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Congress, FCC See DTV Transition Progress; Low Power Broadcasters Say Left Behind

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2009 – The transition to digital television since the passage of the DTV Delay Act has been a “major accomplishment,” House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., said Thursday at a hearing on the state of the DTV transition.

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WASHINGTON, March 26, 2009 – The transition to digital television since the passage of the DTV Delay Act has been a “major accomplishment,” Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., said Thursday at a hearing on the state of the DTV transition.

Boucher, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Technology, Communications and the Internet, said that while he was pleased at seeing “clear results” and positive progress, “much remains to be done,” Boucher said.

Ranking member Cliff Stearns, R-Fal., agreed that “the glass is 95 percent full,” on the country’s readiness. But he lamented the amount of money set aside for coupons, and suggested significant savings could be had by confining the program to households without cable or satellite television.

“Shepherding the transition” has been “priority number 1” since taking over the FCC, Acting Chairman Michael Copps said.

Even before his elevation from the position of commissioner, Copps said he believed “it was clear the country was not ready…for the February 17 cutoff.” Besides “rampant consumer confusion,” Copps said a major problem had been a lack of coordination between public and private stakeholders .

Copps thanked Congress for the Delay Act, but was careful to warn members that “we are nowhere out of the woods yet.” The transition may not be “seamless,” he said. “But there is time to make a real difference.”

The FCC, Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and private sector actors are focusing “day and night” on education and outreach, he said. Starting in April, public service announcements will begin to mention antenna and converter box rescanning issues, as well as publicizing walk-in help centers.

Cable and broadcast television providers have “really stepped up to the plate” in helping build a unified DTV help call center, said Copps.

In addition, the FCC is working with AmeriCorps and other groups to put “boots on the ground” to help people get set up who might not otherwise be able to install equipment.

Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro said the education program had been one of the most effective consumer campaigns he has ever seen. “I bet more people know about the transition…than could identify the Vice-President of the United States,” he said.

“This great nation of ours can ill afford to delay the transition again,” Shapiro said in a statement released after the hearing. “To do so would put at risk the many benefits that will accrue from the switch to digital: phenomenal amount of beachfront-quality spectrum for new licensed and unlicensed services, including sorely needed improvement to Internet access; better communications platforms for law enforcement and public safety; and almost $20 billion in auction revenues for the U.S. Treasury.”

But Copps lamented that his calls for increased awareness of the analog “cliff” effect had gone ignored for the past two years.

However, the FCC has recently launched an online “map” that allows consumers to determine if they will be able to receive a signal post-transition. When Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., asked Copps if urban landscapes would pose reception problems post-transition, Copps said that there was “no question” in his mind that such problems exist. “We’ll have to deal with them…and we would be remiss if we did not study them further.”

The DTV coupon backlog is clear as of five days ago, said Acting Assistant Commerce Secretary Anna Gomez, currently the top-ranking official at the NTIA.

Mark Lloyd, vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said many consumers have found the FCC’s new online map very useful.

But Lloyd noted his group has found DTV reception to be inconsistent not only within the same community, but within the same apartment building. Most important to a smooth transition, he said, is “the importance of being able to go in the homes” of populations in need and help them with rescanning, and other issues.

Idaho Public Television general manager Peter Morrill said his organization has identified six areas, primarily located in rugged terrain that will be affected by the “cliff effect.”

Morrill acknowledged the FCC’s efforts to address this need for digital television “fill-in” service, but said many stations lack the financial means to license and build these systems in time for the June 12, 2009 shutdown.

“Legislative encouragement and additional funding can help us ensure the smoothest transition possible,” said Morrill. But Weiner suggested a change in education was necessary to enable consumers to understand the importance of finding a solution. — “bad service means no service, in this case.”

Robert Prather, CEO of Gray Television summed up how to solve the cliff issue: “it all comes down to funding.”

Boucher was also troubled by numbers from CEA and NTIA that “did not match up” with regard to supply and demand for converter boxes. But Wal-Mart senior vice president Gary Severnson said there was close coordination between manufacturers, retailers, and NTIA to coordinate supply, and that he had “no concern” about a shortage. His biggest fear was that he would be left with a surplus of boxes post-transition.

Shapiro said the data flow from NTIA was very good, and at least four manufacturers were producing more than enough boxes to meet demand. But in the event of a shortage, Shapiro suggested that as a “safety valve,” coupons could be used to subsidize consumer access basic cable or allow them receive stripped-down DTV sets.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill, voiced some concerned over the possibility of an additional delay upon the wireless and electronics industry. He introduced into the record a letter from Qualcomm, a manufacturer of wireless broadband equipment to highlight the impact on the company that further delay would bring. Boucher said Shimkus’ fears were unfounded, as both he and Chairman Henry Waxman were in complete agreement: “We’re not going to postpone this transition again – we need to get it right.”

Also read into the record was a letter from Community Broadcasters Association president Kyle Reeves expressing anger over Congress’ failure to include Class A and Low Power television stations in the transition. Despite having its entire industry threatened by the transition, CBA was explicitly denied the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing, a spokesman for the association said.

