Thursday, May 18, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
Today: May FCC Open Meeting and Other Events
FCC Takes Additional Steps to Protect the Integrity and Success of the Affordable Connectivity Program
NTIA Commits Nearly $5 Million in Internet for All Grants to Tribal Lands
States Getting Ready to Spend Broadband and Digital Equity Dollars
Stories From Abroad
The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded grants totaling $4,997,592.68 to ten Tribes as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP). With funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), these new grants bring the total of the program to over $1.77 billion awarded to 157 Tribal entities. These grants will help reduce monthly Internet service costs, plan for future Internet infrastructure investments, upgrade network equipment, and purchase devices. In the next few months, the NTIA will release a second Notice of Funding Opportunity for an additional round of funding from the TBCP program. The awardees are:
- Hoonah Indian Association (AK)
- Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians (CA)
- Ewiiaapaayp of Kumeyaay Indians (CA)
- Guidiville Indian Rancheria (CA)
- Seminole Tribe of Florida (FL)
- Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake) (MI)
- White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians (MN)
- Chickahominy Indian Tribe (VA)
- Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe of the Shoalwater Bay Indian Reservation (WA)
- Stockbridge-Munsee Community (WI)
On May 17, 2023, The US Department of the Treasury released supplementary broadband guidance for its State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) and Capital Projects Fund (CPF). As provided for in each SLFRF and CPF award agreement, the Uniform Guidance applies to all uses of funds made available under those awards unless provided otherwise by Treasury. In response to questions from recipients and internet service providers, Treasury issued this guidance regarding the application of the Uniform Guidance to broadband infrastructure projects. This guidance applies to broadband infrastructure contracts and subawards funded by SLFRF and CPF for states, territories, freely associated states, and local governments, including those entered into prior to the release of this guidance. The full supplementary broadband guidance can be found here.
FCC Takes Additional Steps to Protect the Integrity and Success of the Affordable Connectivity Program
The Federal Communications Commission wrote to the largest Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) providers using alternate verification processes to request a subscriber eligibility crosscheck with the National Verifier system. The FCC also requested information on these providers’ continued need to use an alternative verification process and how the process is sufficient to protect program funds. In addition to the letters to participating ACP providers, the FCC announced additional steps to protect the integrity of the ACP Program:
- The Commission’s Enforcement Bureau has begun an investigation into inconsistencies and irregularities in enrollment verification;
- The Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau has directed the Universal Service Administrative Company to increase and strengthen program integrity reviews through the use of alternative verification processes.
To read the full text of the letters to the ACP providers, please visit here.
Broadband officials have been hitting the road in 2023, conducting listening sessions across their states and territories. With several holding at least one meeting in every single county, they are cataloging how their residents access the internet and where there are barriers to deploying infrastructure and digital services. These briefings, town halls, and surveys are part of a multistep process that states and territories have started to implement two programs from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA): the $42 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) and the $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act (DEA) programs. Lawmakers enacted BEAD to ensure that high-speed internet infrastructure is available to every household and business, and DEA to help ensure that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity to make full use of the digital economy. With historic amounts of money, these programs are enabling states and territories to build the operational capacity required to effectively administer the funds and methodically plan strategies for bridging the digital divide.
AT&T Is Spending Billions to Wire U.S. for Fast Internet as Rivals Take Different Path
For AT&T, the fastest home internet needs wires. The telecommunications giant is expanding its network of fiber-optic cables to deliver fast internet speeds for customers, including those in places where it doesn’t already provide broadband. The plan doesn’t come cheap. It will cost billions of dollars over the next several years, a price tag that the company—whose debt load outstrips its annual revenue—doesn’t want to carry alone. AT&T has tapped an outside investor and wants to access government funding to accelerate the build-out. Doubling down on cable sets AT&T on a different path than its rivals Verizon and T-Mobile, which are relying on improved technology that beams broadband service from the same cellular towers that link their millions of smartphone customers. AT&T is testing a similar service but on a smaller scale, and executives say fiber remains the long-term focus.
