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Path To Gigabit Found In Pole Access and Government Program Design, Says WISPA CEO

Tim White

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Photo of Claude Aiken from April 2018 by New America used with permission

March 25, 2021 – Wireless broadband providers need more regulatory support to meet broadband gigabit needs on a large geographic scale, including access to poles and expanding federal programs to more providers, said Wireless Internet Service Providers Association CEO Claude Aiken.

Aiken took to the webinar stage Wednesday to discuss WISPA’s new ‘path to gigabit,’ a proposal that defines needs and goals for providing wireless broadband in the gigabit speed tier across America. It comes at a convenient time just days after three large funding bills were introduced it the House of Representatives.

For infrastructure, all the money available won’t do much good if providers can’t get into a right of way or onto a pole or a tower, Aiken said. Companies need more infrastructure support from all levels of government to lower costs and increase speed of deployment, he said, including allowing all broadband providers access to poles and rights of way.

He also argued for the removal of the requirement for broadband providers to become “eligible telecommunications carriers” for access to infrastructure or qualifying for government programs. ETCs are approved service providers through the Universal Service Administrative Company for certain government programs.

He also said “dig once” rules – those that allow providers to ride on existing infrastructure — should be required during road construction and upgrading to prevent overlap of construction projects, he said.

The ‘path to gigabit’ will also require digital adoption and inclusion, Aiken said. It should include reimbursement programs for low-income consumers and programs for digital literacy, he said.

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, its multifaceted, its more than just dollars, Aiken said. “What encapsulates our membership are those who provide solutions, who innovate, and who are nimble and flexible bringing their communities what they need, when they need it,” he said. Our companies will use whatever technology and means they need to serve customers, he said.

Our fixed wireless can do gigabit speeds today in certain contexts, but in order to deliver it on a much broader geographic basis, we need that kind of support, he said.

Critics of gigabit on fixed-wireless

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission held the first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction, in which companies bid on the lowest funding they’d be willing to receive from the government to expand broadband access in rural areas, conditioned on certain speed tiers, as Broadband Breakfast explains here.

Since that auction concluded, however, some criticism has been raised that some of the winning bidders won’t be able to meet the conditions of their connection speeds. In response to that criticism, Aiken said that from a technical and financial standpoint, gigabit fixed wireless is a viable option both for current spectrum availability and for new bands that will be available in the future.

He did not comment on the technical capabilities of any specific company to deliver speeds in the gigabit tier, saying that he was confident in the FCC’s ability to determine each winner’s qualification.

Policy areas of focus for gigabit

Beside infrastructure and inclusion, to get to gigabit, Aiken described other areas of policy, including localized spectrum and subsidy program design.

Localized spectrum aims to increase accessible bands by allocating at least 200 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for non-auctioned point-to-multipoint use, on either shared or licensed-by-rule basis, he said.

It also includes shared millimeter-wave spectrum for providers to relieve congested bands in urban areas, and additional auctions for designated spectrum areas for small geographic areas available to small providers, he said. It should also mandate ‘use it or share it’ stipulations for unused licensees.

Subsidy programs should “incentivize and leverage” current providers to deliver broadband to consumers who currently lack access, Aiken said. The programs should be technology-neutral so that one form of broadband is not favored over another, based on an “evolving level” of service considered essential for education, health, safety, and based on the subscription of a “substantial majority” of residential consumers, he said.

Subsidies should prevent government-funded overbuilding, he said, and also favor small providers that can deliver service more quickly in a given residential area.

If we want to think big about solving the broadband digital divide, we need to start thinking small—meaning small companies—to deliver internet to those unserved areas, he said.

Updating broadband maps, which are the datasets that detail where service is available across the country, should be “supercharged,” Aiken said, because they are essential to spending government funds in an intelligent manner.

The FCC is currently in the process of updating the broadband mapping system from Form 477 to a new Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, also called the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.

Infrastructure

Telecoms Should Actively Build Broadband Infrastructure Through Road Developments

Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist said telecoms should be right there alongside new road builds and improvements.

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot of Garlin Gilchrist via YouTube

April 15, 2021 – Telecom and municipal partnerships should be forged when new roads are built so fiber can be laid as construction begins, Michigan’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Garlin Gilchrist II, said Tuesday.

A good time to expand and improve broadband is when roads are being paved and improved, he said Tuesday at the Connected Nation Telehealth Summit. ISPs can play a larger role during this process and increase competition for consumer benefit as more options become available, he noted.

Beyond physical infrastructure needs, ISPs should work more and better with education and healthcare providers, the conference heard.

Schools, libraries, and all levels of government from local to national need to be aware of their roles and responsibilities to close the digital divide, Gilchrist said.

With no internet, telehealth would be in danger when critical response teams cannot be there in person to tend to a patient’s needs, he said, adding investing in the internet is the same as investing in education and health. No matter your zip code, or where you live, or how bad the pandemic has affected daily life, everyone should have the means to access affordable broadband that actually meets their needs.

“Different partnerships are needed,” said Sarah Tennant, sector development director and cyber initiatives at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Gilchrist said he recognized the impact generational racial disparity and inequality had on the lives of people of color in Michigan and across the country. Lack of broadband for people of color can be seen as another form of racial injustice.

In trying to tackle that, he said connecting the underconnected with broadband is a top priority of the state.

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Europe

Openreach Partners With STL For Fiber Build

Openreach aims to get 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by later this decade.

