Friday, October 20, 2023
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News From the FCC Meeting
News From the FCC
The Federal Communications Commission launched a new proceeding on restoring open internet protections for consumers and businesses. The FCC also will seek comment on proposals to ensure broadband services have effective oversight. If the proposals are adopted after the public comment period and review of that record, the FCC would once again be permitted to protect internet openness and competition, protect broadband networks from national security threats, and address public safety needs like internet outages. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on classifying fixed and mobile broadband internet service as an essential “telecommunications” service under Title II of the Communications Act. The proposal also seeks to restore clear, nationwide, open internet rules that would prevent Internet Service Providers from blocking legal content, throttling speeds, and creating fast lanes that favor those who can pay for access. Returning broadband to its proper designation as a telecommunications service would empower the FCC to use its Section 214 authority against national security threats to America’s broadband networks.
NCTA: The Internet & Cable Association President and CEO Michael Powell used an opening session at his industry’s annual tech trade show to launch a full-throated, very libertarian-leaning counter-offensive to the Federal Communications Commission's plan to reinstate net neutrality rules. Powell labeled Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel’s new attempt to reclassify and regulate broadband as a Title II common-carrier service, setting rules preventing ISPs from establishing abusive restrictions and tolls, as an “illusory” effort trying to solve a “fabricated” problem. Powell described the FCC’s approach as being rooted in regulatory solutions for problems that existed with railroads in the 1800s. Powell said the cable industry has no economic incentive to arbitrate who does and who doesn’t have access to its network infrastructure.
The Federal Communications Commission will allow E-Rate funding to be used for Wi-Fi on school buses beginning in funding year 2024 as the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) program is set to sunset. The action enhances the benefits and the reach of the E-Rate program to ensure that the millions of students caught in the Homework Gap can more fully engage in their learning. The action clarifies that the use of Wi-Fi, or other similar access point technologies, on school buses serves an educational purpose and the provision of such service is therefore eligible for E-Rate funding. The FCC has previously found that the off-campus use of certain services is integral to the education of students and has permitted funding of such services through E-Rate. This ruling also directs the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau to fund Wi-Fi on school buses, as well as any E-Rate-eligible equipment needed to enable the service, as part of funding year 2024 eligible services list proceeding and seek comment on the specific services and equipment that should be funded.
The Federal Communications Commission launched a proceeding designed to explore ways the FCC’s Mapping Broadband Health in America platform could be expanded and enhanced to help better leverage digital health tools to improve maternal care. The FCC seeks comment on issues that will help guide the next phase of this mapping platform and inform associated data analytics work concerning the relationship between broadband and maternal health. This would include future plans to incorporate additional maternal health variables, other relevant data, and functionalities; to assess how best to address data limitations while still protecting privacy and confidentiality; and to ensure that future updates result in improved user experience and actionable insights. In addition, this proceeding will also seek information and comment on current uses of broadband-enabled health technologies, solutions, and services that are available and being used in maternal health care, as well as the range of barriers that prevent access and utilization by childbearing women or women receiving postpartum care. Lastly, it will seek comment on potential actions or activities the Commission could pursue to help improve maternal health outcomes; to reduce maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity rates; and to promote maternal health equity
The Federal Communications Commission opened the 6 GHz band to a new class of very low power devices that will operate alongside other Wi-Fi-enabled devices. These rules will spur an ecosystem of cutting-edge applications, including wearable technologies and augmented and virtual reality, that will help businesses, enhance learning opportunities, advance healthcare opportunities, and bring new entertainment experiences. Recognizing the need to provide more flexibility and foster unlicensed innovation, the FCC established rules that permit devices that operate at very low power (VLP) across short distances and provide very high connection speeds, which are ideal for the types of high-data rate cutting-edge applications that will both enrich consumer experiences and bolster the nation’s economy. These include, for example, advanced augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), wearable sensors and technologies, and a variety of Internet of Things devices. The new rules however are careful to limit these devices to very low power levels and subject them to other technical and operational requirements that will permit these devices to operate across the United States while protecting incumbent licensed services that operate in the 6 GHz band. Specifically, the new rules authorize VLP operations in the U-NII-5 and U-NII-7 portions of the 6 GHz band totaling 850 megahertz of spectrum. Operations at power levels significantly lower than other unlicensed 6 GHz devices could occur anywhere, indoors or outdoors, without any need for a frequency coordination system. The FCC also proposed expanding operation of these very low power unlicensed devices to the remainder of the 6 GHz band and permitting VLP devices more operational flexibility through higher power levels subject to a geofencing system that provides interference protection to licensed incumbent operations in the band.
