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National Broadband Plan: A Look at Chapters 1 & 2

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2010 – The national broadband plan aims to present not just a roadmap of how to expand broadband but also to provide a long-term vision of innovation. While the first chapter of the plan explains its overarching goals and congressional mandate, the plan is really outlined in the second chapter. The plan has six goals that the Federal Communications Commission plans to achieve through four general recommendations.

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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles written by BroadbandBreakfast.com staff summarizing each chapter of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2010 – The national broadband plan aims to present not just a roadmap of broadband expansion, but also to provide a long-term vision of innovation. While the first chapter of the plan explains its overarching goals and congressional mandate, the plan is really outlined in the second chapter. The plan has six goals that the Federal Communications Commission plans to achieve through four general recommendations.

Looking at the recommendations, they’re not distinct policy actions to be taken but a series of overall actions to be taken to create a more inviting environment for future innovation.

Looking at the other major broadband plans published by South Korea, Japan, Sweden and Germany, the FCC clearly recognized the need for increased competition in order to maximize consumer welfare.

The second general recommendation deals with the physical expansion of the network by working with localities to make it easier to obtain permits for the installation of poles, cables and other network equipment. In addition to the physical network, the FCC feels that the available spectrum needs to be inventoried and cataloged in order for more efficient use; this may include the redistribution of government-owned spectrum.

The Universal Service System needs direct reform; specifically the high-cost system that currently subsidizes telephone service needs to be redirected for the use of broadband funds. This transformation needs to occur for low-income Americans and others.

The final recommendation is the most vague. It simply states that laws and policies and standards need to be reformed in order to allow the government to influence public education health care and other government operations to be better used over the Internet.

Looking over the six goals, some of them have direct implications while others are simply overall statements designed to allow for the improvement of broadband availability.

The plan’s first goal is the most lofty and the most concrete: “at least 100,000,000 U.S. homes should have affordable access to an actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and a dual upload speeds of at least 15 megabits per second.”

The FCC plans to achieve this goal by ensuring that every American has accurate actual performance data. It recently released its own speed-test service using data provided by M lab and others to allow consumers to determine their actual speeds. This will allow the FCC to determine what the differential is between what consumers actually get and what ISPs claim they are delivering.

In later sections of the plan, the FCC goes into more detail about actual vs. advertised. The specific goal is that by 2015, 100 million Americans should have affordable access with actual download speeds of 50 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of 20 mbps. This benchmark will allow the agency to determine in five years the actions of helping to achieve the ultimate goal or whether new policies should be enacted.

With the rise of smartphones and netbooks, the mobile connectivity of Americans has been steadily increasing. Numerous studies have concluded that many minorities and low-income households use the mobile Internet to connect. In order to expand the mobile network, the FCC plans to work with locality staff to allow for easier pole placement but also to expand spectrum. Specifically, the agency plans to lift the 500 MHz band and make it available by 2020 with making 300 MHz available by 2015.

When looking at why Americans don’t have access, the most obvious reason is a lack of physical connectivity. However, with the over-expanding network, the lack of use it is becoming more attributable to a lack of digital literacy or basic affordability. With regards to digital literacy, the commission proposes the creation of the digital literacy corps. This new program is expanded upon later in the plan.

In order to tackle the issue of affordability, the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation will be reevaluated. The goal is that over the next 10 years both programs will be modified to allow for a shift from telephone service to broadband service. Unfortunately with limited funding, telephone service will no longer become a focus. In addition to the universal service program, the Life Link and Link Up services that are used to bring telephone service to low-income communities, will be expanded to include broadband.

In order to achieve true ubiquity, institutions such as schools, hospitals, government buildings and libraries also need a high-speed connectivity. Here the FCC is pushing for a one gigabit per second connection for these anchor institutions. The FCC also plans to reevaluate the rural healthcare support programs. Additionally, it would like nonprofit and public institutions to work together to obtain better connectivity.

The fifth goal is one of the concrete goals which the FCC has proposed after the 911 Commission released a report addressing emergency responder systems. The 911 group found that emergency personnel were unable to communicate with each other across various systems since many of them are not interoperable. The FCC is proposing a new nationwide wireless interoperable public safety network to be completed no later than 2020. This would allow first responders, hospital personnel, fire and police officers to communicate using one unifying network.

The final goal addresses a tangential benefit of a high-speed network – access to energy information. A smart grid would allow all Americans to access direct energy information on pricing and consumption ball and allow for the easier transmission of energy across the United States. This could enable better load management and price control. According to the plan, studies demonstrate that when people get feedback on their electricity usage, they make simple behavioral changes that save energy.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for BroadbandBreakfast.com since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

Health

FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.

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Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

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Health

FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’

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WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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