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Rural Broadband Bill, Semiconductor Letter to White House, FCC March Meeting Agenda

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Photo of Sen. Susan Collins from October 2018 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

February 25, 2021 – Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, introduced the American Broadband Buildout Act Wednesday, a bipartisan bill to ensure that rural Americans have access to broadband services at speeds they need to participate in modern society and economy.

The legislation seeks to close the “digital divide” between urban and rural America by providing up to $15 billion in matching grants to assist states and state-approved entities build infrastructure to bring high-speed broadband directly to homes and businesses in areas that lack it.

“As a native of Aroostook County, I know how important high-speed Internet is to the vitality of rural communities,” said Collins in a statement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a renewed urgency to ensuring families have a reliable connection to their loved ones, co-workers, schools, and medical services. From spurring job creation to supporting telemedicine, access to high-speed Internet unlocks almost endless benefits and possibilities.  Our bipartisan bill can help bridge the digital divide between urban and rural America by bringing broadband directly to homes and businesses in areas that lack it.”

“Access to fast, reliable broadband is critical for families all across the state of Nevada — including in our rural communities — to do everything from attending school online to conducting business,” Rosen added.

The Internet and Television Association said in a statement that it is pleased with the proposed legislation.

“Through programs specifically targeted at extending high-speed internet to communities that are not yet connected, it is good to see emphasis on directing funds to areas that need help the most,” the organization said, adding the additional oversight component of the legislation will ensure accountability.

Industry letter to White House on semiconductor chip shortage

A number of telecom and media organizations sent a letter Wednesday to the White House about the global semiconductor chip shortage, requesting the administration to fully fund the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act.

The Internet and Television Association, America’s Communications Association, the wireless association CTIA and US Telecom signed the letter that asks the White House to consider “executive action on this and other important supply chain issues.

“We urge you to include broadband providers in measures to address the chip shortage, support initiatives that will expand domestic innovation and investment in semiconductor development and manufacturing facilities for all industries and ensure coordination across government and with industry partners on supply chain matters.”

“In the broadband sector, semiconductor chips power network infrastructure and the end user devices that, together, enable American consumers to connect to the Internet to work and learn from home, see their doctor through telemedicine, order delivery of groceries and other essentials, and keep connected to their loved ones and the world around them,” the letter reads. “The strain on global supplies of critical semiconductor components could negatively impact broadband providers’ ability to continue to deliver world-leading services.”

“As your Administration embarks on a review of supply chain issues affecting various U.S. economic sectors, we ask that you take a whole-of-government approach and leverage existing public-private partnerships addressing specific supply chain risks,” it reads.

FCC announces tentative agenda items for March meeting

Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Wednesday tentative agenda items for the agency’s March 17 open meeting.

  • Promoting public safety through information sharing – the commission will consider a second order that would provide state and federal agencies with direct, read-only access to communications outage data for public safety purposes while also preserving the confidentiality of that data.
  • Improving the emergency alert system and wireless emergency alerts – the commission will consider a new rule to implement section 9201 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, intended to improve the way the public receives emergency alerts on their mobile phones, televisions, and radios.
  • Facilitating shared use in the 3.45 GHz band – the commission will consider an order that would establish rules to create a new 3.45 GHz Service operating between 3.45-3.55 GHz, making 100 megahertz of mid-band spectrum available for flexible use throughout the contiguous United States.
  • Auction of flexible-use service licenses in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band – the commission will consider a notice that would establish application and bidding procedures for Auction 110, the auction of flexible use licenses in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band.
  • Promoting the deployment of 5G open radio access networks – the commission will seek comment on the current status of Open Radio Access Networks and virtualized network environments, including potential obstacles to their development and deployment, and whether deploying open RAN-compliant networks could further the Commission’s policy goals and statutory obligations.
  • The commission will also consider two national security matters and an Enforcement Bureau action. The FCC did not release the details.

Broadband Roundup

New Anti-China Bill in Congress, Outreach Program on Affordable Connectivity, Robocalls Decline

The Foreign Adversary Communications Transparency Act was introduced and is sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats.

