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Coronavirus Roundup: Broadband’s Importance Burnished During Pandemic, Ajit Pai Touts Telehealth, New E-Rate Bill in House

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Photo of Rep. Grace Meng from her Twitter account

Lawmakers commented on the need of broadband during the coronavirus outbreak according to an article by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. The Journal also highlighted the uses for broadband during coronavirus as Americans work online, apply for jobs online, receive government aid online, seek telemedicine, and keep their children educated from afar.

“Having affordable broadband—it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., chairman of the House communications and technology subcommittee. “Broadband infrastructure has to be one of the key elements to that, and this pandemic has brought that right to the forefront.”

“[The pandemic] helps us drive the point home as to urgency,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R.-Miss., the chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee. “Absolutely it gives us an impetus—that is one of the silver linings here.”

“The urgency of this issue is like triple times what it has been,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R.-W.Va., who co-chairs the Senate Broadband Caucus. Under existing federal programs to subsidize broadband, “we’re getting there, but it’s too damn slow…It could happen in a stimulus bill.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai touts telehealth

The following is a distilled version of a Tuesday blog post by Ajit Pai on the Federal Communication Commissions’ action on telehealth:

Yesterday, a new poll came out that found more than 1 in 8 Americans used a video chat to consult with a health care professional during the past month. That’s more than double the percentage who report receiving care in an emergency room and triple the rate who went to an urgent care facility.

This highlights the importance of telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic, and I’m proud of the role that the FCC is playing to expand telehealth opportunities. Thanks to Congressional action, the President’s signature, and quick work by FCC staff, the Commission has already pushed resources out the door to help healthcare providers meet the growing demand for telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission started accepting applications for our COVID-19 Telehealth Program last Monday, April 13. And in only three days, the Commission was able to process applications and award money for telehealth expansion to six medical facilities in hard-hit areas, from New York to New Orleans.

And earlier today, we approved telehealth funding for another five healthcare providers from Michigan to California. Commission staff have done tremendous work processing these applications, and their efforts continue as they review all of the applications that we have received for this vital program. We will be approving additional funding in the days and weeks ahead—stay tuned.

Senators Markey, Van Hollen, Bennet, and Hassan applaud new New E-Rate bill in the house

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., applauded the introduction by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., on Tuesday for E-rate legislation that would create a special $2 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund at the Federal Communications Commission to connect schools and libraries in to the internet, according to a press release.

“Children who lack connectivity at home are at risk of falling behind their peers because they cannot complete their coursework and continue their education during this pandemic,” said the senators. “We plan to file companion legislation to Congresswoman Meng’s bill that would provide $2 billion in E-Rate funding specifically dedicated to expanding home internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the “homework gap” experienced by the 12 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home and are unable to complete their homework — at a time when more than 70 percent of educators assign schoolwork that requires internet access. Without Congressional action, this existing inequity will only be exacerbated by the high number of schools that are suspending in-person classes and have transitioned to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff.

Markey, one of the authors of the original E-Rate program created as a part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, highlighted the more than $52 billion committed nationwide to provide internet access for schools and libraries.

He called the E-Rate program “an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet” And said that As the coronavirus pandemic provides the opportunity to use the E-Rate program as an immediate solution to mitigate the impact on our most vulnerable families.

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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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