Connect with us

Broadband's Impact

Bruce Mehlman: It’s Fitting that Congress is Focused on Accelerating Our 5G Future

Avatar

Published

on

At the beginning of a new Congress, there’s generally an exciting, hopeful spirit, even after the bitter partisanship of the past election.  The issues that new committee chairs choose to focus on upfront are a good indication of their priorities and where they believe progress can be made.

In telecommunications, therefore, it’s promising that Senator Roger Wicker, the new Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, opted to begin his tenure by focusing on the need to support and accelerate deployments of 5G technology – the exciting next generation of mobile technology that promises exponentially faster speeds (up to 100 times faster than today’s 4G) and will enable innovations such as truly connected cars and smart cities. Some companies have already begun deployments of 5G, and more are coming this year to dozens of cities across the country…but the real wave will start hitting only in future years.

Make no mistake: these deployments will come from the private sector, not government.  With trillion-dollar deficits and trillions more needed for roads, bridges, air traffic control and other infrastructure improvements, government doesn’t have the hundreds of billions of dollars to make these deployments. But even if policymakers were willing to continue ignoring deficits, the private sector would still be better able to target these resources to national needs, as they have with previous generations of telecommunications infrastructure.

Which is not to say policy makers have no role. To the contrary, government is essential for encouraging and accelerating the massive investments in and deployments of 5G, and they have many methods at their disposal.  First, and most important, policy makers need to identify spectrum that can be used for 5G and then make that spectrum available to innovative companies.  Some of this spectrum will be new; other spectrum will come through repurposing spectrum currently used for other purposes.

Congress took a big step in this regard last year by requiring the FCC to identify 30 megahertz of low-band spectrum suitable for 5G.  Now, the focus must shift to mid-band spectrum, where the properties of 5G can truly shine and where most 5G communications will actually occur – if we get the spectrum.

Other nations, including major economic competitors such as Japan, South Korea, Germany, and the UK, are already allocating mid-band spectrum for their users.  China – our principal competitor in the global race to 5G – has committed to 460 MHz of this valuable spectrum for its three operators.

The U.S. needs to catch up, quickly.  The FCC is looking at repurposing up to 500 megahertz of spectrum for 5G in the “C-Band,” a mid-band spectrum range. This can move forward in a bipartisan manner.  Because 5G is so much more powerful than the previous generations of mobile technology, the needs for spectrum to take advantage of 5G’s potential are likewise more complex.

Congress can help by passing the AIRWAVES Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the last Congress which would establish a schedule for future spectrum auctions over the next five years to help ensure U.S. preeminence in 5G.

It matters who wins the race to 5G.  The country that gets there first will be able to set standards for this vital technology with implications for all American industries, from automotive to healthcare, in addition to our national defense.  China is already staking out a claim for global leadership in 5G – the first time that our preeminence in mobile technology has been seriously challenged.

That’s why it’s so important to act now, to have a predictable schedule of spectrum so private sector operators will invest the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary.

Accenture estimates that U.S. operators will invest $275 billion to deploy 5G, with an economic benefit of $500 billion.  But these investments and benefits only happen if markets know the spectrum will be there.  Because of the unique nature of 5G, those investments will benefit every corner of our country.

The switch to 5G technology can transform our lives.  The ability for connected cars to send and receive information, for instance, can help avoid school bus accidents and give safer driving experiences.  Getting all this right will be extremely important for the future of our economy and our global leadership.

During a recent hearing, Senator Wicker said that “we need to be the leader in 5G globally.”  He’s right. The time to act is now.  It’s a good first step this year and a good signal to hold this hearing so early in the Congressional session.  I hope the AIRWAVES Act will be reintroduced in this Congress and enacted quickly.  Let’s get this done, in a quick win for the new Congress and a big win for the American people who will benefit from a faster transformation to 5G.

Bruce Mehlman is a founding co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance and previously served as assistant secretary of commerce for technology policy.

BroadbandBreakfast.com accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to [email protected]. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of BroadbandBreakfast.com and Breakfast Media LLC.

Broadband's Impact

Partnerships And Trust Go Long Way To Securing Financing For Broadband Projects, Panelists Say

Broadband Breakfast panelists wrestle with the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure projects.

Tim White

Published

on

Screenshot taken from Broadband Live Online event

April 16, 2021 – Financing broadband projects requires real human relationships among everyone involved, said Broadband Breakfast experts Wednesday.

The weekly panel addressed the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure. Billions of federal dollars are making their way to expand internet access across the country, including the $9.3 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund. There is significant funding to be spent, but it’s not always as simple as receiving a check in the mail from the government.

