Universal Broadband

Free Press' Jessica J. Gonzalez's Senate Testimony on Behalf of Lifeline Users and Affordable Access for All

Modernizing Lifeline for broadband is critical for poor people and people of color, who are more likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide and who cite cost as a major barrier to adoption. Lifeline is the only federal program poised to increase broadband adoption and provide a pathway out of poverty for millions of people. When talking about Lifeline, we hear a lot about waste, fraud and abuse. But this narrative is overblown and frankly offensive.

I have long been troubled by the tenor of the Lifeline debate: There’s a tendency to wage war on the poor, to demonize and assume the worst about Lifeline recipients. And I cannot sit here today, especially as white supremacy is on the rise around the country and in the White House, without directly confronting the racist undertones of these assumptions. We should avoid inflated stories of waste, fraud and abuse at the expense of poor people and people of color, who rely on Lifeline to meet basic needs. The first priority should be expedient implementation of the 2016 Order. We should reject radical measures such as moving Universal Service funds to the U.S. Treasury “to offset other national debts,” as the FCC Chair’s office evidently suggested to the GAO. This could undermine all USF programs, including Lifeline and others designed to connect rural Americans, schools and libraries.

One man’s DIY Internet service connects isolated Marin County hamlet

Brandt Kuykendall’s daughter needed fast Internet access to help her excel at school. But he couldn’t find cheap, reliable service that would connect their scenic yet secluded coastal Marin County (CA) home. So Kuykendall taught himself how to create a high-speed wireless Internet service.

In about a year and a half, Dillon Beach Internet Service has grown to connect about 145 homes, charging a flat $50 per month, with no equipment rental fees, taxes or installation charges. He monitors the network’s operations in “command central” — his garage, which has five computer screens and fiber-optic cables connecting to switching equipment mounted near where he lays his boogie board and spearfishing harpoon. And Kuykendall, the company’s sole employee, handles all repairs for free, since he’s already in the neighborhood.

FCC Extends the deadline for filing initial and reply comments in response to the Thirteenth Section 706 Report Notice of Inquiry

By this Order, the Wireline Competition Bureau and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau extend the deadline for filing initial and reply comments in response to the Thirteenth Section 706 Report Notice of Inquiry until September 21, 2017 and October 6, 2017, respectively.

Facebook uses satellite-based data to map population, determine what types of internet service to deploy

Facebook is using data it created to map the planet’s entire human population to help it determine what types of internet service it should use to reach the unconnected or not-so-well connected. Facebook now knows where 7.5 billion humans live, to within 15 feet, thanks to mapping data it created based on satellites in space and government census numbers, according to the report, which covered an event in San Francisco where Janna Lewis, Facebook's head of strategic innovation partnerships and sourcing, presented. "Satellites are exciting for us. Our data showed the best way to connect cities is an internet in the sky," Lewis said. "We're trying to connect people from the stratosphere and from space" using high-altitude drone aircraft and satellites to supplement earth-based networks, Lewis said.

The data are used "to know the population distribution" of earth to figure out "the best connectivity technologies" in different locales, Lewis said. "We see these as a viable option for serving these populations" that are "unconnected or under-connected.” Facebook is among a growing number of companies trying to connect the unconnected to the internet, including tapping the stratosphere. Facebook’s strategy involves Aquila, a new aircraft architecture it designed that allows the aircraft to stay in the air for months at a time.

Senators Urge More Time for Debate on Section 706 Report

Twelve senators sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai and Commissioners Clyburn, O’Rielly, Rosenworcel and Carr on August 31, 2017, expressing concern that the FCC appears ready to decide that mobile broadband could be a substitute, rather than a complement, to fixed broadband service, and that slower-speed mobile service substitutes as effectively. They noted the FCC’s current policy provides that Americans need access to both mobile and fixed broadband services, with speeds of at least 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. They said such substantial shifts in policy require greater consideration and debate, and urged the Commission to grant an extension of 30 days for both the initial and reply comment periods for the Section 706 Advanced Telecommunications Capabilities Report Notice of Inquiry (NOI).

