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Biden Sets Goal Of 2030 To Provide Affordable Broadband Access For All Americans

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March 31, 2021 – President Joe Biden unveiled his administration’s next major spending plan Wednesday, which includes $100 billion toward a target goal of providing all Americans with affordable access to broadband by 2030.

The broadband promise makes up a large chunk of the $2.3-trillion “American Jobs Plan,” spent incrementally over eight years.

The plan would prioritize funding for “broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives,” and sets aside specific amounts for broadband infrastructure projects on tribal lands. Some Republican lawmakers have previously said municipalities that build their own networks are squeezing out competition and proposed a bill that would outlaw the practice.

It is unclear if the $100 billion broadband funding refers to the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which was incorporated into the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s (LIFT) America Act, a large infrastructure bill that also seeks $100 billion in broadband funding, introduced in the House on March 11.

The White House said it sees broadband as essential as power, calling the internet “the electricity of the 21st century” and comparing this plan to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, which funded electric companies across the country to build electric infrastructure to every area in the United States still lacking a connection to power.

While access to broadband is an issue for unserved areas, Biden emphasized that affordability is another important challenge to solve. “We’ll make sure every single American has access to high-quality, affordable, high-speed internet, for businesses, for schools,” he said. “When I say affordable, I mean it. Americans pay too much for internet service,” he said.

The White House is looking at long-term answers to affordability. “Continually providing subsidies to cover the cost of overpriced internet service is not the right long-term solution for consumers or taxpayers,” the administration said in a statement.

Biden’s plan also sets its sight on better competition by lifting barriers for municipal networks and rural electric co-ops to compete with private providers, and greater transparency by requiring providers to disclose their broadband prices.

The legislation would significantly expand or modernize infrastructure in many other areas as well, including roads and highways, bridges, public transit, railroads, airports, inland waterways, various buildings including commercial, homes and colleges, and water and power infrastructure.

Other areas of focus of the plan include improving wages and benefits for “essential home care workers,” investing in research and development, revitalize manufacturing inside the United States, and ensuring the opportunity for American workers to organize, join unions and bargain with employers.

The plan places a large focus on what the White House called “disadvantaged” and “distressed” communities and inequities, with funding set aside for programs in those specific areas.

“This is about opening opportunities for everybody else,” Biden said of wealthy Americans during a press conference Wednesday announcing the infrastructure plan. “Here’s the truth: We will all do better when we all do well,” he said. “Today, I’m proposing a plan for the nation that rewards work, not just rewards wealth. It builds a fair economy that gives everybody a chance to succeed, and its going to create the strongest, most resilient, innovative economy in the world,” he said.

To cover the costs of the $2 trillion plan, it would increase the corporate tax rate to 28 percent and establish a global minimum tax for multinational corporations, targeting the use of tax havens and shifting profits from America to other countries.

Biden called on Republicans to join the effort, referring to past bipartisan work on infrastructure, including the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system, both of which were done by Republican presidents.

The American Jobs Plan is part one of a two-part infrastructure proposal, with part two—the “American Families Plan—due sometime in April.

Reporter Tim White studied communication and political science at the University of Utah, and previously worked on Capitol Hill for a member of Congress. A native of Salt Lake City, he escapes to the Pacific Northwest as often as he can. He is passionate about politics, Star Wars, and breakfast cereal.

Universal Service

Advocates Call for Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues

Letter cites Carol Mattey report, which recommends broadening the base.

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Carol Mattey of Mattey Consulting LLC

WASHINGTON, November 29, 2021 – A broad swath of organizations on Monday is calling for policymakers in Washington to reform and stabilize the Universal Service Fund by broadening its funding base to include broadband revenues.

The Universal Service Fund, which supplies the nation’s low-income and rural and remote communities with basic telecommunications services, currently relies on voice service revenues, which has been a dwindling for years. Debate has emerged about how the fund can be stabilized, with some asking for the money to come from a congressional budget item and others asking for it to come from broadband revenues.

The latter is being recommended by over 254 organizations, including public interest groups, anchor institutions, trade associations and broadband service providers, in a Monday call to action letter to policymakers in Washington. The letter cites a September report by Carol Mattey, a former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission, which said broadband revenues should be incorporated into the USF base of money to draw upon.

“Unfortunately, this universal service system is in danger of collapse because the mechanism that funds it has not been updated since it was adopted nearly 25 years ago,” the letter said. The USF program is a relic from 1997 and a product of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The letter features organizations including Public Knowledge, the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition, Gigabit Libraries Network, California Emerging Technology Fund, and a number of telecoms and telecom associations and anchor institutions from over a dozen states.

The contribution percent – the percent providers must pay of their voice revenues – has reached an all-time high in the second quarter this year, at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that. Mattey and the signatories, however, warn that the contribution could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years, as the fund operates at around $10 billion annually.

Citing the Mattey report, the letter suggests that including broadband revenues into the fund would reduce the USF fee to less than 4 percent, adding it would not stunt broadband adoption or retention, as fees are often passed down to customers.

“Our recommendation would reduce regulatory uncertainty, would better reflect evolving uses of services, would be straightforward to administer, and would be more equitable and nondiscriminatory for residential and business consumers than the current system,” the letter said.

“Moreover, the Federal Communications Commission could make this change under its existing authority without requiring new legislation,” the letter added, as Mattey and Greg Guice, Public Knowledge director of government affairs, said at a conference recently.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested earlier this year that Big Tech companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook should contribute to the fund because they benefit from broadband services. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called the idea “intriguing,” while FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington also raised the idea at an event in September.

