Friday, April 17, 2020
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Some people who just lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic are finding that they have lost something else — phone and internet access. Across the country, suddenly unemployed residents are getting threatening notices, despite an initiative from the Federal Communications Commission that pledged to "Keep Americans Connected." At a time when phone and internet services are vital for Americans to connect with family, receive telemedicine and health updates about the progress of the coronavirus, and perform their jobs and homeschool children, some telecommunications services are still disconnecting users.
"Keep in mind customers need to proactively reach out to us to seek relief, and if any customer feels the system isn't working, we encourage them to call us to try and work it out," a Verizon spokesperson said.
The Federal Communications Commission approved six funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Health care providers in some of the hardest hit areas like New York will use this $3.23 million in funding to provide telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic. As part of the recently-enacted CARES Act, Congress appropriated $200 million for the FCC to support health care providers’ use of telehealth services during this national emergency. And in less than three weeks, the FCC has adopted new rules for this new program, create the application process, opened the application window, and approved the first set of funding requests. The FCC began accepting applications on April 13. It is continuing to evaluate applications and will distribute additional funding on a rolling basis.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announces additional charges for the Disaster Response and Recovery Working Group (Working Group) of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC). Specifically, the Working Group will assist the BDAC in documenting the various strategies and solutions that stakeholders are developing and implementing in real time to address the deployment-related challenges presented by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It will also enable the BDAC to report on best practices and lessons learned from the response to COVID-19 to help with the ongoing response to the pandemic, and to assist stakeholders, including the FCC, in preparing for and responding to any comparable future crises. In order to assist the Working Group with carrying out these new charges, the FCC seeks to add new members to the Working Group and solicits nominations for membership from individuals with expertise on these issues. Nominations for new membership to the BDAC’s Disaster Response and Recovery Working Group should be submitted to the FCC no later than April 27, 2020.
As Congress starts planning its next coronavirus relief package, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has a wide-ranging, four-part plan that takes into account everything from support for rural hospital and medical professionals to relief for farmers, increased rural broadband, and support for local governments. One issue Democrats have long wanted to address as part of a larger infrastructure package is the lack of high-speed broadband internet in many rural areas. Sen Klobuchar argues that’s especially important now, as families must shelter in place and do work and school from home. It’s also essential for unemployed workers trying to apply for benefits from home. It could take months to develop an infrastructure program, so Sen Klobuchar proposes additional funding to the E-Rate program, to provide wifi hotspots to students who don’t have broadband at home.
As the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington plan on how best to open their states' economies, CENIC, Link Oregon, and Pacific Northwest Gigapop (PNWGP) offer their ultra-broadband research and education telecommunications networks and services to:
- Support continuity of our K-12 schools, community college, and university education and educational services online;
- Support COVID-19 research activities among our universities, supercomputing facilities, and other research sites in our three states, across the US and abroad;
- Support online components of clinical care of COVID-19 patients among our university medical centers and their partners; and
- Assist ISPs and carriers in rural and underserved areas who need additional temporary network capacity and/or network strategies for medical, educational, and other community anchor institutions.
Many communities have thrown up their hands because there are no LTE hotspots to be found on the market (the supply delay is many months at this point) and because network construction seems like it could take years. It’s important to know that you have options to deploy new facilities – options that can be exercised in days or weeks, not years. Earlier, we shared some ideas for using fiber, mmWave, and Wi-Fi to get services to the unserved. Today, we’d like to share more detail for how you can connect 1,000 or more households in a town or city for less than $500,000, possibly considerably less. These rapid deployments would be engineered to provide broadband speeds (at least 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload) using backbone fiber, point-to-point wireless, and Wi-Fi solutions. Every building or development will require custom analysis and design, but here we generalize for three development scenarios: small multi-family buildings, closely spaced single-family homes, and large apartment buildings.
Our years-long failure to ensure universal access to essential internet service means that millions of kids aren’t getting the same educational opportunity as their peers. Congress and the Trump administration can fix this in their next emergency response to the deadly pandemic — and they must. In the next emergency package, being planned right now and potentially as large as the previous one, Congress and the president should include between $2 billion and $5 billion for the E-Rate program that enables rural and urban schools and libraries to connect to the internet, and it should allow them to connect kids at home and ensure they have a tablet or other device to do their school work. Congress should also invest $1 billion to $2 billion for emergency broadband service to ensure low-income families have enough connectivity at a price they can afford during this crisis to meet their health care and economic needs. And Congress should take additional steps to close the rural digital divide for education and health care. In the long term, Congress should finish the job that was called for in the National Broadband Plan and ensure, once and for all, that we are the internet-connected United States of America.
[James P. Steyer is founder and CEO of Common Sense Media]
Sen Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is urging the Federal Communications Commission to "immediately call on telecommunications providers serving law enforcement facilities across the nation to provide free phone calls & video visitations to better enable families to communicate with incarcerated loved ones during the #COVID19 pandemic.” Although the Federal Bureau of Prisons has made these calls and video visits free during the outbreak, state and local facilities may still charge exorbitant amounts for such communications services. “Finally some action,” said Human Rights Watch’s Laura Pitter following that federal move. “Now we need the states to follow and to make this permanent, should not be limited to pandemic.”
Internet outages became a distant memory in April as a good chunk of western Colorado turned on a new broadband system. But this wasn’t built by a typical telecommunications company. It took a band of local governments and partners from 14 rural communities to stitch together the 481-mile network, dubbed “Project Thor.” Communities from Aspen to Meeker craved better access and affordability but also demanded reliability. Over the years, multiple outages caused by accidental cuts in the internet line would shut them off from the rest of the world. So the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, referred to as Northwest COG, coordinated the two-year effort of public and private organizations that couldn’t wait any longer for existing broadband providers to fix their problem.
