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Biden May Revisit Rural Broadband, Utah School District’s Network, Pole Attachment Rules

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Photo of Joe Biden by Eric Haynes

January 20, 2021—$20 billion in federal funding has been promised by the incoming Biden Administration to build up broadband infrastructure in rural America. With President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration set for Wednesday at Noon, it should only be a matter of time until this funding is allocated and rural American’s begins to see the effects of better broadband.

Rural communities still represent a significant percentage of those who lack broadband access, and even when communities have access to infrastructure, their broadband is rarely adequate.

Rural and small-town Americans ought to have the necessary means to utilize the Internet for creating economic opportunities previously unavailable, said Gary Marx, managing partner of Marx and Lieberman. He and a group of others presented a plan to the Obama Administration in 2009 proposing a tool to provide information on economic development to rural and small-town America, called the Rural Development Network.

The proposal was rejected at the time as unnecessary, given the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s then-current operations; however,  due to the economic stagnation of rural America exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, Marx hopes that the Biden Administration will revisit the proposal and consider creating the RDN.

Under the proposal, the RDN would be operated by the USDA or by a private non-profit organization funded in part through federal grants. The proposal would provide means to broadcast information to and from rural America using the Internet, television, radio, mobile devices, and press.

The “broadcast” tool would be similar to traditional television means, like C-Span or the former Pentagon Channel, but would focus on rural economic development. Content would be adapted to television apps, such as Roku, and would be available for free.

The online aspect of the RDN would feature platforms to exchange rural development ideas like “ask the expert” programming with advice from the USDA and Economic Development Administration, in a “Wikipedia” or “Craigslist-like” structure. The RDN would also publish daily news content from the USDA, Department of Commerce, and other related institutions, including educational institutions.

Murray School District builds network to connect all students

The Murray School District in Salt Lake County, Utah, recently unveiled a new LTE network available for free to all students. “Once the COVID-19 pandemic began, the importance of getting kids connected was higher than ever,” said Jason Eyre, technology supervisor for Murray Schools.

The school district covers a virtually perfect 3-mile by 3-mile square area. It includes some of Utah’s most impoverished neighborhoods and has experienced a problem nearly every school district in the nation has—ensuring every student has access to the Internet.

Murray city used federal funding to build 44 towers across its 12 school buildings, allowing internet signals to be sent between 900 feet and one mile to the houses and apartments of its 6,000 students in the district. Students also will be receiving hotspots and other receivers to place in the windows of their homes. When students open a Chromebook from the district, it will automatically connect online.

Even the internet receivers being delivered to students’ homes were made with Murray students in mind. Most students in the Murray School District live in multifamily complexes and can’t afford many utilities beyond rent. With 424 of these unique internet receivers going out, they are stronger than a regular hotspot, utilizing 3.5 to 3.7 Gigahertz spectrum.

Many students had a school-issued device throughout the pandemic before the new LTE network was complete, but it proved useless as many had no broadband at home to get online to submit assignments. With libraries and other shared public spaces closed, students would be seen congregating in their cars at the parking lots of schools, trying to catch a Wi-Fi signal.

“The principal could see how far the Wi-Fi reached by where the line ended,” said Sarah Young, director of strategic initiatives for the Utah Board of Education.

FCC issues ruling alleviating burdens on pole attaching parties

The Federal Communications Commission issued a ruling on pole replacement practices that should help speed broadband deployment, according to America’s Communications Association.

In a recent press release, the ACA praised the FCC for taking actions that address unreasonable pole replacement fees from investor-owned utilities. The ruling clarifies investor-owned utilities’ obligations and subjects them to allocate pole replacement costs in a just and reasonable manner.

The FCC ruling said investor-owned utilities might not charge new attachers for pole replacements if they are not the sole cause for the pole replacement. This is a significant issue in rural communities as many poles are worn beyond use and need replacement.

The previous practice of charging attaching parties to bear the full costs of replacing poles impedes broadband deployment since prices are neither fair nor justifiably distributed.

“The record is clear that pole owners routinely require attaching parties to bear the full costs of replacing their poles, even when a new attacher is not the sole cause of that action,” said ACA CEO Matthew Polka.

Broadband Roundup

FCC December Agenda, Biden to Visit TSMC plant, Weak Economy Presents Cyber Problem

The December meeting includes digital discrimination prevention, phone service accessibility, and satellite application processes.

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Photo of Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-Hua, via Wikimedia Commons

December 1, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda for the agency’s open meeting on December 21.

The agenda will include digital discrimination prevention, phone service accessibility, and satellite application processes.

