Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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News From the FCC
At our November open meeting, the Federal Communications Commission will be considering the following items:
- Rules to make the lower 45 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band available for unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi.
- A Report and Order that would create a new unified license for a broad array of satellite and blanket-licensed earth station operations.
- A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on encouraging more efficient use of spectrum from 17.3-17.8 GHz.
- A proposal to complete the process of updating the mechanism for the funding of Internet-based telecommunications relay services (TRS).
- A Report and Order to change our rules governing the resolution of program carriage disputes between video programming vendors and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs).
- An item from our Enforcement Bureau
The Federal Communications Commission adopted an Order on Remand in response to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit’s remand of three discrete issues for further consideration by the FCC regarding its 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The court’s Oct 2019 ruling in Mozilla Corp. v. FCC affirmed the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules. The Court’s decision also upheld the FCC’s robust transparency rule ensuring consumers are fully informed about their online options. This action addresses the few remaining issues the court asked the FCC to consider. Specifically, the court asked the FCC to evaluate any impacts that its reclassification of broadband as an information service and elimination of conduct rules might have on public safety, pole attachment regulations, and the inclusion of broadband in the universal service Lifeline program. After thoroughly reviewing the record compiled in response to its request for additional comment on these issues, the FCC found no basis to alter the FCC’s conclusions in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The Order on Remand finds that the Restoring Internet Freedom Order promotes public safety, facilitates broadband infrastructure deployment by Internet service providers, and allows the FCC to continue to provide Lifeline support for broadband Internet access service.
Chairman Pai is at it again, pushing his anti-consumer agenda – this time on the eve of an historic election. Americans deserve strong Net Neutrality protections, but this FCC is rushing ahead of November 3rd to further cement its efforts to deprive Americans of these critical protections. At a time when internet connectivity is especially critical for students, parents, first responders, low-income and rural Americans, the FCC should be protecting American families, not undermining them. Time and again, this FCC has put industry interests before those of consumers, and its actions this week are no exception.
The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules creating the 5G Fund for Rural America, which will distribute up to $9 billion over the next decade to bring 5G wireless broadband connectivity to rural America. The 5G Fund will use multi-round reverse auctions in two phases to target support from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund to eligible areas based upon the improved mobile broadband coverage data gathered in the FCC’s Digital Opportunity Data Collection proceeding. Establishing the 5G Fund further secures US leadership in 5G and will close the digital divide and bring economic opportunities to rural America.
Phase I of the 5G Fund will target up to $8 billion of support nationwide to areas lacking unsubsidized 4G LTE or 5G mobile broadband, with $680 million specifically set aside for bidders offering to serve Tribal lands. To determine eligible areas, the auction will use granular, precise mobile broadband coverage data developed in the Digital Opportunity Data Collection proceeding, allowing the FCC to more efficiently target funding to areas of the country where support is most needed, while ensuring support is spent as efficiently as possible. Phase II will provide at least an additional $1 billion, along with any unawarded funds from Phase I, to specifically target the deployment of technologically innovative 5G networks that facilitate precision agriculture.
The auction will account for T-Mobile’s enforceable commitment to the FCC to cover 90% of rural Americans with its 5G network within six years in order to avoid spending limited federal resources on wasteful overbuilding. It will also employ an adjustment factor to ensure that the hardest-to-serve areas, such as those with rugged terrain or sparse populations, can compete in the auction. The Order also requires 5G Fund winning bidders to deploy networks providing 5G mobile broadband at speeds of a least 35/3 Mbps and meet interim deployment milestones beginning at the three-year mark and a final deployment milestone at the end of the sixth year. Moreover, starting next year, carriers receiving legacy mobile high cost support must begin spending an increasing portion of their $368 million in support to bring 5G to rural, high cost areas.
The Federal Communications Commission eliminated legacy unbundling and resale rules where they stifle technology transitions and broadband deployment. The rules date back to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which required monopoly local telephone companies to make portions of their networks and services available to competitors at regulated rates. The Order eliminates rules requiring unbundling of the following network elements, subject to certain conditions and multiyear transition periods:
- DS1 and DS3 Loops—These legacy last-mile lines are used primarily by business customers and are being replaced by higher-speed, packet-based services sold by incumbent local exchange carriers (LECs), competitive LECs, cable providers, and other intermodal competitors. The Order ends these unbundling requirements in areas with sufficient evidence of competition but keeps them in place in areas that lack sufficient competition.
