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Senate Commerce Committee Advances Two Tech Bills, FCC Opens E-Rate Window, Starry Unveils New Tools

Jericho Casper

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Screenshot of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee at the markup

The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday advanced the E-SIGN Modernization Act of 2020 and the Government Spectrum Valuation Act of 2019 during an executive markup session.

Both bills were moved on by thin margins, receiving much disapproval from Democratic committee members.

The E-SIGN Modernization Act was advanced by a vote of 14-12. The bill’s sponsors, U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, Todd Young, R-Indiana, and John Thune, R-S.D., introduced the legislation to streamline how consumers consent to receiving electronic documents like bank statements, account information and contracts.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, ranking member of the committee, said she opposed the bill and withdrew an amendment during the markup that would require the U.S. Commerce Department to conduct another study about consumers’ access to electronic records. She maintained that it is crucial to take into account how consumers lacking internet access, digital tools, or digital know-how would be affected.

The Committee also moved along the Government Spectrum Valuation Act of 2019, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. The bill would require government agencies to place a value on government-held spectrum, in order to gauge how much it would go for in potential public auctions. The bill is meant to encourage federal agencies to make unused spectrum available to the private sector.

The Spectrum Act was met with objection from many committee Democrats, who said the measure could produce extreme results.  Cantwell cautioned that it might push agencies to reach hasty conclusions about how to maximize their holdings.

“The Government Spectrum Valuation Act has one goal,” she said, “to put pressure on federal agencies, such as DOT, NOAA, NASA and DOD, to give up spectrum.”

“It is designed to create a wildly inaccurate valuation of spectrum use. I hope that we don’t ignore how essential federal spectrum is, but work together to resolve these issues between agencies.”

FCC opens second E-rate application window for funding year 2020

The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau announced on Wednesday that the agency is opening a second filing window for the 2020 funding year, to allow schools to request additional E-Rate funding.

As schools across the United States continue to face unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many have reported an urgent need for additional bandwidth on-campus.

During the second filing window, schools will be able to purchase additional bandwidth for this academic year to address needs resulting from the shift to streaming classroom instruction, which has significantly increased on-campus bandwidth requirements.

Earlier this year, the FCC announced extensions of E-Rate services and filing deadlines to provide relief to regions affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The move to open a second application window comes after countless individuals criticized the agency for not doing enough to initially expand the E-Rate program, to meet public needs during the pandemic.

Starry unveils powerful second-generation technology to expand network coverage

On Wednesday, Starry, Inc., a fiber wireless internet service provider, unveiled its second-generation suite of technology, at the 29th Annual Communacopia Conference hosted by Goldman Sachs.

The new technology, currently being deployed across markets, includes enhanced versions of Starry’s existing base station and building receiver, increasing capacity, range, and network performance.

Additionally, this second generation of technology continues to drive cost efficiencies, lowering overall network household passing costs.

Starry, a self-titled “wideband hybrid fiber wireless internet service” provider, utilizes fixed wireless technology to reduce the cost of passing homes.

The company claims that its unique point-to-multipoint design enables them to provide gigabit-capable coverage to communities at a cost of less than $10 per home passed.

Broadband Roundup

Speed And Mapping Bills, LinkedIn Data Harvested, Facebook Tackles Fake Review Groups

Delgado’s speed and mapping bills, 500M LinkedIn accounts for sale, and 16,000 Facebook groups axed for fake reviews.

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of Antonio Delgado from YouTube

April 13, 2021 — On Monday, Representative Antonio Delgado, D-NY, reintroduced the Broadband Speed Act, which would require internet service providers to report accurate, yearly speed data to the Federal Communications Commission and introduced a new bill to improve flawed broadband mapping.

“Our rural communities need broadband internet that is accessible, reliable, and matches their internet needs,” said Delgado. “Slow broadband speeds are untenable for our young students taking classes online, web-based small business owners, and families working from home. The Broadband Speed Act would require internet service providers to deliver accurate speed data — not inaccurate estimates.”

Enforcing the Broadband Speed Act would require internet service providers to report to the FCC the actual speed they can provide, rather than the maximum speed that might be possible in 7-10 business days under the current law.

The FCC would use this data to determine which broadband connectivity areas offer the speeds advertised and which areas have gaps in service. This bill also requires that new FCC funding awards be used for speeds of 100 Mbps or greater.

The new bill to improve flawed broadband mapping was introduced as a bipartisan bill to address the digital divide and provide broadband service at affordable prices for rural Americans. It corrects mistakes in federal broadband mapping practice and empowers local communities to dispute incorrect FCC claims regarding internet service status, the bill said.

