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Facebook Builds Fiber-Spinning Robot, UK Bans Huawei, WISPA Fights For Unlicensed Spectrum

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Photo of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg by Anthony Quintano used with permission

The Facebook Connectivity team announced Monday that it has developed a robotic aerial fiber deployment solution, in collaboration with a number of partners, which could assist in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of expanding internet access around the globe, CNET reported.

The solution utilizes a robot designed to safely deploy fiber-optic cables on medium-voltage power lines.

The robot’s code name is Bombyx, which is Latin for silkworm, which is fitting as the robot utilizes new fiber-spinning technology.

The robot strings wires by wrapping fiber cables around power lines. When the robot arrives at a pole, it elevates its body to surpass it and continue to string cables.

In order to make the technology work, engineers had to create a lighter robot and thinner cables. The cables that Bombyx strings are only 4 millimeters in diameter, compared to a typical fiber optic cable, which is 10 millimeters in diameter.

Utilizing the technology dramatically cuts the cost of labor, which typically accounts for 70 percent of fiber networks’ instillation costs. The technology only requires 2 or 3 workers to oversee the process, as well as the robot and a pickup truck.

Reduced cost of instillation should result in reduced cost of services to end users.

While installing fiber underground remains a more reliable option, there is “no silver bullet for connecting the world,” said Yael Maguire, vice president of engineering for Facebook’s Connectivity Lab.

United Kingdom makes controversial decision to ban Huawei

The United Kingdom announced that it is banning Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications company, from assisting in infrastructure deployment of the countries’ 5G network, The Hill reported.

U.K. operators have been given until 2027 to remove existing Huawei equipment from their 5G networks.

The decision is a blow to Huawei, which has operated in Britain for 20 years. The companies’ European market accounted for 24 percent of sales last year.

Andrea Dona, head of networks at Vodafone UK, and Howard Watson, chief technology and information officer of the British Telecom Group, testified in a Science and Technology Committee hearing last week that a ban on the use of Huawei equipment will cost them billions of pounds, lead to service outages and prevent the roll-out of 5G in the U.K.

While the decision will delay 5G rollout by at least a year, European companies are eager to fill the 5G void left by their rival, Dona and Watson claimed.

The U.K.’s rationale for this decision has been widely questioned.

Digital and Culture Minister Oliver Downden argued that new United States sanctions imposed on Huawei significantly changed the landscape, creating uncertainty around the security of the U.K.’s policy.

Many have argued the decision was politicized and aimed at enhancing US trade policy, rather than at improving security.

Some maintain that Huawei’s recent actions in Hong Kong reveal that China is becoming increasingly intolerant of human rights. Recent actions may have played into the UK’s perspective that utilizing Huawei technology may lead to future security breaches, reported Strand Consult.

WISPA members need unlicensed spectrum

In a webinar on Thursday, members of the Wireless Infrastructure Service Provider Association claimed that they need permanent access to unlicensed spectrum, which was temporarily granted to them by the Federal Communications Commission through the pandemic.

These service providers were granted 45 Gigahertz of unlicensed spectrum on the 5.9 GHz band, which increased capacity for wireless providers in 29 states.

A number of member service providers are experiencing sharp increases in service and bandwidth demand.

A survey of WISPA’s 155 members revealed that on average, internet traffic has increased by 36 percent. Further, 80 percent reported they were continually adding new subscribers.

Members argued that losing the granted spectrum would be disruptive to customers, contending that they are in great need for additional unlicensed spectrum.

Broadband Roundup

Broadband Prices Decline, AT&T’s Fiber Build in Texas, Conexon Partners for Build in Georgia

A USTelecom report finds that despite high inflation, broadband prices have been declining.

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Screenshot of Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – A USTelecom report released Wednesday found that broadband prices have been declining, despite high inflation.

The association’s 2022 Broadband Pricing Index Report found that broadband pricing decreased even with significant inflation of an estimated 8 percent in the past year, the most popular broadband prices dropped by 14.7 percent, and the highest speed broadband prices dropped by 11.6 percent from 2021-2022.

“Broadband prices at all speeds have decreased in the last five years,” it said.

The analysis also found that broadband prices are half of what they used to be in 2015. The most popular broadband services decreased by 44.6 percent, while the fastest broadband services decreased their prices by 52.7 percent from 2015-2022.

Lastly, the report found that the “consumer value of broadband services has never been higher.” As providers offer faster speeds at lower prices, the overall value to customers has dramatically improved, it said.

“This is great news for American broadband consumers,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association.

AT&T strikes deal in Amarillo, Texas for fiber project

AT&T struck a deal Wednesday with the city of Amarillo, Texas to extend its fiber reach.

A press release said the $24 million project in Amarillo will cover approximately 22,000 locations.

“The city of Amarillo broadband access plan is one of the more significant technological infrastructure advancements in city history,” said Amarillo mayor Ginger Nelson in the release.

It’s the latest partnership for AT&T, which is planning on reaching upwards of 60,000 locations via public-private partnerships in counties in Indiana, Kentucky and now Amarillo, Texas.