- DS0 Loops—These network elements are typically used to provide both voice and broadband service using various Digital Subscriber Line technologies. The Order eliminates unbundling requirements for these loops in densely populated areas, which tend to have more competitive options, but preserves unbundling requirements for DS0 loops in less densely populated areas.
- Legacy Narrowband Voice-Grade Loops—These network elements are used to provide legacy voice service and have no broadband service capability. Given the shift away from legacy voice services to IP-and wireless-based voice services offered by multiple providers, the Order removes unbundling obligations for narrowband voice-grade loops nationwide.
- Dark Fiber Transport—These services provide a connection between phone companies’ local wire centers. The Order eliminates unbundling requirements for dark fiber transport originating or terminating from a wire center within a half-mile of competitive fiber networks.
The Order also discontinues, subject to a three-year transition period, a requirement that incumbent LECs make available for resale their retail legacy telecommunications services at cost-based rates. These services are predominantly used by competitive LECs to provide legacy voice services to business and government customers.
Many elements of the Report and Order are consistent with a compromise proposal for determining the appropriate scope of the FCC’s unbundling rules in today’s marketplace that was reached by major industry buyers and sellers of unbundled network elements.
The Federal Communications Commission took action to reduce regulatory barriers to 5G deployment by further streamlining the state and local government review process for modifications to existing wireless infrastructure that involve excavation and deployment beyond existing site boundaries.
In the Report and Order adopted, the FCC revised its rules implementing section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act of 2012, which provides that state and local governments may not deny certain requests to modify existing wireless structures that do not substantially change the physical dimensions of the structures. The revised rules provide that excavating or deploying transmission equipment in an area no more than 30 feet beyond existing site boundaries would not disqualify the modification from section 6409(a) treatment. This change is consistent with the current Nationwide Programmatic Agreement for the Collocation of Wireless Antennas, which provides that excavation or deployment within the same limited area beyond a site boundary generally does not warrant federal historic preservation review of a collocation. The Report and Order also defines site boundaries in a manner that appropriately reflects prior state or local government review.
The Federal Communications Commission amended its rules governing unlicensed wireless services provided over spectrum in the television broadcasting bands – the so-called TV white spaces. The amended rules will allow for expanded use of this spectrum for the delivery of broadband services in rural and underserved communities while protecting broadcast television stations and other licensed services from harmful interference.
Specifically, the FCC is increasing the maximum permissible power and antenna height for fixed white space devices operating in “less congested” areas (generally rural and unserved areas) in the TV bands. The amended rules also increase the minimum required separation distances between protected services and entities operating in the band and white space devices operating at the new higher power levels and higher heights above average terrain in order to ensure that broadcast television stations are protected from harmful interference. In addition, the FCC is permitting higher power mobile operations using white space devices in “less congested” areas within defined geo-fenced areas, such as school bus routes or farm boundaries. The rule changes also provide flexibility for new and innovative narrowband white space devices so that users can more fully benefit from Internet of Things applications. Finally, the FCC also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to explore whether to modify its rules to permit the use of terrain-based models to determine available TV channels for white space devices.
The Data Mapping to Save Mom's Lives Act (S. 3152) would require the Federal Communications Commission to incorporate data on maternal health outcomes into its most recently available broadband health mapping tools. In addition, the bill would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report to the Congress on the effectiveness of Internet connectivity in reducing maternal morbidity rates.
Using information about the cost of broadband mapping, CBO estimates that it would cost the FCC less than $500,000 to update its broadband health maps to incorporate maternal health outcomes. However, because the FCC is authorized to collect fees each year sufficient to offset the appropriated costs of its regulatory activities, CBO estimates that the net cost to the FCC would be negligible, assuming appropriation actions consistent with that authority. CBO estimates that it would cost the GAO less than $500,000 to complete the required report.
If the FCC increases annual fee collections to offset the costs of implementing provisions in the bill, S. 3152 would increase the cost of an existing private-sector mandate on entities required to pay those fees. CBO estimates that the incremental cost of the mandate would be small and would fall well below the annual threshold established in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act for private-sector mandates ($168 million in 2020, adjusted annually for inflation).
