FCC: A$$-Backwards to the Future

By Bruce Kushnik 12/08/2017 03:31 am ET; Link to original article here.

In the recent FCC ‘shut off the copper’ decision on 11/16/17, FCC Chairman Pai added a statement claiming that a fax machine — ancient technology — played a “critical” role in a movie called Back to the Future II. When I read this, I started laughing.

In Back to the Future II, the villain, Biff Tannen, was literally based on Donald Trump. This means that one of Chairman Pai’s favorite movies has a villain based on the very President that made him FCC chairman.

Note that in June 2017, Pai referenced the first Back to the Future movie and he even tweeted on Oct 21, 2015, “Welcome to the future, Marty McFly! We’ve been waiting for you.”

The idea that Pai’s interpretations of events in one of his favorite movies are skewed shows us that he sees what he wants to see – regardless of the facts.

The FCC’s decision and Pai’s statement are not based in reality. Pai claims that America stopped relying on the ‘legacy’, old copper wires since the late 1980’s, and that customers are migrating to fiber optics. That is not what is happening: the copper networks are still the majority of wireline services. AT&T’s U-Verse is a ‘copper to the home’ service, and the majority of ‘business data service’ revenues (as told by the FCC’s own data in 2016) are still based on the ‘legacy’, utility copper networks.

Re: Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment, WC Docket No. 17-84)

Technology, and consumers’ expectations about it, had simply outpaced the bulky device that played a critical role in movies like “The Firm” and “Back to the Future II” . . . Same too with legacy copper networks that we all relied upon in the late 1980s. They are ever more outdated as consumers lead the migration to fiber and other advanced IP-based technologies.”

In addition, Verizon stopped rolling out its FiOS FTTP (fiber to the premises) service which they announced in the 2010-2012 time frame. Worse, we’re not rushing to “IP” as promised by AT&T et al. AT&T’s IP Transition trials over the last few years were a bomb and just a con to force customers onto inferior, slower, unregulated Wireless services. In fact, the FCC’s plan is not about fiber-to-the home but fiber-to-the-wireless antenna, which was not stated in the FCC decision. These are lies by omission.

To add insult to levity, the ‘fax’ machine was not even critical in the Back to the Future II movie. Attention to details — large and small — seem to elude Chairman Pai.

Back to the Future’s Bully, Biff Tannen, Is Based on Donald Trump

Let’s go back to the Back to the Future movie series and compare it to Pai’s statement.

The film series started in 1985 and it is about time travel in convoluted and funny ways. Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) has a wild scientist friend, Dr. Emmett Brown, (Christopher Lloyd) who converts a Delorean sports car into a time machine that takes McFly first from 1985 to 1955. Then, in Back to the Future II, the bully, Biff Tannen, finds a book of future sports scores in 1955 and is able to make a gazillion dollars, but it leads to an ‘evil’ future, portrayed as an evil vision of the year 1985.

Ironically, at the beginning of the rise of our current president I couldn’t help but notice that he reminded me of someone – the character “Biff Tannen” in Back to the Future II. In writing this article I was surprised to find that this was intentional.

The Daily Beast, October 21, 2015

‘Back to the Future’ Writer: Biff Tannen Is Based on Donald Trump

“There’s a very specific analog between Biff Tannen, the bully and bad guy in almost every timeline in Back to the Future Part II, and a certain political figure who is rather popular in the United States right now. He’s been handed the keys to fortune, he’s unrepentently used that fortune exclusively for himself, and he’s even become a public advocate for plastic surgery for women in his family.

“It is not hard to put two and two together. So, Bob Gale—writer of Back to the Future Part II …were you thinking what we’re all thinking?”

‘We thought about it when we made the movie! Are you kidding?’ he says. ‘You watch Part II again and there’s a scene where Marty confronts Biff in his office and there’s a huge portrait of Biff on the wall behind Biff, and there’s one moment where Biff kind of stands up and he takes exactly the same pose as the portrait? Yeah.'”

And others noticed. There are even Youtubes about it.

