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4G is 4G… Or Is It?

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With the growth of mobile broadband the availability of 4G is becoming more important to consumers; however the term 4G is being used so differently by each of the mobile providers that soon it may be very difficult for consumers to compare mobile broadband offerings.

As 4G networks are deployed, the definition and understanding of 4G is becoming muddled. If action is not taken by the Federal Communications Commission soon 4G could become simply a vague term for fast mobile access as broadband has become a term for fast wired internet access.

Currently, the four major mobile carriers each support three different technologies and call all of their new networks “4G.” This disorganized use of the term 4G has forced the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to abandoned the original definition to prevent further confusion. Using the ITU’s original definition of 4G, only WiMax and Long Term Evolution meet the necessary standards of speed and fidelity. The ITU felt that these technologies were a great improvement over 3G not just a simple upgrade. Nevertheless, the ITU revised its definition and now calls all three technologies “4G” in order to reduce some confusion. Additionally, the union has also considered adopting a new definition as early as next year for services that offer even faster speeds.

When ITU changed the definition, it released the following statement:

“Following a detailed evaluation against stringent technical and operational criteria, ITU has determined that ‘LTE-Advanced’ and ‘WirelessMAN-Advanced’ should be accorded the official designation of IMT-Advanced. As the most advanced technologies currently defined for global wireless mobile broadband communications, IMT-Advanced is considered as ‘4G’, although it is recognized that this term, while undefined, may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed. The detailed specifications of the IMT-Advanced technologies will be provided in a new ITU-R Recommendation expected in early 2012.”

Using this new definition, currently, only Sprint, Verizon and eventually AT&T have ITU-approved 4G. Currently Sprint offers its customers 4G via Clearwire’s WiMax network with download speeds of 3-6Mbps. Verizon has deployed a LTE network that offers customers speeds of 5-12Mbps download and 2-5Mbps upload.
T-Mobile and AT&T both advertise 4G services via HSPA+ networks but it does not match the technical comparisons of LTE or WiMax. HSPA+ is an incremental upgrade over the GSM networks; considered to be a middle step between 3G and LTE. AT&T plans to upgrade its network from HSPA+ to LTE over the next two years while T-Mobile plans to simply upgrade its throughput on the HSPA+ network. While AT&T has not released any speed details, currently the T-Mobile network provides download speeds of up to 8Mpbs with a theoretical maximum download speed of 21Mbps by the end of 2011. The company plans to upgrade the network to allow for download speeds of up to 42mbps.

4G download speeds can range from as slow as 3mbps to as fast as 42mbps. The use of HSPA+ as a 4G network is controversial because it is just an iteration of 3G technologies that can potentially offer faster speeds. When T-Mobile announced in July that it would be launching a 4G network using HSPA+ AT&T criticized the labeling of HSPA+ as 4G technology. AT&T spokesman Seth Bloom said: “I think that companies need to be careful that they’re not misleading customers by labeling HSPA+ as a 4G technology,” Bloom was quoted around the same time as telling several tech blogs, “[AT&T isn’t] labeling those technologies as 4G.”

Consumers are also frequently confused about what the term “4G” means. A recent survey by the Nielsen Company found that nearly half of respondents did not understand what 4G was but 83 percent were aware of it.

According to the survey:

“When asked to define 4G, 54 percent of those that responded selected the original ITU definition: mobile data speeds of more than 100 MBits/s, even though no carrier worldwide currently reaches speeds that high. Also of note, 27 percent of respondents thought that the iPhone 4 was 4G (it’s not), likely due to the naming conventions of the last several iPhone devices: iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS & iPhone 4. Additionally, a number of respondents selected slightly ambiguous definitions of 4G – for example, several of T-Mobile’s new Android phones are HSPA+ (the MyTouch 4G and the G2), but not all new android phones at T-Mobile are HSPA+.”

The survey indicates that the current naming structure of 4G confuses consumers – and creates a market asymmetry between users and providers.

The new open internet rules, which promote transparency, do not offer any regulation regarding the labeling of mobile networks. They simply require the information to be available to consumers. The Open Internet Order says in part, “[a]lthough a number of mobile broadband providers have adopted voluntary codes of conduct regarding disclosure, we believe that a uniform rule applicable to all mobile broadband providers will best preserve Internet openness by ensuring that end users have sufficient information to make informed choices regarding use of the network; and that content, application, service, and device providers have the information needed to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.”

