Tag: "fcc"

Posted December 9, 2020 by Christopher Mitchell

The FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund results are a puzzle. RDOF was the recent auction for large swaths of rural areas of the U.S. that have no broadband access, in large part because they were the territories of big companies like AT&T, CenturyLink (now rebranding as Lumen in hopes of improving its dismal image among its subscribers), Frontier, Windstream, and others. Up to $16 billion was at stake though the auction will actually disperse some $9+ billion dollars because many areas were bid well below what was expected. 

Please understand that this post is the best I can do right now - this is confusing and we are sorting our way through it. Please let me know if you can help us understand it. See our past coverage for more information.

The auction resulted in far more gigabit - 85% of locations I believe - than anyone expected, at far lower subsidy than expected. However, there is a lot of frustration and confusion because it is not clear that some of the top bidders can deliver. NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association - shared my original enthusiasm for RDOF and our concerns - best articulated over the years by Jon Chambers from Conexon - that the FCC was going to blow this auction by not ensuring those who bid had the capacity to deliver on the promised level of service. Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, wrote this and recently tweeted on this:

Doug Dawson, President of CCG Consulting, has addressed this in the...

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Posted November 30, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

The failure of policy and leadership at the federal level in addressing the digital divide was ever more clearly exposed as Covid-19 restrictions were put into place last spring. And, as the pandemic continues to rage, daunting connectivity challenges remain. 

Yes, the Connect America Fund (CAF) II program has doled out over $11 billion since 2015 in subsidies to the big telcos like AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, Windstream, and Consolidated ostensibly to upgrade rural broadband to speeds of at least 10/1 Megabits per second (Mbps). But, as Doug Dawson, president of CCG Consulting notes, it’s been a massive subsidy failure given that “even in 2015, it was ludicrous to spend money to build 10/1 Mbps broadband” – the same year the FCC defined broadband as 25/3 Mbps, which means “the FCC was investing in new Internet infrastructure in 2015 that didn’t qualify as broadband at the time of the award of funding.”

And there is reason to doubt that those subsidized upgrades were even completed, even as the FCC just extended the CAF II program for a seventh year.

So as states — and in many instances, local municipalities — step into the breach, the National Governors Association has released a new report that outlines a list of strategies governors can use to increase broadband access in underserved communities. 

Published just before Thanksgiving, the report first lays out the challenge:

According to the FCC, in 2018, at least 18.3 million people lacked access to fixed broadband in the United States that meets minimum [I]nternet access speed of 25/3. 1 Of those 18.3 million people, representing 6 percent of the total population, 14 million live in rural areas and 1 million live on Tribal lands, which amounts to 22 percent and 28 percent of those respective geographic populations [even as] studies have claimed that the FCC data is undercounting the number of people in the U.S. without fixed broadband access, and that the total may be as high as 42 million people.

“In addition to lack of access, the cost of broadband services remains a considerable barrier for many households,” the report points out. “The COVID-19 pandemic has...

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Posted November 23, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

On Episode 3 of Connect This!, Christopher is joined by Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Deb Socia, President of The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Travis Carter, CEO of US Internet

Tune is to hear them talk about solving the broadband gap and all of the obstacles it presents, from digital literacy training, to redlining, to funding programs. Along the way they also talk about how the federal government has failed to connect people over the last nine months and whether they're optimistic about a Biden administration and the future of broadband.

Mentioned during the course of the episode: An episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast with Deb Socia and Geoff Millener about digital inclusion in Chattanooga during the early months of the pandemic, and a white paper about tier flattening by Verizon and AT&T which forces users to pay high costs for decaying broadband infrastructure.

Subscribe to the show using this feed

Watch the episode below.

Posted November 18, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

Podcasts can be a great way to glean important insights on all things broadband – from the policies and politics that shape the digital landscape to the pathways and platforms that connect us to or keep us from the Internet.

If you haven’t already tuned into our own weekly podcast, "Broadband Bits", consider this an invitation to do so. (Or the brand new Connect This show.) But, we also want to highlight two new limited podcast series that we think are worth checking out.

#SpreadtheTech

One is #SpreadtheTech created by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Digital Charlotte – a ten-episode series that “showcases interviews with digital inclusion stakeholders and practitioners from across the country highlighting their community-based efforts to address the digital divide.” This Verizon-sponsored podcast is hosted by NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer, Digital Charlotte’s Executive Director Bruce Clark, and the Director of Operations for Digital Charlotte, Andrew Au.

