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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.)

 

Broadband Data

TPRC Conference to Discuss Definition of Section 230, Broadband, Spectrum and China

Broadband Breakfast briefly breaks down the topics to be discussed at the TPRC conference.

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Photo collage of experts from TPRC

WASHINGTON, September 17, 2021 – The TPRC research conference on communication, information, and internet policy is right around the corner and it is set to address some of the most pressing issues facing Big Tech, the telecom industry, and society at large. We cover some topics you can expect to see covered during the conference on September 22 to 24.

If the recent election cycle and the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us anything, it is that the threat of misinformation and disinformation pose a greater threat than most people could have imagined. Many social media platforms have attempted to provide their own unique content moderation solutions to combat such efforts, but thus far, none of these attempts have satisfied consumers or legislators.

While the left criticizes these companies for not going far enough to curtail harmful speech, the right argues the opposite— that social media has gone too far and censored conservative voices.

All this dissent has landed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—once a staple in the digital landscape—in the crosshairs of both Democrats and Republicans, as companies still scramble to strike a compromise to placate both sides of the aisle.

Definition of broadband

The future of broadband classifications is another topic that will also be touched on during the conference. This topic quickly became relevant at the outset of the pandemic, as people around the country began to attend school and work virtually.

It became immediately clear that for many Americans, our infrastructure was simply insufficient to handle such stresses. Suddenly, legislators were rushing to reclassify broadband. Efforts in Washington, championed primarily by Democrats, called for broadband standards to be raised.

The Federal Communications Commission’s standing definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload appeared to become unpopular overnight, as calls for symmetrical service, like 100 x 100 Mbps speeds, and even gigabit speeds became a part of the conversation.

Many experts were quick to strike back, particularly those operating in the wireless community, arguing that the average consumer does not need 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds, let alone one gigabit, and such efforts only amounted to fearmongering that would hurt the deployment of broadband infrastructure to unserved communities.

These experts contend that shifting the standards would diminish the utility and viability of any technology other than fiber, as well as delaying when unserved communities (as they are currently defined) can expect to be served. Broader topics surrounding rural broadband and tech-equity will also be prominently featured—addressing many of the questions raised by Covid-19 across the last year and a half.

Future of spectrum

Finally, the quest for spectrum will be discussed at the conference.

As ubiquitous 5G technology continues to be promised by many companies in the near future, the hunt is on to secure more bandwidth to allow their devices and services to function. Of course, spectrum is a finite resource, so finding room is not always easy.

Indeed, spectrum sharing efforts have been underway for years, where incumbent users either incentivized or are compelled to make room for others in their band—just like we saw the military in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band, and more recently between the Department of Defense and Ligado in the L band.

Even though these efforts are ongoing, there is still disagreement in the community about how, if at all, sharing spectrum will impact users in the band. While some argue that spectrum can be shared with little, if any, interference to incumbent services, others firmly reject this stance, maintaining that sharing bandwidth would be catastrophic to the services they provide.

On China

China is also going to be a significant topic at the conference. Due to the competitive nature of the U.S.-China relationship, many regard the race to 5G as a zero-sum game, whereby China’s success is our failure.

Furthermore, security and competition concerns have led the U.S. government to institute a “rip and replace” policy across the country, through which Chinese components—particularly those from companies such as Huawei—are torn out of existing infrastructure and substituted with components from the U.S. or countries we have closer economic ties with. The conference will feature several sessions discussing these topics and more.

Register for TPRC 2021

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Broadband Breakfast on Wednesday, September 15, 2021 — A ‘Consumer Confidence’ Survey for Broadband

BroadbandNow launches a “consumer confidence” survey.

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Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the September 15, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021, 12 Noon ET — BroadbandNow Presents a ‘Consumer Confidence’ Survey for Broadband

As part of its efforts to provide the latest research on the social, economic and political issues contributing to the digital impact and the impact of broadband on everyday life, BroadbandNow is launching a new survey among broadband leaders enthusiasts. Think of this as a “consumer confidence” survey for broadband.

