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

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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

Federal Communications Commission Dispenses $544 Million in Rural Broadband Funds

Funds targeted towards internet providers in areas with poor digital access across 19 states.

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FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it would authorize another $554 million for expansion of broadband service through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The funding announcement represented the finalization of a relatively small portion of the funding awarded as part of $9.3 billion granted in the first phase of the RDOF reverse auction in October and November 2020.

Together with other recent press announcements dribbling out details of RDOF awards, Wednesday’s news puts the FCC’s awards at just more than $1 billion of the $9.3 billion originally awarded at auction.

The FCC, which says that it aims to place broadband infrastructure in areas where it is not currently available, denied LTD Broadband’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline to be designated as an Eligible Telecommunication Carrier in Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota. Becoming an ETC was a necessary prerequisite to receiving RDOF funds.

The agency also denied NW Fiber’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline for submission of a post-auction “long form” application.

With the latest wave of funding, 11 internet providers will be able to bring fiber-to-home gigabit broadband service to more than 180,000 locations across 19 states.

Michigan and Georgia were the states that received the most funding in this wave with $188 and $149 million, respectively. The FCC has cited broadband expansion as an even more necessary priority since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Broadband is an essential service and during the pandemic we’ve seen just how critical it is for families, schools, hospitals and businesses to have affordable internet access,” said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

The FCC also said that they were working to “clean up” the program and address some of the controversial aspects of RDOF funding decisions.

These decisions included:

  • Sending letters to 197 applicants concerning areas where there was evidence of existing service or questions of waste. Bidders have already chosen not to pursue support in 5,094 census blocks in response to the Commission’s letters.
  • Denying waivers for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications.  These bidders would have otherwise received more than $344 million.
  • Pulishing a list of areas where providers had defaulted, thereby making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.
  • Conducting an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review of all winning bidders.

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Infrastructure

Google, Municipal Groups Oppose Mediacom Request to Block Google-City Infrastructure Deal

Mediacom petitioned the FCC to stop a Google-West Des Moines deal, but Google said it’s not exclusive.

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Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – A number of associations and Google have filed opposition arguments to a Mediacom request that the Federal Communications Commission intervene to stop a city in Iowa from allowing Google an alleged exclusive access to the city’s infrastructure.

MCC Iowa LLC, also known as Mediacom, filed a petition in May that asked the FCC to stop the construction of the West Des Moines network after alleging an exclusivity agreement between Google and the city was signed in July 2020 that it said negatively harms it. Mediacom, which said this is a first of its kind petition, also asked that the commission intervene to “remove the preferential design, access, financial and permitting rights” afforded to the network.

Mediacom brought the complaint based on Section 253 of the Telecommunications Act, which stipulates that cities must foster competition and restrict efforts to protect monopolies.

But in an October 7 submission, Google said its deal with the city to use its network is not exclusive.

“The Conduit Network is, by contract and by design, a multi-user network intended to accommodate the fiber network of Google Fiber as well as the facilities of other licensees,” Google said in its submission. “The agreement between Google Fiber and the City for Google Fiber’s use of a portion of the Conduit Network…expressly contemplates that there will be users other than Google Fiber, following an initial six-month period during which Google Fiber can test that the network is functioning properly as it begins to serve customers.

Google added that the agreement between the two does not stop the city from allowing other providers to ride on the network on the same economic terms.

The Mountain View-based company also claims Mediacom is misapplying Section 253 in this case and seeks to expand its scope because it targets the city’s effort to promote competition and not, as it would rightfully be applied, to target the city’s effort to restrict competition. In other words, Google said the city isn’t trying to restrict competition because it is encouraging service providers to use the network.

In fact, Google argues the deal with the city is advancing the goals of Section 253. “By building its own conduit network…and encouraging private industry to bring high-speed broadband service to its residents, the City is advancing the goal of Section 253,” Google said.

“Granting the Petition would undermine the actual purpose of Section 253 and turn it, instead, into ‘a blunt tool’ that historical incumbents can use to beat down market competition,” Google added.

Municipal organizations also oppose petition

In a separate submission dated October 7, a coalition of municipal organizations argued similarly that Mediacom’s petition is “aimed at thwarting the very competition Section 253 is intended to ensure, and potentially undermines a range of local efforts to bridge the digital divide.”

The joint submission was signed by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the United States Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, the National Associations of Counties, and the National Association of Towns and Townships.

The group argued further that Mediacom was expanding the scope of the law because the FCC cannot force a municipality to change the design of a project, but is rather limited to enforce, and address violations to, it.

CORRECTIONA previous version of this story said Google was based in Menlo Park. In fact, it is based in Mountain View, California. 

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5G

Google, Reliant On Success of 5G, Says It Wants Government-Funded Test Beds for Open RAN

Company says that the next generation of its products depend on 5G progress.

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Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 — Google made its case for regulators to make room for greater public-private collaboration in the wake of 5G and more research into open radio access network technologies.

Speaking at the FCBA’s “What’s New and Next in Wireless” session on Tuesday, Michael Purdy from Google’s product and policy team emphasized Google’s interest in the emerging 5G landscape, but wants a “collaborative environment” for innovation.

“5G is exciting because of Google’s products depend on 5G,” he said. “[Our] products can’t come to market without it.” Google’s recent product launches include smart-home technologies. Purdy says their products’ benefits are enhanced as 5G is deployed.

Google, like the technology sector at large, is building on the innovation that the “app economy” produced using existing 4G technology and plans to expand their software capabilities with 5G. “The app economy benefited consumers,” Purdy says. “Our lifestyles are going to depend on 5G.” For telehealth, “real time medical advice needs low latency [and] high speeds.”

However, Google hopes for better regulatory conditions during 5G deployment. “We haven’t been as focused on the FCC [for guidance] . . . we want stability to determine spectrum policy.”

Purdy said the company hopes to work collaboratively with government to find solutions for wider 5G deployment. “[We] want to know what position the government takes in creating an open RAN environment.”

The company said it wants government funded-test beds for open RAN, research into development to ensure that “the downside costs are defrayed.” In overcoming these challenges to 5G deployment, Purdy said Google wants the government to foster a “collaborative environment” to develop open RAN. “We don’t want government picking winners and losers in the innovation process” he said.

Purdy added that spectrum sharing between licensed and unlicensed users “can be good for consumers and for industry.”

The Federal Communications Commission has pushed for ways to develop open RAN to minimize network security risk, as the movement has gained significant momentum. FCC Acting Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has described open RAN as having “extraordinary potential for our economy and national security.”

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