In an online speech Friday by Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai before the Interamerican Development Bank and The International Institute Of Communications Online Workshop, Pai encapsulated his thoughts on ”Regulation in Times of Pandemics: Lessons for the Future.”
Below is an edited version of his remarks.
In many ways, we’re still building the plane while flying it. Recognizing that it’s hard to say anything definitive only a few weeks into a fluid situation, I’d like to walk you through the FCC’s guiding principles as we’ve approached this challenge.
Number one, set clear priorities.
Looking at the landscape in early March, a few things became clear. First, social distancing was going to force huge segments of our economy and daily lives to move online, making it more important than ever that Americans have Internet access.
And, second, social distancing would create massive temporary job losses and furloughs, putting millions of Americans at risk of missing bill payments and having their Internet and telephone service cut off.
So, we decided that our top priority was to make sure that as many Americans as possible have Internet access and that that no American would have their Internet and voice service cut off because of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guiding principle number two: use markets before mandates.
In times of crisis, I understand how some might be tempted to look for any lever they can find to compel private companies to carry out the government’s goals. But with the coronavirus pandemic, the FCC chose a different path. Specifically, we called on broadband and telephone service providers to take what we call our Keep Americans Connected pledge.
The third principle is to use every tool in the toolkit. None of the FCC’s programs was developed with a pandemic in mind, but all of them sure can help.
Fourth principle: During an emergency, act like it’s an emergency. The FCC has put a premium on making decisions as quickly as possible. We’re talking days, not months or years.
Fifth principle: put your people first. The health and safety of FCC employees is paramount to me
California Public Utility Commission approves T-Mobile/Sprint merger
The California Public Utilities Commission approved the merger of Sprint Communications Company and T-Mobile on Thursday, with extensive conditions to mitigate the potential adverse impacts on competition.
The conditions also ensure that T-Mobile provides faster speeds, broader coverage, job creation, and offerings for low-income customers.
Thursday’s decision found that the merger would provide robust 5G wireless communication service network that could compete with the two larger existing wireless carriers, AT&T and Verizon.
The commission found the following benefits:
- Provide 5G wireless service with speeds of at least 100 Mbps to 99 percent of California’s population by the end of 2026, and 300 Mbps to 93 percent by the end of 2024.
- Provide 5G wireless service with speeds of at least 100 Mbps to 85 percent of California’s rural population, and speeds of at least 50 Mbps available to 94 percent of California’s rural population, by the end of 2026.
- Have fixed home Internet access available to at least 2.3 million California households, of which at least 123,000 are rural households, within six years.
- Maintain or improve current 4G LTE service quality and coverage for existing customers during the transition to 5G.
- Offer the low-income California LifeLine program for as long as it operates in California, and enroll at least 300,000 new LifeLine customers.
- Increase jobs in California by at least 1,000 compared to the total number of current Sprint and T-Mobile employees.
- Other important commitments relating to diversity, reporting, and rural infrastructure deployment.
CPUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen noted, “A critical part of this deal is the benefits it provides for our neediest consumers, by ensuring that T-Mobile continues LifeLine service and enrolls at least 300,000 new LifeLine customers.”
FCC grants Navajo Nation temporary spectrum during pandemic
The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau granted an emergency Special Temporary Authority request on Friday filed by the Navajo Nation, according to a press release.
The request will allow the Navajo Nation to use unassigned spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band to provide wireless broadband service over its reservation as part of its emergency COVID-19 pandemic response. The tribal entity is located within parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The temporary grant of authority is effective for 60 days.
“As with any community—rural or urban—tribal members are having to work from home and to rely increasingly on telemedicine and remote learning as they practice social distancing to minimize the spread of the virus on their reservations,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
“This additional spectrum should help the leaders of the Navajo Nation meet the needs of its people during this challenging time. I wish all the Navajo people health and wellness, and I remain committed to helping them bridge the digital divide.”
The FCC also noted that it continues to accept applications from eligible tribal entities for licensed access to unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum over their rural Lands in the Rural Tribal Priority Window, which closes August 3, 2020.
The grant of emergency temporary access to 2.5 GHz spectrum will not affect the availability of such spectrum to eligible Tribal applicants for purposes of the Rural Tribal Priority Window.
Democrats Frustrated with Biden Inaction on FCC, Comcast Gets 10 Gbps, Louisiana Wants Widespread Broadband
Democrats frustrated with Biden’s delay on FCC, Comcast tests 10 Gbps speed, Louisiana wants 75% more broadband in six years.
October 14, 2021 – Democrats in Congress have grown increasingly frustrated at President Biden’s slow pace in naming a permanent commissioner to serve on the Federal Communications Commission, according to a report from Politico.
