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Rural Electric Cooperatives Pose an Obvious Solution for Deploying Fiber to Rural Areas, Says Former FCC Official

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PITTSBURGH, July 31, 2018 – Rural electric cooperatives and not “small cell” deployment powered by 5G networks, may be the solution to closing the digital divide, according to Jonathan Chambers, former chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Strategic Planning.

Speaking at the regional conference hosted last week here by Next Century Cities, a broadband advocacy group for cities, Chambers suggested repurposing rural electric cooperative infrastructure for fiber networks.

“The nation was able to build electricity to every home in rural America. That was the objective starting in the 1930s, and the country was able to do so,” Chambers said. “It’s less expensive to build a fiber network than an electric network.”

Rural electric co-ops were started with a goal of universal service

A rural electric cooperative is a not-for-profit organization owned by the community that it serves. Many of these organizations started more than 80 years ago with a goal of building electric services to those rural communities that utility companies refused to serve.

Just as with broadband today, rural communities in America struggled to gain access to electricity because the low-density areas proved to be uneconomical for businesses..

“We can afford it as a nation to build fiber everywhere. We can afford it if we set the objective,” Chambers said, projecting confidence in the nation’s ability to get connected.

Chambers emphasized the importance of local and community action to solve the divide, just as it solved the electric divide with community-owned rural electric cooperatives.

“I don’t wait around for Congress, or the FCC, or the USDA either — this has to come from the community,” Chambers said.

Getting new networks in for coal country, Kentucky

Harry Collins, a teacher from Letcher County, Kentucky – a town devastated by the collapse of the coal industry – said that there is no broadband at all in the lower part of Letcher County, an area with 30 percent of the county’s population.

“It’s basically a wasteland– there is no connectivity,” Collins said. “We have people paying $85.95 for 1 Mbps (Megabit per second). That is capped in that area.” In other areas, he said, there are people paying nearly $190 for a 10 Mbps connection.

“We need to give them some sort of format to connect with the outside world,” Collins said.

Collins described harassment he experienced when trying to pilot a program to set up broadband for the lower portion of his country. According to Collins, a representative from a small cable company paid the city a visit to criticize them.

“He called us all liars, and then he called us politicians,” Collins said. He said, however, that the community backed Collins’ efforts and  “shooed ‘em out the door.”

Collins plans to move forward with his plan to build a local wireless network for the community without expecting or relying on assistance from the private sector.

“We’re not making a build-and-they-will-come project,” Collins said. “We’re building a project that’s a tool for our community.”

Criticism and praise of a wireless network in Kentucky

However, Collins’ efforts to build a wireless network in the community was met with criticism from other members of the panel, such as Fletcher Kittredge, CEO of telecommunications company GWI. Kittredge said Collins should instead be deploying fiber to prepare for the future, rather than setting up a network that would become obsolete in the next five years.

“All models now are wireless and fiber,” Kittredge said. “If you’re building a wireless network and someone tells you [that] you should not do it with fiber backhaul to the antennas, they’re probably misleading you.”

Kittredge instead advocated for laying down fiber, which he says could later be used for developing a better fiber network.  “The trick is fiber down some roads, and most roads, and then the antennas are going to be somewhere. It is incredibly painful to throw away fiber gear,” Kittredge said, emphasizing the importance of fiber networks despite the high cost of deployment.

However, Chambers and Policy Director of Next Century Cities, Christopher Mitchell, expressed support for Collins’ local effort to give access to members in his county.

“Build what you need,” Chambers said, despite advocating for repurposing prior infrastructure for fiber networks over building a wireless network. “That’s different – that I do agree with.”

“Every year that you wait, people are leaving,” Mitchell said. “We have to recognize the immediacy, because every year people are leaving, and some of them will not come back.”

Rural Utilities Service continues to have programs for building broadband

While Collins explained that he opted out of a fiber network because it would be too expensive, Richard Jenkins from the Rural Utilities Service of the Agriculture Department described federal programs for financing broadband deployment.

“We also strive to provide with our financing something where there’s nothing,” Jenkins said. According to Jenkins, for the USDA’s programs, “10/3 is the base,” referring to 10 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. “Anything below 10/3 is considered unserved as far as we’re concerned with our programs,” he said.

Chambers praised the USDA’s approach to building out infrastructure. “The USDA has invested the public’s money in the nation’s infrastructure in the past 80 years with a long-term approach,” Chambers said.

“The USDA knows that if you are going to invest the public’s money, you ought to do so in long term infrastructure, not something that’s going to move from 3G to 4G to 5G to 6G.”

Differing cost estimates for building out nationwide broadband networks

However, the cost of building out to unserved and underserved areas remains a burdensome issue.

According to research by broadband data analyst James Stegeman, from CostQuest, the cost of deploying a fiber-to-the-premises network for underserved and unserved portions of the country is over 95 billion.

Deploying a fiber-to-the-premises network to the unserved alone would cost an estimated 60 billion dollars.

