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Anti-Muni Broadband Bill Introduced, Boost Act From Michigan, LTD Responds to Rural Broadband Critics

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Photo of Cathy McMorris Rodgers

February 22, 2021—House Republicans have introduced a bill this past week that would outlaw municipally-owned broadband networks because, they argue, they would stifle competition and harm private telecom investment.

Introduced on February 16, the bill called “Communities Overregulating Networks Need Economic Competition” (CONNECT) would allow certain existing municipal broadband infrastructure to continue to function, it would arrest any further development, and prevent additional expansion of existing networks.

It was proposed by House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. and member of the subcommittee for communications and technology Bob Latta, R-Ohio.

The bill will likely face significant resistance from House Democrats, as the party is generally opposed to regulations that would infringe on a municipality’s ability to create and operate its own broadband infrastructure.

Though House Republicans argue that the bill would increase competition and ultimately improve broadband coverage, Democrats argue that limiting a state’s ability to assist with the deployment of broadband coverage would only harm consumers and prevent them from accessing the internet during the pandemic.

Earlier this month, the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which has a model municipal broadband network, was named best city to work from home by PC Magazine.

Michigan looks to bridge the digital divide

Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich., will propose a $300 tax credit for qualified rural Michiganders to put toward securing high-speed internet.

The proposed subsidy is outlined in the  Boost Act, which is expected to be introduced in Congress this week.

Like many experts, Moolenaar pointed to the pandemic as a clear indicator that Michiganders need better coverage. He stated that because students, doctors, and most every-day people are expected to do more from home, they must have more robust coverage.

LTD responds to critics on its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund award

Several telecommunications companies are emerging as critics of the process by which the Federal Communications Commission divvied out the $9.2 billion of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in December.

Some are saying that certain companies that received large pieces of the RDOF pie inflated their ability to do the work.

LTD Broadband secured almost 14 percent of the $9.2 billion allocated to RDOF, or around $1.3 billion dollars by itself.

This young company with fewer than 200 employees has ruffled some feathers by netting such a large portion of the pot. Mike Malandro, CEO of Choptank Electric Cooperative, an electric co-op that operates in Maryland, voiced his concerns to Fierce Telecom.

Because he said Choptank bid with realistic expectations for the service they were able to provide, it were essentially boxed out of the auction, he complained. He charged that other providers who inflated their abilities were awarded.

Nor is this the first time this concern has been raised. At the INCOMPAS policy summit in February, Ideatek Telcom’s Daniel Friesen and Mammoth Network’s Brian Worthen voiced many of the same concerns mentioned by Malandro: Broadband providers were winning contracts that they may not be able to fulfill.

See “Providers Increasingly Vocal in Raising Concerns About Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction,” Broadband Breakfast, February 11, 2021

While LTD Broadband is a wireless internet service provider, company CEO Corey Hauer told Light Reading that the company will provide fiber-optic services for all of the areas for which it received funds.

SpaceX also won a sizeable award, and it argued that its Starlink satellites could provide gigabit speeds to their consumers.

SpaceX won $855.5 million in total, and as a result, faced similar criticisms in Cartesian’s “Starlink RDOF Assessment,” which concluded that SpaceX would be unable to provide its consumers with robust broadband coverage under generous considerations.

See “Experts Investigating Starlink Are Not Convinced that Elon Musk’s Satellite Project Provides Rural Broadband Solution,” Broadband Breakfast, February 17, 2021

As a child of American parents working abroad, Reporter Ben Kahn was raised as a third culture kid, growing up in five different countries, including the U.S.. He is a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore, where he majored in Policy, Politics, and International Affairs. He enjoys learning about foreign languages and cultures and can now speak poorly in more than one language.

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Broadband Roundup

‘Squid Game’ Exposes Traffic Problem, Virginia’s $2B Broadband Investment, West Virginia Mapping

Netflix hit’s traffic struggle, Virginia expects $2B from P3, op-ed says FCC expects states to get good maps before FCC.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

October 20, 2021––A South Korean broadband company is suing Netflix to cover the cost of the surge in traffic from its hit television show “Squid Game.”

The show, which according to Netflix has more than 100 million streams, became a global hit last month.

The Financial Times reports that SK Broadband, owned by SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest mobile operator, argues that streaming platforms should pay for the congestion on its networks.

The company said that the traffic Netflix generated on its network increased to 1.2 trillion bits of data processing per second since September, an increase that’s equal to 24 times the company’s normal traffic over three years. The company said its network had to be upgraded twice to accommodate the traffic surge caused by customers streaming the show on Netflix.

Local law in South Korea requires the companies with more than 1 million users and using more than 1 percent of total network traffic to pay internet fees to distribute the maintenance costs incurred by broadband providers.

Netflix accounted for almost 5 percent of internet traffic in the fourth quarter and had more than 1.7 million paid subscribers. SK Broadband argues that Netflix must pay more in network usage fees.

