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Coronavirus Roundup: FCC Grants Waiver to WISPs, CenturyLink on USNS Mercy, Precursor on Techlash

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CenturyLink-provided photo of technicians Colin Wang and Brian King in front of the USNS Mercy

The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau on Friday granted temporary spectrum access to 33 wireless internet service providers serving 330 counties in 29 states to help them serve rural communities’ broadband needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

The special temporary authority granted on Friday allows these companies to use the lower 45 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GigiHertz band for 60 days.

“Like everybody else, rural Americans are facing an increased need for broadband service as more and more workers, students, and families stay home during this national emergency,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“Fixed wireless broadband providers deliver this service for many communities, especially those hardest for other providers to reach. Giving them access to the 5.9 GHz band will help them meet their customers’ needs during these challenging times

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association praised the move.

The pandemic’s shut-in orders have really increased demand on this nation’s networks,” said Claude Aiken, CEO of WISPA.

“Our members are seeing over a 35 percent bump in traffic in peak hours, with 90 percent of them getting customer requests to add more speed to their plans,” noted Aiken.

CenturyLink installs internet on Navy ship serving L.A. coronavirus victims

CenturyLink donated and installed high-speed broadband aboard a military hospital ship on the Port of Los Angeles on Friday, according to a blog post by the company.

CenturyLink technicians said they pulled off this feat in less than 48 hours with two days’ notice, equipping the USNS Mercy with high speed connectivity so it can act as a serviceable healthcare center.

The USNS Mercy has 1,000 beds, 800 healthcare workers, and will be tending to patients who do not have coronavirus so that L.A. hospitals can focus on the expected influx of COVID-19-inflicted patients.

CenturyLink waived the installation fee to provide 1 Gigabit ethernet circuits for 12 months to connect the Mercy to the Naval Air Station North Island.

“We are focused on solving complex customer problems and combining that know-how with our commitment to always doing the right thing,” said Ed Morche, CenturyLink’s President of Enterprise and Government Markets. “We are honored to be able to donate our time and services to support our nation’s military and healthcare professionals during these trying times. We choose to serve those who serve.”

Coronavirus won’t save big tech from the techlash, Cleland argues

The coronavirus won’t save big tech from looming antitrust cases, says a blog post by Precursor President Scott Cleland.

Articles have predicted that the coronavirus epidemic might buy big tech the time to prove its necessity in society, allowing it to repair its somewhat-tarnished image.

This is coming at a time when there are simultaneous probes and investigations by the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, states attorneys general, and even some private actors being conducted into the allegedly anti-competitive practices of the “Big Four”: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google.

Cleland argues that the so-called “Techlash” against these companies will be sustained by the deep-rooted issues driving these investigations and a bipartisan consensus that those issues are injurious. He cited a Gallup poll finding that 77 percent of Americans believe Google, Facebook, and Amazon have too much power, and 74 percent are very concerned about misinformation on the Internet.

Cleland also argued that these companies are even engaging in abuses of power during the pandemic. He cited how Amazon’s decision to temporarily only deliver essential items “competitively disadvantaged multitudes of Amazon seller competitors that heavily depend on Amazon’s dominant Marketplace, logistics, and delivery services to be fair and transparent.”

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Broadband Roundup

Fear of Big Tech in Auto Industry, Montana Hires Lightbox, USTelecom Hires Media Affairs Director

Technology advocacy groups are concerned about big technology companies entering the auto industry.

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Montana Governor Greg Gianforte

January 26, 2022 – A letter signed by nearly 30 technology advocacy groups and sent to government and agency officials Tuesday is warning of the dangers of tech companies entering the automobile industry, The Hill reports.

“Make no mistake: The expansion of Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook into the auto sector spells trouble for workers and consumers…As automation expands, these [auto workers] jobs are at risk and Big Tech cannot be trusted to lead that transition,” the letter said, according to the report.

Recipients of the letter signed by the likes of the American Economic Liberties Project and Demand Progress include Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan.

The Hill also reports that the groups are concerned about the treatment and usage of data and private information if these big technology companies do successfully expand their reach.

The letter comes as lawmakers and government agencies wrestle with what to do about the future of antitrust.

Montana is taking mapping matters into their own hands

Montana’s Department of Administration said Monday that is has hired location analytics company Lightbox to build a statewide broadband map, following in the footsteps of Georgia and Alabama in getting ahead of federal efforts to improving insight into what areas are underserved.

“The completed map will provide a detailed analysis of current broadband service levels throughout Montana while protecting proprietary data and will be used for allocating $266 million to unserved and underserved communities throughout Montana,” a press release said.

“Lightbox is a proven national leader in cost effective and efficient detailed mapping for state level broadband programs,” said Department of Administration Director Misty Ann Giles in the release. “This platform will serve as a key component to help ConnectMT reach its goal of deploying broadband throughout Montana to bridge the digital divide.”

Montana, which began searching for a data platform in October, is listed on data platform BroadbandNow as the worst state for broadband coverage and access, according to a November report.

USTelecom hires new senior director of media affairs and digital engagement

USTelecom, an association that represents telecom-related businesses, announced Wednesday the appointment of Emma Christman to senior director of media affairs and digital engagement.

Christman is joining the USTelecom communications team after working as the director of external affairs and engagement at Glen Echo Group. While there, USTelecom says she provided “a range of clients strategic counsel, content creation, media outreach and other services.”

