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Infrastructure

3 House Bills Would Create New Speed Tiers For Broadband, Dole Out Up to $100 Billion in Funds

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Photo of Rep. Jim Clyburn from March 2018 by Preston Keres of USDA

March 22, 2021 – Three bills, worth $100 billion dollars and introduced in the House, will change the nation’s definition of served and unserved by dramatically upping the threshold for broadband speeds.

The bill will create new categories including unserved, low-tier and mid-tier for federal funding on broadband projects. The new definition of “served,” which was previously categorized as areas with access to speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, would be updated to bump up the upload speed to 25 Mbps.

Low-tier would be considered areas with between 25/25 Mbps and 100/100 Mbps speeds, and medium-tier would be viewed as 100/100 Mbps to gigabit symmetrical.

The new definitions would reflect enhancements in broadband technology and a previous call for speed definitions to be reassessed in light of the pandemic and consumer uptake of higher speeds.

The first bill, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, H.R. 1783, was re-introduced on March 12 by House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., and the rural broadband task force. Clyburn has been a long-time advocate for more broadband funding, and the task force, consisting of all House Democrats, was formed with that goal in mind. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

The $100-billion bill includes $80 billion for investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved urban and rural areas, 75 percent of which goes to a national competitive bidding system, and 25 percent to states for separate competitive bidding programs in each state and to unserved anchor institutions, including hospitals and schools with speeds of less than 1 gigabit per 1,000 users. The bill stipulates that the FCC and states must first hold competitive bidding exclusive for bidders offering gigabit symmetrical service.

The $80 billion program includes requirements that broadband providers must meet to receive funding, including offering service with at least 100 Mbps symmetrical speed with low latency; prices that are comparable to, or lower than, prices charged for comparable service; and offering an affordable service plan.

Also includes funding for digital inclusion initiatives

The bill also includes over $1 billion for new grant programs aimed at digital equity and digital inclusion initiatives; $5 billion funding over five years for a new low-interest financing program for eligible entities on broadband infrastructure projects; a “dig once” initiative to ensure improved coordination of transportation and broadband infrastructure projects; and $26 million in annual funding for a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, for overseeing broadband projects such as the new grant programs.

It also includes an additional $6 billion for the recently established Emergency Broadband Benefit program, and $2 billion for the new Emergency Connectivity Fund. It also authorizes $200 million to help states participate in the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier, the application process run by the Universal Service Administrative Company, a nonprofit subsidiary that collects and distributes the Universal Service Fund.

Additionally, it would provide $500 million for the NTIA’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity program and $100 million for U.S. territories.

The bill also requires the FCC to update the E-Rate internet subsidy program, which would allow Wi-Fi on school buses to qualify for E-Rate funding. The program was recently extended to households.

Second measure is the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, third measure is H.R. 1672

The second bill is the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, H.R. 1848, re-introduced by the Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 11, part of which would allocate $94 billion in funds for expanding broadband. This is an increase from previous versions of the bill that were introduced in the past but never made it to a vote.

The LIFT America Act, similar in scope to the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, includes $80 billion for increasing broadband access nationwide in underserved urban and rural areas; $5 billion for a low-interest financing program for broadband projects; and $9.3 billion for broadband affordability and adoption programs.

Like the first bill, the LIFT America Act also includes $6 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit fund, and $2 billion for the Emergency Connectivity Fund.

The third bill is H.R. 1672, introduced on March 9 by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, who co-chairs the bipartisan House rural broadband caucus and is also a member of the rural broadband task force. This bill, like the other two, would provide up to $79 billion in funding for broadband projects.

5G

Celebrating Progress on 5G, the FCC’s Brendan Carr Urges Broadband Mapping

5G crusader Commissioner Brendan Carr voiced pride in the FCC’s focus on 5G over the past four years

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Photo of Brendan Carr from the Tennessee Star

WASHINGTON, October 15, 2021–Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr on Friday celebrated U.S. progress in 5G wireless investment and urged the completion of the agency’s broadband mapping initiative.

Speaking a the Free State Foundation gala luncheon, Carr argued that the United States has progressed in its 5G investments and is catching up to foreign networks. ”Years ago we imaged the U.S. would be left behind in 5G,” he said.

He touted his and former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s efforts to “remove the red tape.” Enabling the private sector has paid off, he said: The U.S. has jumped 20 places on the country internet speed index, signaling the installation of more robust U.S. 5G networks.

Further, the FCC should complete its broadband mapping process and take caution with the federal money allocated toward broadband deployment, he said, adding that he asked the FCC earlier this year to complete its map by fall 2021.

“There’s planning that can take place when the maps are completed” he said, reflecting a desire from the public and private sector for better, more accurate broadband maps.

He also said that federal money allocated toward the FCC’s efforts to bridge the digital divide should be used carefully, and that money to connect unconnected Americas should not be wasted.

Carr celebrated American investment in 5G progress earlier this year, calling U.S. leadership in 5G “one of the greatest success stories in of the past four years.” In that time, the FCC opened up more than six gigahertz of spectrum for 5G services.

Former FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly also gave remarks at the event, expressing concern about the federal Made In America policy’s implications on the telecommunications sector.

The Made in America policy refers to President Biden’s push to increase American made content in supply chains. O’Rielly, who left the Commission in December 2020, argued that the policy limits telecommunications companies to the kinds of products that can be made available to consumers.

The Free State Foundation’s Randy May at the Friday event

He also questioned “what it means to be an American manufacturer” because foreign companies are “in essence, being punished by law” for having “investments in the U.S. with U.S. workers as part of a U.S. subsidiary.”

In O’Rielly’s view, the location of the companies headquarters does not impact its national security risk to the U.S.

