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CWA Blog Claims Credit for FCC Data Order, But Ignores Local Company Data

June 24 – Communications Workers of America has claimed credit for the Federal Communications Commission’s recent order requiring broadband companies to provide the FCC with more information — but it has ignored the fact that consumers won’t be able to make use of this information.



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Over at the Communications Workers of America’s blog, Speed Matters, the union claimed credit for the Federal Communications Commission’s recent order requiring broadband companies to provide the FCC with more information, including data about availability by Census tract.

The blog notes:

The CWA Speed Matters campaign can claim another victory – this time at the FCC. As part of our Speed Matters campaign, CWA called on the FCC to increase its definition of “high speed” – a definition that had not changed for nine years — and to improve its broadband data collection.

Well, it is possible that the FCC’s broadband data collection will be improved. But the public is not likely to benefit from any improvements.

The blog post makes no mention of the fact that the FCC will continue to shield the names of the broadband providers that offer service in a particular ZIP code or Census tract. criticized the FCC for its failure to change this policy. The current policy limits consumers’ and citizens’ ability to benefit from local broadband information.

Also, with regards to speeds, the CWA post appears to misstate what the FCC required.

It is correct that, as part of order issued on June 13 (nearly three months after it was voted on the agency’s five commissioners), the FCC is requiring broadband providers to now tell the agency the speeds at which they offer service, grouped into eight separate speed tiers.

The agency will continue to collect data about services offered at 200 kilobits per second (Kbps). Only the second tier and higher, or services offered at greater than 768 Kbps, will count as “broadband” under the new definition. Here are the speed tiers:

1. 200 Kbps – 768 Kbps
2. 768 Kbps – 1.5 Mbps
3. 1.5 Mbps – 3 Mbps
4. 3 Mbps – 6 Mbps
5. 6 Mbps – 10 Mbps
6. 10 Mbps – 25 Mbps
7. 25 Mbps – 100 Mbps
8. Greater than 100 Mbps

But CWA’s blog goes further, stating that “the FCC did adopt other CWA recommendations – especially to collect data on upstream and downstream speeds.”

The FCC order does not require either the carriers or agency to engage in speed tests about actual broadband performance. It only requires that carriers say what they currently offer. The FCC document has a “further notice” section, in which the agency asks for comments on whether, and how, it should conduct information about “delivered speed[s].”

CWA also touts various pieces of legislation in Congress that would go beyond the FCC order: the Broadband Data Improvement Act, S. 1492, introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and the Broadband Census of America Act, H.R. 3919, introduced by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Unlike AT&T’s Jim Cicconi, who said on June 13 that the company believes the FCC’s order has accomplished what the bills set out to achieve (while insisting that the company has no problem with the bills), CWA pushes these bills because they “would make funds available to states to collect broadband data.”

An important difference between the two bills, however, is that addition to providing money for state initiatives to map out broadband, the Broadband Census of America Act, H.R. 3919, also calls for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to create a publicly-available map of broadband deployment. The map would feature not only broadband availability, but also “each commercial provider or public provider of broadband service capability.” seeks to provide the public with information about local broadband availability, competition, speeds and prices. In order to make this information as useful to the public as possible, believes that the names of the companies that provide broadband – and the speeds and prices at which they actually deliver service – must also be made available as part of any serious effort to map out the state of broadband in America.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

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Expert Opinion

Joel Thayer: No 5G Spectrum Means No Digital Future

The 5G war is on and there’s a lot of concern about the U.S. position vis-a-vis China.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Joel Thayer, president of the Digital Progress Institute.

The White House just released its national spectrum strategy, and it couldn’t be more timely. The 5G war is on and there’s a lot of concern about the U.S.’s position vis-a-vis China’s.

Given that we are in the midst of World Radio Conference—the international conference that decides how we structure global 5G networks–an assessment of where we are in relation to spectrum allocation and what we need to do to secure our dominant position in the race to 5G becomes all the more important.

Spectrum, for the unfamiliar, is the reason you are able to read this article from a mobile device. It is the invisible real estate that allows 5G networks to transition services, like autonomous vehicles, precision agriculture, and even artificial intelligence, from science fiction into today’s reality.

In no uncertain terms, without spectrum, there is no mobile revolution. Think about every device that relies on wireless networks. Your smartphone, laptop, smartwatch, Fitbit, and Airtags are just some of the products fueled by spectrum. Without spectrum, they won’t work.

