Bridge Span 18-10: Streamlining the Future: Reducing Resistance to Broadband Everywhere

Next week, the Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to move forward on the ‘Streamlining The Rapid Evolution And Modernization of Leading-edge Infrastructure Necessary to Enhance Small Cell Deployment Act’’ or the ‘‘STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act.” The goal of the legislation is to modernize the process for and speed the deployment of small antennas or “small cells” required in the building of 5G infrastructure, the next generation of wireless connectivity.

5G is not just a single system but rather is a system of systems that will work with previous technologies, and that will also require new infrastructure, including small antennas, as well as new investments in many miles of new fiber, cell towers and base stations. 5G will be a mash up of existing and new technologies, including Wi-Fi, and improvements in both wireless and wired connections to complete the communications loop. For example, 5G providers will continue to use wireline infrastructure to backhaul data between the backbone and the local networks. But, overall there will be more antennas in more places, allowing more wireless connectivity where it makes sense, particularly in cities.

This ubiquity of high speeds, a hundred times faster than 4G, will enable more of everything valued in broadband and open the world to promised technological advancements such as remote surgery, and tactile real-time feedback for robotics and self-driving vehicles. With so much to be coordinated, and demand ever increasing, artificial slow-downs due to government reviews that no longer fit the facts should not be tolerated.

Earlier this year the FCC pursued some reform, moving to spur real investment on the infrastructure of today and tomorrow by updating a federal regulatory scheme designed for completely different technology. But more is needed, not just for wireless deployments but also for fiber deployments, and not just federally but also by the states and localities across the country.

The Act itself has three primary pieces to help speed along deployment. Consumers should not be denied technological advancement because of a lack of cooperation with a locality, or because the reviewer sees the application as an opportunity to shake down the industry, as has happened time and time again for decades. So, when it comes to review of small cell siting applications, a 90-day deadline is created for localities to act. If the locality does not act, the application is “deemed granted.”

Again, to make sure that opportunism does not stall progress, the legislation ensures that fees for applications are publicly disclosed and include only the actual costs incurred by the locality. In a similar vein, the Act seeks to ensure that all siting applications are reviewed on a competitively neutral and technology neutral basis, not based on unfair restrictions that favor certain providers over others and, in the process, impede broadband deployment.

While 5G will be great for hyper local applications and will be abundant in smart cities, a smart America will take a broader and familiar approach, using a combination of new fiber and wireless. Other technologies, such as satellite, will also play a role. Just last week, in a hearing to discuss ways to promote greater broadband in rural areas, fixed wireless was discussed extensively. One company, Midco, has been able to provide 80 percent of its rural customers with high speed Internet using fixed wireless services.

To have more success like this in cities, suburbs, and rural communities, states and localities should continue in the same direction as the federal government. One easy improvement would be to require that conduits (plastic pipes thorough which wires can be pulled) be installed as a part of all appropriate infrastructure projects. This so called “dig once” approach saves money and also allows for more rapid deployment of new technologies. Improving access to rights of way on a technology-neutral basis would also be a step in the right direction. As with the STREAMLINE Act, access to rights of way should be accelerated, with applications to build out broadband infrastructure given priority.

Additionally, fees for right of way access should be minimized for all broadband facilities, regardless of the technology used, and no provider should have to pay multiple recurring fees for access to the same rights-of-way. Similarly, rates for the attachment of broadband equipment and lines to existing poles must be carefully considered to avoid arbitrary rate increases on only some providers, which slow deployment, increase costs to consumers, and inhibit fair competition.

Such technology neutrality has a great benefit — bringing all qualified broadband providers to the market enhances competition and ultimately benefits consumers. Both wireline and wireless infrastructure need to be considered, as both are necessary. While widely dispersed populations, such as those in rural areas of the United States, can be challenging to serve profitably, federal, state, and local governments can help in removing barriers. All said, streamlining processes for wireless installation is one piece of the puzzle that brings a robust broadband future to all of us.

Bridge Span 18-9: They Said It Best When They Said Nothing at All

For years, perhaps decades, or perhaps forever, Washington D.C. has been the butt of jokes with punchlines about how the political class talks and talks and talks while little gets solved. But sometimes Congress speaks by staying quiet. Sometimes doing nothing really is an actively made decision. Multiple U.S. Supreme Court justices seem to understand this even if pro-expansionist government advocates have repeatedly missed the point.

