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Broadband Breakfast Serves a Thanksgiving Leftover Wrap-Up

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WASHINGTON, November 25 2011 – As we all sit and digest post Thanksgiving, Broadband Breakfast can finally wrap up some stories that we have been interested in over the past couple of weeks but have not had time to get around to.  We wanted to draw attention to a couple of the stories below and provide you all with some summaries and quotes to go with your leftovers.

AT&T/ T-Mobile Merger Being Put To the Test of the Public Interest

On Tuesday, November 22, a couple of days before the shot clock ran out on the review of the AT&T/ T-Mobile merger, FCC Chairman Genachowski circulated an order around to each of the Commissioner’s offices suggesting that the $39 billion dollar deal between the two companies does not meet the public interest and raises some serious questions of fact.

The order calls for the deal to be referred to an administrative law judge for a “trial type hearing” where AT&T will have the burden of proof of showing that the deal meets the public interest, accelerates deployment of mobile broadband and creates jobs.

In a private phone conference with some members of the press on Tuesday FCC officials, concluded that the deal violates antitrust law and does not meet the public interest because it would lead to massive job losses.  Officials also added that the hearing will not take place till after the United States District Court in Washington hears the Department of Justice’s suit to stop the merger.

The last merger that the FCC referred to an administrative law judge trial was Direct TV/ Echostar back in 2002.

How Many Geeks does it take?

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, The Gig Tank, part start up accelerator and part think tank is holding a competition in the summer of 2012 and asking budding entrepreneurs and techy college students around the country “what would you do with the world’s fastest internet.”  The details of the competition can be found here.

The best gigabit ideas, apps and businesses created during the summer’s GigTank will be awarded up to $300 K in cash prizes and investment capital.

This public private partnership backed by companies like Alcatel-Lucent and EPB, Chattanooga’s publicly owned electric power system, is an effort to foster new innovative technology ideas, create jobs and take advantage of the country’s first 1 gigabit-per-second fiber optic network.

As of several month’s ago only a handful of local residents and businesses have signed on to receive the $350 a month service which require special gigabit routers to deliver wireless signals.  The network however can deliver 1Gbps speeds to over 150,000 homes in a 600 square mile area.

Perhaps the GigTank will be successful in creating the added value to spur citywide adoption.

In Sebastopol CA, Sonic.net is testing a 700 home network and laying out fiber lines delivering speeds close to 1Gbps for 69.99 a month.  Read more here

The question remains, what will Google’s fiber network in Kansas City look like and how much will it run for?

Turkey Award Goes To…

Louisiana!

Earlier this month the Commerce Department pulled an $80 million dollar stimulus grant that was awarded to the Louisiana State University Board of Regents to extend Louisiana’s statewide research fiber network to the northeast corner of the state.  The funds would have created 900 miles of cable over 21 parishes and would have brought affordable 100Mbps to high schools across that region.

NTIA apparently pulled the funds because they were concerned about last minute changes to the plan that lacked technical and financial details as well as concerns about the ability to complete the plan before the January 2013 deadline. The grant which was originally approved to extend broadband infrastructure into unserved parts of the state, became a plan to provide long term leases to private companies.

Louisiana Commissioner of Administration, Paul Rainwater defended the state’s actions by saying, that even though private companies were going to be hired, state intervention would be needed that would have competed head to head with other private providers.

About a week ago, NTIA rejected the pleas of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to reinstate the stimulus funding.  Landrieu has called out Louisiana Governor Jindal for “fumbling the ball on this one.”

Broadband Breakfast’s friend and former Expert Opinion Contributor Geoff Daily wrote about this issue on his blog

He ended with these thoughts,

“I’m truly appalled at how this whole thing’s gone down, though I wish I could say I’m surprised. We continue to have officials at all levels of government refusing to acknowledge the basic tenant of rural broadband: you’re either subsidizing deployment or profits.

You’re either spending public dollars on building out public infrastructure, or you’re spending public dollars on trying to make rural areas profitable enough to entice private providers to build out their own infrastructure.

Has telecommunications traditionally been an area where services were delivered by the private sector? Yes, but isn’t the reason rural America isn’t connected yet because of a breakdown in this reliance on market-driven forces?

