Friday, June 17, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Headlines will return Tuesday, June 21. Enjoy the holiday weekend.
News From Congress
Stories From Abroad
The Roman philosopher Seneca said that good luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. In what the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has called “our broadband moments,” preparation requires bold community leadership that moves a community to gather data and build trusted relationships allowing them to be ready to act when opportunity arises. President Biden has pledged to make sure that every American has access to reliable, affordable, high-speed internet. Full participation in our twenty-first century economy requires no less. Through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress is giving states the support needed to achieve that goal. The federal government is beginning to distribute billions of dollars to states to deploy high-speed broadband networks everywhere in the country. States, in turn, can only succeed by committing to close and ongoing coordination with the communities that stand to benefit from these unprecedented investments. To ensure their communities are not left behind, local leaders must be prepared to propose and implement projects The Accelerate community broadband planning program educates and supports community leadership teams as they create their community’s broadband vision and goals and pursue the best possible broadband solutions for their area. By delivering the Accelerate process to multiple communities or counties simultaneously through a cohort approach, state broadband officials can provide high-quality education and guidance that empowers communities to effectively spur broadband deployment through a variety of deployment models, including public-private partnerships.
[Bill Coleman assists communities develop and implement broadband infrastructure and market development programs. As an accomplished community planner and technology consultant, Bill ensures that communities make sound technology decisions using innovative, collaborative strategies. His facilitation techniques lead to quick victories and sustained effort.]
One of the most interesting sections of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) requires that states must define how they are going to make it easier for grant recipients to implement broadband solutions. Specifically, the BEAD NOFO requires states to try to "reduce costs and barriers to deployment, promote the use of existing infrastructure, promote and adopt dig-once policies, streamlined permitting processes and cost-effective access to poles, conduits, easements, and rights of way, including the imposition of reasonable access requirements." These are all great ideas, but I have to wonder if whoever wrote that understands how hard it is for a state to change any of these policies. Certainly, there is no state broadband grant office with the power to effectuate any of these changes – is this section of the NOFO aimed at legislatures? While I understand the sentiment behind this requirement, I think that state broadband offices are all going to tell the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that these issues are not under their control. I find it a bit ironic that the NTIA wants states to take steps to make it easier and more affordable to build fiber while the NOFO layers on a lot of requirements that significantly inflate the cost of building a BEAD grant network.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
Although there is already a ton of fantastic work being done on the ground, many of the groups doing that work would benefit from more funding that could be used to conduct direct Affordable Connectivity Program outreach, train digital navigators, and more. The Federal Communications Commission is currently engaged in a rulemaking to develop rules for how the grant program would work. We look forward to the completion of this rulemaking so that groups on the ground can get the critical support they need to help households enroll. This outreach grant program should prioritize funding for trusted messengers (e.g., community-based organizations, local and state governments, faith-based organizations, public schools and libraries) familiar with the affected communities, because education and outreach programs must be culturally relevant to each particular community to maximize their success. It is crucial that this program be set up soon, and grant money gets disbursed to the groups that are on the ground working for the public interest. One issue that needs continued attention is the language gap that non-English speaking communities face when learning about and trying to sign up for the program. Some communities have found the resources provided by the FCC to be “overly technical and [not] useful to the average users,” while others have found the application process to be difficult for people to do on their own. The ACP rules built on the EBB rules by adding significant consumer protections, including prohibitions on upselling by providers and termination of service for nonpayment. Now that these protections are in place, they need to be enforced.