Nearly ten months after President Biden’s January inauguration, congressional Democrats worry that the president’s progressive telecommunications agenda is at risk, the report said.
Senator Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband, told Politico that “there’s no good excuse” for Biden’s delay in nominating an FCC chair. Luján added that he is “absolutely fearful that what the administration is setting up is a 2-1 Republican majority FCC under a Democratic administration. That is unacceptable.”
Pressure on Biden to nominate an FCC chair arrives as Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gains support from members of Congress and stakeholders.
Earlier this month, former FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly said he is “perplexed” by Biden’s inaction to formalize Rosenworcel as chair. Seventeen education groups wrote a letter to Biden in September urging him to make her the permanent chair, while over two dozen senators signed their own letter asking for the same. Senators Elizabeth warren and Bernie Sanders did not sign onto the letter, signaling a possible disconnect amongst Democrats about who is the best person for the job.
Politico reports that, for comparison, former President Donald Trump named Ajit Pai as FCC chair only three days after being sworn in. No previous president has taken this long to name an FCC chair, the story said. Biden’s delay is alarming to Congressional Democrats who have been eager to confirm Biden’s nominees for the position.
Comcast says it has achieved 10 Gbps internet speed in test
Comcast said it has achieved internet speeds of 10 Gigabits per second on a test using new DOCSIS 4.0 technology.
A Thursday press release claimed it is the world’s first test of a “10G” connection, 10 times faster than the gigabit internet speeds that in many areas are the fastest speeds money can buy. Such speeds using the latest DOCSIS 4.0 technology was already predicted.
The cable company conducted the test at the Virtual SCTE Cable-Tec Expo from its network to a modem. The promise, according to Comcast, is that because the process is virtualized, it will be able to deliver these speeds to existing connections already in homes.
Louisiana to boost broadband by 75% in six years using FCC funds: report
Louisiana will use $342 million it received from the Federal Communications Commission to close 75 percent of the state’s broadband access problems in six years, according to a report from the Louisiana Illuminator.
“[W]e have to work with a sense of urgency” said Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of the Broadband Development and Connectivity Office.
Iyengar said he believes the state’s estimate that 500,000 households do not have broadband access is a “lowball estimate.” However, Iyengar struck an optimistic tone when discussing the possibilities for the funding.
The FCC granted Louisiana the $342 million last year. The office’s goal is to serve 100 percent of Louisiana households with broadband access by 2029.
Republican congressman Luke Letlow from Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District told the Louisiana Illuminator that he does not have high speed internet at his home in Start. Letlow compared broadband infrastructure to our physical roads and bridges. “There’s no difference, in my mind, in putting investments in the information superhighway,” Letlow said.
AT&T Hurricane Survey, FCC Announces $1.1B from Emergency Connectivity Fund, Comcast’s Utah Plans
AT&T copper facilities suffered significant damage after Ida, FCC’s second round of ECF, and Comcast’s expanded plans for low-income Utahns.
October 13, 2021 – AT&T has reported that its copper facilities suffered “significant” damage in parts of Baton Rouge, Louisiana following Hurricane Ida this summer, but said it is pivoting to different technologies to restore affected areas.
On Wednesday, the company told the Federal Communications Commission that a survey of the damage from the Category 4 hurricane “revealed numerous facilities significantly damaged, including copper cables and terminals that have been temporarily repaired to restore service to the impacted customers.”
The company has said that it is using existing technologies, including its gigabit passive optical network and its fiber to the premises infrastructure to “mitigate all affected customers previously served on copper cables in the affected distribution areas.”
FCC announced another $1.1 billion from Emergency Connectivity Fund
The Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday another $1.1 billion in a second round for its $7-billion Emergency Connectivity Fund program, which provides funding for schools and libraries to buy connected devices and connectivity.
The latest funding round will toward 2.4 million devices and 1.9 million broadband connections, the agency said.
“This new round of funding will connect even more students and library patrons with new tools for online learning and communicating with teachers in our ongoing work to close the Homework Gap,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a press release.
“We are providing resources for schools and libraries across the country, from tiny communities in Delta Junction, Alaska supporting Delta Community Library, to large school districts like New York City. Together with the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, the Commission is investing more than $10 billion to support America’s critical broadband needs.”
The second wave of funding follows the $1.2 billion the agency said last month it will be disbursing, which will go to 3,040 schools, 260 libraries and 24 consortia. The FCC said in a press release Tuesday that it has so far processed 60 percent of applications.
The two waves of funding will so far go toward connecting eight million students.
Comcast announces expansion plans for low-income Utahns
Alongside state and city leaders, Comcast announced Tuesday additional plans for its 10-plus year mission to connect low-income residents of Utah and to close the digital divide in the state.
