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Telecom National Security Processes Streamlined, Ready.net’s Growth Platform, Illinois Computer Equity

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Photo of Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker from the Chicago Tribune

Changes to the Federal Communications Commission’s review process for certain applications involving foreign ownership go into effect Monday. These new rules are designed to streamline and improve transparency of what had been an unpredictable process, according to The CommLaw Group.

Previously, in a process that could take several months, the executive branch agencies informally referred to as “Team Telecom” would draft rounds of questions for applicants, following FCC referral.  To improve timeliness and transparency in the process, the new rules establish a time frame for review processes.

The rules further require the International Bureau to issue a standard set of national security and law enforcement questions, which are expected to encapsulate what used to be a standard part of initial triage questions, to be included in certain applications.

The new rules expand the FCC’s discretion in making referrals. With more information provided by applicants at the outset, the FCC might not refer the same types of applications as it commonly did in the past.

The Order clarifies that the FCC will not routinely refer international 214 and 310(b) applications to executive branch agencies, as it had in the past. The FCC further retains discretion to refer any other types of applications if it finds that executive branch participation is necessary for the FCC’s public interest determination.

San Francisco-based startup Ready.net provides a growth platform for local ISPs

According to the founders of startup Ready.net, Jase Wilson and Mike Faloon, it will take more than philanthropy to overcome America’s digital divide, it will take entrepreneurship.

The San Francisco-based company recently raised venture capital funding from Thiel Capital, Arbor Ventures, and notable angels such as Ralph Gootee, Calvin French-Owen and others, in order to launch their platform, branded as the all-in-one platform for growing local ISPs, reported Forbes.

Ready.net attempts to bring together everything local ISPs, municipal broadband networks and REC operators need to acquire, protect, and earn more from their subscribers.

Ready.net “lets local ISPs, the backbone of America’s rural internet, focus on delivering high-quality access through incumbent-grade subscriber experience software,” says Gootee, a cofounder of PlanGrid and angel investor in Ready.net.

Wilson and Faloon, both hailing from small, rural towns lacking high-speed broadband, were inspired by local ISPs to embark on the startup. The two entrepreneurs see a middle America which has the talent but lacks the capital and the software to build better broadband for themselves. The pair started Ready.net to support the smaller ISPs currently working to meet rural America’s digital needs.

Wilson and Faloon believe telecom giants ignore the over 160 million Americans without fixed broadband access. CEO Wilson says, “We were tired of folks like our friends and family not getting high-quality internet access and falling behind. And the local ISPs getting squished by the copper cartel using public money to stifle competition.”

“Our customers are the local ISPs. Our goal is to help them focus on what they can control. We thought we could help them solve their two biggest rate limiters – access to capital and modern software that works for them,” said Wilson.

Illinois launches statewide computer equity network

Governor J.B. Pritzker and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle recently announced a first of its kind statewide initiative to expand digital access for low-income households in Illinois. Through a unique partnership with PCs for People and other community partners, the Connect Illinois Computer Equity Network is working to help put refurbished computer equipment and low-cost internet service into the hands of Illinois households in need.

To be eligible, residents’ income must be below 200 percent of the poverty level or they must be enrolled in an income-based government assistance program, such as free and reduced lunch, Medicaid, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

While initial investments by the state and its corporate partners are paving the way to collect, refurbish, and deploy 20,000 devices, much need still remains – with an estimated 1.1 million households in Illinois lacking a computer at home.

“Everyone is invited to donate their outdated computers,” Pritzker said, adding that PCs for People will provide secure data wiping of all donated items.

Pritzker is calling on Illinois’s public, private, and philanthropic partners to make their devices available for donation. Colleges and other institutions of higher education that are upgrading equipment can donate their older computers. Counties, cities, or even small towns are also encouraged to partner with local businesses to recycle equipment.

“Long before we had ever heard of COVID-19, I set the ambitious goal of bringing broadband and digital infrastructure to every corner of Illinois by 2024 through a program called Connect Illinois,” Pritzker said. While the state is well on its way to making broadband accessible to every Illinoisan, “the ability to plug into broadband means nothing when you don’t have a device to start with.”

