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Broadband Deployment Updates from Virginia, Kansas, Ohio and Indiana

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BROADBAND BREAKFAST INSIGHT: It is great to see this kind of round-up of an array of broadband activities happening throughout the country. It is a reminder that broadband remains a potent economic development issue throughout the country, if not in Washington. Kudos to Smart and Resilient Cities for putting this piece together!

Broadband Expansion Gains Momentum Across U.S., from Smart and Resilient Cities

A host of states and municipalities have recently made progress on the broadband scene, moving toward increased access to high-speed internet. Surveying the country, Smart & Resilient Citiescompiled a round-up of related news stories, featuring public private partnerships from state capitals to rural counties.

Virginia

News from the State Capital

In early July, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced the creation of two new state-level positions to address the issue of broadband internet access.

A Chief Broadband Advisor and a Deputy Advisor will be in charge of creating and helping implement a plan to increase broadband internet access in rural areas. The plan will support Southwest Virginia and other rural parts of the commonwealth that don’t have broadband access.

Governor Northam said the effort will take collaboration, including support from the private sector, to achieve his goal for the entire commonwealth to have access to broadband internet within ten years, according to local news updates from an event announcing the new positions. One such report included Dean Sigman, an operations manager with SCS Broadband, which is helping establish broadband access in the county, who agreed that the creation of the broadband and deputy broadband advisors is important. Sigman said the company currently serves around 100 customers, and that this announcement will help expedite their ability to bring broader access to businesses and residents in these areas.

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Source: Broadband Expansion Gains Momentum Across U.S.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Roundup

Temporary Spectrum Auction Bill, Inflation Impact on Internet Bills, Omni in Pennsylvania

A bill would give the FCC a one-time authority to deliver spectrum licenses already won.

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September 20, 2023 — Senator John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, introduced legislation that would provide the Federal Communications Commission temporary authority to release already auctioned 5G spectrum to winners. 

Congress failed in March for the first time in history to extend the FCC’s spectrum auction authority, leaving winners of the 2.5 GHz spectrum without their licenses. 

Kennedy’s 5G Spectrum Authority Licensing Enforcement (SALE) Act, introduced Thursday, would give the FCC “one-time” temporary authority to release licenses purchased in auctions that occurred prior to March 9, 2023.

“My 5G SALE Act offers a simple solution for providing rural Americans with access to broadband by giving the FCC the authority to finish transferring already auctioned spectrum to companies who offer 5G coverage,” Kennedy said in a press release. 

These licenses are “the only way companies can legally use the radio waves that bring 5G to customers.

T-Mobile, which won 7,156 out of roughly 8,000 in 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses for over $304 million last summer, and other winning parties have been unable to obtain access to the spectrum, hindering their ability to expand 5G into rural communities.  

Survey finds inflation making it hard for adults to pay internet bills

A survey Tuesday found that 61 percent of U.S. adults said inflation has led to difficulties in paying their internet bill, while 39 percent cut their personal expenses to continue paying for their monthly internet service.

The U.S. News & World Report survey, which canvassed in August 3,500 U.S. adults on cost, speed, and value of their internet services, found that 53 percent paid between $20 and $60 a month when they initially signed up with their current internet service; now, 48 percent are paying between $41 and $80. 

The survey gathered data to find out the costs of internet service, the increase of their internet cost, and the overall impact the rise in internet costs had on their budget and ability to pay other bills. It also examined the quality of speed and value to consumers.

With internet speed, 36 percent reported having a download speed of 100 megabits per second or less per second, with 8 percent having less than 25 Mbps. The most common download speeds gathered were 101-300 Mbps at 31 percent, 25-100 Mbps at 28 percent, and 301-1,000 Mbps at 25 percent. For uploading, the most common speed was 21-50 Mbps at 30 percent, 11-20 Mbps at 25 percent, and greater than 50 Mbps at 20 percent.