And for nearly a decade, we have dominated the race to 5G. We did so, because we made 5G a national priority and coordinated an interagency effort to build out 5G networks. And it worked. By 2020, we led the world on 5G speeds and the procurement and distribution of valuable spectrum.

The U.S. is in a rebuilding year

If we were an NFL team, we were Tom Brady’s New England Patriots.

But, akin to the Patriots’ 2023 season, we’re in a rebuilding year. We have no new high-powered mid-band spectrum in the pipeline and some of the spectrum we do have available is getting bogged down due to unnecessary intergovernmental fighting.

Even if we did, it would be incredibly hard to get the spectrum out into the market expeditiously because Congress allowed the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auction authority to lapse—something that had never before happened since Congress granted it in the 1990s. This lapse of authority has not just stalled new spectrum from coming into the market but has also prevented the FCC from releasing nearly 8,000 licenses of valuable 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz) mid-band spectrum purchased last year.

Conservative estimates show that 5G must be able to support the data transmissions of 1 million devices for every third of a mile. And we expect there to be 41.6 billion devices online in less than two years. Our networks won’t be able to handle that onslaught.

What’s more, the advent of AI will require even more data transmissions over our 5G networks and will inevitably strain them. Without a refilled spectrum pipeline, data-driven applications—like AI—will become a pipedream for the U.S.

Worse, this opens the door for China to pick up its pace on 5G and 6G. Much of what China is doing in spectrum and deployment are to position itself to win in 6G. How? Because 6G builds on 5G, much like 5G built on 4G/LTE. Hence, if China wins here, 6G networks will be built on their 5G foundation.

We need to keep up our pace.

The U.S. is constrained by the lack of spectrum auction authority

But here’s the rub, the Administration is constrained in what it can do to open up new bands and get spectrum out into the market quickly.

For example, the FCC has said repeatedly that it won’t release spectrum it has already auctioned, specifically in the 2.5 GHz band, without its auction authority being reauthorized.

But you know what branch of government isn’t constrained? Congress.

And there’s some good news on that front. Sen. John Kennedy’s 5G Spectrum Authority Licensing Enforcement (SALE) Act unanimously passed a rollcall vote in the Senate. The SALE Act would allow the FCC to move forward on releasing those 8,000 2.5 GHz licenses, which allows T-Mobile to enhance its existing 5G networks. This action alone creates more competition in 5G offerings, which inevitably lowers the price for consumers.

But more must done!

With the National Spectrum Strategy, the Administration has given Congress a path forward to turn our franchise around. The Administration’s plan identifies the lower 3 GHz and the 7-8 GHz bands as primary contenders for a strong pipeline of spectrum for private sector use—bands Congress itself identified in last year’s draft of the bipartisan Spectrum Innovation Act.

Better yet, the strategy does not foreclose looking at less controversial mid-band spectrum—particularly bands that build on mid-band spectrum already in the market, like in 4.4-4.9 GHz range. Using this spectrum can create a more contiguous band of 5G mid-band spectrum to handle the immense data transmissions we’ll see from AI.

Lastly, Congress needs to reauthorize the FCC’s spectrum auction authority to ensure we can get this spectrum into the market expeditiously.

Although we won’t likely auction off any new spectrum in the next year—just as the Patriots will not make the playoffs, we can use this as a teachable moment to rebuild and strengthen our networks. It would behoove Congress to move fast because while we twiddle our thumbs, China continues to build.

Joel Thayer is president of the Digital Progress Institute and an attorney based in Washington, D.C. The Digital Progress Institute is a nonprofit seeking to bridge the policy divide between telecom and tech through bipartisan consensus. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Digital Inclusion

Emma Gautier: Addressing Digital Discrimination Will Take More Than Policing ISPs

It is crucial to prioritize community solutions where service is offered in partnership with trusted community institutions.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Emma Gautier, Researcher with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

This is a walk and chew gum moment for broadband-for-all advocates. On the one hand, the Federal Communication Commission new digital discrimination rules have the potential to reign in egregious examples of digital discrimination. On the other hand, the new rules still fall short of putting forward the kinds of structural solutions necessary to address underinvestment in communities where federal infrastructure dollars may never reach.

