FCC Lifts Cuban Restriction, Opening Door for U.S. Telecom Investment

Last modified on 2016-01-18 07:35:45 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

Users of a Wi-Fi Internet hot spot in Havana, Cuba. | Image by Othmar Kyas. Used with Creative Commons license.
Users of a Wi-Fi Internet hot spot in Havana, Cuba. | Image by Othmar Kyas. Used with Creative Commons license.

Jan. 15 — U.S. telecommunications carriers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. can now offer telephone and Internet services to Cuba without the need for special approval from the Federal Communications Commission, the agency said Jan. 15.

The landmark change comes thanks to an order approved by the International Bureau to remove Cuba from its exclusion list of countries and facilities requiring special authorization under Section 214 of the Communications Act of 1934. Cuba was the last country on the list.

Before this change, only Sprint Corp. and Newark, N.J.-based IDT Domestic Telecom, Inc., a prepaid calling company, had sought and received approval from the FCC and State Department to offer services to the island. Now, any U.S. company can enter into direct communications with the Cuban government-run telecom provider Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) to establish interconnection agreements, an FCC spokesman told Bloomberg BNA.

The latest announcement is a logical step in efforts by the agency and Obama administration to heal a Cold War legacy rift between the communist country and the U.S., Francisco Montero, managing partner of Arlington, Va.-based Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC, told Bloomberg BNA.

It is no secret that telecom providers, equipment manufacturers and infrastructure vendors have been trying to get into the Cuban market and help build it out, ever since the Obama administration made a historic announcement on Dec. 17, 2014, that the U.S. would liberalize trade and diplomatic restrictions with Cuba.

Even medical device maker Medtronic Plc wants in on the market. The company urged the FCC to remove Cuba from its list, claiming easier deployment for carriers would promote connectivity for medical devices and services and for the exchange of medical information between the two countries, according to the FCC’s order. New medical services and technologies are badly wanted by the Cuban government, which values its highly trained medical practitioners, investment analysts have previously told Bloomberg BNA.

“It’s new ground that they would love to be first movers in, at least from the U.S.,” Montero said. “This is lifting one of the few remaining obstacles” for them to do that.

However, it won’t necessarily be smooth sailing ahead for U.S. companies that want to do business in Cuba. Even telecom behemoths like AT&T and Verizon will have to chart the precarious waters of dealing with the Cuban government.

Companies will probably face off with a tough and experienced negotiator in the form of ETECSA, which has long experience striking deals with other international carriers to provide telecom services. Furthermore, the companies will still have to abide by the Cuban government’s financial and other restrictions.

He cautioned on the side of slow growth expectations. “The Cuban government is going to watch this carefully in terms of the kind of access to outside information that this allows their population to have access to; it’s still a controlled economy and society,” Montero said.

Baby Steps.

U.S. telecom deployment to Cuba will probably occur in baby steps, Montero said. In addition to carriers being able to offer coverage, or at least roaming service in Cuba, the appearance of storefronts may also be telltale signs of investment and agreement between U.S. carriers and ETECSA, he said.

The FCC’s action and whatever deals come next will likely make it easier for U.S. tourists traveling to Cuba to access the Internet, make calls, and use their mobile devices there, he said.

So in three to five years, tourists and possibly locals might be able to Instagram selfies of themselves sipping mojitos on the beach from Havana, depending on how willing the Cubans are to ease their social media restrictions.

By Lydia Beyoud

DOT, FCC Confirm Spectrum Sharing Tests Underway for Connected Cars, Wi-Fi

Last modified on 2016-01-18 07:35:24 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

Nissan autonomous car prototype (using a Nissan Leaf electric car) exhibited at the Geneva Motor Show 2014 | Photo by Norbert Aepli, Switzerland. Used with Creative Commons license
Nissan autonomous car prototype (using a Nissan Leaf electric car) exhibited at the Geneva Motor Show 2014 | Photo by Norbert Aepli, Switzerland. Used with Creative Commons license

FCC to Take Major Strides in Testing Spectrum Sharing

By Lydia Beyoud

Jan. 12 — Three agencies leading the way on spectrum sharing informed the Senate Commerce Committee that the FCC has begun its own testing in the 5.9 gigahertz (GHz) band, according to letters obtained by Bloomberg BNA.

