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Broadband Roundup: Klobuchar and Lee Question Comcast-Time Warner, Less Rural Wireless, and Mayors Seek Net Neutrality

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WASHINGTON, June 25, 2014 – Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have raised concerns over the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

At issue is the potential for a reduction in outlets for traditional video programming, innovation in broadband, and price increases.

“Because this transaction will materially increase the buying power of the largest buyer in the market for programming, it is important for your agencies to carefully assess the impact of this transaction on the ability of viable content providers of all types to obtain distribution of their content,” the senators wrote, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

The latest of many small carriers that have left the wireless market, reported Telecompetitor, noting that rural communications service provider Plateau Telecommunications is selling its wireless operations in eastern New Mexico and West Texas to AT&T.

Plateau CEO Tom Phelps was quoted by Telecompetitor as saying that “while the wireless part of the business has certainly been important to us, we are pleased to be in a position to focus more on our other quality telecommunication services provided through our extensive fiber network.”

The deal, which is expected to close in the second half of 2014, requires regulatory approval.

The National Conference of Mayors urged support for the FCC’s network neutrality rules, according to Multichannel News, calling for a ban on paid prioritization and other practices that it referred to as discriminatory. It also sought the end of state laws blocking municipal broadband.

“Paid prioritization under a commercially reasonable standard allows paid prioritization that has heretofore been understood to be unjust and unreasonable; and unreasonable paid prioritization is antithetical to a neutral internet, and nondiscrimination is an inherent and indivisible characteristic of net neutrality,” the mayors wrote, according to Multichannel News.

Regarding net neutrality, Google was paid a visit at its headquarters Tuesday by Occupy Oakland protesters who called for the protection of the open internet, according to SilliconValley.com

“We are here to call on Google and all its employees to stand up and join us in the fight for a free and open Internet,” the group said on its web site.

The American Library Association wrote on District Dispatch of its support for the FCC as it moves forward with E-Rate modernization. It thanked the agency for simplifying the application process for schools and libraries.

The association said that the FCC’s $2 billion “down payment” to the E-Rate program is not enough funds; broadband access should be “fully funded for eligible applicants.”

“Wi-Fi without adequate broadband—which is the case for the majority of the nation’s libraries that have internet connections of less than 10 Mbps [Megabits per second]—does not come close to adequately serving the education, employment, entrepreneurship, empowerment and civic engagement needs of our communities. ALA urges the FCC to incorporate a portion of the down payment to high-capacity broadband—that is, to priority one services—in this first order.”

Broadband Roundup

Debt Ceiling Bill Passes House, China Warns of AI Risks, Rural Internet Exchanges

Debt legislation will limit federal discretionary spending, facilitate environmental permitting for infrastructure projects.

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Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo of Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Thursday via Shutterstock

June 1, 2023 — The House passed a bill Wednesday night to suspend the debt limit for a further two years on a bipartisan 314-117 vote. 

The legislation was negotiated by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in late May that would suspend the debt ceiling for two years. In exchange, the Biden Administration would be required to limit growth of federal discretionary spending over the next two years to one percent, a budget cut when accounting for increasing inflation rates.  

Biden will also be required to adjust work requirements for certain recipients of food stamps and the Temporary Aid for Needy Families program. 

Suspending the debt limit, which caps U.S. borrowing and is currently set at $31.4 trillion, will allow the government to keep borrowing money as needed to pay its bills. Under this legislation, the new cap will be set at the spending level it has reached when the suspension expires in 2025. 

The legislation includes some minor steps addressing environmental permitting for energy project reviews, although the changes are less sweeping than those proposed by Republications. The agreement as passed by the House amends the National Environmental Policy Act by requiring a single federal agency to lead environmental reviews for infrastructure projects. It also sets a one-year deadline for agencies to issue environmental assessments and a two-year deadline for environmental impact statements.

“These changes will help us build more quickly and responsibly; build more solar, build more wind, EV chargers, transmission, and the other infrastructure we need to secure a clean energy economy,” a White House official said during a media briefing.

The agreement must now pass the Senate and be signed by the president before Monday, June 5, which the U.S. Treasury marked as the day it runs out of funds, to take effect. It now heads to the Senate for a vote where it is expected to pass after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., endorsed it.  

