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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.

Broadband Roundup

NTIA Pushes FTC on Privacy, Broadband in Tough, NY, California Get NTIA Grants

‘NTIA is calling for rules that stop the unnecessary and harmful collection and use of personal information.’

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Screenshot of Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, via C-Span

November 23, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Tuesday in a filing with the Federal Trade Commission that it wants privacy limits on the ways companies collect and use personal information.

The Commerce agency recommended companies minimize the data collected, restrict companies from using data for alternative purposes such as targeted advertising, take comprehensive approaches to new privacy protections, and consider stricter limits on biometric technologies.

The FTC is currently seeking comment on whether it should implement new rules on companies’ data collection and sales practices.

“NTIA is calling for rules that stop the unnecessary and harmful collection and use of personal information. Companies need guardrails about what they can build,” said NTIA head Alan Davidson.

In July this year, Davidson said privacy laws continue to be an issue in the US. He advocated for the first national federal privacy bill, which is currently before Congress.

Study finds telecoms in for rough patch with inflation

Analysys Mason, a management consultancy focused on telecommunication and technology, released a prediction Wednesday that said the telecommunication industry will face challenges, including inflation problems, in 2023.

Consumers may feel the pinch from higher retail prices due to inflation, the analysis finds, which could result in political pressure to moderate price increases, the study found.

“Combined with high investment costs and questions about potential returns, the market outlook is challenging as the telecoms industry tries to steer its path through price rises, rolling out network availability and launching new services,” said Larry Goldman, Analysys Mason chief analyst.

NTIA awards over $10 million in Rhode Island, California

The NTIA announced Tuesday that Rhode Island will receive $5.5 million to build high-speed internet infrastructure.

“The funding will advance a coordinated strategy to get all Rhode Islanders connected to high-speed, reliable, affordable broadband service and close the digital divide,” said Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed.

The money is coming from programs spawned by the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $65 billion for broadband infrastructure.

NTIA also said Tuesday that it awarded two grants of nearly $5.6 million to Merced Community College and California State University Sacramento from the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said these investments will help offer more online learning programs and train digital navigators in its program to work directly with surrounding communities on digital inclusion.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Bans First Voice Service Provider, ACP Outreach Program Funding, Ciena Buys Two Companies

Global UC is the first company to be removed by the FCC from receiving call traffic for robocall violations.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

November 22, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday that telephone company Global UC will be cut off from other networks because it failed to meet the standards set out by the commission to prevent illegal robocalls and caller ID spoofing.

It is the first time the FCC has made such a decision, after it proposed in October to remove Global UC and other companies from receiving call traffic because of alleged violations of the robocall framework known as STIR/SHAKEN. Global UC will be removed from the Robocall Mitigation Database, which includes companies that share their call traffic with each other.

“We have reached the point where we are ready to remove companies if they fail to abide by the rules and heed our warnings,” Loyaan Egal, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, said in a release.

“While this is a steep and impactful penalty, it underscores the importance we place on complying with our rules, which are designed to eliminate the ability of bad actors to use the U.S. communications networks to harm consumers,” Egal added.

New funding opportunities from ACP outreach programs

The Federal Communications Commission announced Monday a further two funding opportunities from two programs of its Affordable Connectivity Program.

On Thursday, the FCC announced four complementary grant programs to market the broadband subsidy program as well as the release of a notice of funding opportunity for both the National Competitive Outreach Program and the Tribal Competitive Outreach Program, worth up to $60 million and $10 million, respectively.

On Monday, the FCC announced the notice of funding opportunity for the remaining two programs, each offering up to $5 million in grants: the Your Home, Your Internet outreach grant and the ACP Navigator pilot program. Applications after due January 9, 2023.

The Your Home, Your Internet program provides funding to qualifying local, state and tribal housing agencies, non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, and tenant associations to encourage residents who receive federal housing assistance to apply for the ACP.

