Monday, April 24, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
"A Very Rude Culture Shock": How one homebuyer found herself working remotely, without the internet
Republican Senators Demand NTIA Remove Liberal Wish-List Items From Its Broadband Funding
The U.S.’s $42.5 Billion High-Speed Internet Plan Hits a Snag: A Worker Shortage
Principles for Promoting Efficient Use of Spectrum and Opportunities for New Services
Stories From Abroad
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) led 10 colleagues in a letter to National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson expressing concerns with the $42.45 billion Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program’s Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). As part of his nationwide broadband oversight effort to hold agencies accountable and ensure funding is being used in the most efficient way possible, Sen Thune urged NTIA to revise or issue a new NOFO for the BEAD program in order to reach, and more efficiently connect, truly unserved Americans. They asked NTIA to address the following issues:
- Labor Requirements: Under the Information Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Congress directed NTIA to give priority to eligible broadband providers that have a “demonstrated record of and plans to be in compliance with Federal labor and employment laws.” The NOFO goes far beyond this statutory objective, however, by actively discriminating against workers in ways that could deny communities – particularly those in more rural areas – access to reliable broadband services.
- Encouragement of Government-Owned Networks: The NOFO gives favorable treatment to government-owned networks over private investment. Specifically, the NOFO requires states to include “an explanation for awards to traditional broadband providers when one or more non-traditional providers submitted competing proposals.” This misguided incentive, which was not included in the IIJA, could divert program dollars to less capable providers – a real risk given municipal broadband’s track record of costly failure.
- Tech-Neutrality: The NOFO generally prohibits non-fiber projects from receiving BEAD funding despite Congress’ technology neutral stance in the IIJA, which permitted all technologies, including wireless service, to be eligible for funding as long as they meet the IIJA’s network requirements. Further, under the NOFO’s rules, a state that does not use fiber must submit an overly complex and burdensome waiver request, inconsistent with Congress’ intent. States, working with the broadband providers that serve their communities, should not be precluded from awarding sub-grants to alternative technologies, if doing so is the right solution for their communities. In the absence of such flexibility, NTIA will fail in its mission to efficiently connect all Americans.
- Mandates for Affordability and Rate Regulation: The IIJA does not allow NTIA “to regulate the rates charged for broadband service.” Contrary to Congress’ intent, the NOFO requires states to “ensure that high-quality broadband services are available to all middle-class families in the BEAD-funded network’s service area at reasonable prices.” This provision falsely suggests that states and NTIA have the authority to regulate rates for broadband service and should be removed from BEAD rules. Additionally, the NOFO introduces an additional form of rate regulation by giving preference to providers that agree to interconnect with their competitors at wholesale rates. NTIA should make it clear that states do not have the authority to regulate rates, and NTIA should refrain from introducing any new rules relating to rate regulation or wholesale access requirements that are inconsistent with its direction from Congress.
- Climate Change Mandates: The NOFO makes several references to and includes a policy that was not included in the IIJA relating to climate change. The NOFO states “eligible entities must account not only for current [climate-related] risks but also for how the frequency, severity, and nature of these extreme events may plausibly evolve as our climate continues to change over the coming decades.” This extraneous requirement was not envisioned by Congress and diverts resources away from bringing broadband connectivity to unserved Americans. The NOFO is not the place for NTIA to be pushing the Biden administration’s unrealistic environmental agenda onto the American public, and it therefore should be removed.
- Supply-Chain Issues: The IIJA rightfully recognizes the importance of purchasing broadband products and supplies from American workers and businesses. At the same time, the IIJA provides agencies the ability to waive such a requirement should it satisfy a number of strict thresholds. If NTIA wants to ensure broadband projects are built in a timely manner, NTIA should work alongside stakeholders to develop a consistent waiver process for certain components of a broadband network.