The Federal Communications Commission kicked off a rulemaking to explore how the universal service high-cost support program can continue funding fixed and mobile broadband services in Alaska—one of the hardest-to-serve areas in the country. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on a number of issues to help the FCC determine the most effective methodologies and uses for future universal service funding for high-cost fixed and mobile services in Alaska. As part of the rulemaking, the FCC will leverage data from the agency’s new and improved broadband coverage map and broadband funding map, which provide a more accurate picture of where service is and is not, and where deployment has already been funded, in Alaska. The FCC also seeks comment to better understand the changes, including technology and the broadband funding landscape, that have occurred in Alaska since 2016. In addition to the rulemaking, the Report and Order makes several administrative modifications to, and clarifications of, FCC rules to improve the administration of the high-cost program. The Report and Order changes provider annual reporting and certification obligations, streamlines processes governing mergers between rate-of-return local exchange carriers, and makes several rule modifications to improve FCC oversight, including increased performance testing reporting, elimination of waiver exceptions for study area boundary changes, and a new notice requirement for carriers relinquishing their Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) designations before state authorities.
We write to urge you to extend funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP); which provides over 21 million working families with financial assistance for broadband access; to help bridge the digital divide so they can continue to afford the broadband services they need for work, school, health care, and more. Should ACP funding not be extended, millions of Americans could be at risk of losing access to broadband. We would take significant steps backward in the progress we’ve already made to connect more Americans to the internet through additional federal broadband investments. In just the last 6 months, we’ve invested billions of dollars to build out critical infrastructure, making sure the most rural areas of our country have access to broadband services. The ACP ensures families can now afford those services. We cannot let them face a connectivity cliff by letting this program run out of money with no future assistance. Failing to extend funding would be irresponsible. Without an extension, nearly 21 million families already enrolled in the ACP will lose access to affordable broadband services that are critical to their everyday lives; and, should this funding lapse, hardworking families previously enrolled in the ACP would have to go through the process of reenrolling, creating unnecessary obstacles for obtaining affordable, reliable broadband.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted case studies in three states and interviewed middle-mile operators, last-mile providers, and state officials. GAO also interviewed federal agency officials, academics, and industry participants. GAO assessed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's NTIA middle mile program documentation against recommended practices related to grants management, duplication, and performance management. NTIA followed all recommended grants management practices, and took steps to ensure program funding did not duplicate other federal funding. However, NTIA did not follow leading practices and federal regulations related to performance management. Leading practices call for performance goals to be quantifiable and the associated measures to have numerical targets. Federal regulations also require agencies issuing a notice of funding opportunity to develop program performance goals and measures during planning and design, and include this information in the funding notice. GAO found NTIA had not developed such goals or measures prior to issuing its funding notice. By not doing so, NTIA missed the opportunity to inform applicants on how they could contribute to the goals during its applicant review and selection process. GAO reported that for two other programs, NTIA also did not develop performance goals and measures during program planning and design as required. By establishing performance measures with specified targets, NTIA can provide Congress with key information on program outcomes. Moreover, by establishing a process to ensure that goals and measures are developed during a program’s planning stages NTIA can better target grant funding that links to desired outcomes. GAO made two recommendations to the NTIA:
- NTIA should develop performance measures for the middle-mile grant program that align with key attributes of successful performance measures, including ensuring that measures clearly link with stated program goals and have specified targets.
- NTIA should establish a process to ensure NTIA develops performance goals and measures that align with leading practices for its grant programs during program planning and design and to ensure it includes these goals and measures as part of its future notices of funding opportunities.
The ʻŌlelo Noʻeau (Native Hawaiian proverb) which introduces Hawai'i's draft Digital Equity Plan speaks to Hawai'i's dependence on the finite resources on an island, the state residents' dependence on one another, and their interconnectedness with everything around them. On a waʻa (canoe), everyone operates together and in sync with one another, with a heightened awareness of the resources on board and the kuleana (responsibility/privilege) of each member on the team to ensure everyone is cared for to bring their best selves forward. The preparation for a long voyage is a tedious and intentional process where every detail, from resources to navigation, are intricately planned. The State of Hawaiʻi has been actively engaged in the work of closing the digital divide since the formation of the Hawaiʻi Broadband Task Force in 2007. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 revealed and deepened the digital divide experienced by communities throughout Hawaiʻi that were already vulnerable to inequalities and hardships. The Hawaiʻi Broadband Hui (BBHui) and Digital Equity Declaration were birthed in 2020 in response to the digital inequities revealed and exacerbated by the pandemic. Over the past year, the State of Hawaiʻi Broadband and Digital Equity Office (HBDEO), under the leadership of the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT), and in collaboration with a team of community-based consultants, has engaged directly with a wide range of populations that face digital inequity across the islands. With more than 480 participants engaged during the primary data collection phase of this plan, 51 interviews, and 37 focus groups with members of covered populations across Hawaiʻi, the Digital Equity Plan seeks to center the voices of Hawaiʻi’s diverse community. This deeply rooted outreach into Hawaiʻi’s digital divide lays the foundation for a collective movement towards a digitally equitable future for all kamaʻāina (residents), particularly those in marginalized communities and underserved households. The state's draft Digital Equity Plan is the first step in what HBDEO believes will be a unique voyage for Hawaiʻi. Together, Hawai'i residents will embark on a journey to bridge the digital divide and steer Hawaiʻi into a future where digital equity is achieved and all of those who call Hawaiʻi home will have access to the devices, connection, and skills that they need to succeed into the digital future.
