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Searching for Clues: Will Coronavirus Break the Internet?

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Photo of D.C. interns checking phones and streaming movies in a coronavirus self-quarantine by David Jelke

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2020 – American and global society is right now living through the herculean task of moving fundamental aspects of society and commerce online — health, education, labor, and entertainment— at the very moment that people are retreating into a turtle shell of isolation.

Are we are all unwitting subjects in a grand social experiment that has never been run before?

Indeed, one question that rings with ferocious urgency throughout America, urban and rural: Can the United States’ internet infrastructure handle the data usage during quarantine? Or will it collapse under the weight?

Disparate and sometimes contradictory evidence abounds.

A BroadbandNow report relays a broad scope of how the country at large is consuming broadband. For six of the 10 largest American cities, broadband levels have not significantly changed. The remaining four—Houston, San Diego, San Jose and New York— have reported dips in broadband speed. Confusingly, the first epicenter of the coronavirus COVID-19, Seattle, has seen an increase in broadband speeds.

A press release from Verizon mentions that video gaming has increased 75 percent — the most relative to other technologies that consume bandwidth. Curiously, Verizon found that there has been no increase in the use of social media. Technologies that have experienced minor gains include video, web traffic, and VPN.

Residential internet use has use nearly doubled, according to a report on NextTV by Daniel Frankel. Sonic Fiber CEO Dane Jasper tweeted data from his California-based ISP showing that peak usage data has increased by 25 percent.

In an interview with Broadband Breakfast, Jasper said some technologies are more exposed to congestion than others.

He said this was true for cable broadband, because it is both asymmetric and shared. In other words, bandwidth varies widely throughout the day – and upload speeds may barely be enough to send an email during peak usage hours.

To hear Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic, plus BroadbandNow Editor-in-Chief Tyler Cooper and UTOPIA Fiber CEO Roger Timmerman, tune into Broadband Breakfast Live Online: “Measuring and Understanding Bandwidth Usage During the Coronavirus,” on Friday, March 20, at 12 Noon ET.

In another unusual recent development, YouTube usage now dwarfs that of Netflix by nearly double according to a blog post on Sandvine, a network intelligence company.

Armed with these early indices of data, let’s return to the central question: Does the country have the necessary bandwidth to support Americans’ new identity as cosmonauts in cyberspace?

For example, US Telecom CEO Jonathan Spalter expressed confidence in a letter to Congress that member ISPs will be able to handle quarantine-induced bandwidth stress: “Currently more than 60 percent of network throughput is via video and content streaming. While these data flows continue to increase year-over-year, at peak hours our networks have sufficient capacity to provide customers with necessary bandwidth.”

Spalter touted the use of “internet protocol, virtualization, data centers, caching, cloud and other software-based innovations” to juggle the demand for broadband.

“We have not observed time-shifted traffic exceeding peak network capacity. Similarly, providers have not reported material congestion or internet latency issues,” Spalter said.

In an effort to free up broadband and ensure Americans’ connectivity, many ISPs have voluntarily announced no data caps and opened up their public Wi-Fi networks to non-customers, such as Comcast Xfinity.

These public Wi-Fi announcements are one of three aspects of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s “Keep America Connected” pledge.

Issued one week ago, the pledge also urged ISPs not to disconnect non-paying customers and not to charge late fees during the first 60 days of the coronavirus pandemic. Some said that the pledge does not go far enough and urged the lifting of data caps.

The web meeting service Zoom, which has seen significant increases in its use for the purposes of telework, telehealth, and tele-education, also expressed confidence in meeting the broadband demand.

According to an USA Today, Zoom said its service “was built to withstand double its daily average of users, so it should be able to serve users without interruptions.”

However, there are also some foreboding omens.

An article by the New York Times points out the problems posed by the digital divide. ”Roughly 20 percent of students have trouble with basic technology needs. Their data plans are capped, their computers break, or their connections fail; One-third of all undergraduates are enrolled in online classes now. Thirteen percent are learning exclusively online,” the article read.

Streaming has also become a hot button issue and potential data vampire. Commissioner of the European Union Thierry Breton on Wednesday implored Netflix to block its HD feature to help unclog internet infrastructure and provide more space for essential functions like work and health, according to Deadline.

