Tuesday, October 6, 2020
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I can say for sure that the agenda for the Commission’s October meeting will be filled with treats for consumers and innovators.
- The FCC scored a major victory when the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the vast majority of our decision in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. However, the court asked us to consider in more detail three discrete issues—namely, (1) the Order’s effect on public safety; (2) its effect on our ability to regulate pole attachments; and (3) its effect on the Lifeline program’s ability to support broadband. Months ago, we put out a Public Notice seeking input on these three issues. Having reviewed the input received, the law, and the facts, I am confident that the regulatory framework we set forth in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order appropriately and adequately addresses each issue. Accordingly, I have circulated an Order for consideration at our October meeting addressing the points raised by the DC Circuit. It affirms that the FCC stands by the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, consistent with the practical reality consumers have experienced since December 2017 of an Internet economy that is better, stronger, and freer than ever.
- I circulated rules to establish a 5G Fund for Rural America. The new program would use multi-round reverse auctions to distribute up to $9 billion, in two phases, to bring voice and 5G broadband service to rural areas of our country that would be unlikely to see the deployment of 5G-capable networks without subsidies. Building upon lessons learned from the Mobility Fund, and overwhelming support in the factual record we’ve developed, we would adopt our proposal to determine which areas will be eligible for 5G Fund support based on improved mobile broadband coverage data that will be gathered through the Commission’s new Digital Opportunity Data Collection. This approach won’t be the fastest possible path to the Phase I auction, but it will allow us to identify with greater precision those areas of the country where support is most needed and will be spent most efficiently.
- The FCC will vote on a Report and Order that would make targeted changes to our white space device rules by expanding these devices’ ability to provide broadband coverage in rural and unserved areas while still protecting television broadcasters in the band. The Order would also modify our rules to facilitate the development of new and innovative narrowband Internet of Things devices in TV white spaces. We expect that these changes will spur continued growth of the white space ecosystem and help to close the digital divide.
- Under the order we will vote on this month, excavation and deployment up to 30 feet in any direction outside of the existing site would not “substantially change” the physical dimensions of the facility and therefore would not disqualify the collocation from streamlined state and local review. I would like to thank Commissioner Carr for his leadership on this Order in particular and the Commission’s wireless infrastructure efforts generally.
- I’ve circulated a Report and Order that would continue to modernize and end unbundling and resale requirements where they stifle the transition to IP networks and broadband deployment. At the same time, it would preserve unbundling requirements where they are still necessary to realize the 1996 Act’s goal of robust intermodal competition benefiting all Americans.
- The Commission will vote on a Report and Order that would give AM broadcasters the option to convert to all-digital operations, which offer listeners a higher quality audio experience over a greater area.
- The FCC will be updating rules to make sure more television programming is accessible to Americans with disabilities.
The Federal Communications Commission announced that it will address 2019’s court remand of key elements of the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality. In particular, the court decision took the agency to task for disregarding its duty to consider how the FCC’s decision threatened public safety, service for low-income households, and broadband infrastructure. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said, “This is crazy. The internet should be open and available for all...Now the courts have asked us for a do-over. But instead of taking this opportunity to right what this agency got wrong, we are going to double down on our mistake. The FCC is going to make it easier for broadband companies to block websites, slow speeds, and dictate what we can do and where we can go online. It’s insane that this is happening now, during a pandemic when we rely on internet access for so much of day-to-day life. It’s also cruel that this is our priority when this crisis has exposed just how vast our digital divide is and how much more work we have to do for broadband to reach 100% of us—no matter who we are or where we live.”
No amount of lying by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai will change this reality: The Trump FCC’s repeal of Net Neutrality protections and agency authority were wrong in 2017 and they’re still wrong today.
The FCC’s decision to forfeit its authority over broadband-internet service has undermined its ability to protect the Lifeline program, pole-attachment rights for competitive broadband providers and public safety — a glaring abandonment during a pandemic that has students, workers and patients more reliant on the internet than ever....Nearly 80 million people in America lack an adequate broadband connection at home today — yet Chairman Pai has the gall to brag about his supposed accomplishments.
We’ll say it again and again: The best remedy for such harms would be for the Commission to once again correctly classify broadband as a Title II service, protected by strong open-internet rules, and to take steps to ensure that broadband is truly available and affordable for everyone.
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr announced the next step in the FCC’s efforts to accelerate the buildout of wireless infrastructure. Commissioner Carr unveiled a draft order that
would provide for streamlined review of requests to add limited space at the bottom of existing towers for backup power, low-latency computing, and multiple providers to be housed at one site, among other uses. The FCC will vote on the order at its next open meeting on Oct 27.
AT&T has made fiber-to-the-home available to fewer than a third of the households in its footprint. Across rural counties in AT&T’s footprint, only 5 percent of households have access to fiber. For 28 percent of the households in its network footprint, AT&T’s internet service does not meet the FCC’s 25/3 Mbps benchmark to be considered broadband. AT&T prioritizes network upgrades to wealthier areas, leaving lower income communities with outdated technologies -- households with fiber available have median income 34 percent higher than those with DSL only. Of technicians with knowledge of AT&T’s fiber plant, 93 percent strongly agreed or agreed that AT&T could be building more fiber. Of techs with knowledge of fiber deployment, 63 percent (546/869) report that in their work areas, AT&T is not installing splitting equipment to enable home connections even where a fiber backbone exists.
