Monday, December 19, 2022
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The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau and the Office of Economics and Analytics announced they are ready to authorize Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for 1,764 Auction 904 winning bids. Nearly all of the winning bids are Resound Networks, a wireless internet service provider. Bids are to serve parts of Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The FCC also announced that Xiber, a broadband provider headquartered in Indianapolis, is forfeiting bids in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas.
Sen Markey and Rep Meng urged Congressional leadership to include $1 billion in the disaster supplemental division of the year-end omnibus for the Federal Communications Commission's Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), which supports devices and broadband services for students and educators to connect to the internet at home. This funding would be sufficient for the FCC to fund every valid application it received in the most recent application window. In May, the FCC announced that it had received more than $2.8 billion in requests for ECF funds in the most recent application window – far more than the estimated $1.5 billion in remaining funds. Without Congressional approval of supplemental funds, the impact will fall hardest on the low-income, disadvantaged, and rural communities that relied most heavily on the ECF. The end of the Emergency Connectivity Fund will effectively turn an important investment in our students into stranded assets and a wasted opportunity.
Here are the 2023 reasonable comparability benchmarks for fixed voice and broadband services for eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) that are subject to broadband public interest obligations.
- Voice Rates. Based on the survey results, the 2023 urban average monthly rate is $36.73. Therefore, the reasonable comparability benchmark for voice services, two standard deviations above the urban average, is $59.62. ETCs must certify the pricing of its basic residential voice services is no more than $59.62.
- Broadband Rates. Recipients of high-cost and/or Connect America Fund support that are subject to broadband performance obligations are required to offer broadband service at rates that are at or below the relevant reasonable comparability benchmark. Carriers subject to the Alaska Plan are required to meet Alaska-specific benchmarks and to certify that they are meeting the relevant reasonable comparability benchmark for their broadband service offering in the FCC Form 481 filed no later than July 1, 2023. The 2023 U.S. Benchmark for 25/3 broadband service is $90.98.
The authors were previously asked to analyze from an economic perspective the appropriate contribution methodology for the federal Universal Service Fund (USF). In a prior study, they analyzed the effects of modifying and expanding the “contribution base,” i.e., the supply of financial resources for the USF, to include both voice and broadband connections. In particular, the prior study investigated the economic effects of modifying and expanding the contribution base on broadband adoption rates. In this new report, the authors have been asked by NTCA to evaluate and respond to critiques of the prior study as submitted to the Federal Communications Commission. The authors continue to find that modifying the USF contribution methodology to include both voice and broadband connections within the contribution base would not have a material impact on broadband adoption or retention.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has made multiple announcements releasing funds to help states develop plans for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. With dollars in hand or incoming, a ticking clock, and few internal resources, several states are now turning to consultants for help. States have 270 days from receipt of planning funds to submit a five-year action plan to NTIA on how they will structure their BEAD and digital equity programs to close their digital divides. As of this writing, NTIA has distributed planning funds to over 30 states. Several states have started issuing requests for proposals (RFPs) for consultants to design their BEAD and Digital Equity Act plans, and many more are expected to do so as funds continue rolling out. With millions per state on the table, and with broadband offices needing help with some or all aspects of BEAD, various consulting firms hope to seize the new opportunity and are trying to find their way in. Various consulting firms hope to seize the new opportunity and are trying to find their way in.
Broadband provider Brightspeed has completed a network deployment in Eutawville, South Carolina, that was funded, in part, through the South Carolina 2021 Rural Broadband Grant Program. The network provides service to more than 3,000 addresses in the town and the surrounding Orangeburg County area. The network is capable of 940 Mbps data speeds. Brightspeed invested half of the cost of the build. Brightspeed has bigger plans for South Carolina moving forward. In August, 2022, the company said that it would deploy a fiber network to 50,000 addresses in the state. The first phase would include 14,000 addresses and was scheduled to be completed by the end of this year. The balance of 36,000 addresses would be completed in subsequent years. The technology used in Eutawville apparently is different from what Brightspeed has planned for the 50,000 additional locations. Those projects are to include XGS-PON platforms capable of symmetrical data speeds of more than 1 Gbps, which is faster than what is specified for the Eutwawville build.
