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



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.)

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Broadband's Impact

Mississippi Nonprofit is Looking to Fill Gaps in Affordable Connectivity

The nonprofit Connect and Literacy Fund is planning to increase ACP adoption in Mississippi.



Screenshot of the event on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, September 28, 2023 – A Mississippi nonprofit is setting up a fund to support connectivity and digital literacy in the state.

The Mississippi Broadband Association is looking to raise $10 million to start the fund, which MSBA Executive Director Quinn Jordan said is intended to ensure newly built broadband infrastructure stays affordable in the state.

“We can build these networks,” he said, speaking at a Fiber Broadband Association webinar on Wednesday, “But if we don’t get people connected, if they don’t have the literacy or capability to do so, what have we really done?”

The initiative, called the Connect and Literacy Fund, is planning to increase ACP adoption in Mississippi. Over 18 percent of the state lives below the poverty line, making them eligible for the $30 monthly internet discount, but less than half that number participate. The MSBA is planning to make ACP sign-up part of the registration process to participate in the fund’s programming.

That programming will focus on teaching people how to use internet services like telehealth and streaming and provide large discounts for tables and PCs. The ACP provides a $100 device subsidy, but this is rarely enough for low-income households to make a purchase, Jordan said.

Difficulty accessing affordable devices is contributing to the digital divide in Mississippi, according to Jordan. He pointed to the fact that over 40% of Mississippians do not have access to a tablet or computer.

“That is a huge number. And it’s a barrier to entry,” Jordan said. “The Connect and Literacy Fund is hopefully going to address that.”

Jordan said the $2.75 billion Digital Equity program, part of the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, will be beneficial, but MSBA’s Connect and Literacy Fund will have a role to play in ensuring the state builds on the gains it makes with the federal funds.

“That money is going to run out,” he said. “What we’re doing is ongoing.”

The ACP might also be short-lived. The $14 billion allocation from the Infrastructure Act is set to dry up in April of next year.

MSBA has spent the last two months developing its programing and is looking to start coordinating events with local anchor institutions in the coming months, Jordan said. 

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Broadband's Impact

Tech Trade Group Report Argues for USF Funding from Broadband Companies

Consulting firm Brattle Group said in a report the move would be economically sound.



Screenshot of Chip Pickering, INCOMPAS CEO

WASHINGTON, September 19, 2023 – Tech company trade group INCOMPAS and consulting firm Brattle Group released on Tuesday a report arguing for adding broadband providers as contributors to the Universal Service Fund.

The USF spends roughly $8 billion each year to support four programs that provide internet subsidies to low-income households, health care providers, schools, and libraries. The money comes from a tax on voice service providers, causing lawmakers to look for alternative sources of funding as more Americans switch from phone lines to broadband services.

The Federal Communications Commission administers the fund through the Universal Service Administration Company, but has left it to Congress to make changes to the contribution pool.

The report argues that broadband providers should be one of those sources. It cites the fact that USF funds are largely used for broadband rather than voice services and that broadband adoption is increasing as phone line use decreases.

“The USF contribution base needs to change to account for the fact that connectivity implies not just voice telephone services, but predominantly broadband internet access,” the report says.

It also rebuts arguments for adding tech companies like INCOMPAS members Google and Amazon to the contribution pool, saying they represent a less stable source of income for the program and that added fees for services like streaming could affect . 

The report is the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute between tech companies and broadband providers over who should support the USF in the future, with broadband companies arguing big tech should be tapped for funding as they run businesses on the networks supported by the fund.

Sens. Ben Lujan, D-N.M., and John Thune, R-S.D. established in May a senate working group to explore potential reforms to the program. The group heard comments in August  from associations of tech and broadband companies, each outlining arguments for including the other industry in the USF contribution base.

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Broadband's Impact

Florida Broadband Grants, Support for Microsoft-Activision, IQ Fiber Investment

Comcast, Conexon, and Cox received $247 million in Florida broadband grants.



Photo of fiber-optic installation from 2018 by CTA

September 18, 2023 – Service providers Comcast, Conexon, and Cox are receiving the biggest awards totaling $247 million in Broadband Grants in the state of Florida, Telecompetitor revealed Thursday.

Cox is receiving $80 million for 11 projects, Comcast is getting $60 million for 34 projects, and Conexon is receiving roughly $40 million. Additional companies receiving funding include, Charter Communications, AT&T, CenturyLink, Suwanee Valley Electric Cooperative, Consolidated, TDS, IBT, and Myakka, Telecompetitor noted. 

The state announced the $247 million in broadband grants this July, but did not include the names of the providers who would be providing the services.

The grants were made possible through Florida’s Broadband Infrastructure Program, which received funding through the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund. 

Nine Amicus briefs filed in support of Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard 

Nine amicus briefs were filed Thursday in support of Microsoft’s $68.7 billion purchase of Activision-Blizzard by a group of parties that included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Communications Workers of America among others.

The briefs come in response to the Federal Trade Commission’s attempt to appeal its loss against Microsoft to prevent the sale in the United States, alleging that Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision-Blizzard would allow it to manipulate access to Activision’s products for rival gaming consoles to Microsoft’s Xbox, therefore suppressing competition in the gaming industry.

“This Commission’s hostility to the procompetitive and efficiency-enhancing prospects of mergers is well-known—but the Commission’s position is not supported by merger case law,” said Bilal Sayyed, TechFreedom senior competition counsel, former director of the FTC’s Office of Policy Planning. 

Among the briefs released, five independent publishers and studios that included Curve Digital, Finji, iam8bit, Strange Scaffold, and Studio Wildcard – going under “amici”’ in support of the acquisition – hint the deal will positively benefit the development community.

“Amici are five independent companies, of all shapes and sizes, that publish or develop video games for a range of game-streaming platforms, including Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service on Xbox,” the brief stated. “Thus having first-hand experience with Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription and its effects on the market for independently published and developed games.

“While the FTC argues that the merger will stifle competition, amici have had precisely the opposite experience with Microsoft’s Game Pass service.”

In June 2022, the CWA was able to enforce a Labor Neutrality Agreement with Microsoft if the acquisition were approved. Under the agreement, workers with Activision Blizzard would be able “to freely make a choice about union representation.”

“While the labor neutrality agreement at Activision does not take effect until the merger closes, Microsoft has already proven its commitment to abide by the agreement by extending its provisions to its own employees,” CWA wrote on their website.

IQ Fiber starts construction of fiber-optic network in northwest Gainesville, $40 million invested in phase one of project

IQ Fiber has started its first phase of construction Friday, a $40-million investment to bring a fiber-optic network to the Northwest Gainesville and Alachua County in Florida.

The company, based in Jacksonville, is bringing its services to Florida’s Alachua, Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties, which is its “first major network expansion outside of the Jacksonville region.”

IQ Fiber expects online service to be available for “a few” Northwest Gainesville neighborhoods near the start of 2024. 

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward said in a press release that extending broadband competition in the community was always a priority and is hopeful that IQ Fiber’s presence will provide a plethora of opportunities for the neighboring communities.

Since starting in 2021, the company has developed over 600 miles of fiber-optic cable across North Florida. 

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