Nearly 800 homes and businesses in Greene County (PA) will be able to get high-speed fiber internet for the first time, due to a $5.2 million public–private partnership with broadband provider Kinetic. The project, expected to start in mid-November and be completed in the spring, will provide internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second to eligible homes and business in parts of the townships of Aleppo, Freeport, Gilmore, Perry, Springhill and Wayne. Under the partnership, the county will support the project with $2.5 million through a grant of that amount that it received from the Appalachian Regional Commission. Kinetic will invest $2.7 million and cover any cost overruns. Kinetic plans to lay about 105 miles of optical fiber cable to bring high-speed internet to residences, businesses and schools. Residents and businesses will not need to wait until the project is completed to sign up for the service. They will be able to sign up as soon as the optical fiber reaches their building.
T-Mobile is hoping to significantly improve the depth and reach of its lowband 5G network. But Dish Network is looking to block that move. A 2019 agreement among Dish, T-Mobile, and the US Department of Justice (DoJ) ultimately paved the way for T-Mobile to close its $26 billion purchase of Sprint. That transaction—made possible by Dish's support of it—has proven transformative to T-Mobile, helping the operator dramatically expand its 5G network in a way that has galvanized its growth in the US wireless industry. It also positioned Dish to build its 5G open RAN network. Regardless, Dish doesn't appear to be terribly interested in smoothing over its relationship with T-Mobile. "This transaction threatens wireless competition and implicates material questions for FCC public policy," Dish told the Federal Communications Commission in a recent filing, pointing to T-Mobile's recent deals to purchase more lowband 600MHz spectrum from Columbia Capital and Comcast. "The [FCC] should suspend review of this transaction, or at least condition the transaction, to offset the harms to competition and consumers."
The major online platforms are breaking up with news. Some executives of the largest tech companies, like Adam Mosseri at Instagram, have said in no uncertain terms that hosting news on their sites can often be more trouble than it is worth because it generates polarized debates. Others, like Elon Musk, the owner of X, have expressed disdain for the mainstream press. Publishers seem resigned to the idea that traffic from the big tech companies will not return to what it once was. Even in the long-fractious relationship between publishers and tech platforms, the latest rift stands out—and the consequences for the news industry are stark. Many news companies have struggled to survive after the tech companies threw the industry’s business model into upheaval more than a decade ago. One lifeline was the traffic—and, by extension, advertising—that came from sites like Facebook and Twitter. Now that traffic is disappearing. Top news sites got about 11.5 percent of their web traffic in the United States from social networks in September 2020, according to Similarweb, a data and analytics company. By September 2023, it was down to 6.5 percent.
For the third quarter of 2023, AT&T reported growth in 5G and mobility, fiber subscribers and broadband revenues. The company added 296,000 fiber subscribers, surpassing 8 million AT&T Fiber subscribers in call— doubling the customer base in less than 4 years. Consumer broadband revenues are up 9.8%, driven by AT&T Fiber revenue growth of 26.9%. AT&T's consumer fiber network is now capable of serving 20.7 million consumers and about 3.3 million business customer locations; on track to pass 30 million+ fiber locations by the end of 2025.
In his new book “Techlash: Who Makes The Rules In The Digital Age?”, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler says regulators have failed to rein in Big Tech because they’re using outdated tools. Call it something like “regulatory futurism”—Wheeler is saying now is the time for the government to get innovative by setting up new agencies with wide-reaching powers to determine what is and isn’t in the public’s best interest when it comes to tech. “We have to come up with a regulatory structure that is transparent, risk-based, and agile, which is the kind of structure that protects consumers, protects competition, and protects and encourages innovation,” Wheeler said. What does that look like in practice? Wheeler said it could involve investigating companies the government determines are not working in the public interest, in service of convenience, or of necessity, the pillars of what his FCC called a “general conduct” standard when it was enforcing net neutrality. Many internet service providers, and Republicans, hated this standard, saying it gave too much power and discretion to the FCC, and made the regulatory landscape too uncertain and subject to the commission’s whims. To that end, Wheeler is calling on regulators to get creative and adopt similar measures to that general conduct standard to overcome the advantage the tech industry currently enjoys. “In the late 19th century… [regulators] were confronting never-before-seen realities, and having to develop never-before-seen regulatory structures,” Wheeler said. “The digital economy is the largest ungoverned space in the American economy, and that’s not good for the companies, for consumers, or for the country, and we need to do something about it. But that requires that we be as innovative as the innovators who built these companies.”
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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