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FCC

In Partisan Vote, FCC Passes a Modified E-Rate Proposal for Spending Funds on Wi-Fi Connectivity

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WASHINGTON, July 15, 2014 – The Federal Communications Commission on Friday voted to modernize of its E-Rate program Friday, reallocating funds from technologies considered obsolete to Wi-Fi based connectivity in schools and libraries. However, owing to strong skepticism from opponents over funding, the proposal was scaled back to $2 billion, down from its original $5 billion.

The 3-2 vote came when FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler secured support from the other two Democratic-appointed commissioners. But Republican-appointed Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly dissented.

Wi-Fi versus Broadband Connectivity

Previously, education groups like National Association of Federally Impacted Schools and the National Education Association had criticized the proposal for leaving rural and suburban schools with no funds for basic internet connectivity, sometimes referred to as Priority I services. The final proposal agreed that funds for Wi-Fi and internal connections, called Priority II service would not be funded at the expense of Priority I services.

“Part of the problem is [our schools] are not all totally hooked up to the point where they can even consider Wi-Fi or modernized things to do with the Internet,” said NAFIS Executive Director John Forkenbrock.

In past years, nearly 50 percent of the FCC’s $2.4 billion E-Rate funds went to non-broadband legacy services including paging, email and voice service. Opponents to the proposal – among both educators and Republicans –questioned whether cutting back on these services would be sufficient to fund a new E-Rate Wi-Fi program for as many as five years.

Even with the reduced proposal budget of $2 billion from 2016 to 2018, Pai and O’Rielly blasted the agency’s Wi-Fi spending. Both said that some of the $2 billion for Wi-Fi would have to be collected through higher fees on phone bills.

“It always seems to be easier for some people to take more money from American people via taxes and fees, rather than do the hard work,” O’Rielly said. “If more money is justified for E-Rate, let’s dig in and find offsets, not stick it to hardworking poor and middle-class Americans.”

The Need for E-Rate Reform

Democratic-appointed Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel took the opposite view: not enough of the proposed funds are being allocated toward Wi-Fi. She called for increased annual funding overall to meet the demand that is roughly double the E-Rate’s expenditure.

“We can’t expect to compete if we educate the next generation with a support system frozen in the age of dial-up,” said Rosenworcel.

NEA President Van Roekel said the FCC was right to not hastily alter the fundamental structure of the E-Rate program without guaranteed funding. He said that more needs to be done in the long term.

“If we are serious about ensuring equity in our schools, all the demand for ongoing internet connectivity must be met—especially in high-needs schools,” Roekel said. “Shifting our goals to establish Wi-Fi in targeted school districts, without increasing the cap, could undermine the historical importance and significance of the E-Rate Program.

Similar sentiments were shared by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who said that “while the need to promote Wi-Fi in all schools and libraries is more important than ever, it should not come at the expense of bringing broadband to the brick and mortar building itself. To truly ensure our students and the public can best compete in our interconnected 21st century economy, the FCC must still take action to increase the program’s permanent funding cap.”

But at Friday’s meeting, Wheeler said that significant change to the program was necessary.

“No responsible business would stick with an information technology plan developed in 1998,” Wheeler said. “We owe the same rigorous self-examination to our schools and libraries.”

Significant Criticism Preceded Vote

In the lead up to the agency vote on Friday, more than a dozen education advocacy groups wrote the FCC a joint statement saying that the proposed changes “will only dilute an already over-subscribed E-Rate program.” While “nominal savings may be realized by eliminating legacy services,” it doesn’t guarantee additional funding.

In particular, NAFIS took issue with Wheeler’s proposal to take funds from Priority I internet access and shift them to Priority II internal connections and wireless internet.

Wheeler’s previous proposals could have imposed harm if it had phased down support for the internet access portion of Priority I services, said Mary Kusler, who heads the government relations department at the National Education Association.

“For 18 years this has been an incredibly successful program. However, for the past 18 years, there has been over $5 billion worth of applications” every year, she said, ”so we’ve essentially had double the requests for discounts than money available. What we see in [Wheeler’s] proposal is an attempt to divert the attention away from that connectivity point to this idea of ensuring Wi-Fi access…and while Wi-Fi is certainly a piece of the puzzle, we are very concerned that it’s really only connecting those that already have connectivity.”

Aspen Institute fellow Blair Levin expressed much greater optimism about modernization in a blog post with the Benton Foundation. He said funding for old legacy services constitutes roughly $1.2 billion of E-Rate spending and would be a significant source of cost saving.

The Universal Service Administrative Corporation estimated that it committed $9.8 million for email services and almost $28 for web hosting in the funding year 2011. Another $934,000 that same year went to paging services in response to more than 500 E-Rate requests despite the technology being viewed as obsolete today. Another 100 requests called for $95,000 in funding commitments to dial-up services.

Considerably more savings can be seen by phasing down support for telephone services, said Kusler, calling it a “double edged sword.” Although it will allow more money to be devoted to internet connectivity, “at the same time, it’s a fixed cost at the local level that is not gonna go away. So if school districts start having to pay their full share of telephone bills, they’re going to have to make up that funding somewhere else.”

