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Input to FCC on Emergency Broadband, Ajit Pai’s Final Days at Agency, Accessing Resources, Richard Bates Dies

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Photo of Richard Bates from The Laughing Place

January 5, 2021 — The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau on Monday issued a request for public input on how best to administer the new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program created by Congress, to help low-income individuals access the Internet.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 — the $2.3 trillion spending bill that combines $900 billion in stimulus relief for the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill for the 2021 federal fiscal year — directed the agency to create the program, which will reimburse participating companies for providing discounted broadband service and connected devices to eligible households during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Act sets forth several requirements for participation in the program. To participate, a provider must be designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier or be approved by the Commission.

Participating providers will make available to eligible households a monthly discount, of up to $50, off the standard rate for Internet service and associated equipment. On Tribal lands, the monthly discount offered by participants will be up to $75 per month.

“We’re excited to get to work on this new program, which responds to my call last June for Congress to fund a program to advance the Keep Americans Connected initiative that we launched when the pandemic started,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, in a statement.

“The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will go a long way ensuring that low-income American families and veterans are connected during the pandemic,” said Pai. “Our staff is moving quickly to stand up this program so we can direct funding to consumers who need help.”

In structuring the program, the Commission is seeking public input on a range of issues, including on which providers should be able to participate in the program, what reporting requirements are necessary, how the agency can promote awareness of the program, what rules are needed to ensure appropriate service on Tribal lands, and much more.

“We look forward to getting public input on how best to structure this effort,” said Pai.

What to watch during Chairman Pai’s last weeks at the FCC

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that he intends to leave the agency on January 20, 2021.

While the outgoing GOP Chair has yet to issue any plans for narrowing Section 230 liability protections for tech companies, which President Donald Trump and other conservatives have pleaded for, he’s been keeping busy.

Pai is attempting to knock out long-standing objectives by proactively circulating proposals for votes rather than holding formal votes during the FCC’s last official meeting under him, on January 13.

Among the items he’s circulating are a rulemaking looking at ways to free up 12 Gigahertz satellite airwaves for 5G wireless use, although the initiative has received pushback from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

In October, SpaceX was part of a group of players arguing against a proposal by Dish Network that would have the FCC take a closer look at the rules for the 12 GHz band, reported Fierce Wireless. Last Wednesday, Pai circulated to his colleagues a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that, if adopted, would seek comment on whether to allow mobile services in the 12 GHz band.

Pai is also pushing forward on an objective to approve rules for auctioning off additional 2.5 Gigahertz airwaves, which he said he wants to happen in the first half of this year. Last week it was announced that the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau granted 22 additional applications for spectrum licenses to use the 2.5 GHz band to close the digital divide and to provide broadband and other advanced wireless services to rural Tribal communities.

Pai is further circulating proposals to finalize details around the grantees for a $100 million telehealth pilot program, reported Politico.

NDIA publishes overview of broadband provisions in COVID-19 relief bill

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance recently published an overview to help digital inclusion practitioners determine how best to access resources resulting from the recent COVID-19 relief legislation, such as those offered by the Emergency Broadband Benefits Program.

“People are going to have hundreds of questions,” said NDIA’s executive director Angela Siefer, during a recent NDIA webinar. Siefer detailed that NDIA’s goal is to consolidate critical information on federal benefits to save individuals from the pain of having to go through the bill, page-by-page.

The publication details everything individuals need to know about accessing broadband provisions included in the relief bill. Most notably, the document plainly lays out the eligibility requirements for each provision, and further, what types of initiatives suitable entities can request grant funds for.

NDIA’s guide also details the agency’s order priority for selecting those interested in accessing funds to expand broadband in underserved communities.

Richard Bates, Disney’s longtime director of government relations, dies at 70

Richard Bates, the longtime head of government relations for Disney, died December 31 at his home outside Washington, D.C. He was 70.

Bates had represented Disney in the halls of Congress and other public policy arenas since 1991.

Bates’ colleagues, Disney executive chairman Bob Iger and CEO Bob Chapek, said in a joint statement that the executive’s death was sudden and that they are “heartbroken” over Bates’ passing.

“As head of our Government Relations team in Washington, D.C., Richard was second to none in his field — widely respected for his incredible achievements and beloved for his extraordinary kindness, compassion, and irresistible wit,” Iger and Chapek wrote.

Many in the tech industry have voiced statements of commiseration.

