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Infrastructure

Focus On Community Networks In Biden Plan A Positive 180-Degree Policy Change, Advocates Say

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Screenshot taken from ILSR event

April 7, 2021 – Despite criticism levied against President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure plan, some broadband industry experts are excited about what it could mean for municipal and co-op networks.

Biden’s “American Jobs Plan” would dedicate $100 billion for broadband infrastructure improvements across the country, prioritizing “broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives,” said the White House in a statement.

Kim McKinley of UTOPIA Fiber said the announcement is a big shift from former broadband federal policy. She said they are happy to see the focus on community-owned networks, as it’s a 180-degree change from the last administration and a big step for the country, she said Monday during a “Connect This!” panel at the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative.

This would help remove the barriers to municipal broadband in the retail market, allowing municipally-owned companies to compete with the private retail companies, McKinley said. Many states have restrictions on municipal networks, including Utah where UTOPIA Fiber is based.

The pandemic has created a new reality for broadband and we don’t know what it looks like yet, said Christopher Mitchell, director for ILSR’s municipal networks project. “It involves the White House talking about this in a different way. It involves unprecedented amounts of money. It involves local leaders taking this seriously,” he said. The pandemic made people realize they need to stop talking and actually do something, he said.

Biden compared the plan to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act that loaned funds to electric companies to get power connected to every home in America. Electric co-ops were being encouraged by states at the time, and although some worked and others didn’t, that legislation was very successful in the end, Mitchell said.

“If the Biden White House is up for it, this could also be the moment in which we change our future from one in which Comcast gets us to up to $100 per month,” he said. This can be an opportunity for communities to control their own futures, he said.

“This approach is the first adult sane approach I’ve seen in the market, I mean, not because I agree with it, but because it is well thought out,” said Doug Dawson, president of CCG Consulting. This is a seismic shift and resetting the conversation, because no one at the federal level has made these proposals for many years, he said.

Biden’s price transparency

Price transparency was another benefit of Biden’s plan for the panelists.

It’s talking about more than just bringing better broadband to rural areas, it’s talking about fixing the pricing in urban areas, and for me it’s hinting at the idea for urban co-ops, Dawson said.

Lack of price transparency for fees and bait-and-switch tactics is a big problem in the broadband industry, and we like to see the effort in Biden’s plan for more price transparency, McKinley said.

But the plan has a huge uphill battle because there is already a bill sitting in front of Congress that is very different from this, Dawson said.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, H.R. 1783, was introduced by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., on March 12, and will be incorporated into the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America (LIFT) Act, H.R. 1848, a larger infrastructure bill introduced by the Democratic delegation on the Energy and Commerce committee.

Skepticism persists

USI Fiber’s Travis Carter offered more skepticism about Biden’s plan. We’ve been talking about this for over 10 years, what will really change this time around? He asked.

Mitchell said that people can’t be silent. Officials need to hear from a lot of people that they actually want price transparency and real competition, he said. “Elected officials might be willing to force the cable industry to take a back seat to the public interest for once,” he said.

Carter also asked how effective the plan will be in large urban centers versus smaller towns and rural areas.

Bigger cities might get into this, but the big concern is how they do it, McKinley said.

When I see cities like San Francisco and Seattle, I see big time dumb politics getting in the way of this, said Mitchell, agreeing with McKinley. What cities need to do is solve the problem with “low-key smart strategic investments,” he said.

“Large cities are not necessarily going to make good ISPs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t build fiber and make it available for other people to work on it,” Dawson said.

On the American Rescue Plan

The panel also discussed federal funding that has already passed Congress, including the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the more recent $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that provides $340 billion to states and $130 billion to local governments for various initiatives.

The issue with the American Rescue Plan funds is how different the states will probably use it, Dawson said. Some states will put rules on the money that they pass down, others will just give it to the localities and leave it to their discretion, he said. The problem is that many cities are just going to do terrible things with this money, and if they haven’t thought about broadband, they don’t know what to do with it, so it’s not fair to just dump it on them, he said. Some cities will use it well, but others are going to have a real problem, he said.

McKinley said that cities should be able to decide how best to spend funding they receive, including the potential funding from Biden’s proposal. The funding could be used as a backstop to reduce the level of risk as cities enter into these agreements, she said. If there’s a 15-million project, and a city doesn’t want to leverage a 15-million bonding capacity, then put 5 million of funding in and then bond for 10 million, she said.

Carter argued for a different approach to spending federal funds. It shouldn’t necessarily go to cities because a lot of it will go to waste on unnecessary projects like feasibility studies, he said. The money should go to the people who will actually build the networks and get people connected, he said. The money isn’t free, we’re all paying for it, Carter said. We should want to utilize the tax dollars for maximum benefit, which is getting fiber to every home in America, he said.

The first million dollars is the biggest hurdle for getting an ISP up and running, Carter said. “The Financing piece is only 10 percent of the ISP puzzle, I mean there’s a lot of other things to do to run a successful internet provider, and financing is only a piece of it. But if you can’t get over that first 10 percent hurdle, you’re dead in the water,” he said. Small wireless internet service providers, or WISPs, are struggling to jump to fiber networks, and the money could be used to help them develop fiber plans, he suggested.

