Wednesday, August 3, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
The White House released updated fact sheets highlighting how President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is delivering results for all 50 states, territories, the District of Columbia, and Tribal communities. Eight months following the passage of the IIJA, the Biden-Harris Administration has made unprecedented investments in all 50 states and territories to build a better America that delivers for all communities. Since signing the law, the Biden-Harris Administration has hit the ground running to make major progress. Multichannel News reports that it includes a new metric for broadband access and the suggestion that it has almost solved the affordability issue. In each of the state update internet sections, the White House talks about the lack of internet in terms not only of access to broadband, but according to how many residents of each state “do not have an internet subscription.” For example, the White House reports that nearly 35 percent of Arkansans do not have an internet subscription, but that about 118,000 households are now enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). For Illinois, 21 percent of Illinoisans do not have an internet subscription, whilst 391,700 households are now enrolled in ACP. And in Ohio, 21 percent of Ohioans do not have an internet subscription. However, 673,000 households in Ohio are enrolled in the ACP.
A bicameral group of lawmakers sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel urging the FCC to consider more ways to advance Native communities’ access to and ownership of spectrum over their lands. It was recently estimated that nearly a third of Tribal lands in the United States lacked internet access. Over 1.5 million people living on Tribal lands lack access to broadband services. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this disparity, limiting access to telemedicine, virtual and remote learning, and public safety programs, among other services. In the letter, the lawmakers recognize the FCC’s previous investments and commitments to advancing Tribal broadband and the Chairwoman herself has spoken to the necessity of bridging the digital divide that disadvantages many Tribal communities. Still, the lawmakers note that while “these steps are all important and commendable,” more can be done to facilitate economic development in these communities.
Cable companies have managed to stay afloat amid the cord-cutting crisis thanks to their booming broadband businesses. But some analysts see that safety net beginning to fade. Jonathan Chaplin, managing partner at New Street Research, said that the firm has lowered its broadband subscriber estimates for the second time in 2022 for both Charter and Comcast. "We have limited conviction in a quick recovery, given limited visibility all around," he said regarding Charter. "We are hoping for a turnaround later in the quarter but have low conviction," he added about Comcast. Comcast's stock slid after it reported flat broadband subscriber additions for the second quarter of 2022. The telecom giant was still able to increase broadband revenues, but its growth has been slowed by increased competition and more users relying on mobile hotspots and fixed wireless plans. Charter lost broadband subscribers for the first time last quarter. Executives cited customers rolling off the government's broadband subsidy program, the Affordable Connectivity Program, as a major contributor to its customer loss.
The case for internet access as a human right remains a hotly debated subject. However, in the post-pandemic world, it’s one that is becoming increasingly skewed toward the affirmative. Data Reportal reports that 63 percent of the world uses the internet daily. When internet access is a requirement of functionality in the modern world, when does it become a human right? As the world has exited the stages of lockdowns and quarantines, the internet has remained in the spotlight. If this emphasis on the internet as a need rather than a want leads to its qualification as a human right in the future, it won’t impact consumers alone. It will also have a dramatic effect on tech companies. If the government were to formally deem it a human right, tech companies could expect an increasing number of regulations to come their way. Furthermore, if internet access becomes a right, the market competition will likely shift. Rather than focusing on whether or not a consumer can connect to the internet in the first place, providers will need to adopt more of a conciliatory approach toward their customers. Lastly, if access to the internet becomes a human right, it could only be a matter of time before access to and affordability of online entertainment comes into question as well.
[Serenity Gibbons is a former assistant editor at The Wall Street Journal.]
After years of advocacy, INCOMPAS is hoping the Federal Communications Commission is finally ready to give the greenlight to raising internet speed benchmarks in the United States. In a new letter to the FCC, INCOMPAS – the internet and competitive networks association – once again urged the Commission to raise the current 25/3 Mbps standard to 1 Gigabit. “Since 2017, we have urged the FCC to increase internet speed benchmarks to 1 Gigabit - it’s a faster standard that consumers want and the market can easily deliver,” said Chip Pickering, CEO of INCOMPAS. “Other nations including China and Europe have gigabit goals in place, and it’s time for the FCC to deliver faster speeds or risk slowing down our economy.” In July 2022, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel circulated a Notice of Inquiry starting a proceeding at the FCC to move the standard to 100/20 Mbps with a future goal of 1 Gigabit. INCOMPAS supports positive movement from the FCC and plans to continue advocating for implementing a gigabit speed standard immediately. The letter states: “We have the ability and responsibility as Americans to go big and bold on broadband. Now is the time to take steps toward achieving a future of connectivity with faster speeds and affordable prices in the US. We are looking to the Commission’s leadership to establish a new broadband speed goal that enables all Americans to access high-speed internet no matter where they live or work. It is time to set that goal to 1 Gigabit.”
