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More Federal Spending on Rural Broadband Could Come Through Omnibus Budget Bill

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BROADBAND BREAKFAST INSIGHT: Rural priorities are again receiving additional emphasis in the draft spending legislation currently before Congress. Though the proposed $600 million is lower than the $2.5 billion that some had been discussing, the pending Trump infrastructure package could allocate still more funds to rural broadband priorities. Although omnibus budget bills are considered “must pass” legislation, an array of political obstacles still hang in the balance.

Updated, 11:44 a.m. ET: U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue issued a statement noting, about the omnibus budget bill: “Increased support for broadband Internet access is in line with Administration goals and will be an important boost as we look to improve the economy in rural America.”

Congressional Spending Bill Allocates $600 Million in New Rural Broadband Funding, from Telecompetitor

New rural broadband funding is included in the $1.3 trillion congressional omnibus bill to fund the government this year. The bill calls for an additional $600 million to be distributed through the Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

The funding authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to create a pilot program within RUS that distributes the new funding in the form of grants and loans. There are details to be worked out, but the authorization calls for “expedited” delivery of the program.

A few conditions were mandated by the funding bill. They include:

    • Ninety percent of the households served by any project funded through this program must be unserved or underserved and can’t currently have 10/1 Mbps broadband access
    • Any entity receiving funds from the program is prohibited from overbuilding an existing RUS borrower
    • No more than 4% of funds received through the program can be used towards administrative costs

[more…]

Source: Congressional Spending Bill Allocates $600 Million in New Rural Broadband Funding – Telecompetitor

(Photo of the Capitol provided by the Architect of the Capitol.)

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Broadband Roundup

‘Squid Game’ Exposes Traffic Problem, Virginia’s $2B Broadband Investment, West Virginia Mapping

Netflix hit’s traffic struggle, Virginia expects $2B from P3, op-ed says FCC expects states to get good maps before FCC.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

October 20, 2021––A South Korean broadband company is suing Netflix to cover the cost of the surge in traffic from its hit television show “Squid Game.”

The show, which according to Netflix has more than 100 million streams, became a global hit last month.

The Financial Times reports that SK Broadband, owned by SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest mobile operator, argues that streaming platforms should pay for the congestion on its networks.

The company said that the traffic Netflix generated on its network increased to 1.2 trillion bits of data processing per second since September, an increase that’s equal to 24 times the company’s normal traffic over three years. The company said its network had to be upgraded twice to accommodate the traffic surge caused by customers streaming the show on Netflix.

Local law in South Korea requires the companies with more than 1 million users and using more than 1 percent of total network traffic to pay internet fees to distribute the maintenance costs incurred by broadband providers.

Netflix accounted for almost 5 percent of internet traffic in the fourth quarter and had more than 1.7 million paid subscribers. SK Broadband argues that Netflix must pay more in network usage fees.

Virginia announces $2 billion public-private broadband partnership

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the state expects more than $2 billion in funding for high-speed broadband investments after announcing a public-private partnership with local governments and private internet service providers, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Northam announced that the state received requests to fund 57 projects to expand broadband across 84 localities across Virginia, totaling $943 million in grants. It would be matched by $1.15 billion in private and local government funds.

“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” said Northam. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic has pushed us all to move even faster.

“Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by [2024], which means more connections, more investments, more online learning and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia,” he said.

Northam and the Virginia general assembly appropriate $700 million of the $4.3 billion that Virginia received under the federal emergency aid package to accelerate Virginia’s universal broadband coverage goal. The expected completion has been moved up from 2028 to 2024.

The plan is expected to bring internet access to more than 250,000 homes and businesses.

The state is using federal emergency aid from the American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide in Virginia.

Op-Ed: West Virginia being asked to produce quality broadband maps before FCC

Advocates for more accurate maps say that the federal government is hypocritical in asking West Virginia for more accurate maps than the Federal Communications Commission can produce.

“The state is being asked to produce accurate maps, which the federal government knows full well its own agency did not produce” for the state the invest millions of dollars in federal American Rescue Plan funding for broadband expansion, writes a Wednesday op-ed in the Weirton Daily Times.

The FCC has been under fire for flaws in its broadband mapping data, which was relied upon to produce winners for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which forced the commission to clean-up the result of the reverse auction after finding that some of the money would go toward wasteful spending.

