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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

Utah’s Monumental Fiber City, Google Fiber Advertising, Starry Jersey City Expansion

With 141,000 residents, West Valley City, Utah, is now the second largest city in the country fully connected to fiber.

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Photo of Roger Timmerman, CEO of UTOPIA Fiber, and Chief Marketing Officer Kim McKinley at Mountain Connect

May 27, 2022 – West Valley City, Utah, announced Tuesday that it had become the second largest city in the country fully connected to fiber, and the largest U.S. city connected via an open access network. With a population of 141,000, the city trails only Chattanooga, Tenn., as the largest fully-fiberized community in the country.

Utah’s largest city fully connected to fiber and one of the original 11 cities open-access network UTOPIA Fiber targeted in the state, city manager Wayne Pyle emphasized the importance of fiber to the city’s economy. Pyle also serves on UTOPIA’s board.

“Not only have we been able to attract and retain major employers,” he said, “now having fiber built to every home and business has enabled us to bridge the digital divide,” said Pyle.

“Our community has been a place where generations of families can enjoy a great quality-of-life, while new immigrants can join the community and prosper.”

Speaking about the milestone at Mountain Connect, UTOPIA Fiber CEO Roger Timmerman said that while believe that the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated the speed of the build, the open access fiber operator had been on a five-year expedited plan for finishing the city. “They were done waiting around,” Timmerman said of city officials. “And with today’s increased interest rates, and rising cost of construction, it’s a good time to finish these projects.”

Photo of West Valley City, Utah from August 2016 by An Errant Knight used with permission

Google Fiber will alter its advertising following challenges

Fierce Telecom reported Friday that Google Fiber, Google’s fiber-to-the-premises service, would alter its advertising following challenges from the National Advertising Division and cable company Charter Communications that offshoot company made a number of unsupported claims on its speeds.

Google Fiber asserted that it could provide “faster download speeds than you’d get with traditional cable,” and additionally that it offers up to 77x faster uploads and 12x faster downloads as well as that it has “fewer outages than cable internet.”

The company will respect the recommendations of the NAD despite the fact that it disagrees with the agency’s ruling.

In February, Charter was largely successful in challenging advertising from AT&T when the NAD recommended the latter stop saying it offers “better internet” than cable.

Starry oversees a housing community broadband expansion

Fixed-wireless provider Starry Internet announced Tuesday that it would be partnering with the Jersey City Housing Authority to provide residents of two housing communities in Jersey City, New Jersey with access to its digital equity program known as Starry Connect.

Residents will also be able to opt into the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

272 building housing units will have the opportunity to benefit from Starry’s program.

“We are ecstatic to partner with Starry to bridge this gap by building essential broadband infrastructure and offering high-speed, low-cost access to our residents,” said Vivian-Brady-Phillips, JCHA executive director.

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Broadband Roundup

Former FCC Chair Joins Company Board, Twitter to Pay $150 million in Privacy Case, Telehealth Prescriptions

Tom Wheeler is joining the board of a mobile network company.

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Photo of Tom Wheeler, by Mark Wilson

May 26, 2022 – Alef, a mobile network company, announced on Wednesday that Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, will join its board of directors.

According to the press release, Wheeler will “serve as an advocate for enterprises to rapidly adopt mobility inside the enterprise private network.”

Wheeler has more than 40 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. During his time at the FCC, he led efforts to adopt the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum band, net neutrality, and enhanced cybersecurity policies.

“Alef is a pioneer for the kind of competitive offering that we were envisioning when the FCC created CBRS, and thus it is an honor to join this Board of Directors,” said Wheeler in the press release.

In the same press release, Alef announced it also joined the OnGo Alliance, an organization designed to support the development of new solutions for the CBRS.

Working with OnGo, Alef will identify key issues and drive the development of LTE and 5G NR solutions for CBRS, the press release said. “This news demonstrates the company’s continued leadership across the telecom industry, ushering in a new era of capability delivered to the enterprise from the mobile edge,” stated the press release.

Alef gives enterprises and developers the ability to create, customize, and control their own private network infrastructure, the release said.

Twitter to pay $150 million to settle privacy suit

Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million fine following a privacy lawsuit settlement made public on Wednesday concerning allegations that the company improperly collected and handled user data between 2013 and 2019.

The settlement requires a court approval before being finalized.

The lawsuit, which was initiated by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, stated that Twitter had collected phone numbers and email addresses from platform users to secure accounts but allowed advertisers use the information to target ads without notifying users.

