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Coronavirus Roundup: White House Messaging, Studios Stream ‘Box Office’ Films, and Broadband Speeds

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President Donald Trump announced a major partnership with the Ad Council, major media networks, and digital platforms to communicate accurate and timely information directly to the American people, according to a White House press release on Wednesday.

The partnership is another component of the “all-of-America” response to the coronavirus disease and will benefit high-risk populations and the general public with public service announcements (PSAs) around social distancing, personal hygiene, and mental health.

As a result of this announcement, the following products are created as a result of this partnership:

  • First Lady of the United States Melania Trump, Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx, and other administration officials will appear in national broadcast PSAs that communicate the most important ways Americans can protect themselves and those most at risk.
  • NBCUniversal will create a series of videos and graphics, available in both English and Spanish, to inform high-risk populations about the steps they can take to protect themselves and to inform the public how to help stop of the spread of coronavirus.
  • ViacomCBS is leveraging its portfolio of brands to deliver multi-channel, multi-platform PSA campaigns that educate audiences around public health imperatives related to COVID-19.
  • iHeartMedia will support messaging around social distancing and high-risk populations, among other important COVID-19-related topics, across their network of stations.
  • ABC/Walt Disney Television will promote priority messaging for parents and families for distribution across their channels and platforms.

The PSAs direct audiences to visit coronavirus.gov, a centralized resource that includes up-to-date information on the crisis

Major studio breaks with movie theaters to offer recent releases as in-home rentals

Universal Pictures is the first to break a 90-day exclusivity clause with movie theaters in order to offer its recent releases for at-home rental, Brookes Barnes and Nicole Sperling of The New York Times reports.

Movies that days ago were in theaters such as “The Invisible Man,” “The Hunt,” and “Emma” will now be available to stream for a premium of $20.

This move breaks with the longstanding Hollywood tradition of offering movie theater chains such as Regal and AMC a 90-day exclusivity period before studios begin selling direct to consumer. The move is likely to anger movie theaters, which rely on the exclusivity period as their main source of income.

Facebook adds coronavirus updates from trusted sources to news feed

Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will soon add a “Coronavirus Information Center” Icon at the top of users’ News Feeds to aggregate information from trusted experts according to The New York Times. Facebook is hoping to have this feature launched within the next 12 hours in an effort to combat misinformation such as hoax assertions or false cures. Facebook will be pulling from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization to source their content.

“The top priority and focus for us has been making sure people can get access to good authoritative information from trusted health sources,” said Zuckerberg on a conference call this Wednesday.

Mixed signals from major cities on broadband speed during quarantine

No apparent trend has been discovered yet between the quarantine caused by coronavirus and broadband performance according to a report by BroadbandNow. The key findings of the report, published on Tuesday by Tyler Cooper, are listed below:

  • Six of the top ten U.S. cities by population have seen little to no change in median speed test results from the past 11 weeks leading up to the week of March 9th.
  • Four cities have seen degradation in speed, including Houston, New York City, San Diego, and San Jose.
  • Seattle, now regarded as the epicenter for the current pandemic, has seen a median download speed increase as of March 9, 2020.

 

Broadband Roundup

Affordable Connectivity Outreach Program, Amazon’s SpaceX Satellite Concerns, Axios Acquired

The establishment of the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program is intended to bring awareness to the program.

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Photo of Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, via Wikicommons

August 8, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Friday established an outreach program to get more American households registered to its broadband subsidy program.

The Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a discount on broadband services of up to $30 per month and a one-time $100 toward a device, currently has over 13 million low-income American households signed up, but the FCC has said that there are millions more eligible who are not taking advantage of the program.

During an open meeting on Friday, the commission approved an order directing the agency’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau to develop, administer and manage the new Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program, which is intended to raise awareness about the ACP.

The commission was infused with grants from Congress in the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to put toward outreach for the program. As such, $100 million will go toward the effort.

“Since the inception of the ACP, Commission staff have engaged in extensive outreach, including numerous speaking engagements and enrollment events, and continue to seek out opportunities to coordinate with other federal agencies,” the agency said in a Friday press release.