Once again one of FCC Chairman Pai’s favorite movies has a villain based on the president that made him FCC chairman . . . but, it’s every other part of Pai’s statement that can be related to the Back to the Future series.

Fabulous Technology, including Fiber to the Home.

The Back to the Future II has different visions of future. The first bad future is that 1985 was turned into a hell hole by the Biff-Trump-Tannen character.

The second, but almost good future (which also has a ‘bully’, Griff Tannen), is a vision of the year 2015, and the tech has flourished; there are anti-gravity cars as well as skateboards, deemed “hoverboards”. And there are also massive, wall-covering video screens which can play lots of channels simultaneously, as well as be used for high-def video conferencing, with a hard copy from a printer.

Made in 1989, the Back to the Future II vision of the future tech was based, in part, on what Al Gore popularized/dubbed the “Information Superhighway”. This was a plan to replace the existing copper networks with fiber optics networks to the home and office that could handle services like video or television data. In 1989, the same year the movie was released, Senator Al Gore chaired a meeting about such future networks.

Pai’s Fax Machine Reference Is Really to a Hard Copy-Printer from Video

In Back to the Future II, Marty McFly’s boss covers the entire wall-sized screen and is telling Marty he is fired – with a ‘printed confirmation’. And while the Boss says “You’re fired; Read my fax”, it was a joke based on the 1988 George W. Bush line “Read my lips”. Watch the clip yourself.

And, for comedic emphasis, there are three printers/fax machines all spewing out “You’re fired” and they all repeated what his boss was saying— and the video-call and ‘video-fax’ are handled by AT&T.

But the real comedic kicker is that “You’re fired” is one of Trump’s most famous lines in his show “The Apprentice”, which started in 2004. Did Trump steal this line from the movie, which aired five years earlier? Probably.

Thus, the ‘fax’ machine in the movie is actually a printer that had to be tied to a fiber-optic Wireline network because the legacy copper couldn’t handle the data stream to support a high-definition, massive, wall-based, bi-directional video conferencing with the boss.

The Rest of Pai’s Statement Is Filled with Gibberish

At one point Pai states:

“That’s why a key to closing the digital divide is maximizing providers’ ability to invest in building the modern networks that fuel the Internet economy.”

Let’s look carefully at this:

10Mbps down and 1Mbps up Will Be the FCC’s New Broadband Standard. Whaaaat??!!

This slow a speed can’t close the Digital Divide or do large screen video conferencing or much of anything at all, other than email. Other nations, including Russia, German and South Korea have 1,000 Mbps download speed via fiber-optic for less than $40/month. So do a very few communities in America and none of the following communities are getting this service from AT&T or Verizon:

  • Sebastapol, CA and parts of Santa Rosa, Petaluma and San Franciso are being offererd symmetric gigabit FTTP internet and unlimited nationwide calling with no data caps for $40/month by Sonic
  • Cedar Falls, IA built a municipal gigabit FTTP internet network that serves everyone, not just the wealthy neighborhoods
  • Chattanooga, TN built a municipal gigabit FTTP internet network that serves everyone, not just the wealthy neighborhoods
  • Westminster, MD built a municipal gigabit FTTP internet network that serves everyone, not just the wealthy neighborhoods
  • Wilson, NC built a municipal gigabit FTTP internet network that serves everyone, not just the wealthy neighborhoods

What is tragic is that the FCC has decided that America’s standard for broadband for Rural America should now be a smartphone with 10Mbps down and 1Mbps up (which is much slower than the FCC’s boradband standard since 2015: 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up). This can’t do large screen video conferencing, much less in both directions. It can’t even be ‘tethered’ to a large screen under some plans. It is price-capped so even the unlimited plan would last a few movies, at best.

Slowing down America’s broadband speed standard and using a wireless replacement for 1,000 Mpbs fiber-optic is really A$$-Backwards To the Future, Chairman Pai.

Shutting Off the Copper vs Needed Investigations

FCC Chairman Pai has made no effort to examine why there are still areas with copper that were not replaced by 2017. The companies received about $½ trillion dollars to do upgrades to fiber of most of the areas in their franchised, Title II, state-based utilities.

