Tuesday, November 17, 2020
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Four Federal Communications Commission veterans -- including former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, have been tapped for President-elect Joe Biden’s agency transition team. [Editor's note: Mignon Clyburn also sits on the Board of Directors of the Benton Institute.] The team is led by John Williams who is Senior Counsel and Parliamentarian at the House Judiciary Committee and former Senior Counselor and Senior Agency Official for Privacy at the FCC's Office of the General Counsel. Also on the team is Edward “Smitty” Smith, Deputy Managing Partner, Washington DC Office of DLA Piper, LLP, and former Legal Advisor to the Chairman of the FCC. Rounding out the team is Paul de Sa, who was part of the leadership team at the FCC from 2009-12 and 2016-17, serving as Chief of its Office of Strategic Planning with a focus on merger reviews, spectrum policy, and broadband.
Proposals to help guide our nation to realize the democratic potential of our media and communications ecosystem. 1) A National Strategy to Connect Everyone to Broadband Now, 2) Restore Net Neutrality, 3) End Rampant Industry Consolidation, and 4) Start on a National Discussion on How to Make the Internet Work Better for the US. So, let’s range widely. There are no silver bullets or magic cures or partisan solutions. There is only the history-making challenge of making the internet work for us, utilizing its vast promise and ridding it of those forces that have blocked its potential. Our goal must be an internet that truly serves the public interest.
[Michael Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and was the FCC's Acting Chairman from January to June 2009. His years at the Commission have been highlighted by his strong defense of "the public interest"; outreach to what he calls "non-traditional stakeholders" in the decisions of the FCC, particularly minorities, Native Americans and the various disabilities communities; and actions to stem the tide of what he regards as excessive consolidation in the nation's media and telecommunications industries. In 2012, former Commissioner Copps joined Common Cause to lead its Media and Democracy Reform Initiative.]
Tech issues aren’t likely to be at the top of Joe Biden’s agenda on Jan 20. But tech needs a seat at the Biden table to navigate what have been increasingly thorny issues for the industry: net neutrality, privacy, antitrust challenges, broadband access, science and technology investment, and H-1B visas.
The first item on Biden’s tech agenda should be to send Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai packing and replace him with someone who will restore net neutrality, preserving equal access to the internet for users. The president-elect would receive strong support from the tech industry if he pushes for the United States to make a bigger investment in science and technology research and development. He should also gain bipartisan support for an infrastructure package that would include expanding broadband access throughout the nation. The COVID-19 pandemic makes clear how important it is for Americans to have universal internet access.
In response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau has waived certain Lifeline program rules in five previous orders to provide necessary relief for low-income households. In light of the ongoing pandemic, the bureau finds good cause to extend, on its own motion, the prior waivers of the Lifeline program rules governing documentation requirements for subscribers residing in rural areas on Tribal lands, recertification, reverification, general de-enrollment, subscriber usage, and income documentation through February 28, 2021. The bureau will continue to monitor the situation to determine whether any additional extension of these waivers is appropriate.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau addresses the petition of the National Lifeline Association (NaLA), seeking a waiver of the FCC’s rules updating the Lifeline program’s minimum service standard for mobile broadband usage, which otherwise would take effect on December 1, 2020. NaLA also seeks to halt the phase-down of the support amount for Lifeline service that does not meet the broadband minimum standard, which will decrease from $7.25/month to $5.25/month on December 1, 2020. Given the large increase to the mobile broadband minimum service standard that would result from the formula the FCC adopted in 2016, the FCC’s stated intent to regularly and predictably increase the minimum service standard for mobile broadband usage to ensure that Lifeline supports an evolving level of service, and the increased reliance by Americans on mobile broadband as a result of the pandemic, good cause exists to partially grant the petition on this issue. Specifically, the bureau waives the rule to the extent it would establish a minimum service standard greater than 4.5 GB/month, beginning on December 1, 2020, finding that this moderate 50% increase—equal to the 50% increase permitted by the FCC’s partial waiver of the rule in 2019— balances the program’s goals of accessibility and affordability. The bureau further finds that NaLA has not shown that good cause exists to halt the scheduled phase-down of support for Lifeline voice service, and therefore denies that portion of the petition
The Federal Communications Commission announced that funding through the Connect USVI Fund Stage 2 Competitive Process will bring 1 gigabit per second fixed broadband service to all locations in the US Virgin Islands. Specifically, the winning applicant, Broadband VI, is eligible for $84.5 million over 10 years to provide the highest performance tier of 1 Gbps service to 46,039 locations after a competitive process that weighted price, network performance, including speed, latency, and usage allowance, and network resiliency and redundancy.