West Virginia’s effort to expand broadband is led by the state Department of Economic Development. State Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael said that if self-reported maps show no service in an area “you can bet your life there’s no service there.”

“There’s a lot more at stake as the department works to get these maps right. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of education and employment in West Virginia is riding on it,” said the Times. “Good luck, then, to Carmichael and his department as they work to clean up yet another federal government mess that has left the Mountain State struggling for too long.”

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Broadband Roundup

New Senate Antitrust Bill Reaction, Charter Making Executive Changes, T-Mobile, Verizon Top Charts

Trade association doesn’t like new antitrust bill, Charter makes changes at the top, T-Mobile leads wireless, Verizon on wireline.

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Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

October 19, 2021 – A Senate antitrust bill introduced Monday that would empower the Federal Trade Commission to further regulate technology companies will harm start ups and small business, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

The trade association, which represents companies across the tech sector, said the American Innovation and Consumer Choice Act – introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa – will “cause irreparable harm to small businesses and startups and put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage against China and other nations eager to overtake our country as global tech leader.”

The bill would prohibit “dominant platforms” from favoring their own products and services to the detriment of competition, stop conduct that is harmful to small businesses including preventing interoperability with big platforms, requiring payment to receive preferential treatment on the big platform, bias search results, and misuse business data to compete against the small companies.

Amazon, for example, was accused of having taken the information of products of smaller companies on its platforms to create their own competing products.

According to the release, the bill received the support of at least 10 other Senators across party lines and companies including Spotify and Roku.

But the CCA said the bill, in empowering the FTC, would allow it to “ignore the consumer welfare standard, while imposing massive fines with minimal due process.

“Further, the bill will take away features and functions that millions of Americans love and use in their everyday lives,” the CCA statement said. “Say goodbye to Amazon Prime free shipping, Google maps in search results, preinstalled iPhone apps and many more.”

The House already has before it six antitrust bills that are awaiting votes.

Charter makes executive changes

Charter announced Tuesday that it is promoting chief financial officer Chris Winfrey to chief operating officer and Jessica Fischer will move from executive vice president to the COO position.

John Bickham will be vice chairman before he retired at the end of 2022, the company also announced in a press release, while chief product and technology officer Rich DiGeronimo will oversee the company’s network operations as an additional responsibility.

“I have worked with John for three decades and at every turn, his knowledge, leadership and steady hand have not only contributed greatly to the success of the companies we led, but made a profound impact on the growth of our industry,” said CEO Tom Rutledge. “I am grateful that John will continue to serve Charter in this new capacity as a strategic advisor to me and the executive team, and his guidance will help ensure a successful transition for Chris into the COO role.”

T-Mobile gets top billing for wireless, Verizon for wireline

According to an Ookla report Monday, T-Mobile ranked as the fastest mobile operator in the country in the third quarter with a median download speed of 62.35 Megabits per second, as Verizon took home the top rank for wireline download speeds at 178.38 Mbps.

For wireless, AT&T was second in speed at 47.42 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 39.91 Mbps. T-Mobile also ranked first in 5G performance with a median speed of 135.17 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 78.94 Mbps and then AT&T at 72.46 Mbps. T-Mobile was also top in 5G availability with 64.4 percent, with AT&T second at 44.8 percent and Verizon third at 34.3 percent.

T-Mobile completed its merger with Sprint last year. It proposed that the combined entity was the only way the companies could compete against the top players and offer a competitive 5G product.

On the wireline side, Cox was second to Verizon on download speed at 168.56 Mbps, followed by Comcast’s Xfinity at 161.87 percent, Spectrum fourth at 143.57 Mbps, AT&T Internet at 132.48 Mbps, and CenturyLink at 59.80 Mbps.

New Jersey had the fastest median download speed on wireline at 158.19 Mbps, followed by New York at 147.46 Mbps, California at 142.56 Mbps, Florida at 141.88 Mbps, and Texas at 140.15 Mbps.

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband Access Barriers, NY Fiber Fees, Arizona Highway Fiber Law, Rosenworcel Reportedly On Way Out

Lower broadband access barriers, NY lawmakers want fiber fee end, Arizona’s fiber on highways, Rosenworcel reportedly not enough for Biden.

