Wednesday, March 31, 2021

California's Net Neutrality Law Threatens Veterans' Telehealth

On March 30, Free State Foundation President Randolph May and I published an op-ed in Real Clear Markets that calls attention to how  the VA Video Connect App is jeopardized by California's bad "net neutrality" regulation. The state's law flatly bans all "sponsored data" and "free data" plans that include specific websites or apps rather than to entire "categories." As we discuss in our op-ed, California's law jeopardizes the VA's app for providing telehealth to low income and rural veterans free of data usage charges. For more on the unwise and anti-consumer effects of California's law, be sure to check out our op-ed -- which has been republished at Multichannel News

Monday, March 29, 2021

Data Shows 5G Network Connections Surge in 2020

A March 25 press release by 5G Americas titled "5G Achieves Mass Market Appeal" summarizes year-end progress in next-generation network deployment for North America and for the globe. According to the press release, which is based on data collected by Omdia, worldwide 5G connections grew to 401 million last year, with a rate of adoption three times faster than 4G LTE adoption. Although the press release didn't include country-specific totals, it did touch on 5G deployment in the for region consisting of the U.S. and Canada:

Broken down regionally, North America had 19.96 million 5G connections and 499 million LTE connections by the end of Q4 2020. For the region, this amounts to a 4098% annual growth in 5G, and a gain of over 19.5 million 5G connections over the year. Meanwhile, 4G LTE gained over 22 million connections in 2020, which represents 4.7% growth.

Additionally, Omdia forecasted that 5G will reach 451 million in North America by the end of 2025. For more findings and forecasts, see 5G America's press release.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

A Court Defends Federal Policy Promoting Deployment of Wireless Infrastructure

A recent federal court decision has dealt the latest whack to the mole that is local government intransigence, at least in some parts of the country, to rapid wireless infrastructure deployment.

As a nation, Americans generally acknowledge that technological innovation improves consumers' lives. New 5G wireless networks, one of the latest such examples, offer substantially faster speeds, facilitate innovative use cases, and, in many instances, provide a viable substitute to fixed broadband offerings. U.S. mobile carriers have established a first-mover advantage in the global race to 5G, and maintenance of that benefit-generating lead hinges upon the timely upgrade of network infrastructure.

Nevertheless, there exists a storied history of many state and local governments placing revenue-generating and other parochial interests above that greater good.

In response, Congress passed Section 6409(a) (47 U.S.C. § 1455) as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. It states in relevant part that "a State or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible facilities request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base station."

In 2014, the FCC adopted rules implementing Section 6409(a). One such provision, Section 1.6100(c), establishes a 60-day shot clock pursuant to which "the State or local government shall approve the application unless it determines that the application is not covered by this section."

In the fall of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased network demands that it generated, T-Mobile submitted more than 80 applications to make non-substantial modifications to existing wireless infrastructure in San Francisco. The city did not act on every one of those applications within the 60-day window, and eventually the matter ended up before the Northern California District Court.

On March 19, 2021, the court issued an Order granting, in part, T-Mobile's motions for summary judgment and a preliminary injunction.

This dispute is somewhat unique. The parties agree on the basic facts: that the applied-for modifications qualify as "eligible facilities request[s]" under Section 6409(a), that San Francisco failed to act upon T-Mobile's applications before the 60-day shot clock expired, that T-Mobile provided the city with the required notifications thereafter, and even that those applications are "deemed granted" under Section 1.6100(c)(4) of the Commission's rules.

The controversy, instead, centers on the specific judicial remedies to which T-Mobile is entitled.

T-Mobile sought injunctive relief in the form of a court-issued mandate to grant the requested permits. Understandably, it wanted the administrative certainty that comes with possession of such a document.

In its Reply in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion for Preliminary Injunction (PACER account required), T-Mobile highlighted the fact that, in the Commission's 2014 Report and Order implementing Section 6409(a), it expressly stated that "[w]ith respect to the appropriate forum for redress or for resolving disputes, including disputes over the application of the deemed granted rule, we find that the most appropriate course for a party aggrieved by operation of Section 6409(a) is to seek relief from a court of competent jurisdiction."