The IP Transition Is a Con

In the AT&T-IP Transition trials that petered out into disappointment we find that AT&T’s plan was always to just shut off the copper and replace it with inferior wireless services – and it was a bomb.

This is AT&T’s chart about what the ‘trial’ was going to accomplish; it would make the majority of Wireline customers ‘transition’ not to Wireline Fiber optic, but to 100x slower Wireless.

Doesn’t the FCC bother to actually read the actual AT&T filings? Carbon Hill, Alabama is a small rural community and one of the test areas. There was never a plan to shut off the copper and upgrade these communities to fiber; the “wired” of “today” is all copper.

Using the quarterly reports supplied by AT&T from 5/31/2014 through 1st quarter 2016:

  • The numbers are terrible— AT&T lost 32% of the ‘legacy telephone customers’ and even with new “IP” customers, it lost approximately 15% of the entire original client base.
  • AT&T’s wireless replacement for a landline is called “Wireless Home Phone” — and it can’t do IP and it can’t handle basic data applications, like alarm services.
  • AT&T spent millions on these trials for just two towns. How much did it cost per acquisition of each new customer and what were the losses from losing 32% of its active telephone customers?

The Irregulators is on record since the 1990’s stating copper-based Utilities should have been replaced with fiber optics — as promised by AT&T and Verizon — and the US should have been completed by the year 2010 because customers paid multiple times for these upgrades on their landline phone bills. This FCC, the phone companies, their consultants, and lobbyists, have made us more like the Evil Future—the Biff Tannen-Trump-Pai future, without the tech.

We are not able to go back in time to fix this mess. Instead, we need a new movie called —
Sue the FCC and Break Up Verizon and AT&T.


Re: Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment, WC Docket No. 17-84.

Read the original here.

It seems like ancient history now, but at one time, fax machines were thought to be a necessary accoutrement of the modern office. That changed rather quickly—so much so that when I joined the Commission in 2012, I was surprised to learn (1) that I had a fax machine and (2) that the agency’s default was to include a fax machine number on business cards. (I jettisoned it in favor of my Twitter handle.) Technology, and consumers’ expectations about it, had simply outpaced the bulky device that played a critical role in movies like The Firm and Back to the Future II.

Same too with legacy copper networks that we all relied upon in the late 1980s. They are ever more outdated as consumers lead the migration to fiber and other advanced IP-based technologies.

That all-IP world is one that is more resilient, more robust, and more competitive. That’s why a key to closing the digital divide is maximizing providers’ ability to invest in building the modern networks that fuel the Internet economy.

But unneeded regulations deter many companies from investing in these new networks. Having to maintain two networks — one legacy, one modern — diverts resources away from new deployments. By definition, every dollar that is spent maintaining fading copper networks cannot be spent on fiber. And the dollars are substantial; one estimate found companies could save $45-50 in operating expenses per home each year by not having to maintain old copper facilities. Nationwide, that translates into billions of dollars annually that could be devoted to next-generation networks. But that digital opportunity is denied when the FCC’s rules force carriers to maintain the networks of yesteryear.

So today, we act to remove excessive regulation that is slowing the IP transition. We streamline our copper retirement rules so that carriers can efficiently switch to newer technologies that better serve consumers. We allow carriers to notify customers of changes before notifying the FCC so they can better coordinate transitions. We speed the process for discontinuing little-used or low-speed legacy data services. And we turn back the misguided “functional test,” which effectively established a mother-may-I approach to building networks which disserved both consumers and companies.

This decision will especially benefit rural America. As it is, the business case for installing infrastructure in low-density areas can be hard. Forcing companies and their capital through a government-controlled bottleneck makes it even harder. Promoting more market-based decisions will improve business cases for rural broadband, helping rural communities. One study found that a package of reforms — including many we adopt today — would make it economically viable for the private sector to deploy fiber to the premises in millions of additional rural locations. These are people and places that for too long have been on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Unfortunately, though unsurprisingly, some who oppose this decision have engaged in fearmongering, claiming that consumers will suddenly be left without service or that service will be taken away without notice. So let’s set the record straight: If a carrier wants to stop offering traditional telephone service, then our rules still require notifying the affected consumers and seeking permission through the FCC’s section 214 discontinuance process. That is true today and will be true after this order is adopted.

