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Congress Can Rewrite the Telecom Act as It Funds Internet Infrastructure, Say Broadband Breakfast Panelists

Liana Sowa

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December 3, 2020 – It is possible to revamp the Telecom Act of 1996 and fund broadband infrastructure simultaneously – and, in fact, a broadband stimulus package will help overcome difficulties intrinsic in rewriting the benchmark law governing telecommunications.

That was the viewpoint of panelists participating in Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online event in its “Broadband and the Biden Administration” series.

When asked about how the administration is planning to or should roll out a broadband plan, INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering said that the Biden administration will go “big and bold” on issues of broadband. Having spoken with the officials on the transition team of President-elect Joe Biden, Pickering said he believes that they will craft a policy that includes broadband for all, competition for all, and equity for all.

Also on the panel was Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, who agreed that the new administration will seek to use broadband as a way to increase opportunity for more people. He also said crafting rules about procurement of 5G wireless technology were additional ways to promote broadband as a solution to problems.

And Claude Aiken, CEO of the Wireless Internet Services Association, said his group’s key priorities going into the new administration were tech neutrality, inclusiveness, and ensuring that any broadband stimulus packages promote “shovel ready” projects.

Also see the article about “Broadband and the Biden Administration, Part 1,” “In Discussing ‘Broadband and the Biden Administration,’ Trump and Obama Transition Workers Praise Auctions,” Broadband Breakfast, November 22.

Although all panelists agreed that the Biden administration would likely try to reverse the repeal of net neutrality rules that took place under current Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, Pickering said that if the changes are run through the FCC, they would be through the more regulatory Title II of the Communications Act.

If, on the other hand, net neutrality were to be implemented by legislation in Congress it would likely be under a less regulatory section of the Communications Act, or under a newly-crafted section.

Congress can provide a solution to fix the policy whiplash the nation has had over the past decade, with net neutrality being repealed or reinstated with each successive administration.

Can Congress pass net neutrality legislation and broadband infrastructure legislation?

With the 25th anniversary of the Telecom Act coming up in February, Pickering said the country has an opportunity to create the next iteration of major communications legislation. In particular, the new act should shift the principle of universality from voice to broadband.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, moderator of the panel, pushed back and questioned whether Congress was capable of both funding broadband and rewriting the Telecom Act at the same time. But Pickering expressed confidence that broadband funding would be precisely the lubricant to to incentive compromise.

He said that the massive amount of broadband funding being discussed – the order of $100 billion – would help put broadband on the same scale that America put universal electrification during the New Deal.

Pickering and Schruers said they were both in favor of reinstating net neutrality; Aiken said he supported Pai’s repeal of the neutrality rules.

Panelists disagreed on matters of speed definitions. Aiken felt that maintaining the 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download / 3 Mpbs upload definition would give providers predictability and allow them to know where the administration was going.

Pickering said that to win the race against China, the country needed fiber-rich and symmetrical gigabit networks.

On the controversial question of changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, both Pickering and Schruers said they looked forward to exiting “the storm before the calm” that has become the presidency of Donald Trump.

As for Trump’s recent threat to veto a Defense Appropriations bill unless Section 230 was repealed, Pickering said it was likely a gambit to force the confirmation of Trump’s FCC nominee Nathan Simington.

See “Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, December 2, 2020: Broadband and the Biden Administration, Part 2,” Broadband Breakfast

 

“Broadband and the Biden Administration” is sponsored by:

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

Reporter Liana Sowa grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut. She studied editing and publishing as a writing fellow at Brigham Young University, where she mentored upperclassmen on neuroscience research papers. She enjoys reading and journaling, and marathon-runnning and stilt-walking.

Infrastructure

Telecoms Should Actively Build Broadband Infrastructure Through Road Developments

Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist said telecoms should be right there alongside new road builds and improvements.

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot of Garlin Gilchrist via YouTube

April 15, 2021 – Telecom and municipal partnerships should be forged when new roads are built so fiber can be laid as construction begins, Michigan’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Garlin Gilchrist II, said Tuesday.

A good time to expand and improve broadband is when roads are being paved and improved, he said Tuesday at the Connected Nation Telehealth Summit. ISPs can play a larger role during this process and increase competition for consumer benefit as more options become available, he noted.

Beyond physical infrastructure needs, ISPs should work more and better with education and healthcare providers, the conference heard.

Schools, libraries, and all levels of government from local to national need to be aware of their roles and responsibilities to close the digital divide, Gilchrist said.

With no internet, telehealth would be in danger when critical response teams cannot be there in person to tend to a patient’s needs, he said, adding investing in the internet is the same as investing in education and health. No matter your zip code, or where you live, or how bad the pandemic has affected daily life, everyone should have the means to access affordable broadband that actually meets their needs.

“Different partnerships are needed,” said Sarah Tennant, sector development director and cyber initiatives at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Gilchrist said he recognized the impact generational racial disparity and inequality had on the lives of people of color in Michigan and across the country. Lack of broadband for people of color can be seen as another form of racial injustice.

In trying to tackle that, he said connecting the underconnected with broadband is a top priority of the state.

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Europe

Openreach Partners With STL For Fiber Build

Openreach aims to get 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by later this decade.

