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

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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.

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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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