The U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted research to determine whether there are roles the Postal Service can play to support 5G and broadband deployment, particularly to unserved and underserved areas. The OIG concluded that there may be an opportunity to leverage the Postal Service’s network of over 31,000 facilities nationwide. 5G will require a wide distribution of antennas, fiber optic cable, and other communications infrastructure. As such, there may be opportunities for the Postal Service to work with industry partners in identifying facilities where antennas could be located and sites that could be utilized for fiber optic cable connection points. The Postal Service could work with partners to explore leasing indoor space for edge computing, bringing cloud computing resources closer to end users to speed up data transmission and processing. Postal facilities can be a digital hub for Wi-Fi access, supporting public safety communications networks, and helping promote broadband-related government services. Lastly, the Postal Service can contribute to national broadband deployment efforts by assisting in collecting data on wireless broadband service.
Imagine if we could put every area of America on an even playing field when it comes to high-speed internet. How much of an investment do we need? A Democratic proposal earlier this year committed $100 billion to an investment in digital infrastructure but was part of a COVID-related bill that did not make it into law. We need a bipartisan-supported law dedicated to digital infrastructure. I would argue that $100 billion is a good one-time investment to start. A dedicated act of Congress, focused on expanding access to our digital economy, would have three core elements: investment, public-private partnerships, and jobs. First, the federal government will have to put funds—like the Democrats’ proposed $100 billion—to work to support broadband access for rural and underserved communities. Second would be public-private partnerships to promote long-term investment by private-sector companies in network upgrades in rural and underserved communities. Finally, a good Digital Infrastructure Act would create strong incentives for telecommunications companies to support workforce training, especially in rural and underserved communities, to make sure we have the workers with the necessary skills to build and maintain our national digital highways.
The largest user of spectrum, the Department of Defense (DoD), has put out a Request for Information (RFI) that seems to propose that at least some of the spectrum traditionally used by the military could be shared for a fifth generation (5G) wireless network. The DoD cites a component of 5G technology called dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) as the vehicle to accomplish this. This is a milestone. The Defense Department itself is suggesting that it is possible to share spectrum without harming its operations. This attitude would set the precedent that could make the spectrum shortage an historical artifact.
Such sharing is a good idea as 5G networks put even more pressure on the need for spectrum. A not-so-good-idea, however, has been suggested by the Trump campaign: that the shared spectrum would be used by the federal government to build and operate a 5G network. The Trump administration has so often substituted showbiz and politics for substantive policy that it is difficult to make sense of the simultaneous but conflicting activities of the White House, Federal Communications Commission, and DoD. One thing, however, is clear: spectrum sharing could mean the end of the spectrum shortage—but if that is to come to pass, we need a national policy.
A $100 million program to increase internet usage among low-income Alabama families during the pandemic has gone mostly unused, and the state is sending 300,000 more vouchers in a search for additional takers. While 75,000 students have gained internet access so far through the program, which seeks to make it easier for students to get online for school, around 450,000 students qualify statewide, said Mike Presley, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. The second round of vouchers is being sent by a state contractor to increase participation. “This second mailing, mailed last week by our contractor CTC Technology and Energy, also includes a resending of letters to households that have not redeemed a voucher sent in the first mailing earlier in September,” said Presley. The vouchers, which are good for internet service through Dec. 30, are being made available through a $100 million allocation from federal CARES Act funding. Qualifying families are eligible to redeem vouchers worth an estimated $400 per family.
PBS, the nonprofit member organization and public media program distributor, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. PBS, with 330 member stations serving all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa, provides more than 1,200 hours a year of children's, primetime, educational, and cultural programming. Since its establishment by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in 1969 and its very first broadcast, The French Chef with Julia Child, PBS has fulfilled public media’s mission to provide programming and services that educate, inspire, entertain and express a diversity of perspectives.
House Commerce Committee Minority Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) announced that Staff Director Mike Bloomquist has departed the committee for the private sector. Deputy Staff Director and committee veteran Ryan Long will succeed Bloomquist as Staff Director for Committee Republicans, effective immediately. Bloomquist served as Staff Director for Commerce Republicans during the 115th and 116th Congresses. Bloomquist previously served as the committee Deputy Staff Director, General Counsel, Deputy General Counsel, as well as General Counsel to the 2011 Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Bloomquist has spent time in private practice, at the Committee on Science, and in the Office of the Solicitor at the Department of the Interior. Long served as Deputy Staff Director for Energy and Commerce Republicans in the 115th and 116th Congresses. Ryan has been with the committee since March of 2018, when he returned after spending five years in private practice. Ryan had previously spent a decade at Energy and Commerce in various roles including Professional Staff Member, counsel, and Chief Health Counsel under then Chairmen Joe Barton and Fred Upton.
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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