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Francella Ochillo is New Chief at Next Century Cities, Vermont Broadband Bill, and States Ponder Telehealth

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Next Century Cities on Tuesday announced that it had named Francella Ochillo as the non-profit organization’s new executive director.

Ochillo, currently the Vice President of Policy and General Counsel for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, has been active in testifying before Congress, meeting with the Federal Communications Commission and participating in local events across the country focused on how broadband access can revitalize communities. She begins her role on July 8.

Next Century Cities represents more than 200 member communities across the country committed to ensuring affordable, reliable broadband access for all. Ochillo will take over from Deb Socia, founded the organization in fall 2014 and has established it as a respected force advocating on behalf of local solutions and digital equity.

Gov. Scott signs broadband expansion measure in Vermont

Bennington Banner reports that Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed legislation intended to expand broadband last Thursday at Dover Town Hall. Scott said that the bill had “strong support” from the House of Representatives and Senate, commending Rep. Tim Briglin, D-Windsor-Orange-2, and Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Windham-Bennington, for their leadership on the issue.

Scott signed into law H.513, saying it “increases funding to the Connectivity Initiative, which provides access to internet services in unserved or underserved areas. Because communities have the best understanding of what they need, it enables the Vermont Economic Development Authority to lend money for build out by community groups. It also creates a new broadband innovation grant program, which will fund grassroots solutions for rural Vermont and provide communities with technical assistance from the Vermont Department of Public Service.”

Briglin also said that the bill “takes an important step in starting to bridge the divide between the digital haves and the digital have-nots in Vermont.”

His committee studied the work of groups such as the East Central Vermont Telecommunications District, which describes itself as a municipal body with 24 member towns in east-central Vermont set up to build a community-owned fiber network. It says it has helped 3,500 customers get connected.

AARP also praised passage of the law, with Vermont State Director Greg Marchildon saying that “for older Vermonters, broadband is essential for reducing social isolation and improving access to civic engagement, telehealth and their communities.”

State legislatures on the fence in regards to telehealth

The National Conference of State Legislatures published a report about how telehealth can increase access to health care in a cost-effective manner. In capitalizing on broadband technology to provide health care and other health-related services remotely, telehealth gives patients living in rural areas access to more providers and allows them to receive care in their own communities.

Telehealth can reduce health disparities for aging and underserved populations and improve access to lower-cost primary and specialty care, as well as help reduce expensive emergency room visits.

Although most agree that the services provided using telehealth would be more appropriate and less costly, the research on its effectiveness is still evolving. While telehealth can provide initial remote access, patients may require in-person follow-up care and can still face challenges in accessing that care.

State legislatures are addressing several policy issues regarding the integration of telehealth into healthcare reform. These issues include reimbursement, licensure and provider practice standards. Data on outcomes and cost-effectiveness are vital to policymakers seeking to invest state resources wisely.

(Photo of Francella Ochillo from Medium.)

Broadband Roundup

Talent for Growth Taskforce, ‘Grave Mistakes’ in FCC Maps, Lumen Expanding Fiber

The U.S. and EU representatives announced a taskforce to share insights into growing the workforce in tech.

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Photo of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

December 6, 2022 – The United States and European Union Trade and Technology Council announced Monday the creation of the Talent for Growth Task Force, which is intended to share information and recommendations on expanding talent development and training in technology industries on both sides of the Atlantic.

The task force will comprise workforce training organizations, business leaders, government officials and labor union leaders. Roles and responsibilities of the taskforce include promoting programs to small- and mid-sized companies, spreading knowledge of in-demand opportunities for young people in underserved communities, and showcasing training opportunities in the U.S. and other countries under the European Union.

Members of the Task Force will be announced in early 2023.

“Competition for technological leadership today demands a well-trained workforce,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, co-chair of the TTC, said in a release. “Training is key to creating broad participation in today’s economy. With the Talent for Growth Task Force, we will learn from each other’s successes and create new opportunities that recognize the talent of our people.”

Industry in the U.S. has identified workforce development as key to keeping up with massive federal funding initiatives intended to boost infrastructure. In October, the Fiber Broadband Association and the Wireless Infrastructure Association, for example, announced a partnership to promote the development of the broadband workforce, as the industry awaits billions of dollars in new money coming from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

West Virginia senator points out FCC map errors

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., told reporters in a virtual meeting last week that the Federal Communications Commission’s preliminary broadband map released last month has made “grave mistakes” on unserved areas in her state, according to reporting from The Inter-Mountain.

“The FCC has just published recently … broadband maps that actually show which parts of West Virginia have service, which homes have service and which don’t,” the West Virginia senator said, according to the story. “I feel that they have some pretty grave mistakes. What would that impact? It would impact our ability to get larger funding to extend to unserved and underserved areas.”

