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Broadband's Impact

For Robust Broadband in the 5G Era, More Local Control May Be Required

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PITTSBURGH, July 30, 2018 – Many broadband experts speaking at the Next Century Cities regional summit here said last week that city jurisdiction should take precedence over federal rules in ensuring impactful broadband deployment.

The conference highlighted some of these local voices, eager for broadband deployment even as they criticize recent Federal Communications Commission moves that strip away some local authority.

While the conversation in Washington often centers on fears of China overtaking the U.S. in 5G, outside of the beltway, concerns for municipalities and rural communities outweighed global considerations. This revealed crucial differences between local and federal priorities.

Blair Levin continued his strong criticism of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee

Blair Levin, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution, expressed distrust towards the federal government regarding decisions for local communities.

“I don’t have a lot of hope in, frankly, the state legislatures,” Levin said. However, he does have hope for local governments, which are much more “grounded in reality.”

As the FCC moves forward with some measures framed as aiming to promote the development of so-called 5G networks, Levin and others fear that local communities will not only be left behind, but stripped of their authority over the new broadband infrastructure that will have to be built.

For 5G to be deployed, an extensive amount of new infrastructure will need to be built. Although he didn’t speak at the event, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has previously cited an up to 100-fold increase in the number of —transceivers that will be needed to propagate broadband signals over the short distances necessary in 5G networks.

Levin emphasized the importance of regional and local efforts to move forward with broadband infrastructure deployment. He suggested ways that local governments could–without interference from the federal government– incentivize private telecommunications providers to develop quickly in their area.

Cities need to experiment in offering differential treatment to different locations within cities

According to Levin, cities should experiment and seek to incentivize private telecommunications providers to provide high-speed services to otherwise uneconomical areas by offering “zero cost permitting in areas that are below a certain adoption rate.”

A prime example of positive municipal leadership is the deal between the city of San Jose and Verizon. Mayor Sam Liccardo gained national attention after he resigned from the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, citing lack of municipal representation and over-representation of big telecommunications companies as the reason for his departure.

After resigning from BDAC, Sam Liccardo returned to San Jose determined to show that municipalities could make deals with telecommunications providers and advance infrastructure without interference from the federal government.

Announced in June 2018, San Jose’s deal with Verizon is designed to make San Jose into a Smart City, building out essential 5g infrastructure such as fiber networks and small cells on city poles.

 

Rural towns may lag behind in their ability to strike deals with telecom providers

However, while San Jose moves forward as a Smart City ready for the 5G wave of futuristic technology, rural towns lag far behind, unable to strike successful deals with big telecommunications providers – particularly when they were impeded from making developments on their own.

Levin advocated for local communities to take action in moving forward with broadband networks, yet acknowledged the danger of doing so in today’s political climate.

“The problem is, if the FCC moves ahead the way I think they are going to do, all those things are going to be illegal,” Levin said, referring to the struggles of local communities that sought to move forward with broadband–and were punished for their successes.

Film ‘Do Not Pass Go’ highlights the plight of Wilson, North Carolina

The film, “Do Not Pass Go,” by investigative filmmaker Cullen Hoback, highlights the case of Wilson, North Carolina. The small, underserved town built their own municipal broadband network after their requests to big cable providers were repeatedly denied.

Companies such as Time Warner Cable spent millions of dollars to try to stop the North Carolina town and other towns from building such municipal networks. In many ways, the incumbents have succeeded.

Wilson’s municipal network provided high-speed access to broadband that gave the town an opportunity to grow new businesses and become a hotspot attracting attention from other underserved local locations.

However, it did not last. Due to the efforts of large cable companies and the current ideals of the FCC to leave the building of networks to telecommunications and cable companies, Wilson’s new municipal network was pressured into pulling out of the city.

The struggle of the Wilson townspeople to keep their local network against pressures from big telecommunications companies that sought to discourage such competition is not an isolated case.

 

However, Levin advocated for local governments to keep moving forward with measures regardless of the federal government’s attempts to preempt local officials.

“I think we have to have more cities like San Jose that demonstrate we don’t need the federal government to do that,” Levin said, referring to the government’s measures to step in.

(Photo of Blair Levin at the Brookings Institutions by the Federal Communications Commission used with permission.)