For provider speed and value, the survey concluded that 45 percent would pay $5 to $10 a month for a reliable and fast high-speed internet connection whereas 62 percent would pay $5 to $20, and 17 percent would pay $11 to $20.

Survey participants consisting of customers who utilized a “long list of internet service providers (ISPs)” revealed that the top five ISPs used in order were: Comcast’s Xfinity, Spectrum, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. 

Ohio-based internet provider expands services to Pennsylvania

Omni Fiber announced its expansion of internet services into the state of Pennsylvania on Monday.

The Ohio-based internet provider will be servicing western Pennsylvania’s North Uniontown, South Uniontown, Uniontown, Connellsville and South Connellsville.

Construction is also set to begin shortly in Ohio towns Ashland, Ballville Township, Catawba Island, Crestline, Mansfield, Marblehead, Mount Vernon, New Washington, Norwalk, Ontario, Pataskala, and Upper Sandusky and have already broken ground in, Bucyrus, Defiance, Eaton, Fremont, Greenville, London, Monroeville, Mount Gilead, New Philadelphia, Perkins Township, Perrysburg, Sandusky, and Wooster. 

Residents and businesses are expected to have access to “affordable and high-speed broadband with fiber Internet plans up to 2 Gbps (2,000 Mbps), as well as traditional and streaming TV options, and phone service,” a press release said. 

Omni Fiber will be fully funding the multimillion-dollar build without any government funding or grants.

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Broadband Roundup

New ACP Survey, FCC Fines VoIP Provider, Fifth Congressional Hackathon

Less than half of low-income survey respondents without internet had heard of the ACP.

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Screenshot of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the hackathon

September 15, 2023 – A lack of familiarity with the Affordable Connectivity Program is a major barrier to the program’s adoption, according to a survey published on Thursday by the nonprofit Connected Nation.

More than one third of low-income respondents had not heard of the ACP, according to the survey. The number was higher for low-income people with no home internet service, almost half of whom were not familiar with the program.

The $14 billion program, part of the 2021 Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, provides a monthly internet subsidy of $30 for low-income households and $75 for residents of Tribal lands. More than 20 million households are enrolled in the program, only about half of the eligible population.

More than $6 billion is estimated to have been used up, with the remaining money expected to dry up in 2024. There have been repeated calls to renew the program, but it remains unclear whether Congress will do so.

The numbers come weeks after the Federal Communications Commission, the agency responsible for administering ACP funds, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a partnership to promote the program in public housing properties.

The survey, produced with support from AT&T, was conducted in five major U.S. cities – Milwaukee, Cleveland, Dallas/Fort Worth, Charlotte, and San Francisco – and reached over 1,700 total households.

It also found eligibility concerns to be the biggest reason for eligible respondents not signing up for the program. Almost a third of low-income households who chose not to participate in the ACP did so because they did not believe they were eligible.

FCC announces filing violation fine

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Thursday a fine against Stage 2 Networks over $300,000 for failing to file mandatory Universal Service Fund forms.

The company provides voice services over the internet. Voice service providers are required to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which spends roughly $8 billion each year on four programs that subsidize the internet for low-income households, healthcare providers, schools, and libraries. Providers submit forms to the FCC to determine their contribution requirements.

The FCC, responsible through the Universal Service Administrative Company for collecting and administering USF funds, said in its order that Stage 2 failed to file any of these forms from February 2020 through August 2023. The company also missed certification requirements and ignored a notice from the commission, according to the order.

The company will have 30 days to pay the fine or submit a statement seeking a smaller penalty, and must file the various forms it missed in the last three years.

Multiple court cases alleging the USF is unconstitutional are pending. The conservative nonprofit Consumers’ Research has cases before the Fifth, Eleventh, and D.C. circuit courts arguing Congress gave the FCC illegal authority to collect a tax when it set up the fund in 1996.

The Sixth Circuit already struck down a similar petition from the group.