[Jonathan Walter is a Common Cause Media & Democracy Program Fellow]
As of June 2022, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) has been live for six months, providing monthly discounts on the internet bills and device costs of over 12.4 million households in the United States. But the ACP does more than improve the affordability of broadband access for low-income consumers across the country—it provides recipients with increased consumer protections that are more robust than those enjoyed by non-ACP consumers. The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) prepared an Issue Brief summarizing the most important provisions of the ACP from a consumer protection perspective. The protections include rules that empower ACP households to choose the internet service that best meets their household needs as well as: prohibitions on credit checks and waiting periods; a framework for portability of the ACP benefit; rules that allow ACP participants to switch services or providers; integration between the Lifeline benefit and the ACP benefit; disconnection protections; and the creation of a designated ACP complaint process.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee Communications Subcommittee gave a big thumbs up to extending the Federal Communications Commission's ability to raise tens of billions of dollars through the treasury with spectrum auctions, not to mention freeing up spectrum in the process for Wi-Fi. The subcommittee voted unanimously to favorably report the Extending America’s Spectrum Auction Leadership Act of 2022, which would extend the FCC's spectrum auction authority, which otherwise would expire September 30 of this year, to March 21, 2024. Also favorably reported were:
- The Ensuring Phone and Internet Access for SNAP (supplemental nutrition program) Recipients Act of 2021;
- The Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) Codification Act;
- The Preventing Disruptions to Universal Service Funds Act;
- The Simplifying Management, Access, Reallocation, and Transfer of Spectrum (SMART) Act;
- The Safe Connections Act of 2022; and
- The Spectrum Innovation Act of 2022.
Congress advanced an amendment that would provide billions in funding for next-generation 911, moving one step closer to possibly fulfilling a longstanding wish of the public safety community. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s communications and technology panel voted unanimously to approve an amendment to the Spectrum Innovation Act (H.R. 7624) that would use funding from wireless spectrum auctions to raise $10 billion for next-generation 911, a suite of IP-based technologies that enables 911 call centers to use location data, photos and video. The amendment would also use auction proceeds to shore up an Federal Communications Commission program that reimburses service providers replacing network devices manufactured by Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE, which were blacklisted by the US in 2020. The funding would come from an auction for airwaves in the Lower 3 gigahertz band, which is to be sold to commercial wireless service providers within the next seven years. The Spectrum Innovation Act was introduced as a response to a provision in last year’s infrastructure law calling for greater access to high-speed internet service. "I applaud the Communications and Technology Subcommittee for their leadership on upgrading our nation’s 911 systems and using the auction of our public airwaves to do it," said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. "We can take the funds from our next spectrum auction to help make next-generation 911 a reality nationwide."
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies approved by voice vote its fiscal year 2023 funding bill. For 2023, the bill provides funding of $27.2 billion– a critical increase of $2.075 billion, 8 percent above 2022. The bill includes over $4.2 billion for rural development programs, investing over $560 million for the expansion of broadband service, including $450 million for the ReConnect Program.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government today approved by voice vote its fiscal year 2023 bill. For fiscal year 2023, the bill includes $29.8 billion in funding, an increase of $4.3 billion (17 percent) over fiscal year 2022. The bill provides annual funding for certain federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission. The bill includes $390 million for the FCC, an increase of $8 million above the FY 2022 enacted level, to support efforts to expand broadband access, improve the security of US telecommunications networks and administer COVID-19 relief programs.
The Federal Communications Commission reminds all facilities-based providers of fixed or mobile broadband internet access service of their duty to timely file complete and accurate data in the Broadband Data Collection (BDC) on a biannual basis. Providers may begin submitting their data on June 30, 2022, and must complete their submissions no later than September 1, 2022. With this advisory, the FCC highlights the BDC filing obligations and reiterates that a failure to timely file the required data in the new BDC system may lead to enforcement action and/or penalties as set forth in the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and other applicable laws, absent circumstances beyond a filer’s control.
The future of the state’s high-speed internet and wireless connectivity was recently at the center of discussions between industry, community and university leaders at Ohio State University. President Kristina Johnson joined Lt Gov Jon Husted, director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation (OWT), to open the first meeting of the Ohio Broadband & 5G Sector Partnership. The partnership is part of a larger effort by OWT and BroadbandOhio to grow the workforce needed to expand broadband access and 5G in Ohio. Husted announced a new round of broadband and 5G-focused Individualized Microcredential Assistance Program (IMAP) funding. This is the third round of the initiative, which helps those who are low-income, partially unemployed or totally unemployed participate in a training program and receive a technology-focused credential at no cost. Eligible credentials focus on fiber optics, telecommunications tower technicians, 5G readiness and other skills. Institutions that currently offer these credentials are eligible to apply, as well as institutions that intend to launch a relevant program within six months from July 1st.
