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Our Broadband Election – and the Next Chapter of High-speed Internet in America

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November 5, 2012 – In the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election four years ago, then-candidate Barack Obama repeatedly raised the importance of “expanding broadband lines across America” as part of the economic stimulus plan that become the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

During the first year of his administration, many parties honed in on an effort to help stimulate a greater capacity for “middle mile” investments in broadband infrastructure, along with efforts to spur internet adoption and usage, and to systematically map and coordinate broadband assets.

All told, approximately $7 billion – or about 1 percent – of the Recovery Act funding went to stimulate broadband activities.

Even more important than the funding, however, was to have an Executive branch focus on broadband as a policy lever – something that had been lacking in the Bush administration.

President Obama’s election in 2008 coincided with an initiative, undertaken by many individuals that were both Republican and Democratic, to focus on the power of high-speed internet through a “call to action for a national broadband strategy.” This effort, the U.S. Broadband Coalition, contributed to the National Broadband Plan that was subsequently developed by the Federal Communications Commission.

Released in March 2010, the National Broadband Plan is an extraordinary document. It was comprehensive in its inventory of broadband resources. It had the most current public broadband data current available at the time of its publication. It offered ambitious, yet reachable, goals. It did so without being fiscally imprudent. And yet it set into motion comprehensive new opportunities for ensuring that the nation has broadband widely available and well-used.

In addition to the National Broadband Plan, the broadband data now available through the National Broadband Map represents a sea-change versus our understanding of high-speed internet communication, circa 2008. The September Broadband Breakfast Club, “Measuring Broadband Performance: What Have We Learned in Four Years?” highlighted this history.

Now that the federal government and states around the country have begun collecting broadband data in richer detail than ever before, the real power should come in what happens next: leveraging data and maps to promote broadband access and to maximize its use.

One small illustration of this benefit: the FCC has already begun using these tools as part of the reforms of the Universal Service Fund. This $8.1 billion annual fund offer subsidies for a range of telecommunications services designed to ensure universal access to communications.

Nearly one year ago, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and the rest of the five-member commission announced major changes to the USF. The FCC created a Connect America Fund and the Mobility Fund. The FCC has already begun Phase I of each of these initiatives, and these were discussed at the October 2012 Broadband Breakfast Club.

We’ve long known that America needs better broadband. Step one in achieving that capability has always been to collect a world-class inventory of the availability of high-speed internet. The Obama Administration has achieved that goal.

Whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins the presidential election contest tomorrow, no one expects a repeat of the funding made available by the Recovery Act. But at the same time, no one expects that the Universal Service Fund will be diminished.

The past four years have already brought substantial changes in America’s broadband capabilities. These data-driven tools are now available to everyone. And that’s why the next administration – whether a second term for Obama or for a Romney administration – will continue to unfold the next chapter of high-speed internet in America.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter. He founded BroadbandCensus.com, and he brings experts and practitioners together to advance Better Broadband, Better Lives. He’s doing that now as Executive Director for Broadband Illinois, based in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield.

FCC

FCC Commissioner Supports Rural Telco Efforts to Implement ‘Rip and Replace’

In remarks at the Rural Wireless Association event on Wednesday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks reaffirmed the FCC’s goals.

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Photo of Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association, leading a discussion at the summit on Wednesday by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 30, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks acknowledged the agency’s goal of obtaining secure broadband networks at an event of the Rural Wireless Association on Wednesday.

“We must ensure that our broadband networks are secure,” Starks said in keynote address at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here, delivered via Zoom. “This is evident in the constant barrage of attacks of American networks from hostile state and non-state actors.”

Starks continued, “insecure networks, by definition, can’t provide the stable, reliable, always on communications we need. Especially during emergencies… Broadband must be secure for the full benefits of broadband to be achieved.”

The issue of ridding American telecommunications networks of equipment manufactured in China was a constant theme during the conference.

In addition to Starks’ presentation, several sessions addressed the dilemma faced by telecommunications carriers, particular rural ones, that had in the past invested heavily in lower-cost equipment from Huawei, a leading Chinese manufacturer.

As the political winds have changed on the topic over the past three years, Congress has allocated funds for a “rip and replace” program. The FCC is expected to announce the providers that will receive nearly $2 billion as part of the program by July 15.

But some fear that number could be more than $4 billion short of needed funds.

“The funds available will cover only a very small portion” of the costs to replace Huawei with non-Chinese manufacturers, said Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association.