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Photo of Elise Stafanik by CBS from the Republican National Convention in August 2020

February 7, 2023 – Three members of Congress have introduced legislation that would require the Federal Communications Commission to publish a list of licensed entities in the U.S. with ties to authoritarian regimes. 

The Foreign Adversary Communications Transparency Act also known as FACT Act was introduced by Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconson, last week. 

“I applaud Congresswoman Stefanik’s, Congressman Khanna, and Congressman Gallagher’s strong leadership and thoughtful work to counter the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party and other authoritarian state actors,” said FCC commissioner Brendan Carr in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation would strengthen American’s national security, and I encourage Congress to move quickly in passing this commonsense bill.

“Increasing visibility into entities with FCC authorizations that have relationships with authoritarian regimes would bring much needed transparency and help strengthen America’s communications networks against threats from malign actors,” Carr added.  

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel had previously supported legislation that would have identified licensees with foreign ties. 

“Consumers deserve to trust that public airwaves aren’t being leased without their knowledge to foreign governments,” she said last year about a bill that would require television and radio broadcasters to reveal who is sponsoring foreign programming. 

Nonprofit to launch course on increasing Affordable Connectivity Program signups 

EducationSuperHighway, a national non-profit organization working to close the digital divide, will release a new learning course called LearnACP on Wednesday to help communities increase the adoption of the Affordable Connectivity Program

The $14.2 billion subsidy program, which provides a connectivity discount of $30 per month and $75 per month on tribal lands, still has millions of eligible Americans that are not signed up. EducationSuperHighway estimates that only about 30 percent of eligible households have signed up. 

“By training up trusted enrollment advocates, the course addresses the trust and enrollment barriers that keep 18 million Americans who have access to the internet offline,” Jessalyn Santos-Hall, director of marketing of EducationSuperHighway, said in a press release. 

Santos-Hall said in a press release that there’s a 45 percent application rejection rate, and many people can’t even finish the 30 to 45-minute enrollment process.

Robocall scams slowed, report claims

Robocall scams have been decreasing significantly due to government and regulatory action since early 2022, according to a report from Robokiller

The company that created an app to block spam calls and texts said it has observed a drop in the most malicious robocall categories: compared to December, January calls about car warranties decreased 35 percent, student loan calls went down 33 percent and home mortgage calls declined by 54 percent. 

“Americans got a bit of a reprieve from robo texts in January, as they returned to normal levels — 14 billion, compared to the 47 billion and 55 billion they received in November and December, respectively,” said Robokiller in a press release. “The change marks a 73% month-over-month decrease.

“In addition, with tax season coming up, Americans should watch out for IRS and social security-related scams as these tend to spike around this time of year,” Robokiller also said. 

The FCC has taken increased actions against robocalls. On December 21, the commission has proposed a nearly $300 million fine against an apparently fraudulent robocall and spoofing operation called “Cox/Jones Enterprise.” 

“So our message is clear to those who would follow in the footsteps of the auto warranty scammers – we are watching, we are working with our state counterparts, and we will find you, block you, and hold you accountable,” FCC chairman Rosenworcel said at the time. 

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Broadband Roundup

CCA Wants Rip and Replace Funding, Executive Movements at Lumen, Rise Closes Buy of GI Partners

Industry associations have agreed that the FCC’s rip and replace program needs more funding.

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Photo of Sham Chotai, Lumen's new executive vice president of product and technology, via Lumen

February 6, 2023 – The Competitive Carriers Association has pressed the Federal Communications Commission on the need for more funding to replace equipment deemed a national security threat.

In a meeting late last month, the industry association said its members are struggling to complete the replacement of equipment that includes Chinese companies flagged by the commission and the government as unsafe because of a lack of funding.

“CCA discussed its members’ progress and participation in the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program (Program), and the challenges faced due to lack of full funding for the Program,” said a letter of the interaction published Thursday. “CCA discussed Congressional activity and timing for a potential solution to the funding issue, and emphasized the need for full funding as soon as possible. CCA discussed the consumer, competitive, and national security risks associated with the status quo.”