The Department of Transportation, Federal Communications Commission and Department of Commerce National Telecommunications & Information Administration described a three-phase testing plan underway, with the FCC in the lead. At issue is spectrum allocated to automakers for vehicular safety technology—spectrum that would be shared with unlicensed technologies such as Wi-Fi.

An FCC spokeswoman confirmed a letter was sent Dec. 18 to Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), as well as to Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). A similar letter was sent to committee ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and fellow Democrats Gary Peters (Mich.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) on Jan. 11.

The agencies said it was imperative for the FCC to conclude all three phases before reaching any conclusions on whether unlicensed devices can safely share the 5.9 GHz band with the auto industry’s proprietary dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology “to ensure the future automotive safety and efficiency of the traveling public.”

Spectrum Allocated in 1999.

The auto industry was allocated spectrum in that band in 1999 for the purposes of implementing technology—before the era of Wi-Fi—to avoid traffic collisions and other safety applications. The industry has been reticent to embark on any path to share that spectrum with other users, though the Senate Commerce Committee was able to make headway with industry groups in 2015 in the form of a landmark agreement to explore spectrum-sharing technologies (See previous story, 09/10/15)(2015 BAST, 9/10/15)(2015 TLN 20, 10/1/15).

Since then, mobile applications and other technologies dependent on unlicensed spectrum have flourished in the marketplace, leading technology companies and public interest groups to advocate for sharing of spectrum, one of the nation’s scarce resources.

The 5.9 GHz band is viewed as particularly desirable new territory for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies because of its adjacency to the so-called U-NII-3 band of spectrum, 5725 megahertz (MHz) to 5825 MHz, where the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard currently operates. Expanding into the higher bands of 5.9 GHz spectrum and harmonizing the rules for unlicensed uses across a new swath of spectrum would result in significantly higher throughput speeds and greater spectral efficiency, according to a Jan. 12 report released by the New America Foundation Open Technology Institute (OTI).

At a Jan. 12 event hosted by the institute, two FCC commissioners threw their support behind the FCC taking the lead on spectrum-sharing testing. Democrat Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called for testing to be concluded by the end of 2016. Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said that the primary purpose of DSRC technology to support safety-of-life applications in connected vehicles and infrastructure was deserving of protection from potential interference by unlicensed users.

However, he underscored that other, more commercial, contemplated uses of the spectrum, such as to display ads, enable social media or to help drivers find parking spots, were less deserving of interference protection.

“There should be little doubt that exploring the ability to allow other uses, such as Wi-Fi, in the 5.9 GHz band, via sharing or partitioning, is the right thing to do. Even the auto industry seems to have come around to this thinking,” O’Rielly said.

NHTSA Speeding Up V2V Rulemaking.

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is taking the position that unlicensed and DSRC technologies operating in the 5.9 GHz band can be complementary, rather than at odds, for the purpose of reducing vehicular deaths and injuries, NHTSA Deputy Administrator Blair Anderson said at the same event.

“We as a department feel very strongly about this technology,” he said of DSRC, “but we’re open to the efficient use of it.”

Anderson announced that NHTSA sent a draft notice of proposed rulemaking to require vehicle-to-vehicle equipment on all new cars and light trucks to the Office of Management and Budget Jan. 11 (See previous story, 09/09/15)(2015 BAST, 9/9/15)(2015 TLN 20, 10/1/15).

“We’re moving it through the review process because this administration’s very keen to accelerate the innovation that can take place in that arena,” he said.

Bloomberg Businessweek: Renewable Energy Wins Republicans Backing Oil-Gas Benefit

Last modified on 2013-05-23 01:22:16 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

I covered the introduction of a bipartisan, bicameral bill that would allow renewable energy producers to receive some of the same favorable tax treatment major oil and gas companies already enjoy.