In my opinion the number one question on policymakers’ minds should be: “How do I get my communities connected enough to be competitive in the global digital economy?”

 

Smarter Cable Set Top Boxes for Everyone.

Last week the cable industry announced that CableLabs® – Energy Labs a new arm of the cable industries research and development consortium will launch a new initiative to improve the energy efficiency of consumer set to boxes and develop advanced services  designed to promote innovative consumer energy conservation measures.

According to their press release, “The energy initiative will promote the development, testing, and deployment of technologies that will enable cable subscribers to reduce and manage energy consumption in the home, including establishing new requirements for both cable video devices and network support systems.”

New cable specification will enable cable set top boxes to have “sleep” capabilities to reduce energy consumption when good old Uncle Buck falls asleep in front of the TV watching football after your Turkey Day meal.

The Cable industry has noted that by 2013 90% of set top boxes will be ENERGY STAR 3.0 devices.

The CableLabs® – Energy Lab will leverage the expertise and capabilities of CableLabs to build industry consensus on projects that will enhance current energy conservation efforts.  The CableLabs® – Energy Lab will:

  • Design and maintain a consistent and accurate energy tracking program for measuring and reporting energy consumption and efficiency improvements of new set-top boxes. Procedures for testing and advancing the energy efficiency of set-top boxes and energy conserving software will also be established.
  • Serve as a testing and development facility for designers of energy efficient software and hardware.
  • Create energy efficiency specifications for semiconductor and hardware suppliers and the network operations systems that support cable devices.
  • Assist in developing applications and products that will help consumers manage their overall residential energy consumption.
  • Showcase and demonstrate current and future energy savings products and power monitoring capabilities.

 

Former and Current Congressmen Talk 2012 Tech Policy and Beyond

Last week National Journal hosted a panel discussion on 2012 Technology and Beyond.  Although we did not cover this discussion immediately there were a couple of comments and shared thoughts that are worth re posting in a quick summary.

Bruce Gottlieb, General Counsel for National Journal began the first part of the morning moderating a discussion between former Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA), now Partner at Sidley Austin LLP and Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE).

Not surprisingly there was a lot of talk about spectrum.  Terry reiterated the opening statement of CTIA’s President and CEO Steve Largent, by saying “this is all about spectrum, we are moving to a mobile society and we will stifle innovations that come with mobility without the spectrum.  What barriers do we have to remove and what level of spectrum do we need to provide?”

Boucher added that “incentive auctions are a no brainer.”  He believed that in many cities where the spectrum crunch is the greatest there would be a number of broadcasters that will find greater value in their spectrum being sold.

Boucher also commended FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, by pointing out that the Net Neutrality rule was carefully negotiated.  “Stakeholders had major role in coming to terms with it, there was broad agreement… even Verizon really did not disagree on the substance.  I think the FCC handled it in an adroit way.”

Boucher and Terry both noted that in terms of USF, they had structured a comprehensive recommendation for statutory reform of USF that enjoyed broad stakeholder support.  Boucher mentioned that in legislative hearings, telephone companies large and small as well as the cable industry all endorsed the legislation that contained notable advancements that FCC has currently adopted including reverse auctions, transition to broadband  and denying support to incumbent LEC in situation where there is competition in offering voice services within that local exchange.

Boucher then brought up the need for another Telecom reform. “The last one in 1996 was about analog telephone and basic telephone services.  Today we have a transition to digital technology and the IP platform to deliver voice video and data.  We also now see companies that have historically offered different products offering the same products, a combination of voice video and data, and competing with each other.  A new era law would recommend a transition to digital technology and an IP platform for delivering all communications and would adopt functional regulations as opposed to industry specific regulations.  Today you treat cable different than phone and wireless when in reality they are all offering the same services that are competing with each other.”

Terry admitted to having same discussion in his office. “The FCC was built on silos, but as technology develops they are all moving to one platform.” – having discussions in office not yet ready for hearings – do we really need the wireless video and voice all segmented and regulated differently when it is all delivered the same way.