Netflix responded by saying that it would strike that feature from European accounts for the time being.

“We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25 percent while also ensuring a good quality service for our members,” a Netflix spokesperson said. There has been no apparent move to do this in the U.S.

Some experts in telecom are hopeful, other remain skeptical. Will the internet be able to handle our new thirst for bandwidth? Tune in into tomorrow’s Broadband Breakfast Live with Dane Jasper to find out.

Broadband Data

TPRC Conference to Discuss Definition of Section 230, Broadband, Spectrum and China

Broadband Breakfast briefly breaks down the topics to be discussed at the TPRC conference.

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Photo collage of experts from TPRC

WASHINGTON, September 17, 2021 – The TPRC research conference on communication, information, and internet policy is right around the corner and it is set to address some of the most pressing issues facing Big Tech, the telecom industry, and society at large. We cover some topics you can expect to see covered during the conference on September 22 to 24.

If the recent election cycle and the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us anything, it is that the threat of misinformation and disinformation pose a greater threat than most people could have imagined. Many social media platforms have attempted to provide their own unique content moderation solutions to combat such efforts, but thus far, none of these attempts have satisfied consumers or legislators.

While the left criticizes these companies for not going far enough to curtail harmful speech, the right argues the opposite— that social media has gone too far and censored conservative voices.

All this dissent has landed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—once a staple in the digital landscape—in the crosshairs of both Democrats and Republicans, as companies still scramble to strike a compromise to placate both sides of the aisle.

Definition of broadband

The future of broadband classifications is another topic that will also be touched on during the conference. This topic quickly became relevant at the outset of the pandemic, as people around the country began to attend school and work virtually.

It became immediately clear that for many Americans, our infrastructure was simply insufficient to handle such stresses. Suddenly, legislators were rushing to reclassify broadband. Efforts in Washington, championed primarily by Democrats, called for broadband standards to be raised.

The Federal Communications Commission’s standing definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload appeared to become unpopular overnight, as calls for symmetrical service, like 100 x 100 Mbps speeds, and even gigabit speeds became a part of the conversation.

Many experts were quick to strike back, particularly those operating in the wireless community, arguing that the average consumer does not need 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds, let alone one gigabit, and such efforts only amounted to fearmongering that would hurt the deployment of broadband infrastructure to unserved communities.

These experts contend that shifting the standards would diminish the utility and viability of any technology other than fiber, as well as delaying when unserved communities (as they are currently defined) can expect to be served. Broader topics surrounding rural broadband and tech-equity will also be prominently featured—addressing many of the questions raised by Covid-19 across the last year and a half.

Future of spectrum

Finally, the quest for spectrum will be discussed at the conference.

As ubiquitous 5G technology continues to be promised by many companies in the near future, the hunt is on to secure more bandwidth to allow their devices and services to function. Of course, spectrum is a finite resource, so finding room is not always easy.

Indeed, spectrum sharing efforts have been underway for years, where incumbent users either incentivized or are compelled to make room for others in their band—just like we saw the military in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band, and more recently between the Department of Defense and Ligado in the L band.

Even though these efforts are ongoing, there is still disagreement in the community about how, if at all, sharing spectrum will impact users in the band. While some argue that spectrum can be shared with little, if any, interference to incumbent services, others firmly reject this stance, maintaining that sharing bandwidth would be catastrophic to the services they provide.

On China

China is also going to be a significant topic at the conference. Due to the competitive nature of the U.S.-China relationship, many regard the race to 5G as a zero-sum game, whereby China’s success is our failure.

Furthermore, security and competition concerns have led the U.S. government to institute a “rip and replace” policy across the country, through which Chinese components—particularly those from companies such as Huawei—are torn out of existing infrastructure and substituted with components from the U.S. or countries we have closer economic ties with. The conference will feature several sessions discussing these topics and more.

Register for TPRC 2021

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Broadband Breakfast on Wednesday, September 15, 2021 — A ‘Consumer Confidence’ Survey for Broadband

BroadbandNow launches a “consumer confidence” survey.

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Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the September 15, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021, 12 Noon ET — BroadbandNow Presents a ‘Consumer Confidence’ Survey for Broadband

As part of its efforts to provide the latest research on the social, economic and political issues contributing to the digital impact and the impact of broadband on everyday life, BroadbandNow is launching a new survey among broadband leaders enthusiasts. Think of this as a “consumer confidence” survey for broadband.

