Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
A Full Slate of Events Today Including
Broadband Infrastructure Program 1-Year Anniversary Celebration
One Year Later, What We Know About the Broadband Infrastructure Program
Blair Levin: Talking About Things We Don’t Talk About
New Dashboard to Explore Impacts of Federal Broadband Investments on Local Communities
Stories From Abroad
Bipartisan House Commerce Committee Leaders Commend Passage of Bipartisan FCC Auction Authority Bill
House Commerce Committee leadership commended the passage on February 28th, 2023 on the House floor of H.R. 1108, a bill to extend the Federal Communication Commission auction authority deadline to May 19, 2023. The bill was sponsored by Reps. Cathy Rodgers (R-WA) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ). “Spectrum policy is national security policy. Extending the FCC’s spectrum auction authority is critical for strengthening American leadership in innovation and our global competitive edge against China, making it all the more important to get the job done. We applaud the passage of H.R. 1108, which will help ensure we have the time necessary to work with our Senate colleagues to adopt a strong spectrum policy for America to win the future of wireless technology.”
The following Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee bills were passed by the House on February 27th, 2023. The bills will promote data transparency and strengthen American commerce.
In late December 2021, President Donald Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, a $2.3 trillion COVID relief and government spending bill that extended unemployment benefits and ensured the government kept running. Through that law, Congress allocated $7 billion to help improve connectivity in the U.S. including a new $300 million broadband deployment grant program at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The aim of the Broadband Infrastructure Program (or BIP) is to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas. Here we share what we know about the program so far—especially from the agencies that Congress picked to keep an eye on it.
The US Census Bureau, in partnership with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), announced the launch of the ACCESS BROADBAND Dashboard. "ACCESS BROADBAND" stands for Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand Act. The new data tool shows how changes in broadband infrastructure expansion may impact local economies. The dashboard includes a series of maps showing different broadband access measures, as well as economic characteristics that research suggests could be influenced by increased access to broadband. Maps display statistics on employment, small business establishments, wages and income, poverty, home values, population change and migration, educational attainment, and gross domestic product (GDP). The Census Bureau and NTIA plan to update the dashboard annually so users can assess the economic context of areas where broadband availability and adoption efforts are underway. Each release will include the interactive dashboard and supplemental data files so users can access the underlying map data.
The Link Up Idaho initiative encourages Idahoans to submit information about their internet to provide insight into broadband availability across the state. Idaho residents can submit information about their internet by March 15, 2023. Link Up Idaho, led by the Idaho Broadband Advisory Board (IBAB) and Idaho Department of Commerce, in coordination with the Idaho Office of Information Technology Services, aims to gather information about connectivity challenges in Idaho communities, to improve the state’s map of Idaho broadband coverage. Federal funds are available to all states, including Idaho, via the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. As part of this program, the Federal Communications Commission has created a map representing locations with unserved and underserved broadband coverage across the US. By submitting information on your internet coverage, you provide the State with insight into the status of broadband coverage in your community. This ensures that the FCC map has not missed any locations so that funds can be administered appropriately. Additionally, submitted challenges will assist in the development of the State’s broadband map which will be utilized by IBAB when allocating funding. Submit your broadband information and learn more at linkup.idaho.gov. For a Spanish version of the website visit linkup-es.idaho.gov.
Three things we are doing at the Federal Communications Commission right now to help get us to the next generation of innovation around the globe.
- First, spectrum. By focusing on mid-band spectrum, we made real progress in our effort to bring faster 5G to everyone, everywhere in the United States. To keep it going, we are now exploring making 550 megahertz of prime mid-band spectrum available in the 12.7-13.25 GHz band;
- Second, digital equity. We are mapping where broadband and wireless networks are—and are not—all across the country. We believe that armed with this level of granular coverage data we will better understand those communities that are at greatest risk of being left behind. But more importantly, we will develop the tools to fix it. One of those tools we recently developed is the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP);
- Third, and finally, innovation. Bringing satellite and terrestrial wireless capabilities together can accomplish what neither network can do on its own. We are starting to see how this kind of direct satellite-to-smartphone communication has moved from sci-fi fantasy to real-world prospect. For this innovation to have a chance to deliver at scale—and to deliver with more providers, in more spectrum bands, and with a global footprint—I believe regulators will need to develop frameworks that support its development. The FCC is getting this effort started. I proposed a new regulatory framework to support direct satellite-to-smartphone communications.