Broadband's Impact

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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Broadband's Impact

New Report Recommends Broadening Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues

A Mattey Consulting report finds broadband revenues can help sustain the fund used to connect rural and low-income Americans.

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Carol Mattey of Mattey Consulting LLC

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2021— Former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission Carol Mattey released a study on Tuesday recommending the agency reform the Universal Service Fund to incorporate a broad range of revenue sources, including from broadband.

According to the report by Mattey’s consulting firm Mattey Consulting LLC, revenues from “broadband internet access services that are increasingly used by Americans today should contribute to the USF programs that support the expansion of such services to all,” it said. “This will better reflect the value of broadband internet access service in today’s marketplace for both consumers and businesses.”

Mattey notes that sources of funding for the USF, which are primarily from voice revenues and supports expanding broadband to low-income Americans and remote regions, has been shrinking, thus putting the fund in jeopardy. The contribution percent reached a historic high at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that, though Mattey suggested it could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years.

“This situation is unsustainable and jeopardizes the universal broadband connectivity mission for our nation without immediate FCC reform,” Mattey states in her report, “To ensure the enduring value of the USF program and America’s connectivity goals, we must have a smart and substantive conversation about the program’s future.”

According to Mattey’s data, the assessed sources (primarily voice) of income will only continue to shrink over the coming years, while unassessed sources will continue to grow. Mattey’s report was conducted in conjunction with INCOMPAS, NTCA: The Rural Broadband Association, and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“It is time for the FCC to take action, and to move away from the worst option of all – the status quo – that is jeopardizing the USF which is critical to connecting our nation,” the report said.

John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB, echoed the sentiments expressed by Mattey in her report, “We simply must put the USF funding mechanism on a more stable and sustainable path,” he said, “[in order to] strengthen our national commitment to broadband equity for all.”

Mattey report uniform with current recommendations

Mattey’s research is generally in line with proponents of change to the USF. Some have recommended that the fund draw from general broadband revenues, while others have said general taxation would provide a longer lasting solution. Even FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested that Big Tech be forced to contribute to the system it benefits from, which the acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said is an “intriguing” idea.

The FCC instituted the USF in 1997 as a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The fund was designed to encourage the development of telecom infrastructure across the U.S.—dispensing billions of dollars every year to advance the goal of universal connectivity. It does so through four programs: the Connect America Fund, Lifeline, the rural health care program, and E-Rate.

These constituent programs address specific areas related for broadband. For example, the E-Rate program is primarily concerned with ensuring that schools and libraries are sufficiently equipped with internet and technology assistance to serve their students and communities. All of these programs derive their funding from the USF.

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Digital Inclusion

Outreach ‘Most Valuable Thing’ for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Rosenworcel

FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said EBB will benefit tremendously from local outreach efforts.

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Internet Innovation Alliance Co-Chair Kim Keenan

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday that a drawback of the legislation that ushered in the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program is that it did not include specific funding for outreach.

“There was no funding to help a lot of these non-profit and local organizations around the country get the word out [about the program],” Jessica Rosenworcel said during an event hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance about the broadband affordability divide. “And I know that it would get the word out faster if we had that opportunity.”

The program, which launched in May and provides broadband subsidies of $50 and $75 to qualifying low-income households, has so-far seen an uptake of roughly 5.5 million households. The program was a product of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“We gotta get those trusted local actors speaking about it because me preaching has its limitations and reaching out to people who are trusted in their communities to get the word out – that is the single most valuable thing we can do,” Rosenworcel said.

She said the FCC has 32,000 partners and has held more than 300 events with members of Congress, tribal leaders, national and local organizations, and educational institutions to that end.

“Anyone who’s interested, we’ll work with you,” she said.

EBB successes found in its mobile friendliness, language inclusion

Rosenworcel also preached the benefits of a mobile application-first approach with the program’s application that is making it accessible to large swaths of the population. “I think, frankly, every application for every program with the government should be mobile-first because we have populations, like the LatinX population, that over index on smartphone use for internet access.

“We gotta make is as easy as possible for people to do this,” she said.

She also noted that the program is has been translated into 13 languages, furthering its accessibility.

“We have work to do,” Rosenworcel added. “We’re not at 100 percent for anyone, and I don’t think we can stop until we get there.”

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