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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Says Title II Reclassification of Broadband On The Table

in Broadband's Impact/Net Neutrality/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2014 – During a House Small Business Committee meeting on Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler comfortably discoursed on his years as a small business owner. The hearing covered topics including broadband’s impact on small businesses, that lack of rural broadband competition and network neutrality. The FCC “will continue to orient universal service support to broadband,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler told the committee that the agency aimed to increase its definition of minimum broadband speed from 4 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 10 Mbps. On the question of ways to enforce net neutrality rules, Wheeler said that public utility reclassification of broadband under “Title II [of the Communications Act] is very much a topic of conversation and very much on the table.”

 

Broadband Infrastructure to Rural Areas is on the Move at the Broadband Breakfast Club

in Broadband TV/Broadband Updates/Fiber/Rural Utilities Service/Universal Service/Wireless/WISP by

WASHINGTON, Friday, October 21, 2011 – Rural broadband providers, national union members, federal agency officials and state broadband administrators squared off on Tuesday at the Broadband Breakfast Club’s keynote and panel presentations on “Bringing Broadband Infrastructure to Rural Areas: Where is the Progress?”

Event Highlights

Highlights from “Bringing Broadband Infrastructure to Rural Areas: Where is the Progress?” from BroadbandBreakfast.com

Complete Program

“Bringing Broadband Infrastructure to Rural Areas: Where is the Progress?” from BroadbandBreakfast.com

Moderator, Jerry Hagstrom of the Hagstrom Report, set the stage for the morning’s discussion by highlighting the necessity for broadband in Rural America.  High speed internet is not only crucial for telemedicine, education and access to Native American communities but is important for general rural development and prosperity including the ability of the farming sector to make equipment repairs and access information about markets.

Undersecretary for Rural Development of the United States Department of Agriculture, Dallas Tonsager provided the keynote.  Tonsager is proud of RUS’s progress on loans and grants awarded through the broadband stimulus initiative and is anxiously awaiting the Federal Communication Commission’s Universal Service Proposal to see how it would benefit rural communities.

The Undersecretary expressed the importance of different technologies like wireless and fiber in addressing the needs of different communities. “It takes an eclectic set of solutions to meet the challenge and get out there and serve that broad area of the US…the stakes are high.”

Tonsager was pleased with the $3.5 billion in stimulus dollars that went to support grant and loan projects.  He mentioned that while over 100 projects are in the act of construction or completed there are some that are moving along slower than expected.  Those projects he stressed are very large and require intense planning in order to be executed properly.  All funds are slated to be spent by 2015.

Tonsager also noted that over 110 million dollars have been allocated to 25 projects aimed to help tribal communities.

“How do we keep moving forward?” asked Tonsager, “we have to be persistent and focus on this critical period of investment.”  He also stressed the importance of the Community Connect Programs which focus on infrastructure to develop community centers that provide free public access to broadband.

Tonsager also touted his staff’s focus on the “Build Out and Build On” efforts. “The intension is not just to get to the homes, but to provide them with the support to help them build their businesses.”

Addressing the USF proposal the Undersecretary said “With the proper support agricultural and rural communities will be the ones that help get this country out of a recession.”

Hagstrom then asked the Undersecretary about the threat of budget reductions on the agency and how cuts would affect programs that support rural development.

Tonsager said while he realizes the need for deficit reduction, there is strong support for rural development.  He also noted that he spends a lot of time making the case that the agriculture community needs the rural development programs.

Tonsager said that if faced with deficits cuts, there are possibilities for consolidation of some of the 42 programs currently operating under RUS and there are additional steps that can be taken to target better loan opportunities in order to keep delinquencies low.

The panel that followed consisted of six experts with varying perspectives on the RUS programs, the USF proposal, national goals for broadband adoption. These six included: Chandler Goule, Vice President of Government Relations, National Farmers Union, James Kohler, Deputy Director of Enterprise Technology Services, Alaska Department of Administration, Forbes Mercy, President of Washington Broadband Inc & Board Member/VP & Legislative Committee Chair, Wireless Internet Service Provider Association (WISPA), Leif Oveson, Director of Government Affairs, National Telecommunication Cooperative Association (NTCA), Jaqueline Johnson Pata, Executive Director, National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and David Russell, Solutions Marketing Director, Calix and Head of the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Council’s Regulatory Affairs Committee.