According to an FTC press release, Twitter used this personal information to “further its own business interests through its Tailored Audiences and Partner Audiences services.” This was in violation of a 2011 privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

“As the complaint notes, Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads,” FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan said in a release.

The settlement, in addition to the fine, will require Twitter to “maintain a comprehensive privacy and information security program, notify users whose information was misused, limit employee access to personal data, and offer multifactor authentication options.”

Twitter apologized for the breach in 2019, claiming that the data “may have been inadvertently used for advertising.”

Damien Kieran, Twitter’s chief privacy officer, said in a blog post that “keeping data secure and respecting privacy is something we take extremely seriously, and we have cooperated with the FTC every step of the way.”

CVS, Walmart to stop telehealth prescriptions

CVS Pharmacy and Walmart will no longer be filling prescriptions for controlled substances ordered by telehealth companies Cerebral Inc. and Done Health in response to concerns from a review that CVS conducted on their prescription practices. Walmart, according to the Wall Street Journal, did not disclose why they made the decision.

“We recently conducted a review of certain telehealth companies that prescribe controlled substance medications,” said CVS in a statement to The Hill. It is “important that medications are prescribed appropriately.”

CVS reportedly was unable to resolve “concerns” they had with Cerebral and Done Health, but did not elaborate on the concerns.

Cerebral said in a statement to The Hill that CVS’s timing was unfortunate, noting that they had stopped prescribing controlled substances earlier this month. “In light of CVS’s decision, Cerebral is doing everything possible to ensure these patients get access to medications that their health care providers have determined they need.”

Cerebral said that they would reach out to every patient impacted by CVS’s decision to help them transition to another pharmacy “as seamless as possible.”

As reported by The Hill, pharmacists at other locations that have adopted similar policies “expressed concerns that telehealth companies were over-prescribing certain medications like Adderall.”

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Broadband Roundup

Digital Equity Foundation Guide, UScellular Selects Ericsson for 5G, Brightspeed Targets

A policy paper recommends how a federally funded digital equity entity should be funded and structured.

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Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project

May 25, 2022 – A policy paper released Wednesday outlined recommendations for a federally funded Digital Equity Foundation, including how it should be structured and funded.

New America’s Open Technology Institute and the Philanthropic thru Privatization report recommends the foundation focus on having a stable endowment to maintain the its annual support, an ability to raise outside funds, to have advisory groups with a broad range of expertise to guide the foundation, and to have transparency principles that would see it have federal appointees and report regularly to the Senate and House commerce committees.

The paper comes after a joint note from New America and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies in April 2021 to Congress for funding for the foundation. At least 75 organizations support the Digital Equity Foundation.

“A federally funded Digital Equity Foundation isn’t a radical concept. Rather, it’s a common-sense policy solution to a longstanding national problem,” said Chuck Bell, a project associate for the PtP Project. “This proposed foundation would meet vital community needs, fit with longstanding legal precedents, and provide sustainable national funding to bridge the digital divide for millions of underserved Americans.”

Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project, said that even with the billions in broadband investments from the Infrastructure, Investment Jobs Act – which provides funding for digital equity – we won’t close the digital divide without “sustained investments in digital literacy and adoption efforts at the community level.”

UScellular selects Ericsson for C-band deployment

UScellular, the nation’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, announced Wednesday an agreement that will see Swedish telecom equipment supplier Ericsson help the telecom build out its 5G network using the C-band spectrum.

The telecom looks to use the spectrum to build out its fixed wireless network.

“Ericsson’s advanced mid-band coverage extension functionality with Carrier Aggregation network solutions will increase coverage and capacity for UScellular customers both at home and on the go,” said a press release Wednesday.

“Ericsson has a valued, long-standing relationship with UScellular, and we share their commitment to providing a resilient and sustainable network through the use of industry-leading innovations, ultimately elevating the customer experience,” Eric Boudriau, Ericsson’s vice president and head of customer unit regional carriers, said in the release.

Brightspeed announces first-year build target for its fiber network

On Wednesday, telecom company Brightspeed announced first-year plans for its proposed $2 billion network transformation plan, including an aim to have one million new fiber passings across rural and suburban regions of the U.S. and reaching close to three million homes and businesses by the end of 2023.

The company said it is optimistic the first deployment will take place in North Carolina in a few weeks and will serve as a company blueprint for future applications.

“We have already begun design and construction preparations necessary to hit the ground running on day one. We will be well-equipped to quickly deliver on our mission to bring ultra-fast, reliable Internet and Wi-Fi to more homes and businesses” said Bob Mudge, CEO of Brightspeed.

The company said its network is expected to provide more than one gigabit per second download speeds.

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