Tim White

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Screenshot of STL's Ankit Agarwal via YouTube

April 14, 2021 – STL, or Sterlite Technologies Limited, announced Wednesday a partnership with Openreach, the United Kingdom’s largest digital network business to expand its “Full Fiber” broadband network across the UK.

STL, a global network designer from India, will provide millions of kilometers of fiber to develop Openreach’s goal of 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by late 2020s.

“This collaboration with Openreach strengthens a 14-year-old technology and supply relationship between the two companies and further reinforces STL’s commitment to the UK market,” the company said in a statement.

Openreach will use STL’s Opticonn solution, a fiber and cable build that the company claims offers better performance and faster installation, according to the release statement. The company will also utilize STL’s new celesta ribbon cable that boasts a capacity of up to 6,912 fibers, the statement added.

“Our Full Fiber network build is going faster than ever. We need partners like STL on board to not only help sustain that momentum, but also to provide the skills and innovation to help us go even further,” Openreach’s Kevin Murphy said in a statement. “We know the network we’re building can deliver a host of social and economic benefits – from boosting UK productivity to enabling more home working and fewer commuting trips – but we’re also trying to make this one of the greenest network builds in the world.”

Ankit Agarwal, CEO of connectivity solutions business at STL, said, “our customized, 5G-ready optical solutions are ideally suited for Openreach’s future-proof network requirements and we believe they will enable next-gen digital experiences for homes and businesses across UK. This partnership will be a major step towards our mission of transforming billions of lives through digital networks,” he said in a statement.

Openreach’s network now reaches 4.5 million premises, offering gigabit-capable connection through a range of competing providers on the network, and the company is building at a rate of about 42 thousand new homes and businesses a week, according to the release.

The UK parliament has set a goal to get 85 percent of UK homes and businesses access to gigabit-speed broadband by 2025. They reported that as of September 2020, 27 percent of UK premises received that connection speed, and 95 percent have access to “superfast broadband” which the government defines as at least 30 megabits per second download speed.

Parliament acknowledged that although “superfast broadband is sufficient for most household needs today, the demand for data-intensive services such as online video streaming is increasing and can push the limits of a superfast broadband connection. The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the need for widely available and reliable digital connectivity.”

STL is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Fiber

John Curtis, R-Utah, Opens Up About Future of Fiber and Broadband Challenges

Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis speaks about broadband rollout, education and bills more than a year into the pandemic.

Derek Shumway

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Photo of John Curtis from his website

April 13, 2021 – Provo, Utah has made significant progress with its Google Fiber partnership, and representative John Curtis, R-Utah, hopes the federal government is paying attention.

Broadband Breakfast spoke with Curtis on Monday to discuss broadband and the lessons he’s taken from the pandemic. He said that the city of Provo is on track with its broadband efforts and that its programs are working. Having formerly served as city mayor for Provo from 2010 to 2017, Curtis oversaw the purchase by Google Fiber of iProvo, the city’s existing fiber internet network.

Announced in a press release on February 16, two of Curtis’ bills, the Federal Broadband Deployment in Unserved Areas Act, and the Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2021, were introduced to facilitate broadband deployment on federal lands and close the digital divide in both rural and urban areas. The bills called to “streamline permitting presses,” as duplicative regulations and inefficient practices have been hampering broadband development thus far, he said.

Federal, municipal regulations a constraint on deployment

Curtis was asked where he thought unnecessary red tape needed to be removed to fulfill rural and urban broadband objectives. He said 90 percent of the rural land in his district is owned by the federal government, making regulation heavy and complicated. In some instances, public lands have taken up to nine years to allow permitting for broadband, and in broadband terms, that’s a lifetime. “We don’t have nine years to get down into these parts of the district,” he said.

To visualize this, if there is an existing asphalt road, broadband cannot run alongside it because it is treated as if there was trench dug underneath Delicate Arch, a historical rock formation, a regulated territory.  If rural roads are approved to be built, rural broadband should be approved in a similar and appropriate manner, Curtis said. He added companies like Google, who have vast resources, are still slowed down by the government.

And it’s not the federal government that is always behind roadblocks, but the municipal government can sometimes get in the way. A struggle over telecoms putting up equipment on municipal-owned poles, which are required for broadband and wireless deployment, has been playing out across the country.

Education needs support structure at home

As the country is more than one year into the pandemic, the importance of having adequate and affordable broadband in Utah households is critical, especially for education, Curtis said. Curtis said that the more disadvantaged a household is, the less likely it is to have good internet connectivity. While there are tremendous uses for virtual resources, Utah children need a support structure at home, and not every home has that.

Having poor support at home to stay connected for school, work, and health needs is virtually as bad as not even having a device to connect to the internet in the first place. A benefit of having Google Fiber in Provo, Curtis said, is that households see their internet costs come down and speeds go up as competition is benefitting consumers. Cities are averse to risk, and sometimes lack the capital to invest in broadband, but technology changes so fast that it requires constant upkeep, he said.

Not just about the money

Asked about his thoughts on recent federal legislation, including the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the Biden’s $100-billion infrastructure plan (Jobs Act) for broadband, Curtis said it is important to invest in these initiatives, but simply throwing money at the problem won’t solve anything.

He said he wished he could bring Biden to Provo to take a look at Provo’s broadband progress, adding that “creativity and hard work make up for a multitude of sins.”

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