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Broadband's Impact

Broadband Breakfast Panelists Wrestle With the Speed Definition of High-Speed Broadband

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March 18, 2021 – Should the Federal Communications Commission update its definition of high-speed broadband to account for overall faster connections? Industry experts at the Broadband Breakfast Live Wednesday event responded: “It’s complicated.”

For BroadbandNow’s Tyler Cooper, the simple answer was yes. “It changed in 2010, it changed in 2015, its 2021. Technology is changing, I think the definition should change as well,” he said. But what that change should be is more complicated and depends on different factors, he explained.

When the Telecommunications Act passed in 1996, broadband was defined as a connection speed of at least 200 kilobits per second (Kbps), and it was most recently updated in 2015 to a minimum 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload to define a high-speed internet connection.

It’s important to separate how we talk about served and unserved areas, said Christina Mason, vice president of government affairs at the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association.

Different areas require different solutions

“I think the problem that’s happening in Washington, DC, is that we are conflating a lot of different problems, and trying to solve it with one silver bullet solution,” she said. There is a difference between living an area with competitive broadband options and an area with limited service, and those two areas need different solutions, she said.

Some locations may not have access to fiber, for example, or limited competitive options, so the conversation should be tech-neutral to allow all types of broadband providers to open up access to unserved areas, she said.

Someone sitting in an office in Washington, D.C., shouldn’t define what broadband is, said Jonathan Chambers, who formerly worked at the FCC, and is partner at the firm Conexon. The question should be reframed because broadband is determined by what people want and what the public subscribes to, he said.

There are different speed definitions that the FCC uses, Chambers said, and the 25/3 Mbps speed benchmark is used to determine whether an area is served or unserved. Instead, Section 254 of the Telecommunications Act should be used to define served and unserved areas, he said.

Section 254 defines access to “advanced telecommunications and information services,” which includes broadband, as “reasonably comparable” to services and rates already offered in urban areas.

But the term “reasonably” should be dropped from the definition because people have used it as an excuse, Chambers said. “Those over the course of the last 25 years since those words were enacted, people who argue that things should be ‘reasonably comparable’ in rural areas or ‘reasonably comparable’ for low-income consumers, typically laying heavily on the word ‘reasonably’—that is to say, they mean, ‘not comparable,’” he said.

Chambers said that government defines broadband only for funding reasons. “For purposes of government activity, you define broadband so you can determine where funding should be and what that funding goes for,” he said.

Long-term investment in broadband infrastructure

“It’s difficult to paint with a broad brush here, because I think it’s important to balance the conversation around getting people connected today, which is essential, but also serving them well in the long run,” Cooper said. “If we’re spending federal funding to get people connected today, we want to make sure that connection appreciates over time,” he said.

“It’s really important we look at how networks are evolving and how consumer behavior is evolving,” Cooper said. What consumers want and need currently may change down the road, he said. Data shows that consumers are learning that broadband isn’t a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity, he said.

“We should be doing everything in our power, whether that’s a federal definition or some other incentive, to put in place technologies that are going to serve us well in the future,” he said.

Chambers expressed similar sentiment. The government is at a point where spending over $100 billion dollars in broadband infrastructure is on the table, he said. “If you’re going to spend over a $100 billion dollars, don’t cheat the public. Don’t aim low,” he said. Funding for both infrastructure and competitive subscriber-based subsidies in rural and low-income areas are important, he said.

Mason agreed as well, saying that the conversation isn’t just about speed or technology, but also infrastructure and competition.

“Focusing on the speeds, we’re missing the issue,” she said. Competition is important and different technologies need to be allowed to find the solution for unserved areas, she said.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the March 17, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “Redefining Broadband’s Speed Limit”

  • When “broadband” was first defined by the Federal Communications Commission in 1996, it measured at least 200 kilobits per second (Kbps) in either direction. In 2010, the agency revised the definition to be at least 4 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. Five years later, the agency upped the standard to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. That definition is already showing its age. Further, other states and federal agencies have other definitions. Is it time for a new broadband speed limit?

