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FCC’s Marketplace Report, Commission’s Newest Appointees, EBB Comments Sought



January 26, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission’s Marketplace Report, released on the last day of 2020, grades the market competition of data-driven sectors, such as mobile wireless and fixed broadband industries.

One key data point found in the Report is that between 2010 and the end of 2019, the average speed of 4G LTE downloads jumped from 1.3 Megabits per second to 41 Mbps. Median 4G LTE speeds climbed 64 percent, from 16 Mbps in mid-year 2017 to 26.2 Mbps in mid-year 2019.

The report finds that the 4G LTE networks of the three national facilities-based carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless – all cover at least 98 percent of the U.S. population.

Between 2017 and 2019, subscriber data usage jumped 39 percent, to 9.2 Gigabits per month. Over that same time, the annual Wireless Telephone Services Consumer Price Index decreased 5 percent and the Telephone Services CPI decreased 3 percent, while the overall CPI increased about 4 percent.

Cable operators Comcast and Charter are adding subscribers rapidly to their networks, which utilize a combination of Wi-Fi hotspots and third-party wholesale wireless technology to reach netizens.

Residential connections to fixed high-speed Internet rose from 91 million in 2015 to 105 million at the end of 2019. According to the report, the number of Americans with multiple options for broadband service is on the rise, as 74 percent have at least two options for 25/3 Mbps fixed terrestrial service, 67 percent have at least two options for 50/5 Mbps service, 55 percent have at least two options for 100/10 Mbps service, and 35 percent have at least two options for 250/25 Mbps service.

The Free State Foundation has declared that in future reports, the Commission should update its analytical approach to focus on convergence and intermodal competition, claiming a modernized holistic approach would consider that 5G wireless broadband capabilities increasingly match those of wireline broadband.

Remarks of FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel on FCC’s new appointments

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel shared remarks about her vision for the agency’s newest staff appointments in a statement released on Monday.

Rosenworcel announced the appointments of P. Michele Ellison to be acting general counsel and Joel Taubenblatt to be acting chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.

Rosenworcel said that “they both have a deep understanding of communications law and policy and a keen sense of initiative that will be invaluable as the agency takes on its work in the days ahead.”

Ellison has worked at the FCC for 25 years and has an incredible portfolio. She is the first woman of color to serve as the agency’s Chief of Staff, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau, and Acting General Counsel. Previously, she chaired the FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force, a multidisciplinary team created to advise the Commission on ways to address the gap in the accessibility of telehealth technology.

The new Chairwoman is focused on heading initiatives related to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a program established to expand access to high-speed Internet to those struggling in the ongoing economic crisis, funded by Congress in recent COVID-19 relief legislation.

Roseworcel continues to stress the vision of having work to do to put consumers first, support digital equity in communities that have been overlooked and underserved, and advance communications policies that keep the public safe.

“As a nation we need connections—physical and digital—that strengthen our mutual bonds. And we need connections that can break down barriers that for too long have held too many back,” Rosenworcel said.

Wireline Competition Bureau seeks comment on Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

Recent studies show that a large portion of the U.S. population still relies on mobile internet, lacking a fixed internet connection to their home.

Another majority of houses are subscribed to the internet via wired technology, yet the connection offered does not meet the FCC’s definition of broadband.

Repeated research has shown that this layered digital divide is primarily the result of a broadband market that fails to offer sufficient, affordable service options.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, these statistics continue to change, with the number of households with more critical bills to address before considering broadband, continuing to increase.

With the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, broadband will be subsidized for low-income Americans. The Commission is prioritizing promoting public awareness and program transparency, as current FCC staff are working to ensure an easy application and use process exists for eligible households.

For eligibility, the Commission will adhere a more “rigorous verification standards to ensure that the recipients of these benefits are truly part of separate economic households”, involving mobile service and school attendance, and evidence of need.

To ensure public accountability and reduce the risk of waste, fraud, and abuse, the Commission should also create a public repository for information submitted by participating providers to certify their reimbursements due.

Such a resource would benefit-eligible households by allowing them to see at a glance which participating providers offer service in their areas at various discounted price points, including offerings for which the EBB reimbursement covers the entire monthly charge.

Broadband Roundup

DOJ Investigates TikTok, Google’s Generative AI Tool, Charter Counsel Retiring

An internal TikTok investigation found employees had allegedly spied on journalists, the Times reported.




Photo of Sundar Pichai from 2021 by World Economic Forum used with permission

March 21 – Federal authorities are investigating Chinese-owned video sharing app TikTok over allegations its spying over journalists, reported The New York Times on Friday.