The ACP Navigator pilot program, in partnership with the Universal Service Administrative Company, grants local schools districts and government agencies temporary access to USAC’s National Verifier— a centralized application system to quantify potential qualifying residents.

“Through federal housing assistance, millions of Americans have access to a home. It’s time to help them take advantage of ACP to access affordable Internet as well,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.

The agency announced this summer the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program to raise awareness for the $14.2-billion program, which subsidizes monthly internet bills – of up to $30 per month and $75 per month for residents on tribal lands – and provides a $100 discount on device purchases for low-income applicants. The commission has said that there are millions more Americans who are eligible but have not signed up — in part because they are not aware.

Ciena acquires two companies for network expansion

Software and network services company Ciena announced Tuesday it is buying California-based hardware supplier Tibit Communications for $210 million and Massachusetts-based software company Benu Networks for an undisclosed amount.

Tibit and Benu both deploy single-source fiber conduit to distribute broadband network access to multiple end users including residential, commercial and public, known as passive optical network technology.

Ciena said the acquisition will help expand PON connectivity to residential areas, businesses, and public transportation. The merger will be paid in cash and Ciena will agree to employee retention agreements, according to the release.

“The acquisitions of Tibit Communications and Benu Networks will extend our ability to support customers’ next-generation metro and edge strategies as service providers globally accelerate investments to modernize their networks and improve connectivity at the network edge,” Scott McFeely, senior vice president of Ciena global products and services, said in the release.

“Tibit’s high-speed PON technologies and Benu’s subscriber management products, combined with Ciena’s current access and edge portfolio, will enable us to offer broader, more complete, and fully integrated broadband access solutions that combine routing, subscriber management, and PON features and functionality.”

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Told No to C-Band Changes, New Tribal Entity Grants, Surfshark Report on Internet Value

The telecoms got into a rift with the FAA over interference possibilities with 5G deployments around airports.

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Photo of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

November 21, 2022 – UScellular told the Federal Communications Commission last week not to make changes to its C-band spectrum rules, following concerns that 5G signals would interfere with aircraft around airports.

The telecoms and the Federal Aviation Administration have been working together to mitigate concerns about 5G deployments around airports using the C-band spectrum causing interference with radio aircraft equipment. As such, telecom UScellular urged the FCC not to amend any of the spectrum’s rules.

“Uscellular recommended that the FCC reject calls for modifications to its C-band rules, as changes at this stage will certainly cause deployment delays despite making progress with the FAA, harming Americans who need 5G service the most,” the letter, dated November 19, said.

In May, UScellular said it would work with Swedish telecom equipment provider Ericsson to build out its 5G network using the C-band spectrum.

NTIA announces tribal grants

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Thursday in a press release that it awarded 18 grants worth about $225 million through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

The new money is expected to connect over 21,000 unserved Native American households, businesses and anchor institutions. The states that received the new grants are Alaska, Arizona, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, South Dakota and Virginia.

“These grants – made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – highlighted the Biden administration’s unprecedented commitment to close the digital divide in Native communities,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in a statement.

With the latest grant, the program has awarded $1.5 billion to 112 tribal groups.

Surfshark study shows Mississippi’s internet is overpriced

Mississippi is reported to have the most overpriced internet in the country, according to a report from VPN provider Surfshark.

The company’s “Internet Value Index” is calculated by dividing each state’s internet speed by internet affordability to determine the states that are overpaying for internet access, according to a press release. The IVI is influenced by factors such as economic position, population density, percentage of urban area, and if a state is landlocked.

While the US average is near 0.6, Mississippi ranks below 0.4 on the IVI. New Jersey is 72 percent above the US average, ranking as having the most affordable internet that is fairly priced for residents. New Jersey’s IVI is precisely 1.0, according to the data from Surfshark.

“3 out of 4 rural states are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting fair internet prices, further isolating them from the opportunities that wealthier and more urban states have,” said Agneska Sablovskaja, lead researcher at Surfshark.

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