his fellow Commissioners to quickly and decisively put back in place the commonsense regulatory framework necessary to support the President’s agenda for job creation, innovation and investment." Consumer advocacy groups, meanwhile, are worried that Pai will consistently obey the bidding of ISPs who want more mergers and fewer consumer protection regulations. Now, we shouldn't read too much into the statements of ISPs.

Telcos regulated by the FCC are always inclined to publicly congratulate the commission's new chair and pledge to work cooperatively with the agency—an ISP isn't going to accomplish its regulatory goals by publicly declaring itself an enemy of the regulator on his first day. Wheeler received similar praise from AT&T and Comcast when he was chosen by then-President Barack Obama in 2013, and Wheeler ended up being a fierce opponent of the cable and wireless industries. But in this case, there is plenty of reason to believe Pai's agenda will line up with the agendas of the country's major ISPs.

During the Obama years, Pai repeatedly sided with ISPs against consumer advocacy groups and Wheeler on issues such as net neutrality, common carrier regulation, online privacy rules, paid data cap exemptions, rules encouraging alternatives to rented set-top boxes, the FCC's broadband speed standard, and more. Despite campaign, Trump FCC looks good for ISPs Trump and ISPs weren't close friends during his campaign. Cohen was a fundraiser for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, while AT&T regulatory lobbyist and longtime GOP supporter Jim Cicconi supported Clinton too, saying, “This year I think it’s vital to put our country’s well being ahead of party." While campaigning, Trump promised to block AT&T's attempt to buy Time Warner and said he'd consider breaking up the six-year-old merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal.

But now that he's president, it's much less clear whether the Trump administration will take either of those actions.

And with Pai in charge, ISPs are more likely to get what they want at the FCC under Trump than under Clinton, who supported net neutrality rules and wanted to boost broadband competition. Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman who is now the cable industry's top lobbyist as head of NCTA—The Internet & Television Association, said that "During his tenure on the Commission, Chairman Pai has consistently demonstrated a common-sense philosophy that consumers are best served by a robust marketplace that encourages investment, innovation and competition." The American Cable Association, which represents small and medium-sized providers, said that Pai "respects and understands the concerns of independent cable operators, especially in those cases where they have been required to shoulder enormous regulatory burdens to the same extent as much larger providers, such as new obligations to comply with the Open Internet's enhanced transparency rules." The United States Telecom Association called Pai "an exceptional choice to head the Federal Communications Commission," and urged him to "ensure our nation's telecommunications innovators can invest and compete on a level regulatory playing field." Meredith Attwell Baker, a former FCC commissioner who now leads CTIA, the top mobile industry lobby group, said that Pai "has championed spectrum and infrastructure reform and is a leading voice for a common sense approach to open Internet and privacy," and praised his work on "reducing regulatory barriers to broadband deployment." CenturyLink said that Pai "will bring a much-needed free market approach to his new role," and that "Hopefully this will result in the thoughtful elimination of outdated, unnecessary federal regulations that stifle investment and no longer reflect rapidly evolving consumer demands and the entry of innovative, new competitors.” Pai will be “formidable opponent” Consumer advocates, meanwhile, are worried about Pai not just because of his policy proposals but also because they believe he will be skilled in enacting his agenda. "The public interest community will not be happy about Commissioner Pai’s promotion to chairman," said Andrew Schwartzman, a Georgetown Law lecturer who led the Media Access Project, a public interest telecommunications law firm, from 1978 to 2012. "He is not only an outspoken detractor from many of the important advances we obtained under Chairman Wheeler, but he is also extremely smart and knowledgeable. He will be a formidable opponent." Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge CEO Gene Kimmelman noted that "Commissioner Pai has a history of attacking consumer protections, from the Open Internet order to our right to privacy online." But the group will not give up on lobbying the commission, saying, "we urge Chairman Pai to preserve consumer protections and to focus on driving down prices and expanding choices for all essential communications services while preserving the Commission’s recent pro-competitive and consumer protection rules and actions.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.FCC reader comments 12 Share this story It looks like Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler will be staying on the FCC a bit longer, but his fellow Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel is on her way out. Wheeler last week said he was willing to step down immediately if the US Senate reconfirmed Rosenworcel to another five-year term.

But the Republican-controlled Senate took no action on Rosenworcel, who must leave the FCC at the end of December if she doesn't get another term. "The Senate wrapped up its business for the year shortly before 7am Saturday, leaving FCC Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel out of its end-of-year deal to advance some pending nominees," Politico reported.

The Senate could theoretically still reconfirm Rosenworcel by unanimous consent, but that isn't likely, Multichannel News explained. Republicans previously said they would not reconfirm Rosenworcel unless Wheeler resigned, because one Democrat must exit the FCC to let President-elect Donald Trump appoint a new Republican and give his party a 3-2 majority.

But by the time Wheeler promised to do so, Republicans had other ideas.

There wasn't enough time left in the Senate's session to handle Rosenworcel's confirmation, Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said. Other Republicans supported taking no action on Rosenworcel because they hope both she and Wheeler will leave and give Republicans an immediate 2-1 majority. With Rosenworcel out, the commission would shift from a 3-2 Democratic majority to a 2-2 deadlock at the beginning of January.