The kicker: oil and gas companies are helping to push the bill through Congress.

Renewable energy developers may win some tax benefits from Congress that only oil and gas companies can enjoy right now.

A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate last week would allow renewable and clean energy-related companies to structure their businesses as master limited partnerships — avoiding double taxation while also trading ownership interests on the market, similar to corporate stock, Bloomberg BNA reported.

This treatment — available to oil and gas projects and a limited number of traditional fossil fuel-related industries — gives them access to private capital at a much lower cost than investors in other energy projects, said Senator Chris Coons, the Delaware Democrat who sponsored the bill.

Read the full text at Bloomberg here or at Businessweek here.

American Dreams shift in weak economy

Last modified on 2015-12-23 22:20:01 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

By Kyoko Takenaka for the Investigative Reporting Workshop | Scott Kelmer, 40, was recently laid off and has returned to school to continue his technical studies. He says he still believes the American Dream is attainable, but is becoming more difficult to achieve.
By Kyoko Takenaka for the Investigative Reporting Workshop Scott Kelmer, 40, was recently laid off and has returned to school to continue his technical studies. He says he still believes the American Dream is attainable, but is becoming more difficult to achieve.

BALTIMORE — Derrick McLaughlin, 43, a real estate agent in Baltimore, remembers the first time he heard of the American Dream. It was when his grandmother, an immigrant from Trinidad, bought her first house in Brooklyn, N.Y., after decades of saving. That was the moment when she believed she had attained her American Dream, she told him. “You would’ve thought it was a mansion from the way she talked about it,” McLaughlin recalls, noting that she likely would never have been able to buy a house in her home country. “The idea of the American Dream is what got her to leave Trinidad” as a woman with young children, McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin believes his grandmother’s experience was emblematic of what the American Dream used to be — not an important event to everyone, but momentous for her. As for himself, he says, “I’m maybe at the three-quarter’s mark,” of achieving the American Dream. “I have the things as a kid that I thought I wanted,” but added that “the American Dream changes based on where you are in your life.”

McLaughlin was part of a recent research study on the American Dream conducted by the Investigative Reporting Workshop. For the 17 men and women interviewed, the American Dream continues to resonate. But that dream is tinged with caveats, doubts and hesitations.

Home ownership, a decent quality of life and social advancement through hard work were central to the group’s definition of the dream. Financial success is as crucial as opportunity or freedom, participants said. While optimistic about their own prospects, many said they feared for the country and for future generations.

The men and women, all from the Baltimore area, ranged in age from college students to retirees, and included low-income to upper-income participants, as well as a mix of racial and ethnic backgrounds. (See methodology.)

A matter of definition

Though most people interviewed said that the American Dream is individually defined, their responses shared common themes. These include the ability to own a home, the pursuit of education, an eventual payoff in professional success and financial security from hard work, an agreement that the dream is usually achieved later in life, and the ideal of leaving descendants better off than in themselves. There seemed to be divergent interpretations: People reported both that achieving the dream meant meeting the modest goals of living comfortably, but also that it meant becoming wealthy.

Scott Kelmer, 40, who was recently laid off from his contractor job with Verizon, said, “Everyone in the world wants to come to America,” reinforcing the group’s belief that people immigrating to this country can still “make it” through hard work and education. “Part of the dream is to be on top, and helping people while you’re there,” said Gregory Parson, 23, a pre-med student in Baltimore.

This idea was shared by a number of American University students polled in a related study, with more than half saying that the dream held more value for people outside the United States than for those already here.

First hearing about the American DreamNot surprisingly, the current economic chaos has affected the dream.

Photo by Kyoko Takenaka for the Investigative Reporting Workshop | “Part of the dream is to be on top, and helping people while you’re there,” said Gregory Parson, 23, a pre-med student.

Long-serving politicians and corporations are “balancing their checkbook on the backs of the middle class,” said McLaughlin, making it far more difficult to pursue the opportunities believed to be available in this country.

“Part of the dream is to be on top, and helping people while you’re there,” said Gregory Parson, 23, a pre-med student.