Those plans, part of the company’s “Project UP,” include engaging state, county and city leaders to open more free Wi-Fi zones, “connect more families to the Internet at home, and increase speeds for businesses and families across the state,” it said in a Tuesday press release. The Internet Essentials program has connected 10 million people to the internet at home, the company said.
“Comcast’s expanded eligibility for Internet Essentials, now including all Federal Pell Grant recipients within its service area, will enable even more students to stay connected as they continue to pursue degrees at colleges, universities, and technical schools,” the release said.
“Comcast’s top priorities are connecting people to the Internet at home, equipping safe spaces with free WiFi and working with a robust network of nonprofit community organizations, city leaders, and business partners to create opportunities for low-income Americans.”
Facebook Changes and Second Whistleblower, Comcast’s Spam Call Feature, AT&T Picks Ericsson for 5G
Facebook is nudging teens away from harmful content, Comcast’s new spam call blocker, AT&T goes with Ericsson for standalone 5G.
October 12, 2021 – Following testimony from a whistleblower claiming Facebook can’t be trusted with research that shows its photo-sharing app Instagram is harmful to teens’ mental health, the company said it is making changes to the content people see even as another whistleblower said she is willing to testify in front of Congress.
The company has been under pressure since the release of a Wall Street Journal story that reported Facebook knew about the negative impact of Instagram on the mental health of teens, which triggered a call by lawmakers for the company to suspend the development of an Instagram for kids to which it obliged.
The company announced this weekend that it is making changes to its Instagram platform, including promoting teens to take a break from it and “nudging” teens away from the same content that they deem not good for their health.
But the company is now facing a possible second whistleblower, who said she provided to a U.S. law enforcement agency “detailed documentation regarding potential criminal violations.” Sophie Zhang, a data scientist for Facebook, said she is willing to testify before Congress about her experience, according to CNN.
As for the first whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who testified in front of Congress on October 5, will meet with Facebook’s Oversight Board, an independent panel the company set up to review executive decisions, according to reports.
Comcast introduces feature for customers to block spam calls
Comcast Corp. on Tuesday announced a new feature that will allow the company’s Xfinity Voice customers to block inbound calls based on risk levels that the company’s systems flag as possible spam.
The new feature will categorize calls as low, medium and high risk of being a nuisance call and will give customers the ability to choose, through the Xfinity Connect portal, what the company should do with which level of risk.
By default, the company blocks high risk calls, sends medium risk calls to voicemail and allows low risk calls to go through. “Customers will receive notifications of the call’s risk rating on their Caller ID as well as on the largest screen in their home – the TV – and can easily manage their preference settings using the Xfinity Connect portal,” the company said in a Tuesday release.
The company said the new Spam Blocker feature will give customers “added control over unwanted spam, spoofing and robocalls to their home.”
The new feature follows another the company released last March, called Verified Caller ID, which made visible on caller ID calls that were verified by the company as not spoofed – in other words, that the number is where the call is actually coming from and not faked.
The two features are part of the company’s efforts to meet the regulatory requirements for the STIR/SHAKEN regime, which requires telephone companies to put in place measures to limit and restrict spam and illegal robocalls and that has been in place for large carries since June 30. These companies have been working with analytics companies to help them sift through what’s a legitimate call and what isn’t.
Smaller telephone service providers have until June 2022 to implement similar measures, but some in the industry are asking that facilities-based carriers – which are said to let through much fewer spam calls – to be given until 2023.
AT&T partnering with Ericsson for 5G network
AT&T has selected Sweden’s Ericsson for a standalone 5G network using C-band spectrum, the company said Monday.
The five-year deal will go toward covering 70-75 million people with 5G over the C-band spectrum by the end of 2022, with a plan to reach 200 million people by the end of 2023, according to a Monday press release. A standalone network does not rely on a 4G backbone.
“Ericsson will help AT&T to bring its 5G network to more consumers, businesses and first responders across key industries – including 5G use cases in sports and venues, entertainment, travel and transportation, business transformation and public safety,” the release said.
- Broadband Breakfast on October 20, 2021 — Get Your Share of $75 Billion in Broadband Grants with Broadband.Money
- Celebrating Progress on 5G, the FCC’s Brendan Carr Urges Broadband Mapping
- Democrats Use Whistleblower Testimony to Launch New Effort at Changing Section 230
- Democrats Frustrated with Biden Inaction on FCC, Comcast Gets 10 Gbps, Louisiana Wants Widespread Broadband
- UTOPIA Fiber Goes to Court in Utah Over American Fork’s Build Permit Refusals
- Internet of Things Will Revolutionize Industries as Connectivity Ceases To Be Limiting Factor
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