Tuesday, April 19, 2022
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Without affordable, high-quality broadband, persistent poverty counties in the United States have no chance. As a nation currently spending upwards of $100 billion in public funds on broadband, helping these counties is the least we can do. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) contains a provision that
offers broadband providers in high-cost areas $75 per subscriber. However, the provision has not yet been put into practice. It is being considered in an FCC regulatory proceeding, which may not be completed for quite some time. More troubling, the statutory language is oriented to the poverty of the broadband provider rather than the poverty of the people who could receive the benefit. For a household to receive the benefit, the service provider must show “particularized economic hardship to the provider such that the provider may not be able to maintain the operation” of the broadband network. The FCC, in interpreting this language, likely will award the enhanced ACP benefit only to households in high-cost areas where the provider is failing, rather than where the community has faced persistent poverty. Let’s try to replace the convoluted and nonsensical statutory language with something that is simple and commonsensical. First, the FCC should use one of its cost models (A-CAM or CAM) to determine which counties of the country are high-cost. Second, the FCC should provide a $75 monthly subsidy through the ACP to households in high-cost persistent poverty counties.
[Jonathan Chambers is a partner at Conexon.]
Some activists have begun to frame location-based broadband discrepancies in racial terms, accusing Internet service providers (ISPs) of “digital redlining.” But an analysis of Census data and facts on the ground has found that the “digital redlining” narrative—while an emotion-triggering term—does not stand up to scrutiny. To contend that the source of the problem is racially motivated decisions by broadband companies, as was the case with financial redlining and banks, is to misdiagnose the problem in a way that is counterproductive to solving it. In market after market, there is almost no statistical relationship between the racial composition of a neighborhood and connectivity. There is, however, a correlation between income and broadband connectivity. High-speed Internet is widely available in areas with high non-White populations. The best-connected area in a broad study is majority non-White, and individual homes in majority non-White neighborhoods have fast broadband available.
The Federal Communications Commission authorized Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for 1,345 winning bids in its eighth round of awards. Telecompetitor reports that nearly 40 companies appear on the new RDOF authorization list, the majority of which are smaller companies, including telecom companies, electric cooperatives and others. Charter was one of the largest winning bidders in the RDOF auction, and its new authorizations come in addition to numerous others previously announced for the company. Windstream also was one of the top 10 winning bidders in the RDOF auction and also has had funding authorized previously for numerous states. The RDOF program is designed to provide funding to companies to cover some of the costs of making broadband available to rural areas currently lacking high-speed service. Winning bidders were determined through a reverse auction that awarded funding for an area to the company that committed to deploying service for the lowest level of support, with a weighting system favoring bids for higher-speed, lower-latency service.
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Rosenworcel sent letters to seven senators on April 8, 2022 in response to their letter regarding the review process for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. Chairwoman Rosenworcel said before funding was made available to successful bidders, the FCC: subjected applicants to a technical, financial and legal review; sent 197 letters to bidders seeking additional due diligence and about 5,000 census blocks were removed from the program; and every bidder that won a preliminary commitment was required to secure status as an eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC). She also said the FCC has established the Rural Broadband Accountability Plan to monitor and ensure compliance for universal service high-cost programs, including the RDOF.
In this Report and Order, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules to promote competitive choice of communications services for those living and working in multiple tenant environments (MTEs), and to address practices that undermine longstanding rules promoting competition in
multiple tenant environments. Specifically, the FCC adopted rules to (1) prohibit providers from entering into certain types of revenue sharing agreements with MTE owners, and (2) require providers to disclose the existence of exclusive marketing arrangements they have with MTE owners in simple, easy-to-understand language. Exclusive and graduated revenue sharing and exclusive marketing arrangements reduce the opportunities for competitive providers to offer service to MTE tenants. Further, the use of these practices impedes the ability of other communications providers to access MTEs. This Guide is intended to help small entities—small businesses, small organizations (non-profits), and small governmental jurisdictions—comply with the revised rules. This Guide is not intended to replace or supersede these rules, but to facilitate compliance with the rules.
