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Broadband Roundup

COVID Relief Bill Provides $7 Billion for Broadband Access, Pew on Pandemic, Education Broadband Service Decision

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Photo of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from Inquisitr

Sunday evening, Congress announced reaching a deal on an emergency coronavirus relief package, which includes $7 billion in funding to support broadband internet access. The bill is expected to pass both the U.S. House and Senate on Monday.

The $7 billion for broadband set aside in the stimulus agreement will include a reported $3.2 billion for an emergency-broadband benefit that will be available to individuals and families who cannot readily afford essential internet connections, and up to $1.3 billion for broadband connectivity on tribal lands and in communities surrounding historically Black colleges and universities.

The funding also includes $1.9 billion for “rip and replace” efforts to remove Huawei and ZTE equipment from U.S. networks, $300 million for rural broadband deployment, $250 million for the Federal Communications Commission’s telehealth program, and $65 million to improve broadband mapping.

Most significant is the shift in legislators’ attention to the affordability crisis that predated the pandemic, but has become even more dire over the past 10 months. The broadband funding includes an Emergency Broadband Benefit that will provide $50 per month for broadband for low-income families, a provision based on legislation from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.

The final legislation does not include other important broadband measures the House first passed in May as part of the HEROES Act. It also leaves out measures discussed in negotiations last week by the bipartisan group of senators who helped restart stimulus negotiations. Yet the broad eligibility criteria for the broadband benefit will provide assistance to many in need of financial assistance to get connected.

In response to the Congressional stimulus package, Chip Pickering, CEO of INCOMPAS, said that broadband funding in the stimulus package is an important band-aid to help keep Americans connected, but stresses “the pandemic makes clear that our networks require surgery.”

“Millions of families lack coverage, while the majority of Americans are forced to live with older networks that are too slow, over-congested and expensive where there is a lack of competition,” said Pickering, noting “other nations have taken massive steps forward to deploy faster speed networks with gigabit goals.”

Pickering called the next Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration to make universal, high-speed, affordability a top priority in the first 100 days, in order to prevent our economy getting ‘stuck in the slow lane’ for decades to come.

Pew Research Center studies reveal Americans’ views of technology during COVID-19

The coronavirus outbreak led to widespread shutdowns and stay-at-home orders throughout the country in March, forcing Americans to adapt and shift parts of their daily routines online.

To paint a full picture of Americans’ attitudes towards the role and effectiveness of various technologies, the Pew Research Center surveyed public opinion on tech over the course of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

A month into the pandemic, 87 percent of U.S. adults said the internet had been at least important for them personally during the outbreak, including 53 percent who deemed the internet as “essential” for them. According to a March survey, roughly half of adults, 49 percent, said that a major interruption in their internet or cellphone service during the coronavirus outbreak would be a very big problem for daily life in their household.

The research reveals that age and level of formal education are the main factors shaping American attitudes toward tech. Adults under the age of 65 were more likely than those 65 and older to say internet outages would be a very significant problem. Individuals with a bachelor’s or advanced degree were also more likely than those with lower levels of educational attainment to say this.

When it comes to data collection and digital privacy, only a minority of Americans said in April that they thought cellphone tracking would be beneficial for curbing the spread of the virus. Some 38 percent said that if the government tracked people’s locations through their cellphone during the coronavirus outbreak it would help at least a little in limiting the spread of the virus. A larger share, 60 percent, said this type of tracking by the government would not make much of a difference in limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

A majority of Americans, 64 percent, said that internet and phones would be useful, but not be an adequate substitute for in-person interactions.

SHLB disappointed in FCC Educational Broadband Service decision

On Thursday, the FCC denied a petition for reconsideration of the Transforming the 2.5 Gigahertz Band Report and Order, filed by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition and several education advocates. Friday, the SHLB Coalition expressed disappointment that the FCC rejected the Coalition’s call to award educational institutions an opportunity to acquire Educational Broadband Service in rural markets.

