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Joe Biden’s Federal Communications Transition Team, C-Spire Expands, Elliott Management and AT&T

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Photo of Edward “Smitty” Smith II from the Washington Post

Four Federal Communications Commission veterans, including former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, have been appointed to President-elect Joe Biden’s FCC transition team, which was announced on Monday.

See “Mignon Clyburn, Coy on Future Federal Communications Commission Role, Says Agency Lacks Authority to Clarify Section 230,” Broadband Breakfast, August 6, 2020

The team will be led by John Williams who is senior counsel and parliamentarian at the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. He previously served as senior counselor and as a senior agency official for privacy at the FCC’s Office of the General Counsel.

Also on the team is Edward “Smitty” Smith II, a former aide to Chairman Tom Wheeler who currently is a managing partner of the Washington, D.C., law firm DLA Piper. Smith also previously worked for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and ran for the D.C. attorney general position in 2014.

Rounding out the team is Paul de Sa, a former FCC staff member who now works with Quadra Partners, a telecom consulting firm. While at the FCC, he served two terms, from 2009-2012 and 2016-2017, serving as chief of the Office of Strategic Planning, with a focus on merger reviews, spectrum policy and broadband.

The transition team for the FCC was noticeably absent from a list of agency review teams released by the Biden-Harris collective last week.

In a report for investors over the weekend, New Street Research Policy Advisor Blair Levin said the delay likely was not, as some believed, caused by an ideological split about who should be on the team, but caused by Williams appointment.

“The appointment of Williams appears to confirm our view that the hold up in naming the FCC team probably related to issues of detailing a current government employee to the transition when the General Services Administration had not certified the transition,” Levin said.

C-Spire expands MissiON research and education network

C-Spire, a privately-owned Mississippi-based technology company, is adding 15 community colleges to the Mississippi Optical Network, the research and education network supporting universities in the state.

The latest expansion of the network comes after C-Spire enhanced connections in 2018 for research arms at Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Mississippi State, Jackson State, the University of Southern Mississippi, and other education institutions.

Leveraging its 10,000 route miles of high-capacity fiber optic infrastructure, C-Spire has designed the network to support more collaboration for the first time among the state’s research universities, regional universities and community colleges.

Community colleges in the state had been considering joining MissiON for some time and made the final decision to jump on the network as a result of complications brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move will support distance learning for more than 200,000 students in the community college system, according to an AP press release.

“We’ve deployed a high performance, geographically diverse network and offer the community colleges speeds up to 100 Gigabits per second, with plans to expand to 400 Gbps and beyond in the future,” said C-Spire CEO Hu Meena.

“As Mississippi’s leading broadband communications provider, C-Spire is proud to provide innovative, leading-edge technology and the latest fiber optic infrastructure to help expand the size of the MissiON network and enable researchers to pursue comprehensive solutions to 21st century challenges,” Meena said.

After rattling AT&T, Elliott Management divests its stake

Yesterday, Elliott Management, an American investment management firm, filed a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission 13F form, signaling its exit of AT&T. The hedge fund sold 5 million AT&T shares in Q3, valued at $151.15 million as of the previous quarter’s end, reported Fierce Wireless.

Elliott shook up AT&T last year when it sent an open letter to the telecom company’s board of directors, criticizing numerous aspects of AT&T’s business, including its attempted, but failed, purchase of T-Mobile and its acquisition of DirecTV. In the letter, the management firm further penned an entire section entitled “Poor Execution in Wireless.”

Elliott also wanted AT&T to conduct stock buybacks. In this way, the total number of AT&T shares would decrease, raising the price so that investors like Elliott could make a big profit.

In response, AT&T said it would work with Elliott, and said it was already in the process of making many of Elliott’s suggestions.

In early March, AT&T said it would be repurchasing $4 billion worth of its shares during the second quarter of 2020. The company had plans for more buybacks throughout 2020; however, when the COVID-19 crisis hit AT&T put its accelerated share repurchase plans on hold, likely triggering Elliott’s departure.

Broadband Roundup

FCC Maps Inaccurate on Anchor Institutions, SpaceX Requests Licensing, New Consolidated CFO

SHLB told FCC not all anchor institutions use non-mass market internet providers, which are left out of mapping.

