Friday, July 22, 2022
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The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), administered by the Federal Communications Commission, provides eligible households up to $30/month (or $75/month on Tribal lands) off internet bills, as well as a one-time $100 discount off a connected device. In May 2022, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced commitments from internet service providers across the country to offer high-speed plans that are fully covered by the ACP—meaning millions of working families can now get high-speed internet without paying a dime. They simultaneously launched GetInternet.gov—a one-stop shop to check eligibility and sign up. On July 21, Vice President Harris announced that 1 million new households have signed up to save on home broadband through the ACP. The Administration’s efforts increased the rate of ACP enrollments by about 35 percent. Harris has also called on the nation’s governors to join the Administration’s enrollment drive, sending them letters describing key steps they can take to boost enrollment in their states.
On July 21, Vice President Kamala Harris went to North Carolina to discuss the Biden-Harris Administration's efforts to achieve universal broadband in the US. "Every person in our nation, no matter how much they earn, should be able to afford a high-speed Internet plan," said Harris. The vice president highlighted the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides working families with up to $30 a month off of their Internet bill or $75 a month for those living on Tribal lands. It also gives families a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, a desktop computer, or a tablet. The Administration has also created GetInternet.gov to raise awareness of the program and direct consumers to sign up. According to Harris, over 13 million people are currently enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program. Maternal health, said the vice president, is one of many issues that benefit from universal broadband and the expansion of telehealth in the US. "Here is what it comes down to: We created this program because we know when we connect folks with high-speed Internet, it is also a connection to opportunity — the opportunity to live a healthier, happier, and more prosperous life and, importantly, more affordable lives," said Harris.
The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) passed a resolution requesting that state commissions, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) work collaboratively with other agencies that work with eligible participants for Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program to promote awareness. The resolution also urges the FCC and USAC to establish agreements with federal and state departments of agriculture and the health and human services, and other federal and state agencies implementing programs that establish consumers’ eligibility for Lifeline and ACP.
The House of Representatives passed a package of six fiscal year 2023 federal funding bills. This includes the 2023 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, which includes $29.8 billion in funding, an increase of $4.3 billion – 17 percent – over fiscal year 2022. This bill provides funding levels for the Federal Communications Commission and supports working and middle-class families by increasing funding for consumer protection activities at the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. The 2023 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies funding bill provides funding of $27.2 billion– a critical increase of $2.075 billion, 8 percent– above 2022. In total, the bill includes $195 billion for both discretionary programs funded on an annual basis and mandatory programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The legislation aims to lift up rural communities with continued investments for rural broadband, a new 1 percent loan program for water programs for rural areas, and a record investment of $1.5 billion in single family home loans.
Sens Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced legislation to prohibit predatory data caps that force families to pay high costs and unnecessary fees to access high-speed broadband. As Americans’ need for data is increasing, pricing structures for broadband services must encourage participation in the digital economy, promote competition and innovation, and ensure investment in national broadband infrastructure is used to its highest capacity. The Uncap America Act requires data caps be only used for network management purposes and directs the Federal Communications Commission to hold providers accountable when they impose predatory data caps.
In March 2022, the Federal Communications Commission issued a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 22-20) that asks if the rules should change for allocating the costs of a pole replacement that occurs when a new carrier asks to add a new wire or device onto an existing pole. The timing of this docket is in anticipation of a huge amount of rural fiber construction that will be coming as a result of the tsunami of state and federal broadband grants. The current rules push the full cost of replacing a pole onto the entity that is asking to get onto the pole. This can be expensive and is one factor that makes it a challenge for a fiber overbuilder or a small cell site carrier to get into poles. A number of telecom companies and trade associations have responded to the docket with various points of view. Still, as usual with a regulatory question, the right answer is somewhere in the middle of the extremes. It is unfair to force a new attacher to pay the full cost to replace a pole that is already in bad shape. Pole owners should have an obligation to do regular maintenance to replace the worst poles in the network each year – and many have not done so. It’s also fair, in some circumstances, for the existing attachers to pay a share of the pole replacement when existing attachments violate safety rules. And, if we are going to build billions of dollars of new broadband networks as a result of grants, it makes sense for regulators to gear up for an expedited process of resolving disputes between carriers concerning poles.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
On July 14, the U.S. Department of the Treasury approved the plans of Kansas, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota to use Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund support to help close the digital divide. Combined with the approval of Louisiana's, New Hampshire's, Virginia's, and West Virginia's plans in June, Treasury has announced nearly $1 billion in support to connect nearly 250,000 locations in the eight states. The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has been taking a closer look at how the Capital Projects Fund support fits into the overall universal broadband plans of each state since they all have their own approach to closing the digital divide. Elements of these states' efforts could be incorporated into other states' plans as they consider how to employ federal dollars to achieve universal broadband access. So far Treasury has approved states' plans that use less than $1 billion of the $10 billion Capital Projects Fund. States must submit their plans to Treasury by September 24, 2022. Even any of the eight states above that have not submitted plans for their full use of Capital Projects Fund support have until this deadline to submit plans for the remainder of their funds.
AT&T CEO John Stankey recently offered subtle hints about AT&T’s potential participation in broadband infrastructure funding programs. But he wasn’t coy about presenting AT&T as a good partner with the states, who will be key in doling out billions in funding. AT&T was proud to report its fiber broadband progress this quarter, having added 316,000 net new fiber subscribers in second quarter 2022. Since fiber technology is seen as the most favorable (although not exclusive) technology for programs like the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program and the US Treasury Capital Fund program, Stankey was quick to point out AT&T’s “street cred” if you will with regards to fiber. “I would point out there is no company that’s building 2 million connected locations of fiber in six months like we are, we are scaling in a way that no one else is,” said Stankey. “I think at the end of the day, states that care about somebody who is reputable, that can execute, that has a mature supply chain and the scale to, should make us very competitive for this money.”
