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In Law More Than a Year, MOBILE Now Advocates Say Act Requires Further Implementation for 5G Deployment

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Photo of John Thune in January 2012 by Ed Demaria/Medill News Service used with permission

WASHINGTON, December 6, 2019 – Even though the so-called MOBILE NOW law has been effect since March 2018, former Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., highlighted ongoing implementation needs at a Thursday hearing.

Dubbed the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless Act, MOBILE NOW is designed to ensure that the market has access to both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, Thune said.

Under the law, Thune continued, 255 megahertz of spectrum were identified for mobile and fixed wireless use. MOBILE NOW also directed the Federal Communications Commission to evaluate commercial wireless use in mid-band spectrum.

The purpose of this hearing, said Thune, was to determine how MOBILE NOW’s provisions can quicken the deployment of 5G wireless services.

Lawmakers continue to say that they want ubiquitous broadband services and next-generation 911 infrastructure, said Ranking Member Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. Yet Congress has not found the right funding mechanisms or economic incentives to achieve these goals.

Unlicensed spectrum must be an essential aspect of spectrum policy, Schatz said. Without accommodating unlicensed spectrum, 5G wireless speeds will only be available to a select number of people with an expensive data plan.

Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., touted the bipartisan MOBILE NOW law as building the foundation for 5G service. He said that the 5G Spectrum Act, a new bill introduced in November 2019 by Wicker that would require the FCC to conduct a public auction of C-Band spectrum, would put the United States on the most efficient path to win the 5G race.

Witnesses largely tout effects of MOBILE NOW, emphasize importance of 5G networks

The witnesses in attendance consisted of several policy analysts of technology and wireless communications. New America’s Open Technology Institute Director Sarah Morris encouraged the Subcommittee to recognize that while 5G networks are important, many Americans are still struggling without basic broadband.

Mobile networks, she said, are not a substitute for the fixed networks required to operate them. The MOBILE NOW Act can help foster stronger Wi-Fi connectivity, which in turn can expand 5G services for all users.

Paul Tenhaken, mayor of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said that cities in the Midwest and rural areas have the most to gain from rapidly expanding digital infrastructure. In November, Sioux Falls was one of the first mid-market cities to activate several small-cell towers in its downtown core.

In such cities, Tenhaken said, the fifth generation of mobile infrastructure is a necessity, not just a “nice to have” asset. The MOBILE NOW Act and the 5G Spectrum Act are a step in the right direction to communities, consumers and carriers. Furthermore, he added, this legislation can help remove unnecessary entry barriers to the 5G community.

Wireless Infrastructure Association CEO Jonathan Adelstein also praised the provisions of MOBILE NOW, which required the FCC and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to jointly determine determine how to effectively share spectrum between federal and non-federal users.

MOBILE NOW is also combatting unharmonized spectrum application forms across different agencies, Adelstein continued. The NTIA is working on a common application form to bring more transparency to streamlining infrastructure.

Yet the wireless industry still needs to meet growing demands for broadband data, he said. In order to meet the challenges of 5G, Congress should focus on developing the workforce, so that they are properly trained to deploy these networks.

The MOBILE NOW Act can help facilitate an all-of-the-above approach to spectrum strategy, said Scott Bergmann, senior vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA. The FCC can help allocate the best use of low, mid and high-band spectrum.

Bergmann advised the Subcommittee to continue focusing on the 42 gigahertz band for terrestrial wireless operations. Not only does that spectrum band have the potential for global harmonization, he said, but it can help drive down the cost of wireless equipment as the demand for wireless services increase.

Because of MOBILE NOW, the industry can more effectively discuss the need for new spectrum allocations, said Mary Brown, senior director of technology policy at Cisco. The bill also allows the unlicensed spectrum community to contribute to the rising demand of strong, robust broadband networks.

The unlicensed industry is well-suited to testing new technologies, Brown said, as all unlicensed devices must prove that they adhere to FCC regulations. As the FCC continues to approve devices, she said, unlicensed spectrum holders have a strong stake in ensuring successful market entry.

Digital Inclusion

Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Digital Equity Act

Sen. Murray re-introduces bi-partisan that would provide grants to states pushing for digital equity.

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Patty Murray, D-Washington

June 14, 2021– Three Senators have introduced legislation that would provide grants to states that create digital equity plans.

The proposed legislation, reintroduced on Thursday by Patty Murray, D-Washington, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Angus King, I-Maine, would set-aside $60 million to establish a State Digital Equity Capacity Grant within the Department of Commerce that would “promote the achievement of digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for efforts by States relating to the adoption of broadband by residents of those States.”

The funds from the Digital Equity Act in the Senate would be made available to all states, foundations, corporations, institutions, or agencies. The bill was first introduced by Murray in 2019.

Each state will receive a different grant amount depending on a formula that includes population and access to broadband across the state, to be spent within 5 years of receipt.

In addition to funding for states, the bill creates a  $125-million Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. This program is also for state agencies and institutions but is more specifically geared toward those that are responsible for “adult education and literacy activities.”

Infrastructure portion

A final pillar of the bill is to create more infrastructure and resources for future development of policies that will continue to promote a bridging of the digital divide.

During a press conference on the bill, Murray told the Broadband Breakfast that she believes the bill will be successful because it gives states and local communities the ability to decide what their needs are. “We cannot dictate that in D.C.,” she remarked.

When asked why the bill will create more permanent solutions, she stated that it, “Provides for the diversity of needs that are going to continue to be out there.”

The senators co-sponsoring the bill said they are confident it will make its way into any infrastructure legislation passed by Congress.

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Infrastructure

Senate Committee Hears High Symmetrical Internet Speeds, Up-To-Date Technologies For Future Of Rural America

NTCA’s Shirley Bloomfield on driving improvements for rural broadband.

