Thursday, February 7, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
Benton Faculty Research Fellow Christopher Ali: We Need a National Rural Broadband Plan
Government & Communications
Stories From Abroad
Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett announced the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched a new toolkit to help support the deployment of high-speed broadband e-Connectivity in rural communities. The e-Connectivity Toolkit features 27 USDA programs that support broadband deployment. The easy-to-use resource is a simple guide that allows customers to identify their type of e-Connectivity project and locate resources the federal government offers for planning, equipment, construction, research and other e-Connectivity projects. Resources such as grants, loans and technical assistance are available from multiple Mission Areas at USDA, including Rural Development, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Forest Service. The toolkit highlights examples of how e-Connectivity resources are being used to increase access to broadband services in rural communities. It is free and available to the public online, and can be easily printed for offline use.
Since the 1930s, policymakers have known that rural communications is a “market failure” — something that happens when private companies cannot or will not provide a socially desirable good because of a lack of return on investment. At that time, electricity and telephone companies were simply unwilling to enter rural America: The population was too sparse and the geography too vast. As a result, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration in 1936 to provide loans and grants to rural electric and telephone companies. It was a tremendous success: Within 20 years, 65 percent of farmers had a telephone and 96 percent of them had electricity. We have a similar problem with rural communications today — not with telephones or electricity but with broadband internet. A national rural broadband plan would designate a single agency — preferably the Rural Utilities Service, with its century-long relationship with rural communities and offices in every state — as the primary coordinator for rural broadband. A designated point agency is crucial to coordinate federal expenditures and to encourage more data sharing, collaboration and coordination between the FCC and the Rural Utilities Service. This plan would mandate the creation of a new national broadband map, using granular and testable data rather than what we have now, where broadband providers report advertised rather than actual speeds to the F.C.C., and where broadband deployment is calculated by census block rather than by household.
[Ali is an assistant professor at the University of Virginia -- and the Benton Faculty Research Fellow]
The National Hispanic Media Coalition joined Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, United Church of Christ and members of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Media/Telecom Task Force in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission expressing concern over proposed findings in the agency’s upcoming Broadband Deployment Progress Report. They requested the FCC:
- Measure advanced telecommunications capability and deployment in the inquiry by looking to its practical purpose: its use by people in the United States.
- Take a forward-looking approach and update its benchmark speed for evaluating advanced telecommunications capability.
- Reaffirm its previous conclusion that adequate access to advanced telecommunications capability means access to both fixed and mobile broadband service. These services are complementary, not substitutes for each other.
- Not conclude that the current deployment of advanced telecommunications capability is “reasonable and timely,” and should take action to adopt subsidies, support tax policies and digital inclusion programs, and bolster robust broadband Lifeline service. Such actions will accelerate investment in broadband infrastructure, encourage broadband adoption, and close the digital divide.
Missouri has 30 counties where more than a third of homes and businesses do not have access to high-speed internet service. There’s no single, unified effort to resolve the problem on federal, state or local levels, making it tough for businesses looking to move in and economic development more difficult for regions that need to attract those jobs. Brewer Science, a microchip manufacturer in Rolla, Missouri, found that out firsthand when it tried in 2013 to build a new manufacturing plant in the nearby, but small, town of Vichy. "The infrastructure situation was a mess,” network administrator Rob Chinn said, adding that water and electricity were easy, but it took a lot of work to get an acceptable level of internet access.
In Nov 2018, Sens Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, asking them to respond to a study that showed possible network neutrality violations on their networks. Specifically, the study, which used data collected by the app “Wehe,” showed numerous instances of bandwidth throttling for certain video providers. In response to the Sens’ letters, the four major mobile carriers denied Wehe’s findings that they selectively impair or degrade video streaming. Rather than acknowledge the apparent throttling of video apps, the carriers blamed the disruptions on consumers, network management, coverage, or limitations imposed by the content providers themselves. Those justifications, however, failed to explain why certain video providers such as Netflix and YouTube were experiencing bandwidth throttling, while others were not.
In response, the Sens have written to the Federal Communications Commission to demand an investigation into the carriers’ throttling and inadequate disclosures to customers. “In their responses, the mobile carriers frequently attempted to shift the burden onto consumers and hide their practices,” write the Sens. "Lengthy terms and conditions or small text at the end of the webpages using broad terms should not be considered disclosure, nor are they the basis of effective consumer choice or control. The lack of clear and complete information that the carriers provided in response to congressional inquiries should prompt the Commission to investigate the carriers’ practices and determine if they violate existing transparency rules.”
The Senate Commerce Committee drilled down on the 5G rollout in a hearing titled "Winning the Race to 5G and the Next Era of Technology Innovation in the United States." It was the first hearing of the committee in the 116th Congress, and the shadow of Chinese tech in US telecom loomed large over the proceedings. In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) discussed the promise of 5G across multiple sectors and the need to win the race to 5G, and the threat of Chinese telecoms. Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said she was concerned about Chinese telecoms participation in network tech standard setting. She said it needed to be made clear to the International Telecommunications Union that state actors should not be sitting on standards boards. She wished she had heard more from the President on cybersecurity at the State of the Union, but regardless Congress needs to make sure the 5G network is safe and that the promise of 5G does not come at the expense of national security and a secure supply chain. Ranking Member Cantwell also said there needs to be as much enthusiasm about bringing rural and tribal areas into the broadband fold as there is about rolling out 5G. On the issue of broadband subsidies, Sen Brain Schatz (D-HI), said the Federal Communications Commission is "chicken" to do Universal Service Fund contribution reform, which is why the government doesn't have more money to put into building out broadband. Competitive Carriers Association President Steve Berry said he could not agree more. He signaled broadband providers, not just phone service providers, should be contributing to the Universal Service Fund, particularly since the fund is migrating to subsidizing broadband as the new advanced communications baseline.
