Thursday, October 26, 2023
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The Administration continues to call on Congress to reach a comprehensive, bipartisan agreement to fund the Government, which is critical for a number of bipartisan priorities – including child care, nutrition assistance, public health, research and development, and national security. The Administration also recently communicated with Congress about critical funding needs for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Student Aid Administration, and the Social Security Administration to prevent harmful impacts on women and children, students, seniors and individuals with disabilities in the coming year, and we expect Congress to address these needs as well as today’s supplemental funding request. In the meantime, in order to advance critical domestic priorities and address urgent needs, the Biden-Harris Administration is calling on Congress to provide additional domestic resources that will, among other things Continue to Expand Access to High-Speed Internet Across America. In the 21st century, affordable, reliable high-speed internet is a necessity for Americans to do their jobs, participate equally in school learning, access health care, and stay connected. But too often, high costs create a barrier and tens of millions of families, students, and seniors are left without access to high-speed internet, or have to sacrifice other necessities to pay their internet bill, exacerbating underlying inequities. The Affordable Connectivity Program, enacted under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is already helping over 21 million households save over $500 million per month on their monthly internet bills. The program is also critical for the Administration’s high-speed internet deployment programs for rural, remote, and Tribal communities. Without this funding, tens of millions of people would lose this benefit and would no longer be able to afford high-speed internet service without sacrificing other necessities. The Administration is requesting $6 billion to strengthen the Affordable Connectivity Program by extending free and discounted high-speed internet for eligible households through December 2024.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau seeks additional comment on the proposed eligible services list (ESL) for the schools and libraries universal service support mechanism (more commonly known as the E-Rate program) for funding year (FY) 2024. On September 12, 2023, the Bureau released a Public Notice seeking comment on the proposed ESL for FY 2024. Subsequently, on October 19, 2023, the FCC adopted a Declaratory Ruling regarding Wi-Fi on school buses. Specifically, in the Declaratory Ruling, the FCC clarified that the use of Wi-Fi, or other similar access point technologies, on school buses is an educational purpose, and the provision of such service, including the equipment needed to provided such service, is eligible for E-Rate support. The Declaratory Ruling further directed the Bureau to fund these services, and seek comment on the services and equipment that would be eligible as part of the eligible services list proceeding for funding year 2024. The Bureau now seeks comment on the specific services and equipment needed to provide Wi-Fi service, or similar access point technologies, on school buses and proposes several small modifications to the funding year 2024 eligible services list consistent with the Declaratory Ruling. [WC Docket No. 13-184. Comments due November 24, 2023]
On October 2, AEI hosted an expert panel to discuss how price controls might affect broadband affordability and ways to ensure broadband is affordable for all Americans. The panel featured New Street Research’s Jonathan Chaplin, Duke University’s Michelle P. Connolly, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s John Horrigan, and Georgetown University’s John W. Mayo. You can re-watch the full event on AEI.org and read the full transcript here.
In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, Sen Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) asked the FCC to take action on a long-standing proceeding which could change the way broadband providers access utility poles. Capito said she continues to hear “problems and delays” associated with broadband providers getting access to utility poles. Broadband networks are dependent on access to utility poles, especially in rural parts of the country where infrastructure often cannot be buried underground given difficult terrain. According to the senator, reasonable access to poles is currently obstructed by a number of factors, including workforce shortages and pole owners that want to offer broadband services of their own and receive funding from federal broadband programs. Capito also pointed to “inconsistent policies that allow pole access by owners are keeping some broadband networks from being built.” “The State Broadband Office has noted that these issues are unnecessarily draining the resources of broadband providers, as it has documented massive increases in rates sought by pole owners compared to those from just a few years ago,” she wrote, and the FCC taking action in a years-long pole attachment proceeding is “an important first step.”
Shenandoah Telecommunications Company (Shentel) announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire 100 percent of the equity interests in Horizon Telecom for $385 million. Consideration will consist of $305 million in cash and $80 million of Shentel common stock. Horizon is a leading commercial fiber provider in Ohio and adjacent states serving national wireless providers, carriers, enterprises, and government, education and healthcare customers. Horizon’s 7,200 route-mile fiber network is the largest and most dense network across its footprint with over 9,000 on-net locations. Approximately 64 percent of Horizon’s revenues are derived from their commercial customers. Horizon has recently pursued a strategy of investing in Fiber-to-the-Home in tier 3 & 4 markets in Ohio, and currently passes 14,000 homes and businesses with fiber in its ILEC market and 18,000 homes in new, greenfield markets adjacent to its commercial fiber network.
