Doug Dawson

Averting a Mapping Disaster?

Alan Davidson, the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), stated that the agency is canceling plans to use the first iteration of the new Federal Communications Commission maps that the agency says will be available by early November 2022.

Satellite Cell Service

T-Mobile and Starlink made a joint announcement recently about an arrangement where Starlink will enable voice and texting capabilities to T-Mobile cellphones by the end of 2023. Elon Musk touted this as being able to reach people lost in the wilderness, but the much bigger use will be to fill in cellular coverage in rural areas for T-Mobile. While the two companies made a big splashy announcement about the arrangement, they are late to the game as other industry players already have similar plans underway.

More WiFi Spectrum

There is more Wi-Fi spectrum on the way due to a US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decision which rejected a legal challenge from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. They asked the court to vacate the Federal Communications Commission's 2020 order to repurpose some of the spectrum that had been reserved for smart cars. The FCC had originally given the auto industry a year to vacate the lower 45 MHz of spectrum. This spectrum will be available for home Wi-Fi.

Another Rural Digital Opportunity Funding Auction?

Given the excess of $11 billion that the Federal Communications Commission currently has in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), interested parties--particularly major broadband providers--have inquired whether the FCC will offer another round of award funding. However, for this to be feasible, the FCC would have to engage in a lot of internal review and restructuring of its reverse auction mechanism if it seeks to revitalize the RDOF.

Beware the Grant Challenges

One of the hurdles faced by communities pursuing broadband grants is that many grant programs allow incumbent broadband providers to challenge the validity of a grant. The most common challenge is for an incumbent provider to claim that a grant incorrectly includes homes and businesses that already have access to fast broadband. It appears that the purpose of many challenges is to delay the process, with the ultimate hope to derail or cancel grant requests.

The Birth of the Digital Divide

I define the digital divide as a technology gap where good broadband is available in some places, but not everywhere. The technology divide can be as large as an entire county that doesn’t have broadband or as small as a pocket of homes or apartment buildings in cities that got bypassed. Until late in the 1990s, the only way for most people to get onto the Internet was by the use of dial-up access through phone lines.  At first, dial-up technology was only available to people who lived in places where an ISP had established local dial-up telephone numbers.

Right to Place Telecommunication Infrastructure

A legal decision in New York State found that the Village of Flower Hill reserved the right to deny ExteNet, an agent of Verizon Wireless, from placing small cell sites within the Village. The decision raises interesting legal and other issues about telecommunications infrastructure. ExteNet was hired by Verizon Wireless to place 66 small cells site in and around the Village, including 18 within the Village, for the stated purpose of strengthening the existing 4GLTE network.

Cable Companies Tout Speed Increases

The NCTA—The Internet and Television Association, an industry trade and lobbying association for large cable companies, recently touted big increases in broadband speeds since the start of the pandemic. Specifically, NCTA states that the average U.S. download speed has grown from 138 Mbps in March 2020, the first month of the pandemic, to 226 Mbps in June 2022. Obviously, the cable companies are taking credit for much of the speed increase, and to some extent, that’s true.

Big Telecom Companies and the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program Grants

We’re finally starting to gain a picture of how the big telecommunication companies (telecos) are preparing to leverage the upcoming Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grants. Chiefly, large telecos all say they will be building rural fiber with grant funding – which is what rural America most desires. But a lot of rural folks blame the big telcos for the current miserable state of rural broadband. There are several big fears that I hear voiced about the big telcos winning the grant funding.

Is 75% Grant Funding Enough?

It seemed like a really big deal when the ReConnect program and the new Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grants upped the amount of federal grants to 75% of funding. But, I still see a lot of situations where a 75% grant is not enough assistance to create a viable ongoing business plan. It is the interplay of many variables that determine the percentage of grant funding that is needed for any particular broadband provider in a given market.