Wednesday, October 14, 2020
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How can America’s communities secure the benefits of fiber-optic infrastructure? Our answer is that local governments need not accept a binary option of waiting for the private sector to solve the problem—which the private sector already would have done if it made business sense—or taking on the challenge entirely as a public enterprise. Rather, public-private collaboration can disrupt this binary and give communities options. Indeed, in recent months and years, a range of collaborative public-private models—involving various levels of risk-sharing—have emerged and proved worthy of emulation. In some of the most promising of these partnerships, the public entity funds, builds, and owns the underlying communications infrastructure and the private entity does the rest: It provides the electronics and service over that infrastructure and deals with the complexities of running a broadband business. This Public Infrastructure/Private Service model puts the locality in the business of building infrastructure, a business cities and counties know well after a century of building roads, bridges, and utilities. The model leaves to the private sector most aspects of network operations, equipment provisioning, and service delivery.
A new paper—authored by the Coalition For Local Internet Choice (CLIC) and published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society—defines and describes the model (and related variations, such as private-private and public-public) from both a business and a technical standpoint, and it summarizes case studies across the country of partnerships solving problems today. We provide a strategic overview of the basic Public Infrastructure/Private Service model and its variants, together with a framework for public-sector entities to consider as they evaluate potential technical approaches and levels of risk-sharing. And we address the key legal issues that arise in public-private partnership deals.
[Joanne Hovis is president of CTC Technology & Energy. Jim Baller is president of Baller Stokes & Lide, PC, a national law firm. David Talbot, Principal Analyst & Researcher at CTC Technology & Energy, is an experienced researcher and analyst who conducts a range of analytical, research, and needs assessment tasks. Cat Blake, Civic Technology Analyst at CTC Technology & Energy, works with clients to develop infrastructure and funding strategies to meet community needs and performs a range of research and writing tasks related to civic technology and digital equity.]
If you live in an area where AT&T has taken government funds in exchange for deploying broadband, there's a chance you won't be able to get the service—even if AT&T initially tells you it's available. AT&T's Mississippi division has received over $283 million from the Federal Communications Commission's Connect America Fund since 2015 and in exchange is required to extend home-Internet service to over 133,000 potential customer locations. As previously reported, the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) accused AT&T of submitting false coverage data to the FCC program. As evidence, Mississippi said its "investigation found concrete, specific examples that show AT&T Mississippi has reported location addresses... as being served when, in fact, the addresses are without service."
AT&T has since provided an explanation that confirms it submitted false data on the serviceability of some addresses but says it will still meet the overall requirement of serving over 133,000 new customer locations. The problem is in how AT&T determines whether its wireless home-Internet service can reach individual homes and businesses. AT&T uses propagation modeling software to map out coverage areas, but the software isn't always accurate. This wouldn't be a problem if AT&T deployed fiber-to-the-home or fiber-to-the-node in these areas, but the company is meeting its obligations with wireless service.
AT&T has stopped making connections to users subscribing to its DSL Internet as of Oct 1st. It looks like the most conservative number of those affected by the decision will be about 80,000 households that have no other option. Analysis using the Federal Communication Commission’s Form 477 data shows that the Deep South will be hit the hardest, with 13,200 households in Georgia, 11,700 in Florida, and 9,700 in Mississippi. South Carolina and Texas have just under 8,000 households affected. Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, California, and Oklahoma will see between 3,300 and 4,300 households hit, and Illinois, Arkansa, Kentucky, Michigan, and North Carolina between 1,000 and 2,000. Indiana, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Kansas contain 700 or fewer. Collectively, that’s more than 207,000 Americans who, if disconnected, will have no option for Internet aside from their mobile devices or satellite service. Those affected by the decision but which have additional wireline options is higher: roughly 2.2 million American households nationwide subscribe to the service.
