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Multiple Pieces of Broadband Legislation Moving Forward in Congress, on Data, Funding, Rural Broadband and Digital Equity

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WASHINGTON, June 19, 2019 – At least a half-dozen separate pieces of broadband legislation are working their way through Congress, and panelists assembled by the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition on Wednesday commented on the pros and cons of how these bills would deploy broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved areas of the country.

The Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s (LIFT) America Act, H.R. 2479, introduced last month by House and Energy Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., specifies that Congress allocate $40 billion for the deployment of secure broadband internet service to 98 percent of the country.

The dispersal of these funds needs to be done in a “technology-neutral” way, argued Philip Berenbroick, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge. To prohibit discrimination between served and underserved areas, funding must be given preference to projects in low-income household areas as well as tribal areas, he said.

Similarly, the Digital Equity Act of 2019, S. 1127 by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is targeted to households and populations historically unserved or underserved. It would establish two grant programs to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department.

The would grant a total of $120 million so that each state could implement a comprehensive digital equity plan. A separate $120 million would go towards digital inclusion projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions and communities of interest.

“The Federal Communications Commission should be looking at data on whether a household is actually served, rather than if it could be served,” said Berenbroick. Particularly, pricing data should also be considered to determine the cost people are paying outside the introductory “teasing period” of service, as affordability is a “huge barrier” towards adoption.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has introduced the Broadband (Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability) DATA Act, S. 1822, with bipartisan support. (PDF). Also in the same vein is West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2019, S. 1522. (Congress previously passed a Broadband Data Improvement Act in 2008, which was later incorporated into legislation, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, that created the National Broadband Map and the National Broadband Plan.)

The broadband data bills place a focus on shifting to a more geographic “shape-file approach” to broadband mapping, and seek to cast a spotlight on individualized geographic address that are not served by broadband. The bills also aim to standardize the reporting of broadband data so that the FCC can determine if a provider “can actually provide services,” or is merely estimating its availability to reach that area, said Mike Romano, senior vice president of industry affairs at NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.

Through the Broadband Interagency Coordination Act, S. 1294, also introduced by Chairman Wicker, federal agencies would be required to enter an interagency agreement in order to coordinate the distribution of funds for broadband deployment.

“These bills are aimed to make sure federal agencies are talking to one another and that their efforts are coordinated,” Romano said.

The panelists also touched upon the Reprioritizing Unserved Rural Areas and Locations (RURAL) Broadband Act of 2019, H.R. 2661, introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., , which would ensure that the Rural Utilities Service consults with the FCC and receives appropriate funding.

The panelists also spoke about efforts to allocate $50 million dollars more in grant money towards various Rural Development programs at the Agriculture Department, including distance learning and telemedicine, said Thomas Cohen, partner at Kelley Drye and Warren, LLP. The RUS’ ReConnect program, unveiled in December, will provide $600 million in funds toward rural broadband deployment.

Yet Cohen cautioned providing too much coverage in one area. “If the private sector is putting in their own money you don’t want to undermine it, because the capital will move elsewhere if they see that the government is going to undercut them,” he said.

The biggest challenge for Congress is how to get these bills passed and paid for. Berenbroick said that 20 Megahertz (MHz) of radio frequency spectrum to be used on 5G wireless services is on tap. Because spectrum auctions generate ample funds, this legislation has generally been “paid for” under congressional scoring algorithms. Now, he said, the market is demanding the greater availability of spectrum in the middle of the radiofrequency band for 5G.

Panelists referred to Congress’ efforts last year to pass airwaves focused legislation that would have required the FCC to complete auctions granting new broadcast licenses for specified frequency spectrum bands. The bill became outdated by the time it reached the House and the Senate because.

A “good conversation starter” for pushing more legislation is how we interconnect broadband data with the rest of the world, said Romano.

(Photo of President Donald Trump signing two executive orders on rural broadband in January 2018 by Shealah Craighead used with permission.)

Broadband Data

Ookla Has Verizon as Fastest Q1 Fixed Provider, T-Mobile Takes Top Spot for Mobile

T-Mobile was also named the most consistent mobile operator and topped 5G download speeds.

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Image of Speedtest from May 2017 by Daniel Aleksandersen used with permission

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2022 – A market report released Friday by performance metrics web service Ookla named Verizon the fastest fixed broadband provider in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2022, and T-Mobile as the fastest mobile operator during the same period.

