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FCC Blasted Over Party-Line Decision to Take Education Out of Educational Broadband Spectrum

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WASHINGTON, July 11, 2019 — Ignoring recommendations from the Department of Education, several members of Congress, and various broadband advocates, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Wednesday to hold commercial auctions for unused portions of the 2.5 Gigahertz spectrum band.

The decision removes the educational use requirement for the band and fails to provide educational institutions with a priority filing window.

Voqal, a national collaboration of educational broadband service licensees, called the decision “a short-sighted move that wastes a valuable resource and forecloses a rare opportunity to quickly support rural educators and communities starved for broadband access.”

“Today’s vote doubles down on the same auction-driven spectrum policies that have left rural America unserved and low-income students forced to do their homework on Wi-Fi in McDonald’s parking lots,” said John Schwartz, Voqal’s president and founder. “Instead of updating EBS and expanding on the strong track record of licensees[…], the Commission has voted to commercialize a vital public asset.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argued that the educational use requirements were “burdensome restrictions” and claimed that eliminating them would “ensure that this public resource is finally devoted to its highest-valued use”—namely, commercial 5G development.

The valuable mid-band spectrum offers favorable coverage and capacity characteristics for 5G services.

Moreover, educational institutions that have actually taken advantage of EBS licensing are “few and far between,” said Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Many of the organizations that have been granted EBS licenses are “using this valuable public spectrum for activities far removed from kids and schools,” added Commissioner Brendan Carr.

One such activity that has come under fire is the practice of leasing out spectrum to commercial entities instead of utilizing it for explicitly educational purposes. However, many of the educational institutions who choose to lease their spectrum do so in order to utilize the revenue for other educational purposes, a practice that was encouraged by the Reagan-era FCC.

“There’s no question that the EBS program has its flaws and that it doesn’t look quite the way it was envisioned all those years ago,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “But rather than embracing the positive aspects of the program and improving upon it, we instead set up a regulatory framework that may lead to its ultimate demise.”

Criticism of EBS underutilization fails to acknowledge the FCC’s role in the problem, Starks continued. It has been almost a quarter century since institutions have even been able to apply for EBS licensees, due to a supposedly temporary freeze the instituted by the FCC in 1995.

The FCC is taking spectrum “out of the hands of rural communities to satisfy the demands of big wireless carriers that have no interest in serving rural America,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge. “Once again, this FCC’s disdain for would-be providers unable to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for wireless licenses widens the digital divide. Once again, Commissioners grandstanding for the press on the ‘race for 5G’ means leaving tens of millions of rural Americans further behind.”

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said that the overlay auction “structurally advantages a single nationwide carrier.” According to Voqal, there is an “an abundance of evidence showing that commercial carriers have failed to build out wireless networks in rural communities.”

Starks also expressed “grave concerns” that educators and small wireless broadband providers would be unable to compete in the auction because the chunks of spectrum are too large.

Wireless Internet Service Provider Association CEO Claude Aiken disagreed, saying in a statement that the FCC’s plan made “a significant amount of spectrum in rural areas available for small providers via ‘right-sized’ licenses, ‘right-sized’ spectrum blocks and bidding credits.”

While some are criticizing the proposal for being too inaccessible for small providers, others criticize it for failing to solve the need for mid-band spectrum because large carriers aren’t showing enough interest, said Pai, noting that dividing up the band is an inherently controversial task. But he remained confident, saying that his agency “found the exact approach that is needed.”

(Photo of FCC Open Meeting by Emily McPhie.)

Development Associate Emily McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for campus publication Student Life. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer skills to underprivileged children in six cities across Southern California.

FCC

Cable Group NCTA Says Deny Exclusive Multitenant Access, But Not Wiring, Agreements

NCTA said the FCC should deny exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

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Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – The internet and television association NCTA is suggesting that the Federal Communications Commission deny all broadband providers exclusive access to multitenant buildings, but to continue allowing exclusive wiring agreements.

On Tuesday, the FCC opened a new round of comments into its examination of competitive broadband options for residents of apartments, multi-tenant and office buildings.

