Friday, December 4, 2020
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
If there’s one positive to come out of the pandemic, it is that it’s ended, once and for all, any debate about the need for universal access to high-speed broadband. COVID-19 has raised awareness about the importance of closing the digital divide. And the Keep Americans Connected pledge proved to be an effective solution to the immediate connectivity challenges highlighted by the pandemic. But our nation had connectivity gaps before the pandemic that will still be a challenge in the years ahead. COVID-19 isn’t the reason that 23% of Hispanic households with school age children lack access to home broadband. Bridging the digital divide requires reducing the cost of broadband buildout, which in turn requires reducing the regulatory burden on buildout. A new study came out recently showing that, compared to 2015, today’s average consumer is paying 28% less for broadband in real terms while enjoying faster speeds.
The Federal Communications Commission is committed to working with the Hispanic Telecom and Technology Partnership and other dedicated advocates like you to finish the job of closing America’s connectivity gap
A Q&A with John Horrigan, senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute.
When asked, "How does broadband speed impact the things people can do online?" Horrigan said, "How much speed you need, and how you experience that speed, relies on multiple factors, including the applications and the number of people online. The devices being used also affect speed: the computer, router, and even broader infrastructure available to deliver the connection can all impact speed and user experience. Not all online activities require the same speeds: For a group video call, 2.5 Mbps speeds suffice, while streaming videos may require 25 Mbps for high-definition quality. As a result, a single-person household may be fine with an internet service provider’s (ISP’s) basic service offering. But many factors affect even the highest internet speeds."
When asked, "What has the COVID-19 pandemic taught us about broadband speeds?" Horrigan said, "The pandemic has caused a large increase in home internet use....Many applications that people have relied upon during the pandemic—such as videoconferencing platforms or streaming video—do not necessarily need fast speeds to function, but when multiple people in a household need a video application, network performance may suffer. Additionally, those reliant on only smartphones for access, beyond worrying about data limits, may find that some video applications do not function well. This phenomenon may be significant because some 17% of Americans are “smartphone only,” including 26% of low-income households. For low-income students who have only smartphones for remote classroom access, the limitations of these devices for learning have become quickly evident."
An old battle over who governs the internet will likely reignite as Democrats take control of the Federal Communications Commission following the inauguration of Joe Biden. Reinstating Obama-era net neutrality rules thrown out under the Trump administration will likely be a top priority for the agency, experts say. At stake in this battle is who, if anyone, will police the internet to ensure that broadband companies aren't abusing their power as gatekeepers. Supporters of net neutrality say rules are necessary to ensure broadband companies aren't abusing their power as gatekeepers. But the FCC and broadband companies say the old rules gave the FCC too much power, stifling broadband investment. There's also no clear evidence that any of the doomsday predictions from net neutrality proponents have come to fruition. But this isn't to say that there aren't significant issues. Tens of millions of people are still without access to service at all, and many millions can't afford service. Net neutrality regulations on their own won't fix these issues, but supporters say reinstating the FCC's authority over broadband companies is still essential.
5G is evolving fast in the US. In just a few months, the 5G experience we saw has changed dramatically on each carrier. And, while progress has boosted many 5G measures, in other 5G categories we see big drops. Looking at 5G over the summer, we saw that average 5G Download Speed using Verizon ranged from 508.3 Mbps to 338 Mbps. But now in these five cities the highest average speed we see using Verizon is 68.0 Mbps. Similarly, T-Mobile users saw a real-world average 5G Download speed of 49.2 Mbps then, here we see speeds range of 83.8 Mbps, 74.9 Mbps, 65.8 Mbps, 59.8 Mbps in four of the cities. But at the same time, we see jumps on 5G Availability on both T-Mobile and Verizon. Now, we see the 5G Download Speed across the three carriers is neck and neck in five major cities. The 5G market is now very competitive. In three cities, there is no clear leader in 5G Download Speed because the average 5G speeds are close enough that our confidence intervals overlap. These results are in marked contrast to our previous results. Why has the experience changed so much in such a short space of time?
Engineers at Facebook Connectivity have been quietly working for the past two and a half years on a solution to economically provide coverage in rural areas, and what they’ve come up with is SuperCell, an alternative to macrocell sites. In a nutshell, they’re using taller towers and high-gain, narrow-sectored antennas to increase mobile data coverage range and capacity. Their field measurements found that a 36-sector SuperCell base station mounted on a 250-meter tower can serve a geographical coverage area up to 65 times larger than a standard three-sector rural macro base station on a 30-meter tower in the same topography. Facebook is not in the business of selling equipment or providing software; its model is to develop core technologies and share them with partners.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai appears to be moving full steam ahead on a controversial spectrum item in his final days as head of the agency. According to the FCC’s list of items on circulation, he recently shared a Petition for Reconsideration that was filed by ten education groups regarding the FCC’s July 2019 decision on Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum. If the item receives three votes while on circulation – which some believe may already be the case – the FCC can move forward and dismiss the petition, thus denying schools a meaningful opportunity to acquire EBS licenses and connect students. A coalition of 23 educational groups is now calling on Chairman Pai not to move forward on this controversial item. In a letter to Chairman Pai led by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), the organizations explained three important reasons why this item should not be considered until the incoming presidential administration and the new FCC has had a chance to fully consider the ramifications of the Petition for Reconsideration. 1) The EBS rulemaking was controversial. 2) Congress is still actively considering this issue. 3) There is new evidence that was never considered.