Your internet service provider (ISP) could be throttling your speed. Here’s a smart way to check what’s going on behind the scenes. All you need is a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN creates a secure bridge between your device(s) and the internet, encrypting your online traffic from all forms of interference, snooping and censorship. If your speed test shows faster speeds without the VPN, it’s time to get to work to improve your connection. First, try updating your router’s firmware. You'll get additional features and improvements by virtue of the new version and your router will receive essential security updates.
Every resident in the state could have access to broadband, or high speed internet, in the near future, thanks to federal funds coming Michigan's way, according to Eric Frederick, Executive Director of Connected Nation Michigan — a non-profit group dedicated to eliminating the digital divide in all its forms. Federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and especially the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be a game-changer, Frederick said. "We are definitely on the cusp of something major." Michigan has set aside $250 million for competitive grants from its ARPA funds for "last mile," household-by-household connections to the internet in some underserved areas, as well as some fiber optic projects to connect larger numbers of rural residents to internet service. Starting next year, Michigan may begin to receive between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion to expand high-speed internet across the state, Frederick said, and that will be enough, he believes, to ensure every person in the state can have access. Also, he added, Michigan cities have started building open-access networks, and there are projects being undertaken by rural electric co-ops.
A new bill (HB 3363) would help Oklahoma ensure that federal relief funding to improve connectivity would go where it’s needed most. With no State Broadband Office, no broadband map, and no experience distributing state-funded broadband grants, Oklahoma has been behind the curve in establishing administrative infrastructure to increase access to broadband. Fortunately, federal American Rescue Plan Act funds can be directed toward that key infrastructure. Oklahoma has already set aside $2 million to build a broadband map that will highlight the areas lacking broadband availability at different speed thresholds. The map will include geocoded data for households, agricultural, and business structures, and the state will work with local providers and third-party speed tests to ensure that the map captures real-time, “on-the-ground” broadband availability. HB 3363 would deliver on the second piece of critical infrastructure needed to ensure broadband access. HB 3363 would create an Oklahoma Broadband Office with the goal of delivering broadband access to 95 percent of Oklahomans in five years. The office would include several full-time employees who would oversee crucial aspects related to improving broadband availability and adoption. HB 3363 is an excellent first step, but Oklahoma should think bigger than the short-term on broadband because getting the infrastructure in place is only the first step. It is the adoption and effective use of broadband, not simple availability, that leads to improved economic outcomes.
[Brian Whitacre is Professor and Neustadt Chair in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University. He serves on the state’s Rural Broadband Expansion Council.]
Florida-based Tri-County Electric Cooperative teamed with Conexon Connect to deploy a 2,400-mile fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network, aiming to deliver high-speed broadband to all of its members within the next few years. The $65 million project is the first FTTH initiative undertaken by an electric co-op in the state. Conexon Partner Jonathan Chambers said the company will be responsible for the design, construction and operation of the network, though Tri-County will own the actual infrastructure. It plans to use fiber and will offer 100 Mbps, 1-gigabit and 2-gigabit service plans. The company’s typical build pace is around 1,000 miles per year for a project like this, which means the Tri-County deployment will take around two to three years to complete, Chambers said. Once finished, the network will serve as many as 15,000 locations across the co-op’s territory in Jefferson, Madison, Taylor and Dixie (FL) counties. Chambers noted some of the areas it plans to build are subsidized with funding it won in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction, but said it’s committed to reaching all of the co-op’s members regardless of whether money is available for every location.
Speedtest Global Index Market Analyses from Ookla identify key data about internet performance in countries across the world. This quarter Ookla has provided updated analyses for 44 markets that include details on fastest mobile and fixed broadband providers, performance of most popular devices and chipsets and internet speeds in cities. Speedtest Intelligence reveals Verizon was the fastest fixed broadband provider in the United States during Q1 2022, edging out Comcast Xfinity with a median download speed of 184.36 Mbps to Xfinity’s 179.12 Mbps. T-Mobile took the top spot as the fastest and most consistent mobile operator in the US during Q1 2022, achieving a median download speed of 117.83 Mbps and a Consistency Score of 88.3 percent — both increases over Q4 2021. Looking at tests taken only on 5G, T-Mobile achieved the fastest median 5G download speed at 191.12 Mbps during Q1 2022. Verizon also had a notable increase in 5G download speed during Q1 2022 over Q4 2021, which was helped by turning on new C-Band spectrum in January. The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra was the fastest popular device in the US at 116.33 Mbps during Q1 2022.