Recently, there have been many changes regarding broadband at the federal, state, local and industry levels. BroadbandNow and Broadband Breakfast aim to launch the survey at a presentation during Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021, a mini-conference at the Broadband Community Summit in Houston, Texas, from September 27-30, 2021.

Join us on September 15, 2021, for this special Broadband Breakfast Live Online preview of the survey with John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow, and Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast.

Panelists for the event:

  • John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow
  • John B. Horrigan, Senior Fellow, Benton Institute on Broadband & Society
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

  • John Busby is the Managing Director of BroadbandNow.com, where millions of consumers find and compare local internet options and independent research is published about the digital divide. Prior to BroadbandNow, John held senior leadership positions at Amazon and Marchex. John holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Northwestern University.
  • John B. Horrigan, Ph.D., is Senior Fellow at the Benton Institute on Broadband & Society, with a focus on technology adoption and digital inclusion. Horrigan has served as an Associate Director for Research at the Pew Research Center and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute. During the Obama Administration, Horrigan was part the leadership team at the Federal Communications Commission for the development of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).
  • Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. He has also worked with cities on structuring Public-Private Partnerships for better broadband access for their communities. As a journalist, Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband, and – building off his work with Broadband Census – was appointed Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois under Gov. Pat Quinn. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

BroadbandNow is a data aggregation company helping millions of consumers find and compare local internet options. BroadbandNow’s database of providers, the largest in the U.S., delivers the highest-value guides consisting of comprehensive plans, prices and ratings for thousands of internet service providers. BroadbandNow relentlessly collects and analyzes internet providers’ coverage and availability to provide the most accurate zip code search for consumers.

See also:

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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New Broadband Mapping Fabric Will Help Unify Geocoding Across the Broadband Industry, Experts Say

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Photo of Lynn Follansbee from October 2019 by Drew Clark

March 11, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission’s new “fabric” for mapping broadband service across America will not only help collect more accurate data, but also unify geocoding across the broadband industry, industry experts said during a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar Thursday.

Broadband service providers are not geocoding experts, said Lynn Follansbee of US Telecom, and they don’t know where all the people are.

The new fabric dataset is going to be very useful to get a granular look at what is and what is not served and to harmonize geocoding, she said.

AT&T’s Mary Henze agreed. “We’re a broadband provider, we’re not a GIS company,” she said. Unified geocode across the whole field will help a lot to find missing spots in our service area, she said.

The new Digital Opportunity Data Collection fabric is a major shift from the current Form 477 data that the FCC collects, which has been notoriously inaccurate for years. The effort to improve broadband mapping has been ongoing for years, and in 2019 US Telecom in partnership with CostQuest and other industry partners created the fabric pilot program.

That has been instrumental in lead to the new FCC system, panelists said. It is called a “fabric” dataset because it is made up of other datasets that interlace like fabric, Follansbee explained.

The fabric brings new challenges, especially for mobile providers, said Chris Wieczorek of T-Mobile. With a whole new set of reporting criteria to fill out the fabric, it will lead to confusion for consumers, and lots of work for the new task force, he said.

Henze said that without the fabric, closing the digital divide between those with broadband internet and those without has been impossible.

Digital Opportunity Data Collection expected to help better map rural areas

The new mapping can help in rural areas where the current geolocation for a resident may be a mailbox that is several hundred feet or farther away from the actual house that needs service, Follansbee said.

Rural areas aren’t the only places that will benefit, though. It can also help in dense urban areas where vertical location in a residential building is important to getting a good connection, said Wieczorek.

The fabric will also help from a financial perspective, because of the large amount of funding going around, said Charter Communications’ Christine Sanquist. The improved mapping can help identify where best to spend that funding for federal agencies, providers, and local governments, she said.

There is now more than $10 billion in new federal funding for broadband-related projects, with the recent $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December 2020 and the new $7.6 Emergency Connectivity Fund part of the American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday.

The new FCC task force for implementing the new mapping system was created in February 2021, and is being led by , led by Jean Kiddoo at the FCC. No specific dates have been set yet for getting the system operational.

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