Accordingly, T-Mobile maintained that it was entitled to a preliminary injunction directing the city to issue permits for the applications that the city did not dispute were "deemed granted."

The city countered that the Fourth Circuit's 2015 decision in Montgomery County, MD v. FCC, holding that Section 6409(a) does not run afoul of the Supreme Court's anti-commandeering doctrine, is premised on the fact that it "does not require the states to take any action at all, because the 'deemed granted' remedy obviates the need for the states to affirmatively approve applications."

Citing the seminal Supreme Court anti-commandeering cases Murphy v. NCAA and Printz v. United States, San Francisco asserted that the availability of the judicial relief that T-Mobile sought – a preliminary injunction imposing an affirmative duty upon the city to issue permits – would render Section 6409(a) unconstitutional.

In its minimalist Order, the court essentially sidestepped this issue. Specifically, it (1) concluded as a general matter that Section 6409(a) does not violate the anti-commandeering doctrine, and (2) refused to require the city to issue the permits – without weighing in explicitly on whether any interdependency exists between the former and the latter.

For more on the anti-commandeering doctrine and Section 6409(a), please read Free State Foundation Director of Policy Studies and Senior Fellow Seth L. Cooper's July 2018 Perspectives from FSF Scholars, "FCC's Proposals Promoting Infrastructure Deployment Don't Violate Anti-Commandeering Rule."

Returning to the whack-a-mole metaphor I used at the top, this decision, along with the FCC's June 2020 5G Upgrade Order that Mr. Cooper discussed in two posts to the FSF Blog, highlight the determination with which some local governments defend and maintain their approval power – and the important efforts by the FCC and the courts to beat back those attempts.

In its Reply, T-Mobile alleged that the city, in a direct attempt to defy the intent of Section 6409(a), "continued to process applications, including issuing notices for nearly all of the October Deemed Granted Applications after T-Mobile deemed those applications granted, asserting that T-Mobile's applications conflict with City zoning, building, and health and safety codes."

The court took action to block this end run around Section 6409(a) by issuing a preliminary injunction stating that the city is "estopped from imposing penalties or in any way preventing T-Mobile from proceeding with installations for T-Mobile's deemed granted applications."

Similar efforts to craft workarounds to the FCC's 2014 rules implementing Section 6409(a) became apparent in the years after their adoption. As Commissioner Brendan Carr acknowledged in a 2020 speech, "sometimes our rules are being read to delay or block what should be straightforward projects."

As a result, Commissioner Carr spearheaded the effort leading to adoption of the 5G Upgrade Order, which offered clarifications designed to "provide greater certainty to applicants for State and local government approval of wireless facility modifications, as well as to the reviewing government agencies, [which] should accelerate the deployment of advanced wireless networks."

It appears that, left unchecked, some local governments might pursue any means necessary to reclaim the power they once wielded over mobile carriers via the permitting process. The Northern California District Court's recent Order is the latest example of responsive actions to stay one step ahead of such efforts – and, in doing so, defend and advance the federal policy to prioritize the rapid deployment of communications infrastructure, including 5G networks, that benefit all Americans.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Comcast Will Invest $1 Billion to Connect Low-Income Americans with its Internet Essentials Program

For a decade now, Comcast's Internet Essentials program has been bringing affordable broadband connections to low-income Americans. On the occasion of the program's tenth anniversary, Comcast has released a progress report that looks back on the program's accomplishments in closing digital divides. The report coincides with Comcast's announcement that it will dedicate $1 billion to the Internet Essentials program's future efforts bring broadband to 50 million more Americans with limited financial resources.

According to its 10-Year Progress Report, the Internet Essentials program has invested $700 million and helped connect 100 million Americans to the Internet. Some 40% of the growth in broadband adoption in Comcast's service footprint among low-income households with school-age children can be attributed to the Internet essentials program. Comcast also has provided subsidized laptops to 130,000 people with low-income. The program offers the option to purchase a low-cost computer for under $150. 

Since the program started, broadband Internet speeds have increased from 1.5 Mbps in 2011 to 50 Mbps in 2021 – with the discount service price holding constant at $9.95 per month.

