Friday, October 21, 2022
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Government & Communications
Stories From Abroad
The Federal Communications Commission is definitely not going to give broadband providers’ data-collection methodology confidential treatment unless they come up with different reasons than the ones being offered up by dozens of providers. In dozens of orders responding to the requests, FCC Wireline Bureau Chief Kirk Burgee said the argument that the providers’ fixed-broadband coverage methodology data is “highly sensitive in that it contains statements about the Company’s broadband network and service provision that is not generally publicly available” does not warrant that special treatment. The FCC had told providers that the methodology should be public “subject to individual requests for confidential treatment of this information,” but a check of more than two dozen such requests found that the regulator had denied all of them. “The aim of the [Broadband Data Collection initiative] is not only to provide this information to the [FCC], but also to make such data available to the public for purposes of validating and challenging the accuracy of service providers’ submissions,” the FCC told the providers. Thus, giving the public access to how everyone determined where broadband was or wasn’t will “maximize the effectiveness” of that process.
Broadband Connects America (BCA)—a coalition of diverse national, state-based, and local nonprofit organizations, as well as state agencies—asked the Federal Communication Commission for guidance on how consumers can challenge broadband created through the Broadband Data Collection Program. During the availability challenge process for the Broadband Data Collection maps, the FCC said consumers may file a challenge asserting that the “reported speed [is] not offered.” However, it is unclear how consumers can actively participate in this facet of the challenge process. Additionally, without data about the actual speeds that customers are receiving, it is impossible to know if their service meets even the current definition of broadband, let alone the speeds they need to meaningfully engage online. The point of the challenge process is not to punish broadband providers, but rather to get consumers connected. Where there is a challenge, the providers will have an opportunity to respond with their own evidence to the challenge. Given the FCC's definition of broadband and its goal of closing the digital divide, the BCA encourages the FCC to provide guidance to consumers about how best to demonstrate that the services they receive cannot meet the definition of broadband, which must accept actual speed data during the challenge process for fixed broadband.
The use of open-access internet networks to help close the country’s digital divide has excited many groups who see them as a viable connection strategy for communities where there is little fiber or competition between broadband providers, or where one incumbent provider dominates, as is the case in many cities. There are already some examples of successful open-access networks in the US, albeit driven by the local governments themselves. Researchers at the nonprofit New America’s Open Technology Institute found that Ammon, Idaho’s municipally operated open access network has made the city “one of the most affordable broadband markets in the country,” as its network has encouraged broadband providers to compete for residents’ business with lower prices and faster speeds. One reason some look favorably upon open access networks is that they encourage competition between broadband providers, which must compete with one another on the same infrastructure for the same customers. By encouraging that competition on a common network rather than having providers build their own infrastructure as the large incumbents do, communities can push companies to provide better speeds and services for their customers or risk losing their business. Ultimately, if telecommunications companies and providers do not have to focus on building their own infrastructure they can focus more on the “customer experience.”
The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) began the Tribal Broadband Leaders Network, a community of practitioners that are dedicated to expanding connectivity on Tribal lands. More than 130 participants representing more than 70 Tribes attended the first network meeting. The Tribal Broadband Leaders Network will allow the NTIA to receive ongoing feedback on the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) while connecting Tribal leaders across the country to share priorities and best practices, discuss emerging telecommunications policy issues and identify engagement strategies with state broadband leaders. This forum for Tribal leaders will be essential to improving communication time between Tribes and the federal government.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe has worked hard to connect its northwestern Californian community to high-speed internet despite the barriers to access, adoption and application that Tribal members face. Through Tribal initiatives, regional partnerships, and state and federal funding, the Hoopa Valley Tribe is bringing broadband services to this area which has had a lack of investment in connectivity. The Hoopa Valley Tribe–home to the Natinixwe or Hupa People–primarily resides on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation around the Trinity River in northwestern California. Over 3,300 people live on the reservation. The valley is 64 miles northeast of Eureka, California, and just south of the Yurok and Karuk Native American Reservations. Surrounded by mountainous, forested terrain, the 92,000-acre Hoopa Valley Reservation is the largest Indian reservation in the state of California. The region's rural and mountainous geography makes it challenging to build fixed broadband networks to homes on the reservation. Only 53 percent of Hoopa Valley's 1,030 households have a broadband internet subscription compared to the United States average of 85 percent connected households, according to Census data. Linnea Jackson, General Manager for the Hoopa Valley Public Utilities District, stressed, "There's no wired fiber in this region yet, although there are three regional projects that are happening. Our only option for internet right now is a wireless backhaul.”
