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Former FCC Commissioners Disagree on Bill Increasing Broadband Speed Thresholds for Funding



Photo of Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler taken during the hearing

March 23, 2021 – A former Federal Communications Commissioner and a former chairman of the agency exchanged disagreements Monday over a large broadband funding bill re-introduced in the House of Representatives on March 11.

During a House Energy and Commerce Committee virtual hearing on the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America (LIFT) Act, Mike O’Rielly and Tom Wheeler expressed opposing views on the broadband portion of the bill, which would provide up to $100 billion in funding for expanding broadband access across the country.

“I’m not engaging in hyperbole when I say this is a once-in-a-generation, maybe once-in-a-century, opportunity,” Wheeler said, defending the broadband initiatives in the bill.

The legislation creates a new ‘build-it-once’ plan to deliver broadband and will finally stop the ‘drip, drip, drip’ of billions of dollars with limited results, he said. “Solving the rural broadband problem once and for all, requires supporting the build out the same way we build highways—pay once,” he said.

But O’Rielly said there are a host of issues with the bill and it needs major revisions. There is no dispute that millions of Americans still lack access to broadband, he said, and there are two ways to get them connected: First, targeted subsidy programs for those unserved areas and ignore areas that are already served; second, barriers to private sector deployment must be reduced or completely eliminated, he said.

Michael O’Rielly takes issue with high broadband speeds

“While I appreciate the interest of some to future-proof networks, I disagree with the extensive funding and out-of-touch definition of broadband,” O’Rielly said. “For instance, the push for symmetrical speeds at exorbitant levels, such as 100/100 megabits per second (Mbps), makes little sense,” he said.

The LIFT America Act, incorporating Rep. James Clyburn’s Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, would raise the FCC’s current threshold definition of served areas from 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload minimum to 25/25 symmetrical speed for low-tier service and 100/100 Mbps symmetrical for mid-tier service.

See “Broadband Breakfast Panelists Wrestle With the Speed Definition of High-Speed Broadband,” Broadband Breakfast, March 18, 2021

O’Rielly’s chief criticism with the updated speeds was on the upload side, which he said far exceeded consumer needs. “A 100-megabit upload speed does not reflect reality for now or any time soon,” he said.

“Such a push for an inflated broadband speed will lead to a gigantic level of subsidized overbuilding, since most of the nation does not meet the new definition,” O’Rielly said. He emphasized that ‘overbuilding’ leads to a competitive broadband market, distinguishing it from subsidized overbuilding, which he said is bad because public money should focus on getting broadband to unserved areas.

The dollars would go to areas that are easier to serve and more well-to-do than for Americans who don’t actually have broadband today, he said, so it would push unserved Americans to the back of the line.

Wheeler disagreed. “Everybody gets the same opportunity to bring their service up to the kinds of levels that the vast majority of America enjoys,” he said. “The excuse that somehow unserved areas are going to the back of the line is just a figment. You run an auction, and you say, ‘Y’all come!’ And everybody gets the opportunity to come to participate in that auction,” he said.

Priority should be on fiber, says Wheeler

Eighty percent of Americans have access to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) service, Wheeler said, referring to data from NCTA, an Internet and Television Association. Private capital didn’t build that capacity to waste money but to meet demand, he said.

Public funds have an even higher obligation to spend money wisely, he said, “to prevent 20 percent of Americans from being trapped in second-class service, and to spend tax-payer dollars as wisely as private capital is spent.”

To connect the other 20 percent of Americans to high-speed broadband means building with fiber and hybrid fiber-coax, Wheeler said. Build with fiber once so that we don’t have to come back and build again later, he said. If we want to use the money wisely, we should do it in the same way that companies are spending wisely, which is to build fiber, he said.

O’Rielly countered that most people don’t care which technology delivers broadband to them, as long as it meets their needs. There should be a laser focus on getting Americans connected who are unserved today through current programs, he said, because the updated speed thresholds in the LIFT America Act would drastically increase the number of unserved Americans.

Impact on broadband mapping

The LIFT America Act would also impact the new FCC’s broadband mapping, because once the Digital Opportunity Data Collection fabric is implemented, the maps would need to be redone using the updated speed thresholds, said O’Rielly.

But the broadband maps wouldn’t need to be redone, Wheeler replied. The maps aren’t a static object like an actual map, he said, but rather is a database system that is constantly evolving.

Broadband maps are static in the sense that they represent the data at the current time, O’Rielly said. Updating the speed thresholds means the data would need to be recollected and reanalyzed, he said.


LEO Satellite Technology Should Be in All Schools, Gigabit Libraries Network Says

Satellites, at the very least, can act as backup connections, webinar heard.



Don Means from the Gigabit Libraries Network

October 21, 2021 – Low earth orbit satellites, which are expected to help connect a portion of people who live in remote regions of the country, should be available to all libraries – even if it’s just for redundancy, the director of Gigabit Libraries Network said Thursday.

Don Means, the director of the organization that has a deal with SpaceX’s Starlink beta service to connect a “handful” of libraries, said the technology can be used as backup in the event of a disaster.

“We think this should be in every library, even if it’s a place that has a connection – this would be very valuable as a backup because consider any kind of lights out scenario in a community,” Means said. “With this system, it bypasses the local infrastructure, and if you have a power source and you have a [satellite] dish, you’re connected.”

Earlier this month, Means said libraries will need various ways to stay connected and provide access to public Wi-Fi. 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,” Means said previously, other solutions will need to be considered where geography doesn’t allow for a direct fiber connection.