Free State Foundation President Randolph May has written about the Internet Essentials program in prior blog posts, including in 202020192018, and 2017.

Comcast's announcement that it will commit $1 billion to connecting low-income students, seniors, community centers, and non-profit organizations, including with WiFi technology, is terrific news. Many more low-income Americans surely will benefit from broadband Internet as a result of this significant private sector investment. Comcast deserves recognition for taking initiative and dedicating resources to bring more low-income Americans online. Here's to the next decade of the Internet Essentials program.

Video of Fireside Chat with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr Now Available

As part of the Free State Foundation's Thirteenth Annual Telecom Policy Conference, FSF President Randolph May and I hosted a Fireside Chat with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. The discussion included policy topics such as net neutrality regulation, spectrum management and auctions, infrastructure siting, OpenRAN networks, and Section 230 immunity for Big Tech platforms. Commissioner Carr offered important insights throughout, including on the issue of the Commission's spectrum screen. Video of the March 23 event is now available. Be sure to check it out!

Monday, March 22, 2021

IP Commission Recommends Policies to Protect Americans from Theft

On March 15, the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property released its 2021 review report containing policy recommendations for strengthening protections for American intellectual property from theft by China and pirates in other foreign nations. As the IP Commission's report points out, "IP-intensive industries support more than 45 million U.S. jobs," but IP theft inflicts on the U.S. economy hundreds of billions in annual losses as well as reduced investment and innovation. The report's policy recommendations include statutory authorization for the Secretary of Commerce to be the principal officer on all aspects of IP protection as well as authorization for the U.S. Trade Representative to develop and implement a national IP protection strategy and coordinate interagency efforts. It also recommends that U.S. policy make it a goal to delegitimize communist Chinese business efforts that are dependent on IP theft. Without staking definitive positions here on the report's recommendations, suffice to say they deserve careful consideration. Additionally, the IP Commission released a backgrounder that describes recent and ongoing legislative efforts to strengthen American IP protections. 

As mentioned in previous blog posts, the IP Commission has issued important reports that highlight the massive economic losses and harms suffered by U.S. innovators and our economy due to theft of copyrighted works, patented inventions, and other forms of IP. The 117th Congress and federal agencies must make protection of American IP for foreign bad actors in communist China and other nations. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Video of FSF Fireside Chat with FTC Commissioners Noah Phillips & Christine Wilson

To kick off the Free State Foundation's Thirteenth Annual Telecom Policy Conference, FSF President Randolph May moderated a Fireside Chat with FTC Commissioners Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson. Theodore Bolema, a member of the FSF Board of Academic Advisors, also participated. Policy topics included antitrust, data privacy, and Section 230 immunity for Big Tech platforms. Video of the March 19 event is now available online:

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Report: Global Online Video Service Subscriptions Grew 26 Percent in 2020 to 1.1 Billion

The Motion Picture Association today released a report on the theatrical and home/mobile entertainment market.

It highlights the dramatic increase in subscriptions to online video services during 2020, the year of the pandemic.

Some additional data points:

  • Global online video service subscriptions broke the one-billion barrier for the first time.
  • Worldwide subscriptions totaled 1.1 billion in 2020, a year-to-year increase of 26 percent.
  • Subscriptions in the U.S. alone exceeded 308 million, a 32 percent increase from 2019.
  • Global revenues for home/mobile entertainment (that is, content released digitally and on disc) grew by 23 percent, to nearly $69 billion.
  • A higher portion of surveyed American adults – 55 percent – reported consuming more content online than the 46 percent who indicated they had watched more pay TV.
  • Over 85 percent of those between the ages of 2 and 17 reported that they watched full-length TV shows or movies on a mobile device.

The "2020 THEME Report" is available here.

The borderless Internet + a Bad CA State Law = Harm to AT&T Consumers Nationwide

Earlier this week, in a Perspectives from FSF Scholars addressing the flurry of legislative activity on data privacy at the state level, I once again made the case for a preemptive federal law. One of the arguments I put forth was based on the fact that, "[b]y design, Internet traffic recognizes no political boundaries, national or international."

Yesterday's news that AT&T, in light of California's so-called "net neutrality" law (SB 822), no longer will "zero rate" access to HBO Max and its other streaming video services for all U.S. customers underscores this point in an unfortunate and anti-consumer fashion.