“Throughout these efforts, the Commission has worked closely with trusted local entities that are familiar with the communities they serve.  However, for many of these partners, budget constraints limit the extent of ACP outreach they can perform without additional financial support.”

The agency on Friday also established the “Your Home, Your Internet” one-year pilot program, which is intended to raise awareness and make it easier to apply to the ACP for households receiving federal housing assistance

Ahead of the announcement, telehealth advocate Craig Settles wrote an op-ed for Broadband Breakfast outlining ideas for how to improve outreach to the ACP.

Amazon warns FCC about volume of SpaceX satellites

In a meeting with FCC officials last week, Amazon representatives repeated concerns about the alleged negative effect of the number of broadband satellites SpaceX will launch into space.

According to a post-meeting letter released Thursday, Amazon urged the commission to ensure that SpaceX’s deployment of its Gen2 non-geostationary orbit fixed-satellite services “does not come at the expense of competition and innovation from other emerging NGSO FSS systems.”

Part of the concern for Amazon, which is preparing its Project Kuiper low-earth orbit constellation, is the size of the proposed deployment. At nearly 30,000 satellites, according to Amazon, it “raises questions about space safety, interference, and coexistence with other operators that will impact competition and deployment for decades.”

SpaceX’s Starlink already has a large LEO constellation for broadband service, with more than 2,700 and with approval to put many more thousands in LEO to come.

Cox acquires news website Axios

News company Axios announced Monday that it has agreed to be acquired by Cox Enterprises, a large media company with a telecommunications arm, for $525 million.

Cox made a previous investment last year in the news company, and it said in a Monday press release that this latest move is part of its effort to “grow and diversify the company.”

The deal will see the co-founders still lead the day-to-day operations of the company, according to a press release.

Axios, which was founded in 2017, is known for its brief lines on news items that cuts to the point.

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Broadband Roundup

Lumen’s Multi-Gig Service, Dish Continues Drop in Wireless Subs, Wu Not Leaving White House Yet

Lumen’s Quantum Fiber will deliver up to 8 Gig symmetrical speeds in certain markets.

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Photo of Tim Wu, White House advisor

August 4, 2022 – Telecommunications company Lumen Technologies announced Wednesday the launch of new faster internet download and upload speeds through its premier fiber internet service, Quantum Fiber.

Quantum Fiber will serve symmetrical speeds up to 8 gigabits per second, now available to select residents and businesses near Denver, Minneapolis, and Seattle. It will begin offering its internet plans to additional markets later this year, said a press release.

Lumen is using a passive optical network to provide the symmetric multi-gig capabilities. It will install a permanent network interface and router at the premise that is separate from the customer’s Wi-Fi, allowing for simple upgrades as technology evolves, read the release.

“Technology is evolving and so is Lumen as we tap into the power of our fiber network to give communities more bandwidth to excel at work, play and online life,” Andrew Dugan, Lumen’s chief technology officer, said in a statement. “Lumen is strengthening its portfolio and increasing gigabit speeds to fuel consumer and small business broadband connections – and it’s just the beginning. We’re investing in technology and internet speeds that will continue to push families and businesses into the future.”

Lumen operates approximately 500,000 route fiber miles and serves customers in more than 60 countries.

Dish sees another drop in wireless subscribers

Dish Wireless dropped another 210,000 wireless subscribers in the second quarter of 2022, bringing its total wireless subscribers to 7.67 million from the 8.9 it had in the same quarter last year.

Dish lost 343,000 subscribers in Q1 2022 and 245,000 in Q4 2021. The company is attempting to stop its losses by attracting customers with discounted plans. This summer, it announced its $25/month unlimited plan, which claims to be half of what customers pay for 5G elsewhere.

The company purchased Boost Mobile from T-Mobile in August of 2020, but has since lost 1.1 million customers. Dish acquired Boost so that it could offer a retail wireless product while it built its 5G standalone network — which regulators who approved the T-Mobile-Sprint merger hoped would act as the nation’s fourth major carrier.