Several states, led by South Dakota, undertook a scheme to overturn current law, intentionally passing unconstitutional laws to bait the Supreme Court into acting. And it worked. In South Dakota v. Wayfair, heard by the Court last month, the Court was asked to determine whether in fact there are limits on state taxing authority or in other words, whether state authority to tax and enforce is as deep and broad as the internet. The real goal of South Dakota and others who support the state’s efforts is to remove any restraints on how far a state can reach into other states across the country to tax and regulate the other state’s citizens. To achieve their end they would have the Court create law where Congress has decided not to do so by overturning the current rules as governed by the earlier Supreme Court decision in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota. Those rules prevent states from collecting sales taxes on purchases made remotely, such as via internet, catalog unless the seller had a physical presence in the state.

During oral arguments the Court seemed skeptical. As Chief Justice Roberts pointed out, if Congress wanted to change the rules they had plenty of time and opportunity to do so. Congress could have already made a decision, the decision that the current standards for when a state can force the collection of tax and compliance with their rules have worked fine for the last twenty-six years and that the issue need not be revisited. Justice Breyer pointed out that in fact, at least several in Congress had spoken directly to the issue. He noted that three Senators and Congressman Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, made clear that Congress was about to act but stopped when the Court moved to decide the Wayfair case. But the states did not want to compromise and it seems their own scheme is working against them.

Justice Kagan went even further in suggesting that Congress not acting may in fact be the action, “[U]sually, when somebody says something like that, that Congress has not addressed an issue for 25-plus years, you know, it — it gives us reason to pause, because Congress could have addressed the issue and Congress chose not to. This is a very prominent issue which Congress has been aware of for a very long time and has chosen not to do something about that. And that seems to make the — your bar higher to surmount, isn’t it?” Such questioning also implies that this is an area that should be left to Congress. Justice Kagan continued by pointing out that when the Court gets involved a binary option develops, Law or no law, whereas Congress has the capacity to craft a compromise that addresses the wide range of issues involved.

Justice Alito pulled on the same thread when he asked if the Court overruled Quill, ruling in support of South Dakota’s arguments, what incentives the states would have to continue to work for a congressional solution. Of course, there would be no incentive which is in large measure the strategy the states have pursued – to have their way without having to find solutions acceptable to all.

As Justice Breyer pointed out, if the fifty states were truly as united as suggested by South Dakota there is no more powerful group to move Congress. “And you are 50 states. If you do not have the power to get Congress to do something, I don’t know who would.”

In Justice Breyer’s point the truth is told – the states that support their pro higher tax, bigger government plan do not speak for the country. In fact, they speak for a small minority of the people. When constituents understand the legal scheme that has been underway the politicians tax agencies who crafted and pushed the cynical plan will have wished that they, like congress, had intentionally said nothing at all.

Bridge Span 18-8: Behold! The Free Market Works

Yesterday Comcast announced that it is in the market for buying most of the media assets of Twenty-First Century Fox for cash, preparing a bid to best Disney which already made an offer. The media will call this a “bidding war,” but the truth behind the hyperbole is that this is the free market operating as it should. The bidding highlights the robust competitive marketplace in online video.

This healthy level of competition can be seen across the technology and communications industries. Ironically Washington, D.C. seems to want to ignore such obvious evidence most recently with a Senate vote to reverse the FCC on its order to lift restrictions on the internet. That decision followed on the heels of what should have been widely understood as an embarrassing Senate hearing about Facebook. Nevertheless, despite the demonstrated ignorance the Senators involved in questioning during the hearing, the chamber has continued its sophistry asserting that competition is scarce.

But the desire of competitors to acquire Fox’s media assets should make plain at least this fact – that the technology and communications industries are highly competitive and filled with valuable assets, intellectual and otherwise. The daily fight is to bring the best to consumers to justify the value of those assets, or to add complimentary assets to drive even greater value to consumers. The value in this proposed deal is not just in the U.S. but around the world. Many of the assets up for sale are located globally.

That U.S. companies are growing internationally, either organically or through acquisition, typically indicates a strong industry and a strong U.S. economy. That is true in this case. Compare that to when international companies are buying up assets in the U.S., that is typically a signal that our economy is hurting and that the assets are a good buy…for someone else. Importantly, the international operations considered here would allow more effective competition in the robust global landscape by gaining some advantages of scale.

The owners, the shareholders, will have the final say in who can purchase the assets. They should act in their best interests as they are, in fact, the owners of the business, owners of the property that has been built and created in the private sector. The market is working. Sellers are wanting to sell, buyers are lining up with their best offers, the owners will make a decision in the best interest of the shareholders, and the U.S. economy will benefit with consumers winning, both here and around the world.