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Broadband Speed Threshold Up for Debate on Second Day of WISPAMERICA Conference

Keynote speakers at Day 2 of WISPA America tackled broadband speed thresholds, infrastructure and federal programs.

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Photo of Broadband Breakfast publisher Drew Clark at WISPAMERICA 2021

April 29, 2021 – The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association trade show continued Wednesday with debate about the impact of legislation on increasing the speed threshold for broadband.

House infrastructure legislation on the table right now, including the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, would raise the minimum target from 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload to 25/25 for the low-tier and 100/100 for the medium tier.

Recently-appointed Federal Communications Commissioner Nathan Simington joined the keynote hour, speaking largely on those broadband speed thresholds that are currently under scrutiny.

The FCC’s 25/3 megabit per second broadband definition is considered outdated by some, but bumping that up to symmetrical 100/100 Mbps doesn’t make sense either, Simington said.

Rather than focusing on symmetrical future proofing, it’s more important right now to focus efforts on getting broadband to areas that don’t have broadband at all, such as rural and tribal lands, he said.

WISPA CEO Claude Aiken, who moderated a panel, argued that such speed increases is a shortsighted approach that would lock out satellite or fixed wireless service. But he acknowledged that the legislation, including Biden’s American Jobs Plan, is likely still months away from passing and impacting the industry. (The GOP introduced a $65-billion counter proposal on April 22.)

Even if infrastructure bill passes this year, we’re looking at a longer process for the FCC and other agencies to work out the details, so this is an opportunity for us to plan ahead, he said.

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which has received considerable attention and criticism from different perspectives, came up several times throughout the panel. Aiken said that because the required RDOF speed tiers aren’t symmetrical, there may be changes to the proposed speed definitions in the upcoming legislation before its finalized.

Federal programs

The second day of the convention also included a morning panel on federal funding programs. Rebecca Goldman from the firm Lerman Senter and Drew Clark of Marashlian and Donahue and publisher of Broadband Breakfast answered audience questions and spoke on the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit, $7.6 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund, and several funding programs from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is a temporary COVID-related program that was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December 2020, provides up to $50 in monthly subsidies to eligible households for their broadband service ($75 on tribal land), along with other benefits. The Emergency Connectivity Fund was part of the American Rescue Plan that expands on the E-Rate program for schools, libraries, and other anchor institutions by providing subsidies for hotspots, devices, and service.

NTIA also has three funding programs in the pipeline scheduled to be ready in the next few months. These include the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant, $1 billion funding for broadband projects on native tribal land; Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Grant, $300 million funding for broadband infrastructure projects in areas that are currently unserved, accessible by partnerships with providers and state or local governments; and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, $285 million for broadband subsidies for anchor institutions affecting minorities, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and consortiums connected with those institutions.

Riding on a broadband mapping discussion during the first day of the conference, Clark said that it’s yet to be seen whether infrastructure funding or the new FCC mapping system will be available first. Congress typically gives out the money and then the FCC works out the details, he said.

In response to a question about where WISPs should focus their efforts on the broadband funding, Goldman said that it depends on what their priorities are as small service providers. If they’re focused on infrastructure expansion, the NTIA programs may be the better option. But if they’re a provider already involved in E-Rate or working in low-income areas, then the Emergency Broadband Benefit or Emergency Connectivity Fund might make more sense.

Funding

NTIA Official Says Rural Broadband Funds Do Not Disqualify Area from New Broadband Monies

While NTIA will interpret grant funding under the law, it’s up to states to determine where to allocate money.

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Justin Perkins and Scott D. Woods on a Zoom video call

January 19, 2022 – The federal government agency charged with the task of doling out the $42.5 billion of broadband infrastructure funding hasn’t ruled out the idea of letting grant applicants use the money allocated to them from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to cover areas that will also be covered from grants given to projects from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The Commerce Department’s Scott D. Woods said the “policy team is working on [this]” and to “stay tuned” to further announcements. As a general rule, areas don’t “have federal assets for the similar purposes in the same area,” but there are “nuances to that.”

Woods is the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the agency’s Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth.

He made the remark during a recent “Ask Me Anything” interview with Broadband Breakfast Reporter Justin Perkins. Broadband Breakfast is a sister publication to Broadband.Money and is a privately-run media and conference company headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Grant applicants concerned about this specific issue should submit questions about it for the record in comments they should submit to the NTIA, Woods said. All comments are due February 4, 2022.

The Federal Register notice and instructions on how to file comments is here.

More information, including the NTIA’s  scoring criteria for grant applications, will be found in the Notice of Funding Opportunity coming out in May.

Doug Dawson, an influential broadband consultant of CCG Consulting (and blogger) wrote a blog post early January implying that RDOF covered areas wouldn’t be eligible for IIJA grant funding.

During the AMA, Woods took questions from the Broadband.Money community and discussed IIJA’s compatibility with RDOF, expectations for state plans, private-public partnerships, and the role of the community.

While the NTIA will be interpreting the terms of the grant funding as laid out in the IIJA, it’s up to the states to determine where to allocate the money.

The “state plans…ultimately have to reflect the needs of the unserved [and] underserved communities,” Woods said.