Prior to her time at Glen Echo Group, Christman worked at Dewey Square Group as a senior associate and at Mobile Future as a community outreach director.

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Broadband Roundup

AT&T Speeds Tiers, Wisconsin Governor on Broadband Assistance, Broadband as Public Utility

AT&T now has a 5 gigabit speeds for residential and business customers in 70 additional markets.

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Governor Tony Evers
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers

January 25, 2022 – AT&T announced Monday the launch of symmetrical 2-gigabit and 5-gigabit residential and business broadband services to over 70 US markets.

The speed packages come with unlimited data with no additional equipment fees and don’t require annual contracts. The monthly price for the 2-Gig service is $110 per month for residential, or $225 per month for businesses, and the 5-Gig package is $180 per month for residential or $395 per month for businesses.

AT&T also boasts that it has reached 10-Gig speeds in the lab, but have yet to roll it out to customers.

Wisconsin governor encourages residents to apply for broadband assistance

Governor Tony Evers on Monday encouraged residents to apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program, a program that was administered by the Federal Communications Commission late last year and acts as an extension of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

According to BroadbandNow data, in Wisconsin, only about 20 percent of the estimated 650,000 eligible households were enrolled in the program, which represents approximately 1.6 million people and provides discounts of up to $30 a month for eligible households and up to $75 a month for homes on tribal lands.

Eligible households are also able to receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet.

The FCC on Friday adopted new rules for the program, which includes limiting the subsidy to one per households to get more homes connected and making it easier for providers, who collect the money, to qualify for the upgraded program.

U.S. Senate candidate calls for broadband to be considered public utility

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Godlewski published Tuesday a plan that included a call for a push to make broadband a public utility.

Currently, 173,000 Wisconsinites do not have access to any internet provider, and 836,000 Wisconsinites only have access to one provider.

Godlewski promised that if she is elected to the Senate, she would “engage” and “ensure that Washington politicians finally start hearing Wisconsin’s rural voices.”

“In the 21st century, broadband internet access can no longer be treated as a luxury. [Goldewski] wants to make the internet a public utility in order to provide everyone in Wisconsin with guaranteed access to reliable and affordable internet service,” a Tuesday press release said.

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Broadband Roundup

New Multitenant Proposal Praised, Dutch Fine Apple, Cameron Comms Expands in Louisiana

Associations including INCOMPAS and WISPA applaud new multitenant proposal.

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Apple CEO Time Cook

January 24, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel‘s proposal Friday to impose new rules that would ban some, but stopped short of other, exclusivity agreements between internet service providers and multitenant units is being lauded by some.

The proposal would ban exclusive revenue sharing agreements, in which the landlord gets a share of service provider contracts; require providers disclose to tenants “in plain language” the existence of exclusive marketing arrangements; and clarifies rules to allow for multiple service providers to use building wires to deliver service. The proposal will now go to a vote by the commission.

“For far too long monopolies have locked out broadband competition and blocked faster speeds, lower prices, and better service to a hundred million Americans who live in apartments and condo buildings. We are encouraged to hear that Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has taken action to move forward on an Order in the proceeding,” Chip Pickering, CEO of Internet and Competitive Networks Association (INCOMPAS), said in a statement.

“We look forward to working with Chairwoman Rosenworcel and the entire FCC to forge a bipartisan decision that will enable every customer to choose their broadband provider and will lead to more competition bringing faster speeds, better customer service, and lower prices.”

In its own statement Monday, the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association applauded the proposal. “WISPA members have long-sought to open up the underserved Multi-Dwelling/Multi-Tenant marketplace to more providers,” the statement said. “We believe that the Chairwoman’s work represents great forward progress on the matter, which, when completed, should help consumers experience better and more affordable offerings for their broadband services.”

In submissions to the FCC late last year, housing and public interest groups urged the agency to ban all forms of exclusivity agreements, including marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, that they said lessened service provider competition for tenants.

Dutch antitrust authorities fine Apple

Dutch antitrust authorities have fined Apple €5 million after the company failed to adhere to an order to support third-party, alternative payment systems.

The Authority for Consumer Markets issued the fine on Monday a little more than a week after Apple said it would comply with the body’s order on Jan. 15; the ACM maintains Apple failed to comply. Apple was originally ordered to make changes back in December.

Though Apple is appealing the fine, according to Reuters, ACM said that the company would face weekly fines beginning at €5 million, going up to €50 million.

This comes after a slew of alleged antitrust violations levied against Apple in both the United States and European Union.

Cameron Communications expands in Louisiana

American Broadband Holding Company subsidiary Cameron Communications announced Monday its expansion into Westlake, Louisiana where it will deploy fiber-to-the-premises services and gigabit speeds for both residents and businesses.

The expansion into Westlake is a part of a broader initiative to further serve rural communities in the region, the company said in a statement.

“We believe everyone should have access to quality and reliable internet service and are excited to provide the Westlake community with an offering that brings the future of communications and entertainment into their homes and businesses,” Cameron Communications General Manager Bruce Petry said in the statement. “We understand the needs of Westlake customers because we have decades of expertise serving this region of the state and navigating the challenges that come with it.”

Cameron Communications is based out of southern Louisiana but maintains networks throughout the state and in several localities in Texas.

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