Last year Dish launched its 5G service, called Project Genesis, in more than 120 markets which now covers about 20 percent of the United States population.

Tim Wu says reports of him leaving White House premature

White House advisor Tim Wu said in a tweet Wednesday that reports of him leaving the administration are premature, adding there is “still a lot of work to do.”

This comes in response to Bloomberg report published on Monday that Wu is set to leave his position at the White House in the coming months to return to Columbia University.

Wu was the key architect behind President Joe Biden’s executive order to bolster competition last year, which included over 70 initiatives by federal agencies to improve competition within the tech, health care and agriculture industries.

He is also credited for coining the term net neutrality and is widely regarded as an aggressive critic of Big Tech.

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Broadband Roundup

LS Networks Gets CEO from Meta, Verizon Upgrading Capacity, Consolidated Boasts More Customers

Randy Brogle was previously working on fiber investments for Facebook parent Meta.

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Photo of Randy Brogle, former Meta executive

August 3, 2022 – Fiber optics provider LS Networks announced Tuesday the appointment to CEO of Randy Brogle, the former fiber investments executive for Facebook parent company Meta.

Brogle will lead the company’s growth plans to invest in its fiber network to transform underserved areas in the Pacific Northwest, read the press release.

“Randy has dedicated his entire career to broadband expansion throughout the United States,” said Jack Bittan, executive chair of LS Networks, in the press release. “His experience aligns perfectly with the mission at LS Networks to deliver infrastructure that not only offers an essential service to rural communities, but also provides equal access to better jobs, education, and advanced lifestyles that support family, growth, and sustainable communities.”

Brogle most recently oversaw the acquisition and construction of fiber networks to support apps run by Meta. “LS Networks has a long history of helping communities prosper in the Pacific Northwest, and I am excited to join the focused efforts of the team to bridge the digital and social inequality divide,” he said in a statement.

Verizon upgrading fiber core capacity

Verizon announced Tuesday that it is upgrading its capacity on the core fiber network to support growing bandwidth demand, particularly on its 5G network.

The company said the upgrades will support speeds of 400 Gbps per port optical technology.

In June, the company announced that data traffic on its 5G network had increased by 249 percent between January 2021 and June 2022. It expects “exponentially” higher increases as more customers experience the performance capabilities of its 5G network, Verizon said in the press release Tuesday.

“Our fiber network is the largely invisible foundation that is a key driving force behind providing the scalability and reliability our customers need and expect,” said Verizon Chief Technology Officer Kyle Malady in a statement. “This new packet core will provide the reliability and capacity we need today, but more importantly will be able to scale to meet the forecasted future demands that will result from the incredible capabilities of our robust 5G network, the platform for 21st century innovation.”

The network update will use equipment that is half the size of existing equipment, reducing space requirements, and driving down power usage and operating costs, the company said. It will also enable advanced automation, enabling automated interfaces and improving reporting telemetry for real-time adjustments to address congestion, the company added.

This announcement follows other companies that have deployed 400 Gbps equipment in their core networks, including AT&T and Zayo.

Consolidated Communications boasts higher broadband customers

Fiber internet service provider Consolidated Communications reported Tuesday a net-positive broadband connections for the first time in seven years, adding 9,600 fiber broadband customers in the second quarter of 2022.

It reported building fiber to 142,300 additional locations, reaching 30 percent of the company’s service area of 832,000 locations. Of the new subscribers, 65 percent are taking gigabit service. This increase represents a three-fold increase over Q2 2021.

Consolidated said it is on track to build out to 400,000 locations by the end of the year. To support its expansion in fiber, the company also announced that it would sell its stake in five limited wireless partnerships with Verizon Wireless to Cellco for $490 million.

“The additional capital infusion puts us in a very strong position to support our fiber expansion plan,” said Steve Childers, chief financial officer at Consolidated Communications in the release. The transactions are expected to close by the end of 2022.

This comes as service provider Comcast reported no net gains in broadband subscriptions in the same quarter, marking the first time the company has failed to grow its internet business each quarter.

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