Nearly a decade ago , the North Carolina General Assembly approved legislation that essentially blocked municipalities from acting as internet service providers, barring any new or expanded municipal-owned and operated systems. At the time, Wilson had been building its Greenlight system, with lightning-fast internet speeds, and a handful of other North Carolina cities and towns were following suit. The large telecommunications companies – Time-Warner-Cable (now Spectrum), AT&T, and CenturyLink – argued that this amounted to unfair government-subsidized competition. Those arguments seemed reasonable enough to a majority of state legislators and carried the day. But those companies also pledged then that they had both the capability and will to address the poor service plaguing rural North Carolina. The consequences of the inability of the major telecommunications providers to get fast, reliable service to areas of rural North Carolina make life for rural residents more dire every day. That was the case before COVID-19. It is even more the case today as residents work from home remotely, requiring good internet connections; schools are forced to reach students remotely via computer link; and more and more of our elderly residents require virtual health care through the tools of telemedicine.
It is past time for the larger telecommunications companies to stop their lobbying efforts to prevent us from bringing all tools to the table. Rural North Carolina must move forward, and public and private sector leaders in this state need to either help that happen, or get out the way.
[Clark Jenkins of Tarboro served in the North Carolina Senate from 2003 until 2015, representing Edgecombe, Martin and Pitt counties]
Denver Issue 2H would opt the city out of a 2005 state law restricting governments from using tax dollars to build broadband networks. The move would allow the city to enter into the high-speed internet business, should city officials want to go in that direction.
Ballot question: “Shall the City and County of Denver, without increasing taxes by this measure, reestablish the city’s right to provide all services restricted since 2005 by the Colorado General Assembly with their passage of Senate Bill 05-152, including the authority but not obligation to provide high-speed Internet (advanced services), telecommunication services, and cable television services, including any new and improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies, to residents, businesses, schools, libraries, non-profit entities and other users of such services either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners, as expressly permitted by Article 27, Title 29 of the Colorado Revised Statutes?”
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is leaning on the Pentagon to move ahead with a plan to stand up a 5G wireless network and the idea, despite opposition from key government and private-sector players, could well outlive the Trump administration. But there is also a chance the process will derail. The push has rankled some top DoD officials, sources say, with Defense Secretary Mark Esper said to be among those wary of the idea. Some officials at the Federal Communications Commission are also troubled by the national 5G plan. There's bipartisan consensus at the FCC against establishing a federally backed 5G network. (The FCC is also working to auction off a decent-sized chunk of 5G-friendly airwaves now controlled by the Pentagon.)
The past few months have underscored a basic truth: full participation in civil society requires an internet connection. Wireless technologies, including emerging 5G technologies, have an important role to play here. That’s why we must do more to make high-quality, affordable broadband, including 5G wireless service, available to everyone. In planning and promoting the deployment of advanced wireless networks, we have an opportunity to promote digital inclusion and combat longstanding inequalities.
Neither the Federal Communications Commission nor Congress has detailed exactly how untrustworthy equipment will be removed and replaced. And Congress has not provided the funding that process requires. Small wireless carriers bought this equipment legally and in good faith. They have now recognized the dangers, and they need our help to address them. Funding delays are creating serious issues for some of these carriers, which face potentially significant expenses with no relief in sight. I am committed to working with Congress to ensure that sufficient funds are appropriated soon and that a remedy can be provided quickly and responsibly. With the needed funding, I’m optimistic that we can make the needed replacements and end up with stronger, more secure networks—and I see Open RAN technology as a part of that solution.
Nokia uses the term “5G+” to encompass 5G and related technologies including edge cloud infrastructure, private networks, augmented intelligence, automation, sensing and robotics, as well as platform and as-a-service business models. Although only a small fraction of ICT spending goes toward 5G+ technologies today, 5G+ will represent the majority of ICT spending within six or seven years, according to the Nokia 5G economic forecast. By 2030, 5G+ technologies will represent $4.5 trillion of total ICT spending of $6 trillion.