The commission has already halted major rulemakings for the remainder of Obama's presidency at the request of Republicans in Congress. Wheeler now faces a choice of whether to remain on the commission after Trump's inauguration on January 20.

Trump can immediately appoint one of the commission's two Republicans to serve as interim chairman, but Wheeler doesn't have to leave the commission entirely. When contacted by Ars, a spokesperson for Wheeler declined comment on whether he will stay on the commission after the inauguration.

A spokesperson for Rosenworcel has not replied to Ars this morning. Commission chairs generally don't stay long after a new president takes office.

But Wheeler's term doesn't expire until 2018, and Rosenworcel's departure increases the likelihood that he will remain for part of Trump's presidency in order to preserve a 2-2 tie between Republicans and Democrats and delay the potential undoing of net neutrality rules and other major rulemakings passed under his chairmanship. But it's inevitable that Wheeler will find himself in the minority party after Trump appoints a third Republican commissioner.

A Senate confirmation could take several months, but Republicans in Congress will be eager to make it happen. Even if Wheeler stays on past the inauguration to temporarily preserve the 2-2 tie, he wouldn't necessarily remain on the commission through all of 2017. Once Republicans have their majority, they may be willing to vote on a new Democratic nominee to replace Wheeler as a minority party commissioner. Rosenworcel was criticized by some Democrats after holding up a proposal that would have required cable TV operators to make free TV applications that could replace rented set-top boxes.

But she was praised yesterday by House Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who said that "Senate Republicans turned their backs on consumers by failing to reconfirm FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel for a second term." Citing Rosenworcel's advocacy for ending the "homework gap" that leaves poor schoolchildren without vital technology, Pallone said, "Her tireless efforts to protect consumers and lift up those in need exemplifies the type of first-rate public servant that Americans deserve.”
EnlargeGetty Images | Yuri_Arcurs reader comments 12 Share this story Mandatory arbitration clauses are depriving customers of their rights and helping ISPs avoid serious punishment for actions that harm consumers, two Democratic officials from the Federal Communications Commission and US Senate argue. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and US Sen.

Al Franken (D-Minn.) yesterday published a Time op-ed titled "How Your Internet Provider Restricts Your Rights." By pushing customers into arbitration instead of court review, ISPs are protecting themselves from class-action suits, Clyburn and Franken wrote. "Ever since a series of controversial Supreme Court decisions ruling that companies can use these clauses to force disputes out of the legal system and into the private arbitration process, they’ve become far more common," they wrote. "And in telecom contracts, they’re nearly ubiquitous.

A study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found that 99.9 percent of wireless subscribers were subject to mandatory arbitration clauses." These clauses prohibit class-action lawsuits, according to the two politicians.

Even when customers have the right to sue in court, they might pay more in legal fees than they'd recover in a verdict. "The only feasible way for you as a customer to hold that corporation accountable would be to band together with other customers who had been similarly wronged, building a case substantial enough to be worth the cost—and to dissuade that big corporation from continuing to rip its customers off," Clyburn and Franken wrote. "With class action off the table, they know it’ll never be worth your while to take them to court, even when they are clearly in the wrong." Without the threat of class-action suits, ISPs face little risk when customers encounter frequent service outages, mysterious new fees, and early termination fees that they "don’t remember agreeing to pay," they wrote. An arbitration clause agreed to before any dispute arises can be "mandatory" in the sense that "either side can mandate that a dispute that arises between the parties be resolved in binding arbitration," the CFPB noted in its report last year.
In many cases, the clauses are mandatory in a stricter sense, with consumers having the options only of agreeing to the clause or not buying service at all. Companies sometimes give customers the ability to opt out of arbitration clauses within a specified time period, but customers are often unaware of this option, the CFPB found. Customers are also often unaware that their contracts include arbitration clauses at all. (These findings applied specifically to credit card customers.) Many arbitration clauses have exceptions allowing actions in small claims court. Comcast provides an online form for customers who want to opt out of arbitration. Recently, a group of customers who opted out of arbitration filed a proposed class-action lawsuit accusing Comcast of falsely advertising low prices and then using poorly disclosed fees to increase the amount paid for cable TV.
In another case, Comcast agreed to a $50 million settlement 11 years after a class-action was filed. Providing an opt-out may help companies defend against legal challenges to binding arbitration clauses while still confining most customers to arbitration. Franken noted that he has authored Senate legislation that would ban mandatory arbitration clauses.

But it might be easier to pass restrictions at the FCC as long as it is controlled by Democrats who support consumer protection initiatives.

Clyburn said in the op-ed that she is "leading the charge for a regulatory crackdown this month." In a speech last week, Clyburn said the FCC should "limit pre-dispute arbitration clauses in communications services contracts... This idea is teed up in our work on broadband privacy and should be adopted first for consumer broadband and then for all services sold to consumers under the FCC’s jurisdiction where we have the legal authority to do." Clyburn's remark about the FCC's work on broadband privacy refers to a vote later this week on rules that would require ISPs to get opt-in consent from consumers before sharing Web browsing data and other private information with advertisers and other third parties.