“Flawed service maps compiled by the FCC paint an inaccurate picture of upstate broadband access,” said Delgado. “The Community Broadband Mapping Act gives our communities the ability to collect their data on broadband coverage so that they can challenge the FCC’s inaccurate mapping. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, folks live without a reliable internet connection in the wealthiest county in the world. As the pandemic has made even more clear, broadband service isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity.”

The Community Broadband Mapping Act grants USDA Rural Utility Service grants to local governments, electric/telephone groups, economic development organizations, and small internet providers so that they can collect information on local broadband coverage. This will provide communities incorrectly identified by the FCC as having broadband access with the information they need to contest the FCC’s designation.

500 million LinkedIn Account Numbers Are Up For Sale on a Hacker Site

According to LinkedIn, data harvested from 500 million profiles are part of a database for sale on a site popular with hackers, CNN reports.

In the first report to surface about the sale, CyberNews said that an archive was being offered for auction on a forum, including user IDs, names, emails, phone numbers, genders, professions, and links to social networks.

LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, said the data for sale is an “aggregation from several websites and companies.” The LinkedIn user data does not include any information other than what has been made public on users’ profiles, according to LinkedIn.

“This is not a LinkedIn data breach, and no private member account data from LinkedIn was included in what we’ve been able to review,” the company said.

“When anyone tries to take member data and use it for purposes LinkedIn and our members haven’t agreed to, we work to stop them and hold them accountable,” LinkedIn added in a statement.

Thousands of Facebook Groups Have Been Removed for Trading Fake Reviews

Facebook has removed 16,000 groups for posting fake reviews on its platform in the United Kingdom, following criticism by the country’s regulator.

Facebook signed a deal with the Competition and Markets Authority in January 2020 to “better identify, investigate and remove pages and groups that have fake and misleading reviews, and prevent them re-appearing.”

Several unscrupulous traders engaged in a practice of buying fake positive reviews to boost sales on e-commerce sites – or leaving negative reviews on competitors’ sites – which was frequently coordinated on Facebook and Instagram, the CMA found.

Although Facebook agreed to act, a follow-up investigation showed that the “illegal trade in fake reviews” was continuing, the CMA said, and it had to intervene for a second time.

“Facebook must package size and scope all it can to stop the trading of such content on its platforms,” said Andrea Coscelli, the chief executive of the CMA. “After we intervened again, the company made significant changes – but it is disappointing it has taken them over a year to fix these issues.

If a user “repeatedly” creates fake review groups, Facebook asserts that it will suspend or ban the users and introduce new technology that flags affected review groups all by themselves. Facebook announced that finding and joining fake review groups will be more challenging.

“We have engaged extensively with the CMA to address this issue. Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews. Our safety and security teams are continually working to help prevent these practices,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

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Hawley Calls For Ban On Large Corp Mergers, Chip Shortage Coming For Routers, Big Telecom Breakup

Derek Shumway

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Photo from the American Independent Institute

April 12, 2021 – Senator Josh Hawley, R-MO, shared with Axios a new proposal that would bar corporate giants from acquisitions and strengthen century-old antitrust laws.

“This country and this government shouldn’t be run by a few mega-corporations,” Hawley told Axios. The Republican Party “has got to become the party of trust-busting once again. You know, that’s a part of our history.”

Though he is among the Senate’s most conservative members, him attacking corporate power is not out of place when read with Senators Elizabeth Warren’s or Bernie Sanders’ agenda.

The “Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century Act” would include banning mergers and acquisitions by firms with a market cap over $100 billion. The threshold for prosecution under existing federal antitrust laws would be lowered, emphasizing the protection of competition instead of replacing consumer harm standards. Companies would also be required to forfeit all their profits resulting from monopolistic conduct that lose federal antitrust lawsuits. And the Federal Trade Commission would have new power to designate and regulate “dominant digital firms” in online markets.

If enacted, Hawley’s call to regulate mergers would affect far more than Silicon Valley. Its rules on mergers would also cover dozens of corporate giants in virtually every economic sector of the country.

If anyone is confused about the Republican “party of business” proposal being tough on business from one of its own kind, the Senator offered two responses: “’Trust-busting’ was a Republican concept originally, under Progressive-Era GOP president Teddy Roosevelt,” and “strong antitrust laws are ultimately about the sanctity of competition, and Republicans ought to embrace that.”

Axios reported that while his ideas might win some support from other populist Republicans, the broader party would need a sea-change in thinking to embrace it. Democrats, meanwhile, are likely to prefer their own bills, reported Axios.

Chip shortage could hit routers next

According to sources who spoke with Bloomberg, wireless routers “are poised to be the next piece of hardware to feel the effects of a global chip shortage currently disrupting the availability of the latest generation CPUs, GPUs, and game consoles.”