Virginia announces $2 billion public-private broadband partnership

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the state expects more than $2 billion in funding for high-speed broadband investments after announcing a public-private partnership with local governments and private internet service providers, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Northam announced that the state received requests to fund 57 projects to expand broadband across 84 localities across Virginia, totaling $943 million in grants. It would be matched by $1.15 billion in private and local government funds.

“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” said Northam. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic has pushed us all to move even faster.

“Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by [2024], which means more connections, more investments, more online learning and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia,” he said.

Northam and the Virginia general assembly appropriate $700 million of the $4.3 billion that Virginia received under the federal emergency aid package to accelerate Virginia’s universal broadband coverage goal. The expected completion has been moved up from 2028 to 2024.

The plan is expected to bring internet access to more than 250,000 homes and businesses.

The state is using federal emergency aid from the American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide in Virginia.

Op-Ed: West Virginia being asked to produce quality broadband maps before FCC

Advocates for more accurate maps say that the federal government is hypocritical in asking West Virginia for more accurate maps than the Federal Communications Commission can produce.

“The state is being asked to produce accurate maps, which the federal government knows full well its own agency did not produce” for the state the invest millions of dollars in federal American Rescue Plan funding for broadband expansion, writes a Wednesday op-ed in the Weirton Daily Times.

The FCC has been under fire for flaws in its broadband mapping data, which was relied upon to produce winners for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which forced the commission to clean-up the result of the reverse auction after finding that some of the money would go toward wasteful spending.

West Virginia’s effort to expand broadband is led by the state Department of Economic Development. State Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael said that if self-reported maps show no service in an area “you can bet your life there’s no service there.”

“There’s a lot more at stake as the department works to get these maps right. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of education and employment in West Virginia is riding on it,” said the Times. “Good luck, then, to Carmichael and his department as they work to clean up yet another federal government mess that has left the Mountain State struggling for too long.”

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Broadband Roundup

New Senate Antitrust Bill Reaction, Charter Making Executive Changes, T-Mobile, Verizon Top Charts

Trade association doesn’t like new antitrust bill, Charter makes changes at the top, T-Mobile leads wireless, Verizon on wireline.

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Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

October 19, 2021 – A Senate antitrust bill introduced Monday that would empower the Federal Trade Commission to further regulate technology companies will harm start ups and small business, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

The trade association, which represents companies across the tech sector, said the American Innovation and Consumer Choice Act – introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa – will “cause irreparable harm to small businesses and startups and put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage against China and other nations eager to overtake our country as global tech leader.”

The bill would prohibit “dominant platforms” from favoring their own products and services to the detriment of competition, stop conduct that is harmful to small businesses including preventing interoperability with big platforms, requiring payment to receive preferential treatment on the big platform, bias search results, and misuse business data to compete against the small companies.

Amazon, for example, was accused of having taken the information of products of smaller companies on its platforms to create their own competing products.

According to the release, the bill received the support of at least 10 other Senators across party lines and companies including Spotify and Roku.

But the CCA said the bill, in empowering the FTC, would allow it to “ignore the consumer welfare standard, while imposing massive fines with minimal due process.

“Further, the bill will take away features and functions that millions of Americans love and use in their everyday lives,” the CCA statement said. “Say goodbye to Amazon Prime free shipping, Google maps in search results, preinstalled iPhone apps and many more.”

The House already has before it six antitrust bills that are awaiting votes.

Charter makes executive changes

Charter announced Tuesday that it is promoting chief financial officer Chris Winfrey to chief operating officer and Jessica Fischer will move from executive vice president to the COO position.

John Bickham will be vice chairman before he retired at the end of 2022, the company also announced in a press release, while chief product and technology officer Rich DiGeronimo will oversee the company’s network operations as an additional responsibility.

“I have worked with John for three decades and at every turn, his knowledge, leadership and steady hand have not only contributed greatly to the success of the companies we led, but made a profound impact on the growth of our industry,” said CEO Tom Rutledge. “I am grateful that John will continue to serve Charter in this new capacity as a strategic advisor to me and the executive team, and his guidance will help ensure a successful transition for Chris into the COO role.”

T-Mobile gets top billing for wireless, Verizon for wireline

According to an Ookla report Monday, T-Mobile ranked as the fastest mobile operator in the country in the third quarter with a median download speed of 62.35 Megabits per second, as Verizon took home the top rank for wireline download speeds at 178.38 Mbps.

For wireless, AT&T was second in speed at 47.42 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 39.91 Mbps. T-Mobile also ranked first in 5G performance with a median speed of 135.17 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 78.94 Mbps and then AT&T at 72.46 Mbps. T-Mobile was also top in 5G availability with 64.4 percent, with AT&T second at 44.8 percent and Verizon third at 34.3 percent.

T-Mobile completed its merger with Sprint last year. It proposed that the combined entity was the only way the companies could compete against the top players and offer a competitive 5G product.