An early version of the proposal asked the public whether the FCC should "prohibit [broadband Internet] providers from compelling arbitration in their contracts with customers." But the final proposal has not been made public yet; a summary released by the FCC does not mention arbitration clauses. When contacted by Ars today, an FCC spokesperson declined to comment on whether the current version of the proposal addresses arbitration. The FCC could tackle arbitration in a separate rulemaking, although Chairman Tom Wheeler could be in his final months as chair.
reader comments 13 Share this story When noncable internet providers — outlets like AT&T or Verizon — choose which communities to offer the fastest connections, they don’t juice up their networks so everyone in their service areas has the option of buying quicker speeds.
Instead, they tend to favor the wealthy over the poor, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. The Center’s data analysis found that the largest noncable Internet providers collectively offer faster speeds to about 40 percent of the population they serve nationwide in wealthy areas compared with just 22 percent of the population in poor areas.

That leaves tens of millions of Americans with the choice of either purchasing an expensive connection from the only provider in their area — typically a cable company — or just doing the best they can with slower speeds. Middle-income areas don’t fare much better, with a bit more than 27 percent of the population having access to a DSL provider’s fastest speeds.

The Center reached its conclusions by merging the latest Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data with income information from the US Census Bureau. The FCC, which regulates the industry, defines broadband as a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second.

Those speeds are mostly only available through wired connections to the home.
It’s the speed that the agency believes is needed to support multiple devices on a single connection, stream uninterrupted movies and educational videos, upload photos, and allow for future applications such as in-home health services and networked homes. The noncable internet providers — the four largest are AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., CenturyLink Inc., and Frontier Communications Corp. — hook up customers over telephone wires that are Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL), or they use hybrid networks that include some fiber connections near (and sometimes directly to) homes.

The Center included all types of connection in its analysis.

These companies account for nearly 40 percent of the 92 million internet connections nationwide. Cable companies, such as Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc., operate under a different set of conditions.

These providers offer the same fast speeds to almost every community they serve, in part because of franchise agreements with local governments.

But a previous Center investigation and other reports have shown that cable firms sometimes avoid lower-income or hard-to-reach areas based on how franchise agreements are written. Poor areas not served by the cable companies are not included in the Center’s analysis, which results in what seems like an equitable distribution of speeds across income levels. In addition, Internet speeds sent over coaxial cable used by the cable firms don’t degrade over long distances as they do over copper telephone lines.

That means that in order to keep speeds from slowing, DSL carriers must make costly investments in equipment, including fiber cable in some places. It would seem DSL providers’ coverage decisions are simply smart business.

After all, the companies and economists say, providers must invest millions of dollars in equipment to boost speeds over relatively short distances in their service areas.

The best way to get a substantive return on investment is to provide the service in wealthier areas.

Besides, fewer lower-income households purchase a home Internet connection than do their higher-income neighbors. But broadband advocates, economists — those in the United States, Europe and the White House — as well as the FCC argue that a fast Internet connection is now so crucial to managing daily life and seizing opportunities for advancement that it’s an economic necessity for households and communities.

And they further argue that having a choice between two providers is essential to keeping prices down. “Society said it did not matter if you could pay for electricity; we wanted everyone to have it. Society said we would not limit dial tone to those who could pay the most, we gave it to all,” said telecommunications lawyer Gerard Lederer of Best Best & Krieger LLC in Washington, DC, in an e-mail. “Broadband is quickly becoming that utility, and if applications only work at high speeds, then the universal availability of that speed must be the goal, otherwise you are providing everyone with water, just some of the water is not drinkable.” Enlarge Center for Public Integrity Where the high speeds are High-speed connections will only become more important for Americans.

As families simultaneously use more than one connected device at home, tools like health-care apps become more prevalent, and cars and household appliances become networked, broadband demand is forecast to more than double in just the next four years.

The increased Internet traffic will require ever faster speeds to allow applications to work. That’s why the FCC voted last year to increase the definition of broadband from a download speed of 4 Mbps and 1 Mbps upload to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.

The Center’s analysis looked at the availability of just download speeds, using the FCC’s 25 Mbps definition for broadband. About the data To analyze internet speeds that noncable providers offer in their service areas, the Center for Public Integrity combined these data sets: • The Federal Communication Commission’s Form 477 Broadband Deployment Data, as of Dec. 31, 2015, the latest available; • 2010 U.S.

Census population data at the census block level, which is the most recent publicly available; • 2010-2014 American Community Survey income and demographic data at the census block group level; The Center analyzed all internet service offered by the nation’s four-largest noncable providers: AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., CenturyLink Inc. and Frontier Communications Corp.

The Center considered all types of connections offered by these providers, including fiber cable.

As a point of comparison, the Center also analyzed all internet service offered by the four-largest cable providers: Comcast Corp., Charter Communications, Time Warner Inc., and Cox Enterprises Inc. The Center used the FCC’s definition of broadband, a download speed of 25 megabits per second and higher, to determine if broadband was offered by consumer providers in each census block group.

