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

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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 is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com 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.

Open Access

British Telecoms Are Aligning with Emerging U.S. Position on Open RAN Adoption

Open RAN adoption is said to save telecoms money and boost security, as providers are forced to move off Huawei.

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Howard Watson, chief technology officer of BT Group

October 18, 2021 – Howard Watson, chief technology officer of telecommunications company BT Group, spoke on Wednesday at the Broadband World Forum about the future of the UK’s network infrastructure, including removing Huawei’s equipment from their networks and developing open radio access networks for wider use.

Speaking at the opening session titled “Building an innovative converged network infrastructure for the UK,” Watson discussed the challenges and possibilities for offering fast, secure broadband and offered O-RAN as a solution for wider connectivity.

Watson discussed utilizing open RAN to facilitate greater interoperability between vendors’ equipment, as it opens the market to more technologies due to its open configuration. The concept advocates for a more open radio access network than provided today, which is held by fewer vendors.

The Federal Communications Commission has pushed for ways to develop open RAN to minimize network security risk, as the movement has gained significant momentum since Huawei was banned over the past 18 months. FCC Acting Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has described open RAN as having “extraordinary potential for our economy and national security.”

“When customers go back into the office, the infrastructure they left behind must have key growth” Watson said, referencing the shift in office culture toward remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Expectations of customers change,” Watson said, adding that “they expect broadband to be always on, they expect high bandwidth.” Above all, “they expect investment no matter the cost.”

BT is seeking to deploy to 90 percent coverage in the UK by 2028.

On the sidelines of his keynote address, Watson noted BT’s progress in limiting Huawei products to 35 percent of an operator’s fiber access footprint by 2023. The UK government requires that Huawei’s equipment must be removed entirely by the end of 2027. The UK considers Huawei a “high risk” vendor for its network infrastructure.

However, BT is waiting for Huawei’s equipment to grow old before replacing it, Watson said. “Our intention is to ensure that we get the full economic life out of the Huawei [products] that we have deployed,” he said. He said BT believes the products can be used until 2031 or later.

“We’re in talks with government about that timeline” Watson said.

Panel discussion about European fiber investment

Watson said that “densification” happens in areas that are fiber rich, so “providing fiber to smaller cell sites is naturally an evolution.”

He said that BT is looking at a range of alternatives including Wi-Fi solutions to getting 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) capability to household through open architecture-based solutions.

In addition to Watson, a panel focused on the investment parameters for fiber investment featuring officials from Macquarie Group and Eurofiber.

The panel focused on investment challenges and strategies for broadband infrastructure investment and  discussed an opportunistic vision for broadband deployment. Speaking of more mature market with a history of broadband adoption, Macquarie Managing Director Oliver Bradley asked how providers could transition to more efficiency and maximizing the value of an existing network.

Among the principal drivers for investment include co-investing and deregulation, he said.

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Open Access

UTOPIA Fiber Goes to Court in Utah Over American Fork’s Build Permit Refusals

Fiber builder says it has been denied permits that have harmed it and its customers, despite an existing city agreement.

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Photo of Twin Peaks in American Fork, Utah, by Bryant Olsen used with permission

October 13, 2021 – UTOPIA Fiber filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city of American Fork in Utah for breach of contract after the city allegedly denied build permits to the fiber builder despite there being an existing contract between the two parties.

The fiber provider, which runs an open network on which private telecoms rent space on to provide services, alleges the city had approved some permits that only allowed it to construct backbone transport lines through the city connecting other cities, but denied it key permits that would have allowed it to extend services to UTOPIA Fiber customers inside the city. Those services include connections to American Fork’s public schools.

In July 2020, the city allegedly terminated the 2018 rights-of-way agreement with no explanation, the lawsuit claims. It also alleges that the city specifically discriminated against UTOPIA Fiber by adding additional scrutiny to its permit requests when it believed no such scrutiny existed for other providers.

Broadband Breakfast attempted to make contact with the city, but a phone call was not answered and a voicemail message was not returned by the time of publication.

“American Fork’s refusal to approve permit requests by or for UTOPIA for service laterals for customers within American Fork has harmed UTOPIA, its customers, and the private ISPs who wish to offer services within American Fork using UTOPIA’s Network,” the lawsuit said. “In some cases, UTOPIA has been forced to buy capacity from other network providers that are allowed to install infrastructure in American Fork, so that UTOPIA can fulfill existing contracts with its customers.

“In other cases, UTOPIA has been forced to cancel existing customer orders for connections within American Fork and has lost significant revenues as a result,” the suit added. “UTOPIA has also recently been forced to cancel or reject over a dozen additional customer orders because UTOPIA is unable, due to American Fork’s conduct, to obtain the permits needed to fulfill those orders, and again lost significant revenues as a result.”

In a press release, UTOPIA’s executive director Roger Timmerman said the lawsuit was a “last resort and not an easy decision to make.

“It is our hope that with judicial review, American Fork City will reverse its policies, work within the boundaries of the law, and ultimately, act in the best interest of the people and businesses in American Fork City by allowing them access to the increased options UTOPIA Fiber provides,” Timmerman added.

UTOPIA Fiber is asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah to force the city to pay the company damages sustained as a result of the alleged actions, to find the city violated the law with respect to its actions, and to force the city to cease the alleged “discriminatory and preferential actions” against the company.

UTOPIA Fiber, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, has designed, built, and operated more than $330 million worth of fiber projects in the state since 2009.

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Fiber

Comcast Business Says It’s Expanding Into Fiber Builds in Greater Washington Area

The company is putting millions more into fiber infrastructure in the Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia areas.

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William Stemper, president of Comcast Business

WASHINGTON, October 6, 2021 – Comcast’s business division announced a two-year, $28-million investment to expand fiber through the beltway region of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C., and West Virginia.

The company said in a press release Wednesday that $13 million of that was invested last year and $15 million have gone into projects that are underway or planned for this year. It is expected to connect nearly 7,000 additional businesses to speeds of up to 100 Gigabits per second for large businesses, it said, adding it’s all part of the $110 million Comcast Business has spent in the area since 2015.

The expansion is part of a larger effort by telecommunications companies in this country to drive fiber to the premises, and to get ahead of the next generation 5G networks. As this is happening, more federal and state dollars are being plowed into broadband infrastructure as President Joe Biden sets his sights on providing access to high-speed internet to 100 percent of the country by the end of the decade.

“The ability to offer both diversity of network and carrier is becoming increasingly important to help drive economic development and transformation,” Ed Rowan, senior director of Comcast Business sales operations in the region, said in the release.

“Connectivity is at the core of this and, more than ever, is an integral factor as businesses expand and prepare for what’s next. Our network expansions across Comcast’s Beltway Region are the latest example of the significant technology investments we’ve made to increase the availability of our multi-Gigabit Ethernet services,” he added. “These investments will help foster economic development, transform our local communities, and better meet next-generation capacity needs across the region.”

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