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Mitch McConnell Ties $2,000 Checks to Section 230 Repeal, WISPA and Multifamily Broadband Council, Predictions for 2021

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Photo of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from Wikipedia used with permission

Hours after blocking legislation to increase direct payments in the coronavirus stimulus legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday introduced a bill tying $2,000 stimulus checks to unrelated items on President Donald Trump’s agenda, including a full repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the creation of a new congressional committee to further investigate the integrity of the 2020 U.S. elections.

Early Tuesday, many Republicans seemed poised to support the increased stimulus checks which Trump called for Sunday evening after signing the coronavirus relief and government spending package.

Yet, in a floor statement made Tuesday afternoon, McConnell tied the increase in funds to the vote integrity measure and Section 230 repeal — either or both of which might be seen as a poison pill. “During this process, the president highlighted three additional issues of national significance he would like to see Congress tackle together. This week, the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus.”

McConnell explained that the Senate plans to address Section 230 and election fraud this week, but by tying the increased payments to measures that Democrats oppose, the top Senate Republican’s bill will most likely sink efforts to get Americans additional COVID-19 relief.

McConnell’s legislation seemingly aligns Senate Republicans to do controversial aspects of Trump’s agenda, including his feud with high-tech platform companies including Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Some see the rift between Trump and big tech opening when he was flagged for a Tweet, in May, that contained misleading information about the voting process.

On Tuesday, Trump lashed out again against the law which enables online platforms to moderate content:

WISPA takes over the Multifamily Broadband Council, which will close its doors

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association and the Multifamily Broadcast Council signed a membership option agreement in December 2020, which will transition all active MBC members into WISPA effective January 1, 2021.

MBC is a trade association representing those who deliver unique, personalized broadband solutions to multifamily communities, multiple-dwelling units, and other multi-tenant environments. Its members are non-franchised companies and their vendors who specialize in deploying connectivity solutions for the multifamily marketplace. The goal of MBC was always to work to foster competitive communications and alternative broadband choices for multifamily communities across the U.S.

In a statement, WISPA wrote that the synergy between MBC and WISPA is strong and vibrant.

“As our organizations continued to work together, we saw more opportunities for alignment,” said Valerie Sargent, executive director for MBC. “WISPA had more members starting to venture into the MDU space yet had no aspect of its membership dedicated to multifamily needs. MBC had the 25 years of practical application, standards and experience working within that environment, and can lend these decades of knowledge to WISPA members.”

“The partnership is a natural fit,” reiterated Claude Aiken, president and CEO of WISPA. “WISPA and MBC members are small entrepreneurial operators that drive incredible value for consumers and recognize the tremendous need to close the urban and rural digital divide. We’re going to do all we can to open up the multifamily market to competitive entry and deliver the diverse competition that communities need and deserve.”

Telecom predictions for 2021

As we wrap up the chaos that embodied 2020 and embark on a new year, many are airing out their telecom policy hopes gearing up for the year 2021. While many are hoping for a clear skies and brighter futures ahead, CCG Consulting’s President Doug Dawson recently published a blogpost airing his 2021 telecom predictions, which may knock the wind out of some sails.

Among other predictions, Dawson anticipates that the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will deliver far less high-speed broadband infrastructure than it promises to.

“The reverse auction was a disaster in many ways, with a lot of the money going to companies that can’t possibly do what they promised or companies that largely intend to make a profit by pocketing a lot of the grants,” writes Dawson. Although the FCC will have a chance to rectify some of the problems during the review of the long forms, Dawson believes that they won’t disqualify many of the winning bidders.

Dawson further predicts that the technician shortage will become much more noticeable, as telecom companies are currently struggling to hire and retain technicians.

Dawson gives readers a reality check, predicting that the pandemic will continue to slow down progress within the industry. “Even with a vaccine finally hitting the market, the first six months of 2021 will continue under pandemic restrictions,” Dawson writes.

Although $65 million in the coronavirus relief package was allocated to fixing the FCC’s broadband maps, Dawson believes the FCC maps aren’t going to get any better, as it may not be within the agency’s interest to improve them.

Dawson reiterates that the future of the next FCC is unpredictable until the Georgia Senate races conclude. “If the Democrats prevail in both races, then I predict that the new FCC will start the process of trying to bring back broadband regulation and net neutrality. But even then, I don’t expect much progress on the effort for most of 2021,” he concludes.

See also Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark’s piece with his observations and projections, “The Top 10 Broadband Stories of 2020, and What They Mean for 2021,” December 30, 2020

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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