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Best Buy to Offer Mobile Broadband Through Clearwire

WASHINGTON, July 30, 2010 – Best Buy’s new mobile broadband service provider, Best Buy Connect, will be adding 4G options to its customers.

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WASHINGTON, July 30, 2010 – Best Buy’s new mobile broadband service provider, Best Buy Connect, will be adding 4G options to its customers.

Best Buy has formed a wholesale relationship with Clearwire, and will use Clearwire’s WiMax network to provide customers with mobile broadband beginning in 2011. Best Buy is the first major corporation to partner with Clearwire to provide 4G service under its own brand name. Best Buy Connect has not revealed if the service will be available country-wide or only in areas with WiMax markets.

This relationship will further Best Buy’s focus in creating a store where customers can buy electronic devices, receive support, and set up connectivity at one place. Best Buy Connect currently offers 3G through Sprint, who partly owns Clearwire.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

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5G

Rural Mobile Providers Push FCC to Alter 5G Fund Model

If carrier receiving legacy federal funds lose at auction, they could leave areas ‘stranded,’ providers say.

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Screenshot of Carri Bennet, RWA's general counsel

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2023 – Rural mobile providers are urging the Federal Communications Commission to consider an alternative to the reverse auction funding model the agency proposed for a future 5G fund.

The fund has been in limbo since 2020 due to mapping issues. It makes $9 billion available for 5G mobile broadband infrastructure in areas unlikely to be served without subsidies.

With access to newer, granular data on mobile broadband coverage in the U.S., the FCC released on August 31 a notice proposing updates to the program’s methodologies for defining areas eligible for funding and seeking comment on potential new provisions like extending support to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The proposal is slated to be discussed at the agency’s open meeting on September 21. 

Ahead of that discussion, the Rural Wireless Association has met with FCC officials five times in the last month to reiterate the same concerns over the program’s reverse auction model. Under this procedure, providers would compete to develop the cheapest cost structure for serving an area with the minimum required speeds – at least 35 Mbps upload and 3 Mbps download in the case of the 5G Fund.

Rural providers are concerned because some areas served by carriers receiving support from legacy funding programs like the Mobility Fund will be eligible for auction. If those carriers lose at auction, the RWA says, the reduction in federal funds might make them unable to continue operating their infrastructure and leave other areas covered by their networks without service.

“There is no ‘safety valve’ put in place that would protect these networks built with federal dollars and maintained by legacy support mobile carriers,” the association wrote in an ex parte filing on Wednesday.

The RWA has proposed the commission seek comment on allowing these providers to opt out of the reverse auction if they are an area’s sole mobile carrier. In such a scenario, the group also wants the FCC to consider subsidizing 5G upgrades based on predicted costs.

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Expert Opinion

Kate Forscey: Mobile Broadband Gap Needs to Be Remedied, Too

A recent study by CostQuest suggests that 37,000 more towers are needed to bring mobile coverage up to speed nationwide.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Kate Forscey, contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute

It’s no longer a question: Whether it’s launching a new business, keeping up with friends, or finding the cheapest gas station nearby, the Internet is quintessential to the extent we don’t even think twice—until we don’t have it.

While Internet in America’s cities and suburbs weathered COVID’s storm, rural and low-income Americans have struggled to get any Internet access for decades.  The well-known stories of parents taking their kids to McDonald’s parking lots to do their homework haven’t ended—far too many Americans still lack access to the broadband they need.

The federal government, however, is taking steps to change the story.  The FCC’s Universal Service Fund has awarded billion dollars to deploy fiber and fixed wireless service to unserved areas through an alphabet soup of programs like the ACAM, the CAF, the HCLS, and the CAF BLS.  The most prominent of these is the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund that auctioned off $9.2 billion in federal support to connect 5.2 million unserved homes with high-speed broadband.

Congress has stepped up, too, with the bipartisan Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act.  That legislation sent $42.45 billion for states to build out fixed, high-speed broadband.  In addition, Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program, allocating $14.2 billion to reduce the cost of broadband for low-income households.

Policymakers recognize the problem and their responsibility to do something, and they are taking action on a bipartisan basis.  This is good.  But it’s not enough.  All of this funding is directed at one broadband gap—fixed connections to the home.