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Photo of John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB

November 29, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s new broadband maps inaccurately flag all community anchor institutions as non-broadband serviceable locations, according to the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition in an ex-parte letter filed to the FCC on Monday.

According to an FCC website about the map, the agency’s broadband collection “only gathers information on the availability of mass-market broadband internet access service. The Commission has decided that because community anchor institutions generally subscribe to non-mass-market, enterprise-grade services, they would not be identified as BSLs in the initial version of the Fabric.”

But in a meeting with the FCC on November 22, the contents of which are captured in a post-meeting letter, SHLB told the commission that small-scale community institutions – which can include health care facilities, museums, fire stations, K-12 public schools, law enforcement facilities and public libraries – often purchase broadband services from incumbent providers.

If these institutions are not reflected in the map as a result, SHLB said it is concerned that providers will not report on the availability of these services in these locations despite subscription to their service. That could compromise future considerations for these institutions to receive federal broadband funding, according to SHLB.

“We understand that a CAI can challenge an individual location on the current version of the Broadband Map,” SHLB said in the letter. “But the challenge process does not allow a CAI to change its BSL Flag field to ‘True.’ The current location challenge process for a non-BSL location only allows the challenger the ability to change the building type to something other than a CAI (such as a residence or business).

“This process does not explicitly create a separate category for CAIs that subscribe to mass-market services, and will be confusing or misleading for many CAIs, as well as for anyone attempting to track broadband availability at CAI locations.”

SHLB is recommending the FCC’s next version of the fabric – the data underlying the maps – to include these institutions as BSL’s by default, “with the ability to flag locations that subscribe to enterprise services as non-BSL.”

SpaceX urges FCC move quickly on spectrum licensing

SpaceX has requested the FCC grant the company spectrum licenses “expeditiously” for their next generation of satellite broadband services, according to a letter to the FCC on November 23, which followed a meeting call.

“During the calls, SpaceX sought a status update on its Gen2 license application and urged the Commission to grant that application expeditiously and thereby enable rapid deployment of next-generation satellite broadband to American consumers and businesses, no matter where they are,” the letter said.

SpaceX acknowledged the FCC on recent orders, including reducing post-mission orbital life from 25 years to five to mitigate orbital debris.

“SpaceX also appreciates the Commission’s efforts to act on SpaceX’s proposal for fostering competition through updated rules that incentivize spectrum efficiency and good faith coordination among [Non-Geostationary Orbit] systems and urges the Commission to adopt these principles while using a Further Notice to better focus the record and determine what courses of action or defining criteria are appropriate,” the letter said.

Consolidated Communications hires new CFO

Internet service provider Consolidated Communications announced Tuesday it has hired former Comcast executive Fred Graffam as its executive vice president and chief financial officer starting December 1.

Graffam will replace Steve Childers, who stays with the company on an advisory basis until December 31, the company said in a press release.

“Fred has an exceptional track record of creating value with subscription-based communication service providers,” said Consolidated CEO Bob Udell. “His business acumen, industry, and public company expertise as well as his operating experience make him well qualified to help lead Consolidated as we continue the transformation to a fiber-first broadband Company. I’m incredibly pleased to welcome Fred to Consolidated during this pivotal transformation period.”

Graffam said in a statement that, “I strongly believe in Consolidated’s strategy to bring an exceptional fiber broadband service experience to its customers and look forward to helping the Company capitalize on the [fiber-to-the-premises] opportunity and create value for our stakeholders.”

Graffam previously was senior vice president of the North America/Asia Pacific regions at Level 3 Communications and served in finance and operating roles at Comcast. He has over 30 years in financial management, operational leadership and accounting expertise in the tech and telecom files for public and private companies, according to the release. He was most recently executive vice president and CFO at Brinks Home Security.

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Broadband Roundup

Pole Replacement Benefits Owners, ViaSat-3 Completes Final Satellite Test, Wireless Broadband Alliance New Member

INCOMPAS pushed FCC on acknowledging that pole owners are beneficiaries of pole replacements.

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BAI Communications Chief Technology Officer Brendan O'Reilly, via Twitter

November 28, 2022 – Industry trade group INCOMPAS said Monday in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission that the agency should presume that pole owners benefit from a replacement of their poles.

