WASHINGTON February 16, 2011 – Officials from the Federal Communications Commission updated the telecommunications subcommittee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners on the current state of wireless, public safety and wireline competition at the Association’s yearly convention Tuesday.
Ruth Milkman, Chief of Wireless Bureau, emphasized the increasing importance of spectrum for the future of broadband development.
“Spectrum is a scarce and limited resource, we can’t simply mine more of it,” said Milkman. “We must use what we have carefully and to the best of our ability”
The wireless bureau has been tasked to finding 500 megahertz of free spectrum for expanding mobile broadband. Milkman said that the bureau is not only looking at commercial license holders but also wants to reclaim unused spectrum owned by the federal government.
“The first step in reclaiming spectrum is conducting a thorough inventory,” said Milkman. “We have already conducted part of it, and have posted the results online via the spectrum dashboard.”
The dashboard presents a graphical way to identify license holders in the radio spectrum – it can be found here.
The greatest source of new spectrum will be the TV white spaces, which are the bands that were once used for transmitting television signals but now remain empty after the digital transition.
The bureau also plans to explore the possibility of holding incentive auctions to reclaim spectrum which is not being used by its license holder. Milkman said that auctions would be voluntary and would likely be supported by the license holders if they were able to keep the at least a portion of the proceeds from the auction.
“Currently the law states that any spectrum auction proceeds go to the US Treasury,” he said, “but if we can change the law and allow the license holders to profit from the auction they will be much more likely to give up their unused spectrum.”
The incentive auctions have gained support from Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV), who introduced a bill that would allow the FCC to hold the incentive auctions and allow the commercial owners to keep some of the profits.
David Furth, Deputy Chief of the Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, also described the importance of spectrum for the proposed national public safety network.
“Unlike previous networks which were created independently then made to work with each other,” Furth said, “we now plan to make a single nationwide network that is designed to be interoperable.”
He then went onto describe potential updates to the e911 system such as allowing text messages or email to be sent to first responders.
Chief of the Governmental and Consumer Affairs Bureau, Joel Gurin spoke mainly about how the consumer bureau is looking to expand their work in “bill shock” to include broadband. Bill shock occurs when customers see a sudden and unexpected increase in their monthly service bills without changing their plans.
“The office of engineering is working with us on an upcoming project on broadband speed,” said Gurin. “We need to inform consumers as to what speeds are needed to run popular applications, [consumers] need to understand what the speeds mean and they need to know how to check if they are getting the speeds that are advertised. We also need to expand truth in advertising to broadband ads.”
Sharon Gillett, Chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau, gave the most expansive presentation going into deep detail on the proposed reforms to the Universal Service Fund (USF).
“We need to update USF to include broadband and provide quality service with a reasonable cost to consumers,” said Gillett. “Under the current system, some areas gain support for multiple phone providers but no broadband is funded.”
Gillett went onto to explain that the transition period between the current Universal Service System and the Connect America Fund would see upheaval in the local markets but is necessary for the long-term health of the program.
According to Gilllet, the new Connect America Fund will not only bring service to consumers but also promote fiscal responsibility and install market-driven and incentive-based policies.
Partnerships And Trust Go Long Way To Securing Financing For Broadband Projects, Panelists Say
Broadband Breakfast panelists wrestle with the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure projects.
April 16, 2021 – Financing broadband projects requires real human relationships among everyone involved, said Broadband Breakfast experts Wednesday.
The weekly panel addressed the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure. Billions of federal dollars are making their way to expand internet access across the country, including the $9.3 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund. There is significant funding to be spent, but it’s not always as simple as receiving a check in the mail from the government.
Getting the necessary funds to build broadband networks — whether they are private service providers like Comcast, electric co-ops or municipal-owned networks — often requires financing with banking institutions or other means of funding.
“You really want to strike a deal with someone that you can trust, who you think has your community’s interests in mind,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. “Human relationships are important, and often are a precursor to striking any of these sorts of deals.”
He mentioned unique ways that companies and communities can collaborate to build broadband networks.
