Tuesday, November 24, 2020
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Stories From Abroad
Closing the digital divide will be a high priority for the Biden administration, as the pandemic has exposed how many Americans still lack reliable in-home internet connections and the devices needed to work and learn remotely. Much of the responsibility for addressing that gap will fall to the Federal Communications Commission, which is certain to make the effort its first priority. The FCC's gears don't move fast enough to flood the country with dollars for broadband on Biden's day one. But the FCC could, for instance, move quickly to expand broadband subsidies for schools and libraries to cover in-home internet, as agency veteran Amina Fazlullah notes in a paper for the Day One Project. That depends on having a functioning agency. Some conservatives are pushing for Senate Republicans to embark on a lame-duck sprint to confirm a Trump nominee to the FCC, which would leave the agency in a partisan deadlock.
Comcast plans to charge home internet customers in northeastern US states for going over 1.2TB of data in a month — a cap that’s already in effect for customers on non-unlimited plans in other parts of the country. In January and February, Comcast will give its Xfinity customers not on an unlimited plan a “credit” for any data usage charges over 1.2TB during those months to ease them into the new limits. Then, starting in March, non-unlimited customers who exceed 1.2TB in a month will be charged $10 per 50GB of data, for a maximum of $100. Customers who go over the limit will get one “courtesy” credit per 12 months, so if you go over 1.2TB in March, you get a grace period for April. If you go over again in May, you’ll pay $10 for each block of 50GB up to the $100 max. Customers will be notified as they approach the 1.2TB threshold.
Whether it's more fiber deployments by AT&T or T-Mobile offering fixed wireless broadband in rural areas, Charter is ready for the competition. Charter CFO Chris Winfrey said Charter was well-positioned to handle all types of competition across all infrastructures due to the continued investments it has made in its network. "We are growing against all competitors in all markets irrespective of the competitive infrastructure," Winfrey said. "And our results really demonstrate that when you compare that to the competition. I guess another point that we wanted to make is that DOCSIS 3.1, which is fully deployed across all of our network at a really low cost at $9 per passing, has a very long runway with many tools to continue to expand the capacity that we have within the existing DOCSIS 3.1 platform. We can get to multi-gigabit speeds at one gig symmetrical just using DOCSIS 3.1 so it has a long runway for growth. There isn't a looming need for an upgrade to the plant."
Here are a few things a community can do to show an ISP that it wants it:
- Think long and hard before you suppress utilities. Many ISPs severely limit projects where utilities are suppressed or avoid building in the area altogether.
- Consider an open-access conduit system. If a community really wants to bury utilities in certain zones, it should consider burying conduit while it has the streets and sidewalks open, then make that conduit available to potential ISP partners for lease on an open-access basis.
- Revisit codes for new housing developments.
- Consider land-use rules that encourage dense housing. The closer homes are together, the better the return on investment.
- Make sure any study includes building a prospect list. Because a community has to measure demand anyway, it makes sense to capture a list of interested residents as part of a study’s deliverables and get permission to share it.
[Trevor Jones is vice president of marketing, sales and customer service for OTELCO, which owns independent telephone companies in seven states and partners with several community networks in Massachusetts.]
The Federal Communications Commission declared that Dish Network controls two affiliates that won $3.3 billion in discounts at an airwaves auction, again saying the companies don’t get the benefit reserved for small businesses. The action doesn’t immediately cost Dish any money and gives it a chance to ask a court to rule that its affiliates properly pursued the discount, said Blair Levin, an analyst for News Street Research. Dish’s partners, Northstar Wireless LLC and SNR Wireless LicenseCo LLC, won airwaves licenses in a 2015 auction and received the small-business discounts. The FCC denied the credits, saying the companies in fact were controlled by Dish. The affiliates gave up $3.3 billion worth of licenses. A court in 2017 upheld the FCC’s decision, but said Northstar and SNR deserved a chance to address the agency’s concerns. The companies in 2018 told the FCC they’d changed their relationship with Dish to resemble arrangements the agency approved in other cases. More than two years passed without action until a flurry of meetings on Nov. 16 at the FCC.
House Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai today urging him to assist companies as they prepare and plan to replace suspect network equipment, including companies eligible for reimbursement under the Secure and Trusted Reimbursement Program. The program was established by Pallone and Walden’s H.R. 4998, the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Act, which was signed into law earlier this year. While it has not yet been funded, the bipartisan Committee leaders say there is every expectation it will be, and the FCC should begin immediately to initiate certain implementation steps. The two Committee leaders encourage the FCC to develop and release a list of eligible equipment and software, for example, as well as reassure companies that they will not jeopardize their eligibility for reimbursement under the Program just because their replacement purchases were made before it was funded.
Federal Communications Commission nominee Nathan Simington reached out to Fox News in an attempt at “engaging” host Laura Ingraham to support President Donald Trump’s quest to make it easier to sue social media companies like Facebook and Twitter. Simington, a senior adviser in a key Commerce Department tech agency, wrote that the popular Fox News host could help sway the FCC to act on Trump's proposal before Election Day. He also suggested that democracy hinged on the ability of the commission — which has not traditionally regulated social media — to target Silicon Valley companies. Ingraham, whom President Trump frequently has cited favorably, has echoed the GOP’s attacks on the tech industry and years earlier had eyed joining the administration. Fellow Fox News host Tucker Carlson publicly backed Simington's FCC nomination in an October segment where he pressured Senate Republicans to speed up.
The FCC nominee's quest for a lame-duck confirmation has already faced an uncertain future. The newly obtained records undercut his attempt to downplay his role in the administration’s tech liability fight. “This email shows that Mr. Simington was an active and eager soldier in President Trump’s attempted assault on the First Amendment," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). "Mr. Simington was willing to bully the very agency he’s been nominated to join in order to do the electoral bidding of the Republican party on the taxpayer dime. I am demanding that Mr. Simington explain himself in follow-up questions for the record, and I certainly hope he will be more forthcoming in his written responses than he was during his hearing."
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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