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.
Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chair Takes FCC to Task for Communication With Tribes
‘You need to get a little better about talking to and listening to native communities,” the chairman told the FCC.
WASHINGTON, September 23, 2022 –Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Brian Schatz on Wednesday urged the Federal Communications Commission to consult more regularly with Tribal leaders on the spectrum-licensing processes.
“Some of [the problems voiced native panelists at the roundtable] could simply be avoided by better, more aggressive, more continuous, more humble consultation, and you’re going to save yourselves a ton of headache,” said Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat. “I’m wondering if you need to get a little better about talking to and listening to native communities at every step in the process.”
“Chairman, I think you put that extremely well,” responded Umair Javed, chief council for the office of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
Tyler Iokepa Gomes, deputy to the chairman of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, told the committee of difficulties faced by native Hawaiians in obtaining spectrum licenses. Since the DHHL is a state entity, not a Tribal government, Gomes said, it was forced to compete against two local, native communities in a waiver process. Gomes said that his agency’s competition with the other waiver applicants caused considerable friction in Hawaii’s native community at large.
Low digital literacy is also a problem for some native communities attempted to secure spectrum licenses. “When it comes to technology, a lot of people seem to be scared of it,” said Keith Modglin, director of information technology for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, a federally-recognized Indian Tribe.
Modglin argued that education initiatives to raise digital literacy and explain the intra- and intercommunity benefits of spectrum would benefit his band greatly.
The land of the Mille Lacs Band is a “checkerboard,” meaning that Tribal lands are interspersed with non-tribal lands, said Melanie Benjamin, the tribe’s chief executive officer. According to Benjamin, navigating government’s failure to account for this status caused substantial delays for her tribe.
In addition to improving communication, Schatz called on the FCC to take affirmative actions to ease regulatory burdens on small tribes. “There are some really under resourced native communities, and it shouldn’t be a labyrinth to figure out what they’re eligible for,” he said. “Try to figure out some one-stop shop, some simple way to access the resources that they are eligible for under current law.”
Javed acknowledged a need for the FCC improve its communication with native communities, but he said the FCC is making strides in other areas. “While spectrum is one piece of that puzzle, I think we are making a lot of progress in some of our programs like the Affordable Connectivity Program, updates to the E-Rate program, some of our mapping efforts as well,” he said.
Republican Congressmen Criticize NTIA, FCC Absence at Farm Bill Hearing
‘Their absence is noted, and it illustrates their indifference towards the needs of rural Americans and our rural communities.’
WASHINGTON, September 19, 2022 – Two Republican congressmen criticized the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communications Commission for their absence at Thursday’s Agriculture committee hearing on the dispersal process for federal broadband funds.
In his opening statement, Ranking Member Glenn Thompson, R-Penn., said that the NTIA and FCC were invited to testify before the committee but declined. “Their absence is noted, and it illustrates their indifference towards the needs of rural Americans and our rural communities,” said Thompson. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Georgia, also panned the NTIA and the FCC for failing to appear.
“The question is: Are they dodging coming here today because they don’t want to be accountable for their flawed record?” Thompson told Broadband Breakfast, adding a Republican-controlled Congress may be more aggressive in its oversight of the two agencies. The midterm elections are in November.
“If given the opportunity to chair this committee…should that happen, the next time we ask them to come here it will be with a subpoena,” Thompson said. “We’ll put some teeth behind it.”
In addition, Thompson said during the hearing that the United States Department of Agriculture – which runs the ReConnect broadband program – is the best-suited agency to administer rural broadband deployment – not the NTIA or FCC. “I don’t have a lot of trust in NTIA or FCC. They received significant dollars back under the stimulus [act] back in 2010 and they failed to bridge the digital divide,” he said during the hearing.
“I remain disappointed that USDA was largely excluded from playing in its essential role, a role that it plays very effectively…in bringing broadband…into rural communities,” Thompson added. “It is the best situated agency to help rural providers serve their communities.”
Contacted by Broadband Breakfast, the NTIA and FCC did not respond to a request for comment.
The NTIA was allotted $42.5 billion by the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to distribute to the states for that end. The federal government has also been rolling out American Rescue Plan Act funding to the states, which are actively being used to address gaps in connectivity.
At the hearing, Xochitl Torres Small, Agriculture’s undersecretary of Rural Development, and Chris McLean, acting administrator for the Rural Utilities Service, emphasized the importance of interagency information and best-practice sharing in mapping, funding, and network deployment efforts.
“We meet with the FCC, NTIA, and the Treasury on a biweekly basis – and frankly, regularly more often – both to establish a regular cadence of communication and to work through those sticky issues,” said Small.
Farmers need broadband
The hearing was held as the committee prepares the 2023 “farm bill,” which will be the latest in a series of agricultural investment packages that originated in the 1930s. Farm bills are often passed at five-year intervals, and exact provisions of each farm bill vary as time passes and circumstances change. The latest farm bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, included funding for conservation initiatives, crop subsidies, crop-insurance support, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The Agriculture committee must shepherd the 2023 farm bill to President Joe Biden’s desk before the 2018 package expires in September 2023.
Garrett Hawkins, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, testified to the broadband needs of farmers. “Today’s farmers and ranchers, we use precision [agriculture] techniques to make decisions that impact everything from fertilizer to the amount of water that’s needed for our crops to the amount and type of herbicides that are applied,” Hawkins said. “These are just a few examples of how farmers are using connectivity to bump yield, improve environmental impact, and increase profitability.”
Eric Slee, Wireless Internet Service Providers Association’s vice president of government affairs, issued a statement Thursday supporting the Agriculture Committee’s work. “WISPA strongly encourages Congress to work toward a Farm Bill that among other things targets broadband funding to truly unserved locations on a tech-neutral basis, and avoids duplication of services financed by private and federal resources,” the statement said.
FCC Commits Additional $800 Million From Rural Digital Opportunity Fund
The authorization comes three weeks after the commission denied funding to Starlink and LTD Broadband.
WASHINGTON, September 1, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday it is authorizing just under $800 million from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund for six providers to expand broadband in over 350,000 locations in 19 states.
The six providers are NextLink Internet, California Internet L.P., Connect Everyone LLC, GigaBeam Networks LLC, Safelink Internet LLC, and Shenandoah Cable Television LLC. The states in which the winning bids will serve are Virginia, West Virginia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, Alabama, Wisconsin, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Louisiana, Kansas, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota.
The largest amounts will go to Illinois with $212 million, Arizona with $140 million and Iowa with $130 million.
“This round of funding supports projects using a range of network technologies, including gigabit service hybrid fiber/fixed wireless deployments that will provide end-user locations with either fiber or fixed wireless network service using licensed spectrum,” the FCC said in a press release.
The announcement means the FCC has committed over $6 billion from the $9.2-billion fund, which initially announced winners under a different-look commission in December 2020, but which was scrutinized over the past year-and-a-half due to claims that the winning bids would go to areas that don’t need the connectivity promised. Under new Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC has been purging the fund of what it sees as potential wasteful spending and provided those winning bidders with opportunities to let go of those bids.
The new commitment comes three weeks after the commission denied RDOF money to two such winning providers – broadband satellite service provider Starlink and the largest winner in the reverse auction process, LTD Broadband. The former was said to have a still-developing technology with a high-cost upfront commitment, while the latter had issues with getting certification from certain states by the time it was spurned.
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