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Broadband Communities and Rural Telecommunications Congress Announce Postponed Summit on August 10-13, 2020

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Illustration courtesy WallpaperCave

March 17, 2020 – Broadband Communities and the Rural Telecommunications Congress have announced that Broadband Communities Summit and its rural broadband track, which were previously scheduled for late April, have been postponed until August 2020 because of concerns associated with the coronavirus.

The Summit is now scheduled for August 10-13, 2020.

“We wish to thank all of you for your understanding and support as we navigated through these uncertain times; our attendees’ health and safety have always been our first concern,” said Barbara DeGarmo, CEO of Broadband Communities.

The event remains at the Marriott Marquis Houston, Texas. For those who have already paid the registration fee, Broadband Communities will roll registrations over to the August dates.

If you have registered at the Marriott Marquis Houston, the hotel will be canceling all guest room reservations booked within the BBC block this week. Registrants will receive an email from the hotel once a reservation has been canceled. Conference attendees will need to go and book new reservation under based on the August dates.

“Rural Telecommunications Congress is supportive of the postponement of the Broadband Communities Summit,” said Drew Clark, President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress and Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast. “In recent days, it has become clear that in-person events for our community will not happen until July or August at the earliest.”

For the tenth year in a row, the non-profit RTC has co-hosted the rural track at the summit, the premier national gathering for the broadband fiber and infrastructure community.

Use this link to register for the summit, and use VIP Code: RTC410. This registration code entitles the user to more than 56 percent off the regular purchase price.

“The Broadband Communities Summit is the leading event for community leaders, multifamily property owners and network builders and deployers interested in the building, managing, marketing and monetizing of high-speed broadband technologies and services,” said De Garmo. “It is focused on the successful delivery of high-speed broadband networks to communities – from multifamily properties and planned developments to the city or town where you live.”

“The Rural Telecommunications Congress is pleased to build on a decade-long partnership with Broadband Communities,” said Clark. “Our focus on broadband planning, broadband infrastructure, and broadband usage for rural communities dovetails extremely well with this outstanding summit.”

The scheduled kickoff event for the rural broadband track at this year’s summit is “The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – What Does it Mean for You?” moderated by Carol Mattey of Mattey Consulting. It is set for Tuesday, August 11, at 2:10 p.m. CT.

The FCC, with its newly implemented Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is distributing lots of money for financing rural broadband. Our panel of experts will guide you through what the fund is and what it means for your company, co-op, or community.

Next up is “Wireless Service in Rural American, Licensed and Unlicensed.”

Wireless Internet Service Providers are among the companies most at the forefront of helping Rural American meet its broadband needs. Most of them currently make use of unlicensed radio frequencies. This panel will consider a number of licensed or quasi-licensed frequencies that will be soon be available for auction by the FCC in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band, as well as other wireless uses for delivering broadband.

On Wednesday, August 12, the rural broadband track is scheduled to feature three panels: “Connecting the Middle Mile and the Last Mile in Rural America,” “Rural Success Stories,” and “Better Broadband Mapping for Rural America.”

The middle mile session addresses numerous examples of middle-mile networks and the success they have had in connecting to last-mile networks in rural America.

The rural success story panel will address the difference that broadband makes when deployed in rural America, exploring numerous “success stories,” and examining what they have been able to do with their improved broadband.

Broadband mapping continues to be very much in the news. Much of the recent legislative focus on the topic has been driven by concerns from constituents in rural areas who are considered “covered,” when they are in fact living in a broadband desert. This session will consider recent controversies in broadband mapping, discuss the FCC’s Digital Opportunity Data Collection Report, and examine what particular communities are doing to map out broadband.

The rural broadband track is scheduled to conclude on Thursday, August 13. The two sessions that day are scheduled to be “Apps for Rural America: Putting Better Broadband to Better Uses,” and “Opportunity Zones and Foundations.”

Broadband matters not because of the “feeds and speeds,” but because of the uses to which it is put. These include telehealth, education, senior connected living and telecommuting. What do these apps mean for rural America? Do they work? Are there legislative, policy or business insurance hurdles to overcome as they are used more and more in rural areas? These are just a few of the questions, come hear the answers.

The concluding session on Opportunity Zones will address the productive collaborations currently underway between foundations, rural communities, and investors seeking to take advantage of the savings available in the tax reform bill’s Opportunity Zones. The panel will specifically explore broadband’s role in Opportunity Zones.

Don’t forget to use  VIP Code: RTC410 when you register for the summit.

For more about the summit, visit the home page, and learn more about the Summit Chairmen.

Editor’s Note: The original post on the conference was published on February 14, 2020; This post was updated on March 17, 2020

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

Universal Service

Advocates Call for Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues

Letter cites Carol Mattey report, which recommends broadening the base.

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Carol Mattey of Mattey Consulting LLC

WASHINGTON, November 29, 2021 – A broad swath of organizations on Monday is calling for policymakers in Washington to reform and stabilize the Universal Service Fund by broadening its funding base to include broadband revenues.

The Universal Service Fund, which supplies the nation’s low-income and rural and remote communities with basic telecommunications services, currently relies on voice service revenues, which has been a dwindling for years. Debate has emerged about how the fund can be stabilized, with some asking for the money to come from a congressional budget item and others asking for it to come from broadband revenues.

The latter is being recommended by over 254 organizations, including public interest groups, anchor institutions, trade associations and broadband service providers, in a Monday call to action letter to policymakers in Washington. The letter cites a September report by Carol Mattey, a former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission, which said broadband revenues should be incorporated into the USF base of money to draw upon.