Recently, the FCC announced that all of Puerto Rico would have access to fixed voice and broadband service with speeds of at least 100 Mbps as a result of Stage 2 of Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund, with nearly one-third of locations to have access to fixed broadband at speeds of at least 1 Gbps. In the Connect USVI Fund, Broadband VI committed to offering 1 Gbps service to all eligible locations in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in March 2020, provided more than $2 trillion in economic stimulus to address the pandemic. Among its provisions, the act created the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), designating $150 billion for payments “to state, local, and tribal governments navigating the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.” States can use this funding to cover pandemic-related costs incurred from the beginning of March through the end of 2020 that were not anticipated in their budgets before March 2020, including broadband access. States’ efforts to expand connectivity using these federal resources have focused on four specific needs: increasing access to online learning for K-12 and postsecondary students, supporting telehealth services, deploying more public Wi-Fi access points, and investing in residential broadband infrastructure, especially in rural and underserved areas. States have directed significant Coronavirus Relief Fund resources toward providing temporary help, such as hotspots and public Wi-Fi access, for people who lack reliable home internet connectivity. These efforts, though important, are not long-term solutions to the problem of inadequate residential broadband service. As policymakers work to provide reliable, high-speed internet access to more underserved neighborhoods, they should:
- Prioritize connecting more residences to existing infrastructure.
- Invest in planning and oversight for long-term solutions.
- Coordinate across levels of government to support broadband deployment.
The number of broadband "power users"—people who use 1TB or more per month—has doubled over the past year, ensuring that broadband internet access service providers will be able to make more money from data caps. More customers exceeding their data caps will result in more overage charges paid to ISPs that impose monthly data caps. Higher usage can also boost ISP revenue because people using more data tend to subscribe to higher-speed packages. "As traffic has exploded during the pandemic, data aggregated from our network management tools confirms the value of usage-based billing in prompting subscribers to self-align their speed plans with their consumption," OpenVault CEO Mark Trudeau said. This helps providers boost their average revenue per user, he said.
As the Cameron Peak fire burned in the distance on the morning of Oct. 17, Josh Cramer sprung into action. He worried the fire might reach Estes Park (CO) and cause a literal meltdown that could wipe out the town’s internet, emergency lines and prevent reverse 9-1-1 calls. The town needed access to backup broadband. But where? And how? Cramer, network architect at Trailblazer Broadband, began making calls and learned the Platte River Power Authority was worried about the same thing. One possible answer lay on the other side of the Continental Divide, where a new 481-mile internet line named Project Thor offered backup broadband to western Colorado. Cramer found the contact information for Nate Walowitz, who spearheaded Project Thor, and emailed him. “He calls me back 15 minutes later and we talk and he says, ‘Yeah, if you can get here, we can connect things up,’” Cramer said.
By that evening, there’d been three conference calls with dozens of people representing power companies, local governments and internet services. Getting to Project Thor’s connection in Granby required locating available fiber along the way and gaining permission from various agencies, utilities and fiber owners — something that usually takes weeks, months and sometimes years to pull together. But something just clicked with everyone.
At least 16 organizations got together to contribute a piece to the emergency plan. There were no permits issued. Verbal agreements were made. People worked on the weekend. “It truly is an amazing story how we all worked together to pull this off,” said Walowitz, Regional Broadband Program Director for Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. “If any one of these partners hadn’t participated, this wouldn’t have happened.” “The way I decompressed it all and thought about it is you’ve got a lot of great government agencies. They’ve got a lot of great processes. We’ve got a lot of good policies to follow,” Cramer said. “But at the end of the day, this was just humans helping humans try to survive.”
For years, policymakers have asked a series of questions related to broadband speed: How fast is fast enough? What is an appropriate target for rural networks built with government subsidies? Is current competition sufficient to see the speeds we need? Questions around broadband speeds are often legitimate inquiries for public policy, but unfortunately, many of these discussions are mired in myth around the imperative to transition to all-fiber networks in order to achieve universal speeds of a gigabit per second. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is particularly fanatical on the need to transition to fiber networks. EFF asserted that “fiber is so vastly superior to all of its alternatives… that only universal fiber to the home will ensure a network viable for decades of growth.” This is mythmaking of the highest order. Wanting gigabit fiber networks everywhere is like saying we should invest hundreds of billions of dollars to design our freeways so that cars can drive 600 miles per hour. The only problem is cars can’t go that fast. The same is true with broadband. Past a certain speed, the perceived performance for virtually all applications is the same.
This paper analyzes the asserted need for, and likely consequences of, four types of broadband regulation proposals in recent circulation: 1) facilities-sharing obligations; 2) retail price controls; 3) internet interconnection obligations; and 4) amorphous and open-ended ISP conduct rules like those the FCC imposed in 2015. For the most part, we see little merit to any of these proposals under current market conditions. None of them is needed to address any identifiable market failure, and each would impose significant costs, including the investment-chilling prospect of regulatory creep. But market forces by themselves will not help America close two stubborn and unacceptable digital divides: between rich and poor, and between urban and rural. These are real, universally acknowledged problems that call for real solutions. In particular, they call for expanded subsidy mechanisms—one directed to low-income subscribers and the other to broadband providers that commit to new infrastructure deployment in rural and other high-cost areas. But the challenge of closing these digital divides does not even logically support a call for more intrusive regulation of the broadband industry. To the contrary, such regulation would, if anything, make the underlying problems worse by placing a thumb on the scale against additional broadband investment.