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Shirley Bloomfield

May 19, 2021– The head of the NTCA — Rural Broadband Association told a Senate Finance Committee that there are a number of improvements that can be made to broadband services and infrastructure for rural Americans, including higher symmetrical internet speeds, up-to-date network technologies, and better coordination of government funding to avoid overbuilding.

Shirley Bloomfield provided six different types of actions at Tuesday’s hearing that the government should take to improve broadband coverage in rural markets.

Bloomfield’s first suggestion was to build networks to last. She argued that building networks that provide insufficient speeds or utilize technology that is already outdated will not be sufficient to address the broadband needs of the future generation. During her testimony, Bloomfield specifically voiced support for 100 Mbps symmetrical service.

“We have a once in a generation opportunity—on the investment side—to do this right—to aim higher and to do better,” she said.

Her second suggestion was to take steps to limit overbuilding. To do this, she suggested that state and local governments coordinate with existing programs that provide mapping and funding for broadband projects. She clarified during her testimony that those without broadband service need to be prioritized before those with insufficient broadband service. She argued that the best way to do this would be ensuring that there is coordination with federal and state regulatory bodies with access to mapping data.

Bloomfield’s third suggestion was that network maintenance must be prioritized, and that modern networks will only stay modern and efficient if they are kept working and up to date.

Bloomfield also recommended clearer standards for broadband providers and that un(der)served rural communities should not be treated as “test labs” for new technologies. She stated that technologies should not be deployed until they have been sufficiently tested and established as viable strategies to serve communities in need of broadband. This includes not just the current needs of the communities in question, but also the projected needs of future generations.

Her sixth recommendation was to encourage consumers to look for local ISPs to provide broadband service. She noted that these smaller, local ISPs have cultivated relationships with the communities they serve, and those who work for the ISP often live among those they serve. She stated that it is this intimate connection that has allowed them to navigate the unique issues that these rural communities face.

Finally, Bloomfield encouraged the Committee to push for lower barriers to entry for broadband expansion projects, stating that bureaucracy and costs associated with many projects are simply too high. She also stated that a concerted effort must be made to sure-up supply chain issues that are currently applying significant pressure to ISPs and hampering expansion.

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Section 230

President Trump’s FCC Nominee Grilled on Section 230 During Senate Confirmation Hearing

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Photo of Nathan Simington during his Senate confirmation hearing

November 10, 2020 — Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation grilled President Donald Trump’s proposed nominee to the Federal Communications Commission, Nathan Simington, on his stance on the FCC’s jurisdiction to interpret Section 230, during a nominations hearing on Tuesday.

While there were two other nominees for federal agency’s present to testify, members of the Committee directed the majority of their questions to Simington, which he mostly attempted to deflect, saying he needed more internal information to answer.

“During your time working at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, you effectively acted as an arm of the president,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., highlighting Simington’s active involvement in crafting the Commerce Department’s petition to the FCC to force the agency to re-interpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

“Trump’s tweet makes it clear what he expects from you, which I think should deeply trouble us all,” said Blumenthal, referencing the president’s tweet to Committee Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and others, before the hearing, which called for them to act now on Simington’s “important nomination” by confirming him to the FCC as soon as possible.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., during the hearing

Many doubted Simington’s nomination would be confirmed by January, but Tuesday’s hearing introduced a new sense of urgency behind the nomination. The tweets-in-real-time promotion by Trump seemed raise the specter pushing a confirmation – as with the Supreme Court – that, at least in the president’s mind, would bear upon decision-making in the wake of the election.

“The FCC should remain free from political interference,” said Blumenthal, adding that the agency may diminish its independence and become a tool of the outgoing president for the next 70 days.

Simington said he has not had discussions with White House about Section 230

Simington said early on in the questioning session that he supports the FCC’s jurisdiction to clarify Section 230 rulemaking, as proposed by Chairman Ajit Pai in mid-October.

“I do think Section 230 needs to be reformed,” said Simington. He said that he has not had any discussion with the White House on Section 230 legislative proposals.

While Blumenthal demanded that Simington commit to not voting on Section 230 rulemaking, Simington said he believed that such a pledge would be premature to make. However, Simington did promise his first action if nominated would be to talk the issue over with the FCC’s ethics counsel.

Simington promised to work to maintain a “free and open internet” in response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, questioning his views on what Cruz called “censorship” by big tech companies. He maintained that censorship is “primarily not the concern of the FCC.”

During his opening statement, Simington committed to four values he intends to defend, if confirmed: Regulatory stability through vigorous competition, universal connectivity, national security, and public interest.

While Simington said he would fight for universal connectivity and the public good, he refused to commit to extending the FCC’s temporary interpretation of the E-Rate Program, which is currently enabling educational institutions to use federal funds to increase the internet access available to students who have been sent home.

“I’m troubled by your lack of specificity on expanding the E-Rate Program,” said Blumenthal in response.

Withdrawl of Michael O’Rielly’s nomination and background of Simington

Before his nomination, Nathan Simington was a senior adviser at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the president’s policy arm for telecommunications policy.

In addition to his work at NTIA, Simington previously worked at the law firms of Mayer Brown, Kirkland and Ellis, and Chapman and Cutler.

Simington was nominated on September 16 to fill a vacancy after the White House withdrew Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s nomination to serve another term at the FCC.

President Trump withdrew O’Rielly’s nomination on August 3, after the commissioner made comments expressing doubts over proposals that the FCC target social media companies for the way they regulate content.

If confirmed, Simington would fill the seat that will be vacated by O’Rielly, who has been on the commission since 2013. Both are Republicans, but O’Rielly told C-SPAN in July the he held deep reservations over proposals to target social media platforms for the way that they curate their content.

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