On the wireline side, Cox was second to Verizon on download speed at 168.56 Mbps, followed by Comcast’s Xfinity at 161.87 percent, Spectrum fourth at 143.57 Mbps, AT&T Internet at 132.48 Mbps, and CenturyLink at 59.80 Mbps.

New Jersey had the fastest median download speed on wireline at 158.19 Mbps, followed by New York at 147.46 Mbps, California at 142.56 Mbps, Florida at 141.88 Mbps, and Texas at 140.15 Mbps.

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband Access Barriers, NY Fiber Fees, Arizona Highway Fiber Law, Rosenworcel Reportedly On Way Out

Lower broadband access barriers, NY lawmakers want fiber fee end, Arizona’s fiber on highways, Rosenworcel reportedly not enough for Biden.

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New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner.

October 18, 2021–– James Baller, president of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, argued Friday that states should lower barriers to broadband deployment by making public-private partnerships more accessible.

Speaking with Pew Charitable Trusts, Baller says that he’s happy to see states “stepping forward aggressively” in expanding broadband their states’ communities, “especially underserved ones.”

However, states have barriers that prevent local broadband initiatives and public private partnerships from forming, Baller says. “Some states prevent local governments from taking full advantage of available federal or state funds. That has to change.”

In the project planning stage, Baller says “the public entity must map out how it or its partners will deal with various funding, structural, governance, and regulatory issues, including rights-of-way, pole attachments, and easements”

“Things will surely get better as a result of the lessons from these experience and the substantial influx of federal, state, local, and private funding for broadband that we’ll see over the next few years” Baller says

He says in the past year, there has been greater recognition that states have a critical role in accelerating broadband deployment, adoption, and use. States’ responsibility in delivering broadband can be reflected in the growing number of state offices dedicated to broadband deployment initiatives.

The pandemic, however, may be easing restrictions on community networks.

NY legislators want to end fiber fees to increase broadband deployment

New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner joins the NY legislator push to end fiber optic right-of-way fees in the state, according to a Monday report from Observer Today.

Woerner has introduced a bill in the assembly to amend the state’s highway law to prohibit the state from including fees in its agreements with fiber optic utility.

Her support follows Senator George Borrello’s proposal to end the right-of way fees to stimulate greater broadband deployment in New York. Her proposal would deem any existing agreements unenforceable but would allow the state to keep money it already collected. Since the fiber optic fee was established in 2019, the state collected $330,000 from fiber optic companies.

Senator Borello argues that broadband access is “akin to running water and electricity.” He noted that fiber optic providers are being charged for the same rights of way for which other utilities are given free access.

The continuing lack of broadband service in rural regions of New York is an inequity highlighted by the pandemic because of how parents in his district responded to the 2020 lockdown. “Parents in my district have been driven to desperate measures to assure their kids can get online and do their schoolwork, including parking for hours in fast-food parking lots for the wi-fi access.” This is “utterly unacceptable” he said.

Arizona transportation department laying fiber along highway

The Arizona Department of Transportation began laying fiberoptic broadband cables along a 46-mile stretch of highway in northern Arizona last week.

The initiative was established by the Arizona DOT and the Arizona Commerce Authority to “create more affordable opportunities to provide more rural communities in Arizona with high-speed internet service,” according to an Arizona government press release.

According to the DOT, the purpose of the project is to install a high-speed fiber topic “backbone” that connects the state’s existing Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) devices with new ITS improvements.

The DOT said it plans to use the fiber to provide additional “smart highway” technology. The Arizona government says they will start using overhead message boards, message boards, traffic cameras, weather stations, and wrong way driving detection technology. The state government is hopeful that the infrastructure “will help lay the groundwork for emerging technology like connected and automated vehicles.”

Arizona’s broadband initiative, championed by Governor Doug Ducey, was sponsored in the legislator by Republican Rep. Regina Cobb. This latest fiberoptic installation follows the fiber optic conduits placed in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. The state has also installed a stretch of fiber optic cables for dust detection and warning systems. Construction is expected to last until summer of 2022.

FCC Acting Chair Rosenworcel on way out, report claims

Citing sources, a report in the Washington Examiner Sunday said Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel will not be selected by President Joe Biden as the permanent head of the agency because she’s not liberal enough.

The report, citing four unnamed sources, said Biden wants someone like Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Lina Khan, who has held anti-monopoly and critical views of big technology companies.

“Jessica has been around a long time, and she’s a real professional, but she’s not someone who is looking to revolutionize the FCC in the way Lina Khan is at the FTC,” the report said, citing a person familiar with Rosenworcel’s situation.

“The problem is Jessica is perceived as not progressive enough, and the administration feels the left wing of the party doesn’t support her. She has no sizzle,” the person added.

The agency’s four-person commission has been stuck in a party deadlock, with two Democratic and two Republican commissioners. Senators, educational institutions and former FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly have all called for Rosenworcel — who was selected by Biden as interim head following his inauguration — to be made permanent. Democrats have reportedly been frustrated with Biden’s delay.

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