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Coronavirus Roundup: Digital Divide in Hardware, Next Century Cities on Local Broadband, CCIA Worker Guidelines

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Photo of Matt Schruers courtesy C-SPAN

School districts are scrambling to purchase as many Google Chromebooks and iPads, the tele-educational tools of choice, to deal with the sudden transition into remote schooling. However, larger, urban school districts are snatching up most of the supply, leaving rural districts even more shorthanded, according to Education Week.

New York City district officials, home to the largest school system in the country, recently placed an order for 300,000 new iPads. Boston and Chicago have followed suit with similar bulk orders. This has placed great strain on the tablet supply chain, which almost entirely exists in China and is still recovering from inefficiencies caused by the coronavirus.

This hits rural school districts particularly hard because they lack the same purchasing power and coordinating prowess to acquire the iPads needed for their district.

Todd Riker, the chief technology officer for the 11,250-student school district of Pike, Indiana, described the rush to acquire these devices by comparing the lack of Chromebook stock to the shortage of toilet paper.

“it feels like there’s not a Chromebook to be found… It’s as if there isn’t a single square of tissue available. Except it’s Chromebooks,” Riker said. “It feels like the upheaval has happened in the supply chain overnight.”

Next Century Cities urges FCC to work more closely with mayors for local broadband deployment

Next Century Cities sent a letter to the FCC on Friday urging the agency “to collaborate with mayors and other local officials on broadband deployment.”

The letter articulated four main suggestions:

  • That stimulus funds from the Senate bill should be used to expand the E-Rate program, allowing schools and libraries to purchase hotspots and loan those devices to Americans of all ages who do not have internet access at home. The FCC should also strengthen the Lifeline program, which was designed to keep people connected in the wake of an emergency.
  • That the FCC ensures reliable networks reach communities in remote places
  • That the insights of local officials are better heeded by the FCC
  • That the FCC revise its definition of broadband by increasing minimum speeds to meet new market demands

The letter also relayed the comments of several local officials, such as Julia Griffin, the town manager of Hanover New Hampshire:

“Here in rural New Hampshire, large portions of the state are woefully underserved or completely unserved by broadband. As soon as statewide school closure was announced by our Governor almost three weeks ago, my phone and email blew up with queries from Hanover residents wondering what the Town could do to improve or provide broadband services immediately to ensure that parents and their children could work and learn from home. Nothing like a pandemic crisis to highlight the extent to which rural America has been shortchanged.”

CCIA asks governments to adoption guidance for essential workers

The Computer & Communications Industry Association joined 28 international business organizations on Friday by issuing a statement asking governments to adopt guidance for communications and essential workers as they help with response to the pandemic.

“As technology services and telecom providers help to keep businesses, educational institutions, and families connected during the pandemic,” wrote CCIA President Matt Schruers, “governments should provide clear guidelines on essential workers to ensure that employees in critical roles in these sectors are able to perform their jobs.”

Broadband Roundup

NTCA Smart Rural Communities, International Telecommunications Union Conference, Carr on TikTok

‘How do we make sure that you can keep that home grown talent?’

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Photo of Shirley Bloomfield, NTCA Rural Broadband Association CEO, at Monday's Fall Conference

September 26, 2022 –Rural Broadband Association CEO Shirley Bloomfield on Monday announced a partnership with the National Rural Education Association to promote educational opportunities for rural children.

Speaking at the launch of the NTCA trade show in San Francisco on Monday, Bloomfield said that the program will help educate kids about the value of rural broadband services.

Bloomfield said it will help address a common lament in rural areas: “How do we make sure that you can keep that home grown talent?”

The pilot program with the rural education group will help promote the importance of broadband jobs in rural areas.

Telecom officials to be in Hungary for ITU election

Key telecom agency officials are expected this week to attend the International Telecommunications Union conference, where the election of the new head of the United Nation’s telecom regulator will be selected.

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Alan Davidson, and deputy secretary of the Commerce Don Graves are expected in Bucharest, Romania, where American Doreen Bogdan-Martin is in the running against Russian challenger Rashid Ismailov.

Last week, President Joe Biden said he strongly supports the candidacy of Bogdan-Martin.

The ITU develops international connectivity standards in communications networks and improving access to information and communication technologies for underserved communities worldwide.

The conference is being held from September 25 – 29.

The FCC expressed concerns over TikTok security and big tech contributions

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in a statement Monday that he spoke with European Union officials in Brussels about the need for Big Tech to contribute to the development of broadband networks and about the alleged security risks of the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok.

Carr has previously said that big technology companies should contribute to the Universal Service Fund, a roughly $10-billion pot of money that goes to support basic telecommunications builds across the nation. Money for the fund comes from voice service providers, but critics have said that the fund’s base of contributors needs to be broadened for its sustainability.

Carr also reiterated his position that TikTok poses a security and privacy threat to Americans.

“TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data,” he said in the statement. “And recent reporting indicates that there is no check on this sensitive data being accessed from inside China.”

The security of TikTok has been an ongoing issue, with American Senators saying that TikTok may be collecting biometric data and storing it in an unknown database.

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Broadband Roundup

Kenosha Gets Fiber, Judiciary Committee Advances Journalism Bill, Rosenworcel Touts Women in Tech

SiFi Networks will construct an all-fiber network for 40,000 households in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

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Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, obtained from Kenosha.org

September 23, 2022 – The city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and SiFi Networks on Thursday announced the start of construction of an all-fiber network that is advertised to bring high-speed broadband to all 40,000 households, businesses, and other locations in the city.

