Wednesday, June 15, 2022
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It’s hard to look anywhere in the broadband industry today and not hear about digital inclusion. One big reason for this is the two giant grant programs created by Congress in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to tackle digital equity issues. The first is the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, that will allocate $1.5 billion to the States for this program – that’s $300 million per year from 2022 through 2026. The second is the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. This grant program of $1.25 billion will be administered directly by the NTIA and will award $250 million per year from 2022 through 2026. As I talk to folks, I’m starting to understand that a lot of people don’t really understand what digital equity means. Twenty years ago, we referred to this as the digital divide. The folks working with the digital divide issue came up with a three-legged stool analogy to describe the way to tackle the issue – make sure homes have a computer, make sure they have the training to use the computer, and get them connected to broadband. These giant federal grants can help communities tackle this in the right way. A full digital equity plan might include somebody who can help folks navigate the Affordable Connectivity Program subsidy plan to choose and subscribe to a broadband product. The grants can be used to create a sustainable program to make sure homes can get computers. And a plan can provide trainers who can help individuals learn how to use the Internet to do the things that are most relevant in their lives.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
For college students, reliable broadband access isn’t just about watching a new Netflix series or playing video games. It affects our very ability to educate ourselves and, by extension, to shape our futures and contribute to our democratic society. It allows us to read our online textbooks, to access articles and books for our research assignments, and to upload resumes for jobs and internships. When we cannot find stable internet in the comfort of our homes, students must rely on searching for free Wi-Fi in coffee shops, libraries, and even the parking lots of fast-food restaurants. We must work to spread information about the ACP — located at GetInternet.gov — within our networks. We must pursue these efforts for the sake of the students who cannot reach their fullest potential because they lack access to the most basic resources in our modern society.
[Christina Hitchcock and Aditi Mittal were spring 2022 undergraduate interns at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.]
The National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA)'s Internet Use Survey of November 2021 confirms what the data has said in the past: the digital divide is predominantly a problem of a lack of interest, not affordability, at least with respect to adoption. Affordability is not the dominant driver of non-adoption, a result spanning many years. Also, as adoption rises over time, a lack of interest will increasingly explain non-adoption and price less so. This result comports with economic reasoning. Efforts to close the Digital Divide as adoption rises will be increasingly challenging, since public policy must deal with households that have no interest in the Internet. At high levels of adoption, devoting significant resources to the affordability issue, presumably via subsidies, may not render large payoffs, though getting to a “high adoption” outcome may be the consequence of such subsidies.
[Dr. George Ford is Chief Economist at the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies.]
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), in conjunction with the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force (RBATF) and the Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), authorizes Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for 513 winning bids in Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, Idaho, Louisiana, Colorado, New Hampshire, Vermont, Missouri, Minnesota, California, Oregon, Indiana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Wyoming, Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Northern Mariana Islands. The FCC also released a number of Conexon Connect in Colorado that are now in default.
The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration will submit an information collection request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and clearance. NTIA invites the general public and other Federal agencies to comment on proposed, and continuing information collections, which helps NTIA assess the impact of information collection requirements and minimize the public’s reporting burden. Public comments were previously requested via the Federal Register on February 17, 2022 during a 60-day comment period. This notice allows for an additional 30 days for public comments. With this information collection, NTIA will monitor Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) grant recipients’ spending and activities to ensure compliance with TBCP requirements and program priorities. In the absence of collecting this information, NTIA would fail to evaluate effectively the award recipients’ progress toward completing project activities and achieving core purposes of the TBCP. Moreover, without these reports, NTIA would lack the ability to monitor effectively the award recipients’ expenditure of funds to deter waste, fraud, and abuse of TBCP funds. Therefore, it is necessary for NTIA to collect information using the Baseline Report, Semi-Annual Reports, and Annual Report
The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration will submit an information collection request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and clearance. NTIA invites the general public and other Federal agencies to comment on proposed, and continuing information collections, which helps NTIA assess the impact of information collection requirements and minimize the public’s reporting burden. Public comments were previously requested via the Federal Register on February 16, 2022 during a 60-day comment period. This notice allows for an additional 30 days for public comments. This information request will help NTIA monitor Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP) grant recipients’ spending and activities to ensure compliance with BIP requirements and program priorities. In the absence of collecting this information, NTIA would fail to evaluate effectively the award recipients’ progress toward completing project activities and achieving core purposes of the BIP. Moreover, without these reports, NTIA would lack the ability to monitor effectively the award recipients’ expenditure of funds to deter waste, fraud, and abuse of BIP funds. Therefore, it is necessary for NTIA to collect information using the Baseline Report, Semi-Annual Reports, and Annual Report.
