Monday, May 8, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
Today: Broadband Technical Assistance Webinar
Starlink nixes plan to impose data cap and overage fees
Telecommunications companies should prepare for junk fee regulation
Stories From Abroad
$32.5 Million in ConnectSD Broadband Grants will Connect 3,137 Households, Farms, and Businesses in South Dakota
Governor Kristi Noem (R-SD) and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development announced the latest ConnectSD broadband grants. These awards will make quality, high-speed internet available to underserved households in South Dakota. Over $32 million in grants were awarded for 13 projects from nine applicants. These projects will leverage private matching dollars for a total investment of over $47 million in broadband infrastructure statewide, connecting 3,137 households, farms, and businesses. These awards will cover the vast prairie area of Stanley County, part of the southeast corner of the state, and provide more coverage in the Black Hills region. The ConnectSD program has leveraged $58 million of state general funds along with $89 million of federal funds and $122 million of private investment from broadband providers. These investments total over $269.5 million in broadband expansion in the state since Governor Noem took office in 2019. ConnectSD has awarded 103 grant awards or projects and has connected or is in the process of connecting almost 31,000 locations that either did not have internet or were underserved before starting this program. [List of awardees at the link below]
Governor Kim Reynolds (R-IA) and the Department of Management’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) announced the results of the OCIO’s Invitation to Qualify (ITQ). Ninety-six Broadband Intervention Zones were identified by Iowa communities across the state from a total of 99 applications. The ITQ process asked communities to propose areas across the State of Iowa that should be prioritized in funding decisions made under the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program. In future grant opportunities, providers who apply for Empower Rural Iowa grant funds to construct service within these Broadband Intervention Zones may be eligible to receive enhanced incentives and higher prioritization for funding.
Starlink has abandoned plans to charge data overage fees to standard residential users who exceed 1TB of monthly usage. When SpaceX's Starlink division first announced the data cap in November 2022, it said that residential customers would get 1TB of "priority access data" each month. After using 1TB, customers could keep accessing the Internet at slower (but unspecified) speeds or pay $0.25 per gigabyte for "additional priority access." This was originally supposed to take effect in December 2022, but Starlink delayed the change to February 2023, and then to April 2023. But now, Starlink's list of support FAQs no longer mentions the residential data cap, and the current version of the fair use policy says that standard service plan users have unlimited data. The previous version of the Starlink fair use policy described the 1TB residential cap and optional $0.25-per-gigabyte overage fees. Starlink sent an email to users that said, "Good news! Your Starlink subscription will remain unlimited and will no longer be deprioritized after 1TB of data use."
Viasat intends to toss its hat into the ring for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program following the recent launch of a new high-capacity satellite that will enable the company to deliver speeds in excess of 100 Mbps nationwide. Calling the launch of its first ViaSat-3 satellite a "game-changer" for states poised to bring in BEAD dollars, Viasat said it intends to concentrate its push for funding on "Extremely High-Cost" areas that are expensive to reach with fiber. ViaSat-3, a geosynchronous (GEO) satellite packed with about 1 Tbit/s of capacity, was lofted into orbit on the evening of April 30, 2023 aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Viasat expects the satellite to complete its journey to its final orbital location (89.9 degrees west longitude) in less than three weeks and begin service to the Americas region in mid-2023. Viasat said the new satellite will enable the company to offer speeds of 100 Mbit/s downstream nationwide, with plans underway to offer speeds up to 150 Mbps in some markets. Some plans for US businesses will offer upload speeds of up to 20 Mbps in some markets. Among the potential concerns with GEO-based satellite broadband architectures are high latencies that don't provide strong support for certain interactive applications such as online gaming.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is embarking on an inquiry into whether more privacy protections are necessary for people who have registered “.us” domains on the Internet. NTIA administers the contract for the country code top-level domain, for the United States, .us. The .us domain is used by American businesses, individuals, and localities. NTIA’s contractor, Registry Services, is required by the agency to maintain a publicly accessible database of .us domain name registrations. Registry Services provides a directory service that allows anyone to obtain registration data without any authentication. NTIA is working on multiple fronts to address data privacy concerns. To better protect the personal information of .us domain registration holders, NTIA is seeking comment on a Registry Services’ proposal that would require those that request access to registration data to provide an email address, identify a legitimate purpose, and accept Terms of Service. NTIA’s request for comment seeks input on this proposal, including whether the current system should be maintained, what should be considered a legitimate purpose, and whether the system, if adopted, should be offered as an opt-in or opt-out service for .us registrants. Comments are due May 31, 2023.