When asked about broadband infrastructure in rural America, former Rep Boucher the once champion of the public interest community, stated that the AT&T T-Mobile merger needs to be approved in order to allow for efficiencies in innovation build out and spectrum use to bring broadband to rural communities.  After a giant digital gasp from the public interest world Boucher did admit that his current firm is representing AT&T.  Still a 180 degree turn nonetheless.

The video from the event which includes a follow up panel discussion with Antoinette Bush, Partner at Skadden, Arap, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, Ambassador David Gross, Partner at Wiley Rein, Larry Irving, Principle of the Irving Group and Bruce Mehlman, Partner at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Inc can be seen here.

As Deputy Editor, Chris Naoum is curating expert opinions, and writing and editing articles on Broadband Breakfast issue areas. Chris served as Policy Counsel for Future of Music Coalition, Legal Research Fellow for the Benton Foundation and law clerk for a media company, and previously worked as a legal clerk in the office of Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. He received his B.A. from Emory University and his J.D. and M.A. in Television Radio and Film Policy from Syracuse University.

Senate

National 6G Strategy Bill Passes Senate Commerce Committee

The Next Generation Telecommunications Act received bipartisan support.

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Photo of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto by Senate Democrats, via Wikimedia

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2022 – Legislation that would create a council to advise Congress on 6G and other wireless technologies and how they may power smart cities on Tuesday passed the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation committee with bipartisan support.

In addition to advising Congress on the state of technology in the telecommunications industry, the council would also develop a comprehensive, national telecom strategy, which will address topics related to technology, workforce demands and security.

The bill, Next Generation Telecommunications Act, S.3014,was introduced by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., who said in a press release that the legislation is a key part of her state’s goal of being “on the cutting edge of new technologies.

“We’ve got to promote American competitiveness in these kind of cutting-edge technologies that we’re building in Nevada,” Cortze Masto said in a statement on the bill. “That means improving access to quality broadband, ensuring we have the necessary workforce, and putting in safeguards to make sure we protect emerging technologies.”

The council would be comprised of 15 members including the deputy secretary of Commerce, the assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, the undersecretary of the National Institute of Standards, the chairperson of the Federal Communications Commission, and the director of the National Science Foundation.

The council would also feature three members appointed by the majority leader of the Senate, two members appointed by the minority leader of the Senate, three members appointed by the Speaker of the House, and two members appointed by the minority leader of the House.

The bill has received notable bipartisan support: it is co-sponsored by two Republicans and two additional Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ben Luján, D-N.M.

“As China and other countries seek to exploit communications networks for surveillance and intellectual property theft, the U.S. needs a cohesive strategy for the safe deployment of next-generation wireless technologies,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

South Dakota senator and Senate Republican minority whip John Thune also came out in support of the bill. “This bill would allow the United States to continue competing on the global stage, and it would help prepare the United States to lead the way in deploying next-generation technology, including 6G. I’ll continue to work on bipartisan solutions that will increase innovation and bolster the private sector’s ability to compete in this emerging space.”

The bill must now get through a general vote in the Senate, at which point it will need to also pass the House.

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Senate

Gigi Sohn Nomination for FCC Advances Out of Commerce Committee on Party Lines

Nomination of Alvaro Bedoya to the FTC can also advance to the floor following a party-line vote.

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Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2022 –  President Joe Biden’s nominee to the Federal Communications Commission Gigi Sohn saw her nomination advance out of the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday following a vote split along party lines.

Sohn, as well as Biden’s nominee to the Federal Trade Commission Alvaro Bedoya, did not receive the vote of a single Republican on the committee while receiving the support of all Democrats including more moderate senators such as Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., allowing for their nominations to advance to a full vote on the Senate floor.

Republican ranking member of the committee Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi stated that on the FCC Sohn would have the appearance of conflicts of interest related to her involvement in past legal battles and cited her past recusals on retransmission consent as problematic.

The controversy is related to Sohn’s involvement with nonprofit streaming service Locast which attempted to make local broadcast network content available to the public for free, sparking copyright lawsuits.

Wicker stated that Bedoya was too divisive and not unifying enough to serve on the FTC, a trend of partisanship that he says is new to the agency.