As an example of her claim, Capito, according to the story, mentions a particular mountainous region in West Virginia where 130,000 households are represented as covered by the satellite broadband service Starlink. But Capito says “… their service is non-existent, it’s spotty, and it’s very expensive. To me, that’s an underserved or unserved area. Those are the kinds of disputes we need to make because it will affect funding and we won’t get to that last home if we don’t have the accurate maps.”

In 2020, Capito worked with the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council to create its own state-administered map to quantify the digital divide, according to the story. According to Broadband.Money, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, West Virginia has 896,585 broadband serviceable locations, 243,761 of which are unserved and 411,602 that are underserved.

Lumen expanding intercity network by six million fiber miles

Telecom Lumen Technologies said Tuesday it is planning to invest in another six million miles of fiber in its intercity network project.

The project, which will drive fiber through 50 major cities across the country, is expected to be installed by 2026, according to a press release on Tuesday.

“As demand for optical fiber increases and technology evolves, Lumen’s multi-conduit infrastructure means we can install the latest fiber type quickly and economically. It’s difficult to upgrade legacy intercity networks without multiple conduits,” said Lumen Chief Technology Officer Andrew Dugan.

“These networks end up being stuck with older fiber technology,” Dugan added. “Lumen is fixing that issue with our upgraded technology. We can extend signal reach to help reduce equipment costs and increase bandwidth capacity.”

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Broadband Roundup

E-Rate Bidding Portal Dilemma, Sustainable Funding for Indigenous Broadband, NYC Kills Internet Plan

Iowa’s education department said it faces breaking either FCC or state rules if E-Rate portal approved.

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Photo of New York City Mayor Eric Adams by Marc A. Hermann of the MTA used with permission

December 5, 2022 – The Iowa Department of Education sent a letter Monday to the Federal Communication Commission raising concern that the commission’s proposal for an E-Rate bidding portal would cause conflicts with state laws.

The E-Rate program provides broadband subsidies to schools and libraries and is part of the Universal Service Fund. Late last year, the commission proposed to have a central document repository, called a bidding portal, through which internet service providers would submit bids to the program administrator, the Universal Service Company, instead of directly to applicants at a state and local level. Currently, libraries and schools announce they are seeking services and service providers apply directly to those institutions.

The rationale for the proposal is to streamline the program and reduce fraud, waste and abuse, the FCC said, following a government watchdog report that said the E-Rate program is susceptible fraud risks.

But on Monday, the Iowa Department of Education said if the proposal is adopted, the institution faces either breaking FCC rules or state rules. That’s because Iowa is required to notify targeted small businesses 48 hours ahead of a public bid, but this would conflict with the FCC’s requirement that says bidders can’t have advance knowledge of project information, the institution said.

Iowa noted that similar complaints have been made by institutions in California, Kentucky, South Dakota, Illinois, and Utah. The Consortium for School Networking, the National School Boards Association, and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors had also brought forward concerns about conflict with state laws in their submissions to the commission.

Another concern raised by the Iowa Department of Education is that the bidding portal might discourage competitive bidding from applicants and providers because it will make the process more burdensome. That has been a complaint of the program for others as well, with submitters to the FCC complaining about additional complexity with the process.

Connect Humanity calls for sustainable funding, indigenous spectrum renewal

Non-profit Connect Humanity announced Monday calls to the governments of Canada and the United States for action as part of its 2022 Indigenous Connectivity Summit Calls to Action, including ensuring government funds are going to the ongoing operation of networks and not just upfront costs for builds.

“Recognizing the high costs of operating networks in rural and remote areas, we call on governments, the private sector, and philanthropic organizations to provide sustainable funding for the ongoing operation of networks, not just upfront capital costs,” said a Connect Humanity webpage.

The federal government has been delivering billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act and will soon be plowing billions more from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to the states to support broadband infrastructure. But some have said the money – $42.5 billion in the case of the latter – is not enough for rural and remote communities to see long-term sustainability.

The Connect Humanity call to action also touched on indigenous rights to spectrum, including asking the governments to stop selling spectrum licensing and renew permits on indigenous territories.

“Furthermore, those departments should promptly and unconditionally release unused spectrum licenses on and over Indigenous traditional territories for the use by and benefit of Indigenous Peoples,” the calls to action said, adding if indigenous leadership chooses not to manage spectrum in their territories, then the federal government should do so on their behalf and turn over revenues to the community.

The calls also ask that governments put in place a “dedicated workforce development initiative,” which would be “conducive to well-paid employment opportunities for Indigenous community members, including youth.” That would include governments, the private sector and philanthropic communities coming together to fund long-term funding for those training initiatives.

The calls to action build upon past recommendations that are made on an annual basis.

New York City discontinues internet master plan

New York City has cancelled its 2020 “Internet Master Plan” without public notice, according to reporting from the Gothamist on Monday, which would’ve provided $157 million in funds for the build out of municipal broadband infrastructure in poor communities.

