FCC readies ‘Out-of-Office’ emails as budget looms

With President Donald Trump and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi going toe-to-toe over funding for a controversial wall, the FCC has warned it will run out of money on Thursday afternoon.

The inability for the Republicans and Democrats to come to an agreement on federal funding has meant numerous agencies throughout the country are facing closure, the FCC being one of them. Considering FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been doing his best to lighten the regulatory influence of the agency during his tenure, perhaps colleagues will be able to hear a joyous tap-dance echoing from his office.

“In the event of a continued partial lapse in federal government funding, the Federal Communications Commission will suspend most operations in the middle of the day on Thursday, January 3,” the FCC has said in a statement. “At that time, employees will have up to four hours to complete an orderly shutdown of operations.”

For those who work for the FCC, the political stance being made by the two leaders will mean very little as they sit quietly at home with no pay-cheque. However, work required for the protection of life and property will continue, as will work relating to spectrum auctions, which is funded by auction proceeds. The Office of the Inspector General will also remain open, though most of the FCC function will temporarily cease. More details are expected over the next couple of hours.

What remains to be seen is how long the office will be closed for. After it initially appeared Trump would sign the proposed budget, critics suggested he was going back on his word as there was little funding to create the physical border between the US and Mexico. The wave of criticism from usually friendly media titles forced the hand of the President, and it appears there will be little concession made by either side right now.

Such is the world of politics an agreement will probably be made in the near future. Both sides will suggest they gained the advantage, though (again), this will come as little comfort for those whose bank accounts are getting slimmer as we speak.

Virgin Media takes local council to court over ‘hefty’ access charges

Virgin Media has said it will be putting new clauses in the updated Electronic Communications Code (ECC) to the test as it takes Durham County Council to court over land access difficulties.

The disagreement between Virgin Media and Durham County Council surrounds the decision to expand the telco’s fibre network to 16,000 properties by the end of 2019. While there was support in the early stages of the project, the council is charging what Virgin Media describes as a ‘hefty’ per-metre levy, despite BT and other utility providers already having their pipes and cables installed in grass verges the Highways Department in Durham recommended as the build option to minimise disruption.

“We are disappointed to be taking this action against a Council with whom we initially had a good working relationship,” said Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media. “By demanding money for land access Durham County Council is now putting up a broadband blockade to thousands of homes and businesses across the county.

“This issue goes wider than the city of Durham. Haggling over land access when we build in a new area slows down broadband rollout and deters investment. It is also an impediment to Government and Ofcom’s ambition for increased fibre rollout and network competition to BT. It’s time rhetoric was put into action to truly break down the barriers to building broadband.”

The issue which is being corrected in the updated ECC is that of ransom rents, a plague to the telecoms industry. As a substantial number of fixed and mobile assets have to be built and maintained on privately owned land, complicated leasing documents are needed. As most of the landowners realise they are in the position of power, telcos are overcharged for access, both to build the asset in the first place, and each time maintenance needs to be carried out. It is an expensive aspect of the business for telcos.

Another worrying trend which was pointed out to us by EE a couple of weeks back is the renegotiation of terms. As most of the leases contain a list of assets on the rented ground, upgrades mean a renegotiation of the terms as introducing new equipment alters the agreement, which gives the landowner the opportunity to charge more as the telco is left with little or no choice. EE is trying to set precedent against this trend with its own lawsuit, but the ECC is supposed to be addressing this unreasonable balance of power.

The main issue is telcos are not currently viewed as a utility and therefore do not have the same rights to access. Due to the critical importance of utilities such as water, gas and electricity, engineers are able to access assets without consent from landowners and do not have to worry about being overcharged in leasing agreements. Telcos want the same access rights as the utilities, but do not want to be regulated as utilities, which is one of the causes of the whole issue. The telcos are not willing to make the necessarily regulatory concessions to ensure the government can protect their interests and offer them more freedoms for the rollout of future-proof infrastructure.

The root cause of this problem is one we are familiar with; rigid and inflexible telcos, stubbornly targeting a protectionist set-up with the government without giving anything in return. Landowners should not be able to hold telcos to ransom, but some concessions will have to be made to ensure progress towards the digital dream can be made.