“The Commission should first modify its rules to include a presumption that pole owners receive a direct benefit when a pole replacement is required to accommodate a new attachment,” INCOMPAS representatives told the agency on Nov 22, according to a post-meeting letter released Friday.

The organization added that current practices on pole access are unreasonable because it includes excessive delays and denials for pole access.

The FCC is currently conducting a proceeding in which it is looking at whether the cost to replace a pole should be shared by pole the owner and the third-party attacher, which requests to put its equipment on the pole to expand broadband infrastructure. Pole attachers argue that it isn’t fair that they have to foot the entire bill of a pole replacement when the owner derives a benefit from a new pole.

But pole owners, in submissions to the agency, have said that replacements are “insignificant” for utilities in comparison to the benefit to attachers.

ViaSat-3 satellite in final phase

Satellite communications company Viasat Inc. said Monday its ViaSat-3 Americas satellite passed its final flight phase for configuration, which is expected to deliver communications network in on the continent.

The satellite test showed the satellite performs as expected to withstand environmental stresses, the company announced.

“Completion of FIST is a significant milestone as we move towards spacecraft delivery and launch,” said Ryan Reid, president of Boeing, which is providing the launch vehicle.

ViaSat-3 will be a global satellite constellation with three high-capacity Ka-band satellites that will bring low-cost connectivity to the global network, the company said.

Wireless Broadband Alliance has new board member

BAI Communications said Monday that the company’s chief technology officer Brendan O’Reilly was elected to the board of directors of the Wireless Broadband Alliance for a two-year term set to start on January 1.

BAI designs and operates communications networks. WBA enables collaboration with service providers, technology companies, regulators and organizations to connect people to Wi-Fi services. BAI and WBA share a goal to connect people with accessible wireless connectivity, a press release said.

“I see a lot of opportunity to collaborate and exchange ideas with other respected WBA members to accelerate the delivery of advanced 5G technologies and the adoption of NextGen Wi-Fi,” O’Reilly said. “The diversity of this network is what helps taking wireless technologies forward.”

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Broadband Roundup

NTIA Pushes FTC on Privacy, Broadband in Tough, NY, California Get NTIA Grants

‘NTIA is calling for rules that stop the unnecessary and harmful collection and use of personal information.’

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Screenshot of Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, via C-Span

November 23, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Tuesday in a filing with the Federal Trade Commission that it wants privacy limits on the ways companies collect and use personal information.

The Commerce agency recommended companies minimize the data collected, restrict companies from using data for alternative purposes such as targeted advertising, take comprehensive approaches to new privacy protections, and consider stricter limits on biometric technologies.

The FTC is currently seeking comment on whether it should implement new rules on companies’ data collection and sales practices.

“NTIA is calling for rules that stop the unnecessary and harmful collection and use of personal information. Companies need guardrails about what they can build,” said NTIA head Alan Davidson.

In July this year, Davidson said privacy laws continue to be an issue in the US. He advocated for the first national federal privacy bill, which is currently before Congress.

Study finds telecoms in for rough patch with inflation

Analysys Mason, a management consultancy focused on telecommunication and technology, released a prediction Wednesday that said the telecommunication industry will face challenges, including inflation problems, in 2023.

Consumers may feel the pinch from higher retail prices due to inflation, the analysis finds, which could result in political pressure to moderate price increases, the study found.

“Combined with high investment costs and questions about potential returns, the market outlook is challenging as the telecoms industry tries to steer its path through price rises, rolling out network availability and launching new services,” said Larry Goldman, Analysys Mason chief analyst.

NTIA awards over $10 million in Rhode Island, California

The NTIA announced Tuesday that Rhode Island will receive $5.5 million to build high-speed internet infrastructure.

“The funding will advance a coordinated strategy to get all Rhode Islanders connected to high-speed, reliable, affordable broadband service and close the digital divide,” said Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed.

The money is coming from programs spawned by the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $65 billion for broadband infrastructure.

NTIA also said Tuesday that it awarded two grants of nearly $5.6 million to Merced Community College and California State University Sacramento from the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said these investments will help offer more online learning programs and train digital navigators in its program to work directly with surrounding communities on digital inclusion.

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