As mobile providers deploy their next generation networks, the term “4G” is coming to simply describe a new network. Consumers, however, tend to believe that all of these new 4G networks are equal which is not the case. Currently these networks range from an incremental improvement, such as HSPA+ to truly next generation speeds as is available with LTE or WiMax – but unless the term “4G” is soundly defined, consumers may never know the difference.

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

FCC

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr Optimistic About Finding Common Ground at Agency

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr from C-Span

March 24, 2021 — Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said the regulator has since 2017 seen what he wanted: Broadband speed increases and lower prices.

“The approach we adopted in 2017 is working,” he said at the Free State Foundation’s 13th annual telecom policy conference on Tuesday. “Speeds have increased, prices are down, and we see more competition than ever before; we need to keep it that way,” he said, stressing the importance of reinforcing the good work the previous administration did and continues to do.

Carr, who has been a part of the FCC since 2012 in various capacities and through different compositions, said the transition into the new administration is going well.

In contrast to before, when it seemed as though the “sky was falling” and there were many problems with net neutrality, today’s reality is quite different, thanks to Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, he said.

The chairwoman contacted him almost immediately after she asked him to participate an event together on telehealth. There have been a lot of conversations and compromises since that moment, he said.

He said elections do bring some consequences, and undoubtedly have shaken some of the agency’s previous standards with a different party in leadership. However, he said the FCC has been finding common ground, something that “has been all too rare in the past couple of years.”

He added that, in 2016, experts and analysts weren’t painting a very rosy picture for the US future leadership when it comes to 5G. One of the primary reasons cited was the cost and length of time to build out the Internet infrastructure in this country, he said.

“We went from 708 new cell sites in 2017 to over 46,000. The progress is astounding, and not only with towers but with fiber, as we built 450k miles of fiber in just one year alone.”

Spectrum auctions driving the agenda, Carr says

Optimistic on spectrum, he pointed out that at present, there is a lot of it available. “In 2017, the FCC had previously voted in a lot of higher band spectrum options.”

The work of initial prioritization was completed by us before 2017 when we moved in and noticed the lack of midband spectrum in the pipeline. We had to move fast, and we had the first auction for the midband in 2020, with frequencies ranging from 3.5 to 5.5 gigahertz.

Over the last couple of years, he said the FCC has opened that band to intensive use, pushing the midband spectrum a great deal. The future holds the need to create a spectrum calendar with a rough outline of spectrum auctions, including which bands are available for auction and when, he said. “I have already filled in that calendar.”

He said the regulator’s challenge is not with a lack of communication but with coordination.  “We need the FCC to take a step back and consider the public interest, how the agency can best achieve the federal missions and how it can best do this. Even if there are going to be disagreements, it is paramount to ensure that the American economy stays competitive.”

Looking ahead, Carr said the 5.9 gigahertz project, which last year was on trial to expand rural broadband access, would be a great beginning to prove that good leadership and compromise are possible between both parties.

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The $3.2 Billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: What’s In It, How to Get It?

Tim White

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Pool photo of FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel by Jonathan Newton

March 5, 2021 – Just shy of the 60-day deadline set by Congress, the Federal Communications Commission adopted an order on February 25, detailing how the new Emergency Broadband Benefit Program would work.

The $3.2 billion program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 that passed Congress in December 2020 and is allocated to the FCC to help low-income households with broadband access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Broadband Breakfast Live Online will focus on the program on Wednesday, March 10, 2021: “The Emergency Broadband Benefit: How Will the $3.2 Billion Program Work?

The funding will provide up to $50 per month for eligible low-income households, increased to $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands. Rather than disbursing directly to consumers, the funds will be distributed to participating broadband providers, who in turn will grant the discounted internet access to qualifying households who apply.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program is not to be confused with the Emergency Connectivity Fund currently being considered by Congress.

The Emergency  Broadband Benefit program also has a one-time reimbursement option of $100 for purchasing desktops, laptops or tablets for connecting to the internet, with a co-pay of between $10 and $50.

Households do not receive the reimbursement for buying a device separately: That is provided by the service providers through which the funding will be disbursed.