The remarks by Carr and O’Rielly were at the 15th anniversary celebration for the free-market think tank. Carr said that the foundation has been an “invaluable resource” and has been cited more than 200 times in FCC decisions.

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Open Access

UTOPIA Fiber Goes to Court in Utah Over American Fork’s Build Permit Refusals

Fiber builder says it has been denied permits that have harmed it and its customers, despite an existing city agreement.

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Photo of Twin Peaks in American Fork, Utah, by Bryant Olsen used with permission

October 13, 2021 – UTOPIA Fiber filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city of American Fork in Utah for breach of contract after the city allegedly denied build permits to the fiber builder despite there being an existing contract between the two parties.

The fiber provider, which runs an open network on which private telecoms rent space on to provide services, alleges the city had approved some permits that only allowed it to construct backbone transport lines through the city connecting other cities, but denied it key permits that would have allowed it to extend services to UTOPIA Fiber customers inside the city. Those services include connections to American Fork’s public schools.

In July 2020, the city allegedly terminated the 2018 rights-of-way agreement with no explanation, the lawsuit claims. It also alleges that the city specifically discriminated against UTOPIA Fiber by adding additional scrutiny to its permit requests when it believed no such scrutiny existed for other providers.

Broadband Breakfast attempted to make contact with the city, but a phone call was not answered and a voicemail message was not returned by the time of publication.

“American Fork’s refusal to approve permit requests by or for UTOPIA for service laterals for customers within American Fork has harmed UTOPIA, its customers, and the private ISPs who wish to offer services within American Fork using UTOPIA’s Network,” the lawsuit said. “In some cases, UTOPIA has been forced to buy capacity from other network providers that are allowed to install infrastructure in American Fork, so that UTOPIA can fulfill existing contracts with its customers.

“In other cases, UTOPIA has been forced to cancel existing customer orders for connections within American Fork and has lost significant revenues as a result,” the suit added. “UTOPIA has also recently been forced to cancel or reject over a dozen additional customer orders because UTOPIA is unable, due to American Fork’s conduct, to obtain the permits needed to fulfill those orders, and again lost significant revenues as a result.”

In a press release, UTOPIA’s executive director Roger Timmerman said the lawsuit was a “last resort and not an easy decision to make.

“It is our hope that with judicial review, American Fork City will reverse its policies, work within the boundaries of the law, and ultimately, act in the best interest of the people and businesses in American Fork City by allowing them access to the increased options UTOPIA Fiber provides,” Timmerman added.

UTOPIA Fiber is asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah to force the city to pay the company damages sustained as a result of the alleged actions, to find the city violated the law with respect to its actions, and to force the city to cease the alleged “discriminatory and preferential actions” against the company.

UTOPIA Fiber, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, has designed, built, and operated more than $330 million worth of fiber projects in the state since 2009.

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5G

FCC’s Rosenworcel On Need to Accelerate Movement Toward 5G and Beyond

The acting chairwoman said the country needs to move quickly to adopt 5G for future technologies.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

WASHINGTON, October 12, 2021 – At the 10th annual Americas Spectrum Management Conference on Tuesday, Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the nation must move rapidly toward 5G to lay the groundwork for future technologies, including 6G.

Rosenworcel stressed the need to use this moment to “build a foundation for new growth and new opportunity in the post-pandemic world by increasing “the momentum toward 5G” and setting the stage for 6G “and beyond.”

She offered five principles for the delivery of 5G across the U.S. She illustrated how the FCC is dedicating more spectrum for 5G in order to demonstrate the viability of mid-band spectrum in the 3.45-3.55GHz bands for private carriers. The FCC is also working on expanding the reach of fiber facilities. Referencing Biden’s infrastructure plan that includes $65 billion for broadband deployment, Rosenworcel noted that “it’s terrific to see that building more broadband is at the heart of the legislative discussions we are having about infrastructure in this country.”

The agency has been putting those words into practice, moving to release spectrum as it began an auction last week for critical mid-band spectrum in the 3.45 Gigahertz band said to be important for 5G. The commissioners from the agency have also talked up the need to focus on the squeezing “every drop” of the mid-band, following the massive C-band auction.

Rosenworcel described 5G as “an essential part of unlocking technologies that we’ve been talking about . . . the internet of things, telemedicine, virtual and augmented reality, smart transportation networks, [and] smart energy grids.” She views these technologies as the future of industry and expands the potential for artificial intelligence.

This was the first time Rosenworcel addressed the conference in her capacity as acting chairwoman, as she reviewed the agency’s progress toward closing the digital divide for all Americans. That includes administering a number of big broadband programs to tackle affordability and accessibility, including the Emergency Broadband Benefit program and Emergency Connectivity Fund, from which the FCC on Tuesday said it committed $1.1 billion in a second wave of funding.

Late last month, the FCC approved 72 telehealth applications to ensure patients have continuous care during the pandemic. Rosenworcel said healthcare centers across the U.S. “are receiving $140 million in support to assist with efforts to expand telehealth,” a service that could connect Americans unable to travel for in-person medical care.

Rosenworcel also described the beginning of the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to help prevent equipment harmful to the nation’s security “from ever reaching our shores and to encourage better security practices across the board.”

Finally, Rosenworcel described efforts to develop international standards for technology to cultivate more international innovation and democratize access to modern communications. The acting chairwoman and colleagues have previously noted the importance of open access technologies, like open radio access networks, for security, innovation and low cost.

Looking to 6G and beyond, Rosenworcel illustrated the need to refocus America’s cyber defense resources on developing strategies for greater protection in cyberspace. She urged conferencegoers to “take the lessons of the past few years to put us on smart course for the next generation of wireless technology.”

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