California hasn't just adopted SB 822, it also was the first state to pass comprehensive data privacy legislation, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). As I explained in "Inconsistent State Data Privacy Laws Increase Confusion and Costs," when the CCPA went into effect at the beginning of 2020, many businesses – 60 percent, according to one survey – made the rational decision "to comply with its provisions nationally rather than take on the risk associated with attempts to identify which of their customers are and are not California residents."

AT&T is taking a similar approach with respect to the data used by its customers to access its video streaming services, including HBO Max and AT&T TV.

Prior to the recent decision by a federal district court denying plaintiffs' request to stay the effectiveness of SB 822, AT&T did not count access to its video apps toward the data caps that apply to some of its service packages. This feature, which AT&T markets as "Data Free TV," clearly is pro-consumer.

SB 822, however, prohibits fixed and mobile broadband providers from (1) "[e]ngaging in zero-rating in exchange for consideration, monetary or otherwise, from a third party" and (2) "[z]ero-rating some Internet content, applications, services, or devices in a category of Internet content, applications, services, or devices, but not the entire category."

According to a press report, on Wednesday AT&T communicated to its customers that, because "the Internet does not recognize state borders," its new policy will apply nationwide. AT&T stated further that "[a] state-by-state approach to 'net neutrality' is unworkable" and "[a] patchwork of state regulations, many of them overly restrictive, creates roadblocks to creative and pro-consumer solutions."

Free State Foundation Director of Policy Studies and Senior Fellow Seth L. Cooper posted yesterday to highlight tweets that he and FSF President Randolph J. May authored regarding the consumer harm that will result from SB 822's zero-rating ban. Mr. May also co-wrote a Perspectives from FSF Scholars criticizing SB 822 shortly after it was passed by the California state legislature in 2018, making the point that:

Zero-rated services, or "free data plans," are popular, consumer-friendly offerings that allow consumers to have unlimited access to specific websites or applications without such access counting towards monthly data caps or thresholds. Consumers, and particularly low-income consumers, benefit from accessing "free data" without paying a monetary fee.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

California-Style Net Neutrality Regulation Hurts Wireless Consumers

Below are tweets from today by Free State Foundation President Randolph May and I regarding the negative consequences for everyday wireless consumers from CA SB 822 -- California's state restrictive "net neutrality" law. 

Keep in mind that no major broadband Internet service provider blocks or degrades its subscribers' connections to legal content of their choice. Rather, dozens and dozens of broadband ISPs pledge, in their terms of service, not to do those things. Under the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom Order, broadband ISPs' anti-blocking and anti-degrading pledges are legally enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission. California's law appeals to Big Tech players like Google and Facebook -- who delete, disclaim, and shadow-ban content all the time, and in seemingly arbitrary and ideologically-driven fashion. But SB 822 isn't making wireless and other broadband consumers any better off.  

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Report Spotlights Broadband "Power Users" and Usage-Based Billing

The OpenVault Broadband Insights (OVBI) report for the fourth quarter of 2020 estimates broadband consumption growth amidst the pandemic and lockdowns. It also offers updated comparisons of data consumption habits of subscribers to flat-rate billing (FRB) and usage-based billing (UBB) plans.

According to the OVBI report, "[t]he monthly weighted average data (both FRB and UBB) consumed by subscribers in 4Q20 was 482.6 GB, up 40% from 2019." OVBI calls this an "explosion in data consumption." Moreover, 53.6% of all subscribers now regularly consume more than 250 GB of data every month. And OVBI's "power user" category showed continued acceleration, as more than 14% of weighted average subscribers now consume in excess of 1 TB of data each month – a 94% increase from just 2019. Meanwhile, "extreme power users" – who consume over 2 TB per month – grew 184% compared to the last quarter of 2019 and 120% compared to the third quarter of 2020. As of the last quarter of 2020, extreme power users constituted 2.2% of all subscribers. 