Fifth congressional hackathon

Congress held its fifth hackathon on Thursday, with lawmakers, staff, advocates, hackers, and developers convening to discuss implementing new technology on the Hill.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, and Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies, D-New York, hosted the event. The House’s Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor also hosted, in the office’s first show of support for the hackathon.

McCarthy emphasized using artificial intelligence to streamline government programs.

“Think about all the data that the government has,” McCarthy said in an introductory speech. “Where’s the way we could use AI to provide it to the public in a different way?”

The hackathon comes after a flurry of AI hearings in Washington, with multiple Senate committees and the National AI Advisory Committee calling witnesses and discussing potential guardrails for companies looking to use the technology to automate decision making.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC in Space, Using Broadband to Map Maternal Health, Illinois Farm Bureau

Speaking at the Global Aerospace Summit Wednesday, Jessica Rosenworcel shared a space-themed update.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel from the September 2022 Global Aerospace Summit

September 14, 2023 –  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel laid out the commission’s vision for space-based communications at the Global Aerospace Summit on Wednesday.

The chairwoman noted that the FCC has a plan that will issue “long-term regulatory certainty” by ensuring that operators will have access to the spectrum needed for successful launches into space. This means, according to Rosenworcel, that operators will have additional access to airwaves and a simpler process for new competitors to gain “reliable access to the spectrum they need.”

At the FCC’s open meeting next week, the commission will be voting on “Expediting Initial Processing of Satellite and Earth Station Applications,” which are new rules to facilitate and expedite “application  processing for satellite and earth station operators in order to advance opportunities for innovation in the new space age.”

Rosenworcel said that the streamlining effort was designed to accelerate “the processing of space and earth station applications” and as a result will be promoting “competition and innovation” by easing the process for companies to enter the market.

Rosenworcel also said the FCC is working on the development of a new regulatory framework that will support direct satellite-to-smartphone communications, as well as space-based technology.

“It is part of what we call the single network future,” Rosenworcel stated. “Our approach is designed to make it easier for satellite operators to collaborate with wireless carriers to access their terrestrial spectrum and fill gaps in coverage from space to the phone in your pocket.”

The FCC over the past year has explored ways that in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing could assist the commission in repairing and refueling satellites located in space. They have also sought out how these approaches could help “assemble whole systems in orbit” and construct new industries to further advance their “scientific frontiers and national capabilities.”

Agency’s Connect2Health Task Force hosting webinar on September 27

The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday its Connect2Health Task Force is hosting a virtual webinar on September 27 to display its updated “Mapping Broadband Health in America” platform incorporating maternal health data they announced Wednesday.

“Mapping Broadband Health in America” was created to galvanize “innovative broadband-enabled solutions such as telehealth in areas impacted by poor maternal health outcomes, including higher maternal mortality or severe maternal morbidity.”

The webinar is expected to feature how the platform is able to generate actionable insights as well as allow users to “inform further development of this important tool.” Participants will also be learning how to “generate customized maps and visualize the intersection of broadband connectivity and maternal health data.”

Among the platform’s capabilities, the public can utilize “Mapping Broadband Health in America” to divide “broadband data and maternal mortality or severe maternal morbidity rates at the state level.”

The platform can be used to dictate how connections and access to obstetric care coincides at the county level, and gives users access to connectivity metrics and maternal health data which has been filtered by racial and ethnic backgrounds, maternal age, rurality, among other disparities.

Illinois county receiving millions for broadband

The Champaign County Farm Bureau in Illinois is receiving $11 million from its county board for broadband infrastructure.

The investment is to help communities lacking access to high-speed, reliable internet.

Farm Bureau Manager Bailey Conrady said the funds would benefit small towns and small businesses and give farms a leg up.

“Farming is a data-driven business and so being able to handle those big packets of data over an internet connection without having to try and upload it, and walk away and eat supper and come back and see if it’s maybe 10% done, is going to make a big difference,” Conrady said.

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