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New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner.

October 18, 2021–– James Baller, president of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, argued Friday that states should lower barriers to broadband deployment by making public-private partnerships more accessible.

Speaking with Pew Charitable Trusts, Baller says that he’s happy to see states “stepping forward aggressively” in expanding broadband their states’ communities, “especially underserved ones.”

However, states have barriers that prevent local broadband initiatives and public private partnerships from forming, Baller says. “Some states prevent local governments from taking full advantage of available federal or state funds. That has to change.”

In the project planning stage, Baller says “the public entity must map out how it or its partners will deal with various funding, structural, governance, and regulatory issues, including rights-of-way, pole attachments, and easements”

“Things will surely get better as a result of the lessons from these experience and the substantial influx of federal, state, local, and private funding for broadband that we’ll see over the next few years” Baller says

He says in the past year, there has been greater recognition that states have a critical role in accelerating broadband deployment, adoption, and use. States’ responsibility in delivering broadband can be reflected in the growing number of state offices dedicated to broadband deployment initiatives.

The pandemic, however, may be easing restrictions on community networks.

NY legislators want to end fiber fees to increase broadband deployment

New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner joins the NY legislator push to end fiber optic right-of-way fees in the state, according to a Monday report from Observer Today.

Woerner has introduced a bill in the assembly to amend the state’s highway law to prohibit the state from including fees in its agreements with fiber optic utility.

Her support follows Senator George Borrello’s proposal to end the right-of way fees to stimulate greater broadband deployment in New York. Her proposal would deem any existing agreements unenforceable but would allow the state to keep money it already collected. Since the fiber optic fee was established in 2019, the state collected $330,000 from fiber optic companies.

Senator Borello argues that broadband access is “akin to running water and electricity.” He noted that fiber optic providers are being charged for the same rights of way for which other utilities are given free access.

The continuing lack of broadband service in rural regions of New York is an inequity highlighted by the pandemic because of how parents in his district responded to the 2020 lockdown. “Parents in my district have been driven to desperate measures to assure their kids can get online and do their schoolwork, including parking for hours in fast-food parking lots for the wi-fi access.” This is “utterly unacceptable” he said.

Arizona transportation department laying fiber along highway

The Arizona Department of Transportation began laying fiberoptic broadband cables along a 46-mile stretch of highway in northern Arizona last week.

The initiative was established by the Arizona DOT and the Arizona Commerce Authority to “create more affordable opportunities to provide more rural communities in Arizona with high-speed internet service,” according to an Arizona government press release.

According to the DOT, the purpose of the project is to install a high-speed fiber topic “backbone” that connects the state’s existing Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) devices with new ITS improvements.

The DOT said it plans to use the fiber to provide additional “smart highway” technology. The Arizona government says they will start using overhead message boards, message boards, traffic cameras, weather stations, and wrong way driving detection technology. The state government is hopeful that the infrastructure “will help lay the groundwork for emerging technology like connected and automated vehicles.”

Arizona’s broadband initiative, championed by Governor Doug Ducey, was sponsored in the legislator by Republican Rep. Regina Cobb. This latest fiberoptic installation follows the fiber optic conduits placed in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. The state has also installed a stretch of fiber optic cables for dust detection and warning systems. Construction is expected to last until summer of 2022.

FCC Acting Chair Rosenworcel on way out, report claims

Citing sources, a report in the Washington Examiner Sunday said Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel will not be selected by President Joe Biden as the permanent head of the agency because she’s not liberal enough.

The report, citing four unnamed sources, said Biden wants someone like Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Lina Khan, who has held anti-monopoly and critical views of big technology companies.

“Jessica has been around a long time, and she’s a real professional, but she’s not someone who is looking to revolutionize the FCC in the way Lina Khan is at the FTC,” the report said, citing a person familiar with Rosenworcel’s situation.

“The problem is Jessica is perceived as not progressive enough, and the administration feels the left wing of the party doesn’t support her. She has no sizzle,” the person added.

The agency’s four-person commission has been stuck in a party deadlock, with two Democratic and two Republican commissioners. Senators, educational institutions and former FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly have all called for Rosenworcel — who was selected by Biden as interim head following his inauguration — to be made permanent. Democrats have reportedly been frustrated with Biden’s delay.

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