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Building on Rural Broadband Subsidies, Facebook and Politics, SpaceX Meets Criticism

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Photo of Elon Musk by James Duncan Davidson used with permission

February 3, 2021 – Charter Communication said it is planning to spend $5 billion on rural broadband, with support from the government through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Charter said that it will offer speeds starting at 200 Megabits per second (Mbps) download, and that their service will be free of data caps, modem fees, and annual contracts.

According to a report in LightReading, “Charter said the expansion will take multiple years to complete, but Charter has yet to pinpoint a precise, anticipated end date or offer other data-specific buildout milestones. Timing on that is still fuzzy as Charter works through pole-permitting and other processes it needs to complete in order to get network deployments rolling.”

“The more cooperation we have with the pole owners and utility companies, the faster we can connect these communities with high-speed internet services,” Tom Rutledge, Charter’s chairman and CEO said in a statement. “We look forward to working with local municipalities, electric cooperatives, and investor-owned utilities to ensure that permits are obtained in a timely, fair, and cost-effective fashion.”

Facebook tries to shun politics on its news feed

Facebook was once a big help for political activism. But now it is shifting to a place where those topics may be less popular. The social media giant continues to amend restrictions on the kinds of groups and political pages that it will recommend on the platform.

After the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, social media companies, including Facebook continued to receive backlash from users for allowing violence and hate to be spread on their pages.

A Facebook spokesperson stated that research done by the company showed “some people feel that there’s too much political content in their news feeds.”

“This is a problem we’re still figuring out how to best understand and solve,” the company’s spokesperson continued. “Our goal is to come up with a way to address this feedback that involves giving people a clear understanding of how we treat political content in News Feed, respects their tolerances for political content, and preserves their ability to interact with this kind content across Facebook to the extent they want to.”

“All of this seems to be a pretty clear signal that they want to move away from politics on the platform,” said Julia Rosen, a Democratic digital strategist.

“Politics has had a way of creeping into everything, and I think a lot of the feedback that we see from our community is that people don’t want that in their experience,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a call with investors.

Advocacy group leaders say that this new adaptation will not change the polarization and incite of violence involving politics. They wonder how the network will identify what is a political group and what it is not.

“Will they consider a local veteran’s group to be political? If so, will they not consider a local antiwar group to be political? Would they consider an LGBTQ support group to be political? Frankly, all of those things are political,” said Evan Green, a director for the digital rights group Fight for the Future.

Competitors of SpaceX are stoking resistance to its rural broadband subsidies

With the arrival of the final launch tests, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has suffered from resistance from its competitors related to the nearly $1 billion in federal rural broadband subsidies for its satellite-based broadband service.

With the promise that your company can help the United States acquire faster Internet service, part of the funds awarded by the FCC includes companies laying fiber-optic cable. Competitors at SpaceX are asking the FCC to analyze this situation more carefully, while they seek support from Capitol Hill to veto part of the amount requested.

More than 150 members of Congress wrote the FCC on January 19 urging it “to thoroughly vet the winning bidders to ensure that they are capable” and to “consider opportunities for public input on the applications.”

Part of the other companies that are in the battle to acquire these federal government funds is the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the Rural Broadband Association.

When talking about SpaceX, Jim Matheson, chief executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association told The Wall Street Journal, “We are in effect funding an experiment here, we don’t know if it works or doesn’t work.” Matheson represents the electricity providers also in line for subsidies to build out fiber-optic broadband networks.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, that has helped develop rules for the subsidy program said the program allowed providers using various technologies to compete against one another, driving down the subsidies ’cost to the government. “There is going to be a range of different technologies that are going to be best suited” to close service gaps in different locations, he said.

SpaceX’s move to secure broadband funding is part of a more extensive Washington focused strategy that also includes government contracts for ferrying astronauts, launching national-security satellites, weather forecasting, and missile tracking.

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Broadband Roundup

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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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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