Wednesday, October 18, 2023
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A discussion about why universal access to affordable, robust broadband is a matter of social justice and necessary for a thriving democracy. That might seem obvious to many of you—how can one fully participate in our society, our economy, our education, health care and financial systems or our democracy without a broadband connection? But in my 35 years of working to ensure that every American household has affordable access to communications networks of all kinds, it has been a struggle to convince funders, policymakers, the press, and a broad range of civil society organizations that communications policy is anything more than highly technical economic policy that, while important, is a secondary issue that isn’t core to their goal of creating a just society. Less than 5 years ago, some policymakers and broadband industry representatives were arguing that Internet access was a luxury, not a necessity; one that was largely used for frivolous activities like video games and social media. They would argue that if one really needed Internet access, you could go to a library or work and your child could go to their school. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States.
The Federal Communications Commission is heading into the next round of Washington’s longest-running fight over technology policy. On Oct. 19 the agency is slated to take a preliminary vote to reassert its authority to regulate broadband providers, clearing the way to pass a version of the net neutrality rules that it eviscerated during the Trump administration. President Joe Biden has called for the reinstatement of net neutrality since being elected, yet the FCC didn’t have the third Democrat it needed to push through the policy at the five-member agency until Anna Gomez joined in September. Just one day after Gomez became a commissioner, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel acted to move forward, saying Covid-19 lockdowns had ratified broadband as “essential infrastructure for modern life,” yet the FCC “has limited ability to oversee these indispensable networks.” This puts the commission on a timeline that could have a new version of net neutrality regulations in place by mid-2024. The outline of the proposed rules will be familiar to those who followed the debate up to this point. The rules prohibit broadband providers that bring the internet to homes and businesses from blocking or slowing access to web traffic or offering paid “fast lanes” that put their business partners’ traffic ahead of everyone else’s.
We write to express our disappointment and opposition to your announcement that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to reclassify fixed and mobile broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Not only is this bad public policy, but it is also unlawful. Reclassification and the associated heavy-handed regulations that accompany this action continues to be a solution in search of a problem. We seek the following information by October 31, 2023:
- When did the FCC begin drafting the Safeguarding and Securing the Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)? Please also provide each draft considered by your office and the Chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB).
- a. Please provide the date and time that you shared the Safeguarding and Securing the Open Internet NPRM with each commissioner.
- Which FCC employees, officials, or contractors participated in drafting the NPRM? Please provide their names and job titles.
- Provide any FCC work product (emails, memos, documents, other written communications), including from the Office of General Counsel (OGC), raising potential legal or litigation concerns stemming from the NPRM.
- Has the FCC conducted an economic analysis of this proposal? If so, please provide that analysis.
- 5. Did anyone at the FCC discuss reclassification of broadband with the Executive Office of the President (EOP) before your September 26, 2023, announcement? If so, who from the FCC and EOP, and when? Please provide their names and job titles.
- Which interest groups and stakeholders have met with your office or the WCB to discuss reclassification of broadband prior to your September 26, 2023, announcement?
- a. Did any of these groups receive any funds from the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program? If so, please provide the name of the group and the amount of funding provided through the grant program.
- Has the FCC received any formal complaints about broadband providers engaging in the blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization that you seek to prohibit? If so, please provide those complaints.
- Do you commit to not regulate rates for broadband service either ex ante or ex post?
- Do you agree with statements made by third parties that, “If we don’t save net neutrality, you’ll get the internet one word at a time” and that enacting the Restoring Internet Freedom Order would cause the “end of the internet as we know it”?
- a. Have these predictions come true?
- b. Did anything change with the Internet’s performance following the adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order?
- Do you agree that our nation’s broadband networks withstood the challenge of increased usage during the Covid-19 pandemic without reclassifying broadband under Title II?
- You concluded your dissent in the 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order by stating “So let’s persist. Let’s fight. Let’s not stop here or now. It’s too important. The future depends on it.” That same day, FCC headquarters received a bomb threat and, days later, then-FCC Chairman Pai received a death threat. Do you believe your rhetoric and the rhetoric of your allies contributed to these acts?
