Friday, March 5, 2021
Headlines Daily Digest
To participate in the Federal Communications Commission's new Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, broadband providers must submit information to the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau and the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). Accordingly, the Bureau announces the following milestone dates for the provider application and election processes. For providers that haven't previously participated in federal assistance programs, a portal to file applications will open on Monday, March 8. Applications must be received by March 22. For providers that have previously participated in federal assistance programs, they can begin to let USAC know if they will participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program starting March 11.
On March 4, we got a tad bit more information about the timeline of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program—at least for the companies that are interested in providing the discounted broadband services. Broadband internet access service providers that have previously participated in federal assistance programs (these companies are known in wonkspeak as eligible telecommunications carriers or ETCs), can begin to let USAC know if they will participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program starting March 11. For providers that haven't previously participated in federal assistance programs (known as non-ETCs), a portal to file applications will open on Monday, March 8. Applications must be received by March 22 if these companies want to be eligible to participate in the program when it launches. But this week's announcement was just one small step in a series of behind-the-scenes efforts needed to get the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program up and running. Last week, the FCC commissioners voted, if you will, on the bones of the program. It is up to staff to flesh it out—and to do that very quickly. For advocates will concerns and ideas, then, there is still time to impact how the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will run. As we were reading last week's order, we collated a list of decisions to be made and actions to be taken. As of now, there's no timeline for addressing this list although the Wireline Competition Bureau will announce, at a later date, administrative deadlines and milestones, such as when the EBB Program will begin and when providers may begin enrolling subscribers in the program.
A high-stakes auction of government-owned airwaves to mobile broadband providers is set to drop a record windfall exceeding $80 billion into the US Treasury. Two additional auctions of wireless frequency bands, called spectrum, are on tap for 2021 and slated to follow the same course. The nation has become painfully aware of the digital divides that are widening inequality, slowing productivity, and impeding innovation. So, is dumping the proceeds from the privatization of the public airwaves into the federal Treasury, as is now routinely done, the best use of our nation’s precious resources? The answer is decidedly no. A Digital Futures Foundation, endowed with a meaningful portion of spectrum auction revenue, could fund the development of innovative digital software, such as new low- or no-cost interactive learning tools. It could pioneer applications of emerging artificial intelligence and augmented reality technologies for health care, energy conservation, smart city services, and more. And it could foster robust public-service digital media applications and content. By designating a portion of the tens of billions of dollars of spectrum auction proceeds recently generated and expected over the coming years to endow a private Digital Futures Foundation, Congress can take a giant step toward bridging America’s triple digital divide and setting us on a more reliable, economically sensible, and just digital course.
[Michael Calabrese directs the Wireless Future Project at New America. Lester Salamon directs the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies.]
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced next steps on the City’s efforts to achieve affordable and universal broadband. With a historic $157 million capital investment, the City is releasing a Request for Proposals that invites the telecommunications industry to create new affordable broadband service options through a first-ever coordinated system of access of up to 100,000 City assets, prioritizing areas identified by the Task Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity. The Mayor also announced the City will accelerate the buildout of 5G by making an unprecedented 7,500 City street poles available for mobile carriers to build out their networks, mainly in underserved areas. Combined, these initiatives will reach millions of New Yorkers across all five boroughs, expanding access to quality, high-speed, and reliable internet at home or on the go.
In a letter to the Biden Administration’s top officials for federal broadband policy -- including Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Acting Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Jessica Rosenworcel, and Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese -- the senators called on federal agencies to update broadband program speed requirements to reflect existing and anticipated uses, from two-way video conferencing to smart grids to artificial intelligence. The senators also urged the officials to work together to align the definition of what constitutes high-speed broadband across federal agencies to replace the patchwork of standards that exist today. The senators called on the administration to invest limited federal broadband dollars in faster and more reliable networks capable of supporting modern and future uses. Specifically, they urged the administration to set a goal of supporting networks wherever practicable and cost effective that provide, at a minimum, symmetrical speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) such that all members of a typical family can be online simultaneously without issue.
TracFone is the largest wireless reseller in the U.S., with about 21 million subscribers and prepaid brands including Straight Talk and Simple Mobile. Verizon announced in September that it plans to acquire TracFone from América Móvil in a deal worth up to $6.9 billion, which still must pass regulatory approval. Boost Mobile founder Peter Adderton suggested that the Federal Communications Commission require the divestiture of TracFone subscribers who are currently served by third-party networks. According to Adderton, doing so would curb the potentially costly disruptions to these consumers by allowing them to remain on the AT&T or T-Mobile networks. “Moreover, imposing such a condition would serve the public interest by allowing an independent (mobile virtual network operator) to achieve the scale necessary to compete with the major facilities-based carriers and their affiliated prepaid brands.” Adderton “doesn’t believe for a second” that T-Mobile and AT&T are going to let Verizon use their networks to make money, meaning millions of customers will be looking for new services. That’s on top of all the customers who will be affected if T-Mobile shuts off the its (formerly Sprint's) 3G network earlyin 2022, as it has informed current Boost owner Dish Network it plans to do.
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr is in Mississippi for events focused on his 5G jobs initiative, which centers on standing up community college and trade school programs so that Americans earn the skills needed to land good-paying jobs in the tower and telecommunication industries. Those programs have already been launched in SC, SD, NC, and OK. His visits will also focus on telehealth, infrastructure builds, and enhanced use of technology in K-12 classrooms. At these events, he will join Dane Maxwell, Chairman of the Mississippi Public Service Commission, as well as members of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, including MillerCo.
Windstream is looking to leverage funds from two Federal Communications Commission programs as it expands broadband Internet and related services to new markets and customers. Kinetic, Windstream’s community broadband business, announced that it plans to participate in the FCC’s $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program. “As soon as the FCC is ready to take this program live, we are ready to implement it so any eligible customer in our 18-state footprint who needs internet service can get and stay connected,” said eff Auman, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Kinetic. Windstream also announced this week that it submitted an application to the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in hopes of accessing $147 million over 10 years to deliver fiber-to-the-home internet services to more than 48,000 locations in Georgia.
T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert announced T-Mobile WFX (work from anywhere), three solutions designed to help businesses and their employees meet the remarkable changes they face in tomorrow’s radically-transformed, post-pandemic, work-from-anywhere world. T-Mobile WFX includes: T-Mobile Enterprise Unlimited, wireless plans with unlimited 5G; T-Mobile Home Office Internet, home broadband designed to give remote employees the bandwidth and security needed to get work done; and T-Mobile Collaborate, a suite of mobile-first, cloud-based tools for business calling, messaging and conferencing from virtually any device, anywhere.
For employees who work from home, there’s the daily battle for bandwidth with the rest of the family and the hourly struggle to stay productive while waiting for videos to buffer and meetings to unfreeze. Companies face the thankless task of cobbling together a patchwork of regional service providers with different plans and service level agreements. Then there’s the risk that comes when employees use poorly secured personal Wi-Fi to access and share critical business information. T-Mobile Home Office Internet delivers a separate, high-security connection for employees working from home designed specifically to solve these problems. With Sprint now part of T-Mobile, the Un-carrier’s new 5G network is so powerful it makes replacing broadband in the home a reality for millions of people with blazing fast speeds.
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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