If something is not done about the Low Power and Class A station problem, Reeves predicted a disaster: “Diversity of voices and career opportunities will suffer a real setback,” he said, citing a CBA-commissioned survey showing 43 percent of Class A and Low Power TV stations have significant minority ownership. Most are small businesses, and 62 percent are owner-operated, the survey said.

And 34 percent of CBA member stations broadcast in foreign languages, the survey noted. Without some kind of action, “a critical source of emergency information for foreign language speakers will be lost,” Reeves warned. “Foreign language speakers will end up watching imported cable and satellite channels that carry only foreign-produced programming, pay no taxes, employ no U.S. citizens, and provide no local content and no American perspective.”

The CBA testified before the subcommittee under then-chairman Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who told its president “Help is on the way.” But the CBA has not yet seen any real help, Reeves said.

Reeves suggested the FCC take an “active hand” in promoting a DTV transition for LPTV stations after [the FCC] “spent over a decade on full power TV, including devoting enormous resources to finding channels so that as many stations as possible could operate parallel analog and digital stations for several years.” Congress could fund a program to transition all stations to digital, or allow them to “leapfrog” broadcasting and move onto broadband, mobile television, or other emerging technologies.

In the alternative, Congress could allow LPTV stations to auction their spectrum and share in the proceeds for a “soft landing” as they shut down, Reeves said. “If that opportunity were offered, some would take it today, sadly perhaps; but it would be a lot better than losing everything: hopes, dreams, and investments.”

But in the current economy, Reeves suggested there was no valid reason to ignore his industry any longer: “The combined impacts of the decline of over-the-air viewing, the digital transition, and the recession have created the perfect storm. There is no more time to think about it.”

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

5G

CES 2022: 5G, Aviation Crisis a Problem of Federal Coordination, Observers Say

The hope is coordination problems will be relieved when the Senate confirms NTIA head.

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John Godfrey, senior vice president of public policy and acting head of U.S. public affairs at Samsung

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2022 – The possible near collision of 5G signals and aircraft altimeters emerged out of a lack of coordination on the federal government’s part to bring all relevant information to the Federal Communications Commission before it auctioned off the spectrum that has now been put on hold for safety precautions, observers said Thursday.

This week, Verizon and AT&T agreed to delay the rollout of their 5G services using the C-band spectrum surrounding airports after the Federal Aviation Administration raised the alarm for months about possible interference of the wireless signals with aircraft, which use their own radios to safely land planes.

But the issue could’ve been resolved back in 2020, when the FCC proposed to repurpose a portion of the band to allow for wireless use, some said on a panel discussing 5G Thursday in Las Vegas.

“After the FCC had adopted the rules, auctioned off the spectrum, raised over $80 billion and deployment began and then additional information that apparently had not been brought to the FCC before comes over…that’s not good for the country,” said John Godfrey, senior vice president of public policy and acting head of U.S. public affairs at Samsung, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

“The time to have that information be disclosed and discussed and analyzed is when the FCC is conducting the rulemaking,” Godfrey said, adding the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration should, as federal telecom rep, be spearheading coordination efforts between the FAA and the FCC on telecommunications matters.

“I think it’s their job as the leaders of telecom policy in the administration to facilitate bringing the full federal government to the table in a timely manner,” Godfrey added.

Asad Ramzanali, legislative director for Democratic California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, said that the fallout of the aviation issue has shown that, “Looking backwards, I do think this is a failure. This is a failure in government to be able to coordinate at the right time…when there’s a process, those impacted should be participating — that is the role of the NTIA.”

NTIA head confirmation ‘should be a priority’

And the hope is that such coordination issues can be averted in the future with the confirmation of a permanent head of the NTIA, said Ramzanali. President Joe Biden nominated Alan Davidson in October to be the next permanent head of the agency, which has had temporary figures fill in the role since the resignation in May 2019 of the last full-time head, David Redl.

“That should be a priority,” Ramzanali said of pushing Davidson through. “The NTIA is doling out $42.5 billion of that $65 billion [from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act]. The NTIA is supposed to deal with those types of issues. They have brilliant people there, but this is the kind of leadership that they should be in the middle of.

“And this isn’t a recent NTIA thing,” Ramzanali added. “This has lasted many years, especially in the prior administration where the NTIA wasn’t doing this part of it — coordinating with other agencies.

“I’m hopeful with Alan Davidson presumably getting in soon that we won’t see that kind of issue.”

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5G

CES 2022: Educating Consumers About 5G Will Encourage Wider Adoption

Currently, consumers are not being provided the information they need to make the leap, a consultant said.

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Sally Lange Witkowski, founder of business consulting firm Slang Consulting

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2021 – Educating consumers about 5G is necessary to achieving wider adoption in its upcoming deployment in the United States.

At Wednesday’s CES “Path to A Better 5G World” session, industry leaders discussed how 5G will change the digital landscape by offering new experiences for businesses and consumers.

Sally Lange Witkowski, founder of business consulting firm Slang Consulting, said that companies should educate consumers about the benefits of 5G.

