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Transportation Department Proposes to ‘Dig Once’, Growing Support for BRIDGE Act, West Virginia Fight Over Cable Speeds

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Photo of Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration recently proposed streamlining broadband deployment in rights-of-way during federal highway construction projects.

The proposal would require greater collaboration with states departments of transportation and broadband infrastructure and roadwork projects.

The proposed rule would ensure that those digging to install utilities also ensure that broadband infrastructure is also installed. This will decreasing repeat excavation.

Such policies are often referred to as ‘Dig Once’ policies, and minimizing disruption to the traveling public.

The Consumer Technology Association filed comments on Monday (PDF) in support of the FHWA proposal. In its comments, the CTA highlighted the need to streamline broadband infrastructure deployment for consumers, minimizing costs, preserving land and maximizing space in the right-of-way.

“This is an issue we have long advocated for,” said CTA CEO Gary Shapiro. “It is a smart, efficient way to install much-needed broadband infrastructure in this country. Not only will consumers get better, faster internet access, taxpayers will save money from Dig Once policies by reducing costs from repeated excavations.”

Legislators build support for BRIDGE Act to deploy futureproof broadband nationwide

On Monday, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Angus King, I-Maine, alongside dozens of national and state-level elected officials and organizations, announced growing support for the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy, or BRIDGE, Act of 2020.

The BRIDGE Act (PDF), introduced by Bennet, aims to deploy affordable and futureproof broadband networks nationwide.

The legislation encourages gigabit-level internet wherever possible, raising the minimum speeds for new broadband networks to at least 100/100 Megabits per second [Mbps], which is much higher than the FCC’s current definition, set at 25/3 Mbps.  The bill also accelerates overhaul of the FCC’s existing broadband maps, which consistently overstate broadband access in America.

“As the pandemic keeps millions of families at home, it has never been more urgent to extend the benefits of affordable, high-speed broadband to every American,” said Bennet. “For years, the digital divide has prevented up to 42 million Americans, disproportionately from rural areas, low-income neighborhoods, and communities of color, from being able to fully participate in modern American life.”

Bennet and King’s BRIDGE Act aims to close this gap, by providing $30 billion to States and $1 billion to Tribal governments to deploy broadband in unserved and underserved communities nationwide. The bill works to ensure any newly built networks meet minimum requirements for speed, service, and affordability.

“Broadband experts endorse the BRIDGE Act because it will invest in a 21st century broadband infrastructure that can meet America’s needs not only today, but for years to come,” said Bennet.

Disputes between public and private sectors in Huntington, West Virginia

Huntington, West Virginia Mayor Steve Williams claimed Comcast and corporate telecommunications lobbyists are actively trying to stop the city from receiving broadband grant funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state partnership.

A dispute has erupted over a $2.5 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission that would deliver high-speed broadband to Huntington, reported Fred Pace in the Herald-Dispatch.

“Unfortunately, we are learning that Comcast, which only provides a fraction of the level of high-speed broadband that they claim to provide, is actively trying to torpedo this project and our grant application,” Williams said on Monday. “At a critical time when we are trying to improve high-speed broadband and the economic outlook of our community, Comcast is attempting to squash us like a bug.”

As a part of its efforts in reviewing the ‘Thundercloud’ proposal, the Appalachian Regional Commission staff reached out to all providers currently operating within the region of the project. The ARC asked these providers to submit information concerning the level of broadband services available in the project area, for both residential and commercial customers.

According to Williams, Comcast has attempted to sidetrack the cities infrastructure build by claiming to offer internet speeds far faster than they do in reality.

“It is my understanding that at least four providers have provided the commission with information indicating that significant levels of service from multiple providers are currently available in the project area,” said Mark Polen, executive director of the West Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association, which represents the state’s major cable broadband providers, including Comcast.

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Broadband Roundup

Many States Receive Broadband Planning Grants, Complaints About Charter, Blockchain for Healthcare

Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, D.C, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, N.D., Pennsylvania, S.C., Virginia, and W.V. received awards.

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Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

December 8, 2022 — The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Thursday that Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia will receive planning grants under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

The allocations are made under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Act, as well as the Digital Equity Act grant provisions.

