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Broadband's Impact

Expert Opinion: How to Bring More Handsets to More Carriers

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2011 – Despite fanfare regarding the end of exclusivity for the Apple iPhone with the launch of a CDMA version, the reality is that many carriers are still unable to attain certain devices. While the majority of current subscribers now have access to the once-exclusive iPhone, because AT&T and Verizon have been allowed to create a duopoly in the wireless industry, from a competition standpoint, AT&T and Verizon are the only two carriers with access to the device. Translation: Less than 2 percent of domestic wireless carriers have access to one of the nation’s most coveted devices.

Just as the iPhone is not the only smartphone on the market, it is also not the only device that is unavailable to consumers. Due to exclusive handset arrangements, consumers are left to choose between robust coverage where they live or the latest hot device they desire.

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WASHINGTON, March 15, 2011 – Despite fanfare regarding the end of exclusivity for the Apple iPhone with the launch of a CDMA version, the reality is that many carriers are still unable to attain certain devices. While the majority of current subscribers now have access to the once-exclusive iPhone, because AT&T and Verizon have been allowed to create a duopoly in the wireless industry, from a competition standpoint, AT&T and Verizon are the only two carriers with access to the device.  Translation:  Less than 2 percent of domestic wireless carriers have access to one of the nation’s most coveted devices.

Just as the iPhone is not the only smartphone on the market, it is also not the only device that is unavailable to consumers.  Due to exclusive handset arrangements, consumers are left to choose between robust coverage where they live or the latest hot device they desire.

Old Issue, New Problems

The anti-competitive and anti-consumer harms of exclusive device arrangements are well documented, and will only get worse if not solved with the launch of 4G networks. Since May 2008, in its Petition for Rulemaking Regarding Exclusivity Arrangements Between Commercial Wireless Carriers And Handset Manufacturers filed with the FCC, Rural Cellular Association (RCA) has led the charge to end exclusive handset arrangements.

Following the filing of the Petition for Rulemaking and subsequent increased scrutiny by both chambers of Congress, the FCC, and the Department of Justice, Verizon Wireless agreed to make its exclusive handsets available to carriers serving 500,000 subscribers or fewer six months after introduction by Verizon Wireless.  This concession, in the form of a letter to House Energy & Commerce Committee leadership in July 2009, was a step in the right direction, and an acknowledgement of a growing problem.

While a step in the right direction, Verizon’s concession was not a solution.  Verizon Wireless has not shared the specifications needed to test and prepare a network for a new device with eligible carriers, a process that takes up to nine months, in a timely manner that would allow for launch six months following the release by Verizon Wireless.  As noted by a coalition of public interest groups, including Consumers Union, Free Press, and Media Access Project, in a letter to Congressional leadership following the Verizon Wireless concession, “Fifteen months in the handset market is the difference between ‘cutting edge’ and ‘obsolete.’”  In press reports on the concession, it was acknowledged that “this is the smallest possible compromise Verizon could offer.”

While Verizon Wireless’ concession managed to alleviate the mounting political pressure to end exclusive handset arrangements, in the meantime, the two largest carriers found another way to create technologically exclusive handsets for their networks.  Even if ordered to share their devices with competitive carriers, these newly developed devices will only work on AT&T or Verizon Wireless’ networks.

Interoperability: A Necessity for the Future

To prevent other competitive carriers from obtaining new devices for 4G networks, the two largest carriers did not waste any time.  Upon obtaining the majority of the spectrum available from the license auction from the DTV switch, AT&T and Verizon went straight to work to “wall off” their newly acquired “beachfront” spectrum.

With Verizon acquiring nationwide license to the C Block, and in turn the entire Band Class 13, they approached the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a non-governmental international standards making body, and were allowed to develop equipment that will operate solely on Band Class 13.  Seeing Verizon Wireless’ actions, following the auction, AT&T returned to the 3GPP and created a Band Class 17, carved out of the existing Band Class 12, to allow AT&T to develop equipment that will operate solely on its network.

