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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

House Passes Ban on Chinese Equipment, 3.45 GHz Auction Reaches Reserve Price, Against a ‘Wi-Fi Tax’

Bipartisan Senate bill clears the House, FCC auction prices climb higher, tech groups oppose newly proposed fee

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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florids

October 22, 2021—The House of Representatives passed the Secure Equipment Act of 2021 on Wednesday, with a goal of mitigating perceived national security threats from equipment manufacturers, particularly Chinese companies.

The bill would require the Federal Communications Commission issue rules prohibiting new equipment licenses to potentially dangerous companies on the agency’s “Covered Equipment or Services List.”

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., initially introduced the act before its passage in the Senate. The House version of the bill was introduced by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana.

Chinese state-backed firms Huawei and ZTE are among the companies included in the FCC’s list of technology companies that the agency has deemed a national security threat. The agency was required by the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 to detail which companies it believes to pose a severe threat to U.S. safety.

The new measure would make it impossible for U.S. telecommunications carriers to continue using equipment from companies deemed threats by the FCC if that equipment was purchased with private or non-federal government dollars. That practice was previously allowed, even those using such equipment with federal funds had already been effectively banned.

FCC 3.45 GHz auction proceeds reach reserve price

The 3.45 GHz auction at the FCC hit the agency’s reserve price of $14.77 billion Wednesday.

Many doubts existed about whether the auction would not hit the reserve price and become the first to do so in the FCC’s history.

Should this auction follow the same progression as this year’s C Band auction, it is possible proceeds could reach $20 billion. Current proceeds total $16.43 billion.

Success of the auction would come as a large relief to AT&T, which is projected to be the auction’s largest spender ahead of T-Mobile and Dish.

Analysts at New Street Research stated that they believe it is likely that the auction will meet the reserve price and that the actions of the Department of Defense will serve as a strong indicator of the auction’s success because it uses the mid-band spectrum that is most sought after by carriers.

CCIA opposes a proposed ‘Wi-Fi tax’

The Computer & Communications Industry Association on Thursday in submitting comments to the FCC on Thursday in opposition to a proposal that would charge regulatory fees to users of unlicensed spectrum.

The CCIA was joined in its opposition by the Internet Association, Digital Media Association and Incompas.

The organizations said that the FCC’s proposed fees would “effectively result in something like a Wi-Fi tax.”

CCIA said that the proposal would be “unworkable to implement” and that it exceeds the legal authority and mission of the FCC. Further, they state it would also harm innovators who use unlicensed spectrum to create services for consumers.

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Broadband Roundup

‘Squid Game’ Exposes Traffic Problem, Virginia’s $2B Broadband Investment, West Virginia Mapping

Netflix hit’s traffic struggle, Virginia expects $2B from P3, op-ed says FCC expects states to get good maps before FCC.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

October 20, 2021––A South Korean broadband company is suing Netflix to cover the cost of the surge in traffic from its hit television show “Squid Game.”

The show, which according to Netflix has more than 100 million streams, became a global hit last month.

The Financial Times reports that SK Broadband, owned by SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest mobile operator, argues that streaming platforms should pay for the congestion on its networks.

The company said that the traffic Netflix generated on its network increased to 1.2 trillion bits of data processing per second since September, an increase that’s equal to 24 times the company’s normal traffic over three years. The company said its network had to be upgraded twice to accommodate the traffic surge caused by customers streaming the show on Netflix.

Local law in South Korea requires the companies with more than 1 million users and using more than 1 percent of total network traffic to pay internet fees to distribute the maintenance costs incurred by broadband providers.

Netflix accounted for almost 5 percent of internet traffic in the fourth quarter and had more than 1.7 million paid subscribers. SK Broadband argues that Netflix must pay more in network usage fees.

Virginia announces $2 billion public-private broadband partnership

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the state expects more than $2 billion in funding for high-speed broadband investments after announcing a public-private partnership with local governments and private internet service providers, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Northam announced that the state received requests to fund 57 projects to expand broadband across 84 localities across Virginia, totaling $943 million in grants. It would be matched by $1.15 billion in private and local government funds.

“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” said Northam. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic has pushed us all to move even faster.

“Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by [2024], which means more connections, more investments, more online learning and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia,” he said.

Northam and the Virginia general assembly appropriate $700 million of the $4.3 billion that Virginia received under the federal emergency aid package to accelerate Virginia’s universal broadband coverage goal. The expected completion has been moved up from 2028 to 2024.

The plan is expected to bring internet access to more than 250,000 homes and businesses.

The state is using federal emergency aid from the American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide in Virginia.

