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Infrastructure

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

Tim White

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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.

Infrastructure

Telecoms Should Actively Build Broadband Infrastructure Through Road Developments

Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist said telecoms should be right there alongside new road builds and improvements.

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot of Garlin Gilchrist via YouTube

April 15, 2021 – Telecom and municipal partnerships should be forged when new roads are built so fiber can be laid as construction begins, Michigan’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Garlin Gilchrist II, said Tuesday.

A good time to expand and improve broadband is when roads are being paved and improved, he said Tuesday at the Connected Nation Telehealth Summit. ISPs can play a larger role during this process and increase competition for consumer benefit as more options become available, he noted.

Beyond physical infrastructure needs, ISPs should work more and better with education and healthcare providers, the conference heard.

Schools, libraries, and all levels of government from local to national need to be aware of their roles and responsibilities to close the digital divide, Gilchrist said.

With no internet, telehealth would be in danger when critical response teams cannot be there in person to tend to a patient’s needs, he said, adding investing in the internet is the same as investing in education and health. No matter your zip code, or where you live, or how bad the pandemic has affected daily life, everyone should have the means to access affordable broadband that actually meets their needs.

“Different partnerships are needed,” said Sarah Tennant, sector development director and cyber initiatives at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Gilchrist said he recognized the impact generational racial disparity and inequality had on the lives of people of color in Michigan and across the country. Lack of broadband for people of color can be seen as another form of racial injustice.

In trying to tackle that, he said connecting the underconnected with broadband is a top priority of the state.

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Europe

Openreach Partners With STL For Fiber Build

Openreach aims to get 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by later this decade.

Tim White

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Screenshot of STL's Ankit Agarwal via YouTube

April 14, 2021 – STL, or Sterlite Technologies Limited, announced Wednesday a partnership with Openreach, the United Kingdom’s largest digital network business to expand its “Full Fiber” broadband network across the UK.

STL, a global network designer from India, will provide millions of kilometers of fiber to develop Openreach’s goal of 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by late 2020s.

“This collaboration with Openreach strengthens a 14-year-old technology and supply relationship between the two companies and further reinforces STL’s commitment to the UK market,” the company said in a statement.

Openreach will use STL’s Opticonn solution, a fiber and cable build that the company claims offers better performance and faster installation, according to the release statement. The company will also utilize STL’s new celesta ribbon cable that boasts a capacity of up to 6,912 fibers, the statement added.

“Our Full Fiber network build is going faster than ever. We need partners like STL on board to not only help sustain that momentum, but also to provide the skills and innovation to help us go even further,” Openreach’s Kevin Murphy said in a statement. “We know the network we’re building can deliver a host of social and economic benefits – from boosting UK productivity to enabling more home working and fewer commuting trips – but we’re also trying to make this one of the greenest network builds in the world.”

Ankit Agarwal, CEO of connectivity solutions business at STL, said, “our customized, 5G-ready optical solutions are ideally suited for Openreach’s future-proof network requirements and we believe they will enable next-gen digital experiences for homes and businesses across UK. This partnership will be a major step towards our mission of transforming billions of lives through digital networks,” he said in a statement.

Openreach’s network now reaches 4.5 million premises, offering gigabit-capable connection through a range of competing providers on the network, and the company is building at a rate of about 42 thousand new homes and businesses a week, according to the release.

The UK parliament has set a goal to get 85 percent of UK homes and businesses access to gigabit-speed broadband by 2025. They reported that as of September 2020, 27 percent of UK premises received that connection speed, and 95 percent have access to “superfast broadband” which the government defines as at least 30 megabits per second download speed.

Parliament acknowledged that although “superfast broadband is sufficient for most household needs today, the demand for data-intensive services such as online video streaming is increasing and can push the limits of a superfast broadband connection. The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the need for widely available and reliable digital connectivity.”

STL is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Fiber

John Curtis, R-Utah, Opens Up About Future of Fiber and Broadband Challenges

Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis speaks about broadband rollout, education and bills more than a year into the pandemic.

Derek Shumway

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Photo of John Curtis from his website

April 13, 2021 – Provo, Utah has made significant progress with its Google Fiber partnership, and representative John Curtis, R-Utah, hopes the federal government is paying attention.

Broadband Breakfast spoke with Curtis on Monday to discuss broadband and the lessons he’s taken from the pandemic. He said that the city of Provo is on track with its broadband efforts and that its programs are working. Having formerly served as city mayor for Provo from 2010 to 2017, Curtis oversaw the purchase by Google Fiber of iProvo, the city’s existing fiber internet network.

Announced in a press release on February 16, two of Curtis’ bills, the Federal Broadband Deployment in Unserved Areas Act, and the Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2021, were introduced to facilitate broadband deployment on federal lands and close the digital divide in both rural and urban areas. The bills called to “streamline permitting presses,” as duplicative regulations and inefficient practices have been hampering broadband development thus far, he said.

Federal, municipal regulations a constraint on deployment

Curtis was asked where he thought unnecessary red tape needed to be removed to fulfill rural and urban broadband objectives. He said 90 percent of the rural land in his district is owned by the federal government, making regulation heavy and complicated. In some instances, public lands have taken up to nine years to allow permitting for broadband, and in broadband terms, that’s a lifetime. “We don’t have nine years to get down into these parts of the district,” he said.

To visualize this, if there is an existing asphalt road, broadband cannot run alongside it because it is treated as if there was trench dug underneath Delicate Arch, a historical rock formation, a regulated territory.  If rural roads are approved to be built, rural broadband should be approved in a similar and appropriate manner, Curtis said. He added companies like Google, who have vast resources, are still slowed down by the government.

And it’s not the federal government that is always behind roadblocks, but the municipal government can sometimes get in the way. A struggle over telecoms putting up equipment on municipal-owned poles, which are required for broadband and wireless deployment, has been playing out across the country.

Education needs support structure at home

As the country is more than one year into the pandemic, the importance of having adequate and affordable broadband in Utah households is critical, especially for education, Curtis said. Curtis said that the more disadvantaged a household is, the less likely it is to have good internet connectivity. While there are tremendous uses for virtual resources, Utah children need a support structure at home, and not every home has that.

Having poor support at home to stay connected for school, work, and health needs is virtually as bad as not even having a device to connect to the internet in the first place. A benefit of having Google Fiber in Provo, Curtis said, is that households see their internet costs come down and speeds go up as competition is benefitting consumers. Cities are averse to risk, and sometimes lack the capital to invest in broadband, but technology changes so fast that it requires constant upkeep, he said.

Not just about the money

Asked about his thoughts on recent federal legislation, including the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the Biden’s $100-billion infrastructure plan (Jobs Act) for broadband, Curtis said it is important to invest in these initiatives, but simply throwing money at the problem won’t solve anything.

He said he wished he could bring Biden to Provo to take a look at Provo’s broadband progress, adding that “creativity and hard work make up for a multitude of sins.”

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