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Wireless Infrastructure Advocates Urge Municipalities to Work Collaboratively on 5G Facilities

Benjamin Kahn

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February 25, 2021— Municipalities and the nation’s carriers must work together to deploy and extend networks as the era of 5G quickly approaches, experts said Wednesday.

Tensions have been picking up between industry and local governments about access to infrastructure to extend broadband networks by installing small cells on those towers and poles.

Carriers have complained either about a lack of access or excessive fees to attach that equipment, and they say that access is crucial for the extension of existing infrastructure and the deployment of the next-generation networks.

Experts at the Wireless Infrastructure Association’s All Access Policy Summit 2021 on Wednesday were hopeful that those differences can be mended. They expressed optimism that lawmakers – despite their differences – could get behind closing the digital divide and ultimately allow the Biden administration to make meaningful change to bridge the divide.

Matt Mandel, vice president of government and public affairs for the Wireless Infrastructure Association, said the pandemic has shown how critical distanced learning, telehealth and telework, and those facts have illuminated for all how important it is to close the divide.

Staci Pies, vice president of government affairs for communications infrastructure company Crown Castle, agreed with Mandel about the need for partnerships between broadband providers and municipal governments for deploying 5G infrastructure—a crucial component to bridging the digital divide.

Pies recognized the difficulty in how to determine which communities to prioritize for 5G deployment, but emphasized that “need” could not be the exclusive metric. She stated that communities also needed to be able to demonstrate “readiness” for 5G.

Mandel explained that this readiness could be viewed in different ways. He noted that WIA partnered with municipal governments during the early days of the pandemic to ensure that communities were able to voice their concerns, and then attempt to help them to resolve issues they raised.

Mandel said that certain jurisdictions did not allow electronic signatures or filing, so WIA held meetings with local governments to facilitate the transition to a more digitally-dependent ecosystem. He explained that establishing these relationships with municipal governments would also be a critical element in the adoption of 5G.

Both panelists agreed that these processes are aided by the fact that both sides of the aisle recognize the importance of broadband.

Broadband issues are “one of the few kind of oases of bipartisanship,” Mandel said. He noted that while the parties may disagree on the specifics of what kind of action is necessary to solve the problems at hand, they are both able to agree that issues like the homework gap and the digital divide need to be solved.

The panelists were optimistic that stimulus and infrastructure packages, such as one containing $7.6 billion that would be directed to the Emergency Connectivity Fund, might receive bipartisan support.

Additionally, both said they hoped that the E-Rate program that subsidizes internet access to schools and libraries could possibly be expanded to homes.

As a child of American parents working abroad, Reporter Ben Kahn was raised as a third culture kid, growing up in five different countries, including the U.S.. He is a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore, where he majored in Policy, Politics, and International Affairs. He enjoys learning about foreign languages and cultures and can now speak poorly in more than one language.

Section 230

Sen. Mike Lee Promotes Bills Valuing Federal Spectrum, Requiring Content Moderation Disclosures

Tim White

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Screenshot of Mike Lee taken from Silicon Slopes event

April 5, 2021 – Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said Friday spectrum used by federal agencies is not being utilized efficiently, following legislation he introduced early last year that would evaluate the allocation and value of federally-reserved spectrum.

The Government Spectrum Valuation Act, or S.553 and introduced March 3, directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to consult with the Federal Communications Commission and Office of Management and Budget to estimate the value of spectrum between 3 kilohertz and 95 gigahertz that is assigned to federal agencies.

Lee spoke at an event hosted by the Utah tech association Silicon Slopes on Friday about the legislation, in addition to other topics, including Section 230.

Some bands on the spectrum are reserved for federal agencies as they need it, but it’s not always managed efficiently, Lee said. Some are used by the Department of Defense for ‘national security,’ for example, but when asked what that spectrum is used for, we’re told, ‘we can’t tell you because of national security,’ he said.

“Just about everything we do on the internet is carried out through a mobile device, and all of that requires access to spectrum,” he said.

He said that lives are becoming more affected and enhanced by our connection to the internet, often through a wireless connection, which is increasing the need for the government to efficiently manage spectrum bandwidth, he said. Some of the bands are highly valuable, he said, comparing them to the “beach front property” of spectrum.

Legislation changing Section 230

Lee also spoke on Section 230, a statute that protects online companies from liability for content posted by their users. It’s a hot topic for policymakers right now as they consider regulating social media platforms.

Both Republicans and Democrats want more regulation for tech companies, but for different reasons. Democrats want more moderation against alleged hate speech or other content, citing the January 6 riot at the Capitol as one example of not enough censorship. Republicans on the other hand, including Lee, allege social media companies censor or remove right-leaning political content but do not hold the same standard for left-leaning content.

Lee highlighted that platforms have the right to be as politically-biased as they want, but it’s a problem when their terms of service or CEOs publicly state they are neutral, but then moderate content from a non-neutral standpoint, he said.

Lee expressed hesitation about repealing or changing Section 230. “If you just repealed it altogether, it would give, in my view, an undo advantage to big market incumbents,” he said. One solution is supplementing Section 230 with additional clarifying language or new legislation, he said.