In the petition, the SHLB Coalition provided many examples of successful wireless deployments by schools working with private sector companies, and provided detailed economic evidence that awarding schools EBS licenses would promote economic growth and help address the homework gap.

“The FCC’s denial of our petition for reconsideration is quite disappointing,” said John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, in a recent statement. “For many schools, access to EBS spectrum would have been their golden ticket to quickly deploy networks that reach their students without home internet access. It is extremely unfortunate that the Commission did not give schools and other educational organizations this opportunity.”

Broadband Roundup

Senate Bill Would Alter Google Advertising, DOJ Cybersecurity Policy Reversal, Comcast on Hybrid Fiber-Coax

Senate introduces bill breaking up Google’s digital advertising business

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Photo of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, from March 2016 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

May 20, 2022 – On Thursday a bipartisan group of senators on the Judiciary Committee introduced a bill that would force Google to break up its industry-leading online advertising exchange.

The Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act would prohibit large companies like Google from both operating an ad exchange and a supply- or demand-side platform, should they process more than $20 billion in ad transactions.

The bill would also require Facebook to divest some of its advertising business.

“Companies like Google and Facebook have been able to exploit their unprecedented troves of detailed user data to obtain vice grip-like control over digital advertising,” said bill sponsor Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

In late 2020, a coalition of 10 state attorneys general brought a lawsuit against Google alleging that its market dominance lets it overcharge businesses seeking to place ads online.

Justice Department changes directions on cybersecurity prosecution policy

On Thursday the Department of Justice announced it would reverse its charging policy on a federal computer fraud law, saying it will not prosecute “good-faith security research” efforts.

The change by the department relates to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, defining good-faith research as “accessing a computer solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability” without any intention of harming the public.

Last year, Georgia police sergeant Nathan Van Buren was successful in appealing his conviction under the CFAA to the Supreme Court.

DOJ argued that he should not have taken a bribe to access a woman’s license plate information during a 2015 Federal Bureau of Investigation sting operation, while Van Buren claimed that he had legitimate access to the database.

Comcast plans to release hybrid fiber-coaxial multi-gig speeds in the coming months.

Comcast is preparing to roll out faster multi-gigabit speeds across its hybrid fiber-coaxial network, Fierce Telecom reported Thursday.

Multi-gig rollout is expected in the coming months.

At an investor conference Comcast CEO Dave Watson stated that his operator’s choice to roll out mid-split upgrades on the way to Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 4.0 technology will allow it to take speeds to the next level.

“We have a very fast, very efficient path to multi-gig symmetrical at scale that we can do,” said Watson.

He feels comfortable that despite Comcast fiber deployments in select locations, the company feels comfortable that its HFC network will remain competitive.

He also reiterated previous comments that fixed wireless access service is not a threat and that it does not materially impact churn from fixed wireless competitors.

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Broadband Roundup

AT&T and DISH Agreement, FCC Adds More States in Robocall Fight, $50M from Emergency Connectivity Fund

Dish said its customers will now have access to AT&T’s gigabit fiber services.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

May 19, 2022 – On Wednesday, AT&T and Dish Network announced an internet distribution agreement in which Dish customers will have access to AT&T internet services, including its gigabit fiber services.

“Adding AT&T Internet to our robust lineup of TV and home integration services enhances our ability to provide better overall service, technology and value to our customers,” Amir Ahmed, executive vice president of DISH TV, said in a press release.

“At AT&T, we’re constantly thinking of ways we can better serve and provide for our customers. Through this new arrangement with DISH, we’re able to do just that by seamlessly offering our super-fast broadband services to more customers across the nation,” said Jenifer Robertson, executive vice president and general manager of mass markets at AT&T Communications.

“This is another step towards our goal of becoming the best broadband provider in America,” said Robertson.

FCC adds more state partners to tackle illegal robocalls

The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday new partnerships with nine additional state attorneys general to combat illegal robocalls.

The agency said Iowa, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have all signed on to help with robocall investigations.

