Friday, August 5, 2022
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Comcast spends $100,000 fighting Holland, Michigan's citywide fiber proposal | Holland Sentinel
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Sens Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) along with Reps Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced the Proper Leadership to Align Networks (PLAN) for Broadband Act. The legislation requires the President to develop a national strategy to close the digital divide and a plan to implement that strategy. This legislation is based on a Government Accountability Office report that found that federal broadband efforts are fragmented and overlapping and recommended that the President develop a national broadband strategy. See the full text of the legislation here.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the USDA will begin accepting applications on September 6 for funding to expand access to high-speed internet for millions of people in rural America nationwide through the ReConnect Program, which received new funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). USDA is making additional funding available for high-speed internet in Round 4 of the ReConnect Program. The agency will begin accepting applications on September 6 for up to $150 million in loans, up to $300 million in loan/grant combinations, and up to $700 million in grants. The application deadline is November 2. USDA has made several improvements to the ReConnect Program for Round 4. Collectively, they increase the availability of funding in rural areas where residents and businesses lack access to affordable, high-speed internet. Additionally, to ensure that rural households that need internet service can afford it, all awardees under this funding round will be required to apply to participate in the IIJA's Affordable Connectivity Program. To be eligible for ReConnect Program funding, an applicant must serve an area where high-speed internet service is not available at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload). The applicant must also commit to building facilities capable of providing high-speed internet service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in its proposed service area.
The Federal Communications Commission released Form 477 data as of June 30, 2021. The top lines of the release are: 3.6 million housing units (as of 2019 projections) unserved by 25/3 broadband, which is 2.55 percent of the 141 million housing units nationally. That’s a small 13 basis point decrease from 2.68 percent unserved in the December 2020 release. Underserved stands at 5.3 percent, down from 6.4 percent in the December 2020 release. The first reaction is, “wow, these numbers are lower than I thought”. As we all know, these numbers understate the real number of housing units that are lacking broadband because they count partially served census blocks as completely served. When the FCC releases the new broadband maps, they’ll be at the location level and therefore illuminate the partially served census blocks. The understated release from the FCC is notable to me. Instead of crowing about how small the numbers are (as was done with the previous FCC), the FCC just put them out without any fanfare. How the new maps, which will be as of June 30, 2022, compared to these maps will be very interesting.
Is fixed wireless a more affordable solution than fiber? Not so fast, according to a recent 150-page study conducted by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society by CTC Technology and Energy. Fiber advantages over fixed wireless networks include a thousand times the broadband capacity and the ability to scale bandwidth by simply changing out the electronics at the ends, according to Andrew Afflerbach, CEO and Chief Technology Officer of CTC Technology & Energy. While fiber is initially more expensive to deploy, in the long term the cost of fiber and fixed wireless costs are comparable since fixed wireless networks require the replacement of the entire system every few years. For service providers, it is simply less complex to fully and consistently serve rural households using fiber. Depending on the geography and density of the area and the available spectrum, fixed wireless makes it possible to use a single site to serve up to hundreds of users, but adding broadband speed and capacity requires moving from lower-frequency RF into millimeter wave technology. While lower frequencies are good for providing coverage around hills and trees, millimeter wave require strict line of sight between the distribution tower and customers.
Holland (MI) is getting a citywide high-speed internet network that will be funded by taxpayer dollars after voters approved a $30 million ballot proposal in the city's election. The city of Holland asked voters on August 2, to approve a municipal fiber optic internet network that would provide fast and affordable internet across the city, and would be paid for and maintained through public funds. Pete Hoffswell, superintendent of broadband services for the Holland Board of Public Works, said the overall goal of the project is to make internet more accessible and affordable in Holland – a need that proved to be vital during the coronavirus pandemic. By installing a tax-funded open access fiber network, the Holland Board of Public Works would be able to provide customers with high-speed and secure internet services that would be available throughout the city, he said. Private internet service providers would also be able to use the infrastructure to offer their own broadband services, at up to 10 gigabits per second. Residents connected to the city’s fiber network would be able to sign up for those services.
Recent Ookla analysis has revealed some interesting trends in mobile broadband usage that I think have implications for internet service providers (ISPs). The percentage of consumers who describe themselves as always online grew from 30 percent to 69 percent during the pandemic, and Ookla delves into some of the reasons why. By 2021, users who identified as always online were twice as likely to have reported an issue to customer service. About one-third of cellular customers are unhappy with customer service. One of the most interesting findings is that almost half (47 percent) of customers who had a customer service issue in the past 18 months either have switched or want to switch to another cellular carrier. It’s probably not a big stretch to say that the customers who use broadband the most have the highest expectations for the performance of an ISP network and for the ability of customer service to resolve issues. Unfortunately, the large cable companies and telcos have the lowest-rated customer service in the country. To be ranked at the bottom can only be due to an accumulation of poor customer service experiences with customers. Many markets are going to see new competitors in the next few years. There will be almost ubiquitous FWA cellular broadband in most cable markets. It will be interesting to see how many people will bail on the existing cable company to change to 100 Mbps cellular broadband.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
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