Strong Democratic support for both nominees makes their confirmations in the Senate seem quite plausible. Should all Republicans vote against the nominations, the approval of all Democratic senators will be required in the deadlocked Senate so that the vice president may break vote ties in the nominees’ favors.

Both the FCC and FTC remain split along party lines, and the confirmations of Sohn and Bedoya would give Democrats the upper hand at the agencies.

The nominations’ advancements out of committee earned praise from telecom industry groups such as think tank New America, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, and intellectual property nonprofit Public Knowledge – the organization Sohn formerly headed.

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Broadband's Impact

Year In Review: Key Developments for Broadband’s Impact in the U.S.

This year saw a growing telehealth trend, federal digital inclusion efforts and greater attention to spectrum sharing.

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Photo of FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel (left) in February 2020 from the Prince George's County Library used with permission

WASHINGTON, December 29, 2021–High-speed internet access has never seemed more essential than in the days of another year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And that’s why, for the third in a three-part review of 2021, Broadband Breakfast focuses on broadband’s impact in enabling benefits through expanded internet access.

Telehealth takes center stage

Because the pandemic is continually forcing closures and stay-at-home orders, the expansion of telehealth services has become a critical, normalized service this year as remote health care is a safer, more efficient way to deliver high-quality care.

Broadband service is now important to maintaining overall health––experts have defined broadband services as a social determinant of health. Expanding telemedicine across rural and Tribal communities remain barriers to better health outcomes for vulnerable populations.

The pandemic prompted Congress to extend waivers that allowed patients to take advantage of telehealth services. Experts say the waivers encouraged the growth of telehealth systems, and that investment in telehealth is necessary to improving them.

Broadband access and affordability often restrict vulnerable communities’ ability to take advantage of telehealth services. This year saw massive investments focused on funding telehealth subsidies for patients in need.

In December alone, the Federal Communications Commission announced more than $42.7 million in COVID-19 Telehealth Program awards for health care providers spending on telecommunications information services and devices. The awards also reimburse health care organizations for innovative ideas that connect patients to quality care with broadband.

For example, the Westchester County Health Care Corporation in Valhalla, New York, was awarded $1 million for the purchase of remote monitoring software and video equipment, which will allow for the creation of a “tele-ICU” for the provision of remote care for hospitalized patients.

In October, a Senate subcommittee heard testimony that permanent regulatory flexibility allowing free or subsidized telemedicine services for patients would have  a positive impact on patient care. It may have a cost benefit too: FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr estimated that  widespread telehealth availability could save the health care system $305 billion a year.

The FCC’s new Affordable Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission served as an accelerator to better connect communities during the pandemic through its Affordable Connectivity Program. As families and students struggled to stay connected to work and school during the pandemic, the FCC has taken historic steps to assist families can’t afford to pay for internet service and devices.

Originally established as the Emergency Broadband Benefit, the Affordable Connectivity Program is the nation’s largest broadband subsidy program to ever be enacted. The Emergency Broadband Benefit was replaced by the Affordable Connectivity Program after the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November.

The Affordable Connectivity Program transformed the Emergency Broadband Benefit into a long-term program that provides discounts for families to purchase internet service and devices. Households can also receive discounts to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet for their home.

The Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment period opens on December 31, 2021, allowing families to start the new year with the opportunity to receive new devices for the home. However, a long-standing challenge has been informing the community about these benefits. Policy experts agree that these benefit programs are not reaching the intended audience.

A November report showed that areas with low broadband adoption are less likely to enroll in the program. “If leaders want to connect the unconnected, in addition to low income groups, other programs will be needed. EBB isn’t targeting these low-adoption communities,” said Will Rinehart, senior fellow at the Center for Growth an Opportunity.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel agreed on the need for emphasizing outreach. “There was no funding to help a lot of these non-profit and local organizations around the country get the word out [about the program],” Rosenworcel said during a September event hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance about the broadband affordability divide. “And I know that it would get the word out faster if we had that opportunity.”

Digital equity and inclusion

The past year was significant for its focus on digital equity and inclusion. The closing of many public institutions because of the pandemic has forced lower-income communities into isolation without sufficient devices or technology to stay connected, digital inclusion experts say.