The project would have connected 1.2 million residents to free or low-cost, high-speed internet. After Mayor Eric Adams assumed office, the project went on hold before it was canceled without public notice, the publication reports. It previously selected about a dozen businesses to lead this effort, many being led by women and people of color.

The plan, signed under previous Mayor Bill de Blasio, said it would extend broadband internet service to all New York residents regardless of income or zip code. In the plan, Blasio said, “We will work with the private sector to make sure it is available across the five boroughs, close the digital divide, and make sure all New Yorkers have equal access to the economic, social, and civic power of the internet.”

The plan aimed to close the digital divide in New York City and provide internet access to those that don’t have access or are underserved at an affordable rate.

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Broadband Roundup

Ye Suspended From Twitter, FCC Issues Licenses, Streamlining ReConnect

The musician recently announced a 2024 bid for the presidency.

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Screenshot of a masked Ye during an interview Thursday with Alex Jones

December 2, 2022 – Twitter suspended the account of Ye, formerly Kanye West, after the musician on Thursday tweeted a graphic of a swastika inlaid in a Jewish star.

In recent months, Ye has repeatedly alleged that a Jewish cabal controls the media and other powerful institutions. Ye has claimed that Jews have attempted to silence, imprison, and financially ruin him. These statements have drawn widespread backlash from a wide range of political commentators and public figures.

The musician recently announced a 2024 bid for the presidency and sparked controversy by partnering with antisemitic internet personality Nick Fuentes and alt-right defender Milo Yiannopoulos.

In an appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show on Thursday, Ye stated, “I like Hitler.” He later added, “I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis.” Ye elected to wear a mask throughout the appearance.

“I tried my best,” Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk tweeted in response to a Twitter user. “Despite that, [Ye] again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended.”

Musk bought Twitter promising to institute more-permissive content moderation policies. However, despite the worries of Musk’s detractors and some of Musk’s own public statements, Ye’s suspension suggests Twitter will maintain at least basic guardrails against egregious content.

In October, before Musk’s takeover, Twitter restricted Ye’s account following a tweet in which he stated he would “go death con [sic] 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” He told Jones he sent the tweet under the influence of alcohol.

That same month, right-wing social-media platform Parler announced Ye planned to purchase the company. On Thursday, Parler announced that Ye and the company had “mutually agreed” to cancel the deal.

FCC grants spectrum licenses in 2.5 GHz band

The Federal Communications Commission granted 51 long-form applications and issued 650 spectrum licenses in the 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz), the agency announced Thursday.

“This is important spectrum, especially for rural America. I am grateful to our team for moving forward quickly but carefully in processing these applications,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We continue to focus on ensuring that mid-band spectrum is available for 5G and other next-generation wireless services.”

The FCC announced the winners of 2.5 GHz auction in September. The auction raised almost $420 million in net bids, the commission said.

Spectrum allocation has been of late a major issue for the FCC. In October, the agency approved a measuring seeking comment on the 12.7–13.25 GHz band, and Commissioner Brendan Carr the next month urged his colleagues to increase the rate of authorizations.

Over the summer, the commission released an updated memorandum of understanding with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the overseer of federally used spectrum. Many experts have called on federal agencies to relinquish unused spectrum for use in the private sector, which, they say, would drive the expansion of next-generation technologies such as 5G.

Senators introduce bill to “streamline” USDA’s broadband programs

On behalf of a bipartisan coalition, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., on Tuesday introduced a bill that would merge the Agriculture Department’s ReConnect program with the agency’s other broadband funding initiatives.

The coalition, including Sens. Ben Ray Lujan D-N.M., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., argue the Rural Internet Improvement Act would facilitate the efficient dispatch of funding to rural areas. The bill would also limit the disbursal of ReConnect funds to areas in which at least 90 percent of households lack broadband service.

“High-speed, reliable broadband is critical for New Mexico families and businesses, but the digital divide leaves far too many rural and Tribal communities behind,” Lujan said. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to make USDA programs more efficient and ensure that unserved communities receive the investments they need.” 

Multiple trade groups voice support for the bill.

“Sen. Thune has long been a leader in promoting and sustaining better access to broadband in rural areas, and NTCA appreciates his continued interest and leadership in examining ways to improve the workings of USDA’s ReConnect loan and grant program,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.

“These are solid improvements to the current program that should be adopted as part of next year’s farm bill,” said NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, in a statement. “Deploying robust, affordable high-speed broadband to all Americans is a key priority for cable providers, so we look forward to working with members on passage of this legislation.”

Addition: The first story above has been updated with news about the cancellation of the Parler purchase by Ye.

Correction: A previous version of the third story above incorrectly stated that Shirley Bloomfield was CEO of NCTA. She is, in fact, the CEO of NTCA.  

 

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