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FCC Broadband Focus; Facebook Fiber In Indiana; Telco Fiber To 68M Homes; Right Of Repair Bill In Nevada

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Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel from Flickr.

March 30, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission is focusing on objectives of President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan, which includes $7 billion for the E-Rate internet subsidy program, Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said last week.

The E-Rate program – which provides internet subsidies to schools and libraries and has now been expanded to the home — has become a focal point for the agency during the pandemic, as more kids are now doing school at home.

The regulator said this is aligned with its focus on providing broadband access to all Americans because internet has quickly become a “need to have,” not a “nice to have,” Rosenworcel said at a conference hosted by the National Association of Counties on March 24.

The FCC is also currently evaluating applications from internet service providers that want to participate in the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program, announced in December.

Over 380 applications have already come in for the “historic” subsidy from Internet service providers seeking to provide discounted services, the agency said. The FCC will provide $100 to cover a one-time payment for eligible households and up to $50 per month for broadband connections.

The agency is also progressing in developing more accurate broadband coverage maps, Rosenworcel said. This effort has been ongoing since 2017. After taking office in January, she launched a broadband data task force, which began reviewing existing coverage maps which count every home in a census block as being served.

Facebook completes first phase of Indiana fiber

Facebook said Friday it has finished construction of phase one of its 80-mile fiber network running from the Indiana/Ohia border to downtown Indianapolis.

The fiber will be used to connect Facebook’s data centers, and excess capacity will be available to telcos and other providers interested on a wholesale basis, the company said, adding it doesn’t intend on selling internet directly to consumers.

The fiber connects Facebook’s I-70 data centers in the Midwest with its East Coast cluster in Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Partnering with communications infrastructure provider Zayo, the company said a second phase is underway that will stretch another 85 miles of fiber west from Indianapolis along highway 40 to the Indiana/Illinois border.

The second phase is slated to be completed by the end of this year, it said.

In the U.S., Facebook now has 13 data center locations, eight of which are operational. “The best option for us is to connect to existing fiber, but we prefer to work with our partners to access it,” Michele Kohler, Facebook’s strategic sourcing manager, said, adding the company has been discussing leasing fiber to third parties in Indiana.

Facebook says it has been building broadband networks in the U.S. for four years. It has previously made a 200-mile fiber connection from New Mexico to Texas.

Telco Fiber will reach 68M homes in the U.S. by 2025: analysts

According to a report from financial analysts at Cowen, telecom operators are committed to building fiber to over five million new homes in the U.S. by 2021, capturing 42 million new broadband customers. By 2025, 68 million retail fiber customers are expected, the study found.

At recent AT&T conference told analysts AT&T would expand its fiber reach to three million locations across 90 metro areas this year and add four million fiber-to-the-premises sites by 2022.

Despite being in bankruptcy, Frontier Communications plans to upgrade fiber to three million homes soon, which could double its fiber footprint, it said. It may grow to as much as nine million, depending on the economy, it added.

Cowen said Windstream has 462,000 fiber-connected homes by end of 2020. The company is also planning to upgrade two million homes by the end of 2025 to fiber, which would provide fiber to 70 percent of its service area.

‘Right to Repair’ bill reignites debate on Big Tech regulation

The Nevada state legislature is expected to hold a debate on Monday about a proposal that would require more prominent tech companies to give independent repair shops access to fix devices like computers, phones, tablets, and printers.

As part of its plan on Monday, the Nevada Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor will consider a proposal requiring manufacturers of digital electronic equipment worth less than $5,000 to make parts, tools, and schematics available to non-authorized repair businesses.

Selena Torres, a Democratic member of the Nevada assembly woman and a Las Vegas English teacher who worked at a repair shop, said her bill would keep electronics repair jobs local rather than requiring people to ship it out of state.

She said consumers would also receive more economical repair options, which can be especially important because the pandemic is forcing students and remote workers to depend on technology.

Technical associations such as TechNet, that lobby for Apple, HP, and Honeywell, have mounted vigorous opposition to state repair bills.

According to David Edmonson, it would make proprietary information and intellectual property vulnerable to replication, potentially compromising user security and privacy.

“It would force manufacturers to treat any independent repair provider in the same way as authorized network providers, but without any of the contractual protections or competency requirements that are put in place to benefit consumers,” he said.

“It’s changed from being able to do anything you want to repair your computer or printer to ‘You can’t do anything now.’ Everything’s changed to being disposable or impossible to repair,” said Curtis Jones from the Technology Center in Sparks.