“We have had the privilege of working closely with Richard for many years and saw up close his intelligence and leadership in representing Disney and other content creators. But beyond his many policy successes, Richard was a wonderful colleague and a dear friend to so many,” wrote Internet and Television Association President and CEO Michael Powell, in a statement.

The Media Institute, where Bates was a valued member of the Board of Trustees from 2010 to 2018, further expressed sorrow upon the news of his passing.

Broadband Roundup

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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Broadband Roundup

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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Broadband Roundup

Data Export Bill, Chamber of Commerce’s BEAD Issues, Wisconsin Putting $125M for Broadband

A bill would have the Commerce Secretary identify categories of personal data that could harm national security if exported.

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Photo of Marco Rubio, R-FL

June 27, 2022 – A bipartisan group of senators, including Marco Rubio, R-FL., and Ron Wyden, D-OR., introduced a bill Thursday that would limit the selling or transferring of Americans’ sensitive data to high-risk foreign countries.

The Protecting Americans Data from Foreign Surveillance Act directs the Secretary of Commerce, in collaboration with other key agencies, to identify categories of personal data that could harm national security if exported. It directs the Secretary of Commerce to “compile a list of low-risk countries for which exports will be unrestricted and to require licenses for bulk exports of the identified, sensitive categories of personal data to other countries.”

In a press release, Rubio said, “It is common sense to prevent our adversaries from obtaining the highly sensitive personal information of millions of Americans. We cannot trust private companies to protect Americans’ private data, especially given how many of them do business in China. Our bill would address this massive national security threat and protect Americans’ privacy.”

Experts have warned the data from Chinese-company-owned apps like TikTok, one of the world’s most popular video sharing websites, could be used by the Communist government for nefarious purposes.

“Our bipartisan legislation sets common-sense guardrails to block bulk exports of private, sensitive information from going to high-risk foreign nations and protect the safety of Americans against foreign criminals and spies,” added Wyden. “It will empower the United States to build a coalition of trusted allies where information can be shared without fear of misuse by authoritarian actors.”

Exports to high-risk countries will be presumptively denied and risk status of countries will be determined on the adequacy of the country’s privacy and export control laws, the circumstances under which the foreign government can coerce a person in that country to disclose personal data, and whether that government has been hostile against the United States.

Chamber of Commerce takes issue with aspects of BEAD program

The United States Chamber of Commerce highlighted in a press release last week what it said are faults in the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program that will be distributed to states and territories for broadband deployment projects.

The Chamber of Commerce commended the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for focusing the BEAD program on serving unserved areas first, having strong subgrantee qualifications, enabling effective stakeholder engagement, and addressing the costs of broadband permitting.

“Despite the many positive aspects, the notice of funding opportunity contains numerous problematic provisions and mandates, which will hinder the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s objective to connect all Americans while running contrary to the law’s bipartisan approach,” said the release.

The first concern is that the NOFO promotes government-owned networks, despite the IIJA’s neutrality to the type of provider. NTIA imposes “burdensome requirements on eligible entities as well as pressuring states to waive laws that place restrictions on public sector broadband providers.”

The NOFO, said the release, “picks technology winners and losers” by strongly prioritizing fiber at the expense of other technologies like satellite and fixed wireless.

Furthermore, it incentivizes states to adopt net neutrality rules, in direct contrast to IIJA requirements, by ensuring that subgrantees do not “impose unjust or unreasonable network management practices.”

The Chamber of Commerce further added that the NOFO requires eligible entities to create a middle-class affordability program that is “ill-defined” and “opens the door to additional state-level intervention in the broadband marketplace.”

The NOFO also favors union-friendly policies that “have nothing to do with connecting all Americans and everything to do with advancing unrelated union priorities.”

Wisconsin awards $125M in rural internet service grants

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission on Thursday awarded $125 million in broadband expansion grants toward 71 projects that will reach over 87,000 underserved and unserved locations over 45 counties.

According to the press release, the grant awards will leverage $185 million of matching funds from the grantees. The PSC received 194 applications in March 2022 requesting a total of $495 million.

Since 2019, Wisconsin has committed to disbursing over $289 million toward expanding broadband, including $105 million in federal funding.

“Over the last three years, we’ve worked hard to invest state and federal funding in projects that will provide more than 387,000 homes and businesses with reliable, high-quality internet. These grants will go to ensure students, workers, business owners, families, and communities can access the internet in every part of our state,” said Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers in the release.

“We’ve made tremendous progress in the past three years towards getting people access to high-quality, affordable internet service,” said PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq. “We will continue to make the investments needed to ensure all in our state have access to affordable broadband.”

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