Last week, the FCC published its final digital discrimination rules, giving the agency the authority to penalize Internet Service Providers whose policies have a “disparate impact” on historically marginalized communities. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed by President Biden in 2021, included a mandate directing the FCC to develop “rules to facilitate equal access to broadband internet access service, taking into account the issues of technical and economic feasibility presented by that objective, including—preventing digital discrimination of access based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.”

FCC logo

After hosting listening sessions and inviting public comment, the final ruling ultimately defined digital discrimination as “policies or practices, not justified by genuine issues of technical or economic feasibility, that (1) differentially impact consumers’ access to broadband internet access service […], or (2) are intended to have such differential impact.” Such an approach authorizes the FCC to penalize providers even if it can’t identify instances of intentional discrimination.

Initial Responses to the Ruling

As expected, the big monopoly incumbents all but exploded over the FCC’s decision to measure discrimination based on disparate impact, arguing that the new rules go beyond what the IIJA intended when it granted the agency authority to prevent digital discrimination and facilitate digital equity. A secondary argument they make is that the disparate impact approach micromanages business and will discourage providers from investing in certain areas for fear that they will be penalized for profit-seeking behavior.

Meanwhile, public interest groups and members of Congress have lauded the ruling for its focus on disparate impact, a standard advanced by the disability community. In comments filed with the FCC, the American Association of People with Disabilities emphasized how people who are discriminated against experience the effects of discrimination whether or not it was the result of conscious bias:

  • “For decades, the disability community has noted that discrimination occurs unintentionally and often results from seemingly neutral policies. Too often, disabled people experience discrimination not because of malicious intent or explicit exclusion within programs or policies but because the disabled people were simply not considered in the first place.”

How Much Practical Impact Will The Rules Have?

Despite industry pushback, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the rules have limitations that raise questions about the practical effect they will have. It is unclear, for example, what exactly the FCC will allow on the basis of “economic feasibility.” The rules don’t outline how the Commission will distinguish between “economic feasibility” versus profit-maximization or whether such a distinction will be used to adjudicate rulings. All we know is that the Commission will evaluate each instance of alleged discrimination on a case-by-case basis, relying on precedent set by other ISPs to determine what is technically and economically feasible and what is not.

A detail that has been largely overlooked is that to find an ISP responsible for digital discrimination, the rules say, disparate impact must be traced back to a “specific policy or practice that is causing the disparity.” Policies and practices adopted prior to when the rule became active are not subject to repercussion.

FCC entrance

Another reason to question the rules potential impact is that historically the FCC doesn’t have a strong track record holding big cable and telecom companies accountable. While large providers have been found to neglect infrastructure upgrades and charge higher prices for lower speeds in low-income neighborhoods, it would be uncharacteristic of the agency to crack down on these massive companies. There is very little information from the FCC about what enforcement will really look like; the ruling only notes that “possible violations will be investigated by Commission staff using our standard investigative toolkit, and all penalties and remedies will be available when we determine that our rules have been violated.”

Concerns have also been raised around the transparency of the complaint process the FCC will use to help it identify discrimination. As The Markup points out, “complaints [filed by the public] won’t necessarily begin a formal adjudication process against the ISP, but they can be used as a basis for the FCC to begin its own investigation into the provider’s conduct.” There are no transparency mechanisms laid out in the ruling, which will no doubt make it easier for the FCC to sweep complaints under the rug.

Another wildcard that could come into play is how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a case now before it that, while focused on the SEC, has implications for federal agencies ability to enforce administrative judgements.

A Surface-Level Response to a Deeply Structural Issue    

As other public interest groups argue, it is more important to advocate for the needs of communities than it is to try and untangle the intentions of ISPs. And truly centering communities begins with an honest recognition that digital discrimination is deeply structural – something the FCC and federal lawmakers have been reluctant to acknowledge.

Digital C install on rooftop

It’s a challenge that merits a ground-up solution that goes beyond giving the FCC theoretical authority to penalize providers. Instead, it would be more productive to focus on facilitating community investment that will meet the varying needs of households that aren’t yet connected.

The ruling implicitly assumes the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) will lead to investment in areas traditional providers have not found economically attractive, and that together, the digital discrimination ruling and BEAD work to make Internet access available for all.

Unfortunately, many of the communities that have been impacted by digital discrimination are urban areas that are unlikely to see BEAD dollars, as the infrastructure law was designed to funnel funds to mostly rural communities. Add to that the flawed FCC maps, which vastly overstate coverage, speeds, and competition, and it will be extremely difficult if not impossible for BEAD funding to reach most urban areas deemed “served” by monopoly providers.