But Mitchell disagreed. Municipalities don’t need to be the perfect ideal provider, they just need to do better than a cable and telephone company that just does the bare minimum to extract the most wealth from the community, he said.

“We hear about financing being the biggest issue of these projects, and I don’t think it’s financing. A lot of these cities do have the bonding capacity to do this,” McKinley said. “It’s more about political will and having the appetite to bite off and take this challenge on.”

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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Infrastructure

Google, Municipal Groups Oppose Mediacom Request to Block Google-City Infrastructure Deal

Mediacom petitioned the FCC to stop a Google-West Des Moines deal, but Google said it’s not exclusive.

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Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – A number of associations and Google have filed opposition arguments to a Mediacom request that the Federal Communications Commission intervene to stop a city in Iowa from allowing Google an alleged exclusive access to the city’s infrastructure.

MCC Iowa LLC, also known as Mediacom, filed a petition in May that asked the FCC to stop the construction of the West Des Moines network after alleging an exclusivity agreement between Google and the city was signed in July 2020 that it said negatively harms it. Mediacom, which said this is a first of its kind petition, also asked that the commission intervene to “remove the preferential design, access, financial and permitting rights” afforded to the network.

Mediacom brought the complaint based on Section 253 of the Telecommunications Act, which stipulates that cities must foster competition and restrict efforts to protect monopolies.

But in an October 7 submission, Google said its deal with the city to use its network is not exclusive.

“The Conduit Network is, by contract and by design, a multi-user network intended to accommodate the fiber network of Google Fiber as well as the facilities of other licensees,” Google said in its submission. “The agreement between Google Fiber and the City for Google Fiber’s use of a portion of the Conduit Network…expressly contemplates that there will be users other than Google Fiber, following an initial six-month period during which Google Fiber can test that the network is functioning properly as it begins to serve customers.

Google added that the agreement between the two does not stop the city from allowing other providers to ride on the network on the same economic terms.

The Mountain View-based company also claims Mediacom is misapplying Section 253 in this case and seeks to expand its scope because it targets the city’s effort to promote competition and not, as it would rightfully be applied, to target the city’s effort to restrict competition. In other words, Google said the city isn’t trying to restrict competition because it is encouraging service providers to use the network.

In fact, Google argues the deal with the city is advancing the goals of Section 253. “By building its own conduit network…and encouraging private industry to bring high-speed broadband service to its residents, the City is advancing the goal of Section 253,” Google said.

“Granting the Petition would undermine the actual purpose of Section 253 and turn it, instead, into ‘a blunt tool’ that historical incumbents can use to beat down market competition,” Google added.

Municipal organizations also oppose petition

In a separate submission dated October 7, a coalition of municipal organizations argued similarly that Mediacom’s petition is “aimed at thwarting the very competition Section 253 is intended to ensure, and potentially undermines a range of local efforts to bridge the digital divide.”

The joint submission was signed by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the United States Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, the National Associations of Counties, and the National Association of Towns and Townships.

The group argued further that Mediacom was expanding the scope of the law because the FCC cannot force a municipality to change the design of a project, but is rather limited to enforce, and address violations to, it.

CORRECTIONA previous version of this story said Google was based in Menlo Park. In fact, it is based in Mountain View, California. 

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5G

Google, Reliant On Success of 5G, Says It Wants Government-Funded Test Beds for Open RAN

Company says that the next generation of its products depend on 5G progress.

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Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 — Google made its case for regulators to make room for greater public-private collaboration in the wake of 5G and more research into open radio access network technologies.

Speaking at the FCBA’s “What’s New and Next in Wireless” session on Tuesday, Michael Purdy from Google’s product and policy team emphasized Google’s interest in the emerging 5G landscape, but wants a “collaborative environment” for innovation.

“5G is exciting because of Google’s products depend on 5G,” he said. “[Our] products can’t come to market without it.” Google’s recent product launches include smart-home technologies. Purdy says their products’ benefits are enhanced as 5G is deployed.

Google, like the technology sector at large, is building on the innovation that the “app economy” produced using existing 4G technology and plans to expand their software capabilities with 5G. “The app economy benefited consumers,” Purdy says. “Our lifestyles are going to depend on 5G.” For telehealth, “real time medical advice needs low latency [and] high speeds.”

However, Google hopes for better regulatory conditions during 5G deployment. “We haven’t been as focused on the FCC [for guidance] . . . we want stability to determine spectrum policy.”

Purdy said the company hopes to work collaboratively with government to find solutions for wider 5G deployment. “[We] want to know what position the government takes in creating an open RAN environment.”

The company said it wants government funded-test beds for open RAN, research into development to ensure that “the downside costs are defrayed.” In overcoming these challenges to 5G deployment, Purdy said Google wants the government to foster a “collaborative environment” to develop open RAN. “We don’t want government picking winners and losers in the innovation process” he said.

Purdy added that spectrum sharing between licensed and unlicensed users “can be good for consumers and for industry.”

The Federal Communications Commission has pushed for ways to develop open RAN to minimize network security risk, as the movement has gained significant momentum. FCC Acting Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has described open RAN as having “extraordinary potential for our economy and national security.”

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