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Open Access

UTOPIA Fiber Completes Payson City Project and Publishes Results of Customer Feedback Survey

UTOPIA customers deep in red states favor net neutrality by a wide margin.

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A photo of a fiber installer courtesy UTOPIA Fiber

November 29, 2021 – UTOPIA Fiber announced the completion of a fiber-optic internet network in one of its original 11 cities of Payson, Utah, on November 22.

All 20,000 residents and businesses in Payson City, Utah, have access to UTOPIA’s all fiber, open-access model, according to UTOPIA Fiber. Payson is the eighth of the original group of 11 cities to finalize its broadband infrastructure deployments.

“The original cities were visionaries before their time,” said UTOPIA Fiber Chief Marketing Officer Kimberly McKinley. “We need to give a lot of credit to Payson. Back in 2002, 2004, when UTOPIA was getting off the ground, they saw the benefit of our model.”

“They saw the vision and where the future was headed almost 20 years ago.”

Today, UTOPIA Fiber is deploying broadband infrastructure in 17 cities across Utah and southern Idaho. UTOPIA Fiber Executive Director Roger Timmerman said that the three remaining original cities will have their projects completed by the end of 2022.

UTOPIA’s model is entirely funded through subscriber revenue, at no cost to taxpayers. Based on UTOPIA’s recent surveys, the subscribers in question view the service as a worthy investment.

Annual customer feedback survey

Also, on Oct. 27, UTOPIA Fiber released the results of their annual customer feedback survey. Among other statistics, UTOPIA Fiber reported that the number of customers working from home had increased by more than 230 percent since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, while legislators around the country squabble over how to define broadband – whether it ought to be 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload, or 100 Mbps symmetrical, nearly half of UTOPIA’s customers purchased speeds over 1 Gigabits per second, which is 10 times faster than 100 Mbps.

Customers need faster speeds to address the myriad services that simply did not exist in the past, many believe. For example, 68 percent of customers are subscribed to a streaming service that did not exist three years ago, and the use of home security connected to the internet rose by 71 percent since 2018.

And 83 percent of consumers stated that they were glad they had invested in UTOPIA, 76 percent stated it had improved their quality of life, and 75 percent said their community is better because of UTOPIA.

In addition to high levels of customer satisfaction, UTOPIA also found that consumers were strongly in favor of net neutrality policies, with 92 percent of respondents indicating as much.

“A few years back we saw an influx of customers that came over to the UTOPIA system because that our providers are net neutral,” said McKinley. “I think that that speaks to people who want more privacy and control over their user experience. I think that is what we’re seeing at UTOPIA Fiber.”

Despite being generally favorable toward the practice up through the Obama Administration, net neutrality was struck down in the U.S. in 2017 by the Trump Administration’s FCC led by Ajit Pai. Though conservatives have historically portrayed net neutrality as an example of government overreach, McKinley argues that Utah is an example of why this issue should not be a partisan one.

“[This data] shows that people do not want to be beholden to big telcos who have control of their entire user experience. I think our survey proves more than anything that this is a bipartisan topic, and this is not a blue versus red discussion,” she said. “[Consumers] just want better.”

UTOPIA Fiber is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Wireless

Verizon, TracFone Deal Gets FCC and California Approval

The companies agree to consumer protection measures as conditions of the transaction.

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Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2021––The Federal Communications Commission voted Monday to approve Verizon’s purchase of TracFone Wireless.

The transaction is subject to binding conditions to ensure that the deal benefits the public interest. In approving the deal, the FCC imposed requirements to protect consumers from price increases, guarantee affordable 5G services and devices for underserved customers, and ensure that TracFone continues its support as a federal subsidy Lifeline program participant. Specifically, Monday’s order requires TracFone to offer its Lifeline supported services for at least seven years and offer “a range of cost-effective 5G devices” and plans to existing and new Lifeline customers.

The FCC also adopted enforcement measures as a condition of the merger. “Given the likelihood that any violation of these conditions could harm low-income consumers,” the FCC’s press release said, “today’s Order requires regular public reporting and more than seven years of oversight.” The enforcement mechanism includes an internal and an independent compliance officer who are empowered to proactively monitor conditions, ensure that low-income consumers are not being harmed, and facilitate consumer complaints about potential violations.

On Friday, the California Public Utilities Commission also approved Verizon’s acquisition of TracFone Wireless with those similar conditions.

TracFone is the largest prepaid carrier in the U.S. And with TracFone’s 21 million customers, Monday’s merger makes Verizon the largest prepaid service operator in the country.

Kathleen Burke, policy counsel for public interest group Public Knowledge, said Monday that the organization “applaud[s] the FCC for its thorough review of this merger, and its efforts to ensure that this merger meets the necessary public interest standard.” With these commitments, Burke says a merged Verizon/TracFone “should provide better prepaid and Lifeline services to the benefit of low-income and price-conscious consumers.”

The deal was initially criticized for eliminating a strong Verizon competitor and potentially leading to an increase in the barrier to market entry for the communications sector. Policy analyst Daniel Hanley at the Open Markets Institute said in a Broadband Breakfast expert opinion that the merger allows Verizon to neutralize competitors.

“Verizon does not need to acquire TracFone to accomplish its operational goals,” he said. “The FCC should not allow Verizon to use its dominant financial position to acquire a critical competitor and market participant and forgo operational investments and other necessary market research to expand its network.”

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