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Getting Older Adults Connected, Nextlink Internet Partnership, Tacoma Convention Center Gains 5G Connectivity

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Photo of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, in June 2019, by Gage Skidmore used with permission

February 1, 2021—“The data is clear: older adults have been falling increasingly behind in digital connectivity, which negatively affects their overall health and well-being,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, in a statement released Wednesday. To combat this, Older Adults Technology Services, Inc. and the Humana Foundation are launching a national campaign called Aging Connected, an unprecedented effort aiming to connect at least one million older Americans to high-speed internet by 2022.

“America’s older population is facing a public health crisis as the digital divide restricts their ability to stay healthy, meaningfully engaged, and financially secure amid the pandemic and beyond,” said Thomas Kamber, executive director of OATS.

The Humana Foundation, in partnership with OATS, released a report on Wednesday finding that nearly 22 million older Americans still lack wireline broadband access at home, representing 42 percent of the nation’s over-65 population.

The report estimates that 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths among older Americans were a result of being unable to access needed online resources from home during the pandemic. Access to broadband not only limits access to essential public health information, social services, and digital healthcare services like telehealth and apps that manage chronic conditions, but it can also lead to risk of social isolation, which has been linked to negative health outcomes, reduced quality of life and premature death.

The report finds that technology is exacerbating social divisions and inequalities, creating “disturbing correlations” between digital disengagement and race, disability, health status, educational attainment, immigration, rural residence, and income.

To address these concerns, OATS and the Humana Foundation will utilize a four-pronged approach: publicize and clearly articulate the value of broadband to seniors, prioritize social equity and inclusion, expand access to low-cost offers, and develop content, communities and experience for older adults to increase utilization of broadband services.

American Tower partners with Nextlink Internet to expand wireline broadband

American Tower, a wireless communications infrastructure company, and Nextlink Internet, an internet service provider, announced a partnership to deploy fixed broadband service to residents and small businesses in rural areas across the Central U.S. on Thursday.

Nextlink Internet, a Connect America Fund II recipient and provisional winner in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Program, is planning to collocate on over 1,000 American Tower sites to facilitate rapid deployment of fixed broadband service to residents. The long-term agreement is designed to bring connectivity to residents across 11 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, and Wisconsin.

“Since our CAFII funding initiated in Summer 2019, our team has put forth tremendous effort in scaling our operational service area into rural markets, and we are continually looking at opportunities to partner with others to accelerate that pace even further,” said Bill Baker, CEO of Nextlink Internet. “American Tower is the ideal partner and our preferred tower provider in helping us meet critical build deadlines and expedite internet access in underserved areas,” he added.

“We look forward to strengthening our partnership with Nextlink Internet through this mutually beneficial agreement,” said Steve Vondran, executive vice president of American Tower. “We’re excited to work with Nextlink Internet and aid in their efforts to help close the digital divide in rural America,” he said.

Tacoma’s Downtown Marriott partners with Mobilitie to ramp up 5G connectivity

A 5G, state-of-the-art wireless network is coming to Marriott’s new Tacoma Downtown hotel in Washington. Marriott is partnering with Mobilitie, the nation’s largest privately-held wireless infrastructure firm, to bring 5G wireless capabilities to the property.

The hotel, opened in November of 2020, has 304 rooms across 22 floors. The Greater Tacoma Convention Center is directly connected to the hotel and has been named one of North America’s top convention centers. In addition to connecting the hotel to 5G, Mobilitie has more than 130 distributed antenna systems and 190 wireless access points installed in both the Convention and Trade Center, as well as in the nearby 23,000 seat Tacoma Dome arena.

“Building a reliable wireless connection is a big part of the amenities we wish to provide, and we’re excited for guests to enjoy high-speed connectivity in our new luxurious hotel,” said Ben Osgood of Marriott Tacoma Downtown. “Mobilitie’s work will help ensure our guests have access to a quality 5G connection during important business meetings, trade shows and even relaxing leisure time,” he added.

“It’s been a pleasure building a relationship with the Marriott Tacoma Downtown team as we prepare to provide one of its newest properties with a reliable and trusted network,” said Rebecca Onaitis, national director of wireless solutions for Mobilitie. “We’re looking forward to expanding our footprint in the great city of Tacoma as we seek to help keep all of Pacific Northwest locals and visitors connected,” she added.

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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