These stunning increases in monthly subscriber data consumption are enabled by faster broadband Internet connections. According to the report: "For the first time, over half (50.6%) of subscribers are now provisioned for the 100 – 200 Mbps speed tier." Also, overall subscribers provisioned for gigabit broadband speeds climbed to 8.5% in the last quarter of 2020 – up more than 300% compared to a year before and up nearly 51% compared to the third quarter of 2020.


Additionally, the report estimates that broadband Internet service providers offering unlimited FRB packages have about 30% more extreme power users than providers offering UBB packages.  According to the report, "[m]oving to a UBB approach has proven to curtail extreme power users and the network management challenge they create." Given that the average monthly broadband data consumption per-subscriber is about 483 GB and far below average monthly consumption of power users and extreme power users, UBB offers a way for broadband Internet service providers to address network congestion and also to charge less to subscribers who use less while charging more to subscribers who use much more.  

As I noted in a December 2020 blog post, it is important that the FCC continues to uphold the entrepreneurial freedom of broadband Internet providers to offer billing plans that match the differing demands of both lower-volume and higher-volume users. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Commissioner Carr's 5G Policy Roadmap Prioritizes More Spectrum, Modernized Infrastructure Rules

Earlier today, in an address hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr detailed his vision for continued American leadership in the race to 5G.

Mark your calendars: Commissioner Carr will participate in a fireside chat with Free State Foundation President Randolph J. May next Tuesday at 11 am EDT as part of FSF's Thirteenth Annual Telecom Policy Conference.

Characterizing the FCC's extensive efforts to accelerate the deployment of 5G under then-Chairman Ajit Pai as "one of the great success stories of the past four years," Commissioner Carr explained that that progress came to pass because the agency "bet on America's free enterprise system" and "went with a tried and true playbook – freeing up more spectrum and modernizing our infrastructure rules."

Looking ahead, Commissioner Carr identified a number of actions the agency can take in these two areas to ensure that the U.S. continues to reap the benefits of a first-mover advantage in 5G.

With regard to spectrum, he recommended a number of additional steps in 2021, including:

  • Auctioning 100 MHz in the 3.45 GHz – 3.55 GHz band and adopting rules that allow licensees to operate at sufficient power levels for 5G;
  • Auctioning 100+ MHz of mid-band spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band;
  • In the 6 GHz band, authorizing (1) very low power (VLP) devices, and (2) device-to-device communications;
  • Increasing permissible power levels in the 3.5 GHz (CBRS) band;
  • Updating the rules for the 5470-5725 MHz (U-NII-2C) band; and
  • Working with Congress to reauthorize the Commission's auction authority.

In 2022 and beyond, he suggested that still more spectrum might be made available between 1300 MHz and 1350 MHz, in the 42 GHz band, below 3.45 GHz, in the 4.8 GHz band, between 7.125 and 8.4 GHz, and above 95 GHz.

In terms of infrastructure reform, Commissioner Carr has led efforts to eliminate bureaucratic red tape; update rules, including those relating to environmental and historic preservation concerns; expedite small-cell deployments; and streamline local approval processes. He highlighted that, as a consequence, the number of new cell sites built annually has increased dramatically, from just over 700 in 2016 to more than 46,000 in 2019.

Moving forward, he urged the FCC to:

  • Make updated broadband maps available later this year, which would allow it to begin the 5G Fund for Rural America auction in early 2022;
  • Create a Federal Lands Desk at the Commission to facilitate 5G infrastructure construction on federal lands;
  • Revise its cost-sharing rules for replacing utility poles;
  • Expand his 5G jobs initiative to double the number of tower techs and telecom crew members; and
  • Reject regulatory proposals, including calls to subsidize private network overbuilds and reclassify broadband under Title II, that discourage private sector investment.

A copy of Commissioner Carr's prepared remarks is available on the FCC's website.

Expect to hear more on 5G, among other timely topics, during Commissioner Carr's fireside chat, which will take place virtually, via Zoom, on Tuesday, March 23, 2021, at 11:00 am EDT.

Please click here to register.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Florida Vies for Bronze in Race to Create Patchwork of State Data Privacy Laws

Florida seems likely to become the third state, after California and Virginia, to adopt a comprehensive data policy law.

