Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
On Aug 13, 2020, House Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) led Democratic Communications Subcommittee members in writing to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to urge the FCC to provide unlimited voice minutes and unlimited mobile data to Lifeline recipients, with an increase in the basic support amount to offset any associated incremental costs, for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sept 3, Chairman Pai responded by listing various actions the FCC has taken during the crisis. Regarding Lifeline, Chairman Pai noted that the FCC has taken repeated action to ensure the program is as available as possible to aid low-income American families and veterans impacted by the pandemic, including working with other ageices to promote LIfeline awareness. Chairman Pai claims the FCC is faced with wildly divergent request regarding increasing Lifleine data. Chairman Pai proposed a modest increase to 4.5 GB, in line with increases the FCC has successfully overseen over the last few years. "To be clear, I agree more can be done. But with the tax that funds our universal service programs at an all-time high, major new funding initiatives must come from Congress. That's why I have repeatedly called on Congress to establish a Remote Learning Initative an ensure that every student in this country can access online learning resources as schools are reopening. And that's why I have requested Congress to fund new connectivity programs for individuals and families experiencing economic hardship as a result of th COVID-19 pandemic."
On April 9, Reps David Trone (D-MD), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Andy Harris (R-MD), Anthony Brown (D-MD, and James Raskin (D-MD) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai about the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), particularly calling to revise eligibility for the program so that states with existing investments to build out their capacity are not disqualified from receiving RDOF funding.
On Sept 1, Chairman Pai responded by saying, "Given our goal not to duplicate funding targeted to a particular area, if a service provider has state-based funding and a commitment to deploy 25/3 Mbps or better service in one area, it cannot receive FCC funding to deliver similar service to that same area. But it would still be eligible to participate in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in other areas in the state that are unserved and not covered by a funding commitment." He went on to note that, "In total, fewer than 1% of the census blocks initially deemed eligible for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction were removed due to state broadband funding programs (for Maryland, only 421 locations were removed due to such programs—40,406 remain eligible), so this restriction had an extremely limited impact on the areas eligible for the auction that will begin in October."
The Rural Utilities Service, Rural Business-Cooperative Service, and Rural Housing Service, agencies that comprise the Rural Development Mission Area within the United States Department of Agriculture, are issuing this final rule to establish the authority authorized by Section 6210 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which will assist rural families and small businesses in gaining access to broadband service by permitting recipients of a loan, grant, or loan guarantee from RD to use up to 10 percent of the amount provided to construct broadband infrastructure in areas not served by minimum acceptable level of broadband service. This rule describes the procedures by which these agencies will consider projects eligible for special broadband authority.
This rule is being issued to allow for immediate implementation of this program. Although this final rule is effective immediately, comments are solicited from interested members of the public on all aspects of the rule. These comments must be submitted electronically and received on or before November 16, 2020. Rural Development will consider these comments and the need for making any revisions as a result of these comments.
Mainers are sharing their stories of poor internet access as part of an effort to get the Federal Communications Commission to update its map to more accurately reflect the inadequacy of internet service in many areas of the country, particularly rural areas. Two consumer-oriented groups, the Rural Assembly and the Broadband Connects America Coalition, are gathering the stories to include in public comments to the FCC. The need for an accurate broadband map is even greater now that so many Mainers are working, studying or seeking health care services from home during the coronavirus pandemic, said one Maine official promoting the effort. Peggy Schaffer, executive director of the ConnectMaine Authority, is particularly interested in having Mainers share stories that fall into two categories: First, locations that the FCC map shows as being served at 25/3 levels (at least 25 megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload) but in fact are not; and second, those who have a 25/3 connection but it’s proving inadequate when two or more people are at home using the connection. “The FCC doesn’t usually hear a lot of stories about people,” she said. “They get numbers.”
Mayor Byron Brown’s office wants to address some of the broadband issues in Buffalo, New York, but first it needs to figure out what those issues are. One of those broad issues is basic access. According to the latest American Communities survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, between 20 to 30 percent of city residents don’t have a broadband internet subscription at home. "It’s a significant problem," said Brendan Mehaffy, Executive Director of the Office of Strategic Planning for the City of Buffalo. "With limited resources that are out there, we need to see that those resources are all working to together." Buffalo only has one high-speed broadband provider, Spectrum, which is operated by Charter Communications.
A dispute has erupted over a $2.5 million POWER grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission that would deliver high-speed broadband to Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams says Comcast and corporate telecommunications lobbyists are actively trying to stop the city from receiving the grant funding for its “Thundercloud” project. “Unfortunately, we are learning that Comcast, which only provides a fraction of the level of high-speed broadband that they claim to provide, is actively trying to torpedo this project and our grant application,” Mayor Williams said. “At a critical time when we are trying to improve high-speed broadband and the economic outlook of our community, Comcast is attempting to squash us like a bug.” However, Mark Polen, director of government relations and advocacy with LGCR Government Solutions LLC, a subsidiary of the law firm of Lewis Glasser Casey & Rollins PLLC, in Charleston, who serves as executive director of the West Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association, which represents the state’s major cable broadband providers, including Comcast and others, said it was the ARC that reached out to providers.
