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

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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.

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Broadband Prices Decline, AT&T’s Fiber Build in Texas, Conexon Partners for Build in Georgia

A USTelecom report finds that despite high inflation, broadband prices have been declining.

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Screenshot of Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – A USTelecom report released Wednesday found that broadband prices have been declining, despite high inflation.

The association’s 2022 Broadband Pricing Index Report found that broadband pricing decreased even with significant inflation of an estimated 8 percent in the past year, the most popular broadband prices dropped by 14.7 percent, and the highest speed broadband prices dropped by 11.6 percent from 2021-2022.

“Broadband prices at all speeds have decreased in the last five years,” it said.

The analysis also found that broadband prices are half of what they used to be in 2015. The most popular broadband services decreased by 44.6 percent, while the fastest broadband services decreased their prices by 52.7 percent from 2015-2022.

Lastly, the report found that the “consumer value of broadband services has never been higher.” As providers offer faster speeds at lower prices, the overall value to customers has dramatically improved, it said.

“This is great news for American broadband consumers,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association.

AT&T strikes deal in Amarillo, Texas for fiber project

AT&T struck a deal Wednesday with the city of Amarillo, Texas to extend its fiber reach.

A press release said the $24 million project in Amarillo will cover approximately 22,000 locations.

“The city of Amarillo broadband access plan is one of the more significant technological infrastructure advancements in city history,” said Amarillo mayor Ginger Nelson in the release.

It’s the latest partnership for AT&T, which is planning on reaching upwards of 60,000 locations via public-private partnerships in counties in Indiana, Kentucky and now Amarillo, Texas.

Conexon partners with Georgia electric company for broadband build

Georgia’s Ocmulgee Electric Membership Corporation partnered with internet service provider Conexon Connect on Tuesday to bring reliable, affordable, high-speed fiber broadband to rural Georgia.

The partnership will see the deployment of a network that spans 2,100 miles of fiber to the home for service to up to 8,000 members in centra Georgia, a press release said.

“I commend Ocmulgee EMC and Conexon for this exciting public-private partnership and their commitment to creating value for their communities,” said Governor Brian Kemp in a press release.

The project is estimated to take 2-4 years to complete and is set to start this September. The first customers expected to be connected in early 2023.

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TikTok Data Concerns, Broadband Data Collection System, Internet Access on COVID-19 Mortality

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is requesting Apple and Google remove the TikTok app over data concerns.

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Photo of Brendan Carr

June 29, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores.

The app is run by ByteDance, a company that is “beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC’s surveillance demands,” read the June 24 letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sunder Pichai.

“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data,” said Carr, calling it a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data” such as search histories, keystroke patterns and biometric identifies.”

Carr claims that TikTok’s pattern of conduct regarding persons in Beijing having access U.S. sensitive data violates policies that both companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on the app stores. “I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms.”

TikTok has assured users that American’s data is being stored in the U.S. but, according to Carr, this statement “says nothing about where that data can be accessed from.”

FCC opens mapping data system for filers early 

The Federal Communications Commission released a public notice on Thursday announcing that filers of broadband availability data in its new maps may obtain early access of the system for registering filer information.

The filing window for the Broadband Data Collection opens June 30, but early access will enable users to register their entities in the system and become familiar with the system before that date, the FCC said.

“We are making this functionality available in advance of the opening of the filing window to enable filers to log in, register, and be ready to enter their availability data as early in the filing window as possible,” read the public notice.

The BDC program is said to help improve broadband mapping data to help funnel federal dollars to where broadband infrastructure is needed. Most fixed and mobile broadband providers will be required to file information in the system, but third parties and government entities are also encouraged.

Impact of internet access on COVID-19 mortality

New analysis released last week by private research university Tufts found that increased broadband access in the United States reduced COVID-19 mortality rates.

“Even after controlling for a host of other socioeconomic factors, a 1 percent increase in broadband access across the U.S. reduced COVID mortality by approximately 19 deaths per 100,000, all things equal,” read the report.

The study also found that the impact was felt more strongly in metro areas, where a 1 percent increase in broadband access reduced the deaths by 36 per 100,000.

By conducting a correlation analysis, Tuft researchers found that broadband access is negatively correlated with COVID mortality, even after controlling for other major factors such as health status, income, race and education.

The study only considered pre-vaccine number to account for inconsistencies.

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Rosenworcel Committed to Net Neutrality, Better Spectrum Coordination, Starlink Up in Internet Speeds

The FCC chairwoman reaffirmed her commitment to net neutrality at a conference on Friday.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – At a conference hosted by the American Library Association on Friday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel reaffirmed her support for net neutrality rules.

According to a press release, Rosenworcel stated she wants to make a “return to common carrier regulation of internet service providers which aims to prevent ISPs from slowing down or blocking web traffic.”

Rosenworcel “fully backs” net neutrality rules passed under the Obama administration that were repealed during the Trump administration. “I opposed the last administration’s effort to roll it back, and I want it to once again become the law of the land,” she stated at the ALA.

A press release calls Rosenworcel ’s statement on net neutrality the “hallmark of her tenure” and says she faces opposition in her attempt to bring back net neutrality rules.

“It is just wrong for the internet to have slow lanes for people with less money,” Patty Wong, president of the ALA, said at the conference.

Better coordination needed for receiver performance 

On Monday, non-partisan think tank TechPolicy urged more coordination by the Federal Communications Commission with other agencies to better utilize spectrum assets during its receiver performance study, filing comments in response to the commission’s public consultation about that matter.

“The Commission has a considerable expertise and prior work to review in assessing whether it has the statutory authority in this area, and how to best incentivize all parties to build more robust receivers to operate in more and more congested spectrum,” the think tank said.

It suggested engaging with other agencies, such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as well as users of government receivers.

James Dunstan, general counsel of TechFreedom, stated, “the FCC cannot fine-tune spectrum management with only half the orchestra.” He added that if the FCC does not engage with government users, “there will be little progress made toward finding broad solutions to increased spectrum congestion.”

The FCC and the NTIA have already agreed earlier this year to coordinate on spectrum management.

Ookla finds Starlink increased speeds by 38 percent over the past year

Metrics company Ookla said Tuesday that, according to its review of Starlink satellite broadband service in the first quarter, the company saw an increase of 38 percent in internet performance in the United States over the past year, said a press release.

However, the company’s analysis also showed that Starlink’s upload speeds decreased nearly 33 percent in the U.S. from 16.29 Mbps in 2021 to 9.33 in 2022.

Ookla notes that even as consumers choose Starlink, competitors are not far behind. It mentioned as key developments FCC approval for Amazon’s Project Kuiper to test its satellite service this year, and Viasat getting closer to merging with Inmarsat for a constellation launch next year.

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