Dish Network says it is progressing with its Boost Infinite postpaid service but company executives stopped short of saying when it will launch commercially nationwide. Instead, John Swieringa, president and COO of Dish Wireless,said that Dish's 5G network is currently live in 12 markets covering 30 million POPs offering both 5G data and voice services using voice over new radio (VoNR). Across all Dish sites, Dish's 5G network is providing 5G broadband services but Swieringa said that the company is launching new markets with both 5G data and VoNR every week. VoNR remains a “technical challenge,” said Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen, adding he expects a six month (or less) lag from the time Dish gets its 5G network transmitting broadband data to when it can optimize it for 5G voice, or VoNR.
With Altice USA revamping its management with a slew of Comcast veterans, investors are wondering if the latter might be eyeing an acquisition of the former. While neither company has publicly indicated they’re interested in such a deal, New Street Research (NSR) thinks a tie-up would have a decent chance of approval, depending on the political administration. NSR's Blair Levin indicated in a note to investors that if Comcast were to buy Altice, it would be considered a geographic expansion transaction, in which a provider in one area purchases a provider of similar services in a different area. Politics at the Federal Communications Commission could play a role in the approval of a Comcast-Altice deal. Levin said a Democrat-controlled FCC would likely seek conditions to ensure the transaction serves the public interest, such as a discounted service offer for low-income households or a commitment to additional footprint expansion. Recon Analytics principal Roger Entner, on the other hand, thinks it’s unlikely a Democratic administration would approve Comcast’s acquisition of Altice at all. He said that, typically, a Democrat-led FCC lets industries consolidate down to four players, whereas Republican administrations tend to allow consolidation down to three companies.
The Federal Communications Commission is an important institution. It oversees a huge input to our information economy: Spectrum. Fortunately, three decades ago, we developed a method for allocating spectrum that has garnered bipartisan praise, been copied around the world, underlaid two Nobel prizes, and is arguably the most successful communications policy innovation ever. Unfortunately, Congress can’t decide how to reauthorize that auction authority. Congressional dysfunction? Alas, not weird. The stakes are high: billions in investment capital, 10x more in economic impact. Industry needs, and deserves, a spectrum road map. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the FCC are reportedly working on a national spectrum strategy. With spectrum, at least we’re talking about what we should be talking about. But no roadmap or policy changes yet.
The current FCC has been busy on other things; reforming universal service, redoing the broadband maps, and administering the Affordable Connectivity Program, known as the ACP. Important things. Universal Service faces economic, legal, and institutional challenges, and a landscape changed by historic federal investments. Congress wisely asked the FCC to address how USF should adapt to it those challenges and changes. In July 2022, the FCC responded, proposing some half dozen major rulemakings. How many have been completed? How many have been started? Same answer for both. Zippo. Weird. As for maps, we’ve been waiting since 2021 for the final FCC maps so NTIA can send the states the correct allocations. Here’s what’s weird. Far better maps already existed. Apple and Android phones know the strength or absence of every wired and wireless signal everywhere. The ISPs also know. They make multi-billion-dollar capital decisions every year. You think they’d do it with bad maps
On behalf of Color Of Change, one of the nation’s leading racial justice organizations with millions of members nationwide, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 230 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States, we write to express our complete support for [Benton Senior Fellow and Public Advocate] Gigi Sohn’s nomination to serve as Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner. We urge [Senate Commerce Committee Chair Cantwell and Ranking Member Cruz] to prioritize the swift confirmation of Ms. Sohn to serve as FCC Commissioner. The FCC’s mandate is to regulate the behavior of telecom companies to prevent anti-competitive practices, encourage innovation and competition, and safeguard consumers from harm. Given the importance of this responsibility, the agency cannot afford to remain inactive for another year. To fulfill its mandate effectively, the FCC requires a fifth vote. Furthermore, the public has a right to an FCC commissioner who will ensure access to broadband in rural areas and underserved communities, as mandated by the bipartisan infrastructure act. We are troubled by the Fraternal Order of Police’s (FOP) misinformation campaign to oppose Ms. Sohn’s confirmation as FCC Commissioner. The FOP’s concern about encryption policy is not based on Ms. Sohn’s position since she has no position, and, as recognized by the FOP, is not based on any authority she would exercise at the Federal Communications Commission.
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), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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