Goule expressed NFU’s support of broadband adoption and reiterated the importance of broadband in the daily lives and tasks of the farming industry.  Rural development in broadband is essential to economic vitality of the farming community.

Kohler from Alaska’s main concern is “when is rural America going to get adequate infrastructure.”  He said, “if you take the remarks of Chairman Genachowski at face value… it will not be anytime soon.”

Kohler was also concerned about the concept of the auction program; he stated that “the further you get from population density, the fewer competitors you are going to get for USF funding.”  Kohler added that Rural America’s best friends are their state commissions, and he was surprised that many states have not been more vocal about the role of state authorities leading up to the FCC’s proposal.

“What we do not see,” said Kohler “is how great the challenge is to actually connect many of these areas.”  He believes that rural carriers are going to be hard pressed to meet many of their obligations because of the severe lack of infrastructure in many rural places.

Kohler feels that the government should be focused on getting everyone up to even 2G or 3G before they worry about meeting their goal of 4G.

Mercy made a strong case for wireless internet service providers and claimed that those providing fixed wireless have been the true innovators in the most rural areas.  Mercy said that there is a misconception that there are only two types of broadband providers, cable and telecom companies.  WISPs can ignore the density metrics used by the major carriers that seek 1000-3000 homes per square mile.  In some areas of Texas Fixed Wireless Service Providers provide broadband to areas that only have 10.48 homes per square mile.  Mercy said that this important information “will provide clarity and credibility in preventing federally funded aid to competitors in the form of grants or USF when an existing fixed wireless provider is already an incumbent.”

Obstacles for fixed wireless come from the vast swaths of unused spectrum and the inefficient use of white spaces.  In the end, Mercy noted that fixed wireless equipment is much less expensive than the equipment used by mobile providers and can be deployed much faster in rural areas.

Oveson from NTCA highlighted the fact that it can get very expensive when rural independent service providers serve 40% of the US land mass with only 5% of the US population.  He addressed the slower pace of some of the RUS loan and grant infrastructure build out projects, but understood some of the issues with historical preservation areas and fiber shortages that have slowed down some of the projects.

NCAI represents 565 tribes throughout the country but there are only 9 tribal telcos.  While Pata was proud of the telemedicine developments in the tribal communities she stressed that with unemployment levels ranging from 20-90% broadband deployment to tribal is the key for future economic development

Russell was speaking on behalf of Calix as well as the Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) Council that represents 250 service providers and vendors.  Calix is the largest electronic vendor to rural markets; they provide DSL as well as fiber to the home.  Russell stated that all technologies that provide broadband require fiber at some point, fiber infrastructure is very important even for wireless providers.

Russell believed in a three prong model of success first prong being USF support, second prong being support from RUS programs and the essential third prong is lies in the success of BTOP and its focus stimulating middle mile and last mile infrastructure build out.

Russell ended his statement with a note of caution for the USF proposal that focuses on the cap and a capital fund model. Russell suggests that the FCC focus on an operating fund model, “giving people an annuity every year allows them to leverage private capital.”

A very interesting question was raised by Stephanie Joyce from Arent Fox, who asked the panelists whether USF should focus on income and not just census numbers. “Would you support means testing of any kind in connection to USF funding for broadband in rural areas?”

Both Kohler and Pata were against means testing citing concerns that it would reduce incentive to build out to the last mile. Oveson was against means tests because it would add another step of uncertainty for the providers, “a provider might hesitate because they would not know what part of their constituency would apply.”

Mercy on the other hand believed if Telco’s build out they should build out all the way.  He also noted that the customer should be able to choose who they give the voucher to provide them this that service.