This report examines data from the US and around the world to explore the current state of broadband in America, and the potential for an open access fiber model to create robust competition and bring about more widespread access, better service, and lower prices.
The Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced an updated Memorandum of Understanding between the agencies on spectrum coordination. This marks the first time the MOU has been updated in nearly twenty years. The revised MOU, signed by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson, will strengthen cooperation and collaboration between the agencies and help advance a whole-of-government approach to how we use and manage one of the nation’s most important resources. The MOU establishes a stronger framework for managing spectrum use and planning, including, among other things, through:
- Formalized High-Level Planning. For the first time, the FCC Chair and Assistant Secretary will hold formal meetings to conduct joint spectrum planning at least quarterly.
- A Longer-Term Spectrum Outlook. FCC and NTIA staff will meet at least monthly to exchange information. Where possible, the agencies will share their planned spectrum activities for the next 12 months.
- Greater Coordination. The agencies have committed to coordinating more of their spectrum activities than was required under the prior MOU, including when the agencies are considering taking actions that would create new spectrum adjacencies. The updated MOU also extends the amount of time for coordination.
- Improved Transparency and Data Sharing. Both agencies will endeavor to share information, concerns, or views as early in the spectrum planning process as possible, supported by technical data and analysis that is based on sound engineering principles. For NTIA, this includes sharing information, concerns, or views of other federal agencies as well.
- Clearer Dispute Resolution. FCC and NTIA will work together to develop and implement a process for escalating any disputes for consideration by agency leadership.
The Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband held a hearing entitled Future of Spectrum to examine the management of spectrum. The Federal Communications Commission's spectrum auction authority is set to expire at the end of September. Congress has a unique opportunity to set future spectrum priorities and coordination goals to encourage efficient spectrum use. The hearing aimed to examine important policy considerations to ensure spectrum is utilized for the greatest benefit to the public. The core debate of the hearing was not about if the FCC's auction authority should be extended, but for how long. Republicans on the subcommittee appeared to be agreed that the FCC should get a short-term, 18-month extension. Subcommittee Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) indicated he will push for a longer-term solution in the coming weeks. In July, the House of Representatives passed the Spectrum Innovation Act of 2022 (H.R. 7624) which would extend the FCC's auction authority to March 31, 2024. The subcommittee heard testimony and asked questions of Public Knowledge CEO Chris Lewis, CTIA CEO Meredith Baker, Andrew Von Ah of the Government Accountability Office, and Dr. Coleman Bazelon of the Brattle Group. [much more at the link below]
Consolidated Communications announced that Clio Subsidiary has entered into an agreement to sell its limited partnership interests in five wireless partnerships managed by Cellco Partnership, doing business as Verizon Wireless, to Cellco for an aggregate purchase price of $490 million. The net proceeds of the sales will be invested in the business and used to support Consolidated’s Fiber to the Premises build plan. The sales are expected to close by the end of 2022, subject to certain closing conditions and third-party purchase rights available to other partners in the partnerships. “The sale of these wireless investments is part of our long-term strategy as we continue our transformation to a fiber-first broadband company,” said President and Chief Executive Officer of Consolidated Communications Bob Udell. “Proceeds from these transactions will directly support our fiber expansion plan, our key strategic priority,” he added.
On July 13, Viasat wrote to the Federal Communications Commission regarding SpaceX's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) commitments. "Viasat writes to update the record with respect to the continued inability of the authorized Starlink system to satisfy SpaceX’s RDOF commitments," said the letter. According to Viasat, Starlink cannot support the 100/20 Mbps service it is required to serve to its RDOF-covered households, and this is "because of its own system design limitations that cannot be overcome by launching more satellites." The company continues, "The past two years have afforded the Commission ample opportunity to observe the performance of the Starlink system under such 'real-world conditions.' The record clearly reflects that Starlink is not meeting RDOF performance requirements, and that Starlink is unable to do so because of its own system design limitations...Under these circumstances, there is simply no rational basis upon which the Commission could grant SpaceX’s long-form RDOF application."
SpaceX filed a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on July 29 in response to Viasat's previous claims that the company is unable to fulfill the requirements of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) award. According to SpaceX, Viasat is trying to protect its legacy technology through influence the FCC to limit competition. The company also said that recent data from Ookla shows Starlink is able to provide the speeds necessary for RDOF funding, which exceed Viasat's performance. Additionally, SpaceX states that Viasat is ignoring that the FCC specifically directed the agency staff – not competitors – to review the merits of RDOF applications. "Starlink has
welcomed that staff review and has fully engaged within that Commission-mandated process to demonstrate its ability to meet all of its RDOF obligations and provide high-quality broadband service to consumers that for too long have gone unserved," said the letter.
Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program grants in a given location could go sideways because of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)’s decision to declare facility-based wireless technologies that use licensed spectrum to be considered as a reliable technology that is eligible for BEAD grants. I can foresee two different problems that might result from this decision. The first problem I foresee is that these wireless carriers can use the upcoming Federal Communications Commission broadband mapping update to lock down huge areas of real estate from eligibility for BEAD grants. Anywhere that these carriers claim speeds of 100/20 Mbps in the next set of FCC maps will be initially declared by the BEAD rules to be served and ineligible for grants. Secondly, if the wireless carriers with fast licensed spectrum report properly in the new maps, there are going to be splotches of areas around every rural cell tower that will be off-limits for grants. In the same way that the swiss cheese Rural Digital Opportunity Fund awards goofed up anybody else from bringing a fiber broadband solution, these fixed wireless or cellular blotches will make it hard to build a coherent network in areas that have to avoid the wireless areas. In a real deployment, A broadband provider will likely build to everybody in an area – but because of the mapping rules, they won’t get grant funding everywhere.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
Gov Reynolds (R-IA) and the Department of Management Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) announced the release of a new broadband map of Iowa, reporting the conditions of broadband availability in accordance with federal grant guidelines at over 1 million locations throughout the state. The public can view the map here. The new map provides a more detailed view than prior maps, identifying the broadband service available at homes and businesses across Iowa as reported by broadband providers. Locations with slower broadband speeds – defined by relevant federal guidelines to be slower than 100 download/20 upload – may be eligible for future grant funding opportunities issued by Governor Reynolds’ Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Program. The publication of the map commences a 30-day challenge process where the public, broadband providers, and communities throughout Iowa can submit information to the OCIO wherever they believe the map incorrectly reports broadband service data. Instructions for challenging the map are available here, including videos, guides, and templates to assist members of the public, broadband providers, and communities who wish to submit a challenge.
The US Department of the Treasury approved Delaware’s plan to invest $40.3 million of Capital Projects Fund funding in nine libraries to provide communities with public access to the internet and expanded resources. Delaware’s plan states that each of the library projects will provide access to highspeed internet for community members who may lack access in their homes. Capital Projects Fund dollars will be used to construct new or expand existing libraries in Delaware to meet the needs of identified communities. Public libraries funded through this program will provide increased access to resources and programming for community members including students, job-seekers, children, and parents, among others.
In March 2010, Google Fiber burst onto the Internet provider scene, offering cities the promise of high-speed broadband service. That promise, however, became an increasingly complicated proposition that eventually forced the company to pause expansion efforts in 2016. When Google Fiber first launched, it offered cities Internet that reached speeds up to 1 gigabit per second. To put this into perspective, the average household in the US has an Internet connection of just under 20 megabits per second (Mbps), according to Lifewire. Typical high-speed service ranges between 25 and 75 Mbps. In 2020, Google Fiber announced it was back in the Internet service game and working with city officials from West Des Moines (IA). The company's coverage areas span the US in a range of different states and regions. As for other things coming down the pipeline, Mark Strama, Google's general manager for expansion markets, said the company's short-term goals include continuously improving high-speed Internet and service quality standards and building a scalable deployment model to create and sustain a financially viable business. Meanwhile, long-term goals involve bringing Google Fiber to more communities and inspiring the industry to achieve similar goals.
Two dozen Texas cities have sued streaming giants Netflix, Hulu and Disney Direct-to-Consumer for not paying what the municipalities said are the millions in franchise fees that the streaming services owe them. A favorable decision could lead to millions more from other cities seeking more funds for municipal services. The cities are alleging that the streamers should be paying annual franchise fees back to 2007, as they said is required by the Public Utility Regulatory Act (PURA). Those are the fees that cable/broadband operators provide that go toward city services. “With this lawsuit, we hope to ensure streaming video companies’ compliance with their PURA obligations moving forward and also recoup unpaid franchise fees from the Disney, Hulu and Netflix streaming services as follow-on relief,” Rowlett (TX) Mayor Blake Margolis said, pointing out that the fees are a key source of city revenue. Streaming services may indeed have big pockets, but they argue they are definitely not covered by PURA, which requires video service providers to pay a 5 percent franchise fee “if a video service’s programming is delivered via wireline facilities located at least in part in the public right of way.” While a cable/broadband operator does indeed deliver facilities-based programming, streaming services have no facilities, but ride that operator’s facility —and its use of the public right of way — to the home. So, it is the cable/broadband provider that is the one providing the service to customers.
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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