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Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Discuss Broadband at Senate Hearing



WASHINGTON, March 16, 2018 – Questions about how the federal government will be involved in rolling out the next-generation infrastructure for wireless, known as 5G (for 5th generation) remained after a Wednesday infrastructure hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee.

“With the rise of the internet and cell phones, we face the new challenge of building infrastructure to facilitate access to these technologies for everyone,” said Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-South Dakota. “The principle is the same today as it was then: our nation must stay interconnected.”

Thune touted the “ambitious” plan unveiled by the Trump administration last month as evidence of a Republican commitment to upgrading the nation’s roads, bridges, and broadband networks, but his Democratic counterpart, Ranking Member Bill Nelson, D-Florida, panned the White House’s plans to leave the lion’s share of the bill to states and public-private partnerships, noting the country can neither “cut our way to prosperity” nor “toll our way out” of a lack of commitment from the federal government.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on innovative projects

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross used his opening statement to discuss the White House’s Transformative Projects Program, under which a committee chaired by the Commerce Secretary would hand out federal dollars for “bold and innovative projects…that have the potential to dramatically improve America’s infrastructure.”

“These are the types of projects that may not attract private sector investment without federal incentives, because of their unique characteristics, but they could have a substantial positive impact on states, cities, and localities,” Ross said, citing the projects “significant bang for the buck.”

Similarly, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue used his opening statement to highlight the proposed Rural Infrastructure Program, which would distribute federal funds as block grants to be administered by rural governors.

Yet some Senators were skeptical of whether the Trump programs would be an improvement over attempts by the previous administration to increase rural broadband penetration.

The priorities of the Rural Utilities Service in the past

Citing several Governmental Accountability Office reports which criticized the effectiveness of the Rural Utilities Service under the Obama administration, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, asked Perdue what his department is doing “to make sure that the loans and the grants that you make will be used to bring broadband to unserved areas,” rather than overbuild areas with sufficient connectivity.

Moran called the overbuilding of already-served areas while unserved areas were ignored “one of the frustrations of the past.”

“I don’t think there’s any doubt, senator, that your allegations are accurate in that regard,” said Perdue, before blaming the problem on “great grant writers” who were dipping into the same pot multiple times.

The key importance of making use of broadband mapping data

But Perdue noted that misallocation of broadband grant funds isn’t unique to the USDA, suggesting the “entire federal government” had failed to make sure broadband funds were deployed “in a strategic way.”

“You’ve got to start with good facts, you’ve got to start with accurate data,” he said, noting that both he and some Senators continue to have concerns over the Federal Communications Commission’s self-reported broadband maps.

“We’re trying again to work interagency-wise with Commerce, with the FCC, to make sure we’ve got the facts on the ground on strategically, how we need to deploy,” said Perdue.

“There’s a lot of money going out for broadband currently – how do we deploy that in the most needed areas rather than giving loans and grants to people who’ve overbilled? Our interest is in rural America – a ubiquitous system – how do we get there sooner rather than later?”

Perdue admitted that universal broadband will “not be an instantaneous thing,” but reiterated that successful universal deployment will require good facts and good data before stressing that his department takes the matter very seriously and wants to do better than past administrations have done.

Questioning whether the Trump administration is putting a rural focus on broadband

Despite the Trump administration’s stated focus on rural areas, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, remained unimpressed by the White House’s plan. He noted that the lack of federal funding could be a disaster for rural states unless the Trump administration expects them to sell off public lands to pay for new roads since, according to Tester, toll roads – another Trump administration favorite – “just won’t work.”

“I don’t understand how this plan is well thought out at all to get things build,” Tester said.

Will the Trump administration nationalize the nation’s 5G wireless network?

Another Senator with harsh words for the administration was Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who pressed Ross about plans by the Trump administration to nationalize the forthcoming 5G wireless network in the name of national security.

Earlier this year a leaked document alleged that the White House was considering either having the government build and operate the 5G network itself but resell capacity to commercial telecommunications providers.

When Cruz asked Ross if there was any truth to the proposal, Ross admitted he is “aware” of it, but said no final decision had been made.

“We regard 5G as quite essential both to the commercial interests and to the national security interests of the country,” Ross said. “Everybody is focused on the utter importance of 5G and of the U.S. being a leader in it.”

While Ross stressed that the administration has no desire to see the U.S. vacate a leadership position in 5G, Cruz warned that it would be a “grave mistake” to nationalize the network, and that such a proposal would face “significant resistance” from both chambers of Congress.

(Photo of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, right, speaking at an interagency forum in Washington on January 17, 2018, by the USDA.)

Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.


Next Generation PONs Important for Future Capacity Needs on Fiber Networks: Nokia Official

25G PONs are ideal to connect customers to 10G or higher speeds, a Nokia rep said.



Photo of David Eckard of Nokia

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2023 – Providers need to adopt next generation passive optical networks in fiber builds to make the most of federal investments, said David Eckard, vice president of the Broadband Partners at Nokia, at a Fiber Broadband Association event Wednesday. 