Even that cost estimate may be an understatement, according to Chambers. He criticized the research for relying on the FCC’s Form 477 data. According to Chambers, the FCC data underestimates the number of underserved and unserved homes in the country. If the actual number of underserved and unserved homes were to be used in the formula, the cost could grow much higher.

Chambers advocated utilizing existing infrastructure to drastically decrease that cost of building out fiber networks.

“I believe it is economically feasible and economically necessary…to build fiber network to every home in this country,” Chambers said.

(Photograph of Jonathan Chambers in September 2015 by Drew Clark.)

 

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Ookla Has Verizon as Fastest Q1 Fixed Provider, T-Mobile Takes Top Spot for Mobile

T-Mobile was also named the most consistent mobile operator and topped 5G download speeds.

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Image of Speedtest from May 2017 by Daniel Aleksandersen used with permission

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2022 – A market report released Friday by performance metrics web service Ookla named Verizon the fastest fixed broadband provider in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2022, and T-Mobile as the fastest mobile operator during the same period.

Verizon had a median download speed of 184.36 Mbps, edging out Comcast Xfinity’s speed of 179.12 Mbps. T-Mobile’s median mobile speed was 117.83 Mbps.

Verizon had the lowest latency of all providers, according to Ookla, well ahead of Xfinity’s fourth place ranking, yet sat at third for consistency behind both Xfinity and Spectrum.

T-Mobile was also the most consistent mobile operator during the first quarter, achieving an Ookla consistency score of 88.3 percent, which along with median download speed represented an increase from the fourth quarter of 2021.

The company also achieved the fastest median 5G download speed, coming in at 191.12 Mbps.

Verizon also notably increased its 5G download speed from its Q4 metric, attributed in part to the turning on of new C-band spectrum in January following deployment delays and protest from airlines. For mobile speeds, it stood in second behind T-Mobile, bumping AT&T to a standing of third. These rankings were the same for mobile measures of latency and consistency.

Yet on 5G availability, AT&T remains ahead of Verizon.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra came in as the fastest popular device in the country, running at 116.33 Mbps.

Ookla is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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FCC’s Rosenworcel: Broadband Nutrition Labels Will Create New Generation of Informed Buyers

The FCC hopes companies will make it easier for consumers to choose a broadband plan that fits their needs.

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Photo of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaking at the Mobile World Conference 2022 in Barcelona

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband nutrition labels will usher in a new era where buyers have simple information about what they’re buying, agency Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said Friday.

Consumers should know what they’re signing up for when they spend hundreds “or even thousands” of dollars per year for internet service. She was speaking at Friday’s commission hearing on its so-called broadband nutrition label initiative.

The hearing comes on top of a public comment period on the initiative. Many providers are pushing for more flexible regulations on compliance.

When consumers choose a broadband provider for their household, Rosenworcel said may people make decisions with “sometimes incomplete and inaccurate information.”

“The problem for broadband consumers isn’t a total lack of information, but there’s loads of fine print,” Rosenworcel said. “It can be difficult to know exactly what we are paying for and these disclosures are not consistent from carrier to carrier,” which makes comparing prices and services harder and more time-consuming for consumers.

The comments built on other recent speeches by Rosenworcel promoting the initiative, encouraging state attorneys general’s ability to enforce companies’ commitments through their states’ consumer protection statutes.

The FCC began a plan in 2015 for broadband labels that was voluntary. The new initiative directed by last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law makes this effort mandatory for broadband providers.

Matt Sayre, managing director of cross sector economic development firm Onward Eugene, said residents in rural Oregon would benefit from simple information when considering broadband providers. During a time where dial-up and satellite-based offerings were primarily available, Sayre said his neighbors “never used terms like latency or packet loss.”

“These are important aspects of good internet service, but not easily understood by most people,” Sayre said. “Citizens understood they needed better service but were uncertain about what tier of service they needed. This is where broadband labels can be very helpful.”

The hearing was the agency’s first on the initiative.

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Small ISP Organizations Push FCC for Flexibility on Broadband Label Compliance

Advocates say strict compliance requirements may economically harm small providers.

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Photo of outgoing WISPA CEO of Claude Aiken from April 2018 by New America used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 ­­– In comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday, organizations representing small internet providers are pushing for flexible regulations on compliance with a measure that requires clear reporting of broadband service aspects to consumers.

The measure was adopted at a late January meeting by the commission, mandating that providers list their pricing and speed information about services in the format of a “broadband nutrition label” that mimics a food nutrition label. Congress’ bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted in the fall required that the FCC adopt such policy.

The organizations that submitted comments Wednesday say that strict compliance requirements for the new measure may economically harm small providers.

Among those leading the charge are trade associations Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and America’s Communications Association as well as provider Lumen Technologies.

In comments, limited resources of smaller providers were cited as factors which could disadvantage them in terms of complying with the measure to the FCC’s standards and several organizations asked for small providers to be given extra time to comply.

In separate comments, internet provider Lumen said that the FCC must make multiple changes to its approach if it is to “avoid imposing new obligations that arbitrarily impose excessive costs on providers and undermine other policy goals.”

Last month, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that she looks forward to increased coordination between the FCC and state attorneys general for the enforcement of the measure.

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