Friday, September 9, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
The US Department of the Treasury has approved an additional $66 million in broadband funding for New Hampshire under the American Rescue Plan’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CPF). New Hampshire was among the first four states to receive CPF funding from the Treasury, which approved its first award of $50 million in June. This approval completes New Hampshire’s $122 million total award, which the state estimates will help connect more than 24,000 homes and businesses to affordable, high-speed internet. New Hampshire was approved for additional CPF funding to support the broadband infrastructure programs that the state will implement using CPF funds; particularly the State's Broadband Matching Grant Initiative (BMGI). The BMGI is a competitive grant program designed to fund broadband infrastructure projects to bring high-speed internet to areas currently lacking service of 100/20 Mbps and will provide a state match to either a broadband provider or New Hampshire municipality to build internet infrastructure in areas of the state that, because of their topography, location, or cost, have not been able to access broadband internet.
Broadband is the future of New Hampshire, we reported in June as the state was one of the first to win approval from the U.S. Treasury for plans to use Capital Projects Fund support to extend the reach of broadband networks. On September 8, we learned that New Hampshire is once again leading the way—now it is the first state to gain approval for a second wave of Capital Projects Fund support. New Hampshire's plans are designed to connect 80% of locations in the state still lacking high-speed internet access. In June we learned of New Hampshire's Broadband Contract Program, which offers broadband service providers a financial incentive to bring service to unserved and underserved addresses in the state—areas/addresses where it may be financially detrimental for providers to attempt to expand. At the time, New Hampshire hoped that the Broadband Contract Program could connect half of the state's unserved locations with $50 million (40%) of the state's Capital Projects Fund allotment. Recently Treasury approved New Hampshire’s second plan to invest in broadband infrastructure to provide high-speed internet to locations that lack access to adequate service. In total, New Hampshire is using $122 million—100% of its Capital Projects Fund funding—for broadband infrastructure to reach an estimated 24,000 locations, or 80% of locations still lacking high-speed internet access in the state. In total, New Hampshire's plans for Capital Projects Fund support will help connect more than 24,000 homes and businesses to affordable, high-speed internet.
An impending vote by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) could drastically change access to state and federal communications subsidies, the kind often relied upon by low-income households for Internet and telephone services. Proposed Decision 20-02-008 addresses whether recipients of federal subsidies through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and similar federal subsidy programs would also be able to receive maximum subsidies through the California LifeLine program. As written, the decision would cap the state funding if a recipient was getting more than $9.25 in federal assistance. Opponents of the decision say the rulemaking would ultimately hurt low-income households, while proponents say it’s a step in the right direction to limit the profits that service providers can make from state and federal subsidy programs. However, opponents argue that because the decision would deny low-income California households from combining state and federal support, meaning the state and federal lifeline program support and the ACP support, it could limit access for low-income Californians. The CPUC will vote on the matter on September 15th.
North Carolina is currently putting to work over a billion dollars from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding through a number of programs, including the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grants to connect the 1.1 million households in the state unable to access the internet. Around $380 million in GREAT funding is designed to incentivize deployments to unserved rural parts of the state. The state also has a Completing Access to Broadband (CAB) program to address high-cost areas where service providers are traditionally reluctant to go along with money going to utility pole replacement, broadband mapping, and digital literacy, with the ARPA spending leading to future success. By 2025, the state government wants 98% of North Carolina households to have access to high-speed internet and an 80% subscription rate statewide, using specific and targeted investments in disadvantaged communities. It also wants a 100% subscription rate for households with school-age children to eliminate the “homework gap” in the state.
Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) has stockpiled giant reels and other materials at a storage area near Highway 24 and the Hancock Expressway. The reels contain about 130 miles of bright orange plastic tubing that will be buried when CSU begins to build its new citywide fiber network in mid-September. The 3-inch conduit will eventually contain hundreds of tiny fibers that are capable of delivering data at a gigabyte per second or more. Brian Wortinger, manager of CSU’s Fiber Optic and Telecom Enterprise, says the new fiber network will allow the utility provider to better identify the source of power outages, as well as new capabilities like remotely cutting off the gas to a home threatened by fire. However, the biggest benefit is providing a more secure way to control the different systems that the CSU monitors and manages. The $600 million network will be built over a 6-year period and eventually connect around 200,000 addresses. CSU's fiber network will create a "dark fiber" network where the unused capacity on the fiber network can be leased to various broadband providers and connect thousands of Colorado Springs homes and businesses.
Syracuse, NY, is requesting proposals for the design, implementation, and maintenance of a municipal broadband network. The pilot program, which will be paid for through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, aims to help bridge the digital divide by providing affordable internet for low-income residents, while also supporting smart city applications. Over a quarter of Syracuse households lack internet access and nearly 45 percent lack access to internet speeds needed to support multiple users. The pilot network should offer speeds of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) and will target households in census tracts with the lowest rates of internet access. Syracuse received $123 million overall in ARPA funding and the amount that will be allocated to the broadband pilot will depend on proposals received. The city will look to expand community broadband in the future with additional federal and state funding, and part of the RFP requirement is for a scalable solution with a sustainable financial model. The city will consider a model where it owns the infrastructure or shares ownership with a partner.
The nation’s leading broadband trade associations will deliver a monthly educational webinar series to support the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and State Broadband Offices with the implementation of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Development (BEAD) Program. There are 11 associations presenting the webinar series that represent broadband providers of every size and technology across the US. The webinar series will educate state broadband leaders, the NTIA, community leaders, and potential BEAD participants on the opportunities, challenges, and mitigation strategies related to the BEAD program and broadband deployment. Starting on September 14 at 1 PM ET, the 30-minute webinars will be held on the second Wednesday of the month. Find more information here.
Nokia has partnered with Ready.net – makers of the Broadband.money platform – to help local broadband providers connect unserved and underserved communities. Nokia will provide tutorials, blueprint network designs, grant expertise, and equipment planning tools for inclusion in Broadband.money’s portal. Nokia will add its expertise and market-leading innovation to the platform, accessible to users in the form of tutorials, blueprint network designs, and tools to help work out the equipment they will need, further simplifying the grant application process. Broadband.money provides geospatial insights, predictive analytics, business intelligence, broadband grant templates, and empirical data in a collaborative, and easy-to-use interface. Successful grant applications for funding programs require comprehensive data analysis of the proposed service area, from socio-economic makeup to existing broadband connectivity available to residents, information on community anchor institutions and businesses, and physical information such as flooding risks and existing network assets.
There is more Wi-Fi spectrum on the way due to a US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decision which rejected a legal challenge from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. They asked the court to vacate the Federal Communications Commission's 2020 order to repurpose some of the spectrum that had been reserved for smart cars. The FCC had originally given the auto industry a year to vacate the lower 45 MHz of spectrum. This spectrum will be available for home Wi-Fi. However, it takes a lot longer for the home WiFi industry to respond to new spectrum. It means upgrading home Wi-Fi routers but also adding the capability to use the spectrum to the many devices in our homes and offices. Between this order and the 6 GHz spectrum, the FCC has come down solidly in favor of having sufficient Wi-Fi spectrum going into the future. It’s clear that the existing bands of Wi-Fi are already heavily overloaded in some settings, and the Wi-Fi industry has been successful in getting Wi-Fi included in huge numbers of new devices. I have an idea that we’ll look back twenty years from now and say that these new Wi-Fi spectrum bands are not enough and that we’ll need even more. But this is a good downpayment to make sure that Wi-Fi remains vigorous.
The White House convened a listening session with experts and practitioners on the harms that tech platforms cause and the need for greater accountability. The Biden-Harris Administration announced the following core principles for reform:
- Promote competition in the technology sector.
- Provide robust federal protections for Americans’ privacy.
- Protect our kids by putting in place even stronger privacy and online protections for them, including prioritizing safety by design standards and practices for online platforms, products, and services.