Tim White

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Screenshot of STL's Ankit Agarwal via YouTube

April 14, 2021 – STL, or Sterlite Technologies Limited, announced Wednesday a partnership with Openreach, the United Kingdom’s largest digital network business to expand its “Full Fiber” broadband network across the UK.

STL, a global network designer from India, will provide millions of kilometers of fiber to develop Openreach’s goal of 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by late 2020s.

“This collaboration with Openreach strengthens a 14-year-old technology and supply relationship between the two companies and further reinforces STL’s commitment to the UK market,” the company said in a statement.

Openreach will use STL’s Opticonn solution, a fiber and cable build that the company claims offers better performance and faster installation, according to the release statement. The company will also utilize STL’s new celesta ribbon cable that boasts a capacity of up to 6,912 fibers, the statement added.

“Our Full Fiber network build is going faster than ever. We need partners like STL on board to not only help sustain that momentum, but also to provide the skills and innovation to help us go even further,” Openreach’s Kevin Murphy said in a statement. “We know the network we’re building can deliver a host of social and economic benefits – from boosting UK productivity to enabling more home working and fewer commuting trips – but we’re also trying to make this one of the greenest network builds in the world.”

Ankit Agarwal, CEO of connectivity solutions business at STL, said, “our customized, 5G-ready optical solutions are ideally suited for Openreach’s future-proof network requirements and we believe they will enable next-gen digital experiences for homes and businesses across UK. This partnership will be a major step towards our mission of transforming billions of lives through digital networks,” he said in a statement.

Openreach’s network now reaches 4.5 million premises, offering gigabit-capable connection through a range of competing providers on the network, and the company is building at a rate of about 42 thousand new homes and businesses a week, according to the release.

The UK parliament has set a goal to get 85 percent of UK homes and businesses access to gigabit-speed broadband by 2025. They reported that as of September 2020, 27 percent of UK premises received that connection speed, and 95 percent have access to “superfast broadband” which the government defines as at least 30 megabits per second download speed.

Parliament acknowledged that although “superfast broadband is sufficient for most household needs today, the demand for data-intensive services such as online video streaming is increasing and can push the limits of a superfast broadband connection. The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the need for widely available and reliable digital connectivity.”

STL is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Fiber

John Curtis, R-Utah, Opens Up About Future of Fiber and Broadband Challenges

Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis speaks about broadband rollout, education and bills more than a year into the pandemic.

Derek Shumway

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Photo of John Curtis from his website

April 13, 2021 – Provo, Utah has made significant progress with its Google Fiber partnership, and representative John Curtis, R-Utah, hopes the federal government is paying attention.

Broadband Breakfast spoke with Curtis on Monday to discuss broadband and the lessons he’s taken from the pandemic. He said that the city of Provo is on track with its broadband efforts and that its programs are working. Having formerly served as city mayor for Provo from 2010 to 2017, Curtis oversaw the purchase by Google Fiber of iProvo, the city’s existing fiber internet network.

Announced in a press release on February 16, two of Curtis’ bills, the Federal Broadband Deployment in Unserved Areas Act, and the Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2021, were introduced to facilitate broadband deployment on federal lands and close the digital divide in both rural and urban areas. The bills called to “streamline permitting presses,” as duplicative regulations and inefficient practices have been hampering broadband development thus far, he said.

Federal, municipal regulations a constraint on deployment

Curtis was asked where he thought unnecessary red tape needed to be removed to fulfill rural and urban broadband objectives. He said 90 percent of the rural land in his district is owned by the federal government, making regulation heavy and complicated. In some instances, public lands have taken up to nine years to allow permitting for broadband, and in broadband terms, that’s a lifetime. “We don’t have nine years to get down into these parts of the district,” he said.

To visualize this, if there is an existing asphalt road, broadband cannot run alongside it because it is treated as if there was trench dug underneath Delicate Arch, a historical rock formation, a regulated territory.  If rural roads are approved to be built, rural broadband should be approved in a similar and appropriate manner, Curtis said. He added companies like Google, who have vast resources, are still slowed down by the government.

And it’s not the federal government that is always behind roadblocks, but the municipal government can sometimes get in the way. A struggle over telecoms putting up equipment on municipal-owned poles, which are required for broadband and wireless deployment, has been playing out across the country.

Education needs support structure at home

As the country is more than one year into the pandemic, the importance of having adequate and affordable broadband in Utah households is critical, especially for education, Curtis said. Curtis said that the more disadvantaged a household is, the less likely it is to have good internet connectivity. While there are tremendous uses for virtual resources, Utah children need a support structure at home, and not every home has that.

Having poor support at home to stay connected for school, work, and health needs is virtually as bad as not even having a device to connect to the internet in the first place. A benefit of having Google Fiber in Provo, Curtis said, is that households see their internet costs come down and speeds go up as competition is benefitting consumers. Cities are averse to risk, and sometimes lack the capital to invest in broadband, but technology changes so fast that it requires constant upkeep, he said.

Not just about the money

Asked about his thoughts on recent federal legislation, including the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the Biden’s $100-billion infrastructure plan (Jobs Act) for broadband, Curtis said it is important to invest in these initiatives, but simply throwing money at the problem won’t solve anything.

He said he wished he could bring Biden to Provo to take a look at Provo’s broadband progress, adding that “creativity and hard work make up for a multitude of sins.”

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