Given T-Mobile’s recent history of arguing for more licensed spectrum, it’s easy to forget how much unlicensed spectrum plays into its overall strategy. But a recent application before the Federal Communications Commission serves as a reminder of that. T-Mobile is asking for special temporary authority (STA) to operate on spectrum in the 6110-6190 MHz portion of the 5925-7125 MHz (6 GHz) band in and around the areas of Alexandria and Falls Church (VA). The application lists an ideal start date of April 11, but that’s come and gone, and the paperwork remains pending at the FCC. The end date for the tests is listed as September 1, 2022. In its application, T-Mobile reminded the FCC that it has a long history of using unlicensed spectrum and Wi-Fi as “an essential component” of its network. T-Mobile has used unlicensed spectrum as a means to offload traffic, as many carriers have done to manage traffic and keep cellular networks from overloading. It was also one of the first carriers to offer customers “cutting-edge technologies” like nationwide Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and next-generation Wi-Fi calling, the company told the FCC. T-Mobile wants an STA to evaluate additional Wi-Fi 6 capabilities and performance using the 6 GHz spectrum band.
On March 14, Reps Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel about updating the FCC's satellite rules. Chairwoman Rosenworcel replied on March 30 saying the FCC is updating its satellite rules to better support a more vibrant satellite ecosystem. This is part of a broader effort to ensure American leadership and strength in the new space economy, lay the groundwork for competition that will benefit consumers and innovation, and safeguard the long-term sustainability of our outer space activities. Chairwoman Rosenworcel is increasing the size of the FCC’s satellite division by 38 percent and speeding up the commission’s regulatory review processes to keep pace with the realities of today’s satellite marketplace. The FCC also is opening up new opportunities for new or expanded satellite broadband networks. In November, the commission cleared the way for two new low-Earth orbiting constellations that will bring broadband and internet of things services to consumers, businesses, and government customers. In August, the FCC launched a new processing round for non-Geostationary satellites that want to use the V-band, resulting in applications seeking approval for nearly 38,000 new satellites that will offer global broadband. In April, the FCC identified spectrum for the first time to support increased competition among commercial space launch providers and launch sites, which will help promote the industry overall.
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel responded to letters by members of Congress inquiring about the FCC's spectrum auction program. In separate letters to House Representatives and Senators, Rosenworcel responded to questions about related topics including upcoming spectrum auctions, specific frequencies that may be good candidates for auction, and policy changes the agency can make to improve the program. Rosenworcel concluded each by highlighting the Spectrum Coordination Initiative announced in March 2022 by the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration to "strengthen the processes for decision-making and information sharing around spectrum policy issues."
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Rosenworcel sent letters to four House members on April 7, 2022, to respond to their letter on proposed changes to the E-rate competitive bidding process. Rosenworcel said the FCC has begun a rulemaking to consider improvements to the competitive bidding process. She also said funding has been made available to support students’ off-campus learning needs through the Emergency Connectivity Fund and the Emergency Broadband Benefit programs.
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel responded to House lawmakers' letter concerning the second funding round of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The lawmakers had requested that the funding beprioritized in rural areas. In her response, Chairwoman Rosenworcel detailed the metrics the FCC used to evaluate second round applications for the program. The FCC considered "whether applicants were located in the areas hardest-hit by the pandemic, and in lowest-income areas, Tribal communities, or previously unfunded states and territories." In addition, the agency "adopted application metrics that took into consideration whether a health care provider was located in a rural area, or if it qualified as a critical access hospital, which are frequently the only health care institutions in rural areas. All applications were scored using the same objective criteria by relying on publicly available data." Funding was initially awarded to a health care provider in each US state, Washington (DC) and every territory. "Between August 2021 and January 2022," said Rosenworcel, "the Commission staff announced the approval of funding commitments, ultimately issuing 447 commitments totaling over $256 million for Round 2 of the Program."