“Unfortunately, this universal service system is in danger of collapse because the mechanism that funds it has not been updated since it was adopted nearly 25 years ago,” the letter said. The USF program is a relic from 1997 and a product of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The letter features organizations including Public Knowledge, the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition, Gigabit Libraries Network, California Emerging Technology Fund, and a number of telecoms and telecom associations and anchor institutions from over a dozen states.

The contribution percent – the percent providers must pay of their voice revenues – has reached an all-time high in the second quarter this year, at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that. Mattey and the signatories, however, warn that the contribution could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years, as the fund operates at around $10 billion annually.

Citing the Mattey report, the letter suggests that including broadband revenues into the fund would reduce the USF fee to less than 4 percent, adding it would not stunt broadband adoption or retention, as fees are often passed down to customers.

“Our recommendation would reduce regulatory uncertainty, would better reflect evolving uses of services, would be straightforward to administer, and would be more equitable and nondiscriminatory for residential and business consumers than the current system,” the letter said.

“Moreover, the Federal Communications Commission could make this change under its existing authority without requiring new legislation,” the letter added, as Mattey and Greg Guice, Public Knowledge director of government affairs, said at a conference recently.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested earlier this year that Big Tech companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook should contribute to the fund because they benefit from broadband services. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called the idea “intriguing,” while FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington also raised the idea at an event in September.

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Universal Service

Experts Urge FCC Unilaterally Broaden Revenue Base of Universal Service Fund

Consultants say the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to do so.

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Carol Mattey and Greg Guice at INCOMPAS event on October 25.

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2021 – Telecommunications experts are recommending that the Federal Communications Commission unilaterally expand the revenue base of the Universal Service Fund to include broadband revenues, rather than waiting on Congress to do so.

Advocates such as Public Knowledge Director of Government Affairs Greg Guice cite congressional infighting over the bipartisan infrastructure bill as an example of inefficiency in the legislature that would stall the passage of urgent reform for the USF, a fund that helps deliver basic telecommunications services to low-income Americans and those in remote regions.

Telecommunications policy experts said at the INCOMPAS Show in Las Vegas October 25, on which Guice was a panelist, that it is essential that the USF force broadband revenues into the pool of funds, as the fund’s overreliance on voice revenues – even as those revenues decline – is putting a strain on the programs.

Guice and Carol Mattey, principal of Mattey Consulting LLC and former deputy chief of the FCC, told Broadband Breakfast Tuesday that the agency has the jurisdiction to broaden the base of the contribution to the USF under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 if it is in the public interest.

“My view is the FCC has the statutory authority to assess broadband internet access service,” said Mattey in an email. “Under existing law — specifically, section 254(d) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 —  the FCC has the statutory authority to require any ‘providers of interstate telecommunications’ to contribute to the universal service fund if the public interest warrants.

“The FCC has classified broadband internet access service as an information service,” she added. “Under the ’96 Act, the definition of an information service is a service that offers the capability to generate, acquire, store, transform, etc. etc. information ‘via telecommunications.’”

Recommendations for reform

Mattey published a report in September that laid out the case for the fund to be expanded to incorporate a broadband range of money sources, including broadband.

And there has been no shortage of recommendations to help the fund prosper. Earlier this year, a panel of experts debated the merits of having Congress wholly assume contributions to the fund from general tax dollars, while others suggested that recommendation would destabilize the fund because it would swing with the political winds. Those people, instead, focused on simply broadening the base to include other sources, including broadband.

More recently, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr penned an op-ed in Newsweek recommending the fund include contributions from Big Tech because that industry benefits from broadband. It was a suggestion that FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called “intriguing.”

But while Guice and Mattey argue for the FCC to step in and make changes unilaterally, in a one-on-one interview with the Internet Innovation Alliance in September, FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington – in pontificating about Carr’s recommendation for Big Tech contributions – said he didn’t want to get ahead of Congress on the matter, suggesting a wait and see approach.

USF in need of change

Over the last two decades, the USF has seen the revenues subject to its assessment decline by 63%. This money goes to support four main programs: high cost support for rural areas, Lifeline for low income areas, the E-rate program for schools and libraries as well as a rural healthcare support program.

This year, the contribution percentage relative to revenues hit an all time high.

The panel at the INCOMPAS show pinpointed the major factor behind declining USF revenues as decreases in mobile service revenues due to providers setting lower mobile rates. These decreases come despite continual increases in communications revenues overall.

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Funding

FCC Announces $163 Million in Second Round of Approved RDOF Funding

The agency is reevaluating winning bids after asking providers to ensure census blocks aren’t already served.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, October 7, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday another approved round of funding from the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The $163 million in approved money will go to 42 providers who will drive fiber to the home for gigabit services covering 65,000 locations in 21 states over the next ten years, the FCC said Thursday.

“More help is on the way to households without broadband,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release Thursday. “This is an important program for getting more Americans connected to high-speed internet, and we are continuing careful oversight of this process to ensure that providers meet their obligations to deploy in areas that need it.”

The FCC in July asked that providers conduct an assessment in areas for which they won money from the fund in December, because complaints emerged that the approved areas were already served with adequate connectivity.

The commission said 85 bidders chose not to pursue their bids in 5,089 census blocks because those areas were either served or could be wasted. Some attributed their enlightenment to updated FCC maps based on Form 477 data, an often criticized form of data collection that is reliant on service provider data.

The last round of approved money was last month, when the FCC approved a further 13 bidders.

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