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House Updates HEROES Act Sections on Broadband, New SiFi FiberCity, Smart Cities Council Applications Due

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Screenshot from a Smart Cities council video on the application

House Democrats revealed an updated version of the HEROES Act in a bid to move the party’s version of COVID-19 relief forward. This version of coronavirus stimulus legislation is one of the few with a number of concrete funding measures for broadband.

The $2.2 trillion bill (PDF) would provide funding for Wi-Fi hotspots and connected devices for students and library patrons, emergency home connectivity, telemedicine grants, and broadband mapping.

There are several services directed at Native Americans for health care, telehealth services, purchasing medical supplies and personal protective equipment, and expanding broadband infrastructure and information technology for telehealth and electronic health records system.

The bill includes an Emergency Benefit for Broadband Service with three sections.

Sec. 301 would provide money for households with a member who has been laid off or furloughed to receive a 50$ benefit put toward monthly internet service during COVID-19. Internet service providers would be required to provide these benefits but can seek reimbursement from the FCC.

Sec. 302 requires Lifeline providers to make unlimited minutes and unlimited data available to those reliant on the Lifeline program to stay connected to phone or internet service. It provides additional support to offset the increase of services, with “a minimum subsidy increase to not less than $25 per month.”

Sec. 303 authorizes funding to help states participate in the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier.

The bill prohibits broadband and telephone providers from terminating service or imposing late fees because of COVID-19.

It also prohibits broadband providers from employing data caps or charging customers from going over data caps and requires them to open Wi-Fi hotspots to the public at no cost during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Additionally, the bill controls the costs for voice and video calls between incarcerated people and their families.

SiFi Networks launches first east coast FiberCity

SiFi Networks will launch its first east coast FiberCity in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem is the second city to be funded by the Smart City Infrastructure Fund, after Fullerton, California.

The Salem FiberCity will be an open access network for Internet service providers, home security providers, cellular carriers or even educational providers, meaning, as Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO of SiFi, pointed out, “the streets only need to be dug once.”

The network will enable the opportunity to access Smart City applications and pass every home and business in the city. Construction should finish 2022, weather permitting, and will commence before the end of the year.

GigabitNow was selected as the first Internet Service Provider in Salem. The company is also an ISP on the Fullerton network.

“GigabitNow is excited to be partnering with SiFi Networks to deliver fast gigabit Internet services that surpass anything being offered today in the city of Salem,” said Stephen Milton, CEO of GigabitNow.

The network is projected to bring Salem many benefits, such as economic development. The city’s proximity to Boston should attract new businesses and enable residents to telecommute. Additionally, the city will be able to access the network to use Smart City applications such as e-education, e-health, waste management.

“We are delighted that SiFi Networks has chosen to deliver a fiber network in our city. A fiber network can really provide the infrastructure to improve economic development, increase quality of life for our residents and allows us to plan for the future with the opportunity to use the many Smart City applications which are readily available” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll.

Applications for Smart City Council challenge grant close on October 14

The North American Readiness Challenge of the Smart Cities Counsel in New Zealand closes in two weeks.

The application, which takes about an hour to complete, will close at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday, October 14. It requires participants to explain a problem the city is having, propose a project that will solve it, and include a letter from a senior city leader about your commitment.

Smart Cities Activator publishes in over 150 languages, uses preconfigured templates, and operates on an “always on” platform, so language, time, and travel are not barriers.

Valuing the opportunity at $250,000, the counsel explained that being a readiness cohort leader has many benefits.

Participants and their assigned cohort cities will collaborate with other cities around the world to focus on solving shared problems. They will also have the benefit of global leadership recognition, leading a cohort of peers that have access to the power and expertise of the world’s longest running smart cities body.

Collaborative engagement opportunities will teach participants about leading solutions and implementation opportunities. Business case, risk analysis, and implementation plan advice and assistance will be provided.

Throughout this process, participants will be able to show their community’s progress on solving their city’s problems and will even be showcased monthly through the council’s digital global platform via editorial case study development and video interviews series.

Broadband Roundup

FiberLight Buy, T-Mobile Shuts Down Older Networks, AT&T and Dish Lead US O-RAN Alliance

Digital investment firm Morrison & Co. said it agreed to acquire FiberLight.

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Photo of FiberLight CEO Christopher Rabii

July 5, 2022 – Morrison & Co, a digital investment firm, announced Thursday that it signed an agreement to acquire fiber infrastructure provider FiberLight, which will accelerate the providers’ network expansion, said a press release.

“With our existing backbone infrastructure and unmatched density across the markets we serve, FiberLight is well equipped to deploy a multitude of solutions to ensure our customers can meet their growing bandwidth needs,” said FiberLight CEO Christopher Rabii. “Morrison & Co is our ideal new partner to support our growth strategy due to its commitment of capital and resources and shared belief that fiber infrastructure is the key to bridging the digital divide and rapid expansion.”

FiberLight’s management team will continue to lead the business after the acquisition. The company comprises approximately 18,000 miles of fiber infrastructure in over 30 metropolitan areas in Texas and Northern Virginia.

The acquisition marks Morrison & Co’s first investment in the North American digital infrastructure market, read the press release.

T-Mobile shuts down 3G networks

T-Mobile shut down Sprint 4G networks and its own 3G networks Thursday and Friday to ensure that all its customers are moving to more advanced technologies and to free up resources and spectrum, said T-Mobile’s on its website.

T-Mobile officials estimated on an earnings call in April that around one million devices would be affected. AT&T suggest that its 3G shutdown affected 400,000 postpaid phones and cost operators $300 million. The company said affected customers with 3G devices have the option to upgrade to a new device at no cost.

This follows AT&T’s shutdown of its 3G network on February 22, and Verizon is scheduled to follow suit in December.

T-Mobile has yet to schedule a date to shut down its 2G network.

The company had been under pressure to delay the shut down of Sprint’s 3G network from Dish Network, which was the beneficiary of that company’s wireless assets in the deal that saw T-Mobile purchase Sprint.

AT&T and Dish lead US O-RAN Alliance

AT&T and Dish Network are leading the way in O-RAN Alliance activities in North America this year, said a new release from the organization Thursday.

The O-RAN Alliance is a world-wide community of operators, vendors and academic institutions operating in the Radio Access Network industry. Its mission is to direct the industry toward more intelligent, open, virtualized mobile networks through releasing RAN specifications and open software.

AT&T and Dish hosted O-RAN’s “PoCFest” testing efforts in four locations in the United States in coordination with several universities this year. “More than 20 unique O-RAN components were tested for conformance to O-RAN specifications,” said the release. (Open RAN specifications would open the market to many more telecom equipment vendors, rather than a small handful from proprietary providers.)

While Dish said it is building a 5G network using O-RAN specifications in the United States, AT&T said it has no plans to use the specifications in its US 5G network.

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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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