Most participants agreed that this is particularly true for young people. It has become significantly harder for younger people to achieve the American Dream than in generations past, several said. “I want to move out of my parents’ house. I want my own house and I want to put my own family in it,” Parson said. But, he added, that is out of reach. He is committed to becoming a doctor, he said, but worries about taking on thousands in dollars in student loans to do it.

Though the youngest in the group, Parson said he had already achieved the American Dream, because “I’ve had opportunity, which is what it is about.” He said he that once he becomes a doctor, he hopes he will be able to help others achieve their own dreams.

The men and women interviewed are full of frustration with the current political and economic system. But few have a sense of what can be done to help things turn around. And immediate economic needs are pushing bigger concerns to the side.

“All I can do is help where I can help. My first responsibility is to my family,” said Paul Drgos, 36, a computer programmer and recently divorced father of three.

Parson said he felt a sense of duty in helping the country recover from the recession but was unable to articulate what he might personally be able to do: “I feel responsible for having to fix it, but I don’t feel responsible for having caused it,” he said. “I feel thrown into it.”

Signs of improvement are few

“I’m doing OK, but I deal with people who aren’t doing OK every day,” said McLaughlin. The economic situation is unlikely to turn around until the nation can form a better-functioning government, “or until the American people get to the point that Occupy Wall Street becomes Occupy America,” he said.

Only one person interviewed said the nation’s financial situation would improve within the next year. Many peg it at a two- to five-year recovery, although Kelmer thinks it could take as long as a decade. For their personal situations, however, people are generally more optimistic, believing their lives will improve within the next year or two.

National outlook on American youths’ future reaches its lowest point

Source: 2011 Gallup poll | Graphic by Alissa Scheller, Investigative Reporting Workshop

The numbers for optimistic and pessimistic outlooks have reversed since polling began in 1983.

This attitude was particularly prevalent among the better-educated or more affluent members of the group, who had a sunnier outlook about the time needed for both the general economy and their personal situation to improve. Decades of Gallup polls support these findings, showing that Americans typically have a more negative outlook for the nation but a stable and positive one regarding their personal situation. Since the economic recession in 2007, the differences in these views have only increased.

In keeping with this attitude, some participants have been able to turn national and personal misfortune to their advantage through home ownership. Drgos said that he managed to avoid the burden of a home worth less than its market value, because his ex-wife received the house after their divorce settlement. One young woman bought a house for less money than she had originally planned because of depressed housing prices in the Baltimore area. McLaughlin’s business as a real estate broker has thrived for the same reason, as he is able to purchase homes below market value, refurbish and resell them.

Achieving the dream

For most participants, the dream is still a work in progress. The younger people generally said that they were on the path to achieving their dreams, though a few people reported that they are genuinely struggling to make ends meet. The retirees in the group said they have achieved the American Dream, though not always in the manner they had hoped. One man had planned to travel the world in his retirement, but that is no longer possible.

Those shifting expectations — and making peace with them — may be a key to securing the dream. With an economy still staggering after the recession’s official end, the new American Dream may be just having enough, not having it all.

Despite the uncertainty and readjustments, the American Dream still has meaning, McLaughlin said: “We’re in trouble the day people stop thinking they can attain that.”

Two focus groups were conducted in Baltimore on Monday, Nov. 28, 2011. Each group included eight to nine participants. One group included individuals who can be considered lower-middle class (based on income and household size) while the other can be considered upper-middle class. Both groups included a mix of genders, ages and ethnicities.

The group discussions were led by a professional moderator and each lasted 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Focus groups are a qualitative research methodology used to explore attitudes, motivations and beliefs in-depth among a group of people.

To ensure open, honest opinions, the focus group participants were not told what organization was conducting the research, and participants were guaranteed that the discussion would be kept confidential. However, afterward the participants were asked if they would be willing to speak with a reporter and have a follow-up interview, during which time they were also asked to give their permission to quote from their focus group session as well as from the interview.

This story is being co-published with New America Media.

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