Friday, November 13, 2020
Headlines Daily Digest
Even though Joe Biden’s victory is assured, the future of the Federal Communications Commission hangs in the balance. Getting broadband internet in as many homes as possible during the pandemic is many Democrats’ most urgent goal, and one they feel the Trump administration failed to accomplish. “Because the Trump FCC failed to meaningfully address the digital divide, tens of millions of Americans still lack high-speed internet,” said Rep Anna Eshoo (D-CA). “This worsens the impacts of the pandemic, and the Biden administration has to take this head-on.” She added: “Every person in our country must have high-speed internet. Period. We’ve failed for too long to expand access to rural and tribal areas, and too many urban communities can’t afford broadband.”
The Biden administration’s FCC can and likely will aid this effort by making the internet more affordable and accessible. This could involve providing more subsidies to lower-income people, continuing its work increasing broadband access, and opening up more radio frequency bands for high-speed 5G networks in order to bring the United States to the level of its peers. The agency is also poised to restore net neutrality and reclassify broadband internet as a Title II service, which would give the FCC more authority over carriers. Under the Biden administration, the agency will also probably let Trump’s anti-social media Section 230 rulemaking mission die.
With these goals in mind, Biden will get to pick a new FCC chair, who will do much to set the agency’s agenda. Beyond that, we don’t yet know who that chair will be, how many of the five commissioner seats will be available to be filled, or which party will have control of the Senate. A Republican-majority Senate may well make it much more difficult to confirm new commissioner appointments or refuse to vote on laws that could provide funding needed for Democrat-chaired FCC initiatives. Experts and FCC insiders said they foresee a Biden FCC that goes back to trying to govern and reclaims some of the authority it ceded under President Trump. And the FCC’s glass ceiling may finally break with the first chairwoman in its 86-year history.
The Federal Communications Commission released data showing that the digital divide is closing. At the end of 2019, the number of Americans living in areas without access to terrestrial fixed broadband with speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps—the Commission’s benchmark for high-speed broadband—fell to 14.5 million, a 46% decrease from the end of 2016. Services at higher speeds saw even more significant deployment, with the number of Americans living in areas without broadband speeds of at least 250/25 Mbps falling by 77% since the end of 2016. During that three-year period, the number of rural Americans living in areas with 250/25 Mbps broadband service increased by 268%.
“My top priority since becoming FCC Chairman has been closing the digital divide, and I’m proud that this new deployment data show that we are delivering on that promise for the American people,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “In just three years, the number of American consumers living in areas without access to fixed broadband has been almost cut in half. We’ve taken aggressive steps to achieve this progress, modernizing regulations, freeing up new licensed and unlicensed spectrum, and making it easier and cheaper for competitive providers to deploy fiber through our ‘one-touch make ready’ policy. And we have kicked off the first phase of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, which could bring broadband to as many as 10.25 million unserved Americans across rural America. Bottom line: We will continue our work until all Americans have access to digital opportunity.”
A rapid rise in the number of “power users” consuming 1 TB or more of data per month and continued migration to faster speed tiers are creating new revenue opportunities for broadband service providers, according to the Q3 2020 OpenVault Broadband Insights report. The report also provides a more detailed breakdown of the outsized impact of power users and gigabit speeds on network capacity, particularly in the upstream. Key findings in the OVBI Q32020 report include:
- As traffic has exploded during the pandemic, data confirms the value of usage-based billing in prompting subscribers to self-align their speed plans with their consumption.
- The 3Q20 OVBI observes the sharp upward trending of three key year-over-year indices – a 110% increase in power users to 8.8% of all subscribers, a 172% jump in extreme power users of 2 TB or more to 1%, and a 124% rise in subscribers provisioned for gigabit speeds to 5.6%. An analysis of the top 1% of power users showed that 80% of those on usage-based billing (UBB) plans subscribe to higher-ARPU faster speed tiers, while 49% more flat-rate billing (FRB) subscribers take lower-cost speed plans that provide operators with lower ARPU.
- While bandwidth usage is remaining relatively at quarter- over-quarter, it is not retreating to pre-pandemic levels, indicating that COVID-19 driven usage growth has established a new normal pattern for bandwidth usage.