At least 25 states have introduced legislation known as “right to repair,” including New York, Oregon, and Illinois.

The debate is part of a larger conversation about government regulation of big technology companies.

Broadband Roundup

TikTok Data Concerns, Broadband Data Collection System, Internet Access on COVID-19 Mortality

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is requesting Apple and Google remove the TikTok app over data concerns.

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Photo of Brendan Carr

June 29, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores.

The app is run by ByteDance, a company that is “beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC’s surveillance demands,” read the June 24 letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sunder Pichai.

“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data,” said Carr, calling it a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data” such as search histories, keystroke patterns and biometric identifies.”

Carr claims that TikTok’s pattern of conduct regarding persons in Beijing having access U.S. sensitive data violates policies that both companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on the app stores. “I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms.”

TikTok has assured users that American’s data is being stored in the U.S. but, according to Carr, this statement “says nothing about where that data can be accessed from.”

FCC opens mapping data system for filers early 

The Federal Communications Commission released a public notice on Thursday announcing that filers of broadband availability data in its new maps may obtain early access of the system for registering filer information.

The filing window for the Broadband Data Collection opens June 30, but early access will enable users to register their entities in the system and become familiar with the system before that date, the FCC said.

“We are making this functionality available in advance of the opening of the filing window to enable filers to log in, register, and be ready to enter their availability data as early in the filing window as possible,” read the public notice.

The BDC program is said to help improve broadband mapping data to help funnel federal dollars to where broadband infrastructure is needed. Most fixed and mobile broadband providers will be required to file information in the system, but third parties and government entities are also encouraged.

Impact of internet access on COVID-19 mortality

New analysis released last week by private research university Tufts found that increased broadband access in the United States reduced COVID-19 mortality rates.

“Even after controlling for a host of other socioeconomic factors, a 1 percent increase in broadband access across the U.S. reduced COVID mortality by approximately 19 deaths per 100,000, all things equal,” read the report.

The study also found that the impact was felt more strongly in metro areas, where a 1 percent increase in broadband access reduced the deaths by 36 per 100,000.

By conducting a correlation analysis, Tuft researchers found that broadband access is negatively correlated with COVID mortality, even after controlling for other major factors such as health status, income, race and education.

The study only considered pre-vaccine number to account for inconsistencies.

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Broadband Roundup

Rosenworcel Committed to Net Neutrality, Better Spectrum Coordination, Starlink Up in Internet Speeds

The FCC chairwoman reaffirmed her commitment to net neutrality at a conference on Friday.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – At a conference hosted by the American Library Association on Friday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel reaffirmed her support for net neutrality rules.

According to a press release, Rosenworcel stated she wants to make a “return to common carrier regulation of internet service providers which aims to prevent ISPs from slowing down or blocking web traffic.”

Rosenworcel “fully backs” net neutrality rules passed under the Obama administration that were repealed during the Trump administration. “I opposed the last administration’s effort to roll it back, and I want it to once again become the law of the land,” she stated at the ALA.

A press release calls Rosenworcel ’s statement on net neutrality the “hallmark of her tenure” and says she faces opposition in her attempt to bring back net neutrality rules.

“It is just wrong for the internet to have slow lanes for people with less money,” Patty Wong, president of the ALA, said at the conference.

Better coordination needed for receiver performance 

On Monday, non-partisan think tank TechPolicy urged more coordination by the Federal Communications Commission with other agencies to better utilize spectrum assets during its receiver performance study, filing comments in response to the commission’s public consultation about that matter.

“The Commission has a considerable expertise and prior work to review in assessing whether it has the statutory authority in this area, and how to best incentivize all parties to build more robust receivers to operate in more and more congested spectrum,” the think tank said.

It suggested engaging with other agencies, such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as well as users of government receivers.

James Dunstan, general counsel of TechFreedom, stated, “the FCC cannot fine-tune spectrum management with only half the orchestra.” He added that if the FCC does not engage with government users, “there will be little progress made toward finding broad solutions to increased spectrum congestion.”

The FCC and the NTIA have already agreed earlier this year to coordinate on spectrum management.

Ookla finds Starlink increased speeds by 38 percent over the past year

Metrics company Ookla said Tuesday that, according to its review of Starlink satellite broadband service in the first quarter, the company saw an increase of 38 percent in internet performance in the United States over the past year, said a press release.

However, the company’s analysis also showed that Starlink’s upload speeds decreased nearly 33 percent in the U.S. from 16.29 Mbps in 2021 to 9.33 in 2022.