Legislation aimed at regulating telecommunications operators is in the works and companies should hasten to prepare for what’s to come. A bill introduced to the Senate in March 2023 proposes to do away with “junk fees,” which are financial charges that President Joe Biden denounced in his State of the Union address. These could include early termination fees, which are widely utilized across the industry to recover up-front costs incurred for equipment, installation, and activation. A current draft of the legislation puts the onus on the Federal Communications Commission to establish the specifics. The proposed rules uniformly apply to operators offering voice, broadband, television, and wireless; whether satellite is included is unclear. If enacted, the Junk Fee Prevention Act would prohibit providers from charging a fee or imposing an “excessive or unreasonable” requirement on consumers for terminating a covered service early, but there is room for debate on how to define those terms. Industry associations need to mobilize to help influence language included in the law so that it does not prevent their members from recovering real costs and preserving the value of their investments. It may be useful to present arguments to regulators in a way that also addresses transparency in billing. The challenge for most telecom operators, however, is that early termination fees aren’t “junk.” In most cases, they represent real costs that need to be recouped in order to survive and grow.
[Dan Hays is a principal with PwC and leads the firm’s enterprise strategy consulting practice for the technology, media, and telecommunications sector]
While CEOs of the companies leading the AI wave met at the White House on May 4, the leaders of the Biden administration's antitrust campaign against tech giants were also gathering for a stock-taking a few blocks away. In each arena, the industry has so far lapped its would-be regulators — but at least with AI, the race is still young. The White House AI event marked the administration's strongest effort yet to keep up with a massive wave of technological change that's just getting started. However, the campaign to rein in Big Tech's power has little to show so far, after five years of hearings and lawsuits. Meanwhile, rising calls to regulate AI are prompting cautionary discussions earlier in the cycle of tech adoption than happened with social media — but the industry is moving a lot faster, too. Additionally, on the AI front, the Biden Administration is moving slowly on AI guardrails: urging CEOs to do better but avoiding the rules-based approach of Brussels and Beijing — where officials are finishing a second round of generative AI regulation.
UTOPIA Fiber, an open-access network provider operating in the Western US, disclosed on May 3 that it reaches 55,000 subscribers. The updated count comes after UTOPIA revealed it added more than 20,000-gigabit customers in 2022. UTOPIA executives said the company is continuing to add cities across Utah, Idaho, and Montana, though they didn’t specify the exact locations UTOPIA is targeting in 2023. UTOPIA Executive Director Roger Timmerman added UTOPIA is well-positioned to help cities enhance their networks to handle increasing bandwidth demands. UTOPIA, through its partner broadband providers, offers three service tiers, 250 Mbps, 1 Gbps, and 10-gig service. CMO Kim McKinley said the operator is seeing more uptake for the 10-gig offering due to an increased number of “10-gig consumer-grade devices” in the market.
Newton N. Minow, who as President John F. Kennedy’s new Federal Communications Commission chairman in 1961 sent shock waves through an industry and touched a nerve in a nation addicted to banality and mayhem by calling American television “a vast wasteland,” died on May 6 at his home in Chicago. He was 97. On May 9, 1961, almost four months after President Kennedy called upon Americans to renew their commitment to freedom around the globe, Mr. Minow, a bespectacled bureaucrat who had recently been put in charge of the Federal Communications Commission, got up before 2,000 broadcast executives at a luncheon in Washington and invited them to watch television for a day. “Stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you, and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off,” Chairman Minow said. “I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.” The audience sat aghast as he went on: “You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, Western bad men, Western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling and offending. And most of all, boredom.” He added, “If you think I exaggerate, try it.”
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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