Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Headlines Daily Digest
FCC's March Agenda
Stories From Abroad
A flurry of orders, rulemakings, inquiries, and adjudications aimed at advancing the United States’ economic recovery and preparing for a post-COVID world.:
- Steps to better prepare for emergencies like Winter Storm Uri. The FCC will consider an Order that would permit the agency to share important information about communications outages with state and federal partners.
- Updates to the way Americans receive emergency alerts wherever they are—on their phones, on television, and on radio. The FCC will consider a rulemaking that proposes new rules to keep the public safe and informed during emergencies and disasters, and an inquiry on whether it would be possible to deliver emergency alerts via other forms of communications. This will implement the bipartisan READI Act, which was enacted into law as Section 9201 of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.
- Helping to deliver the 5G you were promised. That means 5G that is fast, secure, resilient, and most importantly, available across the country. The FCC will consider an Order that will make much-needed mid-band spectrum in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band available for 5G, and a Public Notice that will seek comment on how the FCC should auction this spectrum to ensure that it is put to use quickly in service of the American people.
- Building a better, a more secure 5G network of the future. The FCC will launch an inquiry on the benefits and challenges of building 5G radio access networks with open and interoperable technologies. With this inquiry, the FCC will start to compile a record about how we can secure our vulnerable supply chains once and for all and revitalize the nation’s 5G leadership and innovation.
- An item from our Enforcement Bureau and two national security items.
Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel shared with her colleagues a draft Order that would make much-needed mid-band spectrum available for 5G. If adopted at the FCC’s March 17 Open Meeting, 100 megahertz of mid-band spectrum in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band would be made available for auction and 5G deployment across the contiguous United States. The Acting Chairwoman also shared with her colleagues a proposed Public Notice seeking comment on procedures for this auction (Auction 110), in which bidding would begin in early October 2021. The proposed new rules, if adopted, would allocate the 3.45-3.55 GHz spectrum band for flexible-use service. It would establish a framework for coordination of non-federal and federal use and establish a band plan, as well as technical, licensing, and competitive bidding rules for the band. Lastly, it would complete the relocation of non-federal radiolocation operators to the 2.9-3.0 GHz band and the sunset of amateur use in the 3.3-3.5 GHz band.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act included a provision, the Beat CHINA for 5G Act of 2020, which requires the FCC to commence a system of competitive bidding for licenses in the 3.45 GHz band by the end of 2021. Rosenworcel’s proposal positions the agency to meet this obligation. In addition, this proposal would be an important step in fulfilling Congress’s directive in the MOBILE NOW Act for the FCC to work with National Telecommunications and Information Administration to evaluate the feasibility of allowing commercial use in the 3.1-3.55 GHz band.
FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel shared with her colleagues a proposal to open a formal discussion on Open Radio Access Networks—sometimes called Open RAN—the opportunities they present, and what the FCC should be doing to promote the concept. If adopted at the FCC’s March 17 Open Meeting, this Notice of Inquiry would seek comment on the current status of Open RAN development and deployment, whether and how the FCC might foster its success, and how to support competitiveness and new entrant access to this emerging market. The Notice of Inquiry, if adopted, would seek comment on the current status of Open RAN development and deployment in American networks and abroad. It asks about the role of established large manufacturers and of new entrants in setting standards for this new network architecture. It seeks input on what steps should be taken by the FCC, federal partners, industry, academia, or others to accelerate the timeline for Open RAN standards development. Further, it seeks comment on any challenges or other considerations related to the deployment, integration, and testing of systems based on Open RAN specifications. The NOI also requests comment on the costs and benefits associated with Open RAN development and deployment.
California may soon begin enforcing its first-in-the-nation net neutrality law after a federal judge ruled against broadband providers that had sought to scuttle the state’s open-Internet safeguards. The ruling amounts to a major victory for advocates of rules that require broadband service providers to treat all Web traffic equally, potentially setting the stage for states nationwide to follow California’s lead and adopt tough new protections of their own. Judge John Mendez of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California "found that the law is on a solid legal foundation and that the ISPs trying to overturn it are not likely to prevail,” said Barbara van Schewick, a law professor at Stanford University. She penned one of the legal briefs in support of the law and against the Internet providers that had sought an injunction to stop it from taking effect. “This is a huge victory for net neutrality and bodes well for other states that have adopted net neutrality requirements,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior counselor to the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, which had filed an amicus brief in support of California’s rules.
The four trade groups that had filed the lawsuit — America’s Communications Association, CTIA, the NCTA and USTelecom — said they “will review the court’s opinion before deciding on next steps,” signaling a potential appeal that could again forestall enforcement of California’s rules. “A state-by-state approach to Internet regulation will confuse consumers and deter innovation, just as the importance of broadband for all has never been more apparent,” they said in a joint statement. “We agree with the Court that a piecemeal approach is untenable and that Congress should codify rules for an open Internet.”
Nearly five years after the Boulder Valley (CO) School District asked the Federal Communications Commission to let it use federal funds to help students on the wrong side of the digital divide, the district finally got a response — in a roundabout way. The Boulder Valley district wanted to fix the “homework gap” faced by students who spend the day at school and then head home to no broadband service. In 2013, the district began sharing its internet with a local neighborhood that had none. But because the internet was partially funded by the federal E-Rate program, the FCC said it violated a rule because E-rate-funds could only be used on school campuses. In May 2016, the district asked the FCC to waive the E-Rate rule preventing funds from subsidizing the internet at students’ homes. The FCC never ruled on it.
