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CARES Focused on Learning, States Alone on Privacy Laws, Texas’ Broadband Problem

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Photo of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

March 17, 2021 — Officials administering the Coronovirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) prioritized immediate digital learning over long-term broadband deployment to help close the digital divide, according to a study released Monday by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition.

The study, by Bailey McHale and Abigail Simmerman at SHLB, found “over half of the spending focused on digital learning for K-12 students, while a third was spent on broadband infrastructure.”

President Joe Biden signed the $1.98 trillion American Rescue Plan Act into law on Thursday . It provides $7 billion in E-Rate funding that extends internet subsidies to households.

Though welcomed by many, McHale and Simmerman report that “some believe that the March 2020 [CARES Act] already took care of the connectivity gap. After all, the legislation included significant capital to connect students at home…Yet nearly a year later, the nation still struggles with the digital divide.”

The two SHLB interns found that 43 states used some CARES Act funding for broadband on top of the two federal programs administered by the FCC and USDA—Lifeline and the Emergency Broadband Benefit programs.

South Dakota’s ’s K-12 Connect program stood out as an example where short-term and long-term needs were addressed by working with telecom companies to provide direct services to homes, while still giving free internet service to eligible K-12 students during the 2020-21 school year.

States going it alone on privacy legislation

Instead of looking to Congress to pass federal legislation for comprehensive data privacy laws, a growing number of states are going it alone, following California’s lead, which began enforcing its own net neutrality rules last February.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed the Consumer Data Protection Act into law earlier this month, joining Florida, Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, and Washington State which had similar laws passed.

Writing for Perspectives for the Free State Foundation, Andrew Long said “the adoption of rival state data privacy laws similarly might drive companies to abide a Frankenstein’s monster assembled from the most onerous privacy regulatory requirements.” This would cause confusion among consumers and would cause “unreasonably burdensome and unjustifiably costly compliance obligations,” he said.

The federal government should thoroughly check these state-by-state approaches, because left unchecked, they can hurt effective compliance and “leave consumers uncertain as to their rights,” he said.

Long added that internet traffic knows no political, national, or international boundaries, and called for a “single set of data privacy rules” that should uniformly govern the United States.

9 million Texans don’t have broadband

March 17, 2021 – The Texas Tribune has reported on March 8 that some 9 million Texans don’t have broadband internet. This is due to broadband infrastructure not even reaching their homes or because Texans simply aren’t subscribed to a service.

Texas is one of six states that does not have a broadband plan to close the digital divide. According to a 2019 analysis of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, four of the five least connected cities in the country are in Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this year has designated broadband access as a top priority this legislative session to address internet access across the state.

A lot of the “digital divide” talk focuses on extending broadband to rural areas of the country, but there are needs in urban, too. In Harris County, nearly 200,000 households still don’t have internet in their homes, according to the Census Bureau. The six biggest urban counties in Texas have over 590,000 households with no internet subscriptions.

Jennifer Harris, the state program director for Connected Nation Texas, a broadband promotion organization, said that the challenge in rural areas of the state is definitely big, but urban challenges are overlooked.

Not only is it a challenge to get people connected or subscribed, ensuring they can even pay for broadband is a significant issue.

Income levels and race may be correlated to broadband access. According to the Pew Research Center, 44 percent of adults in households nationwide that earn $30,000 or less don’t have broadband.  A February report from the Texas Comptroller’s Office found that almost 90 percent of non-Hispanic whites in Texas have broadband access, compared to 80 percent of Black Texans and 78 percent of Hispanic Texans.

In calling for more resources and training for communities of color, Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, said “Federal resources have been allocated to rural areas and rural areas in the United States are mostly white. So those resources are not being distributed among the diversity of our population.”

Broadband Roundup

House Passes Ban on Chinese Equipment, 3.45 GHz Auction Reaches Reserve Price, Against a ‘Wi-Fi Tax’

Bipartisan Senate bill clears the House, FCC auction prices climb higher, tech groups oppose newly proposed fee

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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florids

October 22, 2021—The House of Representatives passed the Secure Equipment Act of 2021 on Wednesday, with a goal of mitigating perceived national security threats from equipment manufacturers, particularly Chinese companies.

The bill would require the Federal Communications Commission issue rules prohibiting new equipment licenses to potentially dangerous companies on the agency’s “Covered Equipment or Services List.”