For example, he referenced some long-term agreements in Minnesota between localities and CTC – Consolidated Telephone Company. The localities would pay for and own fiber-to-the-home networks that are operated by the CTC. “That can really help for operators that have the capacity to do more work, but may be at their lending or borrowing limits,” Mitchell said.
Internet Service Providers “can work with a community that would take on the debt in order to build the network and then offer, whether that’s exclusive, whether that’s permanently exclusive, or timed-exclusive, that’s one way,” Mitchell said.
Partnering with anchor institutions
Another method is for providers to partner with communities or schools to build networks that are owned by the company but paid for by the community or school with state or federal funding, such as the company Clearnetworx in Colorado.
“ISPs sometimes have to build those relationships and have creative ideas to make these things happen,” Mitchell said.
“When I think about the creation of MBC back in 2004, I think it was really all about leadership and relationship and good timing,” echoed Lauren Mathena, director of economic development and community engagement at Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC). On grant processes and getting the necessary financing, she said “the biggest thing is building those relationships and keeping that determination, and if you haven’t started, start today, because it is a process.”
Many smaller banks often lend out for broadband projects, sometimes even banding together if they hit their limits, because they see it as a wholistic community development, explained Tim Herwig, district community affairs officer at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
“A lot of these banks are locally-owned, the bank president, the members of the board, sit in the pew at church next to customers,” Herwig said. “Their kids go to the same schools together, they eat in the same restaurants, they go jogging down the same streets, right? They have a deep sense of corporate community responsibility. They see broadband as a gateway to the financial security and future of the communities where they serve,” he said.
High cost challenges
“The big challenge in a lot of these markets for rural operators is the economics of providing service in high-cost areas just don’t pencil out,” said Jeff Johnston, lead communications economist at CoBank, a private bank that focuses on services in agriculture and infrastructure for rural areas.
In addition to getting the upfront funding to building the infrastructure, there is also the operating costs to consider, and for some areas that’s not feasible without extra support, he said. “It’s one thing to get support up front to build a network in a high-cost area, but there’s on going expenses to managing the network,” he said.
Johnston also mentioned financial issues that may occur in federal reverse auction programs such as RDOF. “They’re great programs, first of all, but I also think operators going into these reverse auctions don’t overextend themselves,” he said. “Be realistic in what you think you can do operationally and financially.”
For MBC, which operates in Virginia, they pair funding with state and federal programs, such as the 1998 national tobacco settlement through the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Mathena said. “We’ve been able to pair state and federal grant applications together, so that we’re using state dollars to help build that match, so that’s not just coming from MBC’s revenue,” she said.
FCC to Vote On Emergency Connectivity Fund Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel
The agency is expected to vote on policies for the new connectivity fund by mid-May, chairwoman says.
April 14, 2021 – Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday the agency will be voting by mid-May on policies to deliver the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which has received over 9,000 interested institutions through its portal.
The Emergency Connectivity Fund is part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law in March 2021.
It’s “the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability program,” Rosenworcel said Tuesday on a virtual panel hosted by Allvanza, an advocacy group for Latinxs and underserved communities within the technology, telecommunications and innovation industries; the Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC); and the Asian Pacific American Advocate group (OCA).
It’s “designed to make sure we get every household in this country connected to high-speed Internet service because this pandemic has proven like nothing before,” she added.
The FCC made a sign-up portal on its website to determine interest in the program, and over 9,000 institutions have signed up to date, Rosenworcel said, adding she hopes the policies for the EBB can address the homework gap by extending internet subsidies normally reserved for schools and libraries to households.
Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator, said minority-aimed broadband initiatives have done great work in bringing together providers and companies with minority-serving institutions.
Correction: A previous version of this story said the FCC will vote by mid-May on policies related to the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. In actuality, the agency is voting on policies for the new Emergency Connectivity Fund from Biden’s new American Rescue Plan.
Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events
Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.
April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.
Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.
The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.
“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.
Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.
Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.
Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.
Broadband central to digital activities
“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.
President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”
Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.
“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”
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