March 3, 2021—Vantage Point Solutions is questioning whether wireless providers can deliver on their contractual obligations following the announcement of $9 billion in federal award for the first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
The concerns, outlined by CEO Larry Thompson in a white paper, relate to the winners’ ability to meet the build requirements.
Since the winners were announced in December, some have claimed that the reverse auction process – which rewards those who can build with the least amount of federal money — has allowed unqualified bidders to win projects they can’t complete in the first place.
The allegation has spawned an array of contretemps in the broadband community. In response, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association has publicly lobbied the FCC on behalf of WISPA members.
Fred Goldstein, who serves as a technical consultant to WISPA and penned the technical statement that was attached to the document, argued that many of Thompson’s technical assertions were inaccurate.
Hear both sides of the debate at “Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 — Design, Product and Execution: 3 Essential Steps for Every RDOF Award Winner.” You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.
As part of the RDOF process, the FCC divided prospective bidders into performance tiers, ranging from the “minimum” tier of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload speed, up to the “gigabit” tier delivering speeds at 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) download and 500 Mbps upload. The 1000 Mbps download speeds of the gigabit tier should theoretically be 40 times faster than the 25/3 minimum tier.
Vantage Point says wireless providers cannot maintain claimed speeds
Thompson’s primary contention is that consumers should be able to simultaneously utilize 1 Gbps download and 500 Mbps upload—a feat he asserts many wireless providers have not demonstrated can be reliably achieved. This is due to the ever-increasing number of connected devices consumers use on a daily basis.
“You’re not going to be able to sit and coordinate which [devices] are downloading and which ones are uploading at any given time—those things happen simultaneously,” Thompson stated. “I believe the FCC’s intention was that when they say that we have a broadband pipe of one [Gbps] down and 500 [Mbps] up—that means you should be able to do those simultaneously.”
Thompson insisted that he is not shifting the goal posts. As he understood the FCC’s requirements, simultaneous 1 Gbps/500 Mbps was always the goal. “It seems to me to be common sense,” Thompson said.
If he were ordering symmetrical service from a broadband provider, the expectation would not be that he would have to wait for a download to complete before he could begin uploading.
Another new group also complaining about wireless entrants
A new organization known as Ensuring RDOF Integrity Coalition, or ERIC, has now appeared and claims to share Vantage Point’s concerns.
Out the top 10 RDOF contract recipients, four are believed to have plans to use fixed wireless technology to deliver their services to consumers; LTD Broadband, Nextlink, Resound Networks, and Starry represent the first, sixth, eighth, and ninth largest recipients, respectively.
Additionally, SpaceX was the fourth largest recipient, and plans to deliver its services via a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites. Even though the technology is in its infancy, SpaceX received more than $885 million out of the total $9.2 billion allocated for RDOF.
As reported by Telecompetitor, ERIC would see that “interested stakeholders” have an opportunity to go over sensitive and proprietary data collected regarding RDOF recipients and the status of the services they provide.
WISPA claims fiber zealots are ‘sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt’
In an interview with Broadband Breakfast, Fred Goldstein dismissed the concerns raised by Vantage Point and others. He said they were sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
“They did this by making some incorrect technical assumptions and incorrect assumptions about the way people use the internet traffic levels and a lot of other details,” he added. “They basically put together something that if you really don’t know all that much, it sounds credible.”
Goldstein said wireless providers must live up to their promised broadband speeds. “If they’re offering gigabit service,” he said, “they are committed to it and there are penalties and clawbacks if they do not deliver.”
Goldstein said wireless providers were required to thoroughly explain exactly how they intended to deliver the speeds advertised. If Vantage Point has an issue with the explanations of the FCC or any particular wireless provider, they should have raised these concerns prior to the conclusion of the first phase.
WISPA says gigabit speeds may be overvalued
While Goldstein disagreed with many of the technical evaluations made by Vantage Point, his primary issue rests in the interpretation of RDOF guidelines.
For example, where Thompson believed that 1 Gbps/500 Mbps speeds must be achievable simultaneously, Goldstein states that while gigabit download speeds are the goal, it is not necessary for every consumer to be able to access gigabit speeds all the time.
“In reality, the average subscriber is running about 3 Mbps,” Goldstein said. He explained that there are diminishing returns once a consumer starts to reach speeds above 25 megabits per second. “It’s nice to have 100 megabits—it’s nicer to have 500 megabits or a gigabit—but it’s very rare you actually get to use it.”
“So nice, but I think people overemphasize the value of the gigabit, even as we are prepared to deliver it,” Goldstein stated. “We know how much we need—we can burst it at a gigabit, but the average is the average—it applies to their fiber, and it applies to our wireless—and everybody does it that way when you buy the backbone.”
But Thompson said that while WISPA is very focused on the backbone component of the service, Vantage Point is more concerned with the user experience and the wireless service on the customers’ end.
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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