The Center did not include upload speeds in its analysis. Income for census block groups were divided into quintiles based on median household income and the number of households in each census block group. The five census block group quintiles are: 1) Below $34,783 2) From $34,783 to $46,875 3) From $46,876 to $60,223 4) From $60,224 to $80,694 5) Greater than $80,694 The Center’s analysis represents 99.5 percent of the population as measured by the Census Bureau in 2010.
It includes 96.9 percent of all census blocks from 2010 and 99.1 percent of census block groups in the 2014 American Community Survey.

The Center did not include census block groups with no reported median income. But the opportunity to purchase the higher speeds or choose between two high-speed providers is unequal, determined in large part by a family’s earnings, the Center’s analysis shows. Without exception, the nation’s four-largest noncable internet providers offer their highest speeds to more wealthy communities than lower-income ones. An earlier Center investigation found that people living in the poorest areas nationwide — where median household incomes are less than $34,800 — are five times more likely not to have access to broadband than households in the wealthiest areas — where the median income is more than $80,700. Many times, the Center found, high-speed internet service stops at the edge of low-income communities. In this analysis, the Center drilled down into the data to learn how providers manage speeds within their service areas and which carriers offer service equally across income.

The findings: DSL providers in particular favor the wealthy over lower-income communities in providing their fastest speeds. Frontier Communications, the nation’s fourth-largest DSL internet provider, favors its wealthy communities more than most.

The Norwalk, Connecticut-based firm offers high-speed broadband to 38 percent of the population in the wealthiest communities — those with median household incomes of more than $80,700 — according to the Center’s analysis.

But Frontier only offers its fastest speeds to 11 percent of the people living in areas where the median household income is less than $34,800. AT&T, the nation’s largest DSL provider, offers speeds at 25 Mbps and higher to about the same proportion of wealthy, middle, and low-income areas.

But those speeds are available to just a little more than 5 percent of the population in its national service area, about 6.6 million people out of a total of 123 million people AT&T’s service area covers, according to the Center’s analysis.

The vast majority of the population in the communities AT&T serves — 72 percent — have access to sub-broadband speeds, between 10 and 24 Mbps. Who has access to those speeds varies greatly by income. More than 82 percent of the people living in the wealthiest areas can buy those speeds, while 66 percent of the people in the poorest communities can, the Center’s investigation found. Low-income regions are not the only ones that have less chance to buy fast download speeds.
Some DSL providers ignore middle-income areas at nearly the same rates.
Verizon provides broadband speeds to 64 percent of the population in wealthy communities where it has service, but only to 49 percent of the population in the middle-income areas, those with a household median income between $46,900 and $60,200. AT&T, Verizon, and Frontier did not reply to requests for comment. CenturyLink’s track record is similar.

The Monroe, Louisiana-based company, which has almost 6 million subscribers nationwide, offers broadband to 72 percent of people living in wealthy areas in which it operates compared with 57 percent of the population in middle-income communities — just 3.5 percentage points more than in the company’s poorest areas. CenturyLink denies the unequal access is purposeful. “CenturyLink does not engage in discriminatory practices in broadband deployment,” a CenturyLink spokeswoman said in an e-mail. “We focus our network investments in a fiscally responsible manner by investing in areas that allow us to take advantage of current assets, such as existing conduit and fiber routes, while reaching the largest number of potential customers.” But that is exactly the problem, said Hannah Sassaman, policy director at the Media Mobilizing Project, a community organizer and support group for low-income families in Philadelphia. “It’s fine for an incumbent to say they want to leverage their existing assets, but we have to remember that many of these incumbents have been cherry picking what communities they serve for decades,” Sassaman said. “Of course companies that want to build where they already have conduit and fiber will be doing so in neighborhoods that already have high-speed access and competition.” And that means in more wealthy neighborhoods, Sassaman said. The FCC believes its Lifeline program, which provides low-cost internet access to qualifying households, will lead to faster internet speeds for lower-income families.

But FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn acknowledges that more needs to be done. “There are certainly challenges in bringing communications services to those who can least afford it," Clyburn said in an e-mail. "Regardless, those who are less affluent should not be relegated to receiving second-class broadband.” Listing image by Allan Holmes/Center for Public Integrity "We live in an oligarchy" The Hinebaughs, who live in Washington, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, are one of the many middle-to-lower-income families that don’t have access to a fast DSL connection. James, 27, his wife, Jennifer, and their 2- and 4-year-old children live in a 90-year-old, two-story house sitting atop a hill.

They’re a couple of blocks above Jefferson Avenue, a commercial strip that’s home to local businesses like Beck’s Tobacco & Beer shop and the Alpine bowling alley. Here, where the rumble of tractor trailers on Interstate 70 a few hundred feet away resonates through the neighborhood, the median annual income is less than $20,000 and the poverty rate exceeds 16 percent, making it one of the poorest areas in Washington County. James Hinebaugh said his income varies year to year, from the lowest to the middle-income quintiles in the Center’s analysis, depending on how much overtime he can get at his job as a machinist at Dynamet Inc., a maker of titanium alloys for aerospace and medical companies. The only choice the Hinebaughs have for a wired broadband connection is Comcast, and they consider it a ‘must have’, Hinebaugh said.