Organizations such as the National Digital Inclusion Association have decried a type of discrimination known as “digital redlining” in which internet service providers discriminate in broadband deployment, maintenance, upgrade, or delivery of service in lower-income neighborhoods. Because communities of color are more likely to have slower and less reliable internet service, policy leaders have been active in finding solutions.

To combat this alleged practice, Rep. Yvette Clark introduced the Anti-Digital Redlining Act on July 30.  The bill finds that lower-income residents pay the same for DSL internet as fiber customers, while wealthier residents receive much better internet service. The text of the bill also acknowledges that disparities in internet access “impose significant costs” on the government to choose between “either offering non-digital means of interaction or excluding residents without access to high speed, reliable broadband access.”

If passed as federal law, the measure would require the FCC to ban digital redlining.

This year also saw the passage of digital inclusion-focused legislation as part of the recently-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law allocated $2.75 billion to the Digital Equity Act, which establishes the federal definitions of digital inclusion and digital equity.

The Digital Equity Act’s two programs and three grant funds will supply money to the states in order to do digital equity work. For example, the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program gives block grants to states for broadband infrastructure deployment and other digital inclusion activities.

Amy Huffman, policy director at the National Digital Inclusion Association, said that states are best prepared to promote digital equity for their residents. “The states are already in charge of so economic development workforce development health outcomes, etc. so they want the state to think holistically, about how they’re doing around digital equity will help them achieve their other goals.” By connecting all residents to quality devices and internet-enabled services, residents are better equipped to fully engage with the community and improve their quality of life.

Satellite broadband takes flight

Apart from the high-profile space launches this year, the broadband industry is both excited and skeptical about satellites playing a greater role.

In late 2020, the FCC voted to adopt rules making it easier for satellite providers to obtain licensing to deploy satellites faster. In February, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched 120 Starlink broadband satellites on two February missions, bringing the total number of satellites to over 1,700.

Low Earth Orbit satellites, which can bring broadband to rural communities, could connect harder-to-reach communities faster than laying fiber. By May 2021, SpaceX announced it had over 500,000 orders for the Starlink service.

Other companies are also jumping into the satellite business: the FCC approved Boeing’s  request to launch 132 satellites for its broadband internet network, and Amazon’s satellite imitative Project Kuiper partnered with Verizon in October to launch an internet service for underserved and unserved communities.

However, these massive investments didn’t come without controversy. Apart from concerns about Starlink’s capacity to deliver long-term, high quality service that complies with IIJA, public telecommunications policy leaders say the 12 GigaHertz (GHz) band, the portion of spectrum that Starlink uses for its services,  should be shared with 5G operators to deliver internet to lower-income communities.

Research commissioned by RS Access in August concluded that the mid-band spectrum can be shared between 5G and satellite broadband operators and finding that the 12 GHz spectrum is “highly favorable for 5G,” and “can rapidly accelerate 5G deployment nationwide.”

Next year regulators and policymakers will continue the battle to determine who, if anyone, will have greater control over the 12 GHz band.

Will the ‘homework gap’ persist in a world of online education?

Last year’s initial COVID lockdown left many families unprepared and unconnected to devices or internet access and the “homework gap” persisted.

In fall 2021, many schools embraced a “hybrid” in-person, virtual schooling model. Around this time, Pew research found that lower-income parents were more likely to say their children did homework on a cellphone and could not complete homework because they did not have computer access at home.

Some students have been using public Wi-Fi because they could not connect reliably at home. The FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund was authorized to help close bring devices to students who lack them.

Originally launching in June as part of March’s American Rescue Plan Act, the FCC has committed $3.8 billion of the $7.17 billion program to provide funding for schools and libraries to buy equipment students to learn remotely.

The total amount committed to go to support 9,000 schools, 760 libraries, and 100 consortia for nearly 8.3 million connected devices and over 4.4 million broadband connections, the agency said last week in a press release. (See also Year in Review: Key Developments in Digital Infrastructure with Ramifications for Next Year.)

Last week, the FCC committed another $603 million in Emergency Connectivity funds to connect more than 1.4 million students across all 50 states.

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