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FCC Creates Standardized Process for Cell Tower Siting, Discusses Broadband ‘Gaps’

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2009 – In unanimous 5-0 decision, the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission voted Wednesday to standardize the application process for tower siting requests.

Advocates of the move said that the action marked another step by the agency to speed adoption of broadband in the United States. For example, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said, “We are promoting broadband by removing roadblocks to its development.”

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WASHINGTON, November 22, 2009 – In unanimous 5-0 decision, the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission voted Wednesday to standardize the application process for tower siting requests.

Advocates of the move said that the action marked another step by the agency to speed adoption of broadband in the United States. For example, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said, “We are promoting broadband by removing roadblocks to its development.”

The application process for tower siting had previously been governed by a provision of the Communications Act stating that applications must be processed within “a reasonable amount of time.” After Wednesday’s decision, the FCC now interprets that to mean 90 days for towers with co-located telecommunications equipment, and 150 days for all other towers.

“Sometimes the commission needs to act to spur innovation,” said commissioner Julius Genachowski about the FCC’s ruling. The commissioners stressed that they were not limiting the power of state and local governments, but said that they were giving direction to them to help speed the development of broadband infrastructure.

“Consumers suffer when government stands in the way of action that will improve quality of life,” added Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

The agency also ruled that state and local governments may not deny a wireless service facility siting application because service is already available through another provider. But the ruling denied wireless association CTIA’s request that the agency find it a violation of law for a state or local regulation to require a variance or waiver for every wireless facility siting.

This ruling preceded an update from the U.S. Broadband Coalition on the progress of the National Broadband plan. Blair Levin, director of the FCC’s broadband initiative, outlined the purpose of the update:

  • Describe the most important broadband gaps
  • Ensure public awareness of areas of inquiry and start focused discussion of solutions
  • Set the agenda for the next 91 days

The discussion on “gaps hindering adoption” tracked a report presented one week earlier by the Adoption and Use Working Group of the non-profit U.S. Broadband Coalition.

Key gaps included the “middle mile” – or areas between the Internet’s backbone and last-mile consumer access – plus affordability and spectrum gaps.

On the topic of the middle mile gap, Levin shared a recent statistic showing that the cost per subscriber for transit and transport to provide fixed broadband in rural areas is 25 times greater than in urban areas.

Additionally, the Universal Service Fund does not directly pay for these costs. “There’s not a lot of accountability about how much support goes to broadband versus telephone,” said Levin.

The spectrum gap is also cause for concern, stated Ruth Milkman, a member of FCC’s broadband task force. She said that the United States could face a spectrum shortage as soon as 2013.

A concern was raised by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski whether or not the agency’s task force would continue to issue and analyze request for public comment. These comments have provided invaluable feedback, but the concern is that with so little time remaining, will they benefit the agency or just distract it?

“There’s no concrete answer for that,” said Levin. “We want to stay open to new great ideas. We never want to cut of creative thinking.”

FCC

FCC Announces New RDOF Accountability and Transparency Measures, Additional Funding

Results of verifications, audits and speed and latency testing for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will be made public.

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Photo of reels of cabling in Hinsdale, Mont., in August 2016 by Tony Webster used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Friday said that it will implement new accountability and transparency measures, and make public the results of verifications, audits and speed and latency testing for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The measures are part of a new known as the Rural Broadband Accountability Fund that monitors several universal service high-cost programs.

Additionally announced in a press release, the Rural Broadband Accountability Fund will speed up the FCC’s audit and verification processes.

Audits and verifications are projected to double in 2022 as compared to 2021 and include on-site audits, and a particular focus will be placed on auditing and verifying the largest-dollar and highest-risk RDOF recipients.

The agency also announced that it would commit more than $1.2 billion more to RDOF, the largest funding round for the program to date.

The new funding will bring broadband service to more than 1 million locations through deployments in 32 states, with 23 broadband providers assisting the effort.

Going forward, the commission will deny waivers, it said, “for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications.”

All winning bidders will undergo “an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review.”

Finally, the commission says a list of areas will be published which details where providers have defaulted, “making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.”

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Broadband Data

Federal Communications Commission Approves New Provider Transparency Requirements

Broadband providers must now create “broadband nutrition labels” which list pricing and speed information.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel from January 2015 by the Internet Education Foundation used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to require that broadband providers create “broadband nutrition labels” that list information on the pricing and speed of internet service they provide.

The labels mimic food nutrition labels in format and aim to increase transparency of providers in their marketing to consumers.

With their approval at the commission’s monthly open meeting Thursday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the new rules are crucial to consumers being able to find the best deals on broadband service for their personal needs.

Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel praised the label format, saying that it allows consumers to “easily compare” information and that it is “black and white, simple to read, and easy to understand.”

The long-simmering idea was enacted by Congress in the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by the president on November 15. It directed the FCC to revive the project by one year from the law’s passage.

On Thursday, Joshua Stager, New America’s deputy director for broadband and competition policy at its Open Technology Institute, called the vote “a welcome step forward and a win for consumers.” The think tank began promoting the idea last decade, and it had been endorsed by the Obama administration before being canned by the Trump administration.

Industry group Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said the transparency afforded by the new policy “provides consumers with important tools to make informed choices.”

Additionally in Thursday’s meeting, when the agency tentatively revoked telecom operator China Unicom Americas’ operating authority in the United States, the agency said they had reached out to the Department of Justice for assistance in responding to what they say are potential threats from the China-based company. This inter-agency review is routinely part of determinations involving foreign-owned telecommunications companies.

The agency also updated its definition of “library” to make clear that Tribal libraries are eligible to receive funds under the Universal Service Fund’s E-rate program.

Starks emphasized that the commission’s action represented progress on digital inclusion efforts, but that unfamiliarity of Tribal libraries with the E-rate program remains a problem.

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FCC

Federal Communications Commission Implements Rules for Affordable Connectivity Program

The agency implemented new rules on the Affordable Connectivity Program, which makes a new subsidy permanent.

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Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel by Rob Kunzig of Morning Consult

WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules Friday for its Affordable Connectivity Program that changes and, in some cases narrows, the eligibility requirements for the subsidy to allow for more households to be connected.

An extension of the former Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which offered discounts to broadband service providers to subsidize connectivity and devices, the new program will make it easier for providers to get in the program by automatically making eligible providers in good standing.

Additionally, the FCC maintains that the monthly discount on broadband service is limited to one internet discount per household rather than allowing the benefit for separate members of a household. “Adopting a one-per-household limitation best ensures that Program funding is available to the largest possible number of eligible households,” the agency said in its report.

To accommodate the volume of eligible households enrolling in the ACP, the FCC allowed providers until March 22 – 60 days after its Friday order is published in the Federal Register– to make necessary changes to ensure that the ACP can be applied to providers’ currently sold plans.

“So much of our day to day—work, education, healthcare and more—has migrated online. As a result, it’s more apparent than ever before that broadband is no longer nice-to-have, it’s need-to-have, for everyone, everywhere,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “But there are far too many households across the country that are wrestling with how to pay for gas and groceries and also keep up with the broadband bill. This program, like its predecessor, can make a meaningful difference.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act transformed the EBB to the longer-term Affordable Connectivity Program by allocating an additional $14.2 billion to it.

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