Panelists:

  • Jonathan Chambers, Partner, Conexon LLC
  • Tyler Cooper, Editor-in-chief, Broadband Now
  • Christina Mason, Vice President of Government Affairs, Wireless Internet Service Providers Association
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

Jonathan Chambers is currently a Partner at Conexon. He has spent the past 25 years working with cable television providers, wireless companies and electric cooperatives in the early stages of planning, designing, constructing and operating telecommunications and internet access networks. Between 2012 and 2016, Mr. Chambers served as the Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis for the FCC. He holds a BA in economics from Yale College, an MA in international affairs from Columbia and a JD from Georgetown University Law Center.

Tyler Cooper is Editor-in-chief at BroadbandNow. He has more than a decade of experience in the telecom industry and has been writing about broadband issues such as the digital divide, net neutrality, cybersecurity and internet access since 2015. His work is internationally recognized; he has been published on sites like VentureBeat, TechRadar and The Next Web. He has also been featured in VICE, Digital Trends, Fox News, Voice of America, and many other outlets.

Christina Mason currently serves as Vice President of Government Affairs at Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. She has over a decade of experience in government relations planning and outreach. Before joining WISPA, she worked on the Hill at the office of Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke and as a lobbyist for The American Institute of Architects. She holds a BA in Communications and English from La Salle University and earned her JD from Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC. 

Panelist Resources

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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.

Broadband's Impact

Broadband Breakfast on October 27, 2021 — When ‘Greenfield’ Fiber Meets ‘Brownfield’ Multiple Dwelling Units

What options do owners of, operators in, and tenants within MDUs have for better-quality broadband?

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Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the October 27, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “When Greenfield Fiber Meets Brownfield Multiple Dwelling Units”

Bringing fiber to the premises is sometimes only half the battle. For example, bringing fiber to an MDU may not mean that every tenant will get better-quality broadband. In the case of multiple dwelling units or multi-tenant housing, it isn’t easy to completely rewire an existing building with fiber-to-the-unit. Further, the Biden Administration and the Federal Communications Commission are pushing real estate owners to eliminate or minimize exclusive MDU broadband contacts. What options do the owners of, operators in, and tenants within MDUs have to enjoy both competitive and better-quality broadband?

Panelists:

  • Sandra Howe, Board of Directors, Minim
  • Pierre Trudeau, President and Chief Technology Officer, Positron Access
  • Other Guests have been invited
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast

Drew ClarkEditor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. He has also worked with cities on structuring Public-Private Partnerships for better broadband access for their communities. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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National Non-Profit to Launch Joint Initiative to Close Broadband Affordability and Homework Gap

EducationSuperHighway is signing up partners and will launch November 4.

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Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of Education Super Highway.

WASHINGTON, October 18, 2021 – National non-profit Education Super Highway is set to launch a campaign next month that will work with internet service providers to identify students without broadband and expand programs that will help connect the unconnected.

On November 4, the No Home Left Offline initiative will launch to close the digital divide for 18 million American households that “have access to the Internet but can’t afford to connect,” according to a Monday press release.

The campaign will publish a detailed report with “crucial data insights into the broadband affordability gap and the opportunities that exist to close it,” use data to identify unconnected households and students, and launch broadband adoption and free apartment Wi-Fi programs in Washington D.C.

The non-profit and ISPs will share information confidentially to identify students without broadband at home and “enable states and school districts to purchase Internet service for families through sponsored service agreements,” the website said.

The initiative will run on five principles: identify student need, have ISPs create sponsored service offerings for school districts or other entities, set eligibility standards, minimize the amount of information necessary to sign up families, and protect privacy.

The non-profit said 82 percent of Washington D.C.’s total unconnected households – a total of just over 100,000 people – have access to the internet but can’t afford to connect.

“This ‘broadband affordability gap’ keeps 47 million Americans offline, is present in every state, and disproportionately impacts low-income, Black, and Latinx communities,” the release said. “Without high-speed Internet access at home, families in Washington DC can’t send their children to school, work remotely, or access healthcare, job training, the social safety net, or critical government services.”

Over 120 regional and national carriers have signed up for the initiative.