Congress allocated $1.9 billion to the “rip and replace” program as part of the Secure Networks Act. But the FCC had already identified a shortfall in the funds because requests from applicants far exceeded the amount available.

Last month, a report from the Federal Communications Commission said nearly half of respondents required to submit status reports on their replacement efforts complained about a lack of funding.

The head of the Telecommunications Industry Association had said the association was “stunned” to see that the spending package that would allow the government to run through September did not include additional money for the program.

The Rural Wireless Association had also requested further funding, as it claimed its members could not get loans to bridge them over to their statutory requirements.

Lumen mixes up executive leadership

Lumen Technologies announced Thursday changes to its executive team over the coming weeks.

Sham Chotai will be executive vice president of product and technology, Jay Barrows will be vice president of enterprise sales and public sector, and Ashley Haynes-Gaspar will include marketing organization her responsibilities and will take the title of executive vice president of customer experience officer in wholesale and international.

Chotai, who has previously worked in leadership positions at General Electric and Hewlett-Packard, will work to “evolve IT architectures and solutions.” Barrows, who also held leadership positions at GE and Red Hat, will help business and government on their digital futures.

“Lumen is focused on becoming customer obsessed, rapidly innovating valuable solutions, and aligning our business model to deliver amazing customer experiences,” Kate Johnson, Lumen’s president and CEO, said in a press release. “Sham and Jay will each play a critical role in modernizing our business and improving our execution capability to support these goals. Both are agile leaders who have driven successful strategic corporate transformations with impressive results.”

Fiber provider buys data infrastructure investor

Rise Broadband, which provides fiber infrastructure across 16 states, said Thursday it has completed the acquisition of data infrastructure investor GI Partners.

The deal is said to help the Englewood, Colorado-based Rise to expand its hybrid fiber-to-the-home and fixed wireless network.

“Rise Broadband provides essential broadband connectivity with a focus on customers in rural America,” Brendan Scollans, managing director and co-head of GI data infrastructure, said in a press release.

“Rise’s existing network infrastructure is uniquely positioned to execute a fiber expansion effort that will provide rural communities with next generation broadband service,” Scollans added.

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Broadband Roundup

Satellites Expected to Increase, $30 Million From Emergency Connectivity Fund, NTIA 5G Challenge

The U.S. must remain a market leader in the satellite sector, said Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone

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Photo of Lago Argentino Department, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

February 3, 2023 – The number of satellites in the communications marketplace will continue to increase, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr, D- N.J., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during opening remarks at a Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on Thursday.

“Wireless carriers and phone manufacturers continue to build this capability into their networks and phones,” Pallone said.

“Quite simply, failing to ensure that the United States remains a market leader in this sector risks our nation falling behind our counterparts across the globe, including China, in producing cutting-edge consumer innovations and fortifying our public safety and national security capabilities,” Pallone said.

FCC disbursing another $30 million from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Wednesday that it will commit more than $30 million from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which helps students stay connected to the internet when not in school.

The newly announced award is expected to fund applications from all three previous application windows, and will support more than 200 schools, 15 libraries, and 1 consortium.

Thus far, the program has provided support to approximately 10,000 schools, 10,000 libraries, and 100 consortia, plus more than =$12 million in connected devices. Around $6.5 billion in funding commitments have been approved to date, approximately $4.1 billion is supporting applications from the first funding window, $833 million from the second window and $1.6 billion from the third window.

$7 million competition by NTIA to promote development of 5G

National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced the launch of the 2023 5G Challenge with the Defense Department l. It’s purpose is to accelerate the adoption and development of an open and interoperable multi-vendor environment for the 5G wireless standard. “ Such an ecosystem will spur a more competitive and diverse telecommunications supply chain, drive down costs for consumers and network operators, and bolster U.S. leadership in the wireless sector.”

“A competitive wireless ecosystem is vital for our domestic and economic security. The research conducted from this competition will benefit everything from our cellphones to the secure radio networks needed for our national defense,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and head of the NTIA.

Participants are required to create 5G equipment prototypes and then test to see if their subsystems can connect to other contestant’s equipment. For specific application and registration information, see the NTIA website .

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