Several small broadband providers are having trouble navigating the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Care Program (ACP). They are wondering if they should drop their participation. There is no one major specific complaint about the administration of the program but a string of problems. The ACP rules are overly complex. There doesn’t seem to be any training available to providers joining the program. The ACP system returns unhelpful error messages when something doesn’t work. Why are these kinds of issues problematic for smaller providers?
One of the factors that need to be considered in any business plan or forecast is churn – which is when customers drop service. I often see internet service providers (ISPs) build business plans that don’t acknowledge churn, which can be a costly oversight. There is a maxim among last-mile fiber networks that nobody ever leaves fiber to go back to a cable company network. That’s not entirely true, but it’s a recognition that churn tends to be lower on a last-mile fiber network than with other technologies. I wrote a recent blog that asked if broadband is recession-proof.
In March 2022, the Federal Communications Commission issued a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 22-20) that asks if the rules should change for allocating the costs of a pole replacement that occurs when a new carrier asks to add a new wire or device onto an existing pole. The timing of this docket is in anticipation of a huge amount of rural fiber construction that will be coming as a result of the tsunami of state and federal broadband grants. The current rules push the full cost of replacing a pole onto the entity that is asking to get onto the pole.
There is a growing controversy brewing about the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)’s decision to declare that fixed wireless technology using only unlicensed spectrum is unreliable and not worthy of funding for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program grants. The Wireless Internet Service Providers' Association (WISPA), the lobbying arm for the fixed wireless industry, recently stated that the NTIA has made a big mistake in excluding WISPs that use only unlicensed spectrum.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel has circulated a draft Notice of Inquiry inside the FCC to kick off the required annual report to Congress on the state of US broadband. As part of preparing that report, she is recommending that the FCC adopt a new definition of broadband of 100/20 Mbps and establish gigabit broadband as a longer-term goal. First, the FCC is late to the game since Congress has already set a speed of 100/20 Mbps for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program and other federal grant programs.
The Federal Communications Commission is requiring changes that it hopes will improve the reliability and resiliency of cellular networks to be better prepared for and respond better to emergencies. The FCC's order cites recent emergencies like Hurricane Ida, the earthquakes in Puerto Rico, severe winter storms in Texas, and worsening hurricane and wildfire seasons. This makes me wonder if we might someday see similar requirements for internet service providers (ISPs) and broadband networks.
People might wonder why so many people are needed to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. I think that being in charge of a state broadband grant office has to be one of the toughest gigs in the country right now. The main purpose of this blog is to give folks an idea of the huge challenges facing each state broadband office over the next few years. One of the first things each state will have to do is to develop a detailed broadband plan that describes how the BEAD grant program will work. The BEAD grant rules are complex.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently filed a request for a six-month waiver from the Build America, Buy America Act (BABA) – more colloquially referred to as the Buy American rules. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) legislation updated the BABA rules to apply to all projects that receive federal funding for infrastructure as of November 18, 2021, the date the IIJA was published in the Federal Register.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) set a new definition of broadband at 100/20 Mbps for purposes of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program grants – if a customer fails that test they are considered either unserved or underserved. Everybody nationwide has been so focused on download speeds that we are largely ignoring the fact that a huge number of nationwide broadband customers are not getting upload speeds of 20 Mbps.
One of the aspects of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program that many communities might have overlooked is that communities can request grants to bring fast broadband or improve existing broadband to anchor institutions.