The government has interpreted a high-profile provision of the Patriot Act as empowering FBI national security investigators to collect logs showing who has visited particular web pages, documents show. But the government stops short of using that law to collect the keywords people submit to internet search engines because it considers such terms to be content that requires a warrant to gather, according to letters produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The disclosures come at a time when Congress is struggling with new proposals to limit the law, known as Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The debate ran aground in the spring amid erratic messages from President Donald Trump, but is expected to resume after President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office in Jan. New tensions have emerged over the extent to which the FBI could use Section 215 to gather logs of people’s web browsing activities, as opposed to using warrants — a tool that requires investigators to first be able to produce evidence that a person probably engaged in wrongdoing.
In letters to 11 whistleblowers on Dec 2, the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) — an investigative and prosecutorial government body — revealed that it had found “a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” at the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees four media organizations: Voice of America, Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. With help from the Government Accountability Project (GAP), which represents more than 20 current and former staffers at the USAGM, 11 whistleblowers sent specific complaints to the OSC over the last few months. They included allegations that USAGM leadership “repeatedly violated the Voice of America firewall” and “engaged in gross mismanagement and abuse of authority.” Further, the whistleblowers claimed leadership “pressured career staff to illegally repurpose … congressionally appropriated funds and programs without notifying Congress.” On Dec 2, the OSC replied to these and other allegations, noting that what the whistleblowers alleged seemed to be true. However, OSC gives any offending agency — in this case, UASGM — 60 days to conduct its own probe and respond to the complaints. It’s not until that investigation ends that OSC makes a final determination.
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr endorsed Simington’s nomination, saying he needs another Republican alongside him on the five-member commission come Inauguration Day to stymie Democrats in a deadlocked 2-2 FCC. “It’d be very valuable to get Simington across the finish line to help forestall what really would be billions of dollars worth of economic damage that I think a [Democratic] FCC would look to jam through from Day 1,” Commissioner Carr cautioned during an appearance on Fox Business. Democrats would, of course, strongly dispute that their agenda items — which are likely to include a revival of Obama-era net neutrality rules — would cause such harm. (Commissioner Carr also questioned whether the incoming FCC would maintain its aggressive stance on China and flagged the “deep ties in Silicon Valley” of some of President-elect Joe Biden’s advisers.) Despite Carr’s rhetoric, he’s still managing to find (some) consensus with his Democratic colleagues.
Jeff McElfresh, CEO of AT&T Communications, described AT&T's broadband policy goals. He said Congress should act to directly fund the Universal Service Fund, changing the funding mechanism since the contribution factor — the percentage of voice revenues that goes toward USF — is on track to exceed 30% for the first time. Other AT&T broadband policy recommendations outlined:
- Retain a light touch regulatory approach. Although McElfresh didn’t provide details here, this would appear to be a reference to Net Neutrality and Open Internet issues, including whether broadband should be classified as a Title II telecommunications service, which would leave the service open to heavier regulation. He noted that AT&T expects to double the number of fiber locations that it serves within the next five years.
- Be technology-neutral. As the government awards “up to $80 billion” for broadband, it should “let engineers decide how to expand broadband into rural America” and should not “get prescriptive about technology.” He argued, for example, that fixed wireless broadband offers a means of using tax dollars wisely for rural broadband.
- Obtain accurate broadband availability data. “We need precise maps...down to individual buildings,” McElfresh said.
The Federal Communications Commission will hold an Open Meeting on the subjects listed below on Thursday, December 10, 2020:
Securing the Communications Supply Chain (WC Docket No. 18-89): The FCC will consider a Report and Order that would require Eligible Telecommunications Carriers to remove equipment and services that pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the US or the security and safety of its people, would establish the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, and would establish the procedures and criteria for publishing a list of covered communications equipment and services that must be removed.
The FCC will consider two national security matters.
Allowing Earlier Equipment Marketing and Importation Opportunities (ET Docket No. 20- 382); Petition to Expand Marketing Opportunities for Innovative Technologies (RM-11857): The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose updates to its marketing and importation rules to permit, prior to equipment authorization, conditional sales of radiofrequency devices to consumers under certain circumstances and importation of a limited number of radiofrequency devices for certain pre-sale activities.
Promoting Broadcast Internet Innovation Through ATSC 3.0 (MB Docket No. 20-145): The FCC will consider a Report and Order that would modify and clarify existing rules to promote the deployment of Broadcast Internet services as part of the transition to ATSC 3.0.
Florida Community Radio, Inc., Construction Permit for Proposed NCE Station DWRBD (FM), Horseshoe Beach (FL): The FCC will consider an Order on Reconsideration concerning the expiration of the construction permit of Florida Community Radio, Inc, for a new noncommercial educational FM station at Horseshoe Beach (FL).
Rules and Regulations Implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991; Broadnet Teleservices LLC Petition for Declaratory Ruling; National Consumer Law Center Petition for Reconsideration and Request for Stay Pending Reconsideration of Broadnet Teleservices LLC Petition for Declaratory Ruling; Professional Services Council Petition for Reconsideration of Broadnet Teleservices LLC Petition for Declaratory Ruling (CG Docket No. 02-278): The FCC will consider an Order on Reconsideration of its previous interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act that permitted certain government and government contractor calls without consumers’ prior express consent.
Implementing Section 10(a) of the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act) (EB Docket No. 20-374): The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would begin the process of implementing section 10(a) of the TRACED Act, which directs the FCC, no later than June 30, 2021, to “prescribe regulations to establish a process that streamlines the ways in which a private entity may voluntarily share with the FCC information relating” to violations of section 227(b) or 227(e) of the Communications Act.
Modernizing the E-Rate Program for Schools and Libraries (WC Docket No. 13-184): The FCC will consider an Order that would amend the invoice filing deadline rule to enhance the efficient administration of the E-Rate Program and ensure program participants have sufficient time to complete the invoice payment process
Amendment of Part 1 of the Commission’s Rules (MD Docket No. 20-64): The FCC will consider an Order that would modify its rules to require the electronic payment of fees for activities delegated to the FCC’s Media Bureau.
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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