The FCC will consider, by vote, whether to have a public comment period on making changes in the satellite and earth station application process, possible requirement of wireless carriers to implement location-based routing on their networks to improve 9-1-1 calls and emergency response times, and next steps to close the digital divide in alignment with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.

Biden to visit TSMC plant in Arizona next week

The White House announced President Joe Biden will visit on December 6 Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s $12 billion semiconductor plant in Phoenix, Arizona, according to Reuters.

TSMC began construction of the plant in mid-2021 and is expecting it to be operational in 2023, according to AZCentral. TSMC is the world’s largest independent manufacturer of microprocessors valued at over $400 billion.

The purpose of Biden’s visit is to promote the domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, a key component in many technologies and a major component of the Chips and Science Act passed this summer. That law provides an incentive of $52 billion to get domestic manufacturing of the chips in the U.S.

Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-Hua told reporters in Taipei that she thinks “…we [TSMC] will form a good supply relationship with the United States,” according to Reuters.

TSMC’s Chair Mark Liu had previously told CNN in August that there is a concern with the rising conflict between China’s recent “reunification” efforts with the sovereign island nation.

“Nobody can control TSMC by force,” Liu said. “If you take a military force or invasion, you will render [the] TSMC factory not operable. Because this is such a sophisticated manufacturing facility, it depends on real-time connection with the outside world, with Europe, with Japan, with U.S., from materials to chemicals to spare parts to engineering software and diagnosis.”

Norton sees economy having impact on cyber vulnerability

The weakening economy will make people more vulnerable to cyber crime in 2023, according to a new report from Norton, a brand of cybersecurity company Gen Digital.

“This year, inflation and other unfavorable macroeconomic factors are likely to make people particularly eager to find good deals and they may therefore be at greater risk than in previous years,” Kevin Roundy, Norton’s researcher and technical director, said in a release.

False government assistance programs, false e-stores and users who create deepfakes – manipulated media to appear like a person is saying or doing something – for romance scams pose a risk for users to disclose personal and financial information, Norton said.

“Taking a few proactive steps today could help you to be safer all year long,” Roundy said.

Norton recommends in a press release that users keep a balanced level of skepticism, avoid using the same password for multiple sites, and implement unphishable factors to two-step authentication, such as device-level security checks – verifying your identity on a different device.

Elsewhere, according to Norton’s cybersecurity analysis for 2023, companies that use weak two-factor authentication systems and/or are short-staffed on information technology support are more vulnerable for data breaches.

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Broadband Roundup

Vermont Challenges FCC Fabric, BTX Gets President, Starlink Performance Dip

Vermont said 22 percent of its known locations don’t appear on the FCC map.

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Starlink graphic from SpaceX website https://www.universetoday.com/156383/starlink-satellites-are-still-bright/

November 30, 2022 – Vermont has challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s preliminary broadband map, saying 11 percent of the FCC location data don’t match Vermont’s own map, according to a story from VTDigger.

Vermont said 22 percent of its known locations don’t appear on the map, according to the story. Vermont created its broadband maps that show 29 percent of houses went underserved last year.

“The difference seems to come from claims on the new FCC maps that satellite and fixed wireless broadband can reach huge numbers of folks—something that is not true in hilly and wooded Vermont,” the story reads.

Other states have created their own maps to challenge the FCC’s map, which was released earlier this month. New York said it is challenging some of the data.

New ISP BTX Fiber has a president

Lit Communities announced Tuesday that Richard Hogue has been named the new president of new subsidiary internet service provider BTX Fiber.

BTX Fiber is building a fiber network to provide high-speed broadband service to Brownsville, Texas. It launched in October and plans to install 100 miles of middle-mile cable and 500 miles of last-mile cable, including plans for other communities throughout the area, a press release said.

Hogue has over 20 years of telecommunications construction and management experience. His most recent position was the general manager of Point Broadband in Maryland.

“Brownsville is quite literally pushing out the leading edge in broadband internet availability to the community. BTX Fiber is thrilled to be crucial to this effort in partnership with the City of Brownsville,” said Hogue.

Starlink performance dropped in third quarter: Ookla

The download speeds of satellite broadband company Starlink dropped 17 percent in the U.S. in the third quarter compared to the last quarter, according to data released by metrics company Ookla on Wednesday.

Median download speeds dipped in the third quarter to 53 Mbps , and dropped by at least 14 percent in Canada.

“Over the past year, as we’ve seen more users flock to sign up for Starlink (reaching 400,000 users worldwide during Q2 2022), speeds have started to decrease,” Ookla writes. “Without a doubt, Starlink often can be a life-changing service for consumers where connectivity is inadequate or nonexistent.

