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$109 Billion for Broadband Bill, AT&T Fiber, Starlink’s 60 New Satellites, Klobuchar’s Antitrust Crusade

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Photo of Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., from March 2017 by New America used with permission

March 16, 2021 – Democratic lawmakers have introduced a $312 billion bill that would boost broadband, clean energy and public health infrastructure.

The Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, was introduced Monday and is backed by all Democratic members of the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee.

“As our nation combats COVID-19 and a severe economic downturn, the LIFT America Act fulfills President Biden’s promise to Build Back Better,” said committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J.

“Over the last year, we’ve seen the devastating results of inaction: major power outages, water shortages, health care facilities stretched to the limit, and communities left behind due to the digital divide. By modernizing our infrastructure, we have an opportunity to revitalize our economy, create millions of new jobs, combat climate change, and ensure no community is left behind,” he added.

Of that amount, $109 billion will go toward a number of initiatives to expand broadband and internet access around the country, including $5 billion toward low-interest financing of broadband deployment, $15 billion in grants for next-generation 9-1-1, $9.3 billion to broadband affordability and adoption initiatives, and $80 billion for the nationwide expansion of connectivity.

The committee will hold a fully remote hearing on infrastructure legislation on Monday, March 22 at 11 a.m. ET.

AT&T bringing fiber to 3 million new locations

AT&T has promised to bring fiber internet to three million new locations across more than 90 metro areas, according to a strategy update.

It is most likely that these locations will consist of homes and businesses close to AT&T’s existing fiber installations instead of unserved places, the company said.

“We’re deliberate and strategic with how we allocate capital to invest in our market focus areas of 5G and fiber,” said AT&T CEO John Stankey. “Our number one priority in 2021 is growing our customer relationships. As demand for connectivity and content continues to grow, we are well-positioned to deliver.”

AT&T expects the three million additional fiber customer locations planned for 2021 will support continued momentum in its broadband business unit. In areas where AT&T has deployed its fiber network, the company has a 10 percent higher market share than its competitors, and about 70 percent of its gross subscribers are new to AT&T, it said.

Fiber is foundational to AT&T’s broadband portfolio, it said. The company’s chief financial officer John Stephens previously remarked that its keeping up with upload speed demand and that symmetrical technology is key to its strategy.

SpaceX launches 60 more satellites

SpaceX launched 60 additional satellites into orbit on Sunday, its 22nd Starlink mission and the 8th since the beginning of the year.

Starlink is a constellation of satellites that can provide high-speed, low latency internet worldwide, particularly in remote areas where connectivity is limited or completely unavailable.

The company is currently delivering beta services both domestically and internationally, where it’s available in Canada, the UK, and this week it was expanded to a coverage area to include Germany and the South Island of New Zealand.

The next Starlink launch is tentatively scheduled for March 21, from Cape Canaveral.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar continues antitrust crusade

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said there needs to be increased resources for law enforcement agencies like the Justice Department antitrust division and the Federal Trade Commission to adequately tackle what she regards as the competitive problem with big tech companies.

She said the government could do that by passing her hallmark legislation, called the Safe Tech Act, with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. The proposed legislation maintains protections for internet intermediaries like Google for content posted by its users but not content that it gets paid for.

Klobuchar said that “we can’t talk about the current economy without talking about a small business that has closed down because of the pandemic. What exacerbated this issue was already the persistent problem in the country of concentration of economic power.”

She said there needs to be more active competition policies with robust regulation, which begins with stronger antitrust laws.

Broadband Roundup

Broadband Prices Decline, AT&T’s Fiber Build in Texas, Conexon Partners for Build in Georgia

A USTelecom report finds that despite high inflation, broadband prices have been declining.

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Screenshot of Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – A USTelecom report released Wednesday found that broadband prices have been declining, despite high inflation.

The association’s 2022 Broadband Pricing Index Report found that broadband pricing decreased even with significant inflation of an estimated 8 percent in the past year, the most popular broadband prices dropped by 14.7 percent, and the highest speed broadband prices dropped by 11.6 percent from 2021-2022.

“Broadband prices at all speeds have decreased in the last five years,” it said.

The analysis also found that broadband prices are half of what they used to be in 2015. The most popular broadband services decreased by 44.6 percent, while the fastest broadband services decreased their prices by 52.7 percent from 2015-2022.

Lastly, the report found that the “consumer value of broadband services has never been higher.” As providers offer faster speeds at lower prices, the overall value to customers has dramatically improved, it said.

“This is great news for American broadband consumers,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association.

AT&T strikes deal in Amarillo, Texas for fiber project

AT&T struck a deal Wednesday with the city of Amarillo, Texas to extend its fiber reach.

A press release said the $24 million project in Amarillo will cover approximately 22,000 locations.

“The city of Amarillo broadband access plan is one of the more significant technological infrastructure advancements in city history,” said Amarillo mayor Ginger Nelson in the release.

It’s the latest partnership for AT&T, which is planning on reaching upwards of 60,000 locations via public-private partnerships in counties in Indiana, Kentucky and now Amarillo, Texas.

Conexon partners with Georgia electric company for broadband build

Georgia’s Ocmulgee Electric Membership Corporation partnered with internet service provider Conexon Connect on Tuesday to bring reliable, affordable, high-speed fiber broadband to rural Georgia.

The partnership will see the deployment of a network that spans 2,100 miles of fiber to the home for service to up to 8,000 members in centra Georgia, a press release said.

“I commend Ocmulgee EMC and Conexon for this exciting public-private partnership and their commitment to creating value for their communities,” said Governor Brian Kemp in a press release.

The project is estimated to take 2-4 years to complete and is set to start this September. The first customers expected to be connected in early 2023.

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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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