FCC Proposes to 'Fix' Rural Broadband by Changing the Definition

[Commentary] At the moment, the Federal Communications Commission defines home “broadband” as providing 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload (“25/3”). Many communities can only get that speed from a cable provider – assuming they have one that serves their communities. If the FCC discovers that certain identifiable groups of people, like rural Americans, don’t have access to broadband that meets the standard, then the law requires the FCC to take steps to ensure that those left behind get the access they need. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s Proposal: Lower the Standard for Broadband So We Can Say Everyone Has Access.

Rural Americans who care about getting real broadband not only need to file at the FCC, but also need to contact their Senators and members of Congress. Members of Congress from both parties have made it clear to the FCC that rural Americans continue to lack choices for affordable broadband that meets their needs.

[Harold Feld is senior vice president of Public Knowledge]

Smartphones help blacks, Hispanics bridge some – but not all – digital gaps with whites

Blacks and Hispanics remain less likely than whites to own a traditional computer or have high-speed internet at home, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in fall 2016. But mobile devices are playing important roles in helping to bridge these differences.

Roughly eight-in-ten whites (83%) report owning a desktop or laptop computer, compared with 66% of blacks and 60% of Hispanics. There are also substantial racial or ethnic differences in broadband adoption, with whites more likely than either blacks or Hispanics to report having a broadband connection at home. (There were not enough Asian respondents in the sample to be broken out into a separate analysis.) But despite these inequalities, blacks and Hispanics have mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers in shares similar to whites. There are differences between Hispanics born inside and outside the U.S.: 88% of native-born Hispanics own a smartphone, compared with 62% of Hispanics born abroad. About three-quarters of whites and blacks own a smartphone. Mobile devices play an outsize role for blacks and Hispanics when it comes to their online access options. About two-in-ten Hispanics (22%) and 15% of blacks are “smartphone only” internet users – meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone. By comparison, 9% of whites fall into this category. In addition, blacks and Hispanics are also more likely than whites to rely on their smartphones for a number of activities, such as looking up health information or looking for work.

Chairman Pai's Response to Senator Peters and Senator Stabenow Regarding the GAO Report on the Lifeline Program

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai sent letters to Sens Gary Peters (D-MI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) on August 21, 2017, to respond to their letter expressing concern with the Lifeline program and asking for information relating to the Government Accountability Office Lifeline report. Pai provided information on enforcement and compliance mechanisms for oversight of the program, resources for determining program eligibility, the projected timeline for testing and implementing the National Verifier system and resources available for reviews and audits.

Chairman Pai's Response to Rep Hanabusa Regarding Oversight of the Universal Service Fund High-Cost Program

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai sent a letter to Rep Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) on August 21, 2017, in response to her letter regarding communications service to the Hawaiian Home Lands residents and the Commission's investigation of Sandwich Isles Communications. Pai responded to Hanabusa’s questions on whether Universal Service Funds have been paid to SIC since the suspension of payments by USAC in 2015, whether SIC was certified by the Hawaii PUC as an ETC at the time USF funds were suspended, if SIC remains eligible for the receipt of 2015 funds and the total amount of USF funds withheld from SIC in 2015.

Kansas City Was First to Embrace Google Fiber, Now Its Broadband Future Is 'TBD'

Five years after hooking up its first Kansas City customers, expansion of Google Fiber has come to a screeching halt. Thousands of customers in KC who had pre-registered for guaranteed service when Google Fiber made it to their neighborhood were given their money back earlier in 2017, and told they may never get hooked up. Google Fiber cycled through two CEOs in the last 10 months, lost multiple executives, and has started laying off employees. Plans to expand Google Fiber to eight other American cities halted late in 2016, leaving the fate of the project up in the air. I recently asked Rachel Hack Merlo, the Community Manager for Google Fiber in Kansas City, about the future of the expanding the project service there, and she told me it was "TBD." Kansas City expected to become Google's glittering example of a futuristic gig-city: Half a decade later, there are examples of how Fiber benefitted KC, and stories about how it fell short. Thousands of customers will likely never get the chance to access the infrastructure they rallied behind, and many communities are still without any broadband access at all. Many are now left wondering: is that it?