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Eric Schmidt Worries About 5G, Rural Progress Tool, Arkansas Expands Broadband Deployment

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Photo of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson from September 2019 by Shane McCoy used with permission

February 10, 2021 – The United States and its allies are already far behind China in investing in 5G mobile telecommunications networks, said the former chief executive of Google, who is worried the C-Band spectrum proceeds won’t go to 5G deployment.

Though it raised a record-breaking $81 billion, and is being celebrated as a win for 5G, Schmidt said he is not proud of the FCC’s C-band spectrum auction held last month and calls it a “digital setback that America and its allies can ill-afford.”

The concern comes from the lack of “meaningful requirements” needed to ensure mobile telecommunications companies will actually spend money on 5G network development. Schmidt downplayed the significance of the money raised by the auction, saying that $81 billion was “merely a trifle on the government scale, equivalent to less than a month of US debt issuance, and the money is unlikely to be spent on the 5G network the country needs.”

The auction’s result, Schmidt said, will be that Americans will face higher prices and weaker digital services, which was seen in the European 3G auctions early 2000s where telecoms paid more than they should’ve. Schmidt did praise the U.S. for its world-leading technology companies today as they positioned their software to succeed by building core components of high-speed data infrastructure for 4G LTE.

But it’s a different story when it comes to 5G. The U.S. has apparently focused more on marketing 5G rather than actually creating change in data speeds, said Schmidt. The next generation of technology giants — and the products and services they build — are not going to be European or American but Chinese, he said. Schmidt said future U.S. spectrum auctions must include an insistence on developing infrastructure. Future auctions must require high standards and penalties for underperformance, he added.

New progress mapping for rural fund

A new resource has been released by BroadbandNow that helps visualize and check the progress of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The new resource includes an interactive map that highlights in red every census block in the U.S. without a terrestrial broadband provider. It also lists all RDOF auction winners, with emphasis on the top 10 winners, and lists a chronological timeline of significant events since the RDOF began. It also summarizes goals and challenges. 

The RDOF is a Federal Communications Commission program will inject $20.4 billion over 10 years in two phases in the building of rural broadband networks.

In the first phase, up to $16 billion will be made for providers, and will include census blocks that are currently unserved by an existing broadband provider, or is currently underway. The second phase, consisting of about $4.4 billion, will connect any remaining areas not covered in the first phase.

The RDOF seeks to provide broadband speeds of 35 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and upload speeds of up to 4 Mbps. It also promotes future-proofing of technologies and services by placing priority on networks with faster speeds and lower latency, which determines the speed at which technologies communicate with each other.

The FCC has said by doing this, robust technologies like fiber will “ensure that those benefiting from these networks will be able to use tomorrow’s internet applications as well as today’s.”

The FCC still claims its processes are “technologically neutral,” which offers multiple levels for service providers to bid on.

Trying to determine exact standards and eligibility requirements is an ongoing challenge when specifics and exceptions are brought up, but the FCC “plans to make funds available for providers to build service out in census blocks where no provider ‘is offering, or has committed to offering, either via the CAF II auction, the USDA ReConnect program, or state-specific programs, service of at least 25/3 Mbps.’”

Another concern about making sure funds are allocated in the best possible manner is when poor broadband maps and records are rampant. Even if just one address within a block is truly wired to service , providers can mark the entire census block as “serviced,” which can cause massive over-reporting of communities with service.

Arkansas passes law expanding government broadband deployment powers

The Arkansas General Assembly has unanimously voted to give government agencies new powers deploy and adopt advanced communications services and facilities across the State.

The Senate voted 35-0 and the House voted 94-0 to approve t he measure after the chambers discussed how residents who don’t have adequate broadband for video and wireless services also suffer from a lack of access to healthcare and other essential services.

The new law allows government entities to provide communications services or facilities to support a wide range of emergency management, law enforcement, education, and healthcare activities.

It adds flexibility to funding issues by granting government entities and its private partners the ability to apply for grants or loans that will help extend service to unserved areas across the State. Options to provide video, voice, and data services will expand as government agencies will be allowed multiple new ways to provide them.

It will be funded by issuing general obligation bonds and levying special taxes to build and deploy needed wireless services. Due diligence in accordance with industry standards will equally be required when funding and costs are determined.

Public hearings and time for public notices have been built in as well to allow open feedback and transparency.

The emergency legislation, SB74, enjoyed strong support and sped through the legislature and the Governor’s office. Five Republican sponsors introduced it – State Sens. Ricky Hill, Breanne Davis, and Missy Irvin, and Reps. Brian Evans and DeAnn Vaught. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the bill into law as Act 67 on February 4, 2021.

Broadband Roundup

Maryland Bans TikTok on State Network, New Head of Open Technology Institute, UScellular Expands 5G

The ban will also apply to other Chinese and Russian technologies and applications.

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Photo of Lilian Coral, head of Open Technology Institute and Technology and Democracy Programs, via Esri User Conference

December 7, 2022 – Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said Tuesday that the state is banning the use of apps such as Chinese-owned TikTok in the executive branch of the government.