The children log on to play games, watch educational programs, and stream movies. Jennifer Hinebaugh, 31, uses the Internet to communicate with family and friends on Facebook, manage the bank account, search for coupons and research health websites for their son, who has special needs. James Hinebaugh goes online to read political news, watch tutorials on painting, and research his passion, astronomy. “I’d love to become an astrophysicist one day,” he said. The Hinebaughs pay Comcast $255 a month for a bundled package that provides an actual Internet speed of 25 Mbps, cable TV, and a networked security system that had previously been installed in the house.

The bill is one of the highest they pay and it’s a struggle every month, Hinebaugh said. He would like another option, but the only one is Verizon, which offers service in his neighborhood — but at a maximum speed of 3 Mbps, according to a search of Verizon’s website.

That’s on the low end for basic Web surfing and e-mail and can’t adequately support video streaming or uploading large files such as photos. At that speed, “you might as well not even have it,” Hinebaugh said. “It's so slow that you say, ‘I might as well go chop wood.’" Enlarge / James Hinebaugh sits outside his home in a low-to-middle-income neighborhood in Washington, Pennsylvania, where Verizon offers a download speed of 3 megabits per second. Just 10 miles away where wealthy residents live, Verizon offers speeds upwards of 150 Mbps. Allan Holmes/Center for Public Integrity Hinebaugh’s situation is similar to nearly half of Americans, who have only one wired broadband provider to choose from, according to the FCC.

Another 30 percent have no wired broadband service at all.

The lack of competition keeps broadband prices higher, and it hits poorer families harder, according to the FCC. The Hinebaughs are far from an exception.
Verizon provides its fastest speeds to only 1.3 percent of people in the poorest areas where it offers service in Washington County, according to the Center’s analysis. Most of the people in the poor areas, 87 percent, can hook into 10 to 25 Mbps.
Verizon gives its fast broadband speeds to almost all of the population in the wealthiest areas in the county — 92 percent. Drive about 10 miles east from the Hinebaughs — past the Lindenwood Golf Club, the BMW and Cadillac dealerships on Washington Road, and the Youth Ballet School & Company on Valley Brook Road — and it’s a world apart. Here, landscaping crews tend the grounds behind large stone gates of multimillion-dollar estates.

The median income is $164,000, eight times the income where the Hinebaughs live and the highest in the county. And there’s something else here, too.

Along these winding tree-lined streets and rolling green pastures, Verizon offers wealthy residents some of its fastest service, up to 150 Mbps over fiber-optic cable, which first came to this part of the county in 2007.
Its DSL service in the surrounding areas reaches 15 Mbps, five times the top Verizon speed that’s available in the Hinebaughs’ neighborhood. Hinebaugh looks at the speeds Verizon offers just a few miles away and scoffs. He knows that if Verizon offered higher speeds in his neighborhood like it does in the wealthy ones east of him, the competition might push down the price of Internet service and save his family some much-needed cash.

But he’s not holding his breath. “We live in an oligarchy.

That's pretty much how it goes,” Hinebaugh said. “It’s hard to change something that rich people have spent a lot of money putting in place.” "A big social problem" Neighborhoods such as the Hinebaughs’, where DSL providers such as Verizon and AT&T have chosen not to upgrade download speeds over 3 Mbps, represent an understandable economic decision by providers, said Nicholas Economides, an economist at New York University’s Leonard N.
Stern School of Business.

DSL providers tend to upgrade speeds to more than 3 Mbps in areas where they believe they can sell Internet TV, which means they avoid poorer areas they think can’t afford the higher speeds, he said. “That isn’t surprising,” Economides said. Economides is more concerned about the cost of Internet connections and the lack of competition that leads to higher prices for people like the Hinebaughs, who have just Comcast for high-speed internet because Verizon provides only that meager download speed in their neighborhood.

The number one reason cited for not purchasing a home Internet connection is by far the high cost, according to the Pew Research Center. “That’s a very serious issue, and a big social problem,” Economides said. “You need high-speed Internet for national reasons, to get information, to get educated.

That’s just not happening. We still have very high prices.” Verizon got permission to begin building its fiber-optic cable connections in Washington County in late 2007.

But the company abandoned expanding its Fios network in 2010.

Cities such as New York and Philadelphia have criticized Verizon for not living up to promises to wire the entire cities.
Some reports speculate that Verizon may consider expanding its fiber network in several cities, as it recently announced in Boston. But Verizon gives no indication as to whether it will wire poorer neighborhoods.

Company officials announced that it will use a free online registration process “to assess demand and help Verizon prioritize its fiber-optic network construction schedule.” Verizon didn’t reply to questions about its plans. AT&T is obligated to bring cheaper Internet connections to low-income areas under conditions imposed by the FCC when the company purchased Internet-satellite-provider DirecTV last year.

The speeds are required to reach 10 Mbps, still below what the FCC defines as broadband. “Many of these communities will see a tremendous leap in terms of speed in the move from dial-up connections to Fixed Wireless Internet,” AT&T said on its website. FCC conditions also require AT&T to deploy fiber to homes in 12.5 million locations nationwide, giving them access to high speeds.