Getting the necessary funds to build broadband networks — whether they are private service providers like Comcast, electric co-ops or municipal-owned networks — often requires financing with banking institutions or other means of funding.

“You really want to strike a deal with someone that you can trust, who you think has your community’s interests in mind,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. “Human relationships are important, and often are a precursor to striking any of these sorts of deals.”

He mentioned unique ways that companies and communities can collaborate to build broadband networks.

For example, he referenced some long-term agreements in Minnesota between localities and CTC – Consolidated Telephone Company. The localities would pay for and own fiber-to-the-home networks that are operated by the CTC. “That can really help for operators that have the capacity to do more work, but may be at their lending or borrowing limits,” Mitchell said.

Internet Service Providers “can work with a community that would take on the debt in order to build the network and then offer, whether that’s exclusive, whether that’s permanently exclusive, or timed-exclusive, that’s one way,” Mitchell said.

Partnering with anchor institutions

Another method is for providers to partner with communities or schools to build networks that are owned by the company but paid for by the community or school with state or federal funding, such as the company Clearnetworx in Colorado.

“ISPs sometimes have to build those relationships and have creative ideas to make these things happen,” Mitchell said.

“When I think about the creation of MBC back in 2004, I think it was really all about leadership and relationship and good timing,” echoed Lauren Mathena, director of economic development and community engagement at Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC). On grant processes and getting the necessary financing, she said “the biggest thing is building those relationships and keeping that determination, and if you haven’t started, start today, because it is a process.”

Many smaller banks often lend out for broadband projects, sometimes even banding together if they hit their limits, because they see it as a wholistic community development, explained Tim Herwig, district community affairs officer at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

“A lot of these banks are locally-owned, the bank president, the members of the board, sit in the pew at church next to customers,” Herwig said. “Their kids go to the same schools together, they eat in the same restaurants, they go jogging down the same streets, right? They have a deep sense of corporate community responsibility. They see broadband as a gateway to the financial security and future of the communities where they serve,” he said.

High cost challenges

“The big challenge in a lot of these markets for rural operators is the economics of providing service in high-cost areas just don’t pencil out,” said Jeff Johnston, lead communications economist at CoBank, a private bank that focuses on services in agriculture and infrastructure for rural areas.

In addition to getting the upfront funding to building the infrastructure, there is also the operating costs to consider, and for some areas that’s not feasible without extra support, he said. “It’s one thing to get support up front to build a network in a high-cost area, but there’s on going expenses to managing the network,” he said.

Johnston also mentioned financial issues that may occur in federal reverse auction programs such as RDOF. “They’re great programs, first of all, but I also think operators going into these reverse auctions don’t overextend themselves,” he said. “Be realistic in what you think you can do operationally and financially.”

For MBC, which operates in Virginia, they pair funding with state and federal programs, such as the 1998 national tobacco settlement through the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Mathena said. “We’ve been able to pair state and federal grant applications together, so that we’re using state dollars to help build that match, so that’s not just coming from MBC’s revenue,” she said.

Continue Reading

Broadband's Impact

FCC to Vote On Emergency Connectivity Fund Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel

The agency is expected to vote on policies for the new connectivity fund by mid-May, chairwoman says.

Derek Shumway

Published

on

April 14, 2021 – Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday the agency will be voting by mid-May on policies to deliver the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which has received over 9,000 interested institutions through its portal.

The Emergency Connectivity Fund is part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law in March 2021.

It’s “the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability program,” Rosenworcel said Tuesday on a virtual panel hosted by Allvanza, an advocacy group for Latinxs and underserved communities within the technology, telecommunications and innovation industries; the Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC); and the Asian Pacific American Advocate group (OCA).

It’s “designed to make sure we get every household in this country connected to high-speed Internet service because this pandemic has proven like nothing before,” she added.

The FCC made a sign-up portal on its website to determine interest in the program, and over 9,000 institutions have signed up to date, Rosenworcel said, adding she hopes the policies for the EBB can address the homework gap by extending internet subsidies normally reserved for schools and libraries to households.

Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator, said minority-aimed broadband initiatives have done great work in bringing together providers and companies with minority-serving institutions.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the FCC will vote by mid-May on policies related to the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. In actuality, the agency is voting on policies for the new Emergency Connectivity Fund from Biden’s new American Rescue Plan. 

Continue Reading

Digital Inclusion

Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events

Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.

Tim White

Published

on

Photo of GHS co-founder Victor Zonana, left, from Global Health New Zealand

April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.

Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.

The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.

“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.

Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.

Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.

Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.

Broadband central to digital activities

“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.

President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”

Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.

“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”

Continue Reading

Recent

Signup for Broadband Breakfast

Get twice-weekly Breakfast Media news alerts.
* = required field

Trending