Wednesday, May 18, 2022
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The Federal Communications Commission has announced its agenda for the June 2022 Open Commission Meeting:
- The FCC will consider a Notice of Inquiry on how best to meet our offshore spectrum needs and unleash wireless innovation at sea.
- The FCC will vote to update the record in its proceeding regarding why some wireless 911 calls are misrouted to the wrong call center and will seek comment on improvements that would help to reduce misrouting of 911 calls and improve emergency response times.
- The FCC will consider a proposal to allow low-power television stations providing local programming for audiences to continue their existing FM6 radio service, provided that they meet certain conditions, including interference protection and the provision of a synchronous TV service to consumers.
- The FCC will also consider an action from the Enforcement Bureau.
The Federal Communications Commission announced that it is committing over $50 million in the 15th wave of Emergency Connectivity Fund program support, helping to close the Homework Gap. This latest round of funding is supporting 46 schools, 7 libraries, and 2 consortia across the country, including for students in American Samoa, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, and the US Virgin Islands. The FCC just wrapped up its third filing window for applications and will be announcing results in coming days. The funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework, to ensure students across the country have the necessary support to keep up with their education. This announcement includes over $49 million in commitments from Window 1 applications and over $1 million in commitments from Window 2 applications. More details about which schools and libraries have received funding commitments can be found here.
The Public Library Association (PLA) is now accepting applications for public libraries to receive funding to conduct digital literacy workshops using DigitalLearn resources. The PLA Digital Literacy Workshop Incentive Program, supported by AT&T, provides up to $7,000 to support outreach and training in local communities. The funding follows a recent announcement of new and updated DigitalLearn courses as part of the overall collaboration with AT&T to help close the digital divide. All public libraries in the United States and Washington (DC) are now eligible to apply for one of two incentive amounts. Tier 1 Incentive recipients will receive $4,000 and be required to conduct a minimum of three workshops reaching a total of 18 learners. Tier 2 Incentive recipients will receive $7,000 and be required to conduct a minimum of five workshops reaching a minimum of 50 learners. Workshops can be conducted in person or online and must be completed by March 31, 2023. The incentive application deadline is June 10, 2022, at 11:59 pm Central Time. Applications will be reviewed and selected by PLA member reviewers this summer, and recipients will be announced in August 2022.
The White House has taken its first steps toward distributing $45 billion of federal money aimed at getting the entire country connected to high-speed Internet, with President Biden inviting governors to start applying for these funds. A challenge nationwide, however, is that state governments have until recently lacked broadband offices or even a single full-time employee dedicated to the work, said Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). Many have added resources after the pandemic made it clear how important it was to have unfettered access to high-speed Internet, but most states remain understaffed or under-experienced. With that in mind, Siefer said that the NDIA is rapidly rolling out resources to help states understand their opportunities for funding, as well as how to apply for that funding and best practices for how to put it to work. NDIA has new resources around the sources of the funding, the types of grants it will go through and more. The group is also offering a series of webinars about the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment and Digital Equity Act programs, which are two of the primary programs for distributing the funding. Siefer said it was important for states to realize that this money alone will not fix their digital equity problems, at least not permanently. States need to approach this funding thoughtfully, ensuring the money is well spent and doing so in a way that changes systems. Another piece of advice for the states is to make sure to engage partners on the local level.
When the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction was held in 2020, there was no way the Federal Communications Commission could have known that Congress would invest heavily in achieving universal broadband coverage a few years later, according to New Street Research analyst Blair Levin. But once Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), it was clear there would be tension between the two efforts, he said. One of the major questions that sprang up was whether the Commerce Department would count the thousands of satellite and FWA locations supposedly covered under RDOF as served when determining where IIJA funding should be applied. That question was top of mind for many given earlier concerns about the ability of RDOF’s satellite and fixed wireless access (FWA) winners to deliver on their commitments and the growing possibility that some such RDOF winners might not receive expected funding in some areas. The rules the Commerce Department issued for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program and several other broadband funding initiatives make two things clear: that the priority for funding is on covering unserved locations and that areas connected only with satellite or FWA services based on unlicensed spectrum will be considered unserved. According to Levin, this puts the power in the hands of the states to push fiber to wherever they think it’s needed.