LTD Broadband, the top bidder in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) that can't seem to hold on to its funding, may see its dollars revoked in yet another state. This time the company is being challenged in Minnesota, where the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in that state has ordered an investigation to determine if the company can deliver on the $311 million it was designated by the Federal Communications Commission to build out in the state's rural areas. As reported by MinnPost, the PUC reversed its earlier decision in June 2021 to approve LTD as an "eligible telecommunications carrier" (ETC) – a designation it needs in order to receive FCC grants – by asking an administrative law judge to determine if that status can be revoked. LTD was originally awarded $1.32 billion in the $9.2 billion FCC auction in 2020. The company was to spend those funds expanding broadband across 15 states. But it has since had its ETC status challenged for a variety of reasons – including widespread doubt that the fixed wireless company can build out gigabit fiber – and has lost grants and withdrawn its bids in several states, including South Dakota and California. The PUC's decision to investigate LTD came in response to a petition brought by the Minnesota Telecom Alliance and Minnesota Rural Electric Association requesting to initiate a proceeding to revoke LTD's ETC status and deny its funding certification for 2023.
Lumos will be making a big impact on the Tidewater region of Virginia, bringing ultra-high-speed fiber internet service to nearly 85,000 residents and businesses across the Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Portsmouth (VA) communities. The Lumos expansion will blanket the region with over 760 miles of the latest fiber optic technology featuring 100 Gigabit speed capacity at a cost of over $83 million. In addition, Lumos will generate jobs in the region with its plan to hire local sales, service and support teams. Lumos will fully fund the $83 million project, and engineering work will begin immediately. Construction will start in 2023, and the company estimates that most of the project will be completed in approximately two years, including in the Chesapeake and Portsmouth areas.
Tech Goes Home has received funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to improve digital inequity in Boston (MA). The Boston City Council voted to award the Boston-based nonprofit $2 million from the relief funds. Tech Goes Home announced the funding July 18 and said the ARPA money would allow it to engage with more than 100 new community-based organizations across Boston. Tech Goes Home partners with Boston organizations to provide residents with digital devices, internet and digital-skills training. Much of this programming transitioned online during the Covid-19 pandemic. The ARPA funding will also allow Tech Goes Home to increase its headcount and support for instructors, the nonprofit said. Its staff helps Boston residents connect with new federal programs offering more affordable, reliable internet access. Tech Goes Home estimated it will be able to help 4,500 households per year over the next four years access these federal programs. Tech Goes Home’s new funding comes from a pot of $367 million in federal pandemic relief funds that the city council approved July 13, up from the $350 million proposal Mayor Wu (D-MA) had presented to the council.
The City of Albuquerque (NM) has finalized its license agreement with Vexus Fiber, a Texas-based Internet company, to begin construction on a 100 percent fiber-optic network that will be available everywhere in the city with direct, cutting-edge internet access to all homes and businesses. With better performing, future-proof technology, the fiber network will support Albuquerque’s residents and businesses needs now and into the future at prices similar to and even lower than what other internet service providers currently charge. Fiber internet gives users greater bandwidth to carry more information at higher speeds with equal download and upload speeds of 150 Mbps, 400 Mbps, and 1Gig. Vexus Fiber participates in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, so customers are eligible for a $30 per month subsidy on internet service if the household makes less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level or an individual participates in certain government assistance programs. Albuquerque lags nationally in internet-connected households and currently only about 10 percent of households in the Metro participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program.
The US is still struggling to complete the break up with Chinese telecom companies that Donald Trump started four years ago. The problem: Small communications networks, largely in rural areas, are saddled with old Chinese equipment they can’t afford to remove and which they can’t repair if it breaks. The companies say they want to ditch the Chinese tech, but promised funds from Congress aren’t coming quickly enough and aren’t enough to cover the cost. US security officials have warned under both the Trump and Biden administrations that two Chinese companies in particular — Huawei and ZTE — are beholden to China’s government and a major national security risk. They have pointed to a potential for spying and foreign meddling if their routers, antennas and radios aren’t yanked out of US cell phone and internet networks. Caught in the middle of this US-China wrangling are nearly 200 US carriers that embedded parts from these Chinese telecom giants into their operations. That includes rural wireless networks and providers of broadband internet and TV, a handful of universities and school districts, and even city governments. The funding shortage is complicating the launch of subsidies and stoking worries that this long-awaited task of ripping out this gear could face delay into 2023 or beyond, undercutting the urgency around a long-held national security fear that the Chinese government could access the equipment to listen in on calls or even interfere with critical infrastructure or military operations.
AT&T shared its second quarter 2022 results on July 21, seeing significant gains in its mobile and fiber businesses. AT&T delivered subscriber growth near second-quarter record levels with 316,000 AT&T Fiber net adds. This brings total net additions over the past two years to nearly 2.3 million, including 10 straight quarters of more than 200,000 net adds. The company now has the ability to serve 18 million customer locations in more than 100 US metro areas with its fiber network. AT&T continues to see record levels of customer additions for mobile, including its best second-quarter postpaid phone net adds in more than a decade and more than 6.1 million phone net adds over the past two years. The company achieved its end-of-year target of covering 70 million people with mid-band 5G spectrum, and says it is on track to approach 100 million people with mid-band 5G spectrum by the end of 2022.
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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