Tuesday, March 17, 2020
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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that 116 more broadband and telephone service providers have taken his Keep Americans Connected Pledge. Chairman Pai launched the Keep Americans Connected Pledge on March 13 with 69 broadband and telephone providers across the country agreeing to take specific steps to help Americans stay connected for the next 60 days. March 16’s announcement means that 185 companies in total have now taken the Pledge.
The US internet won’t get overloaded by spikes in traffic from the millions of Americans now working from home to discourage the spread of the new coronavirus, experts say. But connections could stumble for many if too many family members try to videoconference at the same time. The core of the US network is more than capable of handling the virus-related surge in demand because it has evolved to be able to easily handle bandwidth-greedy Netflix, YouTube and other streaming services. “The core of the network is massively over-provisioned,” said Paul Vixie, CEO of Farsight Security and an internet pioneer who helped design its domain naming system.
But if parents are videoconferencing for work at the same time college and high school students are trying to beam into school, they could experience congestion. Figure a packet-dropping threshold of five or more users. That's because the so-called last mile is for most Americans provisioned for cable — download capacity is robust but upload limited. Fiber optic connections don't have the same issues and will do fine.
Millions of US students will abruptly switch to learning remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic, pushing school administrators and teachers to establish on the fly ways to transfer the classroom to the home. Teachers are incorporating educational technology that has never been used on this scale while also dealing with the limitations of internet access in some homes. Thirty-five states so far have mandated that all schools close in an effort to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, affecting at least 69,000 schools and about 35.9 million public-school students in kindergarten through 12th grade. A school’s ability to transition to a full-time online setting is complicated by socioeconomics. Experts suggest keeping things simple: Invest in two 30-minute high-quality reading sessions a day and engage in math exercises.
As K-12 officials in many states close schools and shift classes and assignments online due to the spread of the new coronavirus, they confront the reality that some students do not have reliable access to the internet at home – particularly those who are from lower-income households. Here are key findings about the internet, homework and how the digital divide impacts American youth:
- The majority of eighth-grade students in the US rely on the internet at home to get their homework done. Roughly six-in-ten students (58%) say they use the internet at their home to do homework every day or almost every day. Just 6% of students say they never use the internet at home for this purpose.
- The “homework gap” – which refers to school-age children lacking the connectivity they need to complete schoolwork at home – is more pronounced for black, Hispanic and lower-income households. Some 15% of U.S. households with school-age children do not have a high-speed internet connection at home. Roughly one-third (35%) of households with children ages 6 to 17 and an annual income below $30,000 a year do not have a high-speed internet connection at home, compared with just 6% of such households earning $75,000 or more a year.
- Some lower-income teens say they lack resources to complete schoolwork at home. In a 2018 Center survey, about one-in-five teens ages 13 to 17 (17%) said they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection.
- One-in-four teens in households with an annual income under $30,000 lack access to a computer at home, compared with just 4% of those in households earning over $75,000.
Sens Ed Markey (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) led thirteen of their colleagues in calling on the Federal Communications Commission to temporarily allow schools to utilize E-Rate program funding to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or devices with Wi-Fi capability to students who lack internet access at home. This action would help ensure that all students can remotely continue their education during the current public health emergency.
The E-rate program is capped at $4 billion each year, with the FCC having already allocated about $2 billion this year, leaving approximately half of the funding available for potential emergency action. In their letter, the senators call on the FCC to determine how much of this funding can be spent on one-time discounts for schools seeking to loan Wi-Fi hotspots to students who do not have internet at home, as well as those trying to equip school-distributed devices with Wi-Fi capability that can be lent out while physical classes are on hold. The senators also request the FCC make clear to state and local institutions that undertaking any similar measures during this crisis will not affect their future E-rate eligibility.
As millions of people across the US shift to working and learning from home this week to limit the spread of the coronavirus, they will test internet networks with one of the biggest mass behavior changes that the nation has experienced. That is set to strain the internet’s underlying infrastructure, with the burden likely to be particularly felt in two areas: the home networks that people have set up in their residences, and the home internet services from Comcast, Charter and Verizon that those home networks rely on.