Australia Expands Universal Service Goal

in Australia/International by

WASHINGTON August 3, 2010- While many of the nations of the world are struggling to bring basic high speed access to their populations Australia has announced that it will expand its already ambitious goal. Initially the National Broadband Network was supposed to reach 90% of the Australian population recently the Prime Minister announced that the program will now expand to 93% of the population.

UK to Push Universal Service Goal Back 3 Years

in Europe/International/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON July 15, 2010 – With a tightening budget the United Kingdom government has decided to push back their universal service deadline by 3 years. Last year the nation had committed to bringing 2 Megabits per second to all citizens by 2012 but will now push the deadline to 2015.

Tory Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed that the plan which was developed by the Labour party was impractical giving budget constraints.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt

“I have looked at the provision the government had made to achieve this by 2012. And I’m afraid that I am not convinced that there is sufficient funding in place,” Hunt told a gathering of telecoms operators.

“So, while we will keep working towards that date, we have set ourselves a more realistic target of achieving universal 2Mbps access within the lifetime of this parliament.”

Currently 99 percent of homes can get a connection but not all are able to achieve the 2Mbps the government wants.

FCC Uncovers New Funding For Universal Service Program

in FCC/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, July 7, 2010 – Last week, the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) released a budget projecting that $900 million in unused administrative costs would be extended to schools and libraries, pursuant to the FCC’s Universal Service Program. The unused funding comes from FCC budget surpluses in the years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. The FCC will extend the funds irrespective of the annual cap, pursuant to Section 54.507(a)(2) of the Commission’s rules, which states states, in part, that “all funds that are collected and that are unused from prior years shall be available for use in the next full funding year of the schools and libraries mechanism in accordance with the public interest and notwithstanding the annual cap.”

Webinar Presents Telehealth Data and Recommendations

in Broadband's Impact by

WASHINGTON July 7, 2010 Independent analyst firm Ovum presented a webinar to present the drivers and barriers to telehealth adoption, the current competition environment, and recommendations for health-care providers and patients.

The webinar was presented by the authors of two recent telehealth reports, “Telehealth: Something old, something new,” and “Telehealth in Europe – From pilot to mainstream?” Christine Chang, presented the North American telehealth climate, while Cornelia Wels-Maug focused on telehealth issues in Europe.

Wels-Maug presented a survey that asked health organizations what their top three investments priorities were. In Europe, 7% of respondents said telehealth was one of their top three priorities, while 12% of North Americans said it was a top three priority.

The United States has federal funding in place for telehealth projects and research, and includes telemedicine in its National Broadband Plan. Americans can also receive Medicare reimbursements for telehealth services, which mainly include remote monitoring devices for senior citizen patients.

Due to Canada’s large rural population they have enacted Health Infoway, a project dedicated to smarter health service methods. Out of their 181 current Health Infoway projects, 48 directly related to telehealth.

Both countries use broadband technology to provide extended healthcare to military installations and prisons.

In the European Union each country has its own legislation for telehealth. Only France has clear legal basis for telehealth practice. According to Wels-Maug, the professional code of conduct for most countries is what determines the basis for telehealth. She said “Some countries require the physical presence of a physician or the health care provided is considered to be illegal.” Austria, Germany, and Poland are all countries that restrict telehealth services.

There are also universal barriers to telehealth adoption in both Europe and North America. Chang said the lack of a sustainable reimbursement model will cause telehealth providers to initially lose money since the equipment and infrastructure necessary to run a telehealth service is expensive. A lot of the current telehealth projects falter because they are being run on grant money for a pre-determined period of time, and cannot afford to continue services once that period ends. A lack of research is another barrier to adoption. Most telehealth providers are still in the testing stage, and health organizations are unwilling to invest in telemedicine without knowing which telehealth technologies and business models are the most effective.