Mobile connectivity gap remains unresolved

There is another broadband gap—mobile connectivity—that’s unresolved.  A recent study by CostQuest suggests that 37,000 more towers are needed to bring mobile coverage up to speed nationwide.

Mobile broadband is central to the daily goings-on of families and businesses as we leave our houses with the fading of the pandemic.  That’s especially true for rural communities where commutes are longer, educational opportunities are sparse, and precision agriculture is necessary to stay in business.

To be fair, work is underway.  The FCC allocated $9 billion in 2020 for its 5G Fund, a support program to bring high-speed mobile connectivity to unserved Americans.  But that’s only a fraction of the funding needed to close the mobile gap.  And the FCC cannot move forward with the 5G Fund until it finishes updating its broadband coverage maps, which it’s been working on since 2019 and should be ready this fall.

So what to do?  Well, the FCC can move forward with its 5G Fund.  The auction model for that fund, as the Commission has proposed, would work—the RDOF used a similar model, costing the federal government $6.8 billion less than the FCC originally estimated.  And that $6.8 billion in savings could be redirected to the 5G Fund now that Congress is working to close the fixed-broadband gap.  The only downside is that the 5G Fund is a long-term solution—it will likely take several years before the funding is awarded.

Private companies are bringing new solutions to bear

In the interim, private companies are bringing innovative solutions to bear.  For example, AST SpaceMobile is building the first space-based cellular broadband network, allowing existing mobile phones to jump seamlessly from their terrestrial service to the company’s satellites and back again.  If the FCC were to fully authorize the service, it could expand the reach of existing towers and lower the cost of building out 5G to the far reaches of America.

Following in AST’s footsteps, SpaceX’s Starlink just announced a technology partnership with T-Mobile to enable connectivity to mobile phones in areas that don’t currently have access. Amazon’s Project Kuiper has similarly partnered with Verizon to extend the reach of mobile networks.

The advantage of these immediate solutions is they don’t require granular mapping or government funding to get started—they just need the FCC’s okay.  And while they don’t solve the problem entirely (satellite service works much better in Kansas cornfields than in the forested hills and hollers of West Virginia), they can quickly close the mobile gap where they do work well.

I remain hopeful that we can and will close the mobile gap.  Just as Congress and the FCC have relied on a variety of solutions to connect every household, we’ll need a multi-pronged approach to bring mobile connectivity to every American.  That means moving forward on government solutions like the 5G Fund as well as private solutions that give companies the flexibility to serve new customers.

Connectivity is having a bipartisan moment—let’s make it last.

Kate Forscey is a contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute and principal and founder of KRF Strategies LLC. She has served as senior technology policy advisor for Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo and policy counsel at Public Knowledge. 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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Mobile Broadband

Policymakers Urge Better Broadband Maps, Seek Funding for ‘Rip and Replace,’ and Tout Open Radio Networks

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Screenshot of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi

October 23, 2020 — Policymakers called for more accurate broadband maps, continued progress against robocalls, and the use of an open radio access network for advanced wireless communications at the Competitive Carriers Association’s policy forum on Wednesday.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, emphasized new broadband maps in his speech. Wicker noted that Congress recently passed Broadband Data Act, which he authored, requiring the FCC to change the way broadband data is collected.

“Current data claims Mississippi has 98 percent mobile broadband coverage,” said Wicker, adding that the claim is “ridiculous.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, addressed the achievements of the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act in battling robocalls in his keynote. He thanked CCA members for their help in passage of the measure.

Pallone also called for the passage of the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, which aims to fund small providers replacing Chinese-made telecommunications equipment in their networks. The program is often dubbed “rip and replace.”

“Replacing Chinese-made gear is going to cost billions, anywhere from to $1.6 to 1.8 billion,” said Pallone, “Congress needs to provide monetary assistance” to small carriers.

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brendan Carr championed the use of open radio access networks during his keynote, saying that for CCA members, the unbundling that open RAN technology requires will result in increased competition in the marketplace.

Competitive Carriers Association represents more than 100 wireless carriers and stakeholders.

CCA CEO Steven Berry thanked CCA members for rising to the circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said many members extended service to users and waived fees to keep consumers connected.

Berry said wireless connectivity “has given people exactly what they need” during these times of hardship.

“Small carriers serving remote and rural areas need to have a seat at the table in Washington D.C.” to influence government policies that directly affect industry operations, such as the ability to access spectrum, said Berry.

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