On Feb 23, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser urged the FCC to consider his separate petition to address the divide that became more evident when students were sent home during the coronavirus pandemic. AG Weiser is leading the effort with Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson. AG Weiser has the support of 29 AGs in other states, Washington, DC and Guam. The FCC, in seeking comments to AG Weiser’s petition, noted that Colorado’s request was one of 11 asking permission for E-Rate funds to be used for remote learning. If the FCC moves forward and adds the AG’s request to a future agenda, that will be further than the school district’s petition ever got. The waiver would need a vote to pass.
The Federal Communications Commission is creating the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program with $3.2 billion allocated by Congress. Not surprisingly, broadband service providers are focused on making sure they can access as much of that money as possible. That means leveling the playing field with current participants in the FCC’s Lifeline program. Ninety percent of Lifeline participants are wireless carriers, NCTA–The Internet & Television Association VP and general counsel Steve Morris told the FCC at a roundtable on the new subsidy. In virtual meetings with FCC staffers, ACA Connects, the NCTA, internet and competitive networks trade group INCOMPAS and WISPA (the wireless internet-service providers association) presented a united front in calling for flexible rules regarding “the specific service offerings that are available for the EBB program, the categories of households that may participate, and the verification processes that providers will use to qualify households.” For its part, NCTA said the money should be available to as wide a pool of consumers as possible. It urged the FCC to make sure all providers, including broadband cable operators that have not been Lifeline participants, have an equal shot at the money, rather than giving current Lifeline participants a head start, and by minimizing administrative and implementation “burdens.”
Some states are starting to move with more urgency to solve the broadband gap. It's a problem that affects millions of Americans and is particularly urgent in light of a pandemic that has forced most interactions, from classes to weddings, to go online. While the federal government works to allocate $20 billion on top of billions of dollars in funding already earmarked for unserved communities, there remains a lack of understanding of where the problems lie. The Federal Communications Commission's broadband map isn't detailed enough to pinpoint unserved areas, and that's left millions of Americans behind. Unless the data improves, service is unlikely to improve. The FCC now will require internet service providers to share more detailed data, giving a better picture of what areas are unserved by broadband. It will also have to open the map to public feedback, letting people flag when something is wrong and providing more data points on gaps. But some experts say the new mapping parameters still aren't granular enough, and the new maps almost certainly will arrive too late to help people during the pandemic. States aren't waiting around for the FCC. That includes Georgia, Maine and Pennsylvania, which are building their own maps, as well as many other states around the nation. They're drawing on speed test data, specific information from ISPs about what homes they serve, and other resources to find out where their gaps are.
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) doesn’t appreciate all the scorn being heaped on fixed wireless access (FWA) technology, which is coming from some groups that didn’t win as many Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) awards as they had hoped. In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, WISPA specifically takes exception to a filing made by NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, which implies that FWA networks cannot deliver gigabit speeds. WISPA says that while the possible speed of a wireless link depends on many factors, especially the quality of the path, the recent availability of millimeter-wave systems and equipment, especially on the unlicensed 60 GHz band, and the pending availability of standard-power devices on the 6 GHz band, make gigabit download wireless speeds a realistic option in many places.
Many states have their own offices focusing on rural broadband, and there is very little coordination between those offices, and the many federal agencies responsible for elements of internet connectivity extension. President Joe Biden and Congressional leaders can include language that ensures that better coordination leads to faster deployment of rural broadband solutions. It is not as if there has been no work done on this to date. The Federal Communications Commission has been working on this issue for years, and some progress has been made. But like anything in government, the White House and Congress need to push this or it will continue to plod along slowly, never reaching its goal. This is not “hard” to do. It just takes a serious commitment by the administration and lawmakers.
As President Biden seeks to invest in the future of the country, give Americans a chance to achieve their dreams, and rebuild a nation torn apart by political polarization and a dangerous pandemic, he should lead on a big, achievable plan like nationwide broadband. Franklin Roosevelt electrified rural America in the 1930s on the heels of the great depression and the tremendous economic and social turbulence it caused. We did it then, and we can do it now.
[Dan Glickman served as secretary of the Department of Agriculture under Bill Clinton and is a former Democratic member of Congress from Kansas.]
We evaluate the impact of mobile operator mergers on the unit price of data and voice by using country-level observations on retail revenue for data, cellular data traffic, retail revenue for voice, and outgoing voice minutes. Using a difference-in-differences estimation strategy, we estimate the effect of operator merger by comparing the difference between the non-merging countries and the merging countries before and after the introduction of the operator merger. In accordance with the theoretical prediction provided in this paper, we empirically find that mergers tend to decrease the data unit price and increase the voice unit price.
Greg Walden, former Chairman of both the House Commerce Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, announced the creation of Alpine Advisors, a new policy and strategic advisory firm. Alpine Advisors is a partnership between Walden and the Alpine Group, a leading Washington government affairs firm. Walden will serve as Chairman of Alpine Advisors, which will service a wide range of clients, with a particular focus on the energy, technology, telecommunications and health care sectors. The Alpine Group is consistently ranked one of the top lobbying firms in Washington.
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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