Three people familiar with the case told the Times that the Department of Justice has been investigating the company ByteDance after internal emails showed the company had conducted an internal investigation and “found employees gained access to data from two journalists and people associated with them,” the Times said.

According to the Times, a spokesperson said the company “strongly” condemns the actions of the four employees who obtained the data on the journalists and are no longer working for the company.

The investigation comes during a time Washington and state governments are on heightened alert of the app they say is a national security risk. A new memorandum by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget published in February outlines how agencies are to identify and ban problematic software, like TikTok, from government devices and networks.

Senators have also introduced the RESTRICT Act to further strength national cybersecurity by empowering the Department of Commerce to examine critical infrastructure products and ensure “comprehensive actions to address risks of untrusted foreign information communications and technology products.”

Google releases new Bard generative AI tool for trialing  

Google has released an artificial intelligence tool intended to assist users in daily tasks, the search engine giant’s attempt to enter the generative AI space shared by the popular ChatGPT application.

Called Bard, the tool allows users to use the generative AI software as a personal assistant to ask the machine to come up with ways to accomplish tasks. The tool presents a chat box that the user inputs questions into, with the “large language model” generating tips automatically.

Google said the machine is in “experiment” mode and is asking users to contribute to its refinement.

Bard comes a week after OpenAI, the company behind generative AI tool ChatGPT, announced the latest version of the tool that has been able to craft novels using basic prompts. In the latest version, the tool has been able to create websites and versions of 2D video games.

Its power has concerned lawmakers and has sparked calls by experts for its regulation.

Aleksander Mądry, professor of Cadence Design Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a recent subcommittee hearing that generative AI is a very fast moving technology, meaning the government needs to step in to confirm the objectives of the companies and whether the algorithms match the societal benefits and values.

In January, ChatGPT eclipsed 100 million monthly users.

Charter’s executive vice president is retiring

Richard Dykhouse, executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Charter Communications, is set to retire from his position, but will remain until the company picks a successor, the cable company announced Monday.

“Rick has played a significant role in Charter’s transformation and growth story – including its reorganization in 2009, the acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, and the largest-ever integration of cable companies,” Chris Winfrey, Charter’s president and chief executive officer, in a press release. “I am grateful for Rick’s leadership, advice and sound judgment over the years and pleased that he will continue to assist us throughout the transition to his successor.”

Once the company finds the right person, Dykhouse will remain as executive counsel to support the transition, the release said.

Dykhouse joined Charter in 2006.

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Sohn Speaks After Withdrawal, MasterCard Back Indigenous Connectivity, Liberty-CityFibre in Buy Talks

The former FCC nominee spoke for the first time regarding future plans after withdraw.




Photo of Gigi Sohn from 2012 by Joel Sage used with permission

March 20, 2023 – Former Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn told The Washington Post in an interview published last week that she feels she “got a book to write” about her 16-month-long battle to get the Senate to vote her onto the commission.

Earlier this month, the two-time nominee of President Joe Biden withdrew her candidacy after what she called “dark money political groups” tainting her career. Sohn has been accused by Republicans of being impartial and donating to members of the Commerce committee that had previously pushed her nomination forward but which did not get to Senate votes.

“There’s been a bunch of stuff that’s happened over the past 16 months … that is going to make people’s eyes bug out,” Sohn told the Post.

During Sohn’s confirming process, she said she has been repeatedly subject to “unrelenting, dishonest and cruel attacks” from extremist groups and media.

“That was the first time I felt like ‘Oh my god, this could really rile up some crazies to come to my house … and threaten me and my family,’” the Post said she said. “I owed a duty to me and my family to move on, and this was very, very difficult on me emotionally.”

Sohn said she was “very proud” of the support she received from allies throughout the process, the Post said.

Sohn told the Post she had “several opportunities” lined up, which might be the intent to advocate internet access at the state level. But she also said she could do “something bigger and more,” according to the Post.

Mastercard Foundation partners with indigenous institute for internet access

The Mastercard Foundation announced Monday it is investing $3.7 million CAD, or $2.7 million USD, to help the Indigenous Connectivity Institute expand its current digital equity program.

The funding will “enable the ICI to expand current programs and develop new initiatives to reach 10,000 Indigenous young people over the next three years,” according to the release.

“This support from the Mastercard Foundation has the potential to advance Indigenous digital equity beyond our imaginations and make real the projects and collaboration we’ve been dreaming up for years. I am so excited to see this new partnership in action,” Darrah Blackwater, ICI Advisory Council member, said in a press release.

