March 4, 2021 – Amid claims that the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund chose winners that may not be able to fulfill their broadband commitments, Vantage Point CEO Larry Thompson said his whitepaper contributing to the discussion wasn’t intended to be critical but to figure out what’s best for quick deployment.
During Fiber Broadband Association’s event on Wednesday, Thompson clarified his whitepaper, which this publication covered in a story on Wednesday, wasn’t intended to be criticize what does or doesn’t work, but to examine what is the “right tool for the job.” He noted that part of the consideration is how much bandwidth consumers will need years down the road, not just now.
The paper effectively doubted the claim that fixed-wireless technologies can deliver gigabit speeds in rural areas. The prevailing and predominant thought in the industry is that a direct fiber line is indispensable for the fastest speeds. Fixed-wireless instead uses radio frequency technologies to deliver broadband to the home for the last mile.
“There are significant technical (and related economic) questions that must be confronted in delivering Gigabit broadband using fixed wireless technologies in the predominantly rural areas covered by RDOF,” the paper read.
“Fixed wireless networks will face difficult, if not insurmountable, challenges to provide RDOF Gigabit services in very select circumstances when attempting to service distant, non‐town rural subscribers that were primarily the subject of the RDOF auction,” the paper reads.
Those claims have spilled-over into a full-blown public event, with the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association responding to critics of the FCC’s choice for recipients of the $9.2 billion RDOF fund, which was determined based on a lowest-bidder reverse auction model.
Thompson’s clarification came on the same day that Broadband Breakfast’s Live Online debate considered RDOF and the opportunities and challenges with both fiber and fixed-wireless technologies.
The criticism of the wireless beneficiaries of RDOF was met with resistance.
Brian Regan, vice president of legal, policy and strategy at Starry Inc., an RDOF winner, said there will always be criticism of the process after the fact.
He also expressed faith in the FCC’s ability to manage the front end of the auction and reward the money to the right bidders.
FiberSmith’s CEO Donny Smith agreed with Regan, saying that the RDOF auction was controversial because there was so much money involved. At the end of the day, RDOF will bring more broadband to more Americans, which is a good thing, he said.
Regan said Starry is focused on expanding broadband to as many people as possible, and sees the new funding as an “effective solution to bring service to places where it doesn’t exist.”
Fixed-wireless can achieve gigabit connections with the latest tests from 5G providers, he said.
Winning an FCC auction is just the first step, and the panelists discussed the design and development of expanding broadband into rural areas.
Wireless broadband is not a permanent solution, Smith said, but can be much more cost effective.
But mapping data needs to be accurate, Smith and Regan said. Before networks can be built, Regan said there needs to be accurate broadband mapping data so we know where they’re needed and what can be built.
Good geographic information system data vital to planning and executing networks
Having good geographic information system data is vital to building a broadband network, agreed Sandeep Dhingra, chief technology officer of network services at Sterlite Technologies Limited, which has years of experience building broadband infrastructure outside the United States.
Dhingra also highlighted the importance of digitizing and automating the GIS to keep accurate data. Companies need to do it right the first time so that they are not redoing things over and over, he said.
He also said that every network is ultimately a hybrid of both wired and wireless infrastructure, because fiber or cable must be laid to reach the towers that send out wireless signals.
Smith raised a potential issue with materials and labor, which are in limited supply, especially right now with COVID-19. If companies haven’t planned ahead for these logistics, they’re going to have problems down the road, he said.
The FCC stipulated that RDOF winners are required to have service up and running for at least 40 percent of their winning coverage area within three years, and 20 percent additional coverage each subsequent year, reaching full service within six years.
Some inefficiencies can be mitigated with effective design and planning, Dhingra said. He mentioned using drones for surveying and utilizing local manpower as two examples.
Another challenge can be dealing with state and local municipalities, Smith said. While some local authorities will bend over backwards to help you out because they see the value of getting better broadband to their residents, other authorities will do everything in their power to make your work more difficult, he said.
As tensions rise between local governments and telecom companies about attached to poles, companies need to build relationships with local municipalities as much as possible so that they both understand their shared goals, Dhingra added.
FCC Announces $163 Million in Second Round of Approved RDOF Funding
The agency is reevaluating winning bids after asking providers to ensure census blocks aren’t already served.
WASHINGTON, October 7, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday another approved round of funding from the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
The $163 million in approved money will go to 42 providers who will drive fiber to the home for gigabit services covering 65,000 locations in 21 states over the next ten years, the FCC said Thursday.