The emergency cybersecurity directive will impact Chinese and Russian-made communications and money applications, including Tencent Holdings’s QQ, QQ Wallet and WeChat; products from ecommerce giant Alibaba, such as AliPay; Russian cybersecurity software Kaspersky; and products from Huawei and ZTE.

The directive requires agencies to remove the products from state networks and implement measures so they cannot be installed, including blocking the apps entirely from the network.

“These entities present an unacceptable level of cybersecurity risk to the state, and may be involved in activities such as cyber-espionage, surveillance of government entities, and inappropriate collection of sensitive personal information,” a state press release said.

Last month, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations said TikTok posed a national security threat to the US, warning that the Chinese government – through its control of Chinese corporations – could siphon American data.

The Federal Communications Commission has also been working with Public Safety and Homeland Security to identify threats to national security by blacklisting certain Chinese entities from being used on U.S. networks. Late last month, the commission announced it is halting the authorization of equipment from these threats to the nation’s security.

New America names new head of Open Technology Institute

Think tank New America announced Wednesday that Lilian Coral is joining the organization’s technology program, the Open Technology Institute, as senior director and head of its technology and democracy program.

The OTI comes up with policy and regulatory reforms to support open source technology, which allows for interoperability of technologies, as opposed to just proprietary technologies held by a few players.

Coral previously worked at the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation as its director of national strategy and tech innovation, where she managed a portfolio of more than $55 million in investments that supported public spaces technology and data trust and accessibility.

“We need to ensure every American has access to an internet that is open, safe, and helps uplift communities,” Coral said in a press release. “But we all recognize that access alone is not sufficient. This means developing guardrails to make sure we all benefit from the opportunities the internet affords—and imagining a truly democratic digital public realm that is a key pillar in renewing the promise of America.”

UScellular expands 5G network to more Americans

UScellular announced Wednesday that a software update will allow it to expand its 5G network in multiple states, providing 1.4 million more Americans with access to its services.

A press release said the update allows for better coordination between cell sites and will use 4G and 5G features to extend existing 5G service to neighboring sites.

“These updates allow us to get more out of our investment and enhance our customers’ experience whether they are accessing our 5G network on their smartphone, tablet or for home internet,” Robert Jakubek, UScellular vice president of engineering and network operations, said in the release.

In May, the country’s fourth-largest wireless carrier partnered with 5G equipment provider Ericsson to provide 5G fixed-wireless services using the C-band spectrum.

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Broadband Roundup

Talent for Growth Taskforce, ‘Grave Mistakes’ in FCC Maps, Lumen Expanding Fiber

The U.S. and EU representatives announced a taskforce to share insights into growing the workforce in tech.

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Photo of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

December 6, 2022 – The United States and European Union Trade and Technology Council announced Monday the creation of the Talent for Growth Task Force, which is intended to share information and recommendations on expanding talent development and training in technology industries on both sides of the Atlantic.

The task force will comprise workforce training organizations, business leaders, government officials and labor union leaders. Roles and responsibilities of the taskforce include promoting programs to small- and mid-sized companies, spreading knowledge of in-demand opportunities for young people in underserved communities, and showcasing training opportunities in the U.S. and other countries under the European Union.

Members of the Task Force will be announced in early 2023.

“Competition for technological leadership today demands a well-trained workforce,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, co-chair of the TTC, said in a release. “Training is key to creating broad participation in today’s economy. With the Talent for Growth Task Force, we will learn from each other’s successes and create new opportunities that recognize the talent of our people.”

Industry in the U.S. has identified workforce development as key to keeping up with massive federal funding initiatives intended to boost infrastructure. In October, the Fiber Broadband Association and the Wireless Infrastructure Association, for example, announced a partnership to promote the development of the broadband workforce, as the industry awaits billions of dollars in new money coming from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

West Virginia senator points out FCC map errors

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., told reporters in a virtual meeting last week that the Federal Communications Commission’s preliminary broadband map released last month has made “grave mistakes” on unserved areas in her state, according to reporting from The Inter-Mountain.

“The FCC has just published recently … broadband maps that actually show which parts of West Virginia have service, which homes have service and which don’t,” the West Virginia senator said, according to the story. “I feel that they have some pretty grave mistakes. What would that impact? It would impact our ability to get larger funding to extend to unserved and underserved areas.”

As an example of her claim, Capito, according to the story, mentions a particular mountainous region in West Virginia where 130,000 households are represented as covered by the satellite broadband service Starlink. But Capito says “… their service is non-existent, it’s spotty, and it’s very expensive. To me, that’s an underserved or unserved area. Those are the kinds of disputes we need to make because it will affect funding and we won’t get to that last home if we don’t have the accurate maps.”

In 2020, Capito worked with the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council to create its own state-administered map to quantify the digital divide, according to the story. According to Broadband.Money, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, West Virginia has 896,585 broadband serviceable locations, 243,761 of which are unserved and 411,602 that are underserved.