The $100-million, privately funded project is scheduled to be completed in approximately three years and will provide speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps), SiFi Networks said. The project has been announced to be open access: Many service providers will simultaneously lease sections of the network. SiFi says this model will enhance competition and bring “the fastest speeds at the most competitive prices to the consumer.”

“Kenosha is a special city with wonderful residents who are ready for modern-day connectivity,” said Marcus Bowman, community relations manager at SiFi Networks. “SiFi Networks is delighted to make the long-term investment in Kenosha because we see how fiber networks transform communities into hubs of innovation, remote work, better healthcare, and smart city services.”

 “Kenosha residents and businesses will see a great benefit from the Kenosha FiberCity project, ensuring that affordable, high-speed internet service is available throughout the entire city,” Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian said.

Cruz and Klobuchar find agreement on Journalism bill

A bipartisan bill that would alter existing antitrust law to create a safe harbor for news outlets engaged in collective bargaining with big-tech platforms was approved Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Supporters of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act say it would give news outlets the influence necessary to obtain fair compensation for their work from large platforms such as Facebook and Google.

The bill was scheduled to advance out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this month. Its passage was delayed by sponsor Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., after the committee adopted an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, that would limit platforms’ ability to moderate content.

Cruz’s amendment would have outright removed the antitrust exemption if outlet–platform negotiations included content-moderation policies, which Klobuchar called the amendment a “get out of jail free card” for platforms. Instead, the version of the bill advanced Thursday states that bargaining shall be conducted “solely to reach an agreement regarding the pricing, terms and conditions.”

“This is a major win for free speech and it strikes a blow against the virtual monopoly that Big Tech has to limit the information that Americans see online,” said Cruz’s official statement on Thursday. “The bottom line is Big Tech hated this bill from the start and now they hate it even more.”

Rosenworcel speaks to Grace Hopper Celebration 

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel touted the importance of women in technology at the Grace Hopper Celebration networking event on Thursday. 

“The Grace Hopper Celebration is known for being the world’s premier networking event for women in technology,” Rosenworcel said. “It is great to see it and just be here.  Because in my two decades of working on technology policy, I have not been in a lot of rooms like this.  In fact, I have lost count of the times that I have been the only woman in the room.”

The FCC’s chairwoman called on colleagues to “pull up a chair” for other women in tech as well as struggling community members. Speaking of her time as a commissioner at the FCC, Rosenworcel said she was one of only a few officials working to close the “homework gap” before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She also committed to advance “issues that affect women in technology,” promising to promote telehealth solutions for maternity care, extend basic phone services to victims of domestic abuse, and scrutinize the privacy standards of mobile providers to ensure the privacy of women’s medical history.

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Broadband Roundup

ReConnect Funding, More Emergency Connectivity Fund Money, 5G Training Grant in South Africa

The Agriculture Department announced $502M will go to service providers in 20 states.

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Photo of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

September 22, 2022 – The Agriculture Department announced Thursday it is committing from the ReConnect program $502 million to providers in 20 states for fiber-to-the-premises builds.

Recipients include rural and tribal lands in Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

The largest recipients include Egyptian Telephone Cooperative Association (IL), which will receive a loan of $25,282,255; Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa (MI), which is receiving a grant of $24,944,355; Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (NC) will receive $24,664,687; and Big Bend Telephone Company Inc. (TX) will get $24,018,756.

“High-speed internet will improve the rural economy. It will help rural businesses grow and get access to new markets. It will help rural residents get access to more and better health care and educational opportunities. USDA knows rural America is America’s backbone, and prosperity here means prosperity for all,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

For ReConnect program funding, an applicant would serve an area where high-speed internet service speeds are lower than 100 Megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload. The applicant must also commit to building facilities capable of providing access to symmetrical high-speed internet at speeds of 100 Mbps.

FCC commits additional funding from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday it is committing another $55-million in a third-round of funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund program, which provides subsidized connectivity to keep students away from school connected.

“With the school year in full swing, kids need to be able to connect with teachers and homework assignments when they are away from school grounds,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release. “Our latest funding commitments will provide this support, and continue our ongoing progress to close the Homework Gap.”

The commission has so-far committed over $5.6 billion of the $7.1-billion program to 10,000 schools, 900 libraries, and 100 consortia, and provided nearly 12 million connected devices and over seven million broadband connections, the release said.

Wireless Infrastructure Association gets Commerce grant for 5G training in South Africa

The Wireless Infrastructure Association was awarded a grant by the Commerce Department Wednesday to put toward workforce training for the development of 5G infrastructure in South Africa.

“Through our Telecommunications Education Center, WIA has become a global leader in broadband and 5G training, and we’re honored by the opportunity to support this project to bring the benefits of efficient 5G rollout to South Africa and strengthen America’s leadership as an exporter of 5G technology,” the WIA said in a press release Wednesday.

The Commerce Department’s Market Development Cooperator program is intended to remove trade barriers and help American firms export. It includes a proposal called the Roadmap to 5G Success project to accelerate 5G deployment in South Africa and help drive business for American companies.

Wednesday’s announcement was part of a larger committed by the department, which awarded five other grantees for a total investment of $1.7 million. The grantees will need to invest $3.4 million of their own resources “and collaborate with International Trade Administration staff around the world to remove trade barriers and promote U.S. exports in their industries.”

“We have seen time and again that working with non-profit industry groups is key to reaching markets in different parts of the globe and generating exports that will ultimately serve our goal of strengthening the competitiveness of U.S. industry. We look forward to adding the six new projects to our successful MDCP program, which has a strong history of creating multiplier effects and producing a significant return on investment for U.S. business.”  Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a department release.

In March of this year, the Wireless Infrastructure Association issued telecommunications tower technician programs at Ohio State University. WIA acts as an in-house expert to aid in workforce education and implementation.

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