Industries that Nokia considers “digitally mature” have been investing the most in ICT, but that’s set to change, according to the report. “With several years of strong ICT spend—during which digital industries outspent physical industries 70:30 in spite of having only 25% of the workforce and only 30% of GDP contribution – digital industries have attained a level of digitalization maturity that enabled them to meet the COVID-19 challenge aggressively." Digitally mature industries include communications and media, banking and securities and insurance, while “physical lagging” industries that underspend on ICT include construction, agriculture, mining, wholesale trade, live performance arts and entertainment and accommodation and food services. While overall ICT spending is forecast to grow 6.5% annually over the next decade, physical industries will see a 40% greater increase in comparison with digital industries, according to the report.
ACA Connects and EducationSuperHighway announced they are partnering in support of the “K-12 Bridge to Broadband” initiative to connect students with online learning. Under this program, broadband service providers help school districts and states identify students that lack broadband at home and then supply these connections. Providers that participate in the program agree to follow a set of core principles, which include creating a “sponsored service” offering that schools can purchase on behalf of students; working with schools to identify unserved student homes; standardizing eligibility; facilitating enrollment; and abiding by privacy protections.
The Federal Communications Commission announced that $1,366,378 in E-Rate funding for 291 schools serving 220,584 students in 32 states and Puerto Rico has been committed so far during the second application window for funding year 2020. During the second filing window, schools can purchase additional bandwidth for this academic year to address needs resulting from the increasing shift to 1:1 student-to-device ratios in classrooms, live streaming of classroom instruction to students at home, and expanding use of cloud-based educational tools and platforms—all of which can significantly increase oncampus bandwidth requirements. This filing window will close on October 16, 2020, and additional funding commitments will be issued in coming weeks.
The US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) is trying to lure away partners that have provided services for the Open Technology Fund (OTF) to work with a different agency it has stood up called the Office of Internet Freedom (OIF). Meanwhile, the controversy-wracked USAGM under Trump appointee Michael Pack has also been withholding funds from the OTF, a government-supported nonprofit focused on building software that advances internet freedom. Observers argue that the USAGM maneuver is an effort to move the funding of internet freedom projects out from under OTF's more rigorous requirements so that money can be funneled to projects favored by USAGM leadership.
A fast-rising pressure campaign is emerging to push the Senate to speedily confirm — by December’s end — Commerce Department adviser Nathan Simington to fill the Federal Communications Commission seat now held by Commissioner Mike O’Rielly. (O’Rielly will have to depart by year’s end.) That timeline is lightning-fast for the Senate, considering President Donald Trump only nominated Simington about a month ago. If the Senate doesn’t fill the GOP seat this year, Republicans would be disadvantaged going into 2021 and potentially give a Biden-era FCC a Democratic majority sooner. And Trump allies see Simington as a potential necessary vote to move forward with a rulemaking to narrow Silicon Valley’s liability protections (although Commissioner O’Rielly dismissed that prospect, Simington helped draft the Commerce Department petition asking the FCC to take action). “Republicans need to get smart and confirm Nate Simington to the FCC ASAP!” the president tweeted. Meanwhile, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, a Trump favorite, accused Senate Republicans of “sitting on his nomination.” The Senate Commerce Committee is now eyeing potential nominations hearing dates for Simington and two others.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s pick to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, could well help shift the Supreme Court’s view of how much deference to give decisions by agencies like the Federal Communications Commission. The doctrine of Chevron deference, established by the Supreme Court in the 1984 case of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. vs. Natural Resources Defense Council, established the legal test for when courts should defer to the expertise of a regulatory agency. Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a veteran watcher and participant in federal appeals, concedes there is little track record to go on, but said, looking at her general philosophy, “I would speculate that she would likely be willing to consider modifying or overruling Chevron. Similarly, she might be disposed to revisit Supreme Court jurisprudence on nondelegation.” (Barrett’s nomination could lack the necessary votes, given the COVID-19 diagnoses of some Republican senators.)
Benton (www.benton.org) provides the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband, while connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events. While the summaries are factually accurate, their sometimes informal tone may not always represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by Kevin Taglang (headlines AT benton DOT org) and Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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