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Nathan Simington is Trump’s New Man for FCC, New Speed Test, Challenges for State Net Neutrality

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Photo of Broadband Forum CEO Robin Mersh courtesy Disruptive Asia

September 16, 2020—President Donald Trump on Tuesday nominated Nathan A. Simington to replace Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, whose confirmation appeared certain until Trump unexpectedly pulled his re-nomination.

Simington is the representative to the government advisory committee of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunication and Information Administration.

In the White House announcement, the administration highlighted Simington’s private sector experience as senior counsel for Brightstar Corporation, as well as his work in areas involving “secure supply chains.”

Simington has negotiated “deals with companies across the spectrum of the telecommunications and internet industry, including most of the world’s leading wireless carriers” and  “spearheaded numerous international transactions in the devices, towers and services fields and forged strong relationships with leading telecom equipment manufacturers,” the White House said.

He has also worked on NTIA’s American Broadband Initiative, the Trump administration’s rebranding of the agency’s longstanding work in broadband policy.

See “The Internet Wonk’s Guide to the Trump Administration’s New American Broadband Initiative,” Broadband Breakfast, February 13, 2019

Simington is unlikely to continue O’Rielly’s “light touch approach to telecom policy,” favored by some Republicans. Simington also allegedly participated in the drafting of the administration’s social media executive order, reported Makena Kelly for the Verge, who highlighted the prospect of Simington’s appointment six days ago. That would “be a victory for Republicans who want to see the FCC take a larger role in regulating social networks,” she wrote.

In August, O’Rielly made a speech opposing changes to Section 230. Trump withdrew O’Rielly’s nomination shortly thereafter, leading to the termination of his service when Congress adjourns this year.

New broadband speed test from the Broadband Forum

Broadband Forum recently launched a new speed test that is promised to deliver more accurate results.

Launched largely in response to more fiber deployments, Broadband Forum’s so-called User Datagram Protocol speed test uses updated methods and metrics to “quantify and verify ‘ultra-fast’ broadband.”

UDP is increasingly being used in new data transport methods, but also has use across the internet as a communication protocol for time-sensitive transmissions.

Open source test tooling may replace tools such as transmission control protocol, which Broadband Forum said has become less accurate at testing speeds over 500 Megabits per second (Mbps).

“Today’s consumers expect their broadband service to deliver speed, low latency and seamlessness,” said Robin Mersh, CEO at Broadband Forum, adding that consumers have been speed testing more under COVID-19, and that speed, latency, and jitter are key network metrics.

California’s net neutrality law may be vulnerable to challenge on wireless grounds

In a blog post for AEI, visiting fellow Daniel Lyons highlights one aspect of the net neutrality case Mozilla v. FCC in light of whether California’s SB-822, passed in 2018, is preempted by federal law.

Although the Communications Act distinguishes between federal and state authority “in different places for different technologies,” Lyons notes that Section 332(c) is the relevant section for mobile services.

“The key restriction is that states may not regulate rates charged for mobile service,” said Lyons, “though they are allowed to regulate ‘other terms and conditions’ of commercial mobile services.”

Cellco Partnership v. Hatch invalidated a “Minnesota law preventing wireless providers from changing a customer’s rate without getting the customer’s affirmative consent,” he notes. In that case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law affected rates even though the state argued that it was a consumer protection measure covered by “other terms and conditions.”

The appeals court clarified that the safe harbor for states applied to “’neutral application of state contractual or consumer fraud laws,’ not industry-specific measures that directly affect rates.”

By contrast, notes Lyons, SB-822 has a number of restrictions that regulate wireless rates: Paid prioritization and blocking are prohibited, fixing a “rate of zero for access to premium internet content and inhibit[ing] wireless companies from offering plans that include limited internet access at a lower rate.”

Additionally, several provisions of SB-822 are stricter than the FCC’s open internet order. SB-822 prohibits zero-rating for a fee, as well as “payment from an edge provider to wireless providers to deliver traffic to consumers,” which effectively sets direct interconnection agreements at zero. SB-822 prohibits providers from adding specialized services to their networks if they negatively affect broadband performance.

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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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