- a. Will you commit to using tamer and less hyperbolic language when discussing this proceeding?
- b. Will you commit to disavowing any similar language used by supporters of your proposed actions?
One of the most questionable facts circulating in the broadband industry is that a large percentage of homes in the country have multiple internet service provider (ISP) options. A recent U.S. News and World Report states that the FCC data shows that 94 percent of homes have a choice of three or more ISPs. I’ve seen similar statistics elsewhere, and it’s not hard to see that this information comes from the latest FCC mapping data. I’m not surprised to find that the FCC maps show that 94 percent of homes in the country have three or more ISPs claiming the ability to provide service. But that is very different than saying that folks have three real choices of ISP. The FCC hasn’t issued an annual broadband report since 2021, probably due to not having a fifth Commissioner. It will be interesting to see what the FCC claims about broadband coverage when it finally issues a report. I bet the FCC report say something along the same lines as mentioned in the U.S. News and Word Report survey – that the state of broadband is good and that almost all Americans have multiple choices for good broadband. But that would be political fantasy that ignores what most households know – most of us in cities have only one or two choices of quality broadband. Many folks in rural areas still don’t even have one.
Small rural internet service providers (ISPs) had until the end of September to tell the Federal Communications Commission whether they wanted to participate in the Enhanced ACAM program. The E-ACAM program extends subsidies to these small providers through 2038, and in exchange the providers will serve all locations in their territory with 100/20 Mbps broadband, making most of them ineligible for the BEAD program. The results are in: providers electing to participate in E-ACAM cover 682,581 Unserved and Underserved locations nationally. 1.3 million Unserved and Underserved locations would receive E-ACAM offers by the FCC. The accepted E-ACAM offers cover 52.5 percent of the Unserved and Underserved locations that were made offers. How does this affect states and their BEAD programs? Well, it’s still a big change in some states like Nebraska, where 47 percent of Unserved and Underserved are part of either RDOF or E-ACAM. And it makes a big difference in South Dakota, where 31 percent of their locations will be covered by E-ACAM. But it isn’t the sea change I expected.
Minnesota is getting a taste of open-access fiber, as Intrepid Fiber will expand its network into the Greater St. Cloud area—bringing symmetrical multi-gig broadband to over 44,000 households and businesses. This marks Intrepid’s second open access initiative in the state: a project in Bloomington is set to cover 40,000 locations. As for St. Cloud, construction is already underway in the city as well as in Sauk Rapids, Waite Park, and Sartell. Intrepid expects fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) service to be live in the area by the end of 2023.
Through a recent partnership announcement with Ciena, eCommunity Fiber is poised to extend its open-access fiber network in Georgia and beyond. Launched by parent company A2D, an open-access local exchange carrier, the privately-funded eCommunity Fiber network currently serves five cities within Clayton County in Georgia. eCommunity is now gearing up for its second Georgia deployment, with plans to cross other state lines in 2024. Open-access networks are deployed by one company and then leased to multiple internet service providers, which can then offer broadband service to end customers. Providers serving through the eCommunity network include ConnectFast, Culture Wireless, Momentum Telecom, and Syringa Networks. Lumen and Nitel services are also available for businesses in the area.
Governor Wes Moore (D-MD) announced $69 million in federal funding for two new programs to help more Marylanders access high-speed, affordable internet. Administered by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s Office of Statewide Broadband, the two programs, Home Stretch for Public Housing and Home Stretch for Difficult to Serve Properties, are expected to provide internet access to an estimated 15,000 unserved Maryland households. Funded through the US Treasury’s American Rescue Plan Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, both programs are the newest additions to the Office of Statewide Broadband’s Connect Maryland initiative, which provides financial assistance to local jurisdictions to advance the state’s digital access efforts.
- The Home Stretch for Public Housing program has received $45 million, which will help address affordability, access and service issues of broadband internet in Maryland’s public housing. The program will provide funding directly to local jurisdictions that own public housing units to install broadband facilities, wireless access points, and additional eligible broadband elements. Each project program must also include educational and technical assistance outreach to support adoption. The Office of Statewide Broadband estimates that the funding will provide wiring for approximately 10,400 multi-dwelling units across the state.