In a Tuesday ex parte notice to the commission, which follows a formal meeting with agency staff on September 2, the NCTA said the record shows that deployment, competition, and consumer choice in multiple tenant environments “are strong,” and that the FCC can “promote even greater deployment and competition by prohibiting not just cable operators, other covered [multiple video programming distributors], and telecommunications carriers, but all broadband providers from entering into MTE exclusive access agreements.

The organization, whose member companies include Comcast, Cox Communications and Charter Communications, also said it should continue to allow providers to enter into exclusive wiring agreements with MTE owners. Wiring just means that the provider can lay down its cables, like fiber, to connect residents.

“Exclusive wiring agreements do not deny new entrants access to MTEs. Rather, exclusive wiring agreements are pro-competitive and help ensure that state-of-the-art wiring will be deployed in MTEs to the benefit of consumers.”

The NCTA also told the FCC that there would be technical problems with simultaneous sharing of building wires by different providers and vouched for exclusive marketing arrangements, according to the notice.

The FCC’s new round of comments comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

Reached for comment on the filing, a spokesman for NCTA said they had nothing to add to the filing, which was signed by Mary Beth Murphy, deputy general counsel to the cable organization.

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China

Hytera’s Inclusion on FCC’s National Security Blacklist ‘Absurd,’ Client Says

Diversified Communications Group said the FCC flubbed on adding Hytera to blacklist.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – A client of a company that has been included in a list of companies the Federal Communications Commission said pose threats to the security of the country’s networks is asking the agency to reconsider including the company.

In a letter to the commission on Tuesday, Diversified Communications Group, which installs and distributes two-way radio communications devices to large companies, said the inclusion of Hytera Communications Corporation, a Chinese manufacturer of radio equipment, on a list of national security threats is “absurd” because the hardware involved is not connected to the internet and “does not transmit any sensitive or proprietary data.

“It seems that Hytera has been lumped in with other Chinese companies on the Covered List simply because they happen to manufacture electronics in the same country,” Diversified’s CEO Ryan Holte said in the letter, adding Hytera’s products have helped Diversified’s business thrive.

“This is a wrong that should be righted. Hytera is not a national security risk. They are an essential business partner to radio companies throughout the U.S.,” the CEO added.

In March, the FCC announced that it had designated Hytera among other Chinese businesses with alleged links to the Communist government. Others included Huawei, ZTE, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, and Dahua Technology.

List among a number of restrictions on Chinese companies

This list of companies was created in accordance with the Secure Networks Act, and the FCC indicated that it would continue to add companies to the list if they are deemed to “pose an unacceptable risk to national security or the security and safety of U.S. persons.”

Last month, the Senate commerce committee passed through legislation that would compel the FCC to no longer issue new equipment licenses to China-backed companies.

Last year the U.S. government took steps to ensure that federal agencies could not purchase goods or services from the aforementioned companies, and had previously added them to an economic blacklist.

In July, the FCC voted in favor of putting in place measures that would require U.S. carriers to rip and replace equipment by these alleged threat companies.

The Biden administration has been making moves to isolate alleged Chinese-linked threats to the country’s networks. In June, the White House signed an executive order limiting investments in predominantly Chinese companies that it said poses a threat to national security.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Says 5 Million Households Now Enrolled in Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The $3.2 billion program provides broadband and device subsidies to eligible low-income households.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 30, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that five million households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

The $3.2-billion program, which launched in May, provides a broadband subsidy of $50 per month to eligible low-income households and $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands, as well as a one-time reimbursement on a device. Over 1160 providers are participating, the FCC said, who are reimbursed the cost to provide the discounted services.

The agency has been updating the public on the number of participating households for the program. In June, the program was at just over three million and had passed four million last month. The program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“Enrolling five million households into the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in a little over three months is no small feat,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of nearly 30,000 individuals and organizations who signed up as volunteer outreach partners.”

Rosenworcel added that conversations with partners and the FCC’s analysis shows the need for “more granular data” to bring these opportunities to more eligible families.

The program’s strong demand was seen as far back as March.

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