Op-Ed: West Virginia being asked to produce quality broadband maps before FCC

Advocates for more accurate maps say that the federal government is hypocritical in asking West Virginia for more accurate maps than the Federal Communications Commission can produce.

“The state is being asked to produce accurate maps, which the federal government knows full well its own agency did not produce” for the state the invest millions of dollars in federal American Rescue Plan funding for broadband expansion, writes a Wednesday op-ed in the Weirton Daily Times.

The FCC has been under fire for flaws in its broadband mapping data, which was relied upon to produce winners for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which forced the commission to clean-up the result of the reverse auction after finding that some of the money would go toward wasteful spending.

West Virginia’s effort to expand broadband is led by the state Department of Economic Development. State Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael said that if self-reported maps show no service in an area “you can bet your life there’s no service there.”

“There’s a lot more at stake as the department works to get these maps right. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of education and employment in West Virginia is riding on it,” said the Times. “Good luck, then, to Carmichael and his department as they work to clean up yet another federal government mess that has left the Mountain State struggling for too long.”

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Broadband Roundup

New Senate Antitrust Bill Reaction, Charter Making Executive Changes, T-Mobile, Verizon Top Charts

Trade association doesn’t like new antitrust bill, Charter makes changes at the top, T-Mobile leads wireless, Verizon on wireline.

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Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

October 19, 2021 – A Senate antitrust bill introduced Monday that would empower the Federal Trade Commission to further regulate technology companies will harm start ups and small business, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

The trade association, which represents companies across the tech sector, said the American Innovation and Consumer Choice Act – introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa – will “cause irreparable harm to small businesses and startups and put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage against China and other nations eager to overtake our country as global tech leader.”

The bill would prohibit “dominant platforms” from favoring their own products and services to the detriment of competition, stop conduct that is harmful to small businesses including preventing interoperability with big platforms, requiring payment to receive preferential treatment on the big platform, bias search results, and misuse business data to compete against the small companies.

Amazon, for example, was accused of having taken the information of products of smaller companies on its platforms to create their own competing products.

According to the release, the bill received the support of at least 10 other Senators across party lines and companies including Spotify and Roku.

But the CCA said the bill, in empowering the FTC, would allow it to “ignore the consumer welfare standard, while imposing massive fines with minimal due process.

“Further, the bill will take away features and functions that millions of Americans love and use in their everyday lives,” the CCA statement said. “Say goodbye to Amazon Prime free shipping, Google maps in search results, preinstalled iPhone apps and many more.”

The House already has before it six antitrust bills that are awaiting votes.

Charter makes executive changes

Charter announced Tuesday that it is promoting chief financial officer Chris Winfrey to chief operating officer and Jessica Fischer will move from executive vice president to the COO position.

John Bickham will be vice chairman before he retired at the end of 2022, the company also announced in a press release, while chief product and technology officer Rich DiGeronimo will oversee the company’s network operations as an additional responsibility.

“I have worked with John for three decades and at every turn, his knowledge, leadership and steady hand have not only contributed greatly to the success of the companies we led, but made a profound impact on the growth of our industry,” said CEO Tom Rutledge. “I am grateful that John will continue to serve Charter in this new capacity as a strategic advisor to me and the executive team, and his guidance will help ensure a successful transition for Chris into the COO role.”

T-Mobile gets top billing for wireless, Verizon for wireline

According to an Ookla report Monday, T-Mobile ranked as the fastest mobile operator in the country in the third quarter with a median download speed of 62.35 Megabits per second, as Verizon took home the top rank for wireline download speeds at 178.38 Mbps.

For wireless, AT&T was second in speed at 47.42 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 39.91 Mbps. T-Mobile also ranked first in 5G performance with a median speed of 135.17 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 78.94 Mbps and then AT&T at 72.46 Mbps. T-Mobile was also top in 5G availability with 64.4 percent, with AT&T second at 44.8 percent and Verizon third at 34.3 percent.

T-Mobile completed its merger with Sprint last year. It proposed that the combined entity was the only way the companies could compete against the top players and offer a competitive 5G product.

On the wireline side, Cox was second to Verizon on download speed at 168.56 Mbps, followed by Comcast’s Xfinity at 161.87 percent, Spectrum fourth at 143.57 Mbps, AT&T Internet at 132.48 Mbps, and CenturyLink at 59.80 Mbps.

New Jersey had the fastest median download speed on wireline at 158.19 Mbps, followed by New York at 147.46 Mbps, California at 142.56 Mbps, Florida at 141.88 Mbps, and Texas at 140.15 Mbps.

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