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Wireless Industry, Broadcasters Clash over Incentive Auctions at CES

LAS VEGAS, January 10, 2011 – Industry and government representatives debated the future of spectrum policy during a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Friday and highlighted the controversy over the FCC’s proposed incentive auctions.

Rick Boucher introduced the discussion with a prepared statement explaining the need to free up more spectrum for mobile broadband use and promoting both voluntary incentive auctions as well as the re-auction of the D-block, a controversial segment of spectrum. Boucher served as the Chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet during the 111th Congress.

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LAS VEGAS, January 10, 2011 – Industry and government representatives debated the future of spectrum policy during a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Friday and highlighted the controversy over the FCC’s proposed incentive auctions.

Rick Boucher introduced the discussion with a prepared statement explaining the need to free up more spectrum for mobile broadband use and promoting both voluntary incentive auctions as well as the re-auction of the D-block, a controversial segment of spectrum.  Boucher served as the Chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet during the 111th Congress.

The D-block is a segment of spectrum in the 700Mhz range – considered prime real estate for mobile broadband use – that the FCC attempted to auction off in 2008, but bids failed to meet the Commission’s reserve price.  Currently the swath is allocated for use by public safety. Boucher supports re-auctioning it for commercial use, in part because of budgetary concerns.  As he explained prior to the panel, the Congressional Budget Office assumed $2.5B in income for the auction, but if the government does not realize that income, it will be forced to cut the amount from elsewhere in the federal budget.

Politico’s Kim Hart moderated the panel, which was part of the Tech Policy Summit series at CES, and invited participants to explain the spectrum issue and discuss solutions going forward.

As part of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), the FCC has set a goal to reallocate 500Mhz of radio spectrum to mobile broadband through various programs over the next 10 years.  Among the prospective plans is a voluntary incentive auction, which would allow existing spectrum licensees to elect give up part or all of their spectrum in exchange for monetary compensation.  The plan requires Congressional approval before going forward.

“There is a bright future for broadcasters who want to be entrepreneurial and a bright future for broadcasters who want to carry linear, must-have kind of services,” explained Tom Wheeler, a heavyweight in the industry who chairs the Federal Communications Technology Advisory Council.  “Voluntary incentive auction allows broadcasters to make a economic decision: ‘What’s the future of my business?'”

If the incentive auctions go ahead, broadcasters could stick with traditional services and receive compensation for spectrum that their business models do not require.  Current licensees could also choose to refrain from giving up any spectrum if they feel it is or will be necessary for them to use in the future.

Two other parts of the plan, channel sharing, which would allow broadcasters to double up on a 6Mhz channel, and “repacking,” or compressing broadcasters to free up more contiguous spectrum, are also on the table in the FCC plan.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which has faced allegations of its members “squatting” on unused spectrum, strongly opposes the FCC plan.  Lynn Claudy, Senior Vice President of Science and Technology for the NAB used a barnyard analogy to explain the association’s position.

“There are three moving parts: incentive auctions, which are like selling off part of your cattle, channel sharing, which is like “piggybacking” your cattle, and repacking, which is like packing your cattle closer together.”

Claudy further asserted that as consumers more and higher quality programming, such as HD and 3-D (which require more bandwidth to broadcast), that taking spectrum away will cause problems for broadcasters.

Rebecca Hanson, the FCC’s Spectrum Director for the National Broadband Plan, however, took exception to the NAB’s portrayal of the plan, emphasizing that it was strictly voluntary on the part of current licensee broadcasters.

“We aren’t requiring any broadcaster to give up spectrum against his or her will,” said Hanson. “How much spectrum [broadcasters] offer for auction is entirely up to the broadcaster.”

Wheeler supported the FCC’s position, calling the auctions “quintessential free market.”  He explained that if broadcasters have a need for their spectrum, they are free to refrain from giving any up, but if they do not, it can become a salable asset.

“The market,” Hanson asserted, “will allow the right amount of spectrum to go to the right buyer at the right price.”

Jonathan began his career as a journalist before turning his focus to law and policy. He is an attorney licensed in Texas and the District of Columbia and has worked previously as a political reporter, in political campaign communications and on Capitol Hill. He holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Washington and a J.D. from Villanova Law School, where he focused his studies on Internet and intellectual property law and policy. He lives in Washington, D.C., where he roots for Seattle sports teams and plays guitar in his free time.

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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FCC

Broadband Roundup: Mobile World Congress Cancelled, Yang Bows Out, Ajit Pai at Wind River Tribe

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Photo of Ajit Pai at Wind River Indian Reservation by the FCC

The world’s largest trade show for mobile communications was canceled Wednesday due to the organizers’ uncertainty that it could guarantee the health of its attendees, according to a CNBC article.

The move was prompted by high-profile dropouts from the conference announced earlier in the day.

Amazon, Sony, Nokia, and Intel were among the biggest names to announce that they would ultimately not be sending representatives to the Barcelona-based conference because they were not willing to risk the health of their employees.

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, making it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” GSMA said in a statement.

The conference was originally scheduled to begin on Monday, February 24.

2020 hopeful and tech whiz Andrew Yang bows out of presidential race

2020 hopeful and former tech CEO Andrew Yang ended his contest in the 2020 presidential election after disappointing results in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

Yang built a small but loyal following referred to as the “Yang Gang.” They and others supported his flagship platform of providing a “freedom dividend,” or universal basic income, of $1,000 for every American family every month.

“We have touched and improved millions of lives and moved this country we love so much in the right direction. And while there is great work left to be done, you know, I am the math guy, and it is clear tonight from the numbers that we are not going to win this race,” he told supporters on Tuesday night.

“I am not someone who wants to accept donations and support in a race that we will not win. And so tonight I am announcing I am suspending my campaign for president.”

Prior to running for president, Yang founded Venture for America, a nonprofit that matched recent graduates with startups. Prior to that, he was CEO of a test preparation company called Manhattan Prep., which he sold to Kaplan and for which he made millions.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai monitors tribal broadband growth during visit to Wind River Reservation in Wyoming

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai met with leaders of the Arapaho Tribe in Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming to see firsthand the areas in which the FCC is investing $4.1 million for gigabit-speed broadband deployment.

These funds come from the Connect America Fund Phase II auction that is providing speed service to 849 homes and businesses in the reservation.

“Bringing high-speed connectivity to rural Tribal lands can be a game-changer,” said Chairman Pai.  “That’s why bridging the digital divide is my top priority.”

During his visit, Chairman Pai also discussed with Arapaho leaders the Tribal Priority Window.  The FCC opened up the Tribal Priority Window earlier this month to enable federally recognized tribes to apply for spectrum in the 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz) band.

This band—the single largest band of contiguous spectrum below 3 GHz—offers favorable coverage and capacity characteristics for next-generation mobile services, such as 5G.  Through this priority window, tribes can obtain 2.5 GHz spectrum without charge before a commercial auction.  The Rural Tribal Priority Window will close on August 3, 2020.

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