A PON service can support multiple clients from a single router by splitting a fiber-optic strand from an optical line terminal. It differs from an active optical network which dedicates each end user their own fiber optical line by an electrically-charged switcher that manages the signal distribution from the fiber line to service the end destinations. Both technologies are solutions for fiber-to-the-home network connections, but PONs are often preferred by providers because of the lower cost of deployment.

The 10-gigabit symmetrical PON, or XGS-PON, and the symmetrical 25G PON are evolutions of Gigabit PON, which only provides 2.5 Gbps downstream and 1.25 Gbps upstream.  

The industry is beginning to face capacity issues with GPONs which are still being widely deployed, said Eckard. He said that more and more services are requiring higher capacity and the demand will continue to increase as applications evolve to fill capacity capabilities. 

Providers need to ensure that they are building the right type of network to support these new applications, he said, pointing to the recently released Apple virtual reality headset set to be released early next year as an example of increasing capacity demands. 

Deploying 25G PONs is ideal for providers that want to provide customers with 10G or higher speeds and ensure future applications will be supported by their networks. He predicted that businesses will be the first adopters of 10G and higher speeds.  

Eckard also said adopting next generation PONs on fiber networks will also ensure that providers get the most from federally allocated programs like the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That money is expected to be allocated to the states by June 30. 

According to network operators, XGS-PON is the preferred standards and networks are being upgraded to meet the standard. 

Nokia is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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FCC Commissioner Carr Criticizes BEAD Fiber Priority Ahead of Funding Allocation

The NTIA has acknowledged a clear preference for fiber in its bipartisan infrastructure deployment effort.



Photo of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr in Feb 2018 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2023 – Brendan Carr, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, voiced reservations last week about the fiber preference in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s flagship broadband funding program, citing potential time and financial constraints.

The NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, an offspring of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, is expected to deliver $42.5 billion to the states by June 30 for infrastructure that needs to be built within a handful of years. Funding priorities under BEAD will be given to “projects designed to provide fiber connectivity directly to the end user,” according to an NTIA document.

“I do think some of the BEAD policies put a bit too much of a thumb on the scale for fiber,” Carr said in an interview with John Foley, managing director of Safer Building Coalitions, at the Wireless Tech and Policy Summit in Washington.

“In the case of fiber, where it could take potentially years to get fiber built out, not to mention significant delta in funding,” said Carr. “It can take anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 to run a mile of fiber.”

He said fixed wireless access can sometimes provide “robust high-speed service” while still remaining within budget.

Despite the NTIA’s clear acknowledgement of a fiber preference in its infrastructure deployment effort, Carr has long advocated for the use of fiber alternatives in rural regions, where high-speed internet is still a luxury in some parts. In 2022, Carr criticized the FCC for rejecting full grants to satellite broadband service provider Starlink and fixed wireless service provider LTD Broadband from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“We should be making it easier for unserved communities to get service, not rejecting a proven satellite technology that is delivering robust, high-speed service today,” read the statement. “To be clear, this is a decision that tells families in states across the country that they should just keep waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide even though we have the technology to improve their lives now.”

Among the summit’s panelists, former FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein also raised skepticism that the program’s intended beneficiaries, those living in rural regions, would see any tangible benefits from a fiber priority strategy.

“Policy makers, I don’t think, are always thinking about how actually consumers are living on the ground,” he said. “The thing that isn’t so obvious sometimes is the affordability factor that not everybody can afford to have a fiber connection and a broadband connection over their handset.”

This isn’t the first time telecom experts raised concern about BEAD’s fiber-focused expansion. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association released a report in February calling fiber-prioritized financing “a bad policy” due to its potential to raise implementation costs and slow down the rollout timeline.

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Utah City Approves UTOPIA Fiber Build

UTOPIA continues to expand open access model builds.



Photo of Bountiful City Hall

BOUNTIFUL, May 24, 2023 – The city council in Bountiful, Utah, voted unanimously to approve the building of a city-owned fiber network by Utah-based service provider UTOPIA Fiber Tuesday. 

The open access fiber infrastructure will be owned by the city but operated by UTOPIA Fiber, which will then lease the fiber to internet service providers. 

City council members expressed their resounding support for the program. We believe that the estimates of take rates are conservative and reasonable when compared to like communities, said City Manager Gary Hill, pointing to neighboring town Centerville that has 49 percent take rate on its city-owned network. 

Bountiful will issue $43 million in bonds to fund the program, announced the city. The debt service for the bond will be paid for using system revenues with any excess revenue invested into affordability assistance, city council members said.  

The initial contract term is 10 years with buildout expected to take 2-3 years. The city anticipates that it will make profit on the investment within four to five years of operation. 

In 2022, at the request of residents, the city issued a request for proposals that were released to potential fiber providers to build and operate a city-owned network. In January, Bountiful officials began contract negotiations with UTOPIA. 

“The purpose of the City’s involvement with fiber is to provide a competitive marketplace for internet service providers through an open access network,” read the city’s statement.  

The announcement comes months after West Haven, Utah announced its contract with UTOPIA Fiber for a city-wide network. 

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