Several new items of legislation to create Summit Connects, a high-speed broadband public safety network, were introduced at the June 13 Summit County (OH) Council meeting. According to county officials, the network will initially consist of a 125-mile fiber optic cable ring connecting Summit County and its 31 city, village and township governments to gigabit-speed internet service and a data center to be operated by the City of Fairlawn. The county will fund the estimated $35 million cost of the fiber ring design and construction with a portion of its federal American Rescue Plan funds and will additionally invest approximately $22 million in General Capital Improvement Funds to pay for the design, construction and operating reserves of the data center. According to county officials, the network initially will provide a high-speed, secure and affordable broadband platform to host each community’s public safety operations, with this portion of the project expected to be complete by 2025. In the second phase of the project, the county will work with local communities to explore the feasibility of expanding Summit Connects through internet service providers to residents, businesses, schools and other interested entities.
On June 16, the Biden Administration directed the Director of the White House Gender Policy Council and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs to lead an initiative to address online harassment and abuse, specifically focused on technology-facilitated gender-based violence, and to develop concrete recommendations to improve prevention, response, and protection efforts through programs and policies in the United States and globally. The Director of the White House Gender Policy Council and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, or their designees, shall serve as Co-Chairs of the Task Force, as well as the heads of many other executive agencies and departments serving as members. The Task Force will work across executive departments, agencies, and offices to assess and address online harassment and abuse that constitute technology-facilitated gender-based violence.
On June 15, Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel sent Sen Maria Cantwell (D-WA) a letter providing an update on the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act. "Congress charged the Federal Communications Commission with developing a Reimbursement Program to assist with the removal, replacement, and disposal of equipment that could pose a risk to the security of our nation’s communications networks," said Rosenworcel. "In the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, Congress appropriated $1.9 billion for the Commission to complete this task." The chairwoman stated that the demand for the Act's Reimbursement Program was $5.3 billion. Furthermore, the FCC found 122 of the 181 program applications sent to the agency to be deficient. These applicants have 15 days to make amendments, and the FCC will review amended applicants and complete this process by July 15, 2022. The agency will also give Congress an updated estimate of program demand at this time.
Many utilities have a long-standing relationship with fiber networks for monitoring and controlling their power distribution grids and it’s one that is increasingly proving valuable to the communities they serve both in terms of improving electric services and generating measurable economic benefits to their customers. “The cost of power outages to our communities is tremendous,” said Katie Espeseth, Vice President of New Products at EPB and FBA Power Utilities Roundtable Chair. “The cost of power outages to Chattanooga was nearly $100 million a year. It’s a cost to our customers as lost productivity if the cash registers or point of sale terminals are not working. If we could improve reliability and cut those outages in minutes and instances, we could provide a huge benefit to our community.” Ten years after turning up its Smart Grid infrastructure, EPB has reduced power outage instances by 65% percent and outage minutes by 52%, translating into nearly $50 million dollars of wealth or productivity the community has gained with improved service. Fiber is now moving from a power utility management tool to something much more. “We consider broadband service an essential utility,” said Pete Hoffswell, Superintendent of Broadband Services at Holland Board of Public Works. “If the Internet service for your business goes out, you can’t run the cash register. We have downtown restaurants with a momentary internet outage, it’s a major panic.”
