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Starry and Microsoft in Los Angeles, Comcast Clocks a Gigabit Upload, Nobel Prize for Spectrum Auction

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Photo of economists Robert Wilson (left) and Paul Milgrom (right) by Andrew Brodhead courtesy Stanford Business School

Starry Home Internet announced a partnership with Microsoft on Tuesday aimed at accelerating the availability of its low-cost program Starry Connect in public housing communities across the country.

The program will kick off this month in Los Angeles, California, and it promises to bring Starry Connect services to more than 3,600 housing units and 9,000 residents in four public housing communities in the city.

Starry Internet has committed to providing six months of free service to all new customers in the communities. After this initial phase, service will continue for just $15 a month.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates existing challenges for lower income communities, already caused by the digital divide. In Los Angeles, Black and Latino households are only one-third as likely as White households to have internet access, with the elderly four times less likely to be connected.

The partnership builds on the work of L.A. Mayor Eric Garsetti’s monthly Telecommunications and Digital Equity Forum.

“Internet connectivity is not a luxury in our time, it’s an absolute necessity for parents trying to work, students looking to learn, and families and friends seeking to communicate,” said Garcetti. “With Starry and Microsoft lending their resources and expertise, our city’s public housing residents will no longer find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, but fully connected to their classrooms and to the opportunities of the 21st century.”

Comcast says gigabit uploads and downloads are possible over cable technology

Comcast said they had passed a technical milestone on Thursday: Delivering gigabit-plus upload speeds over existing cable wires.

More specifically, Comcast said it conducted a trial delivering 1.25 Gigabit per second (Gbps) upload and download speeds over a live production network using a combination of network function virtualization and the latest Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, or DOCSIS, technology.

Comcast installed the service at a home in Jacksonville, Florida, where “the technology team consistently measured speeds of 1.25 Gbps upload and 1.25 Gbps download over the connection,” reported ArsTechnica.

The speeds were delivered over a hybrid fiber-cable network, with the coaxial cable providing the final connection into the home. Comcast said the trial benefitted from the company’s “ongoing effort to extend fiber further into neighborhoods.”

Normally, symmetrical gigabit speeds require a fiber-to-the-home connection. Further, Comcast’s cable internet has traditionally had a heavy emphasis on download speeds. The company’s gigabit-download service only comes with 35 Megabits per second upload speeds.

Comcast did not say when, or whether, a symmetrical 1.25 Gbps service will go on sale. For now, more testing is required. In the coming weeks, Comcast plans to expand the trial to more homes.

2020 Nobel Prize in Economics winners helped create theory and design for wireless auctions

On Tuesday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai congratulated the 2020 winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics Sciences, Stanford economists Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson.

According to Pai, the pair’s work made possible recent U.S. radiofrequency spectrum auctions, which aim to expand high-speed digital connectivity for Americans and generated over $100 billion for the U.S. Treasury.

The Nobel committee recognized Milgrom and Wilson for their fundamental advances in auction theory and design, including the development of new and better auction formats for complex situations which existing formats could not be used for.

Milgrom and Wilson’s best-known contribution to the FCC is the auction they designed that enabled bidding in simultaneous, multiple rounds. The FCC began using this design in 1994 to auction portions of U.S. spectrum for commercial development.

“It’s a proud moment for the FCC, which managed the first auction of radio frequencies based on the design that Professors Milgrom and Wilson developed,” Pai said in a statement (PDF). “Building on their advances, the Commission since January 2017 has held four auctions of spectrum for 5G services and made available over five gigahertz of spectrum for commercial use through these increasingly complex auctions.”

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Broadband Roundup

Commerce Vote on Sohn Wednesday, Facebook Abandoning its Crypto Technology, Low EBB Awareness

The Senate Commerce Committee will vote on Sohn’s renomination after confirmation efforts stalled last year.

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Photo of Gigi Sohn from March 2011 by the Stanford Center for Internet and Society used with permission

January 28, 2022 – On Wednesday the Senate Commerce Committee will vote on President Joe Biden’s nomination of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission.

Sohn, the co-founder of intellectual property nonprofit Public Knowledge, was renominated by Biden earlier this month after the Commerce committee failed to advance her nomination at the end of last year.

Much of the opposition to Sohn’s nomination has centered around Republican pushback on comments Sohn had made about conservative media.

Additionally on Wednesday, the committee will vote on Biden’s nominee to the Federal Trade Commission Alvaro Bedoya.

Like Sohn, Bedoya saw his nomination stalled late last year as Republicans opposed comments he had made on conservative media.

Both the FCC and FTC are split 2-2 in terms of the partisanship of their voting members, limiting the ability of their Democratic chairs to enact their policy agendas.

Facebook’s cryptocurrency project fizzles

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Facebook is selling the technology behind the Diem Association, the company’s cryptocurrency project, amid concerns over its ability to provide security and privacy.

Silvergate Capital Corporation, a California bank that works with bitcoin and blockchain companies, will reportedly buy the technology for $200 million.

In an earlier effort to appease regulators the bank and Diem had agreed to issue some stablecoins, which are considered less volatile and are backed by hard dollars.