In Louisville (KY), most households have access to broadband and pay for a subscription, but neither is universal. The story of Louisville is one of identifying existing resources, building relationships, and continually planning for the next step. In 2017, Louisville released a Digital Inclusion Plan referring to “fiber deserts” in neighborhoods in west and southwest Louisville, which also have the city’s highest unemployment rates. The Digital Inclusion Plan identified lack of technology access and use as an issue that must be addressed. Louisville’s Office of Civic Innovation and Technology was created in 2019 to solve these challenges. In 2019, the Office hired a permanent program manager focused entirely on digital inclusion. Past research results—plus Louisville’s relationships with Goodwill, the Metro Housing Authority, and other local partners—are all informing development of the metro area’s next steps.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai circulated to his colleagues a draft order that would approve with conditions Ligado’s application to deploy a low-power terrestrial nationwide network in the L-Band that would primarily support 5G and Internet of Things services. This draft order would both promote more efficient and effective use of our nation’s spectrum resources and ensure that adjacent band operations, including the Global Positioning System (GPS), are protected from harmful interference. “Although I appreciate the concerns that have been raised by certain Executive Branch agencies, it is the Commission’s duty to make an independent determination based on sound engineering," said Chairman Pai. "And based on the painstaking technical analysis done by our expert staff, I am convinced that the conditions outlined in this draft order would permit Ligado to move forward without causing harmful interference."
In Phoenix (AZ), the digital divide is stark, despite a massive effort to get families connected to the Internet. So Chad Gestson, the superintendent of the high school district, and his team created an initiative called Every Student, Every Day: They pledged to call every student — there are about 28,000 of them — every day. "We certainly haven't abandoned the importance of the Internet and laptops and devices and online learning," Gestson explains. "We continue to push that. But we serve a large population of youth who don't have devices or connectivity in the house. If we want to connect to 100 percent of our youth, most of that will have to happen over the phone." Every adult who works for the district — bus drivers, teachers, coaches, support staff — even the superintendent — was assigned a list of students to call.
The coronavirus crisis has reset the tech industry's ecology with the speed and force of a meteor hitting a planet. Just as the industry's tools and services have shaped our experience of this disastrous moment, the pandemic has reshaped the industry itself in a matter of weeks. Big Tech's giant apex predators will strengthen their dominance while facing new threats. In the middle ranks of the industry, where freshly IPOed newcomers on the way up pass middle-aged firms on their way down, chaos and carnage loom. Tech's teeming underbrush of small startups will grow less crowded and more diverse. The scale, reach and power of tech's giants looks less like a danger and more like a public good at this pivotal moment. All this will give these companies a freer hand to pursue new markets, buy up potential competitors and fend off regulators than they had before.
Three elements form the ground on which the tech giants built their success — cheap hardware, connectable software and the freedom to innovate. Each of these foundations already faced threats that the virus crisis has now amplified.
The industry's pre-coronavirus agenda isn't vanishing — but its priorities have already been reshuffled. These agenda items have jumped to the top of the list: 1) Transforming healthcare, 2) Distance learning and the digital divide, 3) Network bandwidth and resilience, and 4) Misinformation and media polarization.
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said that groups like Free Press — he did not name them but made it clear who he was talking about — are engaged in a "sweeping and dangerous attempt to weaponize the FCC against political actors" it doesn't like. On April 6, the FCC — in this case comprising Chairman Ajit Pai, the general counsel, and the Media Bureau chief —flatly, and strongly, rejected a petition by Free Press seeking a government investigation into broadcasters who aired statements by President Donald Trump during coronavirus briefings and "related commentary." Chairman Pai and company argued that the investigation would itself curtail a free press. Commissioner Carr said that if Democrats get the majority, groups like Free Press would try to shut down conservative voices.
The Federal Communications Commission will hold an Open Meeting on Thursday, April 23, 2020, which is scheduled to commence at 10:30 am. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic and related agency telework and headquarters access policies, this meeting will be in a wholly electronic format and will be open to the public on the Internet via live feed from the FCC’s web page at www.fcc.gov/live and on the FCC’s YouTube channel.
- Unlicensed Use of the 6 GHz Band (ET Docket No. 18-295); Expanding Flexible Use in Mid-Band Spectrum Between 3.7 and 24 GHz (GN Docket No. 17-183): The FCC will consider a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would promote innovation and the use of mid-band spectrum for broadband by allowing unlicensed operations in the 5.925-7.125 GHz band while protecting existing licensed operations.
- Establishing a 5G Fund for Rural America (GN Docket No. 20-32): The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order that would propose to establish the 5G Fund to award up to $9 billion in support in two phases for the deployment of 5G mobile broadband services in rural areas.
- Mitigation of Orbital Debris in the New Space Age (IB Docket No. 18-313): The FCC will consider a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would comprehensively update the FCC’s orbital debris rules for all FCC-authorized satellites.
- ViaSat, Inc., Petition for Declaratory Ruling Granting Access for a Non-U.S.-Licensed Non-Geostationary Orbit Satellite Network (IBFS File No. SAT-PDR-20161115-00120 and SATAPL-20180927-00076): The FCC will consider an Order and Declaratory Ruling that would grant ViaSat’s request for U.S. market access to offer broadband services using a proposed constellation of non-geostationary orbit satellites.
- Amendments of Parts 73 and 74 to Improve the Low Power FM Radio Service Technical Rules (MB Docket No. 19-193); Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative (MB Docket No. 17-105): The FCC will consider a Report and Order that would modernize the LPFM technical rules to provide more regulatory flexibility for licensees.
- Video Description: Implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (MB Docket No. 11-43): The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose to expand video description requirements to 40 additional local television markets over the next four years to increase the accessibility of programming to blind and visually impaired Americans.
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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