The reality is that it can be profitable to discriminate, as the big monopoly ISPs are set up to first and foremost serve their shareholders, not the communities from which they derive their profits.

Digital Equity LA pricing discrimination

These companies are structured to offer service in areas where they will see a quick return on investment, which often means the parts of town that most need to be connected are left unserved or grossly underserved.

Imposing penalties on discriminatory ISPs could potentially scare some into upgrading parts of networks or eliminate glaring price disparities in historically marginalized neighborhoods. But without actual policies in place that encourage competition and universal access to high-quality Internet, the impact of the new digital discrimination rules will likely be limited.

It should also be noted that monopoly ISPs wield tremendous power over markets in a multitude of ways, not the least of which is their well-documented assault on competition. These companies fight tooth and nail to block new ISPs from entering the market, leveraging their considerable influence to convince lawmakers that there is no urban broadband problem that merits public funding. This has worked to persuade Congress that new infrastructure funding should target rural communities and leave the larger urban markets to the big incumbents, even if the service they offer is expensive and of poor quality. Their influence can also be seen in the federal government’s failure to take competition into account, which is indisputably linked to the quality of broadband service and price offered in a particular area.

Real Solutions Will Be Community-Rooted

After such major outcry among major ISPs responding to the digital discrimination ruling and its “disparate impact” approach, it’s difficult to imagine these companies bringing quality, affordable broadband service – as well as digital equity support – to communities that need it. It’s not just cynicism to point that out, as these very same companies argue that the ruling will “chill” investment, which doesn’t exactly instill confidence that they intend to invest in communities most in need of service.

Pulse Fiber construction

There are approaches, however, that do aim to connect the unconnected in ways that are not squarely focused on a quick return on investment. Municipal broadband, partnerships with small community-minded ISPs and other forms of publicly-owned, locally-controlled networks have demonstrated a way to provide universal, affordable service across an entire community, as well as the programs to address other barriers to broadband adoption such as providing devices and digital skills training.

In a letter to the FCC regarding the digital discrimination proposed rulemaking, a group of digital equity initiatives and public interest organizations including ILSR elevated an approach to closing the digital divide that focuses on “building trusted relationships, allowing communities to own infrastructure, build capacity, and experiment with solutions, and allowing for community-driven decision-making and knowledge-building.”

It is crucial to prioritize community solutions where service is offered by trusted entities or providers operating in partnership with trusted community institutions. The public comment goes on to emphasize that “challenging digital discrimination cannot be solely concerned with giving more Black, Brown, tribal, and people in rural areas broadband run by large corporations just to increase their upload and download speeds. In fact, this approach simply exposes our people to more data surveillance and dependency.”

Continuing to Push for Community Control

U.S. Capitol Building

Biden’s original broadband vision did call for “support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives—providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.”

The Biden administration also intended to promote “competition among internet providers, including by lifting barriers that prevent municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers.”

Such an approach recognized that where community broadband providers have been established, subscribers get fast, reliable service at competitive rates. While this approach offered some hope that Biden’s broadband plan would invest in boosting competition among providers, the plan was substantially watered down before it passed in Congress.

Digital C kids outside at picnic table

As a result, few municipal broadband projects outside of rural America are likely to receive funding under BEAD, IIJA’s largest bucket of broadband infrastructure money. The failure of Congress to prioritize community broadband is evidence of the political tradeoff made by Democrats to get the law passed. And while it’s better to penalize providers for egregious discrimination than to continue allowing them to exploit communities in an unfettered pursuit of quick profits, it’s important to keep pushing for more structural solutions.

Now that federal law and policy-makers have set the parameters, it seems wise to direct our attention towards the local level.

The digital discrimination ruling could, for example, give cities leverage in combating digital discrimination at the local level, or at least provide an opportunity to offer up better data that illustrates where and in what contexts discrimination is occurring.

We hope to see cities, public interest groups, and broadband-for-all advocates use the new FCC rules to highlight why certain communities face chronic underinvestment while making the case that community-minded ISPs and non-traditional providers can offer high-quality, affordable broadband to the communities who most need it.

