Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Government & Communications
Stories From Abroad
Broadband internet is increasingly critical for work, school, shopping, and other parts of daily life. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the "digital divide" and the disadvantages for people who don't have access. In its efforts to expand broadband access, the federal government has subsidized investment in rural areas that haven't attracted private investment. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified over 100 federal programs—administered by 15 agencies—that could be used to expand access. However, the number of programs has led to a fragmented, overlapping patchwork of funding. GAO recommends synchronizing federal efforts with a national broadband strategy, and more. GAO is making three recommendations, including: (1) that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) identify key statutory limitations to program alignment and develop legislative proposals as appropriate; (2) that the NTIA Administrator should direct the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth to regularly seek and incorporate user feedback when updating the BroadbandUSA Federal Funding Guide; and (2) that the Executive Office of the President develop and implement a national broadband strategy. NTIA agreed with our recommendations. The Executive Office of the President did not take a position on our recommendation.
While the pandemic presented obstacles for many students during the 2020-21 school year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s nationwide survey of public K-12 teachers showed that teachers with certain vulnerable student populations were more likely to have students who faced significant obstacles to learning and an increased risk of falling behind academically. Teachers reported that students encountered obstacles to learning including difficulty in getting support, a lack of appropriate workspaces, and a lack of tools for learning. While teachers across all grades reported that their students had difficulties using technology to participate in learning, this was more pronounced for teachers of K-2 students compared to, in some cases, teachers of students in higher grades. 14 percent of teachers in grades K-2 said that half or more of their students struggled with a lack of reliable internet service. For grades 3-8, that was 13 percent of teachers, and for grades 9-12, that was 7 percent of teachers.
The city of Mansfield (LA) is getting ready to build its own $5 million fiber-based broadband network that will give every household and business in the city access to high-speed internet. It will be the first true public-private partnership broadband network in the state, according to Louisiana Connected, the Black-owned tech company working with the city to build the fiberoptic system. The Mansfield City Council voted unanimously to approve the partnership in a deal that both the outgoing and incoming mayors say will address the lack of access to broadband internet highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic really brought to light many of the shortcomings we face in our daily lives and reliable Internet was one of them,” said outgoing Mayor John Mayweather. “Hopefully, what we are attempting to do now with this broadband project will help to resolve this issue.” The agreement paving the way for fiberoptic broadband internet access in Mansfield came on the heels of a state-required feasibility study to evaluate neighborhoods with broadband deficits. The City of Mansfield and its partners expect to break ground by early fall 2022.
Dish Network sent a letter May 27 to SpaceX demanding that the company retract statements that it says could trigger interference with Dish satellite TV services. The letter came after SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Starlink is available for RVs, campers and other large vehicle users but didn’t state that the service can’t be used on moving vehicles. Musk also tweeted that Starlink “does work on vehicles in motion, including planes, but not yet reliably.” The letter basically revolves around the need for Federal Communications Commission authority before SpaceX’s Starlink system may communicate with Earth stations in motion (ESIMs), “and the prohibition on any company engaging in such communications” in the 12.2-12.7 GHz band. According to Dish, the statements “actively encourage and solicit Starlink customers to break these rules.” “As Dish has explained, Starlink ESIMs may activate Starlink beams in areas where satellites would not otherwise have been active, threatening satellite television customers in the area,” Dish wrote. “We therefore ask that you immediately retract these statements and clarify that Starlink ESIM operations are not legal and no customer should try them, by using media of equal reach to the ones where these statements were made.”
UScellular announced that it will roll out 5G service using mid-band spectrum by the end of 2023. The company previously rolled out 5G service in some areas using millimeter wave spectrum, which supports the highest speeds but over relatively short distances, and in low-band spectrum, which provides excellent coverage but relatively low speeds. Mid-band spectrum is widely considered to provide the optimum mixture of coverage and speed for 5G. "By adding mid-band spectrum to its low and mmWave 5G networks, UScellular can offer its customers increased speeds, expanded coverage and reliable service at home and on the go," said the company. UScellular’s mid-band holdings include spectrum in the C-band, which it won in an auction that closed in February 2021 and in the 3.45 GHz band auction, which closed earlier in 2022. The company said it will use Nokia AirScale equipment for its mid-band 5G deployments. The deployment “builds on Nokia’s existing support for UScellular’s 5G standalone (SA) core network and RAN for both low-band and mmWave 5G,” according to the company.
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel responded to Sens Peters (D-MI), Wicker (R-MS), Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Thune (R-SD) regarding their concerns about the reimbursement requests that the FCC has received through the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program. Multichannel News reports that communications providers who must rip and replace untrusted technology from their networks, per Congress' directive, have applied for about $5.6 billion from the FCC to compensate them. That’s a lot more than the regulator had estimated and multiples of what Congress allocated for the purpose. Rosenworcel said the FCC should have a better sense of why the demand exceeded expectations after that, but in the meantime said there were three primary reasons. First, the FCC's cost estimate was based on swapping out ZTE and Huawei tech and a data collection from 50 companies that said it would cost about $1.83 billion to do that. That was part of an FCC program that predated Congress' mandate in the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act. The FCC wound up getting applications from 96 applicants. Second, the FCC's estimate did not include all the companies that became eligible under Congress' mandate when it expanded that eligibility from companies with 2 million or fewer subs to ones with 10 million or fewer. That added $1.5 billion to the application pot. Third, inflation, supply chain issues, and Congress' tight one-year turnaround have added about $2 billion in increased costs.
Dell is working with Dish to create a private 5G wireless network, and needs 12 GHz spectrum – the radio frequency used to carry wireless information for services like TV and radio broadcasting, mobile phones and Wi-Fi to communications systems – in order to launch the network. But there are a few problems Dell and Dish have to figure out first. The Federal Communications Commission will have to decide whether to hand that limited resource over to Dell and Dish to create their network. It won’t be an easy case to make since Dish admits that its 5G network – and any mobile devices using the network – would interfere with, and block, internet service being provided by satellite internet companies. In other words, there’s a good chance that if the FCC allows the Dell/Dish 5G network, fewer people may end up with internet access. But Dell and Dish have a secret weapon: a very close relationship with progressive nonprofit public interest lobbying firm Public Knowledge, whose founder Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society] is on the verge of becoming an FCC commissioner. Public Knowledge is a leading voice encouraging the FCC to open up 12 GHz spectrum so that Dish can use it for 5G service. President Biden recently nominated Sohn to serve on the FCC and she is currently awaiting Senate approval. Obviously, given her ties to Dish, it’s not hard to imagine how Sohn would vote on issues related to spectrum allocation for the proposed Dell/Dish network. For the sake of the most disadvantaged and underserved residents of their states, Sens Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ) must oppose Sohn’s nomination and force President Biden to nominate another person who is less problematic.
[Drew Johnson is a technology policy expert and government watchdog who serves as a scholar at several free market think tanks.]
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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