“Even as speeds slow, they still provide more than enough connectivity to do almost everything consumers normally need to do, including streaming 4K video and video messaging. The biggest thing you might have issues with is if you’re trying to play multiplayer online games — even being a low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite, latency still lags far behind low-latency fixed broadband connections,” it added.

Starlink provides global high-speed satellite internet coverage and aims to provide coverage to rural and remote areas. The FCC has already denied Starlink funding from the $9.2 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, in part because of its alleged unreliability. Starlink has since appealed.

In August, Starlink announced its partnership with T-Mobile in an effort to expand cell coverage to remote areas in the US.

Ookla is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Maps Inaccurate on Anchor Institutions, SpaceX Requests Licensing, New Consolidated CFO

SHLB told FCC not all anchor institutions use non-mass market internet providers, which are left out of mapping.

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Photo of John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB

November 29, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s new broadband maps inaccurately flag all community anchor institutions as non-broadband serviceable locations, according to the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition in an ex-parte letter filed to the FCC on Monday.

According to an FCC website about the map, the agency’s broadband collection “only gathers information on the availability of mass-market broadband internet access service. The Commission has decided that because community anchor institutions generally subscribe to non-mass-market, enterprise-grade services, they would not be identified as BSLs in the initial version of the Fabric.”

But in a meeting with the FCC on November 22, the contents of which are captured in a post-meeting letter, SHLB told the commission that small-scale community institutions – which can include health care facilities, museums, fire stations, K-12 public schools, law enforcement facilities and public libraries – often purchase broadband services from incumbent providers.

If these institutions are not reflected in the map as a result, SHLB said it is concerned that providers will not report on the availability of these services in these locations despite subscription to their service. That could compromise future considerations for these institutions to receive federal broadband funding, according to SHLB.

“We understand that a CAI can challenge an individual location on the current version of the Broadband Map,” SHLB said in the letter. “But the challenge process does not allow a CAI to change its BSL Flag field to ‘True.’ The current location challenge process for a non-BSL location only allows the challenger the ability to change the building type to something other than a CAI (such as a residence or business).

“This process does not explicitly create a separate category for CAIs that subscribe to mass-market services, and will be confusing or misleading for many CAIs, as well as for anyone attempting to track broadband availability at CAI locations.”

SHLB is recommending the FCC’s next version of the fabric – the data underlying the maps – to include these institutions as BSL’s by default, “with the ability to flag locations that subscribe to enterprise services as non-BSL.”

SpaceX urges FCC move quickly on spectrum licensing

SpaceX has requested the FCC grant the company spectrum licenses “expeditiously” for their next generation of satellite broadband services, according to a letter to the FCC on November 23, which followed a meeting call.

“During the calls, SpaceX sought a status update on its Gen2 license application and urged the Commission to grant that application expeditiously and thereby enable rapid deployment of next-generation satellite broadband to American consumers and businesses, no matter where they are,” the letter said.

SpaceX acknowledged the FCC on recent orders, including reducing post-mission orbital life from 25 years to five to mitigate orbital debris.

“SpaceX also appreciates the Commission’s efforts to act on SpaceX’s proposal for fostering competition through updated rules that incentivize spectrum efficiency and good faith coordination among [Non-Geostationary Orbit] systems and urges the Commission to adopt these principles while using a Further Notice to better focus the record and determine what courses of action or defining criteria are appropriate,” the letter said.

Consolidated Communications hires new CFO

Internet service provider Consolidated Communications announced Tuesday it has hired former Comcast executive Fred Graffam as its executive vice president and chief financial officer starting December 1.

Graffam will replace Steve Childers, who stays with the company on an advisory basis until December 31, the company said in a press release.

“Fred has an exceptional track record of creating value with subscription-based communication service providers,” said Consolidated CEO Bob Udell. “His business acumen, industry, and public company expertise as well as his operating experience make him well qualified to help lead Consolidated as we continue the transformation to a fiber-first broadband Company. I’m incredibly pleased to welcome Fred to Consolidated during this pivotal transformation period.”

Graffam said in a statement that, “I strongly believe in Consolidated’s strategy to bring an exceptional fiber broadband service experience to its customers and look forward to helping the Company capitalize on the [fiber-to-the-premises] opportunity and create value for our stakeholders.”

Graffam previously was senior vice president of the North America/Asia Pacific regions at Level 3 Communications and served in finance and operating roles at Comcast. He has over 30 years in financial management, operational leadership and accounting expertise in the tech and telecom files for public and private companies, according to the release. He was most recently executive vice president and CFO at Brinks Home Security.

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