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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Announces Public Auction of C-Band, Connecticut Peels Back Broadband Barriers

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Photo of Ajit Pai in February 2018 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced Monday that the FCC will hold a public auction of mid-band wireless spectrum to fuel the deployment of 5G. The agency plans to auction 280 MHz of the block of spectrum, Pai said, while preserving about 200 MHz that will continue to be used for TV programming.

Mid-band spectrum, such as the C-band, is considered important for 5G deployments because it “offers both geographic coverage and the capacity to transmit large amounts of data — a combination that is appealing to entrepreneurs and wireless consumers alike,” Pai wrote in a Monday letter addressed to lawmakers.

Satellite providers had proposed a private sale because they say they will get spectrum into the market more quickly. However, several lawmakers on Capitol Hill have balked at the notion of private companies enriching themselves from the sale of a public asset, Cnet reports

Pai’s proposal was announced at the same time that Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and John Thune, R-S.D., introduced a bill requiring the FCC to “conduct a public auction of C band spectrum.” The bill also indicates the auction should start no later than Dec. 31, 2020.

AT&T Executive Vice President of Regulatory & State External Affairs Joan Marsh praised the agency’s decision. Any path forward, she said, must chart a course toward a fair, open and transparent auction.

Craig Silliman, an executive vice president at Verizon, reiterated the need to get the spectrum into the market quickly to ensure that the US beats China in the race to 5G.

“China and other countries have already provided huge blocks of mid-band spectrum to carriers for 5G, and there is a risk that those countries will become the hub of 5G innovation and investment if the US fails to act promptly to do the same,” he said.

Connecticut peels back industry-support barriers to broadband

A Connecticut Superior Court issued a ruling this week to shoot down industry-backed barriers preventing municipal broadband networks, Vice reported. Previous rulings backed by the telecom sector had stated towns and cities could only use this “gain space” for government or school networks, not the broader public

“The ruling is important because we think it correctly confirms the municipalities right to use the municipal gain to try to solve broadband access and affordability problems as a means to better serve their citizens and businesses,” said Consumer Counsel Richard Sobolewski.

The news stems from the issue that countless towns and cities across the U.S. either have no broadband at all, or they are stuck with one, overpriced internet service provider. As a result, more than 750 U.S. communities have started building their own locally-owned broadband networks, despite the industry’s near-constant effort to undermine them.

Nineteen states have passed industry-backed laws prohibiting the construction of municipal networks. In Connecticut, local incumbents have spent years trying to stop community broadband builders from accessing either utility poles or fiber conduit, professing it to be a safety hazard.

Purging these protectionist restrictions helps pave the way for getting out from underneath telecom monopoly domination, said Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

Broadband Roundup

House Could Vote on Infrastructure Thursday, Senators Want Rosenworcel Permanent, JSI Buys Mid-State

Infrastructure bill could be up for vote Thursday, senators ask Biden to make Rosenworcel permanent FCC chair, JSI buys Mid-State.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California

September 28, 2021 – The House could be expected to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill on Thursday, according to reports, one day before its actual implementation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who said in August that the vote would come on September 27, shifted on a previous commitment that the infrastructure package, which includes $65 billion for broadband, would not be taken up until a larger “reconciliation” package of social initiatives is addressed.

Now, according to NBC News, Pelosi told Democrats in a private caucus meeting that her position has changed because the larger package is not ready to be taken up for a vote. That is expected to cause some tensions with some Democrats who pledged to only take up the infrastructure bill if the reconciliation package is completed.

The vote is rubbing up against October 1, when the infrastructure package has been slated to take effect if it passes the House. Democrat supporters of the bill noted, in response to pressure to vote on the bill before the August recess, that the implementation date doesn’t change, regardless of when the House vote takes place.

Senators ask Biden to make Rosenworcel permanent FCC chair

Over two dozen senators are asking President Joe Biden to make Jessica Rosenworcel’s position as acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission permanent.

In a letter on Wednesday, the senators, representing 17 states, said that “there is no better qualified or more competent person to lead the FCC at this important time” than Rosenworcel, who has been the interim chair since Biden appointed her in January.