To qualify for the program, households must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Qualifies for the FCC Lifeline program
  • Is approved for the free or reduced-price school breakfast/lunch program
  • Demonstrates substantial documented loss of income since February 29, 2020
  • Received a federal Pell grant in the current award year
  • Qualifies for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 relief program, subject to FCC approval.

To receive reimbursement for services and connected devices, participating service providers must register with SAM.gov, cannot be listed on the Department of the Treasury’s “do not pay” list, and must register with the FCC to receive a registration number. Similar to the Lifeline program, the EBBP will be provided to companies who participate through the Universal Service Administrative Company.

To participate, companies are not required to be eligible telecommunications carriers through Lifeline, but must apply through an “election notice” with USAC. They must also get prior approval from the FCC before filing their notice.

The application window for service providers to apply to the program opens on Monday, March 8, 2021, and ends March 22. The program should begin approximately April 25, or 60 days after the FCC published the order.

The service provider’s broadband plan must have been in place by December 1, 2020, to receive the discounted rate.

Unlike the FCC’s Lifeline program that has been in place for several years, this new funding is temporary and set to expire, either when the $3.2 billion are exhausted or six months after the Health and Human Services secretary declares that COVID-19 is no longer a health emergency.

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What You Need To Know About the More-Than-$7 Billion Emergency Connectivity Fund

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Kamala Harris proceeding to break the deadline on coronavirus relief deliberations from the Los Angeles Times

March 5, 2021 – The Senate on Thursday voted to begin debate on the $7.6 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund, which is part of the House-passed $1.9-trillion coronavirus stimulus bill.

Most of the 591-page bill adheres closely to what President Biden called for in his relief proposal in January 2021, as reported by CNN. The $7.6 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund includes funds for internet service, hot spots, and other devices to use at home. The larger coronavirus bill includes new rounds of stimulus checks, unemployment assistance, and healthcare support.

This comes after a coalition of education advocates in January 2021 petitioned the FCC to add in a provision for emergency E-rate funding. On Feb. 9, 2021, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., announced the provision as part of the committee’s legislative recommendations for the COVID budget reconciliation legislation. The Federal Communications Commission would be tasked with implementing the $7.6-billion fund.

The potential fund of more than $7 billion fund in this Emergency Connectivity Fund is not to be confused with the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a new pot of broadband money allocated by the consolidated appropriations bill passed in December 2021.

Broadband Breakfast Live Online will focus on that other program on Wednesday, March 10, 2021: “The Emergency Broadband Benefit: How Will the $3.2 Billion Program Work?

The magnitude of the pandemic has sent schools scrambling to connect students to virtual learning. The Emergency Connectivity Fund would help connect some more than 15 million children and as many as 400,000 teachers, according to Common Sense and Boston Consulting Group.

But passage of the additional more-than-$7 billion in funding is not assured. Even to begin debate on the broader coronavirus relief package, Vice President Kamala Harris had to cast a tie-breaking vote because the Senate is even split with 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats and 50 Republicans.

Major tech priorities included in an earlier Senate draft of the bill appear unchanged in the official version of the bill introduced to the Senate yesterday. Funding for the Emergency Connectivity Fund is part of larger funding for the Technology Modernization Fund, as well as for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and other proposals.

President Biden originally proposed $10.2 billion of funding for the modernization fund and cybersecurity, but the Senate’s version includes just $1 billion. Additional, the Senate’s version includes  $7.17 billion for the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which was reduced by more than $400 million from the original $7.6 billion proposed figure.

Still, the fund represents the a very large tech investment to support broadband capabilities and remote learning in schools.

As Broadband Breakfast noted on Monday, the Emergency Connectivity Fund, previously signed into law in December 2020, secured $3.2 billion to expand broadband coverage to underserved communities and households in need. This internet service discounts of up to $50 per month for eligible consumers and up to $75 per month for those on tribal lands. Additional discounts on a computer or laptop device are also included.

As reported by MeriTalk, getting the Senate to bring its version of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill to a vote later this week is imperative, as both chambers are pushing to get the bill signed into law before March 14, when some unemployment assistance programs will expire.

Presuming the Senate passes its version of the bill, it goes back to the House for a vote and then onto the White House for President Biden’s final signature.

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