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Broadband's Impact

The Rural Broadband Moment at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin

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February 14, 2019 – Americans love broadband. More accurately, they hate it when they can’t get access to high-speed internet.

Right now, Rural America faces a huge crisis, and it isn’t getting better.

According to a report, the “American Broadband Initiative,” released yesterday by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Commerce, Rural America is woefully behind the rest of the country on broadband access.

Only 2 percent of Americans in cities lack access to broadband, as currently defined by the Federal Communications Commission — 25 Megabits per second download, 3 Megabits per second upload.

The comparable number for residents of Rural America is that 30 percent lack access to broadband.

The numbers are also bad on mobile deployment: 90.5 percent of Americans living in urban areas have access to fourth-generation LTE services, whereas only 70 percent of rural Americans enjoy that option.

What can we do about this?

Unfortunately, there isn’t one single silver bullet solution. Money is one important component. So is state-wide interest, often in the form of a state broadband office, or a state broadband plan. Education on how to bring broadband, and how to more effectively make use of it, are also a component.

The Rural Telecommunications Congress, a 20-year-old grassroots organization devoting to advocating for better broadband in Rural America, sees all of these approaches as vital.

I have the great privilege of serving as the President of the RTC, which has a long and storied history of calling attention to this issue, demanding better broadband for all Americans, and incubating creative solutions.

And, as we approach the RTC’s annual conference, jointly with the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas, from Tuesday, April 9 to Thursday, April 11, we agree that it’s time to get serious about solving our Rural Broadband crises.

Sign up now to attend all aspects of the Broadband Communities Summit, including the Rural Telecommunications Congress, at $410.00, the cheapest rate available for those who are not government officials or public representatives. See you in Austin!

To sign up at the Rural Telecommunications Congress rate, register below, or at https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=2461240 (Make sure to select “CODE HOLDERS” radio button and use VIP Code RTC410)

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

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.

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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.

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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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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Association Argues Providers Not Engaged in Rollout Discrimination

Trade group says telecoms are not discriminating when they don’t build in financially difficult areas.

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Image of redlining from historic map of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation of Richmond, Virginia, from PBS.

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2023 – Broadband association US Telecom sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission last week saying internet service providers don’t build in certain areas because it is financially difficult, not because they are being discriminatory.

The FCC proposed two definitions of digital discrimination in December 2022: The first definition includes practices that, absent technological or economic constraints, produce differential outcomes for individuals based a series of protected characteristics, including income, race, and religion. The second definition is similar but adds discriminatory intent as a necessary factor.

“To make business determinations regarding capital allocation, an ISP must consider a host of commercially important factors, none of which involve discrimination,” said the September 12 letter from USTelecom, which represents providers including AT&T, Verizon, Lumen, Brightspeed, and Altafiber.

“As the Commission has consistently recognized, such deployment is extremely capital-intensive…This deployment process is therefore subject to important constraints related to technical and economic feasibility” added the letter.

US Telecom explained that ISPs’ will choose to invest where they expect to see a return on the time and money they put into building broadband.

The association added that factors like population density, brand reputation, competition and the availability of the providers’ other services all go into deciding where broadband gets deployed.

“The starting point of the Commission’s approach to feasibility should be a realistic acknowledgement that all ISPs must prioritize their resources, even those that invest aggressively in deployment,” added the letter.

The association also highlighted the fact that it hopes to see as little government intervention in broadband deployment activity as possible, a concern that has been echoed by lobbyists before.

“Rather than attempting to use Section 60506 to justify taking extra-statutory intrusive actions that could paradoxically undermine ongoing broadband investment, the Commission must enable ISPs to make decisions based on their own consideration of the kinds of feasibility factors discussed above” read the letter.

Section 60506 of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act says that the FCC may implement new policies to ensure equal access to broadband.

The FCC is also looking to develop guidelines for handling digital discrimination complaints filed against broadband providers.

USTelecom said that ISPs should be allowed to demonstrate financial and logistical concerns as a rebuttal to those claims, in addition to disclosing other reasons for directing investment elsewhere to demonstrate non-discriminatory practice.

Reasons for investment elsewhere would include rough terrain, low-population density, MTE owners not consenting to deployment, zoning restrictions, or historical preservation review.

“To aid in the success of the Infrastructure Act and facilitate equal access, the Commission must continue to foster an environment conducive to ISP investment in the high-speed broadband infrastructure that Congress rightly views as central to our connected future,” concluded the letter.

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