Potential new requirements imposed on telecom providers

The commission recently sought comment on whether it should require carriers that receive high-cost support to have include baseline cyber security and supply chain risk management plans.

If these plans are included in requirements, Starks said that American communication networks would be protected from bad actors. Moreover, they are consistent with requirements already included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Starks thanked the RWA for its activity and advocacy in the “rip and replace” proceedings, officially dubbed the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program.

“The threat is real,” called Starks. “Companies that are deemed by the federal government to be a threat to the United States and its people can not have free reign in data centers featuring some of the most sensitive data of Americans.”

This comes only days after Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores in response to the apps’ obligation to comply with the Peoples Republic of China’s surveillance demands.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks Calls for Environmental Sustainability at Summit

Environmental sustainability in telecom has been a key talking point for Starks.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

June 27, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Geoffrey Starks raised on Monday the importance of sustainability in telecommunications as a speaker at the 2022 Broadband for All Summit in Stockholm, Sweden.

An important responsibility for agencies in the industry is building infrastructure that is environmentally sustainable, Starks said, suggesting four avenues to improve sustainability.

First, “we must continue to find ways to do more while using less, and that begins with the way we use spectrum,” he said. We need to “squeeze” the most out of the finite spectrum while simultaneously building networks that draw less power.

Second, “we need to realize our full potential to help other sectors consume less, too.”

We are entering an era where we can “collect, communicate, and analyze massive quantities of data to improve decision-making in real-time. Everything from traffic flow to energy transmission to orders of operation on the factory floor can benefit from data-driven efficiencies that were previously impossible,” he said.

Third, “industry-led initiatives must continue to play a significant role, from progressing towards reducing or eliminating the carbon emissions associated with their operations, to increasing renewable energy and minimizing electronic waste.”

Some manufacturers, according to Starks, have gone beyond carbon neutrality and are aiming for net-zero operations.

Fourth, “we must collectively do our part to mitigate climate change’s harmful effects at the network level”. With harsher weather patterns than previous generation, we should invest in networks that will keep communities connected during storms, floods, wildfires, and other disasters.

Starks, who has pitched environmental sustainability in telecommunications on a multiple occasions, advocated for players in the industry to be “as aggressive as possible with our climate commitments, and we should be as comprehensive as possible in our effort to comply with them.” This should include eliminating waste during the production phase, he said.

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FCC to Gather Information on Offshore Spectrum, Accurate 911 Call Routing

The FCC is examining the need and use cases for allocating spectrum for offshore use.

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Photo of Nathan Simington

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted in an open meeting Wednesday to examine technology that can improve wireless 911 call routing, propose a fine for interrupting U.S. forest service radio communications, and to seek comment on offshore spectrum needs and uses.

The FCC voted to begin gathering information through public comment on the “possible current and future needs, uses, and impacts of offshore wireless spectrum use,” including for cruise ships, oceanography and wind turbine projects. Other options, like satellite-based systems, are available to provide service.

The construction and operation of windfarms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and communication services between at-sea vessels require offshore spectrum. The notice of inquiry asks what other cases exist that require offshore spectrum access that are not being provided for under existing models.

“We seek more broadly to understand the extent of the demand to use offshore spectrum and more generally where that demand is concentrated,” stated the inquiry.

“It is important that the FCC stay ahead of the curve in its consideration of upcoming commercial spectrum needs and this item does just that,” said commissioner Nathan Simington.

911 call routing

The FCC launched an examination into technology that could result in faster response times by more precisely routing wireless 911 calls to the correct call center.

Some wireless emergency calls are made near city or county borders where the closest call center is in the neighboring jurisdiction, resulting in lost time as calls are rerouted to the correct call center.

Since 2018, when the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on feasibility of routing 911 calls based on location of the caller versus location of the cellular tower, there have been many advancements in location-based routing technology. The FCC issued a Public Notice Wednesday seeking updated information on these technologies and the feasibility of adopting them into public use.

Last month, AT&T announced a new technology that would allow dispatchers to get a more accurate location of distressed calls by using the phone’s GPS.

Proposed fine for violating radio interference rules

The FCC also proposed a $34,000 fine Wednesday against Jason Frawley who, in 2021, allegedly interfered with radio communications that were guiding firefighting during the 1000-acre wildfire near Elk River, Idaho.

Frawley reportedly admitted to a Forest Service supervisor that he broadcasted on government frequencies in direct defiance to the Communications Act which prohibits any interference with authorized radio communications.

Neither the allegations nor the proposed sanctions are final FCC actions, said the press release.

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