Pai: Likewise with the claim that this order leaves those with disabilities in the lurch. In fact, we clearly warn that “carriers that are seeking to discontinue a legacy service in favor of an advanced service . . . must, as a matter of law, ensure that the replacement service is accessible, compatible and usable to persons with disabilities.”

It’s also ironic that many of those fiercely opposed to accelerating the transition to fiber and IP-based technologies are simultaneously upset about what they claim is the lack of competition in the broadband market. Well, you can’t have it both ways. Either you want to enable a company with 20th century copper plant to compete in the 21st century — or you don’t. If you don’t, then you can’t complain about the lack of competitive choice at the current broadband standard.

The bottom line is that the IP transition is here, and that consumers are better off with it. The FCC can either strand investments in the modern equivalent of the fax machine or it can deliver value for consumers, today and tomorrow. I’m glad this Commission has its eyes on the future.


June 2, 2017 – 3:12 pm
By Ajit Pai | FCC Chairman

My post introducing the FCC’s infrastructure initiatives a few weeks ago mentioned Marty McFly’s misguided worries about running out of road in the 1985 film “Back to the Future.” As you might remember, Dr. Brown assured Marty that roads wouldn’t be needed in the future.

The wireless networks of the future too will look very different. Instead of just big towers that intermittently dot the landscape, the wireless networks of our future will rely on much smaller building blocks—things like “small cells” and “distributed antenna systems.” These new kinds of infrastructure take up much less space. They are generally much less noticeable. They impact the environment less. And because they operate at lower power, they will be deployed at many more locations than towers.

As we move from the networks of today to those of tomorrow, the FCC wants to work collaboratively with everyone affected — particularly Tribal partners. That’s why, later this month, I’ll hit the road to discuss this transition with Tribal Nations. Some FCC coworkers and I have been kindly invited to attend the Mid-Year Session of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which is the “oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization” serving Tribal interests. We’ll be participating in consultation sessions with a number of Tribes (and in addition to these NCAI sessions, dedicated FCC staff are already doing outreach to Tribes on both conference calls and visits to Indian Country).

The FCC has a long and successful history of working with Tribes on a wide range of issues affecting Indian Country. These relationships led us to create a groundbreaking system, the Tower Construction Notification System (TCNS). This is an online system that notifies federally recognized Tribes, Native Hawaiian Organizations, and State Historic Preservation Officers about proposed wireless construction projects. The TCNS is widely acknowledged by Tribal Nations, industry, and other government entities as an important, effective tool to help ensure that these projects respect historic properties of religious and cultural significance to Tribes.

The rules, protocols, and practices governing TCNS were crafted more than a decade ago, and as I mentioned earlier, advances in wireless networks are proceeding apace. It’s a challenge to match the two, but the FCC is aiming to do that in order to modernize our rules and close the digital divide. I’m excited to discuss this initiative with our Tribal partners. Going forward—just as in the past—we want to ensure that potential effects on culturally significant sites are identified and alternatives to avoid or minimize such effects are considered.

I believe that the FCC and Tribal Nations share the same goal—ensuring high-speed Internet access to anyone who wants it, while respecting and preserving sites with historic, religious, and cultural significance to Tribes. To achieve this goal, the FCC needs to and wants to exchange perspectives with Tribes on the full range of issues associated with the deployment of wireless broadband infrastructure. I’m personally committed to that.

I invite the leaders of the 567 federally-recognized Tribes and Native Hawaiian Organizations to join this important conversation. The FCC takes seriously its federal trust responsibilities and wants to have meaningful consultations. I look forward to listening, learning, and working together to sustain and improve our processes as our wireless networks go back to the future.