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $2.3 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in North Carolina. This investment is part of the $550 million Congress allocated to the second round of the ReConnect Program. Yadkin Valley Telephone Membership Corporation will use a $2.3 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 5,686 people, 67 farms and 18 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Davie, Yadkin and Iredell counties in North Carolina.
In the state of Connecticut, nearly one-quarter (23%) of Connecticut households do not have high-speed internet subscriptions at home. Connectivity deficits fall hardest on low-income residents, older adults, and communities of color. 36% of households below the state’s median income do not have wireline broadband compared with 11% of all other households. 36% of Connecticut residents age 65 and older do not have wireline broadband at home. 35% of Hispanics lack wireline broadband at home compared with 21% of whites. 34% of African Americans do not have wireline broadband. Broadband access gaps also stand out for the urban poor and low-income households with children under the age of 18. More than one-third of households without wireline broadband at home reside in the state’s eight largest cities; most of them are in Hartford, Waterbury, New Britain, Bridgeport, and New Haven. In those cities, nearly 40% of households do not have wireline broadband at home.
The coronavirus pandemic led millions of Americans to turn their homes into offices and classrooms. It also forced many to change their habits to keep their internet bills in check. The amount of time consumers spend streaming TV, gaming and using Zoom or other videoconference platforms substantially increased since the start of the pandemic, activities that often eat up large amounts of data. The practice of limiting the internet usage of customers and charging heavy users more is common among many of the nation’s internet providers. Doing so partly helps offset the revenue lost from subscribers abandoning their traditional pay-TV plans in favor of internet-based options—a phenomenon known as cord-cutting. Users who consistently need more data are encouraged to upgrade to a pricier plan. Data caps also help keep the prices of internet packages stable by shifting the extra cost to heavy users, according to Mark Trudeau, chief executive of broadband-data firm OpenVault, which tracks more than a million U.S. subscribers. “It protects the majority of subscribers from having rates raised every year,” he said.
Lack of Wi-Fi access has been plaguing New York City’s shelters for unhoused families for seven months now, where some 13,500 school-aged children of the 100,000 students in temporary housing citywide, have been enrolled in remote education since March. When schools initially shut down, the city sent hundreds of thousands of iPads with cell service to kids in shelters, but not all families received them, and those that did quickly began complaining that their connections were spotty, if they worked at all. The problem worsened this summer, and on Oct 8, Legal Aid sent a letter to city officials demanding that they address the issue, which had been jostled between the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Education. There was a lot of inter-departmental “finger pointing,” says Susan Horwitz, the Supervising Attorney of Legal Aid’s Education Law Project. The DOE said they were just responsible for distributing the tablets, while it’s DHS’s job to get cell service working in shelters; DHS representatives and case workers at shelters, conversely, told residents to talk to the DOE. “You could sort of draw your own conclusions about the fact that getting the people who are living in shelters online is not a priority,” says Horwitz.
That families would not only be burdened by remote schooling during a deadly pandemic but by the lack of something as basic as internet access seems hard to believe in 2020. “You’re providing the street, the literal street, Wi-Fi,” says Christlie, a 33-year-old mother of two living in the Regents Family Residence on the Upper West Side, “but you won’t provide the shelters? Not just for the kids’ education. The whole purpose [of temporary city shelters] is to help assist residents here to find permanent housing. How do you do that when you can’t provide the internet? How do they look for apartments, look for a job?” Especially in the midst of a crisis that has impacted poor Black and brown New Yorkers the hardest, providing Wi-Fi seems like an obvious equalizer. “That little bit of support that would definitely help a lot of people,” Christlie says.
The Justice Department said it was concerned that Facebook and Twitter restricted access to recent New York Post stories about the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, telling lawmakers the department supported bipartisan interest in changing a law providing legal protections to online platforms. The department made the comments in a letter to Capitol Hill leaders ahead of a high-profile Senate hearing in which Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will testify. The letter, signed by Stephen Boyd, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, said online platforms “hold tremendous power over information” and must “be honest and transparent with users about how they use that power. And when they are not, it is critical that they can be held accountable.” The letter didn’t mention Facebook, Twitter or the Biden family by name, but suggested the department didn’t believe such conduct is covered under the legal protections afforded online platforms and signaled a willingness to get involved in future litigation over the issue.
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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