- The Home Stretch for Difficult to Serve Properties program has received more than $24 million in funding, which will fund last-mile broadband projects that are focused on bringing high-speed internet access to remote properties that have difficulty obtaining service due to distance from broadband infrastructure or other geographic issues that may discourage an internet service provider from delivering broadband service. Grants will be made to counties, which will subgrant funds to internet service providers to install service connection and provide service. The Office of Statewide Broadband estimates the funding will provide broadband service to 4,600 unserved properties across the state.
The state of Mississippi will be getting one of the largest allotments in the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) rural broadband funding program–$1.2 billion. The funding comes on top of $151.5 million that the state was awarded from the Capital Projects Fund and an earlier award of $32.6 million from the Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP). “We started with a smaller award and the awards have been getting larger and larger," said Sally Doty, director of the Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM). That experience helped Doty and others in her office gain experience that should serve them well in administering the BEAD program. Doty noted, for example, that initially, she didn’t realize how important archaeologists would be to broadband funding programs. “You have to have them to get the necessary approvals,” she said. When asked if the $1.2 billion in BEAD funding will be enough to make broadband available to everyone in the state, Doty said, “It’s going to be close.” The answer, she said, will depend on a variety of factors, including awards made using the CPF money awarded to the state and the percentage of matching funds that awardees are willing to contribute.
On September 29, the American Enterprise Institute hosted an expert panel to discuss states’ plans for managing the billions of dollars allotted to broadband expansion. The panel featured Duke University’s Michelle Connolly, North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s Nate Denny, ConnectLA’s Veneeth Iyengar, and Kansas Office of Broadband Development’s Jade Piros de Carvalho. Piros de Carvalho highlighted the need for solutions to the labor shortage that the deployment process will soon be facing, as well as the need for streamlined permitting processes. In North Carolina, according to Denny, local capacity is a major challenge; the state is figuring out how to both create opportunities for local voices––while also supplementing that planning capacity, the mapping expertise, the analysis needed at the local level––to figure out where BEAD investments make sense. For an edited and abridged transcript of key events from the panel, visit here.
Statewide telehealth use jumped dramatically among low-income Californians covered by Medi-Cal in March 2020, when telehealth visits began to be reimbursed at the same rates as in-person visits. We find comparable trends in California’s community health centers (CHCs)—primary care clinics that serve all comers—for Medi-Cal and undocumented patients. However, telehealth can still pose challenges for those who are uncomfortable with technology or lack English proficiency. And California’s persistent digital divide in access to broadband connection and devices can also be a barrier to using telehealth. California plans to continue many policies established during the public health emergency that broadened the availability of Medi-Cal-covered benefits and services through telehealth. And telehealth will continue to be an important resource for undocumented patients after Medi-Cal is expanded to all residents, regardless of age or immigration status, in January 2024. However, challenges lie ahead, particularly in addressing language barriers common among immigrants and enhancing technological literacy.
Dish Wireless collaborated with Qualcomm Technologies and Samsung to successfully test simultaneous 5G 2x uplink and 4x downlink carrier aggregation (CA) using Frequency-Division Duplexing (FDD) spectrum across FDD bands n71, n70 and n66. The result, according to Dish, is that it was able to achieve 200 Mbps peak uplink speeds with just 35 MHz of 5G spectrum and 1.3 Gbps peak downlink speeds with just 75 MHz of spectrum. According to Daryl Schoolar, analyst and director at Recon Analytics, this achievement is significant for Dish because while operators have been able to do downlink CA using multiple FDD bands, uplink CA is very new. Schooler added that Dish’s announcement demonstrates that this capability can be delivered over a commercial 5G network and Dish will benefit from it as it grows its subscriber base. “Increasing network capacity will be important given that Dish trails its three largest U.S. mobile competitors in lower-spectrum holdings,” he said.
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), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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