Wednesday, May 25, 2022
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There has been a lot of discussion in the last few months about how wonderful it was for Congress to have increased the speed requirements for broadband grant eligibility to 100/20 Mbps in the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program grants. If we accept that 25/3 Mbps was a good definition for download speed in 2015 and that 100/20 Mbps is a good definition in 2022, then that is an acknowledgment that the demand for download broadband speed has grown at about 21 percent per year. This raises an interesting question of how good it is for a grant program today to use a 100 Mbps definition for broadband? The main reason that this is a relevant question is that the BEAD grants aren’t going to be constructed for many years. My best guess is that the majority of BEAD grants will be awarded in 2024, and internet service providers will have four more years to finish network construction – until 2028. The above table shows how much broadband demand for download speed grew from 2015 until 2022. What might this look like by the time the BEAD networks are fully implemented? If we really wanted to future-proof the BEAD grants, then technology that won’t be built until 2028 should be required to deliver at least 300 Mbps download. Anything less than that means networks that the public will feel are inadequate as they are being deployed.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
Charter Communications said that it will commit an additional $1 million to its 2022 Spectrum Digital Education grant initiative, boosting the total amount invested in the six-year program to $8 million. Charter launched Spectrum Digital Education in 2017, and through February 2022 the company said grants and in-kind contributions have helped 99 nonprofit organizations and more than 95,000 people in 22 states and Washington (DC). According to Charter, the funding has been used to provide computers to those without digital access and digital literacy training for older adults, as well as assisting organizations to expand their online programs, purchase software to make technology more accessible for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and to combat isolation amongst senior citizens. Nonprofit organizations that offer broadband education, training and technology can apply for support here, beginning Wednesday, June 1 through Friday, June 24, at 5 pm ET. Recipients will be announced in fall 2022.
The Utah Broadband Center, powered by the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, recently announced its Broadband Access Grant recipients. The awardees are All West/Utah Inc, Box Elder County Government, CentraCom Interactive, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, and South Utah Valley Electric Special Service District. The Broadband Access Grant program offsets capital expenses in deploying “last-mile broadband” in unserved rural and underserved economically distressed areas. Last-mile infrastructure is broadband that serves as the final leg connecting the broadband service provider’s network to the end-user customer’s on-premises telecommunications or internet equipment. The investments are part of the $10 million in funds received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act distributed by the Utah Broadband Center to help households and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Installing fiber-optic internet in sparsely populated places like western Kansas is extremely expensive, even with government subsidies. But some smaller, local broadband providers are finding ways to make it work where the big national companies have not. Federal and state governments have poured billions into trying to bring more bandwidth to the remote corners of the country. But for many people in rural places, it hasn’t made any difference. An estimated 42 million Americans still don’t have high-speed internet, or what most people today simply think of as internet. With fiber-optic cable installation costing tens of thousands of dollars per mile, it’s unlikely that big national providers will ever find a way to make money — or even avoid losses — by connecting rural communities. But a growing number of small towns, farms and ranches are finally joining the Digital Age with help from small, local companies that have more of a stake in the rural areas they call home. They’ve found ways to stretch state and federal subsidies to strategically install high-capacity wires to homes, or construct over-the-air relays, to bring more robust speeds to remote outposts, town-by-town, farmstead-by-farmstead. Now, with $42 billion in new federal broadband funding about to go to state governments, those local companies say how much money they get could decide how many more rural Americans get connected.
Fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband could add more than 10 million subscribers in the next five years, driven by programs geared toward rural markets, according to Wells Fargo telecom and media analysts Eric Luebchow and Steven Cahall. The analysts predict that total broadband subscriber additions will accelerate to 4.5-to-5 million annually in 2023 and 2024, fueled mainly by FWA and fiber overbuilds. Over the next five years, Luebchow and Cahall predict FWA will rise from 7.1 million total subscribers at the end of 2021 to 17.6 million in 2027. That growth will come at the expense of cable operators, who the analysts predict will watch their market share erode quickly over the next few years. While fixed wireless has been around for awhile, Luebchow and Cahall expect competition to heat up significantly in the next three years as federally funded programs spur both wireless and fiber build outs for broadband. They estimate that FWA would capture 60 percent of net additions through 2024, then momentum shifts to fiber overbuilders as new inventory comes on the market.
Verizon currently cites a speed of 300 Mbps for its 5G fixed wireless offering. That speed could increase beginning as early as 2023 when the company gains access to additional spectrum that it won in the 2021 C-band auction, said Matt Ellis, Verizon executive vice president and chief financial officer. The company was the biggest winner in 2021’s C-band auction. Some of the spectrum that the company won was subject to early clearing, enabling the company to launch mobile and fixed wireless service in the band early 2022. According to Ellis, the C-band spectrum currently available to the company averages 60 MHz per market but will increase to 160 MHz when the company gains access to the additional spectrum in 2023. He also noted that the company has the option to deploy more fixed wireless in the millimeter wave band, which could further boost speeds. The expectation, he said, is that fixed wireless “will be part of our relationship with customers for many years to come.”
As more bipartisan tech-focused bills gain traction in Congress, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a legislative hearing focusing on the security and innovation behind several telecommunications bills. Expert witnesses accompanied lawmakers during the May 24 hearing on the importance of bridging the digital divide with widespread broadband access nationwide. There were five items of pending legislation in question, including the Simplifying Management, Reallocation, and Transfer of Spectrum (SMART) Act and the Extending America's Spectrum Auction Leadership Act of 2022. While equitable broadband access was a recurring point of discussion during the hearing, several witnesses discussed the critical role broadband plays in public health and safety. Thomas Kadri, a law professor at the University of Georgia, highlighted the high volume of domestic abuse reports that hinge on connectivity. Fellow witness Mark Gibson, a regulatory officer with OnGo Alliance, added that high speed internet and 5G broadband access helped keep rural Americans safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Gibson specifically referenced the importance of his organization’s Citizen Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS, deploying across the country, and used CBRS deployment as an example of why the subcommittee should support the SMART Act.
Republicans who think there is no downside to dragging Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society]’s confirmation out interminably to block Title II — especially those who voted in favor of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA) and are looking for that broadband money to begin flowing to their states — may wish to think again. Why? Because without a vote on the broadband map of 2022, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) cannot distribute the bulk of the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program money. And while it is entirely possible that the FCC might issue the map on a 4-0 vote without controversy, I would not want to bet my state’s broadband on it given that I can’t find a single broadband report vote in the last decade that wasn’t a 3-2 party line vote. The FCC broadband map does need a majority vote of the full Commission to get issued. Nor does the relevant provision of the IIJA (Sec. 60103) require the FCC to publish the new maps by any specific deadline. It simply requires the FCC to publish the maps before NTIA distributes either the BEAD money or the Middle Mile grant money. So if the Republicans and Democrats cannot come to an agreement on the new 2022 broadband map, the broadband map does not issue in 2022. Or 2023. Or until whenever the FCC gets a third Commissioner.
[Harold Feld is senior vice president at Public Knowledge.]
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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