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., initially introduced the act before its passage in the Senate. The House version of the bill was introduced by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana.

Chinese state-backed firms Huawei and ZTE are among the companies included in the FCC’s list of technology companies that the agency has deemed a national security threat. The agency was required by the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 to detail which companies it believes to pose a severe threat to U.S. safety.

The new measure would make it impossible for U.S. telecommunications carriers to continue using equipment from companies deemed threats by the FCC if that equipment was purchased with private or non-federal government dollars. That practice was previously allowed, even those using such equipment with federal funds had already been effectively banned.

FCC 3.45 GHz auction proceeds reach reserve price

The 3.45 GHz auction at the FCC hit the agency’s reserve price of $14.77 billion Wednesday.

Many doubts existed about whether the auction would not hit the reserve price and become the first to do so in the FCC’s history.

Should this auction follow the same progression as this year’s C Band auction, it is possible proceeds could reach $20 billion. Current proceeds total $16.43 billion.

Success of the auction would come as a large relief to AT&T, which is projected to be the auction’s largest spender ahead of T-Mobile and Dish.

Analysts at New Street Research stated that they believe it is likely that the auction will meet the reserve price and that the actions of the Department of Defense will serve as a strong indicator of the auction’s success because it uses the mid-band spectrum that is most sought after by carriers.

CCIA opposes a proposed ‘Wi-Fi tax’

The Computer & Communications Industry Association on Thursday in submitting comments to the FCC on Thursday in opposition to a proposal that would charge regulatory fees to users of unlicensed spectrum.

The CCIA was joined in its opposition by the Internet Association, Digital Media Association and Incompas.

The organizations said that the FCC’s proposed fees would “effectively result in something like a Wi-Fi tax.”

CCIA said that the proposal would be “unworkable to implement” and that it exceeds the legal authority and mission of the FCC. Further, they state it would also harm innovators who use unlicensed spectrum to create services for consumers.

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Broadband Roundup

‘Squid Game’ Exposes Traffic Problem, Virginia’s $2B Broadband Investment, West Virginia Mapping

Netflix hit’s traffic struggle, Virginia expects $2B from P3, op-ed says FCC expects states to get good maps before FCC.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

October 20, 2021––A South Korean broadband company is suing Netflix to cover the cost of the surge in traffic from its hit television show “Squid Game.”

The show, which according to Netflix has more than 100 million streams, became a global hit last month.

The Financial Times reports that SK Broadband, owned by SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest mobile operator, argues that streaming platforms should pay for the congestion on its networks.

The company said that the traffic Netflix generated on its network increased to 1.2 trillion bits of data processing per second since September, an increase that’s equal to 24 times the company’s normal traffic over three years. The company said its network had to be upgraded twice to accommodate the traffic surge caused by customers streaming the show on Netflix.

Local law in South Korea requires the companies with more than 1 million users and using more than 1 percent of total network traffic to pay internet fees to distribute the maintenance costs incurred by broadband providers.

Netflix accounted for almost 5 percent of internet traffic in the fourth quarter and had more than 1.7 million paid subscribers. SK Broadband argues that Netflix must pay more in network usage fees.

Virginia announces $2 billion public-private broadband partnership

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the state expects more than $2 billion in funding for high-speed broadband investments after announcing a public-private partnership with local governments and private internet service providers, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Northam announced that the state received requests to fund 57 projects to expand broadband across 84 localities across Virginia, totaling $943 million in grants. It would be matched by $1.15 billion in private and local government funds.

“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” said Northam. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic has pushed us all to move even faster.

“Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by [2024], which means more connections, more investments, more online learning and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia,” he said.

Northam and the Virginia general assembly appropriate $700 million of the $4.3 billion that Virginia received under the federal emergency aid package to accelerate Virginia’s universal broadband coverage goal. The expected completion has been moved up from 2028 to 2024.

The plan is expected to bring internet access to more than 250,000 homes and businesses.

The state is using federal emergency aid from the American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide in Virginia.

Op-Ed: West Virginia being asked to produce quality broadband maps before FCC

Advocates for more accurate maps say that the federal government is hypocritical in asking West Virginia for more accurate maps than the Federal Communications Commission can produce.