House Commcerce Committee Vice Chair Yvette Clarke (D-NY) and Rep John Curtis (R-UT) spoke at The Hil event titled "Boundless: Building a 5G World". They touted the potential benefits from emerging 5G technology, but warned that Congress must act quickly in a bipartisan fashion before the US falls behind. "We've got to remember to keep 5G nonpartisan, because the moment it becomes owned by a single party, then that's when it loses,” said Rep Curtis. “There's no doubt in my mind that we can work together to get a bill like this through," Rep Curtis added about legislation to facilitate the buildout of 5G infrastructure. Vice Chair Clarke spoke about the importance of Congress passing the Airwaves Act, which would require the Federal Communications Commission to grant new broadcast licenses for specified spectrum bands, freeing up the airwaves for the new 5G wireless broadband standard.
President Donald Trump is preparing an ambitious plan to ramp up the government’s role in speeding next-generation technologies such as 5G wireless and artificial intelligence, two key areas of competition with China. Administration officials say the president is preparing to issue a series of executive orders aimed at boosting the US strength in advanced technology. Those could include more ways of leveraging the sprawling federal government’s resources to advance artificial intelligence. The US also is looking to encourage new corporate competitors into the 5G race, fearful that Chinese competitors could gain an insurmountable global lead in the years to come. President Trump’s commitment “will ensure … that the American innovation ecosystem remains the envy of the world for generations to come,” said Michael Kratsios, a top White House technology policy aide.
I’m constantly meeting with the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) and its members for a very practical reason. Actually, make that two practical reasons: One is the race to 5G and the other is the broadcaster repack stemming from the FCC's incentive auction. [In regards to 5G, we] reformed our historic preservation and environmental regulations so that small cells don’t have to jump through the same regulatory hoops as 200-foot towers. As a result of the incentive auction, roughly half of our nation’s broadcast TV stations will be changing their transmission frequencies to clear part of the spectrum for wireless use. Successfully completing the repack on schedule will require continued coordination between tower companies, equipment manufacturers, broadcasters, and government officials. We’re working to make sure that stations are on pace to move by their phase
completion dates, to address transition issues that come up, and to help stations as appropriate and when doing so wouldn’t impact other repack stations.
I believe it is no longer enough to be first to 5G—the networks we deploy must also be secure. And to build 5G security effectively, we must build a market for more secure 5G equipment. That means making sure our companies can continue to innovate and encouraging other countries to invest in 5G security, too. This is a big task. As with all significant endeavors, the hard part is where to start. But I have some ideas—about where the Federal Communications Commission should begin. First, the FCC must work with other agencies to help manage supply chain risk. Second, the FCC should charter a new 5G security council. Third, the FCC needs to make cyber hygiene a priority.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said he sees fifth-generation wireless (5G) becoming a “fixed broadband replacement product” within the next three to five years, providing consumers with faster speeds than most existing cable and DSL connections. But experts say there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the hype surrounding 5G, especially given these same companies’ long history of unfulfilled broadband promises. And, the shift to 5G won’t address one of the biggest — but largely overlooked — reasons for high wireless prices in the United States. Large Internet service providers enjoy a de facto monopoly over the business data services (BDS) market, which adds a huge cost to providing wireless service. This “special access” market connects everything from cell towers to ATMs to the larger internet, and FCC data indicates that in 73 percent of geographical areas, this market is dominated by just one ISP (usually AT&T, Verizon, or CenturyLink). Other experts argue that your wireless connection may soon come packed with arbitrary restrictions that have never been a problem on wireline connections.
Around 250 bounty hunters and related businesses had access to AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint customer location data, according to documents obtained by Vice. The documents also show that telecommunication companies sold data intended to be used by 911 operators and first responders to data aggregators, who sold it to bounty hunters. The data was in some cases so accurate that a user could be tracked to specific spots inside a building. The news shows not only how widely Americans’ sensitive location data has been sold through the overlooked and questionable data broker market, but also how the ease-of-access dramatically increased the risk of abuse. An individual company made more than 18,000 data location requests through a data broker; other companies made thousands of requests. Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR) said, “This scandal keeps getting worse. Carriers assured customers location tracking abuses were isolated incidents. Now it appears that hundreds of people could track our phones, and they were doing it for years before anyone at the wireless companies took action. That’s more than an oversight—that’s flagrant, wilful disregard for the safety and security of Americans.”
At a time of dysfunction in Washington, there’s at least one thing in this town that still runs like butter: The revolving door. Barely eight months after stepping down from the Federal Communications Commission, Mignon Clyburn has announced T-Mobile is paying her for advice on the company’s $26 billion merger with Sprint. The former commissioner won’t be lobbying for the deal, nor will she be visiting her old colleagues at the FCC. But having served for nearly a decade on the commission, Clyburn knows all the ins and outs of the agency and how it approaches merger reviews, making her experience invaluable to T-Mobile as it tries to persuade the FCC and the Justice Department to bless its acquisition. But Clyburn brings more to the table than just knowledge and expertise. Her record as a fighter for low-income Americans and minorities gives T-Mobile a shot of additional credibility as it argues that the deal will be beneficial for disadvantaged populations.
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