It may challenge what are known as last-mile services, which are the cable broadband and fiber-based broadband services that pipe the internet into homes. These tend to provide a very different internet service than in offices and schools, which typically have “enterprise grade” internet broadband service. In broad terms, many offices and schools essentially have the equivalent of a big pipe to carry internet traffic, compared to a smaller garden hose for most homes. On top of that, home networks — such as the Wi-Fi routers that people set up in their residences — can be finicky. Many consumers have broadband plans with much lower capacity than in the workplace. And when many people are loaded onto a single Wi-Fi network at the same time to stream movies or to do video conferencing, that can cause congestion and slowness.
The Federal Communications Commission authorized $521,000 in funding over ten years to expand broadband in Idaho’s Benewah County. With this tranche of FCC support, Tribal provider Red Spectrum Communications has committed to providing broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps to an estimated 185 unserved rural homes and businesses, some of which are in Tribal areas. This announcement brings the total Connect America Fund Phase II auction support for Idaho to $14,320,176 for 10,921 locations. Broadband providers in Idaho that receive funding through the FCC’s Connect America Fund must build out to 40% of the assigned homes and businesses within three years. Buildout must increase by 20% in each subsequent year, until complete buildout is reached at the end of the sixth year.
On Jan 9, 2020, Sens Joe Manchin (D-WV), James Lankford (R-OK), Jon Tester (D-MT), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and John Kennedy (R-LA) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to express reservations about the 5G Fund and the decision to focus limited mobile broadband deployment dollars on the promise of a 5G future when many places still lack 4G service or do not have any service at all. "[T]he FCC needs a more accurate method of data collection, a strong challenge process, and a funding process that includes terrain factors to ensure that the hardest to serve places can compete for limited funding," the senators wrote.
On March 6, Chairman Pai responded by saying the 5G Fund would set aside at least $1 billion specifically for deployments to support precision agriculture needs. Chairman Pai said the FCC will consider the distinct challenges of deploying 5G in rural areas when proposing performance requirements and that he will propose including an adjustment factor in the 5G Fund to address the increases costs of deploying 5G services in more rugged areas. Regarding broadband mapping, Chairman Pai said in 2019 the FCC adopted the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, which will result in the FCC collecting mobile data subject to specific parameters and provide an opportunity for feedback from stakeholders. He said he expects the FCC will seek comment on how to incorporate the coverage data available into the 5G Fund.
On Dec 20, 2019, Sens John Thune (R-SD), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai urging the FCC to take action regarding unlicensed use of the 6 GHz band while protecting existing users of the band.
On March 6, Chairman Pai responded by writing, "At the end of the day, our decision on how to best use the 6 GHz band will be driven by a simple test: What is in the public interest? We’ll answer that question not by reference to politics or press releases, but physics. In that regard, we’ve relied heavily on the career staff in our Office of Engineering and Technology. I have every confidence that they are up to the task of helping assess the appropriate path forward, given their multi-decade track record in resolving complex spectrum matters. I look forward to receiving their recommendations and acting expeditiously on their final analysis of the record in this proceeding."
T-Mobile worked with a variety of other providers to rustle up additional 600 MHz spectrum to help it meet increased customer demand for wireless broadband, as people are forced to work and learn from home. The companies that have agreed to contribute spectrum are Dish, Comcast, NewLevel, LB License Co, Channel 51, Omega, Bluewater and TStar License Holdings.
Although 5G is mainly being deployed by industry, governments and other organizations will decide how to use public resources, such as spectrum, and what obligations network operators will have to their users. Among the questions they will face are the following:
- How can federal agencies manage spectrum to balance the needs of existing users with the needs of 5G users?
- What are the trade-offs between the speed of 5G deployment and ensuring sufficient time for local review of the location of numerous small cell antennas?
- What are the cybersecurity risks of 5G networks and applications, and what can policymakers do to address these?
- How can policymakers ensure equitable access and benefits from 5G?
- What role can policymakers take to ensure that user privacy is protected as 5G networks are deployed?
The the proposed universal service contribution factor for the second quarter of 2020 will be 0.196 or 19.6 percent. Total Projected Collected Interstate and International End-User Telecommunications Revenues for Second Quarter 2020: $10.865132 billion.
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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