Although the bill received bipartisan support, conservative Republican representatives opposed the bill because it contains only a fraction of the deficit reduction they initially lobbied for, and progressive Democrat representatives opposed the bill over its expansion of work requirements for welfare programs.  

Chinese president warns of AI security risks 

The Chinese Communist Party warned in a statement Tuesday against the possible risks artificial intelligence can pose to political and social issues. 

Chinese President Xi JinPing urged for China to adopt “dedicated efforts to safeguard political security and improve the security governance of internet data and artificial intelligence.”  

He highlighted security concerns regarding advancing technologies and called for the CCP to stay “keenly aware of the complicated and challenging circumstances facing national security and correctly grasping major national security issues.” 

The CCP must be prepared to “deal with worse-case and extreme-case scenario,” Xi said. He called for the establishment of a risk monitoring and early warning system and a “new pattern of development with a new security architecture.” 

This comes a week after State Department officials called for a U.S-led global coalition to set AI regulations. Jennifer Bachus, assistant secretary of state for Cyberspace and Digital Policy, said that the United States and China should not pit against one another, claiming it would “ultimately always lead to a problem.” 

Instead, Bachus called for an alliance of the U.S., the European Union, and Japan to take the lead in creating a legal framework to govern AI.  

“This is the exact moment where the US needs to show leadership,” she said. “This is a shared problem and we need a shared solution.” 

IXP operator to offer solutions to rural regions in U.S. 

Germany-based operator of internet exchanges, DE-CIX, and Connected Nation Internet Exchange Points, a joint venture between nonprofit Connected Nation and Newby Ventures, announced in May a strategic partnership for operation of edge internet exchange points in unserved and underserved markets across the United States. 

The deal will foster the development of new connectivity hubs in rural areas and will seek to “significantly improve” regional internet performance and build new carrier-neutral interconnection facilities in at least 125 communities in 43 states, a press release said. 

With the deal, DE-CIX becomes the IXP platform operator inside CNIXP facilities. IXP’s enable the interconnection and exchange of internet traffic between more than two independent systems. 

“People and businesses – and in particular the research and educational sector – in American cities beyond the major hubs need and deserve better Internet performance – faster, lower latency, more resilient, and more secure access to content, clouds, and applications,” said Ivo Ivanov, CEO of DE-CIX. 

“An IXP and its ecosystem of connected networks and data centers increases the speed and resilience of Internet connectivity through optimizing the routes for data transport and offering greater redundant data pathways,” read the press release. “It also brings down the costs of connectivity and enables locally bound data to remain local.” 

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Broadband Roundup

Mississippi Gets $151M for Broadband, FCC Commits $15M from ECF, FCC Proposes Fine Against SkySwitch

Mississippi will receive $151 million from Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund.

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Photo of Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo from August 2016 by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi

May 31, 2023 – The Treasury Department on Tuesday announced the approval of  $151.5 million toward high-speed internet projects in Mississippi.

The money Mississippi will receive will be put toward the Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi fund. The program will fund three different types of broadband investments: community-based broadband projects, line extensions, and large-scale projects. The state is estimating these funds will connect approximately 47,300 business and homes to affordable, high-speed internet.

The money is being allocated from the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund, which is part of the Biden administration’s Investing in America agenda.

“The pandemic upended life as we knew it and exposed the stark inequity in access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet in communities across the country, including rural, Tribal, and other underrepresented communities,” Wally Adeyemo, deputy secretary of the treasury, said in a press release. “This funding is a key piece of the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic investments to increase access to high-speed internet for millions of Americans and provide more opportunities to fully participate and compete in the 21st century economy.”

FCC commits another $15 million from Emergency Connectivity Fund

FCC announced Wednesday it is committing another $15 million from the Emergency Connectivity Fund toward connectivity for students away from school.

The latest funding round will go to support approximately 50 schools, five libraries, and 35,000 students, including in New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Delaware, Indiana, and California.

“This program has helped millions of students get the digital tools they need for online learning and connecting with teachers,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a press release. “Today’s funding round is another step in our ongoing work to close the Homework Gap.”

In total, the program has supported 120 consortia, 1,000 libraries, 11,000 schools, and has funded more than eight million broadband connections and almost 13 million connected devices.