Senators Welch and Marshall Introduce ReConnecting Rural America Act to Expand Access to Broadband in Rural Communities
Sens Peter Welch (D-VT) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) introduced the bipartisan ReConnecting Rural America Act, legislation to reauthorize and reinforce the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect Loan and Grant Program. ReConnect plays a central role in expanding access to high-speed broadband in rural communities, where broadband access is severely limited compared to what is available in urban and suburban areas. The ReConnecting Rural America Act will codify and clarify components of the ReConnect Program and, in so doing, reduce red tape, and speed broadband deployment. The bill will:
Establish 100/100 Mbps symmetrical buildout speeds for ReConnect;
Clarify that USDA can make grants, loans, or grant-loan combinations under ReConnect;
Set unserved definitions to ensure ReConnect reaches those who need broadband the most, and not building broadband where it is not needed;
Clarify that Communications Union Districts are eligible entities under ReConnect;
Improve coordination and communication among stakeholders at the federal level.
FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Responds to Members of Congress Regarding the Commission’s Efforts to Develop an Iterative National Broadband Map
Since the passage of the Broadband DATA Act, the Federal Communications Commission has worked carefully to implement the requirements of the law and to begin the iterative data collection and challenge processes envisioned by the Act through the creation of its Broadband Data Collection program. As required by the Broadband DATA Act, the FCC has built an entirely new data-collection system for ingesting, validating, and aggregating both provider data for download and publication on the National Broadband Map. To do so, the Broadband DATA Act required the Commission to develop the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (Fabric). The Fabric is a common dataset of all broadband serviceable locations (BSLs) in the United States where mass market fixed broadband internet access service is available or could be installed. The Fabric is an evolving database of all BSLs nationwide that is used in the production of the map when combined with information from service providers and data from the challenge process. Consistent with the Broadband DATA Act, the Fabric is updated continually. The map we have is a work that is always in progress, just as Congress designed it to be in the Broadband DATA Act. I am confident that the Broadband Data Collection process we have established will help improve the map just as Congress envisioned.
Frontier Communications said it expects its cost per passing to fall in the $1,000 to $1,100 range in 2023. Though that number is higher than expected, CFO Scott Beasley argued cost per passing is “not the most important value driver” of building fiber, pointing instead to average revenue per unit (ARPU) and penetration. Beasley explained how some of Frontier’s deployment locations have higher build costs due to terrain, but noted penetration rates are “better than expected." As for ARPU, Frontier earlier in 2023, began charging for “value-added services,” such as whole-home Wi-Fi and the eero Secure VPN – services that were previously included in broadband plans. The operator also decided to cut back on its use of gift card promotions. In terms of installation costs, Frontier’s long-term goal is to reach a cost-to-connect of roughly $600 per customer, though Beasley noted the company is “above that now” for a few reasons. “We’re still becoming more efficient in our installation capacity,” he said, pointing out how Frontier’s technician workforce is being retrained from repairing copper to installing fiber. So, the operator is “still getting up the learning curve, particularly in new geographies.” “We're far behind a lot of peers in terms of our ability, both in our network and in our IT systems, to be able to do self-install, but we're getting up the curve there,” he added. “As we get closer to the peer benchmarks of self-install, we should come back down to that $600 per passing range.”
Billions of dollars are about to flow from the Broadband Equity Access & Deployment (BEAD) Program, which is driving all kinds of interest in delivering fiber broadband to unserved and underserved areas of the US. In addition, the wireless carriers, T-Mobile and Verizon, are deploying fixed wireless access (FWA) in many underserved areas where people have never been happy with their choices of low-speed cable or DSL. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said, “I don't think we competed as well for the lower end of the market. We had something called Internet Essentials, which we've been, for $10 a month, kind of promoting to underserved communities. And it was quite successful for many years. All of a sudden there were new government stimulus and all sorts of attention focused on a different end of the market.” He said Comcast Cable President Dave Watson is now “competing better for this lower-end segment,” although he didn’t elaborate on specifically what Comcast was doing. Roberts went on to ding FWA for its alleged capacity problems — that Verizon and T-Mobile are constrained in many areas because they won’t want to deplete valuable mobile wireless capacity to serve FWA broadband to homes.
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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