Emma Gautier is a Researcher with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. She supports data collection and analysis within the broadband initiative. Emma recently received a BA in Women’s and Gender Studies from Carleton College, and since graduation has been working in research, advocacy, and political organizing for social and environmental justice. She is interested in the synthesis of research and on-the-ground action in communities. This piece was originally published on on November 30, 2023, and is reprinted with permission.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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John English: Isolating Last-Mile Service Disruptions in Evolved Cable Networks

The adoption of new technologies presents operators with a plethora of new variables to manage on the user control plane.



The author of this Expert Opinion is John English, Director of Service Provider Marketing and Business Development for Netscout

Cable operators are increasingly investing in next-generation network infrastructure, including upgrades to support distributed access architecture and fiber to the home.

By bringing this infrastructure closer to subscribers, cable operators are evolving their networks, adopting greater virtualization  and redistributing key elements toward the edges. They expect these changes to increase their network’s interoperability and, ultimately, improve the speed and uptime available to subscribers. In turn, cable operators expect these new capabilities will help redefine what services they can offer.

However, these new advanced networks are much more complex than previous generations. By virtualizing or cloudifying functions at the edge, operators risk losing the sort of visibility that is essential to rapidly pinpointing the source of service disruptions – and ensuring their networks are meeting desired performance thresholds for next-gen applications.

The challenge of complexity in virtualized networks

As cable networks evolve, so does their complexity. The adoption of technologies like virtualized Cable Modem Termination Systems (vCMTS) and distributed access architecture presents operators with a plethora of new variables to manage, particularly on the user control plane.

Always-on applications and those applications that are most sensitive to network performance changes, such as video games, AR/VR, and remotely-piloted drones, to name just a few examples, require continuous measurement and monitoring for reliability. But ensuring consistent quality of service under all conditions the network may face is no small feat.

To illustrate, let’s consider how cable operators will manage disruptions in a virtualized environment. When issues inevitably pop up, will they be able to isolate the problem virtually, or will they need to dispatch a technician to investigate? Additionally, once a technician is onsite, will they have advanced intelligence to determine if the source of the problem is hardware or software-related?

Or will they need to update or replace multiple systems (e.g., consumer premesis equipment, optical network terminals, router, modem, etc.) to try to resolve the problem? Finally, will they need to also investigate additional network termination points if that doesn’t do the trick?

Indeed, each time a truck or technician is dispatched represents a significant outpouring of resources, and adopting a trial-and-error, process-of-elimination approach to resolution is a costly means of restoring service that cable operators cannot afford at scale. Likewise, the customers that depend the most on constant network availability and performance for various uses, such as content distribution networks, transportation services, and industrial manufacturers, won’t tolerate significant disruptions for long.

Packet monitoring for rapid resolution of last-mile disruptions

In the evolving landscape of cable networks, where downtime can lead to customer dissatisfaction, churn, and revenue loss, rapid resolution of last-mile service disruptions is paramount. Cable operators need more advanced network telemetry to understand where – and why – disruptions are occurring. In short, evolved networks require evolved monitoring. This starts with deep packet inspection at scale.

Packets don’t lie, so they offer an excellent barometer into the health of both the control and user planes. Additionally, they can help determine last-mile & core latency per subscriber, as well as by dimension, so operators can test how different configurations affect performance.

Additionally, in the event of a major service disruption, packet monitoring at the edge enables operators to accurately measure how many subscribers are out of service – regardless of whatever hardware or software they’re using – and determine if there’s a common reason for mass outages to help technicians resolve any problems faster. Finally, proactive monitoring, especially when combined with artificial intelligence, empowers operators to detect and address potential issues before they impact subscribers.≠

All in all, cable operators are navigating a challenging yet exciting era of network evolution. The transition to advanced infrastructure and the demand for high-quality, low-latency services necessitate sophisticated monitoring and diagnostic tools. Deep packet inspection technology will continue to play a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth operation of evolved cable networks.

Additionally, in the quest to maintain the quality of service expected by subscribers, operators must abandon the costly process-of-elimination approach and adopt rapid resolution techniques. By doing so, they will not only reduce service disruption but also make more efficient use of resources, ultimately benefiting both their bottom line and the end user’s experience. Evolved cable networks require evolved strategies, and rapid issue isolation through advanced monitoring must be at the forefront of this transformation.

John English is Director of Service Provider Marketing and Business Development at Netscout’s Service Provider unit. He has an extensive background in telecom, including a decade at a major communications service provider and numerous OEMs and ecosystem partners. English is an expert on how communications service providers can successfully implement new technologies like 5G and virtualization/cloudification while continually assuring the performance of their networks and services. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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