Recent telecommunications conferences have yielded one consistent disconnect – between wireless carriers seeking details about future spectrum allocations and government representatives offering vague assurances of better bandwidth to come. Consider the quizzing of Scott Blake Harris, senior spectrum advisor and director of national spectrum strategy at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, at ForumGlobal's 12th Americas Spectrum Management Conference in Washington on October 10. When asked about the National Spectrum Strategy study that the Biden administration had set in motion in March 2023, Harris provided zoomed-out answers. "I think we're going to exceed the objective of finding spectrum to study," he said. "I think we will find more than 1500MHz of spectrum to study in the near to medium term." He didn't speculate how much spectrum all those studies might eventually liberate for carrier use.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) awarded a total of $12 million through the Cell Towers Grant Program for 29 projects. Grant awards will be used to construct new towers that provide quality cellular service and greater 911 connectivity to high-cost areas. The program, funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), is focused on investing in the expansion of cellular service statewide. Projects receiving funds through the Cell Towers Grant Program are expected to serve more than 17,000 high-need locations that previously lacked quality cellular service. The program, administered by DED’s Office of Broadband Development, was launched in May 2023 and awarded competitive grants to applicants who also contributed private funding in addition to grant funds. Each awarded project will result in the construction of one cellular tower, for a total of 29 new towers built statewide. Details on recipients of the Cell Towers Grant Program are available here.
After weeks of uncertainty, House Republicans elected Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), a conservative Christian who opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriages, to become House speaker. While his hardline conservative record is not one that's widely known nationally, it's being celebrated by many Republicans in his home state who are welcoming what they see as an important moment in Louisiana's history. The state's Gov.-elect Jeff Landry (R-LA) praised Johnson, saying he's "well-liked by everyone." Still, others have been less enthusiastic. Many Democrats are concerned with his record on restricting access to abortions and are not confident in his ability to work across party lines. Speaker Johnson represents Louisiana's 4th Congressional district, which covers most of the western and northwestern parts of the state, including Shreveport. His record is considered just as reliably conservative as that of Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH). But Speaker Johnson is lesser-known and has often been described as an under-the-radar lawmaker who has a kinder façade than Rep Jordan. Former President Donald Trump praised the new speaker saying "he's a tremendous leader." Rep Johnson is also a staunch election-denier who voted against certifying the 2020 election results. He served on the team that defended Trump in his first impeachment inquiry. And he supported a lawsuit to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in four swing states.
T-Mobile released its third-quarter earnings for 2023. The company reported postpaid net account additions of 386,000 and postpaid net customer additions of 1.2 million, a decrease of 401,000 year-over-year. The company's postpaid phone net customer additions totaled 850,000. T-Mobile saw 557,000 high-speed internet customer additions, a decrease of 21,000 year-over-year. Total net customer additions were listed as 1.3 million, which decreased by 427,000 year-over-year. The total customer count increased to a company-record high of 117.9 million.
The United Kingdom's current net neutrality rules are set out in legislation. Any changes to the rules in future would be a matter for Government and Parliament. Ofcom is responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the rules and providing guidance on how ISPs should follow them. In 2021 Ofcom started a review of net neutrality. The review has found that, in general, it has worked well and supported consumer choice as well as enabling content providers to deliver their content and services to consumers. However, there are specific areas where we provide more clarity in our guidance to enable ISPs to innovate and manage their networks more efficiently, to improve consumer outcome.
- ISPs can offer premium quality retail offers: Allowing ISPs to provide premium quality retail packages means they can better meet some consumers’ needs. For example, people who use high quality virtual reality applications may want to buy a premium quality service, while users who mainly stream and browse the internet can buy a cheaper package. Our updated guidance clarifies that ISPs can offer premium packages, for example offering low latency, as long as they are sufficiently clear to customers about what they can expect from the services they buy.
- ISPs can develop new ‘specialised services’: New 5G and full fibre networks offer the opportunity for ISPs to innovate and develop their services. Our updated guidance clarifies when they can provide ‘specialised services’ to deliver specific content and applications that need to be optimised, which might include real time communications, virtual reality and driverless vehicles.
- ISPs can use traffic management measures to manage their networks: Traffic management can be used by ISPs on their networks, so that a good quality of service is maintained for consumers. Our updated guidance clarifies when and how ISPs can use traffic management, including the different approaches they can take and how they can distinguish between different categories of traffic based on their technical requirements.
- Most zero-rating offers will be allowed: Zero-rating is where the data used by certain websites or apps is not counted towards a customer’s overall data allowance. Our updated guidance clarifies that we will generally allow these offers, while setting out the limited circumstances where we might have concerns.
The European Union’s digital enforcer downplayed a push from phone companies to have large technology companies like Netflix and Alphabet help pay for internet infrastructure, while outlining a broader vision for the overhaul of the telecommunications sector. Operators like Orange and Telefonica wanted major streaming sites to help foot the bill to roll out faster 5G networks and fiber. The idea, called “fair share,” generated major debate in the bloc, with big tech companies arguing that the plan constituted a new internet tax. Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton considered legislation that could have backed a version of the “fair share” idea, however, he faced steep opposition from numerous EU countries as his term as commissioner comes to an end in 2024. Breton signaled that the proposal had been kicked down the road, likely beyond his office term, in a blow to telecom carriers who thought this was their opportunity to get tech companies to invest in their networks after decades of lobbying.
Oct 26––Oregon Connections: Navigating the Funding Flood. (Oregon Connections)
Oct 29––The CyberShare Summit (NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association)
Oct 30––Alerting Security Roundtable (FCC)
Oct 30––Tribal Business of Broadband (Institute for Local Self-Reliance)
Oct 31––The Future of Private Networks (New America)
Nov 1––Truth, Trust, and Democracy: Leadership in the Information Ecosystem (Shorenstein Center)
Nov 2-3––Michigan Broadband Summit (Merit Network)
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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