Alaska will receive $5.5 million in funding, Arkansas will receive $5.8 million in funding, Colorado will receive $5.9 million, District of Columbia will receive $5.4 million, Kentucky will receive $5.8 million, Maine will receive $5.5 million, Missouri will receive $2.9 million, North Dakota will receive $5.5 million, Pennsylvania will receive $6.6 million, South Carolina will receive $5.9 million, Virginia will receive $6.2 million, and West Virginia will receive $5.7 million.

Other states and territories that have received planning grants include Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Puerto Rico.

Complaints about Charter in Los Angeles

Government affairs and association management firm Joint California Advocates urged the Federal Communications Commission to seek comment about recent report findings that shows Charter Communications, also known as Spectrum, offered low-income Los Angeles County residents more expensive rates for service, compared to wealthier communities that received better rates, in an ex-parte letter sent on Monday.

Los Angeles-based non-profit California Community Foundation released a report called The Slower and More Expensive, which documents the advertising disparity of price, terms, and conditions between different neighborhoods in Los Angeles in Charter Spectrum’s identified service areas.

The foundation “explained that the data for the report demonstrated that the Charter Spectrum website routinely offered potential new customers in households in higher poverty neighborhoods more expensive rates for Charter Spectrum service than households in wealthier neighborhoods. Moreover, [foundation] explained that it found that Charter Spectrum’s promotional rates are “locked in” for half as long in high-poverty neighborhoods than in lower-poverty neighborhoods,” the letter read.

Blockchain will help protect health data, World Bank specialist says

In reference to the European Health Data Space anticipated for launch in 2025, a World Bank digital development specialist on Wednesday suggested blockchain technology to secure data sharing and collection in healthcare, according to a virtual event by the Center for Data Innovation.

Health information managers or medical caregivers can encrypt their patients’ data in the blockchain. Data breaches can be prevented by tracking a permanent timestamp left on the blockchain when companies seek data access.

The safety of data sharing and user transparency is an ongoing challenge in healthcare. According to European Patients’ Forum director of policy, Kaisa Immonen, the main concern for patients is their data shared for commercial purposes or with employers.

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Broadband Roundup

Maryland Bans TikTok on State Network, New Head of Open Technology Institute, UScellular Expands 5G

The ban will also apply to other Chinese and Russian technologies and applications.

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Photo of Lilian Coral, head of Open Technology Institute and Technology and Democracy Programs, via Esri User Conference

December 7, 2022 – Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said Tuesday that the state is banning the use of apps such as Chinese-owned TikTok in the executive branch of the government.

The emergency cybersecurity directive will impact Chinese and Russian-made communications and money applications, including Tencent Holdings’s QQ, QQ Wallet and WeChat; products from ecommerce giant Alibaba, such as AliPay; Russian cybersecurity software Kaspersky; and products from Huawei and ZTE.

The directive requires agencies to remove the products from state networks and implement measures so they cannot be installed, including blocking the apps entirely from the network.

“These entities present an unacceptable level of cybersecurity risk to the state, and may be involved in activities such as cyber-espionage, surveillance of government entities, and inappropriate collection of sensitive personal information,” a state press release said.

Last month, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations said TikTok posed a national security threat to the US, warning that the Chinese government – through its control of Chinese corporations – could siphon American data.

The Federal Communications Commission has also been working with Public Safety and Homeland Security to identify threats to national security by blacklisting certain Chinese entities from being used on U.S. networks. Late last month, the commission announced it is halting the authorization of equipment from these threats to the nation’s security.

New America names new head of Open Technology Institute

Think tank New America announced Wednesday that Lilian Coral is joining the organization’s technology program, the Open Technology Institute, as senior director and head of its technology and democracy program.

The OTI comes up with policy and regulatory reforms to support open source technology, which allows for interoperability of technologies, as opposed to just proprietary technologies held by a few players.

Coral previously worked at the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation as its director of national strategy and tech innovation, where she managed a portfolio of more than $55 million in investments that supported public spaces technology and data trust and accessibility.