“The state is being asked to produce accurate maps, which the federal government knows full well its own agency did not produce” for the state the invest millions of dollars in federal American Rescue Plan funding for broadband expansion, writes a Wednesday op-ed in the Weirton Daily Times.

The FCC has been under fire for flaws in its broadband mapping data, which was relied upon to produce winners for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which forced the commission to clean-up the result of the reverse auction after finding that some of the money would go toward wasteful spending.

West Virginia’s effort to expand broadband is led by the state Department of Economic Development. State Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael said that if self-reported maps show no service in an area “you can bet your life there’s no service there.”

“There’s a lot more at stake as the department works to get these maps right. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of education and employment in West Virginia is riding on it,” said the Times. “Good luck, then, to Carmichael and his department as they work to clean up yet another federal government mess that has left the Mountain State struggling for too long.”

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Broadband Roundup

New Senate Antitrust Bill Reaction, Charter Making Executive Changes, T-Mobile, Verizon Top Charts

Trade association doesn’t like new antitrust bill, Charter makes changes at the top, T-Mobile leads wireless, Verizon on wireline.

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Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

October 19, 2021 – A Senate antitrust bill introduced Monday that would empower the Federal Trade Commission to further regulate technology companies will harm start ups and small business, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

The trade association, which represents companies across the tech sector, said the American Innovation and Consumer Choice Act – introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa – will “cause irreparable harm to small businesses and startups and put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage against China and other nations eager to overtake our country as global tech leader.”

The bill would prohibit “dominant platforms” from favoring their own products and services to the detriment of competition, stop conduct that is harmful to small businesses including preventing interoperability with big platforms, requiring payment to receive preferential treatment on the big platform, bias search results, and misuse business data to compete against the small companies.

Amazon, for example, was accused of having taken the information of products of smaller companies on its platforms to create their own competing products.

According to the release, the bill received the support of at least 10 other Senators across party lines and companies including Spotify and Roku.

But the CCA said the bill, in empowering the FTC, would allow it to “ignore the consumer welfare standard, while imposing massive fines with minimal due process.

“Further, the bill will take away features and functions that millions of Americans love and use in their everyday lives,” the CCA statement said. “Say goodbye to Amazon Prime free shipping, Google maps in search results, preinstalled iPhone apps and many more.”

The House already has before it six antitrust bills that are awaiting votes.

Charter makes executive changes

Charter announced Tuesday that it is promoting chief financial officer Chris Winfrey to chief operating officer and Jessica Fischer will move from executive vice president to the COO position.

John Bickham will be vice chairman before he retired at the end of 2022, the company also announced in a press release, while chief product and technology officer Rich DiGeronimo will oversee the company’s network operations as an additional responsibility.

“I have worked with John for three decades and at every turn, his knowledge, leadership and steady hand have not only contributed greatly to the success of the companies we led, but made a profound impact on the growth of our industry,” said CEO Tom Rutledge. “I am grateful that John will continue to serve Charter in this new capacity as a strategic advisor to me and the executive team, and his guidance will help ensure a successful transition for Chris into the COO role.”

T-Mobile gets top billing for wireless, Verizon for wireline

According to an Ookla report Monday, T-Mobile ranked as the fastest mobile operator in the country in the third quarter with a median download speed of 62.35 Megabits per second, as Verizon took home the top rank for wireline download speeds at 178.38 Mbps.

For wireless, AT&T was second in speed at 47.42 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 39.91 Mbps. T-Mobile also ranked first in 5G performance with a median speed of 135.17 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 78.94 Mbps and then AT&T at 72.46 Mbps. T-Mobile was also top in 5G availability with 64.4 percent, with AT&T second at 44.8 percent and Verizon third at 34.3 percent.

T-Mobile completed its merger with Sprint last year. It proposed that the combined entity was the only way the companies could compete against the top players and offer a competitive 5G product.

On the wireline side, Cox was second to Verizon on download speed at 168.56 Mbps, followed by Comcast’s Xfinity at 161.87 percent, Spectrum fourth at 143.57 Mbps, AT&T Internet at 132.48 Mbps, and CenturyLink at 59.80 Mbps.

New Jersey had the fastest median download speed on wireline at 158.19 Mbps, followed by New York at 147.46 Mbps, California at 142.56 Mbps, Florida at 141.88 Mbps, and Texas at 140.15 Mbps.

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