In the first four episodes, #SpreadtheTech covers how digital inclusion advocates have pivoted their work to focus on the significance of Internet connectivity as we deal with the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.

The first episode looks at how the North Carolina Department of Information Technology is responding to connectivity challenges brought on by Covid-19. The featured guest of that episode is Amy Huffman, Digital Inclusion and Policy Manager for the Broadband Infrastructure Office within the North Carolina Office of Information and Technology Services.

Huffman reports on how the state created an interactive searchable map that allows North Carolina residents to enter their address to see if they have access to one of the discount or low-cost programs the state’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are offering. The map also shows the locations of community anchor institutions (libraries, schools, and community colleges) which have Wi-Fi hotspots in their parking lots that allow residents to access the Internet from their cars.

...

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Posted November 13, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

In the interest of “closing the digital divide,” the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry in August “Concerning Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion.” According to the notice, the FCC still considers it reasonable and timely to define the minimum broadband speed as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, the same minimum speeds the FCC first established in 2015.

It’s an important benchmark that is widely-agreed to be outdated in the era of families juggling multiple video chat calls and other digital tasks at the same time.

However, according to the FCC’s most recent look at the issue, there remains “significant support for maintaining this benchmark.” Therefore, the notice went on to say, “we propose to maintain the 25/3 Mbps benchmark for fixed services.”

This, despite the objection of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, whose official dissent noted that, in addition to the “nonstop criticism from consumers and Congress” over the FCC’s misleading data on how many Americans lack access to broadband, “in its last report, the FCC continued to use a broadband standard that is too low for a nation that has moved so much online.”

“Many households with multiple users are calling, watching, listening, gaming, and searching online all at the same time,” Rosenworcel noted. “But the FCC has been sticking with a download standard of 25 megabits per second that it adopted more than five years ago. We need to set audacious goals if we want to do big things. With many of our nation’s providers offering gigabit service, it’s time for the FCC to adjust its baseline upward, too. We need to reset it to at least 100 megabits per second.”

A year prior to Rosenworcel’s dissent, Next Century Cities submitted comments noting how much had changed both up and downstream since the 2015 standard was put in place.

“As more people work from home or engage in online education courses, the requirement of multi-tasking while participating on an HD video conference will overwhelm that 3 Mbps capacity, even if no other devices in the household are attempting to share the network.” 

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Posted November 10, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the show Christopher is joined by Mason Carroll (Monkeybrains), Deborah Simpier (Althea Networks), and returning champion Travis Carter (US Internet). 

The group collectively imagines what they would recommend to the FCC if they were called upon to help facilitate urban wireless deployment in the name of more affordable, equitable Internet access. They dig into different approaches, dissect the 5G hype, and mull the recent opportunities offered by Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). Putting on their private Internet Service Provider (ISP) hats, Mason, Deborah, and Travis tell Christopher what they'd be looking for from cities considering building publicly owned infrastructure — conduit or fiber — in the name of incenting more competition. Finally, they spend some time talking about the particular challenges and solutions presented to urban wireless by apartment complexes and other types of multi-dwelling units (MDUs). 

Subscribe to the show using this feed

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show. 

Posted November 6, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

As Vermont’s nascent Communication Union Districts (CUD) push to bring universal, truly high-speed Internet connectivity to the more rural parts of the Green Mountain State, CUD leaders are calling for changes in how federal funds get funneled to local municipalities, and for a change in how the federal government defines “high-speed” access.

Enabled by a 2015 Vermont law that allows two or more towns to join together as a municipal entity to build communication infrastructure, these local governmental bodies were formed to help the state reach its goal of having universal access to broadband by 2024. The idea is for CUD’s to operate like a water, sewer, or school district as a way for local communities to build their own broadband infrastructure. Establishing a CUD also puts rural regions of Vermont in a position to borrow money on the municipal bond market and eases access to grants and loans to fund broadband projects.

The formation of Communication Union Districts across the state began to pick up steam in the months following Gov. Phil Scott’s signing of H.513 in June of 2019. That legislation, which set aside $1.5 million to support broadband projects, increased funding to help provide Internet service in unserved or underserved parts of the state. It also created a new Broadband Expansion Loan Program within the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) to assist start-up broadband providers in developing community-based solutions.

Funding Gaps

In a Zoom call last month with U.S. Rep Peter Welch, D-Vt., leaders from the state’s nine CUD’s met virtually with Welch to update the congressman on the status of their efforts and what they see as crucial to succeed in fulfilling their mission without burdening taxpayers.

Representing the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District, Ann Manwaring told Congressman Welch: “It’s wonderful to think about the notion that we should be running like an electric utility. But until there’s some federal legislative action that permits that to...