USTelecom recently sent a letter to practically every politician who might have a hand in deciding how broadband grants are awarded – the White House and key Cabinet officials, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, other local officials, Tribal leaders, and state broadband offices. The main thrust of the letter is that communities should only rely on experienced broadband partners to build and operate networks – obviously meaning the big internet service providers (ISPs). The letter reminds officials that building a network is only a part of the solution and that communities need partners that know how to operate the business over the long run. The letter specifically calls out municipalities and non-profits as not being good partners because of their “propensity to fail at building and maintaining complex networks over time.” This letter is perhaps the most succinct statement of the broadband wish list of the big ISPs that I’ve seen in many years. They have been lobbying for everything on this list, but I can’t recall them asking for everything at the same time. I’m sure there are some communities that will partner with the big ISPs – but a lot of communities that I work with would hope to partner with almost anybody else. This letter is not going to change many minds.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
The Broadband Data Task Force, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Wireline Competition Bureau, and the Office of Economics and Analytics seek comment on a Petition for Declaratory Ruling or Limited Waiver filed by the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) requesting that the Federal Communications Commission issue a declaratory ruling to clarify that Broadband Data Collection (BDC) filings may be certified by a qualified professional engineer or an otherwise-qualified engineer that is not a licensed professional engineer accredited by a state licensure board. CCA requests that the FCC clarify that the requirement that all providers must include as part of their BDC filing a certification of the accuracy of its submissions by a certified professional engineer may be completed by either a licensed professional engineer or an otherwise qualified engineer who possesses the appropriate engineering expertise but does not hold a professional engineer license. Additionally, CCA requests that the FCC clarify its definition of the term “corporate engineering officer” as it pertains to qualified engineers. Alternatively, CCA requests a limited waiver of the requirement that BDC data be certified by a licensed professional engineer, and instead allow mobile providers to certify their data with a Radio Frequency engineering professional with specified qualifications that are directly relevant to broadband availability assessment. The FCC seeks comment on these and other issues raised by the Petition as they may impact both fixed and mobile broadband service providers.
Fixed wireless internet service providers represented by the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) are telling the Federal Communications Commission that intention to discriminate should undergird any rules meant to prohibit digital access inequity based on race, ethnicity, income, religion, color, or national origin. It also says rules should be tech-flexible. That came in comments on the FCC's inquiry into its legislative mandate to come up with rules that promote digital equity by eliminating discrimination in broadband deployment and access. WISPA told the FCC it needed to avoid "creating inadvertent consequences and additional market entry barriers or barriers to growth for small providers," like punishing inadvertent inequity. "The Commission should require proof of intent to discriminate based on the six listed characteristics in the Infrastructure Act, in addition to its consideration of the totality of the circumstances," it said. WISPA said the FCC, in trying to define and identify digital discrimination, needs to take into account the significant differences among technologies used to deploy high speed broadband. The association also put in a plug for defining exclusive rooftop access agreements in multiple tenant environments as discrimination.
The hits just keep coming for LTD Broadband. The Minnesota Telecom Alliance renewed an effort to block the operator from receiving millions in federal funding to deploy broadband in Minnesota, arguing LTD lacks the technical, managerial and financial capabilities needed to deliver the promised coverage. At issue is the $311 million in support LTD Broadband won in the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction in 2020 to cover 102,000 residents in Minnesota. That money is set to be distributed over the course of 10 years, in annual installments of $31 million. In order to receive the funding from the FCC, the state must certify LTD as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC). Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved LTD’s ETC application in June 2021. But the Minnesota Telecom Alliance now wants it to reverse course on the grounds that information has subsequently come to light indicating that LTD will not be able to deliver on its RDOF commitments. Specifically, it noted LTD has failed to receive ETC certification in seven of the 15 states where it won RDOF funding and the FCC has already declared the operator to be in default on over 30 percent of the 528,000 locations it bid on. However, the operator is notably fighting Iowa’s decision to deny its application.
Construction on a $42 million, privately funded infrastructure project meant to bring fiber optic internet access to all homes and businesses in East Hartford (CT) is underway. The East Hartford FiberCity project will provide the town’s 19,046 households, 4,649 businesses and institutions with high-speed, affordable internet service. Fiber optic infrastructure developer SiFi Networks is installing the state’s first open access network, meaning its cables will be shared by multiple internet service providers to offer the best speeds at competitive prices. Speeds of up to 1,000 megabytes per second will be offered initially, increasing to 10 gigabytes per second over time. SiFi Networks, with its construction partner Lat Long Infrastructure, plans to phase in the fiber optic network by neighborhood, with town-wide completion in 2024. The program is intended to help bridge the digital divide, including students who began to rely more heavily on broadband internet during remote learning amid the COVID pandemic.
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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