Almost $6.7 billion in funding commitments has been approved so far out of the $7.1-billion program

FCC proposes $1.4 million fine against communications service provider

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing a fine of $1.4 million on a communications service provider that allegedly failed to pay fees to four agency funds and regulatory costs.

The FCC says PayG – which is doing business as communications service provider SkySwitch – has between 2018 to 2021 failed to pay $404,416.28 into the Universal Service Fund, the North American Numbering Plan, the Local Number Portability, and the Telecommunications Relay Service Fund.

“Each of these funding mechanisms play a critical role in supporting vital programs for the public that make the United States a global leader in the provision of communications services. Providers must fulfill their responsibilities to meet their deadlines and obligations to pay the full amount of what they owe in a timely manner,” FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Loyaan Egal said in a press release.

PayG will have the opportunity to present its case to the FCC addressing the proposed fine.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Map Update, FCC Renews FirstNet Spectrum Authority, NTIA Warns EU Over Big Tech Proposal

New FCC map shows 8.3 million unserved locations.

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Screenshot of the Federal Communications Commission

May 30, 2023 – The latest update to the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband availability map shows 8.3 million unserved locations, an increase of 330,000 over the previous map that came out in November, according to a statement by the commission Tuesday.

According to the FCC’s statement, the new version has resolved 75 percent of the issues raised since November and reflects more than a million new serviced locations.

“These incremental updates reflect both challenge outcomes and any corrections providers make to their filings,” continued the statement. “We will continue to accept challenges every day, every week and every month, and those challenges will continue to improve the map.”

This is the second version of the map since November’s preliminary version. The commission has said it is putting “significant resources” in its improvement, as the map will be relied upon by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to allocate to the states by June 30 the $42.5 billion from its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program.

The commission’s underlying map data, called the fabric, has been met with challenges from local entities, which have shown an overestimation of the number of serviceable locations. The FCC makes changes to the data accordingly.

FCC renews FirstNet spectrum authority in 700 MHz band

The Federal Communications Commission renewed FirstNet Authority’s license to operate in the 700 MHz public safety band Friday.

“In sum, based on the totality of the record, we conclude that FirstNet has sufficiently demonstrated compliance with the requirements of the Spectrum Act to warrant renewal of its license,” read an FCC statement.

The spectrum authorization grants FirstNet use until at least 2027.

FirstNet submitted this application for renewal in August 2022, its first as a body.

Twelve parties submitted varied opinions regarding the unconditional renewal of its license. The Verizon First Responder Advisory Council and T-Mobile, among others, advocated for a more rigorous examination of the operation of FirstNet. Concerns mainly revolved around FirstNet’s contractual relationship with AT&T, its extension of the band deployment to non-public safety entities, and cybersecurity reasons.

In 2012, Congress enacted the Spectrum Act to establish FirstNet as a separate entity within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration responsible for managing “a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network” in the 700Mhz spectrum. FirstNet then secured a 25-year deal with AT&T valued at $100 billion to construct a nationwide network for first responders.

NTIA warns against Big Tech directly paying ISPs

The NTIA submitted comments Thursday opposing a European Union proposal to force Big Tech to pay internet service providers to build out infrastructure.

The comments pointed to “substantial risks” involved with mandating payments directly from Big Tech to telecom operators.

“Enforcing mandatory payments on a subset of traffic generators could be discriminatory and degrade equal access to the Internet, thereby endangering the principle of Internet openness/net neutrality,” read the submission.

The response also highlighted unnecessary costs and bottlenecks that would trickle down to the end-users, referencing similar findings by the The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications and in South Korea.

The comments come as heated debates take hold in the United States about whether or not large technology corporations should contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes telecommunications services upon which the companies rely. The FCC has recommended that Congress establish a more robust framework for addressing new contributions, but Congress has yet to make a decision on the matter.

Early this March, senators from Mississippi, New Mexico, Indiana, and Arizona introduced new legislation pushing Congress and the FCC to actively consider potential contributions from Big Tech revenue.

“The FAIR Contributions Act would help Congress assess the feasibility of making Big Tech companies contribute to the USF,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi. “It is important to ensure the costs of expanding broadband are distributed equitably and that all companies are held accountable for their role in shaping our digital future.”

Earlier this month, the Senate set up a working group to study the USF program.

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