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Infrastructure

Digital Infrastructure Investment: Session One Preview

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Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment conference will kick off with a panel on Last Mile Digital Infrastructure. 

As ownership models continue to evolve, panelists will discuss who will play the lead role in constructing this infrastructure, what entities, including cities, will own digital assets, and who will manage the networks. 

Experts on digital infrastructure investment will discuss the emerging open access model, including the pros and cons both from a technological and financial perspective. 

Open access networks allow one entity to own the utility-like infrastructure component, another entity to operate the network, and still other parties to provide a range of advanced broadband internet services. These networks can effectively lower the cost of a capital-intensive network infrastructure building process.

But in low threshold neighborhoods, developing necessary digital infrastructure may not have a significant return on investment, potentially necessitating government funding or cross-subsidization. 

The session will be moderated by Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks, Institute for Local Self Reliance. Chis is one of the county’s most knowledgeable observers about municipal broadband and open access networks. Panelists will include Roger Timmerman, CEO, UTOPIA Fiber, Monica Webb, Director of Market Development and Government Affairs, Ting Internet, and others

Join us on August 10 at 1:00 p.m. ET for the beginning of something big: Digital Infrastructure Investment’s session on Last Mile Digital Infrastructure.

Digital Infrastructure Investment is sponsored by UTOPIA Fiber and SiFi Networks.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

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Wireless

Verizon, TracFone Deal Gets FCC and California Approval

The companies agree to consumer protection measures as conditions of the transaction.

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Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2021––The Federal Communications Commission voted Monday to approve Verizon’s purchase of TracFone Wireless.

The transaction is subject to binding conditions to ensure that the deal benefits the public interest. In approving the deal, the FCC imposed requirements to protect consumers from price increases, guarantee affordable 5G services and devices for underserved customers, and ensure that TracFone continues its support as a federal subsidy Lifeline program participant. Specifically, Monday’s order requires TracFone to offer its Lifeline supported services for at least seven years and offer “a range of cost-effective 5G devices” and plans to existing and new Lifeline customers.

The FCC also adopted enforcement measures as a condition of the merger. “Given the likelihood that any violation of these conditions could harm low-income consumers,” the FCC’s press release said, “today’s Order requires regular public reporting and more than seven years of oversight.” The enforcement mechanism includes an internal and an independent compliance officer who are empowered to proactively monitor conditions, ensure that low-income consumers are not being harmed, and facilitate consumer complaints about potential violations.

On Friday, the California Public Utilities Commission also approved Verizon’s acquisition of TracFone Wireless with those similar conditions.

TracFone is the largest prepaid carrier in the U.S. And with TracFone’s 21 million customers, Monday’s merger makes Verizon the largest prepaid service operator in the country.

Kathleen Burke, policy counsel for public interest group Public Knowledge, said Monday that the organization “applaud[s] the FCC for its thorough review of this merger, and its efforts to ensure that this merger meets the necessary public interest standard.” With these commitments, Burke says a merged Verizon/TracFone “should provide better prepaid and Lifeline services to the benefit of low-income and price-conscious consumers.”

The deal was initially criticized for eliminating a strong Verizon competitor and potentially leading to an increase in the barrier to market entry for the communications sector. Policy analyst Daniel Hanley at the Open Markets Institute said in a Broadband Breakfast expert opinion that the merger allows Verizon to neutralize competitors.

“Verizon does not need to acquire TracFone to accomplish its operational goals,” he said. “The FCC should not allow Verizon to use its dominant financial position to acquire a critical competitor and market participant and forgo operational investments and other necessary market research to expand its network.”

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Broadband Mapping & Data

FCC Commissioning Mobile Wireless and Fixed Broadband Data for Better Mapping

The agency released a statement of objectives earlier this month.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission this month released a statement of objectives to get mobile wireless and fixed broadband performance data for at least the next year.

The November 2 document is intended to aggregate mobile wireless broadband and fixed broadband performance data that will “support the Commission’s analysis of broadband performance and availability in several Commission reports, including its statutorily-required annual Broadband Deployment Report and its biennial Communications Marketplace Report (CMR),” the document said.

The tentative schedule for data collection will be from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022, with an option to extend for another three years beyond that, to December 2025.