Broadband Roundup

NTIA Pushes FTC on Privacy, Broadband in Tough, NY, California Get NTIA Grants

‘NTIA is calling for rules that stop the unnecessary and harmful collection and use of personal information.’

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Screenshot of Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, via C-Span

November 23, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Tuesday in a filing with the Federal Trade Commission that it wants privacy limits on the ways companies collect and use personal information.

The Commerce agency recommended companies minimize the data collected, restrict companies from using data for alternative purposes such as targeted advertising, take comprehensive approaches to new privacy protections, and consider stricter limits on biometric technologies.

The FTC is currently seeking comment on whether it should implement new rules on companies’ data collection and sales practices.

“NTIA is calling for rules that stop the unnecessary and harmful collection and use of personal information. Companies need guardrails about what they can build,” said NTIA head Alan Davidson.

In July this year, Davidson said privacy laws continue to be an issue in the US. He advocated for the first national federal privacy bill, which is currently before Congress.

Study finds telecoms in for rough patch with inflation

Analysys Mason, a management consultancy focused on telecommunication and technology, released a prediction Wednesday that said the telecommunication industry will face challenges, including inflation problems, in 2023.

Consumers may feel the pinch from higher retail prices due to inflation, the analysis finds, which could result in political pressure to moderate price increases, the study found.

“Combined with high investment costs and questions about potential returns, the market outlook is challenging as the telecoms industry tries to steer its path through price rises, rolling out network availability and launching new services,” said Larry Goldman, Analysys Mason chief analyst.

NTIA awards over $10 million in Rhode Island, California

The NTIA announced Tuesday that Rhode Island will receive $5.5 million to build high-speed internet infrastructure.

“The funding will advance a coordinated strategy to get all Rhode Islanders connected to high-speed, reliable, affordable broadband service and close the digital divide,” said Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed.

The money is coming from programs spawned by the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $65 billion for broadband infrastructure.

NTIA also said Tuesday that it awarded two grants of nearly $5.6 million to Merced Community College and California State University Sacramento from the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said these investments will help offer more online learning programs and train digital navigators in its program to work directly with surrounding communities on digital inclusion.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Bans First Voice Service Provider, ACP Outreach Program Funding, Ciena Buys Two Companies

Global UC is the first company to be removed by the FCC from receiving call traffic for robocall violations.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

November 22, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday that telephone company Global UC will be cut off from other networks because it failed to meet the standards set out by the commission to prevent illegal robocalls and caller ID spoofing.

It is the first time the FCC has made such a decision, after it proposed in October to remove Global UC and other companies from receiving call traffic because of alleged violations of the robocall framework known as STIR/SHAKEN. Global UC will be removed from the Robocall Mitigation Database, which includes companies that share their call traffic with each other.

“We have reached the point where we are ready to remove companies if they fail to abide by the rules and heed our warnings,” Loyaan Egal, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, said in a release.

“While this is a steep and impactful penalty, it underscores the importance we place on complying with our rules, which are designed to eliminate the ability of bad actors to use the U.S. communications networks to harm consumers,” Egal added.

New funding opportunities from ACP outreach programs

The Federal Communications Commission announced Monday a further two funding opportunities from two programs of its Affordable Connectivity Program.

On Thursday, the FCC announced four complementary grant programs to market the broadband subsidy program as well as the release of a notice of funding opportunity for both the National Competitive Outreach Program and the Tribal Competitive Outreach Program, worth up to $60 million and $10 million, respectively.

On Monday, the FCC announced the notice of funding opportunity for the remaining two programs, each offering up to $5 million in grants: the Your Home, Your Internet outreach grant and the ACP Navigator pilot program. Applications after due January 9, 2023.

The Your Home, Your Internet program provides funding to qualifying local, state and tribal housing agencies, non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, and tenant associations to encourage residents who receive federal housing assistance to apply for the ACP.

