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RDOF Reverse Auction Criticized, Google Makes Pandemic Gains, California Broadband Access For K-12

RDOF reverse auction criticized again, Google ups revenues during Covid, California survey on broadband access for K-12 students.

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Photo of Claude Aiken of WISPA

April 29, 2021 – There’s no end in sight for criticism against the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a reverse auction that rewarded funds to the lowest-bidding companies for building broadband into unserved rural areas.

“Many policy makers and communities see the results as highly problematic and have roundly criticized the outcome, leaving us to ask: Is the FCC’s reverse auction fatally wounded or just bloodied?” wrote Ziggy Rivkin-Fish in an Op-Ed for Benton Institute. “The biggest gripe about the auction results is that many bidders won on the basis of speed and latency claims that are widely believed to be unrealistic at best, and downright wrong at worst.”

Fixed-wireless service in urban areas can achieve higher connection speeds above the FCC’s 25/3 megabits per second standard, but in rural areas where line of sight and distance to towers provide a greater challenge, fixed wireless may not even see service that meets that minimum criteria for some consumers.

Another issue is Elon Musk’s satellite provider Starlink that won almost a billion dollars in the auction based on nascent low-earth orbit satellite technology. The FCC had previously expressed hesitation about using tax-payer money for experimental broadband technology, wrote Rivkin-Fish. But the agency apparently changed their stance, as the company won a considerable chunk of the $9 billion pool, which “effectively broke the auction design,” Rivkin-Fish wrote.

The FCC is now in the process of reviewing the long-form applications for the winners, determining if the providers can actually deliver their promised broadband service.

In light of the criticism levied against smaller rural providers, Wireless Internet Service Provider Association CEO Claude Aiken has said he trusts the FCC’s ability to vet the auction winners.

Pandemic helped propel Google financial results

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought worldwide hardship for companies, but not the tech industry, including Google, which saw a 34 percent boost in revenues over the previous year.

“With people staying home clicking and watching Pinkfong’s Baby Shark (with 7.91 billion YouTube views), Google’s owner Alphabet hoovered in $55.3 billion in revenue in the first three months of this year,” reports Pádraig Belton, a contributor for Light Reading.

The tech giant’s primary revenue comes from ads, with $31.9 billion in the first quarter of 2021, almost $8 billion more than a year ago. YouTube ads brought in another $6 billion, up from $4 billion.

Google’s parent company Alphabet yielded $17.9 billion in profit, an increase of 162 percent. 44 percent of Alphabet’s revenue originated from Asia, compared to 33 percent in the U.S., according to the report.

“This isn’t to say it’s all sunny driving in the Googleplex,” Belton wrote, “Google faces a tough year in the gunsights of prosecutors and legislators, in Washington, London and Brussels.”

Google has come under fire from Washington on several occasions, including lawsuits filed by the Department of Justice in December last year and a recent congressional hearing that targeted Google, Facebook and Twitter on social media problems.

California survey on broadband access for students

The California Emergency Technology Fund, a non-profit advocacy group focused on closing the digital divide for California residents, in partnership with the University of Southern California, found that access to devices for remote learning improved over the course of the pandemic but with some economic and racial disparities.

Of 575 parents with K-12 students surveyed, the results for child-per-device ratio showed that white families had the highest ratio at 97 percent, while the lowest ratio was Hispanic families who primarily spoke Spanish, coming in at 92 percent.

The survey reported similar disparities for income level. 98 percent of families with income above 200 percent of the poverty line ($53,000 for a family of four) had a device for each student in the household. For families at or below 200 percent of the poverty line, the ratio of device-per-student drops to 92 percent.

The move to remote learning during the pandemic had a large impact on the number of devices for each household. The survey reported that 72 percent of families had at least one device loaned to them by the school district, and 76 percent had received the device after the onset of the pandemic.

Reliable broadband connection was also a factor, with 78 percent of respondents reporting that their children “always” had access to internet for classes, 16 percent reported “sometimes but not always” and 6 percent reported “rarely” or “never.”

The survey was conducted between February 10 and March 22 in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese to reflect population patterns. The overall sample error was 2 percentage points with a 95 percent confidence level. According to the survey report, “the results are weighted for age, gender, race/ethnicity, education and region based on totals from the American Community Survey.”

The Statewide Broadband Adoption Survey has been running since 2008.

Broadband Roundup

AT&T’s Opens Learning Center in Dallas, Parallel Wireless Expands, AT&T 5G Experiment for National Defense

AT&T’s opens first learning center with free broadband, open RAN company Parallel Wireless expands, AT&T testing 5G for maritime use.

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Jeff McElfresh, CEO of AT&T Communications

September 16, 2021—AT&T said Thursday it is opening its first learning center in Dallas, Texas, which it hopes will help bridge the digital divide by providing free access to the internet, computers and educational resources.