Levin added that another major source of cost savings will come through programs like “volume discounts through consortia-enabled bulk purchasing, and improved pricing transparency.”

In the lead up to Friday’s meeting, Sens  Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., and Markey warned that a per-student or square foot distribution method for Wi-Fi could result in a sub-optimal solution.

“As the founders of the E-Rate program, we applaud your commitment to schools and libraries across the country. Nothing short of our international competitiveness and children’s future are at stake with E-Rate modernization. That is why it is so important for you to take the time necessary to get this right.”

FCC

Cable Group NCTA Says Deny Exclusive Multitenant Access, But Not Wiring, Agreements

NCTA said the FCC should deny exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

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Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – The internet and television association NCTA is suggesting that the Federal Communications Commission deny all broadband providers exclusive access to multitenant buildings, but to continue allowing exclusive wiring agreements.

On Tuesday, the FCC opened a new round of comments into its examination of competitive broadband options for residents of apartments, multi-tenant and office buildings.

In a Tuesday ex parte notice to the commission, which follows a formal meeting with agency staff on September 2, the NCTA said the record shows that deployment, competition, and consumer choice in multiple tenant environments “are strong,” and that the FCC can “promote even greater deployment and competition by prohibiting not just cable operators, other covered [multiple video programming distributors], and telecommunications carriers, but all broadband providers from entering into MTE exclusive access agreements.

The organization, whose member companies include Comcast, Cox Communications and Charter Communications, also said it should continue to allow providers to enter into exclusive wiring agreements with MTE owners. Wiring just means that the provider can lay down its cables, like fiber, to connect residents.

“Exclusive wiring agreements do not deny new entrants access to MTEs. Rather, exclusive wiring agreements are pro-competitive and help ensure that state-of-the-art wiring will be deployed in MTEs to the benefit of consumers.”

The NCTA also told the FCC that there would be technical problems with simultaneous sharing of building wires by different providers and vouched for exclusive marketing arrangements, according to the notice.

The FCC’s new round of comments comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

Reached for comment on the filing, a spokesman for NCTA said they had nothing to add to the filing, which was signed by Mary Beth Murphy, deputy general counsel to the cable organization.

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China

Hytera’s Inclusion on FCC’s National Security Blacklist ‘Absurd,’ Client Says

Diversified Communications Group said the FCC flubbed on adding Hytera to blacklist.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – A client of a company that has been included in a list of companies the Federal Communications Commission said pose threats to the security of the country’s networks is asking the agency to reconsider including the company.

In a letter to the commission on Tuesday, Diversified Communications Group, which installs and distributes two-way radio communications devices to large companies, said the inclusion of Hytera Communications Corporation, a Chinese manufacturer of radio equipment, on a list of national security threats is “absurd” because the hardware involved is not connected to the internet and “does not transmit any sensitive or proprietary data.

“It seems that Hytera has been lumped in with other Chinese companies on the Covered List simply because they happen to manufacture electronics in the same country,” Diversified’s CEO Ryan Holte said in the letter, adding Hytera’s products have helped Diversified’s business thrive.

“This is a wrong that should be righted. Hytera is not a national security risk. They are an essential business partner to radio companies throughout the U.S.,” the CEO added.

In March, the FCC announced that it had designated Hytera among other Chinese businesses with alleged links to the Communist government. Others included Huawei, ZTE, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, and Dahua Technology.

List among a number of restrictions on Chinese companies

This list of companies was created in accordance with the Secure Networks Act, and the FCC indicated that it would continue to add companies to the list if they are deemed to “pose an unacceptable risk to national security or the security and safety of U.S. persons.”

Last month, the Senate commerce committee passed through legislation that would compel the FCC to no longer issue new equipment licenses to China-backed companies.

Last year the U.S. government took steps to ensure that federal agencies could not purchase goods or services from the aforementioned companies, and had previously added them to an economic blacklist.

In July, the FCC voted in favor of putting in place measures that would require U.S. carriers to rip and replace equipment by these alleged threat companies.

The Biden administration has been making moves to isolate alleged Chinese-linked threats to the country’s networks. In June, the White House signed an executive order limiting investments in predominantly Chinese companies that it said poses a threat to national security.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Says 5 Million Households Now Enrolled in Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The $3.2 billion program provides broadband and device subsidies to eligible low-income households.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 30, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that five million households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

The $3.2-billion program, which launched in May, provides a broadband subsidy of $50 per month to eligible low-income households and $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands, as well as a one-time reimbursement on a device. Over 1160 providers are participating, the FCC said, who are reimbursed the cost to provide the discounted services.

The agency has been updating the public on the number of participating households for the program. In June, the program was at just over three million and had passed four million last month. The program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“Enrolling five million households into the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in a little over three months is no small feat,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of nearly 30,000 individuals and organizations who signed up as volunteer outreach partners.”

Rosenworcel added that conversations with partners and the FCC’s analysis shows the need for “more granular data” to bring these opportunities to more eligible families.

The program’s strong demand was seen as far back as March.

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