“More help is on the way to households without broadband,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release Thursday. “This is an important program for getting more Americans connected to high-speed internet, and we are continuing careful oversight of this process to ensure that providers meet their obligations to deploy in areas that need it.”
The FCC in July asked that providers conduct an assessment in areas for which they won money from the fund in December, because complaints emerged that the approved areas were already served with adequate connectivity.
The commission said 85 bidders chose not to pursue their bids in 5,089 census blocks because those areas were either served or could be wasted. Some attributed their enlightenment to updated FCC maps based on Form 477 data, an often criticized form of data collection that is reliant on service provider data.
The last round of approved money was last month, when the FCC approved a further 13 bidders.
Varying Technologies Needed to Make Widespread Public Library Wi-Fi a Reality
From direct fiber connections to low-earth orbit satellites, libraries can provide public Wi-Fi through varying means.
WASHINGTON, October 4, 2021 – The director of the Libraries Whitespace Project said libraries across the country will need varying ways to get connected and provide access to public Wi-Fi.
That means that while the “cheapest, most equitable, most economical way to connect every community with next generation broadband is to run fiber to all of the 17,000 libraries,” Don Means said Friday, other solutions will need to be considered where geography doesn’t allow for a direct fiber connection.
“Every community is a unique combination of density, topology, socioeconomics, existing infrastructure and also available spectrum and then whatever the local policy preferences are,” said Means, who was hosted by the Gigabit Libraries Network hosted as part of Libraries in Response series on Friday.
There is no one size fits all solution to connectivity, Means said. But vendors, he said, are often concerned with selling a single solution for the simple reason that it’s more efficient and profitable to do so.
A technology still in its infancy is low-earth orbit satellites for broadband, which hover closer to earth than traditional satellites and thus theoretically provide better connectivity than those flying higher above the earth’s surface. The first library in the world connected through LEO satellites is a tribal library located in northern New Mexico, Means said, noting that such technologies could help fill the connectivity gap.
SpaceX’s Starlink is racing to make its broadband constellation of LEOs a staple of rural and urban connectivity, as it has been beta testing its technology for months now.
Means added that some free Wi-Fi hotspots have served to cover entire communities.
“We talk about rural in terms of density, and we use the numbers of countywide density, people per square mile across the county, which is really low,” he said.
“But when you look at where people really live, most rural people live close together in small communities. It might be a mile or two across… which means that these few hotspots across town could cover the whole town.”
He used the example of the town of Plymouth, Nebraska, which set up a handful of these Wi-Fi access stations for $17,000 and gave the entire rural community access to the internet.
The GLN began the series in response to the pandemic, which made clear that broadband, connectivity, and the internet are fundamental to the nation’s wellbeing.
Christopher Ali’s New Book Dissects Failures of Rural Broadband Policy and Leadership
“Farm Fresh Broadband” explains the world of broadband policy and provides solutions to bridge the digital divide.
WASHINGTON, September 24, 2021—In his most recent book, University of Virginia Professor Christopher Ali argues that the ongoing battle for improved connectivity is not only far from over, but also critically flawed.
“Farm Fresh Broadband” proposes a new approach to national rural broadband policy to narrow the rural-urban digital divide. In Ali’s view, the lack of coordinated, federal leadership and a failure to recognize the roles that local communities and municipalities need to play in the deployment of broadband has contributed to a lack of competition between carriers, and ultimately, higher costs to consumers.
Just two days after it was released, Ali sat down for a video interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark to discuss his story – and Ali’s recommendations that resulted from his journey.
Ali raises the question about How the $6 billion in federal funds allocated to broadband is spent annually? Based on his findings, he makes policy recommendations to democratize rural broadband policy architecture and re-model it after the historic efforts to bring telephony services and electricity to Americans across the country.
In particular, Ali discusses how, in one chapter of his book, he raises the provocative question about whether “Good Is the Enemy of Great: The Four Failures of Rural Broadband Policy.” In his telling, less money, lower speed, and poor-quality broadband mapping have all contributed to an approach that, in seeking “good enough,” federal policy has failed Rural America.
Ali, an associate professor at UVA’s Department of Media Studies and a Knight News Innovation Fellow with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, is also the chair of the Communication Law and Policy Division of the International Communications Association and the author of two books on localism in media, “Media Localism: The Policies of Place” (University of Illinois Press, 2017) and “Local News in a Digital World” (Tow Center for Digital Journalism, 2017)
“Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity” available at the MIT Press.
See Professor Ali’s recent Expert Opinion for Broadband Breakfast, “Christopher Ali: Is Broadband Like Getting Bran Flakes to the Home?“
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