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Coronavirus Roundup: Aji Pai on Pandemic, T-Mobile Approval, Navajo Nation Temporary Spectrum

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Photo of Ajit Pai in June 2017 by Lance Cheung of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

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.

Broadband Roundup

Commerce Vote on Sohn Wednesday, Facebook Abandoning its Crypto Technology, Low EBB Awareness

The Senate Commerce Committee will vote on Sohn’s renomination after confirmation efforts stalled last year.

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Photo of Gigi Sohn from March 2011 by the Stanford Center for Internet and Society used with permission

January 28, 2022 – On Wednesday the Senate Commerce Committee will vote on President Joe Biden’s nomination of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission.

Sohn, the co-founder of intellectual property nonprofit Public Knowledge, was renominated by Biden earlier this month after the Commerce committee failed to advance her nomination at the end of last year.

Much of the opposition to Sohn’s nomination has centered around Republican pushback on comments Sohn had made about conservative media.

Additionally on Wednesday, the committee will vote on Biden’s nominee to the Federal Trade Commission Alvaro Bedoya.

Like Sohn, Bedoya saw his nomination stalled late last year as Republicans opposed comments he had made on conservative media.

Both the FCC and FTC are split 2-2 in terms of the partisanship of their voting members, limiting the ability of their Democratic chairs to enact their policy agendas.

Facebook’s cryptocurrency project fizzles

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Facebook is selling the technology behind the Diem Association, the company’s cryptocurrency project, amid concerns over its ability to provide security and privacy.

Silvergate Capital Corporation, a California bank that works with bitcoin and blockchain companies, will reportedly buy the technology for $200 million.

In an earlier effort to appease regulators the bank and Diem had agreed to issue some stablecoins, which are considered less volatile and are backed by hard dollars.

Diem, previously called Libra, was originally conceived as a simple way for users to spend money and partnered with PayPal, Visa and Stripe to demonstrate institutional financial backing to officials and distance the venture from Facebook as criticisms against the platform mounted.

In October 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told U.S. House members that he would support delaying the cryptocurrency’s release until all regulators approved of it.

AT&T survey on Emergency Broadband Benefit’s reach

An AT&T-commissioned survey found that as of October 2021 a majority of individuals in the company’s 21-state footprint were not aware of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, Fierce Telecom reported Wednesday.

Only 12% of survey respondents were aware of the program started by the FCC during the coronavirus pandemic to help fund low-income people’s internet connectivity.

The survey also found disparities in program awareness between different age groups and ethnicities.

Since administration of the survey, the EBB has been converted into the permanent Affordable Connectivity Program with Congress’ passage of its bipartisan infrastructure bill in November 2021.

The EBB was able to gain the participation of most internet service providers and roll over their participation to the ACP once it became available at the start of this year.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Axes China Unicom, Tucows Has New Software Business, Texas County Broadband Initiative

The FCC on Thursday revoked the operating authorization of China Unicom, in latest effort to weed out national security threats.

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Tucows CEO Elliot Noss

January 27, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday revoked the operating authority of telecom China Unicom Americas due to national security concerns.

In the press release, which coincided with the commission’s January open meeting, the FCC said China Unicom Americas must discontinue domestic and international services in the U.S. within 60 days of the order.

The decision was made, the release said, after nearly a year of review of the company’s responses to inquiries, the public record and a public interest analysis following a March 2021 finding by the commission that the company “failed to dispel serious concerns” about its ties to the Communist government in China.

The decision, which comes after an FCC vote in October to revoke the operating license of China Telecom, is part of a larger effort by the agency and President Joe Biden’s administration to weed out national security risks.

Tucows new communication service software

Toronto-based telecom Tucows on Thursday launched Wavelo, a software business it says will help other telecommunications companies aspects of their business, including the network and subscription and billing management.

“In today’s competitive landscape, operators need optionality from their software,” Wavelo CEO Justin Riley said. “They deserve solutions that keep pace with their network innovation and that are flexible enough to integrate seamlessly within their existing operations. Wavelo was launched to do just that.”

Gray County, Texas developing plan for better broadband

The Gray County Broadband Committee is asking the broader community Thursday for input through a survey on how it should develop a “technology action plan that will provide both immediate and long-term solutions for improving internet access.”

The committee, which includes stakeholders in business, education, government and healthcare, said in a press release it hopes to “identify unique challenges and opportunities for expanding high-speed internet” in the county.

The county said it is partnering with Connected Nation Texas on the initiative, which is funded by the Texas Rural Funders

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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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