The ACP Navigator pilot program, in partnership with the Universal Service Administrative Company, grants local schools districts and government agencies temporary access to USAC’s National Verifier— a centralized application system to quantify potential qualifying residents.

“Through federal housing assistance, millions of Americans have access to a home. It’s time to help them take advantage of ACP to access affordable Internet as well,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.

The agency announced this summer the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program to raise awareness for the $14.2-billion program, which subsidizes monthly internet bills – of up to $30 per month and $75 per month for residents on tribal lands – and provides a $100 discount on device purchases for low-income applicants. The commission has said that there are millions more Americans who are eligible but have not signed up — in part because they are not aware.

Ciena acquires two companies for network expansion

Software and network services company Ciena announced Tuesday it is buying California-based hardware supplier Tibit Communications for $210 million and Massachusetts-based software company Benu Networks for an undisclosed amount.

Tibit and Benu both deploy single-source fiber conduit to distribute broadband network access to multiple end users including residential, commercial and public, known as passive optical network technology.

Ciena said the acquisition will help expand PON connectivity to residential areas, businesses, and public transportation. The merger will be paid in cash and Ciena will agree to employee retention agreements, according to the release.

“The acquisitions of Tibit Communications and Benu Networks will extend our ability to support customers’ next-generation metro and edge strategies as service providers globally accelerate investments to modernize their networks and improve connectivity at the network edge,” Scott McFeely, senior vice president of Ciena global products and services, said in the release.

“Tibit’s high-speed PON technologies and Benu’s subscriber management products, combined with Ciena’s current access and edge portfolio, will enable us to offer broader, more complete, and fully integrated broadband access solutions that combine routing, subscriber management, and PON features and functionality.”

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Told No to C-Band Changes, New Tribal Entity Grants, Surfshark Report on Internet Value

The telecoms got into a rift with the FAA over interference possibilities with 5G deployments around airports.

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Photo of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

November 21, 2022 – UScellular told the Federal Communications Commission last week not to make changes to its C-band spectrum rules, following concerns that 5G signals would interfere with aircraft around airports.

The telecoms and the Federal Aviation Administration have been working together to mitigate concerns about 5G deployments around airports using the C-band spectrum causing interference with radio aircraft equipment. As such, telecom UScellular urged the FCC not to amend any of the spectrum’s rules.

“Uscellular recommended that the FCC reject calls for modifications to its C-band rules, as changes at this stage will certainly cause deployment delays despite making progress with the FAA, harming Americans who need 5G service the most,” the letter, dated November 19, said.

In May, UScellular said it would work with Swedish telecom equipment provider Ericsson to build out its 5G network using the C-band spectrum.

NTIA announces tribal grants

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Thursday in a press release that it awarded 18 grants worth about $225 million through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

The new money is expected to connect over 21,000 unserved Native American households, businesses and anchor institutions. The states that received the new grants are Alaska, Arizona, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, South Dakota and Virginia.

“These grants – made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – highlighted the Biden administration’s unprecedented commitment to close the digital divide in Native communities,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in a statement.

With the latest grant, the program has awarded $1.5 billion to 112 tribal groups.

Surfshark study shows Mississippi’s internet is overpriced

Mississippi is reported to have the most overpriced internet in the country, according to a report from VPN provider Surfshark.

The company’s “Internet Value Index” is calculated by dividing each state’s internet speed by internet affordability to determine the states that are overpaying for internet access, according to a press release. The IVI is influenced by factors such as economic position, population density, percentage of urban area, and if a state is landlocked.

While the US average is near 0.6, Mississippi ranks below 0.4 on the IVI. New Jersey is 72 percent above the US average, ranking as having the most affordable internet that is fairly priced for residents. New Jersey’s IVI is precisely 1.0, according to the data from Surfshark.

“3 out of 4 rural states are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting fair internet prices, further isolating them from the opportunities that wealthier and more urban states have,” said Agneska Sablovskaja, lead researcher at Surfshark.

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