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr announced that Michael Nemcik has joined his office as Acting Legal Advisor, having previously served the office as an intern in 2019. Michael will be standing in for Danielle Thumann, Commissioner Carr’s Legal Advisor since March 2021, while she is on maternity leave. Michael joins Commissioner Carr’s office from the Wireline Competition Bureau’s Competition Policy Division where he focuses on various robocall mitigation and numbering issues. Before entering the FCC through the attorney honors program, Michael received his bachelor’s degree cum laude from Boston University and earned his JD cum laude from the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. While at Catholic, he also served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Catholic University Journal of Law and Technology and earned a certificate from the Columbus School of Law’s Law & Technology Institute.
The campaign against Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination to serve on the Supreme Court was spearheaded by a new conservative dark-money group that was created in 2020: the American Accountability Foundation (AAF). An explicit purpose of the AAF—a politically active, tax-exempt nonprofit charity that doesn’t disclose its backers—is to prevent the approval of all Biden Administration nominees. The AAF’s approach represents a new escalation in partisan warfare, and underscores the growing role that secret spending has played in deepening the polarization in Washington. Rather than attack a single candidate or nominee, the AAF aims to thwart the entire Biden slate. The obstructionism, like the Republican blockade of Biden’s legislative agenda in Congress, is the end in itself. The group hosts a Web site, bidennoms.com, that displays the photographs of Administration nominees it has targeted, as though they were hunting trophies. And the AAF hasn’t just undermined nominees for Cabinet and Court seats—the kinds of prominent people whose records are usually well known and well defended. It’s also gone after relatively obscure, sub-Cabinet-level political appointees, whose public profiles can be easily distorted and who have little entrenched support. The AAF, which is run by conservative white men, has particularly focused on blocking women and people of color.
Midterm politics are endangering a key Biden nominee who would give Democrats a majority at the Federal Communications Commission — jeopardizing the administration’s push to restore net neutrality and other tech regulations rolled back in the Trump era. A coalition of Republicans, moderate Democrats and telecom industry allies are ratcheting up pressure on potential swing Democrats to oppose FCC nominee Gigi Sohn, including by calling the progressive consumer advocate an “anti-police radical” and accusing her of being biased against rural America. Sohn’s supporters say these broad swipes, rooted in politically sensitive culture wars, bear little attachment to her actual record. FCC nominations almost never generate this kind of controversy — in fact, nominees for the agency used to cruise through the Senate by voice vote. But Democrats have struggled to find the votes needed to advance Sohn, a net neutrality supporter and former FCC aide who would be the first openly gay commissioner, amid ongoing reticence from moderates who’ve stayed silent amid a barrage of telecom industry and GOP grievances. Republican lawmakers and conservative pundits like Fox host Tucker Carlson have delivered six months of attacks over her sometimes-barbed Twitter posts. Sohn and her supporters argue Republicans and these industry opponents are fabricating controversies to stymie Democrats’ agenda at the FCC.
The war in Ukraine is reviving concerns in Taiwan and some Asia-Pacific nations about the fragility of their internet connections because they rely on undersea cables that could be severed in a Chinese attack. Ukrainians have used the internet to rally resistance to Russia’s invasion, counter Moscow’s propaganda and win international support, including through President Volodymyr Zelensky’s appeals for weapons. Ukraine has extensive internet connections across its land borders and most of the country has remained online despite Russian attacks on internet infrastructure. In contrast, Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing claims, receives and sends about 95 percent of its data-and-voice traffic via cables that lie on the seabed. Currently officials say about 14 cables—bundles of fiber-optic lines about the thickness of a garden hose—are in operation, and they reach land at four locations on Taiwan’s coast. If the cables were to be cut at sea by submarines or divers, or if military strikes were to destroy the lightly protected landing stations, most of the island would be thrown offline.
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 Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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