But none of the wording in the conditions requires the company to connect low-income neighborhoods. AT&T had been expanding a souped-up version of its AT&T Fiber network, which can deliver speeds up to 100 Mbps, and its gigabit service.

AT&T announced last month an experimental network that it says will bring ultra-fast speeds to underserved and rural areas, presumably including low-income areas.

The network won’t begin testing until next year and wouldn’t be available for years, however. AT&T didn’t respond to requests for comment on the new network. For Hinebaugh, he said these efforts are too little, too late, leaving him with no hope that his neighborhood will ever get a choice of another high-speed provider. “Why are the rich entitled to a choice of fast speeds and other people aren't?” Hinebaugh asks. “It's like why even bother trying to change it? Why try to get ahead, because the system is built against you?” The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization based in Washington, DC.
EnlargeSAUL LOEB & ROBYN BECK AFP/Getty Images / Aurich Campaign 2016 FCC official: “Something’s not right” with Wi-Fi at Monday’s debate Trump: “The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough” Journalists must fork over $200 for Wi-Fi at presidential debate Trump takes on “Crooked Hillary” with Snapchat geofilter View more storiesreader comments 10 Share this story The 2016 presidential election is likely to have a major impact on how the US government tries to expand broadband deployment and how it regulates Internet service providers.

But while we have a pretty good idea of how a President Hillary Clinton would approach the broadband industry, there’s very little to go on when predicting broadband policy under a President Donald Trump. Clinton’s technology plan includes several initiatives designed to “deliver high-speed broadband to all Americans,” and it promises to defend network neutrality rules that prevent ISPs from discriminating against online services.

There are questions about how Clinton would implement the plan and whether it's aggressive enough to achieve 100 percent broadband deployment, and her campaign has declined to provide more specifics.

But the mere fact that Clinton has outlined some clear broadband goals sets the Democratic nominee apart from the other candidates. Republican nominee Donald Trump doesn’t seem to have any plan for increasing access to broadband, and there are indications that he would not support new consumer protection regulations. He weighed in on net neutrality, but only in a November 2014 tweet: Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media. — Donald J.

Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2014 The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a public policy think tank, recently analyzed Clinton’s and Trump’s positions on technology.

There were six broadband and telecommunications policy categories, and for five of them Trump was listed as having “no position” or having made no comment.

Trump had no position on wireless spectrum and 5G; a Communications Act update; broadband and telecom subsidies; broadband adoption and digital literacy; and broadband competition and public-private partnerships. Net neutrality was the one category where Trump had a position, but only because of the two-year-old tweet. Besides "that one tweet from 2014 on net neutrality, it's pretty much radio silence from the Trump camp," ITIF telecommunications policy analyst Doug Brake told Ars. Trump has finally just hired an aide to help him develop a telecom plan, Politico reported Friday.

The aide, Jeffrey Eisenach of the American Enterprise Institute, is described by Politico as "a crusader against regulation" and is a staunch opponent of net neutrality rules.

Eisenach's appointment suggests Trump might pursue a deregulatory telecommunications agenda, but the candidate still isn't talking publicly about specific policies. Brake didn’t endorse either candidate, but he said that when it comes to broadband, “Clinton at least has a plan. You can quibble with some of the details in it, but she has clearly thought hard about what the government’s role should be in promoting innovation and has policies that will work to promote innovation throughout the economy.” The ITIF describes itself as nonpartisan, but the group prefers a more conservative approach to telecommunications policy than the one chartered under President Obama and current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson has opposed net neutrality rules and Internet regulation in general, while Green Party nominee Jill Stein supports net neutrality rules.
Stein has called for universal broadband access—but she also claimed that wireless Internet signals can damage children’s brains despite a lack of scientific evidence to support such concerns. None of the four candidates has responded to our repeated requests for more details.
So with the clock ticking toward November 8, we’ll have to settle for examining their public statements. The Clinton broadband plan Clinton’s tech agenda describes the nation’s broadband problems as follows: “Millions of American households, particularly in rural areas, still lack access to any fixed broadband provider, around 30 percent of households across America have not adopted broadband (with much higher levels in low-income communities), and American consumers pay more for high-speed plans than consumers in some other advanced nations.” Enlarge / Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Clinton campaign Clinton cited research from the FCC, which defines broadband as Internet access with speeds of at least 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream, but she is flexible on what speeds the nation should strive for.

By 2020, she wants 100 percent of American households to have the option of buying affordable broadband at “speeds sufficient to meet families’ needs.” This wouldn’t necessarily involve stringing fiber wires to every home.