Lingering concerns about whether money from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program will be used to fund overbuilds of other government-subsidized projects flared up again recently. Concerns seemed to center on what BEAD will mean for those receiving funding from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program. So, what do federal officials have to say about it all? Asked for clarification, an National Telecommunications and Information Administration spokesperson said that the rules for the BEAD program specify that locations may not be counted as un- or underserved if they’re “subject to an enforceable federal, state or local commitment to deploy qualifying broadband.” When it comes to RDOF specifically, locations will be considered as having an enforceable commitment if the Federal Communications Commission has authorized funding to cover them. When asked what percentage of RDOF locations might be eligible for BEAD funding, the NTIA spokesperson said “We don’t have figures on this…[but] any overlap between the programs is minimal.”
Chairwoman Rosenworcel's Response to Members of Congress Regarding the Alternative Connect America Model
The Federal Communications Commission is working to ensure that all areas of the United States can access high-speed, high-quality broadband, through a revision of the Alternative Connect America Model (A-CAM) program. The program is meant to provide additional universal service support to certain rural carriers in exchange for increasing deployment to more locations at higher speeds. In the Enhanced A-CAM Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Commission sought comment on a proposal by a coalition of rural carriers to make changes to the A-CAM program, and on how and whether to align the deployment obligations for those carriers receiving Connect America Fund Broadband Loop Support (CAF BLS) with any revised plan adopted for A-CAM carriers. Further, the FCC plans to separately consider the deployment obligations and funding levels for CAF BLS carriers receiving that will apply beginning in 2024. FCC staff are currently reviewing the record in this proceeding. Please be assured that we will take into consideration the issues and concerns presented by all stakeholders as the FCC deliberates on the appropriate course of action.
Barbara Drӧher Kline thought she knew what she was getting into when she moved halfway across the country and bought a 1890s farmhouse in rural Le Sueur county, Minnesota. Contractors advised her to tear the house down, but she loved a fixer-upper, especially after she had refined her remodeling skills on her previous home in California, a redwood log cabin near San Francisco. Drӧher Kline wasn’t scared by a rural lifestyle either. Both she and her husband, John Kline, had roots in the state, and he had grown up nearby. The plot twist was something even HGTV had not prepared her for: slow internet. The internet service provider for her new home, Frontier Communications, offered outdated technology with frequent outages and notoriously poor customer service. Over the next two years, from 2016 to 2018, she would jump between various internet companies, trying to secure the high-speed connections she needed to work remotely. The experience even inspired her to run for state office.
The federal government is missing a crucial link in its plan to greatly expand access to high-speed internet service in rural America: enough workers to get the job done. Fiber splicers—the workers who install, maintain and repair wired broadband networks—are in short supply. “We’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off,” says Jason Jolly, chief executive of Fiberscope LLC, a Sullivan (MO)-based company that does contracted fiber-splicing work. Jolly says his five-person crew has been “getting nonstop calls for the last two months.” And that’s before the money starts flowing from the government’s $42.5 billion broadband spending package. The industry is bracing for that spending to start flooding the market as soon as 2023. The result could be a worsening of the delays and cost inflation that already are plaguing wired-internet providers’ network-expansion projects, industry analysts and executives say. That raises questions about whether the new federal spending will be enough to end the so-called digital divide by the Biden administration’s target of 2030, or even at all.
In a mad scramble to verify a map that will be used to determine Colorado’s share of federal broadband funding, state officials trying to meet a Jan. 13, 2023 deadline made nearly 15,000 challenges in three weeks. The majority were accepted. Of those, about 13,000 were submitted for incorrect addresses, the wrong number of units in a building, and other inaccurate information. So far, 6,700 location challenges were accepted. But more critical were “availability” challenges submitted by the state, partly thanks to Coloradans who submitted their own protests, that provided evidence that internet service was either much slower than advertised, too expensive, or not available when ordered. An accurate Federal Communications Commission national broadband map is critical if Colorado wants every federal dollar available to improve subpar internet service for its rural and urban households. Corrections were added in 41,960 new locations between versions one and two of the national broadband map, thanks to the input from Colorado. That could translate into millions of additional dollars, said Brandy Reitter, executive director of the Colorado Broadband Office.