That’s why he came up with the Promise Act, legislation he introduced on February 24 that would require the disclosure of rules for content moderation, and permit the Federal Trade Commission to take corrective action against companies who violate those disclosed rules. “I don’t mean it to be an exclusive solution, but I think it is a reasonably achievable step toward some type of sanity in this area,” he said.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and a couple of her colleagues also drafted Section 230 legislation that would maintain the spirit of the liability provision, but would remove it for paid content.

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FCC

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr Optimistic About Finding Common Ground at Agency

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr from C-Span

March 24, 2021 — Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said the regulator has since 2017 seen what he wanted: Broadband speed increases and lower prices.

“The approach we adopted in 2017 is working,” he said at the Free State Foundation’s 13th annual telecom policy conference on Tuesday. “Speeds have increased, prices are down, and we see more competition than ever before; we need to keep it that way,” he said, stressing the importance of reinforcing the good work the previous administration did and continues to do.

Carr, who has been a part of the FCC since 2012 in various capacities and through different compositions, said the transition into the new administration is going well.

In contrast to before, when it seemed as though the “sky was falling” and there were many problems with net neutrality, today’s reality is quite different, thanks to Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, he said.

The chairwoman contacted him almost immediately after she asked him to participate an event together on telehealth. There have been a lot of conversations and compromises since that moment, he said.

He said elections do bring some consequences, and undoubtedly have shaken some of the agency’s previous standards with a different party in leadership. However, he said the FCC has been finding common ground, something that “has been all too rare in the past couple of years.”

He added that, in 2016, experts and analysts weren’t painting a very rosy picture for the US future leadership when it comes to 5G. One of the primary reasons cited was the cost and length of time to build out the Internet infrastructure in this country, he said.

“We went from 708 new cell sites in 2017 to over 46,000. The progress is astounding, and not only with towers but with fiber, as we built 450k miles of fiber in just one year alone.”

Spectrum auctions driving the agenda, Carr says

Optimistic on spectrum, he pointed out that at present, there is a lot of it available. “In 2017, the FCC had previously voted in a lot of higher band spectrum options.”

The work of initial prioritization was completed by us before 2017 when we moved in and noticed the lack of midband spectrum in the pipeline. We had to move fast, and we had the first auction for the midband in 2020, with frequencies ranging from 3.5 to 5.5 gigahertz.

Over the last couple of years, he said the FCC has opened that band to intensive use, pushing the midband spectrum a great deal. The future holds the need to create a spectrum calendar with a rough outline of spectrum auctions, including which bands are available for auction and when, he said. “I have already filled in that calendar.”

He said the regulator’s challenge is not with a lack of communication but with coordination.  “We need the FCC to take a step back and consider the public interest, how the agency can best achieve the federal missions and how it can best do this. Even if there are going to be disagreements, it is paramount to ensure that the American economy stays competitive.”

Looking ahead, Carr said the 5.9 gigahertz project, which last year was on trial to expand rural broadband access, would be a great beginning to prove that good leadership and compromise are possible between both parties.

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Spectrum

In Call For Open Radio Access Network, FCC Chairwoman Points to Security and Cost Savings

Benjamin Kahn

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Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel from January 2015 by the Internet Education Foundation used with permission

March 18, 2021—The FCC on Wednesday launched its first official inquiry into the status and trajectory of open radio access network technology, with the acting chairwoman suggesting the search for new network vendors must ramp up.

The open RAN movement has gained significant momentum since Huawei was banned over the past 18 months.

Proponents of the movement argue that it may increase competition in the market surrounding radio access network hardware, particularly for silicon chips, because it allow more companies to enter the space traditionally locked out due to proprietary technologies held by few companies.

5G deployment is one of the FCC’s top priorities over the next couple of years. One of the ways the FCC prioritized accomplishing this is the use of spectrum auctions. However, this new inquiry indicates that the FCC is seeking other avenues to accelerate 5G deployment.

The primary goal of the notice is to “seek comment on the current status of Open RAN development and deployment in American networks and abroad,” according to an agency press release. It attempts to determine the role of incumbent hardware manufacturers, new entrants, and the standards for the architecture of the network.

Additionally, the agency is inquiring about the challenges and considerations that various government and private sector stakeholders face as they pursue manufacturing, integration, and deployment of open RAN technology.

During a talk hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday, Acting Chairwoman of the FCC Jessica Rosenworcel outlined key elements of the FCC’s strategy in expediting the roll-out of 5G.

In her concluding remarks, she stated that while slowing down the progress of what she called “untrusted” hardware vendors, such as Huawei, has been the priority for the FCC in recent years, the organization must shift its focus to pursuing new vendors simultaneously.

She pointed to the previous day’s inquiry as a first step toward addressing this goal. “If we can unlock the [radio access network] and diversify the equipment in this part of our networks, we may be able to increase security, reduce our exposure to any single foreign vendor, [and] lower costs.” She also stated that prioritizing open RAN would overall benefit the U.S. economy.

Recalling the FCC’s spectrum auctions, Rosenworcel continued: “Of course, our network equipment is only as good as the spectrum it runs on.  So, we are not slowing down there either.” She stated that the 3.45-3.55 Gigahertz band auction that was just authorized would play a crucial role in supporting open RAN technology and the implementation of 5G.

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