The fact that Verizon Wireless and AT&T have been able to develop network specific devices means that, for the first time, interoperability is not present throughout the 700 megahertz (MHz) spectrum.  At the birth of the cellular industry, the Reagan-era FCC mandated interoperability to ensure competition, and subsequently interoperability became the practice in the auctions of the PCS and AWS spectrum.  With restrictive equipment specifications combined with market dominance, AT&T and Verizon Wireless have effectively balkanized the nation’s spectral resources in the 700 MHz, despite the fact that all carriers deploying mobile broadband networks in the 700 MHz band, as well as the public safety community, will be utilizing the same Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology.

While the issues surrounding interoperability can be very technical, the real-world implications to consumers are plain and simple.  The actions of the largest two carriers have limited access and service to all wireless consumers.  Furthermore, all devices, even those created for Verizon Wireless and AT&T, will be more expensive to consumers due to reduced economies of scale.

This is a long way around to try to answer to the question at hand: how to bring more handsets to more carriers.  Congress and the FCC must act immediately to end exclusive device arrangements and restore interoperability to the wireless market.  It is my hope that they do so before this growing problem gets worse, and while the other 98 percent of carriers are able to stay in business.

 

Steven K. Berry is President & CEO of the Rural Cellular Association (RCA), the nation’s leading association for wireless providers serving regional and rural markets in the United States. The licensed service area of RCA members covers more than 80 percent of the nation.

Broadband's Impact

Experts Say Partnerships Key for Downtown City Connectivity

‘Simple and regular community engagement is needed.’

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NASHVILLE, June 22, 2022 – While service providers plan on using fiber to revitalize downtown areas, experts say community engagement with local businesses is key to facilitate the construction process.

“Simple and regular community engagement is needed,” Nathan Hoople, senior project manager at engineering consulting firm Ditesco, said at the Fiber Connect conference on June 13.

Ryan Smith, engineering manager of the City of Loveland and Pulse Broadband,  said there is a “cry for downtown city coverage.” Panelists agreed that regular community involvement in the broadband infrastructure process is key to getting more broadband access in downtown areas.

Hoople stated that because fiber infrastructure construction can be costly, partnerships are key to establish trust and having an efficient installation process for downtown project success. This can have a “tremendous impact on long term investment.”

Effective communication with local leaders and workers allows for a more efficient installation process, said Hoople. “Know exactly how you can serve every building on the block, so you don’t have to rip up the sidewalk in three months.”

Darren Archibald from software and cloud company Calix agreed with the service provider and community partner approach to better downtown access. He added that with this, this “build[s] brand credibility and reliability” making the community aware of the service and why it is beneficial.

Smith emphasized that a specific relationship with individuals in public works is critical for downtown construction. It “would help with permitting, inspections, final close outs and to coordinate with other street projects,” said Smith. “Those relationships go a long way.”

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Digital Inclusion

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk: Three Keys to Building Transformative Broadband Plans

‘While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.’

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Samantha Schartman-Cycyk, President of the Marconi Society

This week, I am thrilled to join state, local and tribal leaders from across the U.S. as we convene in Cleveland, Ohio, for the Broadband Access Summit. As a local and long-time advocate for digital inclusion, I am proud that the Pew Charitable Trusts and Next Century Cities selected Cleveland, one of the least connected cities in the country, as the site for a timely conversation about how we can effectively spend the unprecedented levels of federal funding for broadband infrastructure.

While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.

The good news is that digital equity is finally front and center—where it belongs—and it has taken nearly twenty years of advocacy and practice to get us to this point.

Following are three key lessons I have learned to ensure efforts to expand connectivity are community oriented and sustainable.

1. Bring in local leadership—now

Across the country, areas that have a dedicated local leadership responsible solely for digital equity and inclusion are outpacing their counterparts. Someone, or ideally a team, needs to wake up every day thinking about what digital equity means in their community, how to make a reality in a way that supports key priorities, and where the true needs are. We have seen benefits in cities such as Detroit and Seattle, who have taken this approach.