Clinton wants federal agencies to consider fiber, fixed wireless, and satellite technologies for bringing broadband to unserved areas. Here are some of her proposals: Continue investments in the Connect America Fund, the Rural Utilities Service program, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), and Lifeline. Use Lifeline to help people learn how to use the Internet and expand access to cheap devices. Create a competitive grant program encouraging local governments to reduce regulatory barriers to private investment; promote “dig once” programs that install fiber or fiber conduit during road construction projects; and develop public-private partnerships. Expand federal funding to bring free Wi-Fi and high-speed Internet to “recreation centers, public buildings like one-stop career centers, and transportation infrastructure such as train stations, airports, and mass transit systems.” Accelerate 5G cellular deployment and other wireless advances by reallocating and repurposing spectrum, and use federal research funding for “Internet of Things” test beds and field trials. Encourage state and local governments to relax rules that protect incumbents from new competitors, such as “local rules governing utility-pole access that restrain additional fiber and small cell broadband deployment.” Push federal agencies to identify anticompetitive practices “such as tying arrangements, price fixing, and exclusionary conduct,” and refer potential violations of antitrust law to the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission. (This proposal isn’t specific to broadband but could have an impact on ISPs.) Separately, Clinton pledged to defend the FCC’s net neutrality rules in court and continue to enforce them.
She also supports the FCC's related decision under Wheeler to reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act; Title II, while controversial, is the legal mechanism used to enforce the net neutrality rules. Clinton’s plan leaves out some of the specifics that will be needed to achieve her goals, and the plan proactively takes credit for 5G development that is likely to happen regardless of who wins the presidency.

But that doesn’t seem to bother Harold Feld, senior VP of Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group that generally supports Wheeler’s broadband deployment and net neutrality policies. “This is not the blueprint, this is the promise,” Feld said. “Once they get in, they're still going to have to do the blueprint, and that's when we'll see if they'll swing for the bleachers or just try to play it safe.” As a campaign platform, what Clinton has proposed is “very good,” he said. 100 percent deployment probably won’t happen, but setting the goal at 100 percent makes it more likely that she’ll get to 95 percent or so, Feld said. “The thing that worries me is this is a very incremental approach,” Feld said of Clinton’s plan. “It builds on what's out there now, it generally solidifies around basic points of agreement.” For example, Clinton hasn’t talked about whether the FCC should crack down on Internet data caps, but “those are not the kinds of things you put in a campaign platform,” Feld said. A Clinton FCC seems likely to continue on a path similar to the one taken by Obama and Wheeler. Yet she is getting support from the same telecom industry that bitterly opposed Wheeler’s net neutrality plan and many of his other initiatives. Telecom services and equipment companies donated $640,247 to Clinton this year, while giving just $19,319 to Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Clinton also won an endorsement from Jim Cicconi, a longtime GOP supporter and senior executive VP at AT&T—a company that sued the FCC to stop the net neutrality rules. “This year I think it’s vital to put our country’s well being ahead of party,” Cicconi said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Hillary Clinton is experienced, qualified, and will make a fine president.

The alternative, I fear, would set our nation on a very dark path.” Brake said he is hopeful that Clinton would take a more “pragmatic” approach than Wheeler.

Though Clinton supported Wheeler’s Title II net neutrality plan, Brake pointed to an interview Clinton gave last year in which she said net neutrality rules could alternatively have been imposed through an update of the Communications Act. That statement “indicates to me that she gets that Title II isn't something to be desired in and of itself,” Brake said.
It’s thus probably unlikely that a Clinton FCC would be more liberal than an Obama one, making things like network unbundling a long shot, Brake said. Trump's (lack of a) plan Trump, on the other hand, is a total wild card. He would like the FCC to fine journalists who are critical of him. Beyond that, there's little indication of how the FCC would operate if he’s elected, though not much would get done initially, as he has promised “a temporary moratorium on new agency regulations.” Though he did take a position on net neutrality back in 2014, it isn't an issue Trump continued talking about.

A lot has happened in net neutrality since Trump initially weighed in—the FCC passed its rules in February 2015 and defeated a broadband industry lawsuit this year. Even in a private, off-the-record meeting with tech industry groups, "Trump's team made clear it did not expect to craft a full, new tech platform," Politico reported, citing sources who attended the meeting. "But the GOP candidate's aides urged the industry to submit their recommendations for potential federal agency appointments—as well as regulations they'd like to see shredded if Trump is elected president, the sources said." “Clinton at least has a plan” for the broadband industry, Feld said. “Whether you think it’s a detailed enough plan, at least she understands the issue here and has a plan.

Trump’s plan is basically, 'if we wish hard enough for the things people like, we'll get them.'” Republican nominee Donald Trump. Trump campaign. Much would depend on who Trump nominates to lead the FCC.

A Republican president might be expected to consider the FCC’s current Republicans, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, who have opposed most of Wheeler’s major initiatives.

But it’s difficult to even make a guess on what industry a Trump FCC chairperson would come from. “If he pulls somebody from Silicon Valley to do this, it’s going to be very different than if he pulls someone from the cable or telco world,” Feld said.