By this Public Notice, the Federal Communications Commission identify 57 applicants that are qualified to bid in Auction 107. Auction 107 will offer new flexible‐use overlay licenses for spectrum in the 3.7–3.98 GHz band (3.7 GHz Service) throughout the contiguous US, subject to clearing requirements. Bidding in Auction 107 is scheduled to begin on Dec 8, 2020. This Public Notice also provides important information to qualified bidders concerning access to the Auction 107 bidding system, available educational materials, the mock auction, and the start of bidding for Auction 107. Finally, the Public Notice reminds all applicants, including those that are not qualified to bid, of certain requirements adopted for this auction.
C Spire is adding 15 community colleges to the Mississippi Optical Network (MissiON). The MissiON network is the research and education network supporting universities in the state. The 15 community colleges – which are not identified in the press release – will gain additional capacity and fully redundant connectivity to commodity Internet services and state university research programs, according to C Spire. C Spire has been quite involved with MissiON, having previously added universities to the network and “enhanced connections” to the network for others. The MissiON network facilitates collaboration among Mississippi’s research universities, regional universities and community colleges and provides access to resources in the ITS State Data Center and C Spire data centers that are located in Jackson and Starkville.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning will soon beam out more than just the victory lights. Through a new pilot program that combines the efforts of eight universities, research groups, nonprofit organizations and school districts, the Cathedral of Learning will act as a “super node” or hub that transmits Wi-Fi to households around the city. The program, called Every1online, will provide free internet access to households in Homewood, Coraopolis and New Kensington (PA) to bridge the digital divide, a gap in resources that has only widened as many students must learn from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The current build-out plan can support approximately 450 household connections, 150 per pilot location, according to Sam Garfinkel, development coordinator for nonprofit Meta Mesh Wireless Communities.
Using high-powered radios on top of the Cathedral of Learning, Meta Mesh will transmit signals to “repeater towers” in each of the three neighborhoods. Participants’ homes will have a coffee mug-sized receiver installed outside, pointed to the repeater tower. Inside, the receiver connects to a Wi-Fi router.
A Q&A with former President Barack Obama.
When asked, "Is this new malevolent information architecture bending the moral arc away from justice?" Former President Obama said, "I think it is the single biggest threat to our democracy. I think Donald Trump is a creature of this, but he did not create it. He may be an accelerant of it, but it preceded him and will outlast him....Part of the common narrative was a function of the three major networks and a handful of papers that were disproportionately influential. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. You’re not going to eliminate the internet; you’re not going to eliminate the thousand stations on the air with niche viewerships designed for every political preference. Without this it becomes very difficult for us to tackle big things."
When asked about holding tech companies responsible, he said, "At the end of the day, we’re going to have to find a combination of government regulations and corporate practices that address this, because it’s going to get worse. If you can perpetrate crazy lies and conspiracy theories just with texts, imagine what you can do when you can make it look like you or me saying anything on video. We’re pretty close to that now."
President-Elect Joe Biden recognized the nation’s urgent need for investment in digital skills with his campaign pledge to pass the Digital Literacy Act. As legislative action begins to get underway, the Biden Administration can and should take decisive administrative action to fill the vacuum in national leadership on digital literacy. In particular, the White House should convene a new Digital Skills for a Digital Age interagency task force that includes among other agencies the Departments of Commerce (DOC), Labor (DOL), and Education (ED).
This initiative should: 1) develop a formal definition of occupational digital literacy, which can be embedded in workforce and education policy; 2) identify ways to better support digital inclusion and skill-building through existing federal policy, and issue any necessary guidance to encourage or incentivize such action at the state and local level; 3) identify and standardize digital literacy variables as part of data collection and reporting for federally funded programs, and; 4) make recommendations to the White House for new budget investments in digital inclusion and upskilling.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) “looks forward to voting for Nathan Simington,” President Trump’s nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, said her chief of staff Charles Flint, dispelling any concerns on where she stands. Sen Blackburn is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which still needs to vote to advance Simington’s nomination this year before he can be confirmed on the floor. President Trump has become unusually invested in this nominee’s fight, singling out Sen Blackburn by name. Talk on Capitol Hill has persisted for weeks about possible Blackburn and other GOP concerns surrounding the nominee, and Flint’s comment settles any debate (Democratic objections, of course, remain). Some conservatives see the nominee as a crucial FCC vote in support of tackling the tech industry’s liability protections as well as a surefire way to delay the Biden administration from cementing an FCC majority in 2021.
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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