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Infrastructure

Critics Call Biden Infrastructure Plan Wasteful, Target Broadband Goals

Critics are unhappy about President Joe Biden’s $2.3-billion plan that includes prioritizing local builds.

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Screenshot from the Cato Institute event

April 27, 2021—Shut out of power in the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House, free-market critics of government spending converged at the Cato Institute on Monday to trash the Biden Administration’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, calling it wasteful and inefficient.

Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation, particularly criticized the president’s plans for universal broadband coverage by 2030, saying that it appeared to ignore the Federal Communications Commission’s current system of reverse auctions.

Although the Biden administration infrastructure plan is short on the details for how it would spend $100 billion in broadband funds, the administration’s fact sheet does appear to prioritize funding local, regional, broadband providers and co-ops.

Yet Poole also claimed – echoing a talking point that many established cable and wireless providers are making – that the Biden administration plan was limited to fiber-optic infrastructure. Poole  condemned fiber as too costly for low-density services often necessary for rural areas.

In its current general form, “American Jobs Plan” appears to be technology neutral. Indeed, there is no mention of “fiber” or “fiber-optic” within it.

Yet some critics of the Biden plan say that in highlighting high-speed, symmetrical connections, the plan – once translated to legislative language – appears destined to subsidize fiber. Fiber-optic cable has speed and reliability advantages over cable, fixed wireless or satellite. But fiber often costs more than alternative services.

Currently, the FCC defines “high-speed” as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, though there is a Democratic bill in the House that would redefine what is considered low and medium-tier speeds.

Fiber is crucial to other methods of broadband delivery

Moreover, while different methods of broadband deployment are sometimes better suited to different scenarios, more extensive fiber connections are also essential to expanded fixed wireless deployments. Many rural telecommunications companies lay fiber as their primary delivery method—even in regions that are often considered to be low-density, or if they also have fixed wireless assets for the “last mile.”

Though the cost of laying fiber is often greater than other methods, many states and localities have adopted policies to incentivize fiber while keeping cost down, such as “dig once” initiatives. “Dig once” initiatives keep costs down by scheduling other utility and road work simultaneously with fiber deployment.

Additional points about infrastructure plan discussed

Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at Cato and editor of Downsizing the Federal Government, also criticized the Biden proposal to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent. He said that would cause broadband companies would have less interest in doing business in the U.S., as other parts of the world would become more competitive.

Most of the panelists’ criticisms were focused on non- broadband provisions of the proposal.

Both Poole and Randal O’Toole, senior fellow at the Cato Institute advocated for user charges rather than subsidies. Poole was strongly in favor of the implementation of tolls to fund highway infrastructure, a cause he has advocated for decades.

He also opposed subsidizing airports and seaports and advocating for their privatization.

Edwards highlighted a different concept: Airports should be given the tools to fund their own infrastructure improvements by deregulating the industry, “The federal government puts a limit on how much states can raise from passenger charges to fund their own airports—that makes no sense,” he said.

O’Toole also criticized subsidies for mass transit, arguing that transit is responsible for almost the exact same amount of greenhouse gases per passenger mile as cars. This statistic is at odds with data collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration.

Ultimately, the panelists denounced the Biden plan as allocated federal monies unnecessarily, and doing little to address the goals Biden established at the outset of his presidency: They argued that its “green” elements would pollute more than it will preserve, and its broadband elements would see investment by ISPs in the United States shrink.

As a child of American parents working abroad, Reporter Ben Kahn was raised as a third culture kid, growing up in five different countries, including the U.S.. He is a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore, where he majored in Policy, Politics, and International Affairs. He enjoys learning about foreign languages and cultures and can now speak poorly in more than one language.

Satellite

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

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

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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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FCC

Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements

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

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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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Infrastructure

Federal Communications Commission Dispenses $544 Million in Rural Broadband Funds

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

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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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