But, again, it’s not clear what kind of chairperson Trump would prefer. “That means you really just can’t tell because I don’t think he's going to involve himself in any of the details,” Feld said. If Eisenach becomes FCC chairman or plays a big role in determining Trump policies, Feld said the agenda would be "voraciously pro-corporate and anti-consumer," representing "bad news for competition, and bad news for consumers." (We were unable to get an interview with Eisenach.) Trump may have developed relationships with broadband industry executives and lawyers when he was a reality TV show star, so perhaps he would nominate someone from the broadcast industry. “It’s total speculation, but he could go with an existing Republican commissioner or some random lawyer that he's worked with before,” Brake said. “It seems a total possibility that he could pick a random friend that he's worked with before. Who knows.” As for Eisenach, Brake said he is "a well-known champion of light-touch regulation in telecom." Wheeler’s five-year term technically extends into 2018, but FCC chairs usually leave their post the same year a new president takes office. Wheeler would thus likely move on in the months after the January 2017 inauguration. Wheeler has not disclosed his plans, which seem to hinge on the election's outcome.

A Bloomberg report said he intends to stay until the middle of 2017 if Clinton is elected.

That isn’t an unusual timeline, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Wheeler leave earlier than that if Trump wins. Party changes in the White House tend to be followed by quick exits for FCC chairs, and, during a recent Congressional hearing, Wheeler himself hinted that he might leave quickly if Trump wins. Speculation about who Clinton might nominate as FCC chairperson has included Susan Ness, a former FCC commissioner and one of Clinton’s biggest fundraisers; and Karen Kornbluh, a Nielsen executive and former US ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to Politico. Feld said Clinton’s choice of FCC chair might depend on her other appointments.

For example, if Clinton wins the presidency and appoints a moderate to head up the Justice Department’s antitrust division, she might face pressure to make a more liberal appointment to the FCC, he said.

That could work the other way, too.
If Clinton appoints a vigorous antitrust enforcer at the DOJ, she might choose someone more moderate for the FCC, Feld speculated. “Unlike Trump, where you can't tell what’s going to happen because he doesn’t care about the details, with Clinton you can’t tell what’s going to happen because she will care enormously about the details,” Feld said. Green Party and Libertarian candidates Just like Clinton and Trump, the campaigns of Stein and Johnson did not answer our questions about their broadband and net neutrality policies. Stein’s platform vows to “protect the free Internet,” and she has called broadband Internet access a “human right.” But she doesn’t seem to offer a plan for making broadband deployment universal.
She's also skeptical about the use of Wi-Fi and cell phones. Access to information is a right, not a commodity.

The Internet is a public asset we must defend from corporate stranglehold. #NetNeutrality — Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) June 14, 2016 At a campaign event this year, Stein was asked about health effects of wireless Internet in schools.
She responded, “we should not be subjecting kids’ brains, especially, to that. We don’t follow that issue in this country, but in Europe, where they do, they have good precautions around wireless, maybe not good enough.
It’s very hard to study this stuff. We make guinea pigs out of whole populations and then we discover how many die.” Enlarge / Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Stein campaign. In a Q&A on her website, Stein denied that her concern about Wi-Fi undermines the Green Party’s call to make broadband access a taxpayer-funded utility. Feld said that “it is difficult for me to be objective about Jill Stein in that she basically treats the tremendous amount of advocacy that I and others have done on wireless and Wi-Fi in schools as being a crime against public health.
I do not see how you can manage a modern FCC when you essentially apply the same principles of pseudo-science to wireless that the anti-vaxxer crowd applies to vaccines.” Johnson’s platform doesn’t include a plan for accelerating broadband deployment, but he and other Libertarians generally prefer free market solutions instead of government intervention. His platform has a section on preserving “Internet freedom and security” that objects to regulation of the Internet in general, with an emphasis on privacy rights. “There is nothing wrong with the Internet that I want the government to fix,” Johnson said. Johnson opposes attempts to increase the government’s ability to monitor private information, saying that we shouldn’t be “throwing away our right to privacy” in order to boost security. Enlarge / Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson. Johnson campaign. Johnson’s platform doesn’t specifically address net neutrality, but he has spoken about his opposition to network neutrality rules in years past. With “net neutrality, the notion is that it’s going to create a freer environment when the reality is… is there really an issue now?" Johnson said during a Q&A in 2011. "And if you get government involved in getting its nose in the tent isn’t this ultimately gonna make things a lot worse and cost us a lot more than just doing nothing? So all of my free market friends, all of my computer-savvy people that are advising me, say that net neutrality is anything but.

All of what's it supposed to accomplish that actually by supporting it you’re creating the opposite." The modern, controversial FCC The FCC under the Obama administration has taken on a much greater public prominence, which peaked during the net neutrality debate that inspired 4 million public comments.

Tom Wheeler has been the subject of John Oliver skits and been called to testify at many contentious Congressional hearings led by Republicans who want the FCC to impose fewer regulations on Internet providers. Whoever wins the presidency and has to choose the next FCC chair will face a highly scrutinized decision.

A conservative nominee would draw outrage from consumer advocates who pushed for strong net neutrality rules, while a liberal choice could face plenty of criticism, especially if the Senate (which confirms nominees) remains in Republican hands. Already, the Senate is refusing to extend the term of Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel unless Wheeler promises to step down after the election. “After the net neutrality decision there was no doubt, there is going to be a lot of scrutiny of who the next choice of FCC chair is going to be,” Feld said. “The FCC has achieved a lot of visibility, and not just from the left but from the right.”