- The monthly weighted average data consumed by subscribers in 3Q20 was 383.8 GB, up nearly 40% from 3Q19’s weighted average of 275.1 GB, but up less than 1% from 2Q20. Growth for both FRB and UBB subscribers remained essentially flat between 2Q20 and 3Q20.
Federal Communications Commission policies geared towards improving rural broadband deployment have failed in meaning, money, and mapping. Together they constitute “the politics of good enough” that has never delivered the broadband rural America needs to survive and thrive. By “meaning,” I refer both to the FCC’s definition of broadband (“25/3”) and its adherence to a policy of technological neutrality. The mapping failure is one that we are all familiar with, with the FCC’s Form 477 capturing self-reported industry data, census block data instead of more granular data, accepting advertised rather than actual speeds, hypothetical rather than actual service, and the lack of pricing data. he money failure refers to the FCC’s historic favoritism of the largest telecommunication companies over the smaller and much more dynamic providers such as co-operatives. The FCC has been so fixated on rapid deployment that it has ignored issues of speed, latency, price, and deployment. It is stuck in a mindset that anything is better than nothing when it comes to broadband in rural America. “Good enough” has become the enemy of great high-performance broadband.
See The Politics of Good Enough: Rural Broadband and Policy Failure in the United States in the International Journal of Communication (Volume 14).
[Christopher Ali is an Associate Professor at the University of Virginia and Faculty Research Fellow at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. He is the author of the forthcoming book: Farm Fresh Broadband: the Politics of Rural Connectivity (MIT Press).]
America needs faster, more accessible mobile internet service—and the US military controls many airwaves that are well-suited to that task. How should the Pentagon share? Some want to tap the traditional US model and auction the spectrum to the highest bidder. Others say a new approach is called for: Let the government continue to own the spectrum rights while letting private companies rent it out, allowing more users to tap the spectrum at once. Hence the debate between Jonathan Spalter, president and chief executive of USTelecom, a trade association whose members include AT&T as well as small operators, and Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive of Google and former chairman of the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the Pentagon. Schmidt is now the chairman of the National Security Commission for Artificial Intelligence and co-founder of Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative.
AT&T is offering discounted unlimited wireless data plans and content filtering services to more than 135,000 public and private K-12 schools, colleges and universities across the country for a limited time. Offer details include:
- Schools can migrate existing AT&T lines or activate new lines for students on a qualified unlimited wireless data plan and content filtering service for $15 a month, with the additional option of an AT&T Moxee hot spot at no cost after bill credits.
- For every 24 qualified student activations above, schools can activate 1 line with the same services for a teacher at no cost after bill credits to help them do what they do every day as classroom superheroes.
- The offer is good through December 29, 2020 – schools that add at least one eligible line as part of this offer can also activate additional lines at the same price through December 29, 2022, at which point the promotional pricing ends.
In addition to the discounted plans for schools to connect their students, AT&T is making a $10 million commitment to support at-risk students disconnected from learning with internet connectivity and Wi-Fi hotspots. We will also expand availability of tech-enabled tools and learning resources for students, teachers, schools, and parents working across company resources, including WarnerMedia, for ongoing support for this initiative.
On November 10, the Senate Commerce Committee convened to consider the nomination of Nathan Simington for Federal Communications Commissioner. President Donald Trump nominated Simington after withdrawing the re-nomination of current FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly this past summer. Simington has been a Senior Advisor for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the Department of Commerce since June of 2020. Before joining the NTIA, Simington was Senior Corporate Counsel for Brightstar Corporation in Miami, Florida, where his portfolio included wireless credit, mergers and acquisitions, tower services, operations and logistics, data security, and regulatory compliance.
Simington said his regulatory philosophy would be guided by four principles: 1) regulatory stability, which he said meant placing the public interest first, but also meant not chilling communications development with regulations that are too restrictive; 2) universal connectivity, on which he said progress has been made that the country can be proud of; 3) public safety and national security, which includes reconciling spectrum conflicts and challenges, and protecting the public interest in the midst of ongoing spectrum commercialization, and 4) serving the public interest. "If I am confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for the Commission’s public interest mandate functions, and I will commit to having an open door and top-notch responsiveness to concerns from Congress and the public," he said.
[much more at the URL below]
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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