The LEO constellation is unique compared to other kinds of satellites because it hovers closer to earth, theoretically meaning it provides better connectivity and lower latency, or the time it takes for the devices to communicate with the network.

The House is waiting to vote on an infrastructure bill that will pour billions into broadband. People have debated what kinds of technology the money should go toward, with some arguing for hard wiring and others saying wireless technologies have a space at the table.

Despite having a deal with Starlink, Means said he encourages LEO satellite technology in general and not just Starlink in particular.

“We’re not advocates or agents for Starlink,” Means said, “it’s just they’re the first ones out there with this technology. There are others coming…this is a new thing, a burgeoning thing.”

Starlink said this summer it had shipped 100,000 terminals to customers.

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Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements

The FCC is looking at how to promote broadband competition and access in buildings.



Photo of Jenna Leventoff from Internet Law & Policy Foundry

WASHINGTON, October 21, 2021 – Opponents of exclusivity arrangements that give tenants of multitenant buildings less choice of internet service provider are urging the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate all manifestations of these contracts that they say harms competition and locks landlords into burdensome long-term contracts.

While the FCC has previously banned exclusive access agreements that granted a single provider sole access to a building, it did not do so for exclusive wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements. That means third party service providers cannot share the building wires with the telecom with that privilege and cannot market their services to the building’s residents.

The FCC launched a comment period in September to field arguments about what to do with these holdout issues that gave priority to ISPs. In an early submission, the internet and television association NCTA said the commission should deny all broadband providers exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

Internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS said in its submission that the competitive environment has continued to suffer due to these exclusive deals and, in the case of retail shopping centers, their deals have been extended over the “last several years.”

It is asking for a complete ban on the wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, which they say “make it tougher for new entrants to effectively compete in MTEs.

“Competitive providers are still asked to participate in revenue sharing arrangements or are routinely denied access to MTEs because of exclusive wiring or marketing agreements,” INCOMPAS said, adding consumers and businesses “lose out on the faster speeds, lower pricing, and better customer service that competitors offer.”

Public Knowledge similarly said there is a lack of competition emerging from these practices that is increasing prices and restricting choice for tenants.

“Although the FCC has banned explicit exclusive agreements in multi-tenant environments (MTEs) such as apartment, condos, and office buildings, landlords and internet service providers have exploited loopholes to nevertheless create de facto monopolies in buildings,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

The group is asking for a ban on “all types” of these arrangements that “negatively impact consumer choice, ensuring all ISPs have access to a building’s wiring regardless of the owner, creating a ‘rocket docket’ to quickly adjudicate supposed violations, and creating a single regulatory regime for both commercial and residential MTEs.”

In a joint submission on Wednesday, Consolidated Communications Holdings and Ziply Fiber said they “often confront such anti-competitive agreements,” with revenue sharing and marketing arrangements being the most “prevalent and troublesome.

“In practice, these agreements frequently work together as a complete bar to competing providers, giving the incumbent broadband provider a de facto exclusive service agreement with respect to an MTE,” the submission said, alleging MTE owners will “explicitly cite their lucrative revenue sharing agreements with an existing provider as their reason for not allowing our companies to access their buildings” and so to not to lose out on that compensation.

Harm on building owners

For the Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, exclusive wiring arrangements have not only limited choice for residents, but it has allegedly locked housing providers into “long-term onerous contracts that prohibit them from pursuing connectivity solutions, such as owner-provided broadband, at their properties.”

Members of the affordable housing group are recommending the FCC impose “reasonable standards” on such agreements, which require ISPs to offer low-cost programs or owner provided broadband at a competitive cost and give landlords an option to exit or renegotiate a contract after a certain time.

The FCC’s look into the issue comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

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Federal Communications Commission Dispenses $544 Million in Rural Broadband Funds

Funds targeted towards internet providers in areas with poor digital access across 19 states.



FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it would authorize another $554 million for expansion of broadband service through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The funding announcement represented the finalization of a relatively small portion of the funding awarded as part of $9.3 billion granted in the first phase of the RDOF reverse auction in October and November 2020.

Together with other recent press announcements dribbling out details of RDOF awards, Wednesday’s news puts the FCC’s awards at just more than $1 billion of the $9.3 billion originally awarded at auction.

The FCC, which says that it aims to place broadband infrastructure in areas where it is not currently available, denied LTD Broadband’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline to be designated as an Eligible Telecommunication Carrier in Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota. Becoming an ETC was a necessary prerequisite to receiving RDOF funds.

The agency also denied NW Fiber’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline for submission of a post-auction “long form” application.

With the latest wave of funding, 11 internet providers will be able to bring fiber-to-home gigabit broadband service to more than 180,000 locations across 19 states.

Michigan and Georgia were the states that received the most funding in this wave with $188 and $149 million, respectively. The FCC has cited broadband expansion as an even more necessary priority since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Broadband is an essential service and during the pandemic we’ve seen just how critical it is for families, schools, hospitals and businesses to have affordable internet access,” said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

The FCC also said that they were working to “clean up” the program and address some of the controversial aspects of RDOF funding decisions.

These decisions included:

  • Sending letters to 197 applicants concerning areas where there was evidence of existing service or questions of waste. Bidders have already chosen not to pursue support in 5,094 census blocks in response to the Commission’s letters.
  • Denying waivers for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications.  These bidders would have otherwise received more than $344 million.
  • Pulishing a list of areas where providers had defaulted, thereby making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.
  • Conducting an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review of all winning bidders.

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