The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration will submit an information collection request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and clearance. NTIA invites the general public and other Federal agencies to comment on proposed, and continuing information collections, which helps NTIA assess the impact of information collection requirements and minimize the public’s reporting burden. Public comments were previously requested via the Federal Register on February 16, 2022 during a 60-day comment period. This notice allows for an additional 30 days for public comments. With this information collection, NTIA will monitor Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (CMC) grant recipients’ spending for compliance with grant terms and conditions. In the absence of collecting this information, NTIA would fail to evaluate effectively the award recipients’ progress toward completing project activities and achieving core purposes of the CMC. Moreover, without these reports, NTIA would lack the ability to monitor effectively the award recipients’ expenditure of funds to deter waste, fraud, ad abuse of CMC funds. Therefore, it is necessary for NTIA to collect information using the Baseline Report, Semi-Annual Performance (Technical) Reports and Annual Report.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) addresses the petitions of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) and AT&T Services Inc. (AT&T) for limited waivers of the FCC’s non-usage rules applicable to Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) subscribers who receive free-to-the-end-user service. The Bureau grants NTCA’s request for (1) an extension until September 15, 2022 for small broadband internet access service providers that serve Tribal ACP customers to track usage on a rolling thirty-day basis for ACP subscribers who receive free-to-the-end-user service, including ACP/Lifeline subscribers who receive both benefits on the same service and (2) a retroactive waiver to January 1, 2022 of the Lifeline requirement to track usage on a rolling thirty-day basis to the extent that this subset of providers apply both the Lifeline and ACP benefit to the same service resulting in free-to-the-end-user service. However, we deny NTCA’s request for an indefinite waiver of this requirement for small broadband providers that serve Tribal ACP subscribers. The Bureau also grants AT&T a temporary sixty-day waiver to August 13, 2022 of the non-usage rules for AT&T’s customers who receive free-to-the-end-user ACP service that uses Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology. However, the Bureau denies AT&T’s petition requesting an indefinite waiver of these rules for this subset of AT&T’s subscribers. During the waiver period AT&T may only claim ACP support for those subscribers that have used their service during a given service month.
Seven communities officially joined the US Ignite network thanks to a $214,000 investment by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. US Ignite will support the communities by identifying federal funding opportunities for broadband and smart city projects, and by providing expert guidance on how to address connectivity and related service needs in under-resourced areas. Among the new cohort of communities, US Ignite will work closely with local government officials and leaders from the private, academic, and nonprofit sectors to assess connectivity options in underserved neighborhoods. Through partnerships and peer learning, US Ignite’s goal is to maximize the impact of newly available federal funds, such as those from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program recently announced by the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Association (NTIA). The seven communities are:
- Charlotte, NC
- Detroit, MI
- Duluth, MN
- Long Beach, CA
- Miami-Dade County, FL
- Philadelphia, PA
- San Jose, CA
David Finn of Google Fiber outlined the company’s embrace of the open access model for broadband. Finn, a director of corporate development at Google Fiber, highlighted the company’s recent open access partnership in West Des Moines (IA) and a previous example with the public utility in Huntsville (AL) as examples of how they are using the model to expand broadband access. Google Fiber is now finalizing a similar partnership in Vermont that could potentially reach over 100 thousand rural residents. Google is partnering with two Vermont communications union districts (CUD) for an open access network that Finn says will allow Google to reach every location with symmetrical gigabit capable broadband. The network will be built and owned by the public partner CUDs, with Google Fiber leasing network capacity to serve as the first ISP, with other ISPs also able to join the open access network and compete with Google.
Nokia announces a “network-in-a-box” fiber to the home (FTTH) kit aimed at rural broadband service providers. Nokia’s Broadband Relief Kit builds a town network of up to 1,000 homes, and the company said it’s set aside 25 of these kits for broadband providers. Nokia created the kit to address telecom supply chain deficit issues that are particularly affecting rural operators, while there’s plenty of money in the pipeline, thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), to make those buildouts happen. The network in a box addresses “hyper-localized markets,” said Sandy Motley, president of Fixed Networks at Nokia. Nokia bundles all the necessary FTTH equipment, software licenses, support, and in-home Wi-Fi gateways that a carrier needs to support 1,000 households. The kits support Gigabit Ethernet passive optical network (GPON) and 10 Gigabit-per-second symmetrical passive optical network (XGS-PON) over a single port and fiber.
The highly competitive nature of the US mobile wireless business continues as Verizon announced that it is deploying 5G in the CBRS spectrum band and T-Mobile said it achieved speeds above 3 Gbps on a production network using 5G carrier aggregation. Verizon said it worked with Ericsson to complete a 5G data session using CBRS General Authorized Access (GAA) spectrum, which is mid-band spectrum that is essentially available on an unlicensed basis. The company will be able to use the spectrum to augment the licensed spectrum that it has in the same band. Verizon was a big winner in the CBRS auction of 2020. Verizon’s plan is to use CBRS spectrum for Ultra Wideband 5G, which is the term the company uses for the higher-speed 5G service that it has deployed using millimeter wave spectrum and in the company’s C-band spectrum, which is considered mid-band. T-Mobile said its 5G carrier aggregation achievement was only possible using the company’s standalone 5G network. The company merged three channels of mid-band spectrum – two channels in the 2.5 GHz band and one channel of 1900 MHz spectrum – to create what was essentially a single 210 MHz channel. T-Mobile said it already uses carrier aggregation to combine two 2.5 GHz 5G channels for “greater speeds, performance and capacity.” The company expects to begin adding a third 1900 MHz 5G channel later in 2022.