The Federal Communications Commission launched a new pilot program to make it easier for Tribal libraries to apply for broadband funding through the E-Rate program, which supports eligible schools and libraries. The FCC’s pilot will initially target 20 Tribal libraries that are new to the program or have had challenges applying in the past. The program will provide one-on-one assistance in all aspects of planning and applying for ERate support, and help participants once they successfully apply to ensure they are supported during the invoicing and other post-commitment processes. Based on lessons learned, the program could be expanded to include more Tribal libraries and targeted, in-person training opportunities. Applications to participate in the pilot program will be due on November 18
The Village of Lynbrook (NY) is planning for the possibility of a major Internet outage — the kind that could last six months. The village's Internet Outage Continuity Plan has distributed copies to all of its municipal departments. The document is intended to supplement other disaster recovery and business continuity plans. It maps out every function conducted by local government, identifies those involving the Internet, and lists alternative, offline methods of getting the job done. According to Lynbrook Village Administrator John Giordano, theirs is the first municipal Internet outage plan in the state. Lynbrook spent about four months convening department heads to discuss ideas and develop its plan. It gave a copy to the New York Conference of Mayors, for sharing with other interested local governments. Still, governments’ best efforts may not always be enough, and keeping operations running could mean ensuring older technologies like landline telephones and faxes remain an option, even as governments acquire modern tech. Lynbrook’s plan anticipates the loss of everything from credit card processing (answered by a reversion to checks and cash) and email (replaced by fax, phone calls, and, in some cases, postal mail) to the downing of the key fob system at village headquarters (the alternative: reinstall manual locks).
White House officials convened industry leaders, policy experts and government leaders to discuss plans for security and privacy standards on connected devices. The meeting, billed as a workshop for a nascent White House Internet of Things labeling initiative, focused on the implementation of the initiative with a focus on issues such as how to ensure labels match international standards, how to design a barcode to ensure consumers can find timely information about a product online and how to raise overall consumer awareness of Internet of Things (IoT) vulnerabilities. The meeting was attended by top White House cyber official Anne Neuberger, Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, National Cyber Director Chris Inglis, and Senator Angus King (I-ME), alongside consumer tech associations, industry executives and the nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Consumer Reports. Industry leaders from Google, AT&T, Comcast, Amazon, Cisco, Intel, Samsung, and Sony attended the meeting as well, as did officials from the American National Standards Institute and the National Retail Federation. The labeling program is still in its early stages, but the White House expects to roll out the first set of standards in Spring 2023 and plans to launch the voluntary program with standards in place for particularly vulnerable internet-connected devices such as internet routers. The program will likely rate devices based on standards that include vulnerability remediation, the amount of information collected on consumers, whether data is encrypted, and interoperability with other products. The label will include a barcode for consumers to scan so they can see a given manufacturer’s security practices in real-time.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will ask the public what spectrum should become available and for what purposes. The NTIA will develop a “spectrum strategy” designed to free up airwaves for a wide variety of uses. The NTIA will rely on multiple streams of public input, including a request for comment and public meetings to inform this strategy. When designing spectrum policy, the government balances the needs of the federal government – including the national security entities – with those of private industry and others. The NTIA administers radio spectrum for federal use while the Federal Communications Commission administers radio spectrum for non-federal use. The two agencies play a large role in shifting spectrum allocations from the federal government to other entities, which are often in the private sector.
I welcome the opportunity to respond and can assure you that the Federal Communications Commission takes seriously the responsibilities entrusted to it by Congress under the law, including the efforts identified in your letter “to expand connectivity to all Americans, regulate broadcast stations and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) in the media marketplace, limit the transmission of illegal robocalls, preserve the capability for reliable 911 and emergency alerting services, and remove untrusted communications equipment and services from U.S. communications networks.” I am providing you the following information:
- A list of all pending rulemakings and the specific Congressional authority for each rulemaking;
- A list of all expected rulemakings and the specific Congressional authority for each rulemaking;
- A list of all pending or expected Declaratory Rulings on delegated authority by a Bureau or Office of the FCC.
AT&T is in discussions to create a joint venture that would invest billions of dollars on fiber-optic network expansion. The company is working with Morgan Stanley to help bring in an infrastructure partner to the venture, which is expected to be valued at $10 billion to $15 billion. AT&T is embarking on its biggest plan yet to pursue broadband customers outside its traditional 21-state local phone territory. The company has already started to take on fiber projects in new states such as Arizona and plans to expand to more in an effort to boost subscriber growth. Chief Executive Officer John Stankey has been traveling to cities such as Mesa, Arizona, and Evansville, Indiana, to kick off projects, including public-private partnerships that can serve as a model to tap into the nearly $100 billion in federal broadband funding available. AT&T’s decision to move into new markets hinges on at least three factors: the area has to be underserved with broadband, profitable for AT&T, and AT&T also has to be the first provider of fiber to the home.
AT&T's core wireless business overshot its expectations during the third quarter of 2022, driving higher revenue and profits despite lingering worries about inflation. The company added 708,000 postpaid phone connections, a metric that investors use to measure the strength of a cellphone carrier’s main profit center. For the third consecutive quarter, the tally handily topped projections of Wall Street analysts, who had been expecting 552,300 connections in the third quarter. AT&T has added more than 2.2 million wireless subscribers through three quarters, which it said it expected to top rivals. It also added 338,000 customers to its fiber-optic network in the third quarter. Additionally, AT&T emphasized that building new fiber optic lines remains a priority for the company.
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 Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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