The Broadband Map Integrity service is a new offering is designed to help states, municipalities, schools, and other interested parties to quickly and efficiently submit challenges to the recently-released FCC maps, the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (Fabric), that will inform the allocation of $42.5 billion in BEAD (Broadband Equity Access and Deployment) grants. Current estimates place map inaccuracies at around one-to-two percent, which could translate to three million underserved households being excluded from the final maps. One fundamental challenge is the variability in how addresses are captured in the myriad of government systems, such as tax records, and within the FCC Fabric. Leveraging their expertise and suite of geospatial tools, the VCTI Broadband Map Integrity solution normalizes the addresses to map to the Fabric, and identifies missing and misclassified locations.
There was an interesting phenomenon that happened in September when Starlink launched 49 new satellites. The satellites were successfully deployed by the rocket, but as the satellites were being maneuvered to reach the final orbital slots there was a geomagnetic storm that caused 38 of the satellites to fall back to earth. Space storms happen when radiation affects the magnetosphere that surrounds the earth. The extra energy from the storms can also play havoc with GPS and other space-based communications. Strong storms can wreak havoc with radio communications and can even produce feedback in long-haul electric wires that can disrupt the power grid. Scientists have been looking at ways to better predict solar flares and the ensuing storms. Tracking space weather matters since we are becoming reliant on space technologies. We’ve all incorporated GPS and satellite weather into our daily routines. Space technology has become everyday technology, but it’s too easy to take for granted and to assume it will always work.
Representatives Bill Johnson (R-OH) and Kim Schrier (D-WA) introduced the ALERT Parity Act. This legislation would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue rules for the provision of emergency connectivity service. It would enable providers of emergency connectivity services, including providers of satellite direct-to-cell service, to apply to the FCC to access spectrum to fill in commercial mobile service coverage gaps in unserved areas specifically to provide connectivity for emergency services.
Elon Musk said that Twitter was reinstating the accounts of several journalists whose accounts were suspended after he had accused them of violating the social media platform’s rules on personal privacy. Musk said he was restoring most of the accounts, which had been deactivated on Dec 15, after a majority of respondents in his informal Twitter survey voted that the suspensions should be lifted immediately. But for at least some of the reporters, including Drew Harwell of The Washington Post and Ryan Mac of The New York Times, the restoration of their accounts appeared to be contingent on them deleting posts that Twitter had flagged as “violating our rules against posting private information.” In Harwell’s case, he was told to delete a Twitter post reporting on the suspension of Mastodon, one of Twitter’s competitors. If he attempted to appeal the decision, the message said, his account would remain locked while Twitter reviewed his appeal.
Twitter will no longer allow users to promote their presence on certain social platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribel, Nostr, and Post. Twitter says it will take action against users that violate this policy “at both the Tweet level and the account level.” This means users can no longer include links to their profiles on other social networks in their Twitter bio, nor can they send out tweets directing users to check out their Instagram or Facebook accounts. The policy doesn’t just include links from other platforms, either; it even extends to posting usernames or handles from competing platforms without URLs. Additionally, users can no longer tweet out posts from banned platforms unless it’s a cross-post, meaning the same post has to be shared to both the competing site and Twitter. Twitter may also suspend accounts “used for the main purpose of promoting content on another social platform,” and will no longer allow users to link to third-party link aggregators, like Linktree or Lnk.bio.
With time running out in the lame-duck session of Congress, there is still no scheduled vote on advancing [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society] Gigi Sohn’s nomination to the Federal Communications Commission. At deadline, her appointment was not listed among the 104 pending nominations on the Senate’s executive calendar, with the last action noted as “failed to report her favorably” out of committee, according to congress.gov. President Joe Biden submitted the nomination on October 28, 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 Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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