Verizon flexed its promotional muscle, dropping the cost of its entry-level Fios and fixed wireless Home Internet plans to $25 per month and offering a four-year price lock for fiber customers on its faster 1-gigabit and 2-gigabit tiers. Verizon indicated it is looking to steal subscribers from cable competitors with the promotion, explicitly calling on customers to “ditch cable and switch” to one of its Home Internet services. The promotion comes as Verizon faces a fiber overbuild of its Fios footprint from cable operator Altice USA and increased competition from a range of other fiber players. For instance, Ting Internet recently scored a deal to build fiber to 90,000 locations in Alexandria (VA) in a rollout which will pit it against both Verizon Fios and Comcast. According to Recon Analytics' Roger Entner, Verizon’s move is also designed to boost net add figures in a challenging quarter for the operator. “This quarter is not a great quarter from what I can tell,” he said. “They’re looking for any adds. If you can pay, they want you.” He added that the price guarantees Verizon is offering are also strategic given recent moves by Verizon, AT&T and others to raise rates. “We’ve seen in our numbers that the more carriers talk about price increases, the more skittish customers get. And so, you put people at ease,” Entner concluded.
Charter Communications CFO Jessica Fischer revealed the operator is expecting as many as 70,000 broadband customers to churn off its network in second quarter 2022 as they roll off a government subsidy program, but stressed it still believes it will achieve overall positive broadband subscriber growth for the period. Fischer explained Charter has been an active participant in the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program and its successor, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). While it has acquired some customers through the program, she said its main focus has been signing up members of its base who quality for the benefit. Thus, Charter now has “a much larger population of EBB and ACP subscribers than probably all other broadband providers.” While this has helped its subscriber base weather economic pressures, it also left Charter exposed to churn when the EBB ended and customers were transitioned to the ACP earlier in 2022. A total of between 60,000 to 70,000 subscribers are expected to be dropped as part of this move. Excluding the impact of these losses, Fischer said Charter expects to deliver positive total net internet adds in the second quarter. She added, “I think that we’ll have positive total net internet additions even when including the headwinds that I described.”
Since it acquired the 2.5 GHz assets from Sprint, T-Mobile has been going gangbusters on 5G, to the point that it now covers 225 million points of presence (PoPs) and is well on its way to reach 260 million by the end of 2022. By the end of 2023, it expects to reach a population of 300 million with the “Ultra Capacity” 5G that relies on 2.5 GHz. In the short term, completing the integration with Sprint is job number. 1. “This is a big, big year for us from an integration perspective,” with network decommissioning. That’s also where “synergies come to play,” T-Mobile CFO Peter Osvaldik said. It’s also about migrating Sprint customers to the full “Magenta” value proposition and getting all the churn benefits from that. In addition, it’s eyeing growth opportunities, like the smaller markets and rural areas where T-Mobile historically wasn’t a player. By T-Mobile’s calculations, those smaller markets are home to 40 percent of the US. population. Other growth areas are enterprise/government and high-speed internet. T-Mobile recently pulled an “un-carrier move” in the fixed wireless access (FWA) space when it announced how it’s taking on “Big Internet.”
Since the end of May 2022, the 280,000 people living in Kherson, Ukraine and its surrounding areas have faced constant online disruptions as internet service providers are forced to reroute their connections through Russian infrastructure. Multiple Ukrainian internet service providers (ISPs) are now forced to switch their services to Russian providers and expose their customers to the country’s vast surveillance and censorship network. The internet companies have been told to reroute connections under the watchful eye of Russian occupying forces or shut down their connections entirely, officials say. In addition, new unbranded mobile phone SIM cards using Russian numbers are being circulated in the region, further pushing people towards Russian networks. Grabbing control of the servers, cables, and cell phone towers—all classed as critical infrastructure—which allow people to freely access the web is considered one of the first steps in the “Russification” of occupied areas. “We understand this is a gross violation of human rights,” said Victor Zhora, the deputy head of Ukraine’s cybersecurity agency, known as the State Services for Special Communication and Information Protection (SSSCIP). “Since all traffic will be controlled by Russian special services, it will be monitored, and Russian invaders will restrict the access to information resources that share true information.”
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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