That raises the number of states that have signed a memoranda of understanding with the FCC to 36, after the agency last month signed on a handful more states for the initiative. The agency has already credited at least one state with helping it nail one suspected robocall violator.

As part of the agreement, the parties will “share evidence, coordinate investigations, pool enforcement resources, and work together to combat illegal robocall campaigns and protect American consumers from scams,” according to the FCC.

“We are better positioned to help protect consumers from scammers than ever before,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Together we are stronger. Together we will continue our work to protect American consumers.”

The FCC already has robocall investigation agreements with Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

FCC commits additional $50 million from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The FCC announced on Wednesday that it has approved an additional $50 million from the Emergency Connectivity Fund program that is intended to help students with virtual learning.

The FCC said this funding will go to help 46 schools, seven libraries and two consortia across the country for students in American Samoa, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The FCC estimates that, so far, nearly $4.9 billion has been committed to connect over 12.6 million students across the country.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel added in a press release that “this program is providing funding for nearly 11 million connected devices and 5 million broadband connections throughout the country and moving us closer toward closing the Homework Gap.

“With help from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, millions of students across the country now have online tools to support their education,” added Rosenworcel.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC June Meeting, Ookla Speeds at Airports, FCC Cautioned About Overstepping on Digital Discrimination

The FCC laid out its agenda for the June open meeting.

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Screenshot of TechFreedom President Berin Szóka

May 18, 2022 – In a press release Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda for its June 2022 open meeting.

The FCC will explore ideas for wireless innovation at sea following increasing demand for spectrum to support offshore operations. The FCC will consider offshore spectrum policies to ensure efficient use of scarce spectrum resources.

In 2018, the FCC launched an inquiry to explain why some wireless 911 calls were misrouted to the wrong call center. The past four years showed a decrease in the frequency of this error but not its elimination. The FCC will seek comment on improvements that would reduce misrouted 911 calls and improve emergency response time.

During the June open meeting, the FCC will also consider preserving established local radio programming on FM6 radio service, if they meet certain conditions.

Ookla speedtest shows divide on speeds for Wi-Fi at airports

Analytics company Ooka analyzed airport Wi-Fi speeds at some of the busiest airports in the world and found that all surveyed airports met the recommended speed for streaming on mobile, but found a large divide between them.

The four fastest free airport Wi-Fis were all located in the United States: San Francisco International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, and Chicago O’Hare International. Following that came Dubai International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and Los Angeles International.

According to Speedtest Intelligence data, there is a wide gap between median speeds of the first 8 airports and the other airports on the list with the fasted being 176.25 Mbps. Airport lounges were found to have faster Wi-Fi on average than the airport itself.

Ookla, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, used its Speedtest Intelligence, which provides global insights into fixed broadband and mobile performance data using billions of consumer-initiated tests.

Tech lobbyists says FCC must not overstep authority to prevent digital discrimination

Tech lobbyist TechFreedom filed comments on Monday claiming that the Federal Communication Commission is overstepping its authority to regulate digital discrimination, following the FCC’s inquiry on how to prevent such a practice.

“If Congress had wanted the FCC to implement a new civil right law for broadband, it would have legislated a clear prohibition on discrimination – the essential element in all civil rights laws,” TechFreedom President Berin Szóka said in a release. “Instead, Congress wrote a law entirely about ‘facilitation.’”

The FCC’s inquiry follows an order under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to make rules to “facilitate” equal access to broadband and “prevent digital discrimination.”

“It is simply not plausible that Congress could have intended to change how broadband deployment is regulated in an obscure amendment tacked onto a spending bill on the Senate floor with no discussion or legislative history,” Szóka argued.

He concluded that there are other routes the FCC can take to prevent digital discrimination and facilitate equal access. Szóka called on the commission to “focus on directing funding towards remedying unequal access to broadband and preventing potential digital discrimination- not only under the infrastructure act but also the FCC’s various other broadband programs.”

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