Conexon partners with Georgia electric company for broadband build

Georgia’s Ocmulgee Electric Membership Corporation partnered with internet service provider Conexon Connect on Tuesday to bring reliable, affordable, high-speed fiber broadband to rural Georgia.

The partnership will see the deployment of a network that spans 2,100 miles of fiber to the home for service to up to 8,000 members in centra Georgia, a press release said.

“I commend Ocmulgee EMC and Conexon for this exciting public-private partnership and their commitment to creating value for their communities,” said Governor Brian Kemp in a press release.

The project is estimated to take 2-4 years to complete and is set to start this September. The first customers expected to be connected in early 2023.

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Broadband Roundup

TikTok Data Concerns, Broadband Data Collection System, Internet Access on COVID-19 Mortality

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is requesting Apple and Google remove the TikTok app over data concerns.

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Photo of Brendan Carr

June 29, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores.

The app is run by ByteDance, a company that is “beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC’s surveillance demands,” read the June 24 letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sunder Pichai.

“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data,” said Carr, calling it a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data” such as search histories, keystroke patterns and biometric identifies.”

Carr claims that TikTok’s pattern of conduct regarding persons in Beijing having access U.S. sensitive data violates policies that both companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on the app stores. “I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms.”

TikTok has assured users that American’s data is being stored in the U.S. but, according to Carr, this statement “says nothing about where that data can be accessed from.”

FCC opens mapping data system for filers early 

The Federal Communications Commission released a public notice on Thursday announcing that filers of broadband availability data in its new maps may obtain early access of the system for registering filer information.

The filing window for the Broadband Data Collection opens June 30, but early access will enable users to register their entities in the system and become familiar with the system before that date, the FCC said.

“We are making this functionality available in advance of the opening of the filing window to enable filers to log in, register, and be ready to enter their availability data as early in the filing window as possible,” read the public notice.

The BDC program is said to help improve broadband mapping data to help funnel federal dollars to where broadband infrastructure is needed. Most fixed and mobile broadband providers will be required to file information in the system, but third parties and government entities are also encouraged.

Impact of internet access on COVID-19 mortality

New analysis released last week by private research university Tufts found that increased broadband access in the United States reduced COVID-19 mortality rates.

“Even after controlling for a host of other socioeconomic factors, a 1 percent increase in broadband access across the U.S. reduced COVID mortality by approximately 19 deaths per 100,000, all things equal,” read the report.

The study also found that the impact was felt more strongly in metro areas, where a 1 percent increase in broadband access reduced the deaths by 36 per 100,000.

By conducting a correlation analysis, Tuft researchers found that broadband access is negatively correlated with COVID mortality, even after controlling for other major factors such as health status, income, race and education.

The study only considered pre-vaccine number to account for inconsistencies.

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Broadband Roundup

Rosenworcel Committed to Net Neutrality, Better Spectrum Coordination, Starlink Up in Internet Speeds

The FCC chairwoman reaffirmed her commitment to net neutrality at a conference on Friday.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – At a conference hosted by the American Library Association on Friday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel reaffirmed her support for net neutrality rules.

According to a press release, Rosenworcel stated she wants to make a “return to common carrier regulation of internet service providers which aims to prevent ISPs from slowing down or blocking web traffic.”

Rosenworcel “fully backs” net neutrality rules passed under the Obama administration that were repealed during the Trump administration. “I opposed the last administration’s effort to roll it back, and I want it to once again become the law of the land,” she stated at the ALA.

A press release calls Rosenworcel ’s statement on net neutrality the “hallmark of her tenure” and says she faces opposition in her attempt to bring back net neutrality rules.

“It is just wrong for the internet to have slow lanes for people with less money,” Patty Wong, president of the ALA, said at the conference.

Better coordination needed for receiver performance 

On Monday, non-partisan think tank TechPolicy urged more coordination by the Federal Communications Commission with other agencies to better utilize spectrum assets during its receiver performance study, filing comments in response to the commission’s public consultation about that matter.

“The Commission has a considerable expertise and prior work to review in assessing whether it has the statutory authority in this area, and how to best incentivize all parties to build more robust receivers to operate in more and more congested spectrum,” the think tank said.

It suggested engaging with other agencies, such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as well as users of government receivers.

James Dunstan, general counsel of TechFreedom, stated, “the FCC cannot fine-tune spectrum management with only half the orchestra.” He added that if the FCC does not engage with government users, “there will be little progress made toward finding broad solutions to increased spectrum congestion.”

The FCC and the NTIA have already agreed earlier this year to coordinate on spectrum management.

Ookla finds Starlink increased speeds by 38 percent over the past year

Metrics company Ookla said Tuesday that, according to its review of Starlink satellite broadband service in the first quarter, the company saw an increase of 38 percent in internet performance in the United States over the past year, said a press release.

However, the company’s analysis also showed that Starlink’s upload speeds decreased nearly 33 percent in the U.S. from 16.29 Mbps in 2021 to 9.33 in 2022.

Ookla notes that even as consumers choose Starlink, competitors are not far behind. It mentioned as key developments FCC approval for Amazon’s Project Kuiper to test its satellite service this year, and Viasat getting closer to merging with Inmarsat for a constellation launch next year.

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