Dish Network, the satellite TV giant and fledgling mobile carrier, is poised to miss its June 14 deadline to offer 5G wireless service to at least 20 percent of the US population. Dish acquired wireless spectrum for years, but very little of a wireless network materialized. Then in 2020, Dish entered the mobile market by acquiring some of Sprint's mobile licenses, which Sprint was shedding as part of its merger with T-Mobile. The complex transaction suddenly made Dish the country's fourth-biggest carrier and led to the creation of Dish Wireless service. But the Federal Communications Commission had a stipulation. To ensure competition, the regulatory agency required Dish to make sure 20 percent of Americans would be covered by its 5G network by June 14, 2022, a target the carrier is poised to miss. Although Dish has been building out its network, the carrier has only confirmed 5G service in one US city, which went live May 2022. Unless Dish has quietly activated service in over two dozen more cities since then, it seems the carrier hasn't met its FCC-mandated target. It's unclear whether Dish will suffer any consequences for potentially missing the deadline. Here's what there is to know about Dish's 5G plans.
Bipartisan legislation to bolster consumers’ online privacy rights gained momentum at a House hearing June 14, even as some tech industry representatives raised concerns that could slow its progress. The draft legislation would put new limits on how technology companies can collect and use consumers’ data. It drew strong backing from both Republicans and Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s consumer protection subcommittee, as well as from several business and consumer representatives who testified. But the hearing also highlighted a range of lingering challenges that remain as key lawmakers seek to move the rapidly developing bill through Congress this summer. Several witnesses at the hearing suggested changes to strengthen or weaken major protections in the legislation, showing that the effort could still run into trouble. Lawmakers have tried off and on for decades to pass such a bill, without success, largely because of business opposition. But their efforts have been energized this year by a series of controversies over how people’s information is used. Under the draft bill, big tech companies would be limited to collecting, processing and transferring only the data that is reasonably necessary to provide their services. And for some sensitive categories of data, such as geolocation data or biometric information, the bill would prohibit transfer or restrict it to very limited circumstances. The legislation also includes broad antidiscrimination protections, and requires large data holders to conduct assessments of their algorithms to show the steps they are using to limit harms, among other measures.
All the buzz at the 2022 Fiber Connect conference is due to the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA), which has allocated $45 billion for broadband deployments. And the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently unveiled the rules that will apply to the funding, expressing a preference for fiber broadband. Members of the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and the fiber community in general are living in high-times. Yet despite the good-mood vibe, there are a lot of issues to be resolved when it comes to embarking on a multi-year project to bring fiber broadband to all unserved areas in the US. There’s the supply-chain issue of getting enough fiber-optic cable to deploy. Different people in the industry have talked about a supply crunch for the fiber optics part of fiber; others have talked about a supply shortage for the resin cables that surround the fiber optics. And there are also supply chain issues with the electronics needed for fiber broadband. And even though people are excited by the prospect of IIJA funds, they still have to make a viable business case for any fiber deployments. The NTIA has indicated that areas unserved with broadband will be the top priority. However, those states that can demonstrate in their broadband plans that they will reach all the unserved will also be able to use funding for underserved areas as well.
AT&T achieved symmetrical speeds of 20 Gbps in its production network in a trial of 25G technology from Nokia. Eddy Barker, AT&T AVP of Mobility and Access Architecture, said the test highlights the future-proof nature of the fiber network it is deploying and is the latest step toward the likely commercial deployment of the technology in a 2024 timeframe. The operator has been working on 25G for some time. It signed on to the 25GS-PON Multi-Source Agreement (MSA) in March 2021 and Barker said it has been tinkering with the technology in its lab for “a while”. He said in late 2021 AT&T tested the full 25 Gbps downstream speeds the technology enables but noted at that time the upstream speed was still asymmetrical at 10 Gbps. Now that the ecosystem has matured a bit more AT&T decided to take its testing out to the field, running an experiment on the fiber infrastructure it is currently using to deliver commercial 2-gig and 5-gig services.
Britain’s ability to roll out superfast broadband across the country is being slowed by the “tortuous” process of recruiting workers from the EU following Brexit, the head of BT’s networking business has warned. Clive Selley, chief executive of BT’s Openreach, the division leading the rollout of fibre optic networks to homes, said countries such as Portugal and Spain have plenty of people with the necessary skills to accelerate the delivery of superfast broadband. “They want the work, we want the skills and the Home Office have a process that is tortuous,” Selley said in an interview. “We are constraining the rate of fibre build in the UK through the process.” The delivery of superfast broadband is central to the Conservative government’s pledge to bridge the digital divide and level up the economy. Its last manifesto outlined plans to deliver “full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025”. The government is now aiming to have 99 percent of homes connected by 2030. Selley said it was “quite realistic” and “achievable” for Openreach to lay fibre optic lines to 97 percent of the country’s homes by 2030, but that it would require greater support and subsidies from the government. Openreach has committed to spend £12 billion to connect 25 million of the UK’s 32 million homes by the end of 2026. The rollout, which began in 2018, has so far reached 7.6 million homes.
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