The data will include consumer-initiated mobile wireless speed tests from Android and iOS devices and other operating systems, like Windows on desktop, for fixed internet connections. It should include rural and non-rural markets and have data dating back to at least January 2021. The data would also be aggregated based on technology and provider, domestic city-level, and international comparisons.

Respondents are being asked to submit their capabilities of collecting this test data and provide a response to the FCC by November 23.

One of the agency’s primary objectives is to get better mapping data to make better decisions on where to disburse federal funds and to avoid mistakes. The agency is currently going through a bit of a clean-up operation after the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund’s reverse auction process awarded winning bidders with money to build in areas that already have adequate services. The defaulting bidders said in letters that they relied on the FCC’s Form 477 data, which supplied inaccurate information as to coverage. (The FCC’s Form 477 data, which relies on service provider information, has been mired by problems for years.)

On November 9, the FCC awarded a contract to broadband consulting firm Costquest Associates to collect data on the availability and quality of fixed broadband internet access across the country as part of the agency’s obligations under the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, which became law last year.

The law requires the agency to collect granular data on fixed and wireless broadband, create publicly available coverage maps, and create a common dataset of all locations where fixed broadband internet can be installed, called the “Fabric.” Costquest will need to provide this fabric dataset, which includes all structures – defined as households and buildings – in the 50 states and its territories and note whether internet access is, or should be, available.

Speaking at the Marconi Society Symposium last month, FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the agency’s crowdsourcing mapping efforts is a valuable way to ensure the maps are as accurate as possible.

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Funding

President Biden Signs Infrastructure Bill at White House, Touting Better Broadband

President Biden celebrated $65 billion for broadband deployment.

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President Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law on Monday.

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2021 – President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law, securing $65 billion for broadband deployment.

Biden declared that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would connect all Americans to the internet.

The legislation includes $65 billion in funding to “make high-speed Internet affordable and available everywhere, everywhere in America — urban suburban, rural — and create jobs laying down those broadband lines,” he said. “No parent should have to sit in a parking lot of a fast food restaurant again just so their child can use the internet to do their homework,” Biden declared. “That’s over.”

Biden said the fundamental need for high-speed internet everywhere in America became clear over the past year. Comparing to internet access to utilities “as essential or water or electricity,” Biden said that remote learning during the pandemic highlighted the urgency for connecting all Americans.

“Is this not a great day to sign a bill?” said Denita Williams, an optical fiber maker in Wilmington, North Carolina who opened the event by highlighting that investments in infrastructure supports workers like her.

“One of the most exciting parts about this bill is the $65 billion upgrade to expand broadband in communities across the country,” she said. “Communities like mine, in rural north Carolina. This is a not just an investment in broadband. This bill will help everyone have access to the internet to teach their children, run their businesses, and help them run their farms.”

Biden also highlighted green energy technologies

The President also highlighted the law’s provisions that would increase the manufacturing and export of clean energy technologies. “It’s going to make it possible for Americans to get off the sidelines and into the game of manufacturing solar panels, wind turbines, batteries to store energy and power for electric vehicles, including electric school buses, which means millions of children will no longer inhale the dangerous diesel fumes at comes out of the buses.”

The cold and wind did not keep President Biden and his top advisors from gathering on the South Lawn of the White House. Governors and mayors from around the country attended. So did many equity advocates, such as Rev. Al Sharpton.

Additionally, more than a dozen Teamsters, journeymen, and other union workers attended the signing.

The crowd was electric. They cheered as Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi delivered their remarks.

They lauded the legislation as “historic” and described it as “once in a generation.” The Democrats at the event promised Americans that the infrastructure bill was only the first step to “build back better.”

“We will keep working with you, Mr. President, to build on today’s success by passing the rest of your ‘Build back Better’ agenda in the weeks ahead, so we can keep our promises to help families achieve the American Dream,” said Schumer, “This is a great day for America.”

“Our work is already underway, and we’re eager to engage with stakeholders in every state, territory, tribe, and community to ensure these programs succeed,” said Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and the National Telecommunications and Information administrator.”Under the leadership of President Biden and Secretary [Gina] Raimondo, we now have the resources we need to close the digital divide and make America more connected, more competitive, and more equitable than ever before.”

Ben Kahn, a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast, contributed to this report.

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