Diem, previously called Libra, was originally conceived as a simple way for users to spend money and partnered with PayPal, Visa and Stripe to demonstrate institutional financial backing to officials and distance the venture from Facebook as criticisms against the platform mounted.

In October 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told U.S. House members that he would support delaying the cryptocurrency’s release until all regulators approved of it.

AT&T survey on Emergency Broadband Benefit’s reach

An AT&T-commissioned survey found that as of October 2021 a majority of individuals in the company’s 21-state footprint were not aware of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, Fierce Telecom reported Wednesday.

Only 12% of survey respondents were aware of the program started by the FCC during the coronavirus pandemic to help fund low-income people’s internet connectivity.

The survey also found disparities in program awareness between different age groups and ethnicities.

Since administration of the survey, the EBB has been converted into the permanent Affordable Connectivity Program with Congress’ passage of its bipartisan infrastructure bill in November 2021.

The EBB was able to gain the participation of most internet service providers and roll over their participation to the ACP once it became available at the start of this year.

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FCC Axes China Unicom, Tucows Has New Software Business, Texas County Broadband Initiative

The FCC on Thursday revoked the operating authorization of China Unicom, in latest effort to weed out national security threats.

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Tucows CEO Elliot Noss

January 27, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday revoked the operating authority of telecom China Unicom Americas due to national security concerns.

In the press release, which coincided with the commission’s January open meeting, the FCC said China Unicom Americas must discontinue domestic and international services in the U.S. within 60 days of the order.

The decision was made, the release said, after nearly a year of review of the company’s responses to inquiries, the public record and a public interest analysis following a March 2021 finding by the commission that the company “failed to dispel serious concerns” about its ties to the Communist government in China.

The decision, which comes after an FCC vote in October to revoke the operating license of China Telecom, is part of a larger effort by the agency and President Joe Biden’s administration to weed out national security risks.

Tucows new communication service software

Toronto-based telecom Tucows on Thursday launched Wavelo, a software business it says will help other telecommunications companies aspects of their business, including the network and subscription and billing management.

“In today’s competitive landscape, operators need optionality from their software,” Wavelo CEO Justin Riley said. “They deserve solutions that keep pace with their network innovation and that are flexible enough to integrate seamlessly within their existing operations. Wavelo was launched to do just that.”

Gray County, Texas developing plan for better broadband

The Gray County Broadband Committee is asking the broader community Thursday for input through a survey on how it should develop a “technology action plan that will provide both immediate and long-term solutions for improving internet access.”

The committee, which includes stakeholders in business, education, government and healthcare, said in a press release it hopes to “identify unique challenges and opportunities for expanding high-speed internet” in the county.

The county said it is partnering with Connected Nation Texas on the initiative, which is funded by the Texas Rural Funders

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Broadband Roundup

Fear of Big Tech in Auto Industry, Montana Hires Lightbox, USTelecom Hires Media Affairs Director

Technology advocacy groups are concerned about big technology companies entering the auto industry.

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Montana Governor Greg Gianforte

January 26, 2022 – A letter signed by nearly 30 technology advocacy groups and sent to government and agency officials Tuesday is warning of the dangers of tech companies entering the automobile industry, The Hill reports.

“Make no mistake: The expansion of Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook into the auto sector spells trouble for workers and consumers…As automation expands, these [auto workers] jobs are at risk and Big Tech cannot be trusted to lead that transition,” the letter said, according to the report.

Recipients of the letter signed by the likes of the American Economic Liberties Project and Demand Progress include Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan.

The Hill also reports that the groups are concerned about the treatment and usage of data and private information if these big technology companies do successfully expand their reach.

The letter comes as lawmakers and government agencies wrestle with what to do about the future of antitrust.

Montana is taking mapping matters into their own hands

Montana’s Department of Administration said Monday that is has hired location analytics company Lightbox to build a statewide broadband map, following in the footsteps of Georgia and Alabama in getting ahead of federal efforts to improving insight into what areas are underserved.

“The completed map will provide a detailed analysis of current broadband service levels throughout Montana while protecting proprietary data and will be used for allocating $266 million to unserved and underserved communities throughout Montana,” a press release said.

“Lightbox is a proven national leader in cost effective and efficient detailed mapping for state level broadband programs,” said Department of Administration Director Misty Ann Giles in the release. “This platform will serve as a key component to help ConnectMT reach its goal of deploying broadband throughout Montana to bridge the digital divide.”

Montana, which began searching for a data platform in October, is listed on data platform BroadbandNow as the worst state for broadband coverage and access, according to a November report.

USTelecom hires new senior director of media affairs and digital engagement

USTelecom, an association that represents telecom-related businesses, announced Wednesday the appointment of Emma Christman to senior director of media affairs and digital engagement.

Christman is joining the USTelecom communications team after working as the director of external affairs and engagement at Glen Echo Group. While there, USTelecom says she provided “a range of clients strategic counsel, content creation, media outreach and other services.”

Prior to her time at Glen Echo Group, Christman worked at Dewey Square Group as a senior associate and at Mobile Future as a community outreach director.

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