- Remove special legal protections for large tech platforms.
- Increase transparency about platform’s algorithms and content moderation decisions.
- Stop discriminatory algorithmic decision-making.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Federal Communications Commission warned that some Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) providers and their agents are making fraudulent program enrollments by using the same child or dependent to qualify multiple households for simultaneous ACP support. Most households are eligible for ACP support based on the subscriber’s own participation in a qualifying federal program like SNAP or Medicaid. However, many other subscribers are eligible through a Benefit Qualifying Person (BQP)—another household member, such as a child or dependent, who meets one of the ACP eligibility requirements. OIG’s analyses show a number of providers enrolled many ACP households based on the eligibility of a single BQP. The Advisory discusses 12 BQPs who were used by providers and their agents to enroll between 135 and 1,042 ACP households each. Providers have collected more than $1.4 million in connection with those enrollments alone. The Advisory also notes many more BQPs were used to make dozens of household enrollments and that these fraud schemes are ongoing.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau announces that it is implementing additional measures to strengthen program integrity surrounding the enrollment of households in the Affordable Connectivity Program based on a Benefit Qualifying Person (BQP). First, the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) has underway development work to make necessary changes to prevent improper enrollment in the National Verifier system, specifically to strengthen and improve the detection of instances where multiple households attempt to enroll in the program using the same BQP. Second USAC has already increased program integrity reviews related to enrollments based on a BQP. As a result of this work, USAC has instituted a process for holding payments to limit the amount of potentially improper payments disbursed. USAC is also identifying and de-enrolling households that enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program based on the same BQP as another household that enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Charter Communications Chief Financial Officer Jessica Fischer tacitly acknowledged the impact of fixed wireless access (FWA) competition on broadband subscriber growth. FWA technology was one of four factors that led to the cable operator’s first-ever broadband customer loss in Q2. Charter lost about 21,000 broadband customers in the second quarter, one of several cable operators that experienced declines in that segment after months of slow growth. Fischer said Q2 performance was impacted by four factors: sluggish new home growth, seasonality, fixed wireless competition, and fiber overbuilds. Fischer was quick to clarify that the impact from FWA was more due to customers who may have chosen Charter broadband had FWA technology not been available, rather than existing Charter customers switching providers. And she said she doesn’t anticipate that impact to last long. Fischer noted that she expects customers to come back to Charter as broadband cable technology offers consistent speed and reliability when compared to FWA technology.
Lumen Technologies completed one major business divestiture last month and are close to wrapping another. Company CFO and EVP Chris Stansbury said the pair of deals will help the company allocate resources to other products at a time when Lumen is starting to see big growth opportunities. “The company is going to get smaller before it gets bigger again,” Stansbury said. But he added that shedding businesses–the recent sale of Lumen’s Latin America business and the pending sale of ILEC properties to Apollo Global Management–will allow Lumen to invest more efficiently across its remaining products and services. Stansbury said that as a smaller company Lumen also will continue to examine its corporate overhead cost structure for opportunities to control costs, but he emphasized that the company “sees a pathway to growth” over the next two to three years.
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced that the items below are tentatively on the agenda for the September Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Thursday, September 29, 2022. At the meeting, the FCC will consider:
- A Second Report and Order that would adopt rules requiring low-Earth orbit space station operators planning disposal through uncontrolled atmospheric re-entry to complete disposal as soon as practicable, and no more than five years following the end of their mission. The Report and Order would also adopt a grandfathering period of two years and address the potential for waivers for certain types of research and scientific missions.
- A Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to improve access to communications for incarcerated people with disabilities and reduce the financial burdens created by certain calling service charges and practices.
- A Report and Order to improve the clarity and accessibility of Emergency Alert System (EAS) visual messages to the public, including persons who are deaf or hard of hearing as well as others who are unable to access the audio message.
- A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would amend Part 73 of its rules for television and Class A television broadcast stations to remove obsolete rules for analog TV operations.
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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