The indigenous-led organization is focused exclusively on digital equity in Canada and the United States by providing training programs to advance technical and advocacy skills, the release said.

“A fast, reliable internet connection is essential to ensuring that Indigenous young people can access high-quality education and meaningful employment opportunities,” says Jennifer Brennan, Director of Canada Programs at the Mastercard Foundation. “The shared vision for this partnership is a commitment to ensuring Indigenous young people and communities have the capacity, support, knowledge, and financial resources to lead digital equity to advance their aspirations and strengthen their communities.”

State broadband leaders will join Broadband Breakfast’s online event and talk about how their states are approaching the digital equity planning process and what they hope to accomplish with federal funding on Wednesday April 15 at 12 noon ET.

Liberty Global acquisition of Cityfibre and Liberty Global unlikely to be approved

Virgin Media O2 is seeking to acquire fiber competitor CityFibre for £3 billion, according to media reports.

The Telegraph reported Saturday that Virgin is in talks with the competitor, but questions remained about the likelihood of the deal moving past regulators.

Capacity reported Monday that equity analyst Jerry Dellis from Jefferies Equity Research does not believe it will get past the Competition and Markets Authority.

“A VMO2-CityFibre combination would appear to threaten the regulatory objective of network competition providing choice for ISPs, leading to better outcomes for consumers,” a Dellis research note said, according to Capacity.

“With a back-book comprising millions of customers that have been subject to multiple years of retail price increases, we question what incentive VMO2 has to compete down wholesale pricing.”

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TikTok U.S. Must Sell or Get Banned, T-Mobile’s New Buy, 5 More States Receive ECF Money

The threats come ahead of the first congressional committee appearance by TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.




Photo of T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert from the company

March 16, 2023 – President Joe Biden and his administration said it wants the Bytedance, TikTok’s owner, to sell the U.S. version of the video sharing app or face a ban, according to the New York Times.

The demands were sent to ByteDance in recent weeks, said the Times, citing anonymous sources.

The threats come ahead of the first congressional committee appearance by TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew next Thursday.

TikTok’s efforts to win U.S. government approval come in the face of growing Congressional hostility toward the platform. Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and John Thune, R-S.D., on Tuesday unveiled a bill aimed at giving the Commerce Department the ability to impose a complete ban of the app.

The Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act (RESTRICT Act) requires the Commerce Department to examine critical infrastructure products, including those that go toward telecommunications networks, and to ensure “comprehensive actions to address risks of untrusted foreign information communications and technology products by requiring the Secretary to take up consideration of concerning activity identified by other government entities,” a White House release said.

Last month, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget required agencies to identify a banned application, such as TikTok, remove it and disallow installation on devices, and prohibit internet traffic within 30 days, as part of the governments’ efforts to rid security threats on government devices.

T-Mobile to acquire Mint Mobile for $1.35B

T-Mobile just announced Wednesday that it has agreed to acquire Ka’ena Corporation and its subsidiaries and brands including Mint Mobile, Ultra Mobile and wholesaler Plum, according to a press release.

T-Mobile is acquiring the brands’ sales, marketing, digital, and service operations, and plans to use its supplier relationships and distribution scale to help the brands to grow and offer competitive pricing and greater device inventory to more U.S. consumers seeking value offerings, it said in the release.

T-Mobile will pay up to a maximum of $1.35 billion, 39 percent in cash and 61 in stock to acquire Ka’ena, with the actual price based on the performance of Ka’ena during certain time period before and after the closing, the release said.

“Mint has built an incredibly successful digital direct-to-consumer business that continues to deliver for customers on the Un-carrier’s leading 5G network and now we are excited to use our scale and owners’ economics to help supercharge it – and Ultra Mobile – into the future,” said Mike Sievert, CEO of T-Mobile, in the release.

“Over the long-term, we’ll also benefit from applying the marketing formula Mint has become famous for across more parts of T-Mobile. We think customers are really going to win with a more competitive and expansive Mint and Ultra,” Sievert added.

FCC commits $1.7M from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Wednesday it is committing $1.7 million through the Emergency Connectivity Program to help over 5000 students gain better access to internet.

Wednesday’s announcement will support approximately 15 schools and 2 libraries in California, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, and New York.

“Closing the Homework Gap means we need to connect all our students to digital tools for communicating with teachers and schools,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Today’s funding round is another important step toward reaching that goal.”

Since the launch of the $7.171 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund in 2021, the FCC has allocated a total of $6.6 billion in funding commitments. The program is set to end this year, with the service delivery deadline for the first two rounds approaching on June 30.

Some organizations have called on Congress to allocate additional funding for its extension.

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