Verizon had a median download speed of 184.36 Mbps, edging out Comcast Xfinity’s speed of 179.12 Mbps. T-Mobile’s median mobile speed was 117.83 Mbps.

Verizon had the lowest latency of all providers, according to Ookla, well ahead of Xfinity’s fourth place ranking, yet sat at third for consistency behind both Xfinity and Spectrum.

T-Mobile was also the most consistent mobile operator during the first quarter, achieving an Ookla consistency score of 88.3 percent, which along with median download speed represented an increase from the fourth quarter of 2021.

The company also achieved the fastest median 5G download speed, coming in at 191.12 Mbps.

Verizon also notably increased its 5G download speed from its Q4 metric, attributed in part to the turning on of new C-band spectrum in January following deployment delays and protest from airlines. For mobile speeds, it stood in second behind T-Mobile, bumping AT&T to a standing of third. These rankings were the same for mobile measures of latency and consistency.

Yet on 5G availability, AT&T remains ahead of Verizon.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra came in as the fastest popular device in the country, running at 116.33 Mbps.

Ookla is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Data

FCC’s Rosenworcel: Broadband Nutrition Labels Will Create New Generation of Informed Buyers

The FCC hopes companies will make it easier for consumers to choose a broadband plan that fits their needs.

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Photo of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaking at the Mobile World Conference 2022 in Barcelona

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband nutrition labels will usher in a new era where buyers have simple information about what they’re buying, agency Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said Friday.

Consumers should know what they’re signing up for when they spend hundreds “or even thousands” of dollars per year for internet service. She was speaking at Friday’s commission hearing on its so-called broadband nutrition label initiative.

The hearing comes on top of a public comment period on the initiative. Many providers are pushing for more flexible regulations on compliance.

When consumers choose a broadband provider for their household, Rosenworcel said may people make decisions with “sometimes incomplete and inaccurate information.”

“The problem for broadband consumers isn’t a total lack of information, but there’s loads of fine print,” Rosenworcel said. “It can be difficult to know exactly what we are paying for and these disclosures are not consistent from carrier to carrier,” which makes comparing prices and services harder and more time-consuming for consumers.

The comments built on other recent speeches by Rosenworcel promoting the initiative, encouraging state attorneys general’s ability to enforce companies’ commitments through their states’ consumer protection statutes.

The FCC began a plan in 2015 for broadband labels that was voluntary. The new initiative directed by last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law makes this effort mandatory for broadband providers.

Matt Sayre, managing director of cross sector economic development firm Onward Eugene, said residents in rural Oregon would benefit from simple information when considering broadband providers. During a time where dial-up and satellite-based offerings were primarily available, Sayre said his neighbors “never used terms like latency or packet loss.”

“These are important aspects of good internet service, but not easily understood by most people,” Sayre said. “Citizens understood they needed better service but were uncertain about what tier of service they needed. This is where broadband labels can be very helpful.”

The hearing was the agency’s first on the initiative.

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Broadband Data

Small ISP Organizations Push FCC for Flexibility on Broadband Label Compliance

Advocates say strict compliance requirements may economically harm small providers.

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Photo of outgoing WISPA CEO of Claude Aiken from April 2018 by New America used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 ­­– In comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday, organizations representing small internet providers are pushing for flexible regulations on compliance with a measure that requires clear reporting of broadband service aspects to consumers.

The measure was adopted at a late January meeting by the commission, mandating that providers list their pricing and speed information about services in the format of a “broadband nutrition label” that mimics a food nutrition label. Congress’ bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted in the fall required that the FCC adopt such policy.

The organizations that submitted comments Wednesday say that strict compliance requirements for the new measure may economically harm small providers.

Among those leading the charge are trade associations Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and America’s Communications Association as well as provider Lumen Technologies.

In comments, limited resources of smaller providers were cited as factors which could disadvantage them in terms of complying with the measure to the FCC’s standards and several organizations asked for small providers to be given extra time to comply.

In separate comments, internet provider Lumen said that the FCC must make multiple changes to its approach if it is to “avoid imposing new obligations that arbitrarily impose excessive costs on providers and undermine other policy goals.”

Last month, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that she looks forward to increased coordination between the FCC and state attorneys general for the enforcement of the measure.

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