We must support these leaders with accurate data. At the Marconi Society, a nonprofit that champions digital equity, I helped launch the National Broadband Mapping Coalition to help leaders from rural communities and urban ‘digital deserts’ identify broadband gaps. The NBMC has developed a no-cost mapping toolkit to help educate and guide communities.

2. Plan for sustainability while you have strong funding

We need to anchor digital inclusion efforts to long-term state programs to solidify funding and reinforce the intersectional impact of digital inclusion. Typically, digital inclusion programs blossom within the period of investment but falter when funding runs out, only to peak again when new grants or federal money become available.

This process wastes resources, relationships, and time, resulting in stop-and-start programs that aren’t able to address residents’ needs nor build momentum.

For example, a state like Maine with an older rural population is likely to prioritize services that allow for aging in place and telemedicine care for seniors. States like Utah or Texas, with relatively young populations, might place a higher priority on education and K–12 STEM pipelines. This alignment will allow state leaders to prioritize and bake sustainability into their broadband plans, create digital equity programs that support their priorities, and incorporate data collection into their work.

3. Create the workforce your state will need

In order to implement strong broadband plans that create true digital equity, state and local governments need a pipeline of people who understand the unique intersection of technology, policy, and grassroots digital inclusion work needed to bridge the digital divide. As of last year, nearly 20 states did not even have a dedicated broadband office to begin this work. With funding already being dispersed to states, we are at a critical moment.

To help create this workforce, the Marconi Society conceptualized and is developing the first-ever “Digital Inclusion Leadership” professional certificate with Arizona State University. The program will launch in Fall 2022 and will include top-ranked professors and leading industry experts as teachers and advisors.

I believe that this interdisciplinary workforce will continue to be in high demand as states integrate digital equity into their long-term priorities.

After years of helping to lay the groundwork for the current burst of funding and activity around digital equity, I can say that our work has only just begun. We have the gift of beginning with knowledge and funding that can be truly transformative. The digitally equitable future we are fighting for is closer than it has ever been before—let’s make sure we get this right.

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk is President of the Marconi Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing digitally equitable communities by empowering change agents across sectors. Over her 20-year career, she has built forward-thinking programs and tools to drive impact on digital inclusion at the local and national levels, through projects with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), community training, and data collecting efforts. The Marconi Society celebrates and supports visionaries building tomorrow’s technologies upon the foundation of a connected world we helped create. 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 expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Education

Fiber Broadband Companies and Consultants Tout Their Work for Social Good

Fiber providers, equipment companies and consultants discussed their work in communities in a session at Fiber Connect

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Photo of Ritchie Sorrells of GVTC Communications, Hu Meena of C Spire, Ji Soo Song of Education Department's Office of Educational Technology and Keven Morgan of Clearfield by Drew Clark (left to right).

June 16, 2022 – Leading fiber broadband platforms are hoping to positively impact future generations beyond fiber deployment through education programs for youth, scholarship awards, and traditional community service events, said panelists at Fiber Connect event Tuesday.

The panel discussion, according to promotional material for the panel in advance of the session at the conference, “represented a new level of commitment based on the belief that operators have a responsibility to make the communities they serve even better.” The showcase panel was a way for the Fiber Broadband Association to highlight the work of providers, equipment vendors, consultants and government officials.

Companies are particularly focused on how to influence following generations for good. C-Spire is working with schools in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education, and it provides programs for youth to learn coding and participate in coding challenges hosted by C-Spire.

Working with the state of Mississippi, fiber provider C-Spire made computer science education available to all K-12 students in the state and donated $1 million for teacher training. C-Spire also provided more than $3 million in scholarships for higher education.

GVTC Communications, a consultant to the telecom industry, works with local nonprofits, churches, schools, and businesses to donate full thanksgiving meals to families in need every year since 2012.

Listening to the needs of the community is essential to make an impact, agreed the panel. “When you have listening as your core value, you find out things that you can really make a difference in,” said Kevin Morgan, chief marketing officer at Clearfield, a provider of equipment for fiber builds.

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