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Portland, Home to Historic Open Access Battles, is Bringing Municipal Dark Fiber to Light

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BROADBAND BREAKFAST INSIGHT: Susan Crawford is once again bringing history to life with this blast-from-the-past story of how “net neutrality” owes some of its roots to a 20-year-old fight in Portland. Today, however, the city is bringing open access battles into the 21st Century. (We wrote about Lake Oswego here in October 2015.) And here’s the punch line: When open-access are prevalent, fears about net neutrality become obsolete.

Portland is Again Blazing Trails for Open Internet Access, from Wired by Susan Crawford.

Editor’s Note: Key segments are below:

Today, Portland and its region are poised to be Ground Zero for resolving the real issues behind public concern over “net neutrality”—the stagnant, uncompetitive, hopelessly outclassed state of internet access in America. Portland is taking seriously the idea of a publicly overseen dark-fiber network over which private providers could compete to offer cheap, ubiquitous internet access.
[…]

Fast forward to today. A grassroots group called Municipal Broadband PDX is agitating for construction of a publicly owned open-access fiber network across the region. The city of Portland has contributed funds for a feasibility study and Multnomah County is on board with the idea. Hillsboro, less than 20 minutes away from Portland, is already building its own network. Citizen advisory committees will play a crucial role in the Portland region when it comes to planning for publicly overseen dark fiber, just as they did 20 years ago. There are many questions that need to be answered, including how much a dark fiber network would cost to build, how long it would take to be rolled out, where the money would come from to build it, and how a reasonable, nondiscriminatory leasing regime would work. If the project goes forward, it will be one of the largest public fiber efforts in the country.

History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes, as many people think Mark Twain said. Dark fiber, leased at reasonable rates to multiple private sector ISPs, would create the abundant, competitive, cheap internet access Portland has dreamt of for decades. And having it in place is the actual answer to “net neutrality” worries: Where there is abundant access and competition, no one company can pick and choose winners and losers or charge its customers outrageous rates for second-class services. That’s what’s in Portland’s DNA.

Source: Portland Is Again Blazing Trails for Open Internet Access | WIRED

Broadband Roundup

Data Export Bill, Chamber of Commerce’s BEAD Issues, Wisconsin Putting $125M for Broadband

A bill would have the Commerce Secretary identify categories of personal data that could harm national security if exported.

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Photo of Marco Rubio, R-FL

June 27, 2022 – A bipartisan group of senators, including Marco Rubio, R-FL., and Ron Wyden, D-OR., introduced a bill Thursday that would limit the selling or transferring of Americans’ sensitive data to high-risk foreign countries.

The Protecting Americans Data from Foreign Surveillance Act directs the Secretary of Commerce, in collaboration with other key agencies, to identify categories of personal data that could harm national security if exported. It directs the Secretary of Commerce to “compile a list of low-risk countries for which exports will be unrestricted and to require licenses for bulk exports of the identified, sensitive categories of personal data to other countries.”

In a press release, Rubio said, “It is common sense to prevent our adversaries from obtaining the highly sensitive personal information of millions of Americans. We cannot trust private companies to protect Americans’ private data, especially given how many of them do business in China. Our bill would address this massive national security threat and protect Americans’ privacy.”

Experts have warned the data from Chinese-company-owned apps like TikTok, one of the world’s most popular video sharing websites, could be used by the Communist government for nefarious purposes.

“Our bipartisan legislation sets common-sense guardrails to block bulk exports of private, sensitive information from going to high-risk foreign nations and protect the safety of Americans against foreign criminals and spies,” added Wyden. “It will empower the United States to build a coalition of trusted allies where information can be shared without fear of misuse by authoritarian actors.”

Exports to high-risk countries will be presumptively denied and risk status of countries will be determined on the adequacy of the country’s privacy and export control laws, the circumstances under which the foreign government can coerce a person in that country to disclose personal data, and whether that government has been hostile against the United States.

Chamber of Commerce takes issue with aspects of BEAD program

The United States Chamber of Commerce highlighted in a press release last week what it said are faults in the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program that will be distributed to states and territories for broadband deployment projects.

The Chamber of Commerce commended the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for focusing the BEAD program on serving unserved areas first, having strong subgrantee qualifications, enabling effective stakeholder engagement, and addressing the costs of broadband permitting.