Perkins also emphasized how important it is “for the communities to give their input sooner rather than later, so that the NTIA can develop regulations that are really going to reflect the needs that these broadband programs are asking for.”

Despite the expedited timetable laid out in the IIJA, Woods said that states should be ready to submit rigorously-planned proposals to the NTIA when they ask for federal funding for their five-year broadband plans.

Some states don’t have any formal broadband offices in place, but most already have some basic organizational structures. Woods said that the NTIA is there to help states that might need more hand-holding through the grant application process.

Role of public-private partnerships

Woods also discussed the importance of private-public partnerships.

These partnerships will help with infrastructure, as well as “equity, inclusion, [and] adoption,” he said.

Public-private partnerships are built on “trust and transparency,” said Woods.

“There’s a lot of work to do, as well,” said Woods. “Trust is based on your words and your actions.”

One community member asked when the NTIA will announce its decisions on its $288 million for broadband infrastructure program, a separate broadband program funded under the 2021 appropriation bill. Woods said to check NTIA’s website, and that these announcements will be coming “soon.”

Woods also emphasized the importance of the role of the community to the forthcoming years-long broadband buildout. Everyone need to “provide information, to provide data, to provide feedback on what’s needed in the community.”

Instead of favoring one technology over another, such as fiber over wireless, the NTIA is going to “leave it to the states…to adopt what best works for them and their communities.”

“There’s a role for all technologies,” he said.

A version of this piece was originally published on Broadband.Money on January 19, 2022. You can find out more about Broadband.Money‘s past and future events and AMAs here. Don’t forget to come and participate in our discussion on Friday over who should receive IIJA money, in your opinion, and our Friday, January 28, 2022, Ask Me Anything! event With Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO @ SiFI Networks.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Ookla Fourth Quarter Report Puts T-Mobile as Fastest, Most Consistent Wireless Provider

T-Mobile ranks fastest mobile provider, improving on third quarter performance.

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T-Mobile president Mike Sievert

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2022 — Metrics company Ookla reported Tuesday that speed test data from the fourth quarter of last year show that T-Mobile was the fastest and most consistent mobile operator, the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max is the top device in terms of popularity and download speeds, and Google is the top manufacturer when it comes to download and upload speeds.

The latest report, for the months of October, November and December, showed T-Mobile’s median download speed was 90.65 Megabits per second, while runner-up AT&T had a median download speed of 49.25 Mbps and Verizon came in at 44.67 Mbps. The District of Columbia had the fastest median mobile download speeds in the United States with 100.38 Mbps, with T-Mobile being the fastest mobile provider in 42 states.

T-Mobile also had a significant jump in terms of 5G performance, said the Tuesday report. In the third quarter, T-Mobile’s median 5G download speed was 135.27 Mbps, while Tuesday’s report shows their median 5G download speed was 187.12. Verizon came second with a median speed of 78.2 Mbps and AT&T was third with a median speed of 68.82 Mbps.

In the United States, the fastest popular device manufacturer was Google. Google’s median download speed was 60.82 Mbps, Samsung’s was 52.80, and Apple’s was 52.76.

However, the iPhone 13 Pro Max was the most popular and fastest device overall, with a median download speed of 90.58 Mbps and the iPhone 13 Pro following closely behind at 89.61 Mbps.

In the report, only Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile were mentioned as internet providers, and Apple, Google, and Samsung were the only device manufacturers included.

Each month, Ookla collects data from Speedtest users to report the internet speed at their location, and the data from those tests are used to generate their quarterly reports.

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Funding

Digital Equity the Focus at NTIA’s Listening Session on Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act

Attendees questioned how digital equity progress can be measured and how underserved populations are educated on technology use.

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Moderator Adam Geisler, national tribal government liaison with the First Responder Network Authority

WASHINGTON, January 14, 2022 – Through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s efforts to hold listening sessions for the public to ask questions on grant programs provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, digital equity has emerged as a key concern.

In the second of five listening sessions, questioners emphasized digital equity issues for underserved communities such as Native tribes, proposing a digital equity scorecard to assess the effects of government programs in unconnected areas and suggesting implementation of further adult education programs to improve technological knowledge.

This specific session Wednesday sought input on:

  • Ways Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program funds could be used to connect communities.
  • New ways IIJA programs could promote broadband affordability including how middle mile should be targeted to promote affordable last mile.
  • How the NTIA could ensure contact between states with tribal entities to promote broadband access and digital equity.

Another key focus among questioners was on logistics of broadband infrastructure builds.

Concerned broadband officials say there is a shortage of technicians to work on building infrastructure projects, and that funds should be used to support programs in technical schools that would train construction workers and bolster workforce numbers.

Additionally, there is concern over many project applications being considered overbuilding – building networks in areas with existing broadband infrastructure – and getting denied despite many broadband policy experts not actually considering them overbuilding.

Questioners at the session continued to push for more granular mapping that compiles data below the census block level as well as for more affordable middle mile.

Further, they emphasized that the NTIA must take steps to address challenges that smaller broadband networks and co-ops, which they say often provide better broadband service than larger networks, face in applying for funding due to being less skilled at completing applications than larger networks.

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