Chang said “Stakeholder apprehension is the most difficult challenge facing telehealth, and will require a cultural shift to overcome.” It will be difficult to convince doctors and patients that a video consultation is equal to that of a physical consultation. Privacy concerns are data protection are also prevalent in adoption telehealth. Another problem facing adoption is licensure issues. Telehealth communication across country borders can be impossible depending on the regulations set by the countries involved. However, Chang said it is important for long-distance communication to be available for telehealth’s success. Patients are more comfortable with the doctors familiar with their health history, and could access care from their doctors while on vacation or traveling away from their homes.

Wels-Maug recommended that countries and health organizations continue to invest in clinical research to discover which practices and technologies will be the most useful in large-scale telehealth services. She also stressed the importance of winning over stakeholders, saying many were not even sufficiently aware of telehealth. Addressing ethical issues and privacy and security concerns will also make stakeholders more comfortable with telehealth.

Chang gave advice to those who want to succeed in the telehealth market. She said they would need to utilize technologies currently available, saying something like developing an iPhone application for telehealth could be a good marketable service. She also said that health organizations need to develop a sustainable business model and that these organizations should be creative. Before beginning any telehealth undertaking, she advised health providers to assess the technology involved, and make any upgrades necessary.

Finland Declares Broadband Access a Right

in International/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON July 1, 2010- In an amendment to the Communications Market Act broadband access was added as a right for all citizens and business.  The Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (FICORA) will ensure that all citizens have access to broadband connection with a minimum down speed of 1Mbps. This service will be provided via universal service requirements.

According to the FICORA “a universal service provider must be assigned if this is necessary in order to ensure the universal service provision in a certain area. Consumers must separately agree with the telecom operator assigned as a universal service provider on the obtaining of a broadband subscription pertaining to universal service.”

FICORA will also begin to monitor the pricing and speeds of broadband services. They have not been given a mandate for price caps but they have stated that they feel a monthly fee of 30-40Euros ($49) is reasonable in most cases.

Congress Asks FCC to Increase Rural Broadband Goals

in FCC/National Broadband Plan/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2010 —  A bipartisan coalition of 40 congressional officials has sent FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski  a letter asserting that the official government goal of 4 megabits per second for rural broadband  is too low.

“Our concern is the [National Broadband Plan] sets the United States on a course toward a greater digital divide between urban and rural areas by proposing 4 mbps as the goal for rural regions while boasting about the benefits of 100 mbps for more densely populated areas,” they wrote.

The letter goes onto say that this threshold will not allow for the future development of bandwidth intensive applications. Additionally, it is not nearly enough to carry a reasonable amount of data for the current demands of the health care or public safety communities.

The authors criticize the organization for abandoning the “universal service” methodology for expanding telecommunications service and trying a new path. They claim this will create regulatory uncertainty that small rural telecom firms will be unable to navigate. They also believe that these recommendations will lead to job loss and a decrease in capital investment.

The letter was signed by a number of lawmakers from states with rural concerns including Sam Graves (R-Mo.),  Betsy Markey (D-Colo.), Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Leonard Boswell (D- Iowa).

Rural and Tribal Telcos Unique Needs Require Unique Solutions, Execs Say

in Broadband Stimulus/NTIA by

ARLINGTON, Va., June 18, 2009 — Properly measuring rural broadband access and availability with a broader set of definitions was necessary to reform the Universal Service Fund, a group of rural and tribal telecom executives said Thursday at the Pike and Fischer Broadband Policy Summit.

Randy Sukow, business analyst with the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, said expanding the definitions was vital to the long-term sustainability of rural broadband access.

“Once we have service established, what do we do next to make sure it lasts when the recovery money is gone?”  he asked.

The wide demographic differences and population densities between different areas poses a challenge to policymakers, But Sukow said there was a “chance to provide competition in rural areas” with the right resources and technology, he said.

Rural communities pose very different challenges to telecommunications providers when deploying service, Eastern Kentucky Networks CEO Gerald Robinson said.  “In a very rural market you’re going to have very different problems than an urban market,” he said.

Providers in urban markets are concerned with capacity, Robinson said rural operators are more concerned with coverage.  ”You can’t sink $500,000 into a cell tower if it’s going to serve thirty people,” he said.