Internet service providers are already feeling the crunch in supply, with the sources stating ISPs are looking at delays for broadband router orders that will last up to 60 weeks—twice as long as the previous lead time.

PC Gamer reports that it has not seen any signs of chip shortages affecting standalone consumer routers for the of Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) models on shopping sites Amazon and Newegg, but warned things could turn on a dime, as other hardware has.

In some parts of the world, including Canada, carriers have complained that next-generation modems have been in short supply because of the chip shortage.

The reason behind the shortages? A series of unfortunate events, really. Karsten Gewecke, senior vice president of Zyxel, a major player in the router market, said the COVID-19 pandemic affected its supply chains. One of Zyxel’s manufacturing facilities in China temporarily stopped when COVID first hit over a year ago, and has been spotty ever since.

The situation has worsened due to increased consumer demand for broadband hardware as more people are working from home. And for a triple whammy: “Zyxel routers are among the cargo on Ever Given, the Evergreen-owned container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal and has now been detained,” reported PC Gamer.

Gewecke said ISPs could run out of router inventory in the next several months due to these events.

Does big telecom need a break-up?

First it was big tech, and now big telecom is coming under scrutiny for its concentrated market power, as “too big to trust” accusations are leveled against internet service providers (ISPs).

The overwhelming majority of connections are now controlled by a cartel, just a few companies dubbed “Big Telecom” — AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Comcast, and Charter, reports telecom veteran Bruce Kushnick on Medium. Often, in addition to controlling broadband access, these companies have a bundled package that also includes phone and cable TV services.

Kushnick argued that in the United States, bundled service packages are 5-20 times more expensive than most of Europe, averaging $215/month compared to Europe’s $23-50/month. He said that “Many countries have wireless services for $35 with 1000 GB or more, what he called “truly unlimited.” The US price is about $90 with an ‘unlimited’ plan of 50GB, whose speed is throttled after that threshold.

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Biden Presses Infrastructure Plan, FCC Date For Mapping, T-Mobile Fixed Wireless Service

Tim White

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April 8, 2021 – President Joe Biden wants America to think more broadly about what infrastructure means, countering Republican criticism against his new American Jobs Plan.

In a Wednesday speech, Biden reiterated his goals for the $2.3-trillion infrastructure package and urged a broader view of what infrastructure should mean for America, reported the Wall Street Journal.

The plan includes $100 billion for broadband, in addition to funding roads, bridges, ports, electric vehicles and charging stations, bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., and many other funding areas. The plan would be implemented over eight years and would raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called Biden’s plan a “trojan horse” for tax increases, more debt and more spending than what he considers infrastructure. “I think infrastructure is roads, it’s bridges, it’s broadband. Beyond that, they’ve sort of thrown everything but the kitchen sink into it,” McConnell said.

“It still depends on roads and bridges, ports and airports, rail and mass transit. But it also depends on having reliable high-speed internet, in every home, because today’s high-speed internet is infrastructure,” Biden said.

The American Jobs Plan is just the first part of Biden’s infrastructure proposal. The second part – the “American Families Plan” – is due sometime in April.

FCC sets May 7, 2021 for Digital Opportunity Data Collection

The Federal Communications Commission issued a final rule Wednesday on the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection, setting May 7, 2021 as the effective date for the new broadband mapping system that will improve on the Form 477 data.

Broadband mapping has been a long-standing issue for many years, which has historically been based on inaccurate Form 477 data. A “served” area is one in which a 25 megabit per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload speed are offered. One of the problems is that if a single location within a census block receives that minimum service, it counts the entire census block as “served,” regardless of other broadband service in that area.

The new DODC system, or Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, will use more granular data to improve broadband maps. This will include service providers distinguishing between residential and business served locations, connection speeds offered, and geographic coordinates for fixed wireless base stations.

“This dataset will be one of the building blocks of our data collection and will help give us an accurate and comprehensive picture of the availability of fixed broadband service throughout the country,” Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chairwoman of the FCC, said in a March 16 statement.

T-Mobile offers 5G home internet service

T-Mobile announced the launch of their home internet service Wednesday, offering wireless broadband service to up to 30 million locations across the U.S., reports the Verge.

The service plan costs $60 with autopay, or $65 without, has no data caps, and will offer service on their 5G or 4G network depending on available coverage, whichever is faster. “T-Mobile says most customers will experience speeds of 100Mbps, and all eligible customers should see average speeds of 50Mbps,” reported the Verge.

However, consumers may experience slower connection in congested areas.

The company has been touting home internet access since it acquired Sprint in 2019, saying the merger was necessary to develop a competitive internet service to other providers.

T-Mobile has been running a pilot program for home internet service since before the merger with Sprint happened.

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