Windstream is targeting roughly 8,300 additional locations in Georgia with its Kinetic fiber network, thanks to a new public-private partnership with the state’s Union County. The $20.5 million project will provide fiber to homes, businesses, and schools across Blairsville, Suches, and nearby parts of the county. Kinetic plans to lay about 550 miles of underground optical fiber cable for the deployments, which are expected to be completed in 2024. Union County is committing $11.2 million in state grant money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), along with $500,000 in matching funds. Kinetic is investing $8.9 million into the project and will cover any cost overruns. Construction is set to begin early in the second half of this year, said a Windstream representative, with the company working now on getting engineering and permitting squared away. The partnership is part of Windstream’s plan to build 95,000 new fiber locations in Georgia in 2023.
Principles for Promoting Efficient Use of Spectrum and Opportunities for New Services
The Federal Communications Commission adopted the following spectrum management principles.
- Interference and harmful interference are affected by the characteristics of both the transmitting service(s) and nearby receiving service(s) in frequency, space, and/or time.
- The electromagnetic environment is highly variable, and zero risk of occasional service degradation or interruption cannot be guaranteed.
- Services should plan for the spectrum environment in which they intend to operate, the service they intend to provide, and the characteristics of spectrally and spatially proximate operations. Planning should be ongoing and account for changes in spectrum operating environments.
- Transmitters authorized for use in a given service should be designed to minimize the amount of their transmitted energy outside of the service’s assigned frequencies and authorizations.
- Receivers authorized for use in a service should, as a general matter, be designed to mitigate interference from emissions from outside of their service’s assigned frequencies or channels.
- Radio transmitter and receiver system operators and equipment manufacturers should plan for and design error-tolerant systems, using good engineering practices, to mitigate degradation from interference.
Data-Driven Regulatory Approaches to Promote Co-Existence
- Relevant information about services’ transmitter and receiver standards, guidelines, and operating characteristics is needed to promote effective spectrum management and efficient co-existence.
- Quantitative analyses of interactions between services that are fact- and evidence-based, sufficiently robust, transparent, and reproducible are needed to better inform spectrum management decisionmaking.
- The FCC will explore, in future rulemakings, interference limits policies in particular spectrum bands to promote effective co-existence.
I look forward to discussing 6G and how we can work with our partners to promote open, interoperable, secure, and reliable approaches to this technology. 6G will be the next step in the evolution and revolution of mobile data. To start, 6G will be deployed at a time when mobile connectivity has become centrally important in our daily lives. But in a 6G world, our phones may not be the most important device we carry. The possibility of ubiquitous connectivity with 6G could enable the ability to sense the environment, people, and objects. Another key aspect of 6G is network virtualization and openness, which presents incredible possibilities including:
- Maximizing the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning throughout the network stack.
- Facilitating ubiquitous coverage, including the most hard-to-reach areas, and providing the user with a seamless connectivity experience.
- Reduced power consumption and increased energy efficiency.
At the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), we are excited to help usher in this virtualization and openness through our $1.5 billion Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund. This fund will support both 5G and 6G by spurring the development of open, interoperable, and standards-based networks.
Everybody in the wireless ecosystem is clamoring for Congress to reinstate the spectrum auction authority of the Federal Communications Commission. One former deputy at the FCC speculates that the delay may be related to the Department of Defense (DoD) wanting to wait for a spectrum report that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is working on. NTIA is doing an assessment of the use of the 3.1-3.45 GHz spectrum. Belinda Nixon, a former deputy chief in the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, said the NTIA’s final report on this topic may not be published until this fall. But surely Congress could reinstate the FCC’s auction authority in the meantime with the stipulation that no auction of the 3.1-3.45 GHz spectrum would occur until after the NTIA’s report. “The DoD does have ongoing concerns about the commercialization of the spectrum that [it holds],” said Nixon. “But I think [it has] seen some benefits in some areas where [it] had to share.”
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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