Ookla notes that even as consumers choose Starlink, competitors are not far behind. It mentioned as key developments FCC approval for Amazon’s Project Kuiper to test its satellite service this year, and Viasat getting closer to merging with Inmarsat for a constellation launch next year.

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Broadband Roundup

Data Export Bill, Chamber of Commerce’s BEAD Issues, Wisconsin Putting $125M for Broadband

A bill would have the Commerce Secretary identify categories of personal data that could harm national security if exported.

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Photo of Marco Rubio, R-FL

June 27, 2022 – A bipartisan group of senators, including Marco Rubio, R-FL., and Ron Wyden, D-OR., introduced a bill Thursday that would limit the selling or transferring of Americans’ sensitive data to high-risk foreign countries.

The Protecting Americans Data from Foreign Surveillance Act directs the Secretary of Commerce, in collaboration with other key agencies, to identify categories of personal data that could harm national security if exported. It directs the Secretary of Commerce to “compile a list of low-risk countries for which exports will be unrestricted and to require licenses for bulk exports of the identified, sensitive categories of personal data to other countries.”

In a press release, Rubio said, “It is common sense to prevent our adversaries from obtaining the highly sensitive personal information of millions of Americans. We cannot trust private companies to protect Americans’ private data, especially given how many of them do business in China. Our bill would address this massive national security threat and protect Americans’ privacy.”

Experts have warned the data from Chinese-company-owned apps like TikTok, one of the world’s most popular video sharing websites, could be used by the Communist government for nefarious purposes.

“Our bipartisan legislation sets common-sense guardrails to block bulk exports of private, sensitive information from going to high-risk foreign nations and protect the safety of Americans against foreign criminals and spies,” added Wyden. “It will empower the United States to build a coalition of trusted allies where information can be shared without fear of misuse by authoritarian actors.”

Exports to high-risk countries will be presumptively denied and risk status of countries will be determined on the adequacy of the country’s privacy and export control laws, the circumstances under which the foreign government can coerce a person in that country to disclose personal data, and whether that government has been hostile against the United States.

Chamber of Commerce takes issue with aspects of BEAD program

The United States Chamber of Commerce highlighted in a press release last week what it said are faults in the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program that will be distributed to states and territories for broadband deployment projects.

The Chamber of Commerce commended the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for focusing the BEAD program on serving unserved areas first, having strong subgrantee qualifications, enabling effective stakeholder engagement, and addressing the costs of broadband permitting.

“Despite the many positive aspects, the notice of funding opportunity contains numerous problematic provisions and mandates, which will hinder the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s objective to connect all Americans while running contrary to the law’s bipartisan approach,” said the release.

The first concern is that the NOFO promotes government-owned networks, despite the IIJA’s neutrality to the type of provider. NTIA imposes “burdensome requirements on eligible entities as well as pressuring states to waive laws that place restrictions on public sector broadband providers.”

The NOFO, said the release, “picks technology winners and losers” by strongly prioritizing fiber at the expense of other technologies like satellite and fixed wireless.

Furthermore, it incentivizes states to adopt net neutrality rules, in direct contrast to IIJA requirements, by ensuring that subgrantees do not “impose unjust or unreasonable network management practices.”

The Chamber of Commerce further added that the NOFO requires eligible entities to create a middle-class affordability program that is “ill-defined” and “opens the door to additional state-level intervention in the broadband marketplace.”

The NOFO also favors union-friendly policies that “have nothing to do with connecting all Americans and everything to do with advancing unrelated union priorities.”

Wisconsin awards $125M in rural internet service grants

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission on Thursday awarded $125 million in broadband expansion grants toward 71 projects that will reach over 87,000 underserved and unserved locations over 45 counties.

According to the press release, the grant awards will leverage $185 million of matching funds from the grantees. The PSC received 194 applications in March 2022 requesting a total of $495 million.

Since 2019, Wisconsin has committed to disbursing over $289 million toward expanding broadband, including $105 million in federal funding.

“Over the last three years, we’ve worked hard to invest state and federal funding in projects that will provide more than 387,000 homes and businesses with reliable, high-quality internet. These grants will go to ensure students, workers, business owners, families, and communities can access the internet in every part of our state,” said Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers in the release.

“We’ve made tremendous progress in the past three years towards getting people access to high-quality, affordable internet service,” said PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq. “We will continue to make the investments needed to ensure all in our state have access to affordable broadband.”

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