The Federal Communications Commission held a ground-breaking, marathon virtual event Sept 14, hosting numerous stakeholders in the wireless ecosystem to discuss open radio access networks (RANs). The main impetus for the event was to promote open RAN technologies for 5G as an alternative to RAN equipment from the Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE. Currently, the choices for telecom equipment are fairly limited to the big vendors Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and Huawei. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Huawei is the largest vendor, and the company has benefitted from “the Chinese Communist Party’s subsidies.” But he said Huawei’s equipment puts US national security at risk because Chinese intelligence agencies can compel Huawei to divulge sensitive information from networks.
The conversation got particularly interesting when it touched on whether the US government should subsidize open RAN innovation. Morgan Kurk, CTO with CommScope, said in order for open RAN to be successful, governments should “put their money where their mouth is” and have “taxpayer dollars required to be part of an ORAN-compliant network, to start this cycle going.” He said it is a very expensive proposition to develop these new open RAN technologies, and “if you are going to have relatively small market share for years, that makes it challenging to have the return on investment that you need.” Charles Mathias, associate bureau chief of the Wireless Bureau at the FCC, said Kurk’s comments were interesting “because a lot of the time at the FCC we hear people say ‘Government, keep out of our business,’ and what you have described is a little bit of tension.”
Lawmakers from both parties sharply criticized Google over its dominance in advertising at a Senate hearing that showcased the arguments likely to play out if the government moves to sue the tech giant for anticompetitive practices. The senators were particularly focused on Google’s dominant position at every step in the chain of technology that connects web publishers with advertisers, and on the ways Google has used the market power it wields through its own services like search and YouTube to extend its hold over this third-party ecosystem. Several of them asked about Google’s decision to restrict access to YouTube ad inventory to those using its own ad-buying tools, as well other practices that harnessed advertisers’ hunger for YouTube to advantage Google’s ad tools. Don Harrison, Google’s president of global partnerships and corporate development, said the online advertising market was filled with competition since publishers and advertisers often use multiple services at the same time for buying and selling ads. He repeatedly mentioned that online ad prices have fallen 40% since 2010.
America’s broadband providers have stepped up with the ‘K-12 Bridge to Broadband” to help meet the needs of millions of low-income American students who are unable to get on the internet so they can go to class from home. The new program will do two things the Trump Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has failed to do. First, it will identify households with students that have broadband passing their door but have chosen not to subscribe. Having identified those households, the companies then offer school districts and other local entities special rates to provide discounted broadband service for the identified homes.
A national emergency such as coronavirus should have stimulated the FCC to get creative with its low-income Lifeline and education-supporting E-Rate funding programs. The broadband industry’s responsible K-12 Bridge to Broadband should have been another stimulus. The FCC should be a part of the solution but has chosen not to be. Ninety-five percent of American voters say that “broadband access for students is a problem.” Stop to let that sink in a minute. On what other issue does 95 percent of America agree? It is time for the Trump FCC to get behind those 95 percent and use the programs they currently administer to close the education digital divide.
[Tom Wheeler served as the 31st Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 2013-2017.]
President Donald Trump, pressing for new social media regulations, plans to nominate a senior administration official to be a member of the Federal Communications Commission. The nomination of Nathan Simington, a senior adviser at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, comes after the White House abruptly announced in early August it was withdrawing the nomination of FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly to serve another term. President Trump issued an executive order in May requiring the NTIA to petition the FCC asking the commission to impose new regulations on social media moderation practices. Simington helped draft the May executive order. By contrast, Commissioner O’Rielly expressed skepticism about whether the FCC had authority to issue new regulations covering social media companies. NTIA asked the FCC to limit protections for social media companies under Section 230, a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users and allows them to remove lawful but objectionable posts.
The European Union's highest court has given its support to the bloc's rules that stop internet providers from charging customers for preferential access to their networks. The European Court of Justice issued its first interpretation of the EU's net neutrality rules since they were adopted in 2015. The court backed the principle of an open internet after Hungarian wireless carrier Telenor Magyarorszag had sought an interpretation of the rules. Hungarian regulators had stopped the company from offering two “zero tariff” packages under which data traffic used by some applications and services didn't count but traffic for others was slowed or blocked. Rules to “protect Internet users' rights and to treat traffic in a non-discriminatory manner preclude an internet access provider from favouring certain applications and services” through zero tariff packages and blocking or slowing traffic, the court said.
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 Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2020. Redistribution of this email publication — both internally and externally — is encouraged if it includes this message. For subscribe/unsubscribe info email: headlines AT benton DOT org
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
for Broadband & Society
727 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
headlines AT benton DOT org
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society All Rights Reserved © 2019