Recently, there have been many changes regarding broadband at the federal, state, local and industry levels. BroadbandNow and Broadband Breakfast aim to launch the survey at a presentation during Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021, a mini-conference at the Broadband Community Summit in Houston, Texas, from September 27-30, 2021.

Join us on September 15, 2021, for this special Broadband Breakfast Live Online preview of the survey with John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow, and Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast.

Panelists for the event:

  • John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow
  • John B. Horrigan, Senior Fellow, Benton Institute on Broadband & Society
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

  • John Busby is the Managing Director of BroadbandNow.com, where millions of consumers find and compare local internet options and independent research is published about the digital divide. Prior to BroadbandNow, John held senior leadership positions at Amazon and Marchex. John holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Northwestern University.
  • John B. Horrigan, Ph.D., is Senior Fellow at the Benton Institute on Broadband & Society, with a focus on technology adoption and digital inclusion. Horrigan has served as an Associate Director for Research at the Pew Research Center and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute. During the Obama Administration, Horrigan was part the leadership team at the Federal Communications Commission for the development of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).
  • Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. He has also worked with cities on structuring Public-Private Partnerships for better broadband access for their communities. As a journalist, Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband, and – building off his work with Broadband Census – was appointed Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois under Gov. Pat Quinn. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

BroadbandNow is a data aggregation company helping millions of consumers find and compare local internet options. BroadbandNow’s database of providers, the largest in the U.S., delivers the highest-value guides consisting of comprehensive plans, prices and ratings for thousands of internet service providers. BroadbandNow relentlessly collects and analyzes internet providers’ coverage and availability to provide the most accurate zip code search for consumers.

See also:

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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New Broadband Mapping Fabric Will Help Unify Geocoding Across the Broadband Industry, Experts Say

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Photo of Lynn Follansbee from October 2019 by Drew Clark

March 11, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission’s new “fabric” for mapping broadband service across America will not only help collect more accurate data, but also unify geocoding across the broadband industry, industry experts said during a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar Thursday.

Broadband service providers are not geocoding experts, said Lynn Follansbee of US Telecom, and they don’t know where all the people are.

The new fabric dataset is going to be very useful to get a granular look at what is and what is not served and to harmonize geocoding, she said.

AT&T’s Mary Henze agreed. “We’re a broadband provider, we’re not a GIS company,” she said. Unified geocode across the whole field will help a lot to find missing spots in our service area, she said.

The new Digital Opportunity Data Collection fabric is a major shift from the current Form 477 data that the FCC collects, which has been notoriously inaccurate for years. The effort to improve broadband mapping has been ongoing for years, and in 2019 US Telecom in partnership with CostQuest and other industry partners created the fabric pilot program.

That has been instrumental in lead to the new FCC system, panelists said. It is called a “fabric” dataset because it is made up of other datasets that interlace like fabric, Follansbee explained.

The fabric brings new challenges, especially for mobile providers, said Chris Wieczorek of T-Mobile. With a whole new set of reporting criteria to fill out the fabric, it will lead to confusion for consumers, and lots of work for the new task force, he said.

Henze said that without the fabric, closing the digital divide between those with broadband internet and those without has been impossible.

Digital Opportunity Data Collection expected to help better map rural areas

The new mapping can help in rural areas where the current geolocation for a resident may be a mailbox that is several hundred feet or farther away from the actual house that needs service, Follansbee said.

Rural areas aren’t the only places that will benefit, though. It can also help in dense urban areas where vertical location in a residential building is important to getting a good connection, said Wieczorek.

The fabric will also help from a financial perspective, because of the large amount of funding going around, said Charter Communications’ Christine Sanquist. The improved mapping can help identify where best to spend that funding for federal agencies, providers, and local governments, she said.

There is now more than $10 billion in new federal funding for broadband-related projects, with the recent $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December 2020 and the new $7.6 Emergency Connectivity Fund part of the American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday.

The new FCC task force for implementing the new mapping system was created in February 2021, and is being led by , led by Jean Kiddoo at the FCC. No specific dates have been set yet for getting the system operational.

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