The senators said delay on her nomination as permanent chair “simply puts at risk the major broadband goals that we share and that Congress has worked hard to advance as part of your administration’s agenda.”

To make Rosenworcel permanent chair would make her the first woman to hold the position in that capacity.

Rosenworcel has overseen a number of big broadband initiatives, including distribution of funds from the Emergency Broadband Benefit and the Emergency Connectivity Fund programs.

Biden has a number of other options to make as FCC chair, as some have also speculated that Gigi Sohn, a former agency staffer with a track record on telecom-related issues, could be a frontrunner.

JSI acquires Mid-State Consultants in preparation for more government broadband funds

Consulting firm JSI has acquired Utah-based engineering firm Mid-State Consultants in an effort to help its clients take advantage of the influx of broadband infrastructure funds coming down the pipe, the companies said in a press release Thursday.

“The move further enhances JSI’s ability to help clients as they take advantage of unprecedented funding resources available on the federal and state levels to expand and maintain broadband networks across the country,” the release said. “The acquisition of Mid-State Consultants significantly grows the engineering capabilities that JSI began building last year.

“We are pleased to add Mid-State to the JSI family. Our clients now have access to more services and solutions and a talented team with the broadband technology, regulatory and business know-how,” said JSI CEO Tasos Tsolakis in the release. “The broadband industry’s future is bright and JSI is well positioned to support our clients every step of the way.”

The big piece of broadband funding is the $65 billion in the infrastructure bill, which is awaiting a vote in the House and is said to be a once-in-a-generation amount for the cause. Money from that bill will be given to the states and cities to distribute.

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Facebook Pauses Instagram for Kids, $1.2B from Emergency Connectivity Fund, Ransomware Attacks

Facebook pauses photo-sharing app for kids, FCC announces $1.2B in first wave of ECF, ransomware attacks on the rise.

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September 27, 2021 – Facebook-owned Instagram has announced that it is “pausing” the development of an equivalent product for kids under 13, following pressure from lawmakers after a report emerged that showed the company knew about the impact of its platforms on kids’ mental health.

The head of the photo sharing application Instagram, which is forbidden for children under 13, said in a blog post Monday that building “Instagram Kids” is the “right thing to do, but we’re pausing the work.”

“We’ll use this time to work with parents, experts and policymakers to demonstrate the value and need for this product,” Adam Mosseri said in the post, adding the company is looking to build opt-in parental supervision tools for teens.

The development comes after lawmakers sent a letter to Facebook demanding that it halt the idea after a report in the Wall Street Journal unveiled internal company research that showed Instagram is harming kids’ mental health. Mosseri acknowledged the research, according to the Journal.

“Critics of ‘Instagram Kids’ will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea. That’s not the case,” Mosseri said. “The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today.”

In response to the news, senators Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and representatives Kathy Castor, D-Florida, and Lori Trahan, D-Massachusetts, who wrote concerned letters to Facebook about the app in development, said they are “pleased” about its pausing.

“We are pleased that Facebook has heeded our calls to stop plowing ahead with its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children. A ‘pause’ is insufficient, however. Facebook has completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online and it must completely abandon this project,” said the lawmakers in a joint statement.

“Time and time again, Facebook has demonstrated the failures of self-regulation, and we know that Congress must step in. That’s why we will be re-introducing the Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act, which will give young internet users the protections they need to navigate today’s online ecosystem without sacrificing their wellbeing. We urge our colleagues to join us in this effort and pass this critical legislation.”

FCC announces $1.2 billion from first wave of Emergency Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday that it is committing $1.2 billion from its first wave of applicants for its $7-billion Emergency Connectivity Fund program.

The money will go to 3,040 schools, 260 libraries and 24 consortia, which will produce roughly three million devices and over 700,000 broadband connections to connect over 3.6 million students. The fund provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and general connectivity.

The first round of applications, which closed in August, requested a combined $5 billion for 9.1 million devices and 5.4 million broadband connections.

The money is allocated to all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico and D.C. Rural libraries and sprawling urban school districts alike will be impacted. New York received the most funding of any state with 243 million this round, beating Texas’ 97 million and California’s 71.

The window to file applications for funding will open again between September 28 and October 13.