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) has been in effect since the beginning of 2020. Given the inability of Congress thus far to reach consensus on federal legislation, the CCPA has served as the de facto U.S. data privacy law for over a year. Last November, voters approved the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), which will expand upon the CCPA in numerous ways at the beginning of 2023.

On March 2, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam added the second square to the quilt when he signed into law the Consumer Data Privacy Act, the details of which I described in a February 5 post to the FSF Blog. Like the CPRA, it becomes effective on January 1, 2023.

A number of additional states, including Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, and Washington State, are considering comprehensive data privacy legislation. Florida, however, appears poised to be the next to act.

On February 15, Florida House of Representatives member Fiona McFarland introduced House Bill (H.B.) 969. The draft legislation, which has the support of Governor Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, on Wednesday received unanimous committee approval upon its first reading.

H.B. 969 would establish a number of consumer data privacy rights: the right to know what personal information businesses collect; rights to receive a copy of, correct, and delete that data; and the right to opt-out of its sale to third parties. It also would prohibit discrimination against a consumer who exercises any of these rights.

In addition, H.B. 969 would impose a requirement to delete collected data "after satisfaction of the initial purpose for collecting or obtaining such information, or after the duration of a contract, or 1 year after the consumer's last interaction with the business, whichever comes first."

The Department of Legal Affairs would be responsible for enforcing the provisions of H.B. 969. However, businesses first would be afforded a 30-day opportunity to cure.

Of perhaps greatest concern, H.B. 969 also would establish a private right of action in connection with a data breach. Affected consumers could pursue both (1) up to $750 in statutory damages or actual damages, whichever is greater, and (2) injunctive or declaratory relief.

If passed, H.B. 969 would go into effect at the beginning of next year.

Be on the lookout for additional commentary from the Free State Foundation on state data privacy laws in the coming days.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

FSF President Randolph May Commends Bill to Reform FCC Merger Reviews

A March 9 feature article at discusses Sen. Mike Lee's reintroduction of the One Agency Act in the 117th Congress. If the bill becomes law, it would consolidate agency merger reviews at the U.S. Department of Justice. Additionally, the bill would remove the authority of the FCC and state public utility commissions to conduct duplicative competitive analyses in reviewing mergers. 

Free State Foundation President Randolph May is quoted in the article. While FSF President May takes no position on the DOJ/FTC antitrust consolidation, he does commend the provisions relating to reforming the FCC's transaction review process:

The part of the One Agency Act that prevents the FCC and state public utility commissions from duplicating the Department of Justice's analysis of a transaction's competitive effects makes eminent sense. And the bill's limitations on the FCC's invocation of its vague "public interest" authority, which the agency often has abused by imposing a multitude of conditions unrelated to any impact resulting from the proposed transaction, would constitute a significant improvement. Together, these two aspects of Senator Lee's bill would constitute a meaningful reform of the review process applicable to transactions involving communications firms. 

The text of the One Agency Act is available here and Sen. Lee's press release for the bill (which also quotes FSF President May) is here.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Prof. Adam Mossoff Writes on Constitutional Protections for IP Rights

On March 8, the Heritage Foundation published a paper by Professor Adam Mossoff titled "The Constitutional Protection of Intellectual Property." From the intro:

This Legal Memorandum explains how intellectual property rights have long been secured as property rights under the Constitution. It first reviews the constitutional text and original public meaning of the Copyright and Patent Clause. It then details the numerous federal court decisions from the 19th century that have secured patents and other intellectual property rights as “property” under the Due Process and Takings Clauses of the Constitution. It concludes by identifying how the modern Supreme Court has consistently followed these precedents, even if it has occasionally forgotten them or not cited them directly. 

Be sure and check out this excellent paper by Prof. Mossoff on IP rights under the Constitution. It is full of citations to legal authorities dating back to the formation of the Constitution, and offers concise analysis going up to the present. The important truth that copyrights and patent rights are constitutionally-protected property rights can't be made often enough.