The initiative is another in a national effort to close the “homework gap.” The Federal Communications Commission is connected schools, libraries and students using money from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which is subsidizing devices and connections. It has received $5 billion in requested funds in just round one.

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Broadband's Impact

Steve Lacoff: A New Standard for the ‘Cloudification’ of Communications Services

The cloudification of communications services makes it easy to include voice, data, SMS, and video within any existing service.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Steve Lacoff, general manager of Avalara for communications

The line of demarcation between what has traditionally been considered a telecommunications service was once very clear. It was tangible – there were wires, end points, towers, switches, facilities. Essentially, there was infrastructure required to relay voice or data from point A to point B.

Today that line is fuzzy, if not invisible. The legacy infrastructure remains, but an industry of cloud-based services that don’t require the physical connections has exploded. Voice, data, SMS, and video conferencing can now be conveniently delivered OTT. Enabled by simple API integrations, businesses can embed just one of these services or a complete communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) into an app, service, or product.

Cloudification is a game changer

This “cloudification” of communications services makes it easy to include voice, data, SMS, and video within any existing application, product, or service. These are essential components for many business models.

Consider these services we have come to rely on in our daily lives: food or grocery delivery, ride services, and business and personal communications. These require multiple methods of communication with shoppers, drivers, co-workers, watch party groups, and external business partners.

The exciting news is there is no end in sight. Use cases will continue to evolve and growth will continue to skyrocket. The scale cloud delivery accommodates is massive. These untethered, easy to embed communications services are a critical differentiator for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer buyers, and the lifeblood of the businesses providing both the end user subscriptions and the APIs.

In fact, one industry juggernaut saw H1 YoY video application service demand grow nearly 600% in 2020.

Not surprisingly, as business demand for these services increases smaller CPaaS players continue to enter the market to quickly snag market share. According to a recent IDC study, “the global market revenue for CPaaS reached $5.9bn in 2020, up from $4.26bn in 2019, and is expected to reach $17.71bn by 2024.”

Merger and acquisition activity is aligned with this hockey stick growth forecast. Large telcos, SaaS providers, and even other CPaaS providers are all on the hunt. Whether they want to add additional features to punch up their products or eliminate the competition in a very tight, nuanced market, the end game is clear – as the market expands, the players will ultimately contract leaving only the most competitive offerings.

Don’t let communications tax take you by surprise

One of the least understood risks when adding cloud-based voice, data, SMS, or video conferencing to an existing product or service is new eligibility for and exposure to the complex world of communications taxation. Making mistakes can get costly very quickly.

Here are some of the key pitfalls to keep an eye on:

  • Expanded nexus: Understanding communications tax nexus is different – and exceptionally more complicated – than sales tax. There are approximately 60,000 federal, state, local, and special taxing jurisdictions, each with uniquely complex rules that tend to change at their own pace. Rules are very different for each service.
  • More complex calculations: The more communications services you provide via API, the more complicated communications taxes will be. Each feature can be taxed at different rates in each individual jurisdiction, or the whole bundle can be taxed at one rate. It’s critical to monitor monthly to avoid audit issues.
  • Maintaining overall compliance: Just as tax rates and rules need to be maintained, so must tax and regulatory filing forms in each jurisdiction. Some of these are very long and require significant detail.  They must be filed in a timely, accurate cadence to avoid additional audit risk.

Bottom line: Don’t assume, be prepared! As these communications services become more pervasive a larger swath of technology providers will find themselves liable for communications tax. The more your business falls behind, the more it can cost you.

It pays to be proactive and prepared. Tax and legal advisory experts can help determine your level of risk, and tax and compliance software providers can help you keep up with changing rules and regulations. Don’t underestimate the ongoing value of networking with peers who are either struggling to answer the same questions or have already overcome the hurdles you’re facing today.

Steve Lacoff is General Manager of Avalara for Communications. With a focus on data, VoIP, and video streaming, Steve has spent 15 years in various product and marketing leadership roles in communications and technology industries, including Disney’s streaming services and Comcast technology solutions. Steve now drives business strategy on today’s changing industry landscape and associated tax impacts. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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