“We need to ensure every American has access to an internet that is open, safe, and helps uplift communities,” Coral said in a press release. “But we all recognize that access alone is not sufficient. This means developing guardrails to make sure we all benefit from the opportunities the internet affords—and imagining a truly democratic digital public realm that is a key pillar in renewing the promise of America.”

UScellular expands 5G network to more Americans

UScellular announced Wednesday that a software update will allow it to expand its 5G network in multiple states, providing 1.4 million more Americans with access to its services.

A press release said the update allows for better coordination between cell sites and will use 4G and 5G features to extend existing 5G service to neighboring sites.

“These updates allow us to get more out of our investment and enhance our customers’ experience whether they are accessing our 5G network on their smartphone, tablet or for home internet,” Robert Jakubek, UScellular vice president of engineering and network operations, said in the release.

In May, the country’s fourth-largest wireless carrier partnered with 5G equipment provider Ericsson to provide 5G fixed-wireless services using the C-band spectrum.

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Broadband Roundup

Talent for Growth Taskforce, ‘Grave Mistakes’ in FCC Maps, Lumen Expanding Fiber

The U.S. and EU representatives announced a taskforce to share insights into growing the workforce in tech.

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Photo of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

December 6, 2022 – The United States and European Union Trade and Technology Council announced Monday the creation of the Talent for Growth Task Force, which is intended to share information and recommendations on expanding talent development and training in technology industries on both sides of the Atlantic.

The task force will comprise workforce training organizations, business leaders, government officials and labor union leaders. Roles and responsibilities of the taskforce include promoting programs to small- and mid-sized companies, spreading knowledge of in-demand opportunities for young people in underserved communities, and showcasing training opportunities in the U.S. and other countries under the European Union.

Members of the Task Force will be announced in early 2023.

“Competition for technological leadership today demands a well-trained workforce,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, co-chair of the TTC, said in a release. “Training is key to creating broad participation in today’s economy. With the Talent for Growth Task Force, we will learn from each other’s successes and create new opportunities that recognize the talent of our people.”

Industry in the U.S. has identified workforce development as key to keeping up with massive federal funding initiatives intended to boost infrastructure. In October, the Fiber Broadband Association and the Wireless Infrastructure Association, for example, announced a partnership to promote the development of the broadband workforce, as the industry awaits billions of dollars in new money coming from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

West Virginia senator points out FCC map errors

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., told reporters in a virtual meeting last week that the Federal Communications Commission’s preliminary broadband map released last month has made “grave mistakes” on unserved areas in her state, according to reporting from The Inter-Mountain.

“The FCC has just published recently … broadband maps that actually show which parts of West Virginia have service, which homes have service and which don’t,” the West Virginia senator said, according to the story. “I feel that they have some pretty grave mistakes. What would that impact? It would impact our ability to get larger funding to extend to unserved and underserved areas.”

As an example of her claim, Capito, according to the story, mentions a particular mountainous region in West Virginia where 130,000 households are represented as covered by the satellite broadband service Starlink. But Capito says “… their service is non-existent, it’s spotty, and it’s very expensive. To me, that’s an underserved or unserved area. Those are the kinds of disputes we need to make because it will affect funding and we won’t get to that last home if we don’t have the accurate maps.”

In 2020, Capito worked with the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council to create its own state-administered map to quantify the digital divide, according to the story. According to Broadband.Money, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, West Virginia has 896,585 broadband serviceable locations, 243,761 of which are unserved and 411,602 that are underserved.

Lumen expanding intercity network by six million fiber miles

Telecom Lumen Technologies said Tuesday it is planning to invest in another six million miles of fiber in its intercity network project.

The project, which will drive fiber through 50 major cities across the country, is expected to be installed by 2026, according to a press release on Tuesday.

“As demand for optical fiber increases and technology evolves, Lumen’s multi-conduit infrastructure means we can install the latest fiber type quickly and economically. It’s difficult to upgrade legacy intercity networks without multiple conduits,” said Lumen Chief Technology Officer Andrew Dugan.

“These networks end up being stuck with older fiber technology,” Dugan added. “Lumen is fixing that issue with our upgraded technology. We can extend signal reach to help reduce equipment costs and increase bandwidth capacity.”

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