In addition to teaching at the Antonin Scalia Law School and being a Visiting Intellectual Property Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, Professor Mossoff is a member of the Free State Foundation's Board of Academic Advisers. 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Free State Foundation

Thirteenth Annual Telecom Policy Conference



Fireside Chat

FTC Commissioners Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson


WHERE: Via Zoom
WHO:  FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips and 
              FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson
WHEN: Friday, March 19, 2021, 10 a.m., EDT
WHAT: FSF's Thirteenth Annual Telecom Policy Conference – A Fireside Chat


FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips

FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson

* * * * *


The Free State Foundation's Twelfth Annual Telecom Policy Conference was held at the National Press Club last March 10. As it turned out, it was one of the very last, if not the last, major conferences held in D.C. before the COVID-19 shutdown. We considered ourselves very fortunate that we were able to hold the conference - with its outstanding speaker lineup - and we set our sights on this year's event. We just assumed, without nary a thought, that we would be back at the Press Club this year.


Well, here we are, and the reality is, we really don't know when we can safely hold a large scale in-person event. In recent years, FSF's annual conferences routinely have attracted 180 - 200 attendees. This year we will be holding our Thirteenth Annual Telecom Policy Conference via Zoom on different days during March and April. As usual, we plan to have a mix of keynote addresses, conversations, and panels.


As part of the conference, FTC Commissioners Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson and Free State Foundation President Randolph May will have a Fireside Chat on Friday, March 19, 10 - 11 a.m.


The Free State Foundation's Annual Telecom Policy Conference is widely acknowledged to be one of the nation's premier communications law and policy events, and - just as we have for the past fourteen year - we intend this year to continue to present interesting, informative, and impactful programs.


Finally, this June marks the Free State Foundation's Fifteenth Anniversary . We hope to put on a proper in-person celebration of this important milestone later in the year. But, in the meantime, don't be surprised if we bring a bottle or two of champagne to one of our online events! And we won't be surprised if you do too!




Register Now for a Fireside Chat with FTC Commissioners Phillips and Wilson!

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Report Reviews Industry Traceback Group's Efforts Against Unwanted Robocalls

On February 17, US Telecom released the Industry Traceback Group's (ITG) report, "Combatting Illegal Robocalls." The report highlights the ITG's progress and potential in addressing the extraordinarily high volume of unwanted and harmful robocalls received by Americans each day. Most of those calls originate from overseas and are route through four or more service providers, making traceback efforts a complex undertaking.

In July 2020, the FCC designated the ITG as the designated entity for coordinating industry efforts to trace the origin of suspected unlawful robocalls. As the report observes, ITG's primary focus is high-volume illegal robocall campaigns. Its operations are managed by a small team of employees and contractors who collaborate with industry and government personnel to identify the sources of those robocall campaigns. 

The report identifies some of the ITG's achievements in fighting robocalls in 2020: 

  • Received 75 subpoenas/ civil investigative demands—up 275% from 2019 
  • Conducted approximately 215 tracebacks per month— up 115% from 2019 and 975% in 2018  
  • Initiated more than 2,500 tracebacks, representing hundreds of millions of calls 
  • Supported nearly one dozen enforcement actions involving nine distinct federal and state enforcement agencies, targeting nearly 50 individuals and entities  

Another indication of the progress made by the ITG is reflected in the FCC's December 2020 TRACED Act Annual Report to Congress. According to the FCC's report:

The Industry Traceback Group's tracebacks have accelerated the investigation process. A single telephone call may pass through multiple providers from the point of origin to the destination. Until very recently, each link in the chain required a separate subpoena from the FCC, FTC, or other agency to the handling provider. The length of time it takes to find the suspected violator depends on how quickly investigators can get to the origin point of the calls. The more links in the chain, the longer the investigation time. The Industry Traceback Group’s efforts reduce the number of subpoenas agencies must issue to do the same work. For example, in a recent case with four links between the originating provider and the customer’s provider, the Commission worked with the Industry Traceback Group to trace the origin of the call. As a result, a traceback that would have taken at least four separate subpoenas and 2 to 3 months to complete was successfully traced back in less than 24 hours. 

The ITG has its work cut out for it. The YouMail Robocall Index estimated that 4.6 billion robocalls, amounting to 14.1 per person, were sent during the month of February 2021 – the highest volume seen in the last twelve months. But the ITG has compiled a strong track record in coordinating with enforcement agencies and reducing traceback times, and it hopefully will build on that record in 2021.