“Despite the many positive aspects, the notice of funding opportunity contains numerous problematic provisions and mandates, which will hinder the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s objective to connect all Americans while running contrary to the law’s bipartisan approach,” said the release.

The first concern is that the NOFO promotes government-owned networks, despite the IIJA’s neutrality to the type of provider. NTIA imposes “burdensome requirements on eligible entities as well as pressuring states to waive laws that place restrictions on public sector broadband providers.”

The NOFO, said the release, “picks technology winners and losers” by strongly prioritizing fiber at the expense of other technologies like satellite and fixed wireless.

Furthermore, it incentivizes states to adopt net neutrality rules, in direct contrast to IIJA requirements, by ensuring that subgrantees do not “impose unjust or unreasonable network management practices.”

The Chamber of Commerce further added that the NOFO requires eligible entities to create a middle-class affordability program that is “ill-defined” and “opens the door to additional state-level intervention in the broadband marketplace.”

The NOFO also favors union-friendly policies that “have nothing to do with connecting all Americans and everything to do with advancing unrelated union priorities.”

Wisconsin awards $125M in rural internet service grants

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission on Thursday awarded $125 million in broadband expansion grants toward 71 projects that will reach over 87,000 underserved and unserved locations over 45 counties.

According to the press release, the grant awards will leverage $185 million of matching funds from the grantees. The PSC received 194 applications in March 2022 requesting a total of $495 million.

Since 2019, Wisconsin has committed to disbursing over $289 million toward expanding broadband, including $105 million in federal funding.

“Over the last three years, we’ve worked hard to invest state and federal funding in projects that will provide more than 387,000 homes and businesses with reliable, high-quality internet. These grants will go to ensure students, workers, business owners, families, and communities can access the internet in every part of our state,” said Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers in the release.

“We’ve made tremendous progress in the past three years towards getting people access to high-quality, affordable internet service,” said PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq. “We will continue to make the investments needed to ensure all in our state have access to affordable broadband.”

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Broadband Roundup

Fixed-Wireless Behind Fiber, U.S. Broadband Competition, Oregon Broadband Map

Fixed-wireless is hampered by technical issues that make it incomparable to fiber, a report claims.

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Screenshot of ACA Connects President and CEO Grant Spellmeyer

June 23, 2022 – In a report this month, engineering and consulting company CTC Technology and Energy found that while fixed-wireless technology will continue to improve and expand, it will not come close to fiber.

The report claims that there are some technical challenges associated with fixed-wireless technology – which used wireless signals to provide home internet. That includes, the report says, capacity limits; line-of-sight obstructions because wireless signals must pass through obstacles; and scalability, which includes limitations on increasing bandwidth and speeds.

“Ultimately, the report finds that fiber networks are more suitable for rural broadband deployment when it comes to bandwidth, costs, overall quality and long-term sustainability,” said a post on the Benton website accompanying the report.

“The IIJA creates the opportunity to bring broadband to unserved Americans that is the same or better than what served Americans have—and to ensure that what is built has a long, useful life,” said Andrew Afflerbach, CTC CEO and chief technology officer, in the post.

“The report demonstrates that in most environments, fiber and wireless have similar long-term total costs of operation. Moreover, fiber optics can continue operating and be upgraded at a much lower cost than a wireless network,” added Afflerbach.

Majority of U.S. households benefit from fixed broadband competition, study finds

Industry group ACA Connects released a study Thursday that found widespread competition in the U.S. broadband market as the majority of U.S. households have access to multiple providers.

“After decades of investment by multiple fixed broadband providers in every local market – amounting to well over $1 trillion during that time – the vast majority of American consumers now have a choice of broadband providers offering robust, reliable, fixed broadband service. And the reach and intensity of competition will only increase as broadband providers continue to invest many tens of billions of dollars annually,” said ACA Connects President and CEO Grant Spellmeyer.

The study states that “more than 90% of households have access to at least one broadband provider offering 100/20+ service and at least one additional provider offering 25/3+ service,” and predicts that based on past data, “by 2025, 74% of all households will have access to at least two broadband providers both offering 100/20+ service.”

According to a press release, the study’s findings show that “policymakers made the right call in allowing market forces to advance deployment to the maximum extent possible and then, in economically challenging areas, providing government funding to ensure service is available service.”