Ransomware attacks have reached ‘stratospheric’ levels, warns report

Ransomware accounted for 69 percent of cyber-security attacks involving malicious software in the second quarter of 2021, found Positive Technologies, published Wednesday.

Ransomware is the holding of data hostage for money. The types of cyber security attacks on retail indicate that hackers have shifted from trying to steal large amounts of data to seeking direct financial gain, the report found.

Attacks on government “soared” from 12 percent in the first quarter this year to 20 percent of attacks on all institutions in the second quarter.

Governmental, medical, scientific, educational and industrial firms were the most common targets of ransomware attacks in the second quarter of 2021, it said.

The report follows high-profile attacks on transport company Colonial Pipeline and software company SolarWinds.

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Apple Blacklists Fortnite, T-Mobile Expands Home Internet, Ajit Pai Reflects on Virginia’s Broadband Leadership

Apple will not reinstate Fortnite after court fight, T-Mobile expands in 4 states, Ajit Pai on Virginia’s broadband success.

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Ajit Pai, foreground, right

September 23, 2021 – Apple has blacklisted popular video game Fortnite from its app store until there are no appeals left in its court case, according to the head of the game maker.

On Wednesday, Tim Sweeney, the head of Fortnite maker Epic Games, posted a letter on Twitter from the lawyers for Apple stating that the company would not reinstate Fortnite on its app store until all court appeals have been exhausted, which Sweeney said could be as long as five years.

Last week, the U.S. District Judge ruled that Apple was not being anticompetitive when it banned Fornite from the app. The legal battle emerged when Fornite allowed its players to make in-game purchases directly through the game, which effectively bypassed Apple’s store and the commission it gets for transactions.

Sweeney said on Twitter on Wednesday that Epic agreed to “play by the same rules as everyone else” if reinstated on Apple’s app store.

“Apple spent a year telling the world, the court, and the press they’d ‘welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else,” Sweeney said in a tweet. “Epic agreed, and now Apple has reneged in another abuse of its monopoly power over a billion users.”

In August, Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, introduced the Open App Markets Act to ban app store operators from requiring app providers to use their in-app payment systems.

T-Mobile expands home internet in four states

T-Mobile is expanding its home internet service to 51 cities and towns across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, it said in a Tuesday press release.

The company said it is able to expand its service because of “massive investments” it has made in its 5G network, which was a pitch to regulators when the company purchase Sprint.

“The traditional landline [internet service providers] have failed the south,” the release said. “Across these four states, nearly 1 million people do not have access to a single wired internet provider. That bears repeating — nearly 1 million people across just four states do not have access at all. This is unacceptable. And unfortunately, that’s not all. Landline ISPs have left nearly 1.7 million people without any access to speeds above 25Mbps and nearly 3.3 million people with access to only one provider.

“This lack of access and choice has led to high prices, poor service, and the unhappiest customers in America —ISPs rank dead last in recent customer satisfaction scores from ACSI. Dead. Last.

Fixed wireless technologies, as T-Mobile uses here, can fill gaps where fiber builds in rural and remote areas are prohibitively expensive.

Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai writes op-ed about Virginia’s leadership in narrowing digital divide

Former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai wrote in an op-end in the Washington Post on Wednesday outlining how Virginia became a leader in ending the digital divide.

The Virginia resident, who is now a partner at Searchlight Capital Partners, noted that the state’s Virginia Telecommunications Initiative ensured public funds weren’t a limiting factor to build the last mile connections to homes and businesses, as it plowed money in areas traditionally not ventured by private telecoms because of a lack of return. The initiative also involved public utilities to lease fiber capacity to the telecoms.

“Having led the Federal Communications Commission, I’ve been able to take a bird’s-eye view of the country and assess the effectiveness of various state programs,” Pai said.

“I can say without reservation that Virginia is leading the pack in establishing a framework for what I like to call “digital opportunity” for all its citizens. Its success in broadband can be attributed to several factors: the governor’s consistent prioritization of broadband, bipartisan support and funding from the General Assembly, an efficient and successful VATI program and enabling electric utilities to deploy middle-mile infrastructure.

“This framework will deliver universal broadband throughout the commonwealth. And it is a model for many other states in our nation, large and small, and from coast to coast.”

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