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Posted November 4, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

As Mayors must concern themselves with everything from public safety and health to the development of the local economy and the provision of essential municipal services, they tend to have a particular focus on the infrastructure necessary to support it all, amid a cacophony of competing interests.

Over the summer, having reached consensus on the fundamental importance of “the digital infrastructure of tomorrow,” a particular focus of the United States Conference of Mayors 88th National Annual Meeting was to issue a resolution declaring the necessity of “Preserving Local Public Rights-of-Way and Regulatory Authority to Most Effectively Deploy 5G Broadband Access and Bridge the Digital Divide during the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

The Mayors’ resolution comes in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC's) 2018 preemption of local governments’ authority to regulate 5G infrastructure in their cities. 

At the heart of the regulatory debate: local governments’ ability to determine the amount of fees to charge mobile carriers that want to place 5G equipment in Rights-of-Way. In addition to putting limits on those fees, the FCC Order also sets strict timelines by which cities and towns must respond to carrier applications. The FCC decision, issued over the objections of industry observers and policy experts, essentially eliminates local communities’ ability to negotiate in order to protect their own Rights-of-Way and the poles, traffic lights, and other potential structures within those Rights-of-Way.

Preempting Local Authority

When the FCC handed down the order in the fall of 2018 we noted that it represented a significant giveaway to wireless carrier corporations while placing additional restrictions and undue financial burdens on local regulators, most of which are county boards and city departments. 

To justify the order, the...

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Posted October 19, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

More than a year and a half of planning and negotiation will culminate in fiber infrastructure laid to every household in one Tennessee county over the next few years. West Kentucky & Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative (WK&T), using its own funds along with money from the Henry County Commission and the state of Tennessee, will extend its existing network to cover the entire county and give residents access to its broadband network and services.  

Expanding Their Commitment

The recent news serves to expand a partnership that was originally announced in the spring of 2019. At that time, WK&T (founded 1951) pledged $2 million in investment and was awarded $2 million in matching funds from the second round of the state’s Broadband Accessibility Grant Program to reach 912 unserved homes in Henry County. 

Local officials have decided to aim higher, however, with the county commission joining the effort to commit $3 million of its own funds to reach as many as 1,400 homes in what County Mayor Brent Greer explained in an interview is the first phase of a countywide build that will take shape over the next 24-26 months. The cost of the first phase will be approximately $8 million, with $3 million coming from the county commission, $3 million from WK&T, and $2 million from the state. By the time it’s through, though,  the project will total $20 million and bring WK&T infrastructure to every home, business, and farm. 

Henry County sits in the northwest part of the state and has a population of 32,000 spread across a little over 13,000 households, with the city of Paris holding about a third of the population. The county is predominantly white, with average household incomes below $41,000/year. As part of the terms of this first phase, 325 homes low-income will receive free access for three months...

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Posted October 6, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A new report out by the American Library Association shows how community anchor institutions — and libraries in particular — can serve as central players in expanding tribal connectivity efforts around the country. “Built by E-rate: A Case Study of Two Tribally-Owned Fiber Networks and the Role of Libraries in Making It Happen" [pdf] looks at the striking success of tribal efforts in New Mexico in putting together a coalition of actors to dramatically improve Internet access in the region.

The report examines networks built by two consortiums situated in the middle of the state in the summer of 2018: the Middle Rio Grande Pueblo Tribal Consortium and The Jemez and Zia Pueblo Tribal Consortium. An endeavor initially spearheaded by the Santa Fe Indian School (which long ago recognized the need for virtual learning, the value of fast, affordable Internet and the ongoing cost of slow, poor, high monthly costs), “Built by E-Rate” details how they came into being and the obstacles they faced along the way, and offers policy recommendations moving forward.

Faster Speeds, Lower Costs

Each project cost $4.2 million, with E-Rate funding covering 95% of the costs after each managed to secure state funding via general obligation bonds for their effort. They both consist of 30 miles of tribe-owned, 12-strand fiber and an additional 30 miles of two-strand dark fiber leased from Zayo, a privately owned fiber infrastructure outfit. Both terminate in the Albuquerque GigaPoP operated by the University of New Mexico — a nonprofit initiative to get affordable, high-speed broadband to educational and research institutions in the state. On average, the consortia increased Internet speeds from 3 EMgabits per second (Mbps)_ to 100Mbps while decreasing costs from $106/Mbps to $3/Mbps as a result of the new network. Both are well-positioned for scalability and future growth...

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