Connect with us

Broadband's Impact

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Praises Agency’s Work in Promoting High-Speed Internet at ‘Broadband Heros’ Event



Photo of Ajit Pai at US Telecom event by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, October 24, 2019 – US Telecom on Thursday praised legislators and a regulator who have promoted their framework for ensuring that high-speed broadband remains a top national policy concern.

The lobbying group for the biggest telecom companies did so at a broadband investment forum event honoring their “broadband heros” that they said had made significant strides to improve connectivity.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai touted his agency’s record on broadband deployment over the past few years.

The progress made by the FCC’s regulatory streamlining, Pai said, has provided much improvement for the agriculture and education sectors. Wireless internet has become so advanced that children are able to seamlessly upload their schoolwork through McDonald’s Wi-Fi, he said.

Among the other “broadband heros” recipients were Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Rob Koester of Consolidated Communications and Darby McCarty of Smithville Communications.

Broadband has come far in only a quarter of a century, said Wicker. Yet bipartisan support is needed to address current broadband’s key issues, such as low-quality mapping. The companies represented here today, he said, will play a major role in winning the “race to 5G.”

Telecom’s role has gone beyond merely providing and building service, said Koester. Broadband leaders now need to educate the public about the issues and the best practices for improving them.

A panel featuring prominent industry leaders discussed the federal government’s role in adopting faster internet and how fiber optic broadband can help with that.

The support mechanisms for broadband funding are in a winner-take-all environment, said Tony Clark, senior advisor at Wilkinson Barker Knauer. Some incumbents receive more subsidies than others, and the incumbents without the mechanism are expected to fulfill the same obligations.

Delivering a high-speed, low latency connection involves determining the trade-offs for that result, said Paroma Sanyal, senior consultant at The Brattle Group. If providers are only focusing on costs, then the outcome of the infrastructure will be different.

The keys to 5G success, Sanyal said, are the backhaul process and low-latency technology that allows for precision agriculture. That is why fiber is a future-proof technology that is very beneficial for 5G growth.

Machine learning on how to develop broadband and fiber, said Windstream President and CEO Tony Thomas, has caused providers to make highly informed decisions. As a result, broadband is now available in areas that a few years ago were barely connected.

The leap to 5G could be the fourth Industrial Revolution, said Kathy Grillo, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs at Verizon. Not only is fiber needed everywhere to receive 5G connectivity, she said, regulatory policy needs to be developed to start building these networks.

But before 5G can be properly implemented, the panelists emphasized the need to address rural coverage gaps.

Billions of dollars have been invested into digital infrastructure for the past 20 years, said US Telecom CEO Jonathan Spalter. The government can provide indispensable input to accelerate rural connectivity, he said, particularly through the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

It’s one thing to build broadband networks, said Blackfoot CEO Jason Williams. Operating and maintaining them is completely different and requires some regulatory oversight.

Going forward, the FCC needs to make sure subsidies are effectively distributed so that incumbents don’t walk away from any viable options, said Consolidated Communications CEO Bob Udell.

The partnership between the public and private sectors, Udell added, is imperative for broadband opportunity.


FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.



Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

Continue Reading


FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’



WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

Continue Reading

Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.



Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

Continue Reading

Signup for Broadband Breakfast

Twice-weekly Breakfast Media news alerts
* = required field

Broadband Breakfast Research Partner