“Some consumers don’t even know 5G exists,” she said. “They believe faster is better,” but said that consumers don’t know about 5G’s wider applications. “Consumers should want to have [5G] because of how innovators and entrepreneurs will use the technology.”

Slang’s research shows that consumers are only willing to pay up to $5 more per month for 5G service. “It’s not about the hype, it’s about the usability,” Witkowski added. She noted that people are living longer and older Americans are growing old without the necessary digital skills to thrive in our new ecosystem.

“A child born today has a one in two chance of living till 100,” she said.  Educating consumers about 5G’s benefits can help the elderly prepare to participate in the revolution.

Witkowski also said closed hardware software ecosystems, sometimes referred to as “walled gardens,” prevent consumers from discovering new experiences.

“The really large organizations have a hard time innovating. Big corporations are built to scale. The ability to reach out to entrepreneurs to access creative thinking is important,” Witkowski added. “The pandemic changed a lot [for technology companies]. They are going to have to embrace something they don’t normally embrace,” like the fact that another company may be better positioned to create solutions.

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Expert Opinion

Kevin Ross: The Time is Now to Expand Internet Access with Fixed Wireless Broadband at Gigabit Speeds

New approaches must leapfrog the slow pace of extending fiber to the home and high costs of 5G and satellite.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Kevin Ross, founder and CEO of WeLink

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our behaviors in bandwidth consumption and driven enormous demand for reliable, high-speed internet access. Even before the pandemic spiked, high school and college students nationwide experienced this need for speed and continue to face this challenge today.

Broadband access also remains a critical need for millions of employees seeking to increase their productivity while working from home. According to ABI Research, “many business are allowing remote working for some of their employees after the pandemic, which will boost the need for home broadband services even further.” Fast, reliable broadband access is critical for file sharing, Zoom meetings, streaming content and other bandwidth-intensive applications. This business imperative will continue in the post-COVID-19 era as the home is now the new office.

High-speed uplink connectivity is another growing concern for at-home workers, not only for web-based conferencing applications but also for sharing large files and rapid uploads. This need puts increasing pressure on upload links.

The solution?

Symmetrical broadband connections, enabling equally fast uplink and download speeds.

With symmetrical access, there is no “speed discrimination” based on the direction of data traffic. End users receive the same network speed for both uploads and downloads. Businesses and work-at-home employees who rely on cloud applications, fast data transfers and non-stop, high-speed connectivity ultimately will benefit from balanced, symmetrical internet connections.

However, a major issue with most broadband services is the prevalence of asymmetrical internet access speeds, reaching hundreds of megabits per second on the downlink but much slower on the uplink. As a result, upload speeds are significantly slower than download speeds, throttling business operations and employee productivity with unnecessarily slow upload speeds. According to Speedtest, the median download speed for fixed U.S. fixed broadband subscribers in October 2021 was 131.16 Mbps, while median upload speed was 19.18 Mbps.

To help close the digital divide, we need innovative, new approaches to broadband deployment that leapfrog the slow pace of extending fiber to the home or the high cost of current conventional 5G wireless and satellite internet options.

Fixed wireless access networks, enabled by new mmWave based FWA technologies, provide an ultra-high-speed alternative to fixed-line broadband service. Although wireless internet service providers have traditionally focused on rural areas, some are deploying services in metro areas using next-generation FWA networks based on ultra-fast millimeter wave technology. FWA has been around for years but with the rollout of mmWave alternatives, FWA networks are commercially viable and speed-competitive with traditional fiber deployments.

In fact, mmWave networks are so fast they are dubbed wireless fiber, bypassing miles of underground fiber and cable infrastructure with faster, easier deployment while delivering multi-gigabit uplink and downlink speeds. The rapid rise of mmWave networks is a game-changer for WISPs and FWA networks, enabling ultra-high-speed broadband services at symmetrical gigabit speeds to residential subscribers and enterprise customers and providing a competitive alternative to fixed-line DSL, cable and fiber as well as emerging satellite broadband access.

Given the complexities of America’s broadband access needs, we’ll see an optimal mix of fiber, mmWave FWA wireless and satellite deployments based on infrastructure requirements. FWA service, for example, makes sense for denser urban and suburban environments where it can provide high-speed wireless broadband to homes and businesses at up to gigabit speeds, connecting the unconnected and expanding and improving broadband access.

This alternate FWA approach is much quicker and less expensive to deploy than traditional fiber-to-the-home or conventional 5G, and unlike Low earth orbit satellite, it has sufficient capacity to deliver gigabit service with significant penetration in densely populated areas. With the steady expansion of mmWave wireless networks, gigabit-speed FWA service will also make symmetrical connectivity a must-have feature and market imperative.

Now and in the future, mmWave-based FWA networks will help drive digital transformation in homes and offices and give at-home workers greater freedom of choice. This trend is even more important today as the COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed the balance of work and school from home.

Kevin Ross is founder and CEO of WeLink, a rapidly-growing, next-generation broadband provider. Kevin is pioneering the use of mmWave technologies and small cell micro-pop network architectures, combined with a crowdsourced site acquisition model, that reduces small cell deployment costs and time to market by greater than a magnitude of order. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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

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