Some communities barely receive adequate voice service, said National Tribal Telecommunications Association Policy Counsel Eric Jensen. He warned that without bridging this basic “analog divide,” tribal communities will be abandoned when the “tsunami of funding” from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act comes through.

Rising broadband costs will also be impacted by the FCC’s failure to reform the Universal Service Fund, Sukow said. As more consumers drop their landline service, fewer dollars will flow into the fund. USF cannot be fixed “until you come to this balance of who’s going to pay for it,” he said.

USF reform can only increase broadband access if it is changed to allow subsidies for satellite and wireless broadband. Under the current regime, “there is no mechanism for support in [NRTC] members’ investment in certain things,” he said, since many cooperatives rely on USF subsidies to maintain their bottom lines.

Editor’s Note (6/22): The title of Randy Sukow was corrected.

Wireline, Wireless Providers Clash on USF Reform, Special Access, Adoption in Broadband Strategy Comments

in FCC/National Broadband Plan/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2009 – In comments filed Monday before the Federal Communications Commission on its plan to unveil a national broadband strategy, old foes got a fresh chance to spar in long-standing battles over Special Access rates, Universal Service reform, and deployment versus adoption rates as a metric for success.

For Sprint Nextel Corp., competition is “the key to ensuring and expanding widespread, affordable broadband access.” But true facilities-based competition is being undermined by incumbent local exchange carriers — the owners of the fiber pipes that hook wireless phones back into the telephone network at the tower, Sprint said.  ILEC’s “dominate the special access markets” to the detriment of the industry, the company warned — leading to “lost productivity, lost income, and lost jobs.”

Verizon Communications, often a main target of Sprint Nextel’s ire, called for the FCC to encourage “consumer empowerment” by allowing free choice of services, applications and devices on a “robust…secure broadband network.” The FCC’s plan should be “pro-innovation. pro-growth,” Verizon said.

Investment in wireless is the key to a superior strategy, says T-Mobile, the nation’s fourth-largest mobile phone carrier.  Wireless deployment costs are “frequently less significant than comparable wired broadband deployments,” the company wrote, citing the FCC’s recently released Rural Broadband Report. “Wireless broadband can be an efficient means of delivering both backhaul and ‘last-mile’ access services in rural areas.”

A national strategy should focus on adoption rather than deployment,  cable giant Comcast said.  In comments closely echoing those filed by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the company suggested the problem of adoption is “four times as large as the access challenge.”

The FCC’s plan should  encourage adoption with a “number of policy strategies, ranging from incentives for investment, to removal of barriers to deployment, to direct government investment,” Comcast said. Ubiquitous deployment could be possible as soon as 2011 with the right policies in place, the company said.

Verizon suggested a national strategy should address the more than two-thirds of Americans that do not use broadband because of lack of computer literacy, or a failure to appreciate the potential relevance of broadband-enabled services to their lives.

Lack of relavence is primarily accountable for consumers’ decision not to get broadband – not lack of availability or price, the company claims. Americans are far from unserved, Verizon said:“Over 90 percent of Americans have such access, and most consumers can choose from at least two wireline broadband providers, three or more wireless broadband providers, and two satellite broadband providers for broadband Internet access service.”

Many stakeholders have suggested  the Universal Service Fund be an important part of any national strategy. In addition to a proposed pilot program to expand USF to cover broadband service, the FCC has also suggested an increase in required contributions to the fund that that would be roughly 12.9 percent of a consumer’s monthly bill, compared with the current rate  of 11.4 percent.

Sprint Nextel also used its comments to reiterate the company’s repeated calls for USF reform: “The existing universal service mechanism is broken…and in drastic need of major overhaul,” Sprint said.

But Verizon, which as a landline telephone company recieves a large share of USF dollars,  sees a less drastic need for reform. The commission should implement reforms to USF funding, but avoid  “double-taxing” broadband services, Verizon warns. Specifically, Verizon suggests replacing the revenue-based model with one that charges users a flat rate for each of their phone numbers.

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