Lumen expanding intercity network by six million fiber miles

Telecom Lumen Technologies said Tuesday it is planning to invest in another six million miles of fiber in its intercity network project.

The project, which will drive fiber through 50 major cities across the country, is expected to be installed by 2026, according to a press release on Tuesday.

“As demand for optical fiber increases and technology evolves, Lumen’s multi-conduit infrastructure means we can install the latest fiber type quickly and economically. It’s difficult to upgrade legacy intercity networks without multiple conduits,” said Lumen Chief Technology Officer Andrew Dugan.

“These networks end up being stuck with older fiber technology,” Dugan added. “Lumen is fixing that issue with our upgraded technology. We can extend signal reach to help reduce equipment costs and increase bandwidth capacity.”

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Broadband Roundup

E-Rate Bidding Portal Dilemma, Sustainable Funding for Indigenous Broadband, NYC Kills Internet Plan

Iowa’s education department said it faces breaking either FCC or state rules if E-Rate portal approved.

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Photo of New York City Mayor Eric Adams by Marc A. Hermann of the MTA used with permission

December 5, 2022 – The Iowa Department of Education sent a letter Monday to the Federal Communication Commission raising concern that the commission’s proposal for an E-Rate bidding portal would cause conflicts with state laws.

The E-Rate program provides broadband subsidies to schools and libraries and is part of the Universal Service Fund. Late last year, the commission proposed to have a central document repository, called a bidding portal, through which internet service providers would submit bids to the program administrator, the Universal Service Company, instead of directly to applicants at a state and local level. Currently, libraries and schools announce they are seeking services and service providers apply directly to those institutions.

The rationale for the proposal is to streamline the program and reduce fraud, waste and abuse, the FCC said, following a government watchdog report that said the E-Rate program is susceptible fraud risks.

But on Monday, the Iowa Department of Education said if the proposal is adopted, the institution faces either breaking FCC rules or state rules. That’s because Iowa is required to notify targeted small businesses 48 hours ahead of a public bid, but this would conflict with the FCC’s requirement that says bidders can’t have advance knowledge of project information, the institution said.

Iowa noted that similar complaints have been made by institutions in California, Kentucky, South Dakota, Illinois, and Utah. The Consortium for School Networking, the National School Boards Association, and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors had also brought forward concerns about conflict with state laws in their submissions to the commission.

Another concern raised by the Iowa Department of Education is that the bidding portal might discourage competitive bidding from applicants and providers because it will make the process more burdensome. That has been a complaint of the program for others as well, with submitters to the FCC complaining about additional complexity with the process.

Connect Humanity calls for sustainable funding, indigenous spectrum renewal

Non-profit Connect Humanity announced Monday calls to the governments of Canada and the United States for action as part of its 2022 Indigenous Connectivity Summit Calls to Action, including ensuring government funds are going to the ongoing operation of networks and not just upfront costs for builds.

“Recognizing the high costs of operating networks in rural and remote areas, we call on governments, the private sector, and philanthropic organizations to provide sustainable funding for the ongoing operation of networks, not just upfront capital costs,” said a Connect Humanity webpage.

The federal government has been delivering billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act and will soon be plowing billions more from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to the states to support broadband infrastructure. But some have said the money – $42.5 billion in the case of the latter – is not enough for rural and remote communities to see long-term sustainability.

The Connect Humanity call to action also touched on indigenous rights to spectrum, including asking the governments to stop selling spectrum licensing and renew permits on indigenous territories.

“Furthermore, those departments should promptly and unconditionally release unused spectrum licenses on and over Indigenous traditional territories for the use by and benefit of Indigenous Peoples,” the calls to action said, adding if indigenous leadership chooses not to manage spectrum in their territories, then the federal government should do so on their behalf and turn over revenues to the community.

The calls also ask that governments put in place a “dedicated workforce development initiative,” which would be “conducive to well-paid employment opportunities for Indigenous community members, including youth.” That would include governments, the private sector and philanthropic communities coming together to fund long-term funding for those training initiatives.

The calls to action build upon past recommendations that are made on an annual basis.

New York City discontinues internet master plan

New York City has cancelled its 2020 “Internet Master Plan” without public notice, according to reporting from the Gothamist on Monday, which would’ve provided $157 million in funds for the build out of municipal broadband infrastructure in poor communities.

The project would have connected 1.2 million residents to free or low-cost, high-speed internet. After Mayor Eric Adams assumed office, the project went on hold before it was canceled without public notice, the publication reports. It previously selected about a dozen businesses to lead this effort, many being led by women and people of color.

The plan, signed under previous Mayor Bill de Blasio, said it would extend broadband internet service to all New York residents regardless of income or zip code. In the plan, Blasio said, “We will work with the private sector to make sure it is available across the five boroughs, close the digital divide, and make sure all New Yorkers have equal access to the economic, social, and civic power of the internet.”

The plan aimed to close the digital divide in New York City and provide internet access to those that don’t have access or are underserved at an affordable rate.

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