Oregon testing broadband with new initiative 

On Tuesday, a grassroots partnership called Faster Internet Oregon was launched to assess broadband connectivity in urban, rural, and tribal communities in the state.

This is “a statewide test campaign and broadband mapping effort that invites Oregonians to test and report their home internet speeds or to indicate that they lack an internet connection at home,” said a press release.

Partners include Oregon Economic Development Districts, Onward Eugene, SpeedUpAmerica and Link Oregon.

“[We] are excited to support this effort so that we have the data we need to bring federal and state funding to our regions that can fill those gaps in broadband availability,” said Jessica Metta, president of OEDD.

The effort employs a “crowdsourced approach” to hear from locals themselves to improve broadband equity across various communities in Oregon, said a press release.

Steve Corbató, executive director of Link Oregon, said, “this mapping effort is a critical early step towards implementing the broadband technologies and supporting adoption programs ensuring the reliable, affordable internet connectivity for all Oregonians.”

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Broadband Roundup

5G Drone Test, Viaset Step Closer to Inmarsat Buy, Charter Awarded Nearly $50 Million in Kentucky

UScellular and Ericsson tested 5G connected drones for future applications.

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Photo of Viasat CEO Richard Balridge

June 22, 2022 – Mobile network operator Uscellular and Swedish telecom equipment provider Ericsson teamed up to test 5G performance at altitude using drones, according to a press release Wednesday.

The first tests were conducted in Beloit, Wisconsin where a drone connected to a 5G smartphone and measurement equipment to record performance metrics was flown between two UScellular’s 5G towers. The drone captured the signal strength, upload and download speeds, and latency at various altitudes.

The goal of the test was to determine what is required for future use of 5G connected drones. Future drone use will include inspecting towers and other infrastructure with real-time data collection and video footage.

This follows tests run by AT&T earlier this month for its Flying COW (Cell on Wings). The company said that the drone can transmit “strong 5G coverage for approximately 10 square miles.” It said it hopes that the drone will help first responders in search and rescue missions where connection may not be available.

“Drone technology offers a wide scope of new opportunities in today’s market. Our testing with UScellular is a huge step for advanced connected drones use cases that will benefit society and businesses,” said Jossie Prochilo, vice president, UScellular Account for Ericsson North America.

Viaset receives stockholder approval for acquisition of Inmarsat

Satellite services company Viasat announced Tuesday in a press release that stockholders granted the necessary approval for the proposed acquisition of Inmarsat, another telecommunications company.

The acquisition is expected to close by the end of 2022, said the press release, pending regulatory approvals. With the acquisition, Viasat said it hopes to “increase the pace of innovation to help drive new and better services for customers, broaden opportunities for employees, and provide a foundation for significant positive free cash flow.”

The partnership will “provide an incredible foundation to advance broadband communications and drive greater performance, reliability, and value for our customers,” said Viasat CEO Richard Balridge in a statement.

Balridge was encouraged by the “overwhelming” stockholder support, saying that it “confirms that this transformative combination is in the best interest of our company, shareholders, and allows for significant future growth in revenue.”

Charter awarded nearly $50 million in Kentucky broadband program

Internet service provider Charter Communications was awarded $49.9 million from Kentucky’s broadband program to expand high-speed internet to over 18,000 households and businesses in 13 Kentucky counties.

The Better Kentucky Plan will invest $89.1 million in 46 grant awards to 12 internet service providers with the purpose of expanding reliable and affordable high-speed internet to Kentucky homes. The awards were granted through a competitive process, with six months to evaluate and score the nearly 100 proposals received.

Charter will put $118.8 million toward the project.

“These grants will lower the cost of construction so that our most rural areas will have access to this necessity of high-speed internet,” State Budget Director John Hicks said in a press release. “These funds are dedicated to unserved areas in Kentucky. We’re also setting up Kentucky’s first Office of Broadband Development to help administer and create a master plan for the commonwealth to provide universal service to every Kentuckian.

“We applaud this bold, bipartisan broadband expansion effort and look forward to the opportunity to extend our ongoing partnership with Kentucky leaders,” said Jerry Avery, Charter’s area vice president. “From investing to deploy internet access to reach unserved Kentuckians, to continually upgrading our network to provide fast and reliable broadband products at great value, to addressing affordability and adoption barriers, Charter has long been committed to increasing connectivity across the Commonwealth.”

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