Dallas is the first in more than 20 AT&T Connected Learning Centers across the country that it plans to open in, which will include Los Angeles, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Miami, and San Francisco, the company said in a press release Thursday.

The telecom has committed to plowing $2 billion over three years to expand its AT&T Connected Learning program, which it announced in April and is an effort to bridge the digital device by promoting broadband affordability, accessibility and adoption.

“The stakes for closing the digital divide are incredibly high, and it is imperative that we remove barriers to opportunity for children and families,” said Jeff McElfresh, chief executive officer of AT&T Communications. “Education plays a vital role in the long-term success of our society, and we are committed to investing in the educational and connectivity needs of underserved communities, while also expanding access to low-cost broadband services.”

Open RAN company Parallel Wireless expands

Open radio access network company Parallel Wireless is expanding its research and development centers and company headquarters in the United States to develop its 4G and 5G software, said a press release Thursday.

“Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) across the globe are quickly adopting Open RAN networks to deliver cost-effective, easily scalable, wireless broadband connectivity,” the release said. “Parallel Wireless is at the forefront of the telecom revolution driving All G – 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, Open RAN wireless networks into the future.”

The benefits of open RAN, which allows for a broader market of radio equipment versus relying on proprietary products, has been touted by the Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel for its supposed low cost and security benefits. The FCC held an open RAN showcase in July.

Dish Network is testing technologies for its 5G broadband network, which will use open RAN equipment.

AT&T experimenting with 5G for national defense

In a press release on Thursday, AT&T said that it has come to an agreement with the Naval Postgraduate School to explore and develop 5G for maritime use for national defense, homeland security, and certain industries like shipping and oil and gas.

The three-year research agreement will feature AT&T’s 5G networking capabilities that is intended to hone the ubiquitous connectivity inherent in the next-generation network to create a network that would improve logistics and data analytics.

“The collaboration between the Naval Postgraduate School and AT&T will help us explore better, faster means of collecting, disseminating, and analyzing data at the tactical edge, which is vital to maintaining and exploiting battlespace awareness,” Mike Galbraith, the Navy Department’s chief digital and innovation officer, said in the press release. Experiments conducted under the NPS-AT&T CRADA are expected to complement other DON efforts to apply 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enterprise and tactical uses.”

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Broadband Roundup

Connectivity Bill Introduced, OneWeb Halfway to LEO Launches, USTelecom Announces New VP

Democrats intro device subsidy bill, OneWeb half way to launch goal, Trevor Jones is USTelecom VP of gov. affairs.

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Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia

WASHINGTON, September 15, 2021—In a move lauded by broadband equity advocates, Democrat congressmen introduced the “Device Access for Every American Act” to help low-income broadband consumers.

On Tuesday, congressmen Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Virginia, and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, introduced the bill as part of similar efforts to improve consumer accessibility.

The legislation would allot $1 billion every year for five years to a program that would give Americans a $400 voucher to purchase a device to access the internet—whether that is a tablet, PC, laptop, etc.—and could get up to $800 over the course of every four-year period that the program is in place.

“Without a computer or tablet, low-income consumers across the country can’t connect despite Congress’ significant investments in deploying affordable broadband across the nation,” Public Knowledge senior policy analyst Jenna Leventoff said.

“However, the unfortunate reality is that most low-income consumers, including many senior citizens, can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars for a computer or tablet. Across the country, more than 11 percent of households don’t have a computer,” she added.

Leventoff pointed to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center that found that 37 percent of schoolchildren in economically disadvantaged households do their coursework from a cellphone and a quarter of them have been unable to do coursework due to a lack of a computer at home.

“This bill will ensure that low-income consumers can connect not only now, but into the future. We applaud Sen. Warnock and Rep. McEachin for their tireless leadership in working to ensure that those most in need are able to get connected,” Leventoff added.

Leventoff noted that she is hopeful that the bill would be added as part of the reconciliation package.

OneWeb’s network of satellites is halfway to completion

On Tuesday, OneWeb launched an additional 34 low-earth orbit satellites, bringing their total to up to 322 out of their projected 648 estimate.

Launch service provider Arianespace was responsible for getting the satellites into orbit. In a press release, Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël touted this as an achievement for the entire sector. “This launch illustrates the recent acceleration in space operation.”

During Satellite 2021’s opening keynote, executive chair of OneWeb Sunil Mittal committed to starting OneWeb’s commercial operations in the northern hemisphere over the next couple of months.

This all follows OneWeb’s 2020 bankruptcy filling and subsequent delays that resulted from the ensuing rescue of the company.

Trevor Jones named VP of Government Affairs for USTelecom

Trevor Jones, former legislative assistant to Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has been named vice-president of government affairs for USTelecom.

A graduate of Willamette University, Jones has worked with USTelecom since 2019. Jones is an expert in broadband, telecom, and internet policy.

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Broadband Roundup

Dish Using IBM AI for 5G Network, ConnectMaine’s New Grants, Intuit Buys Mailchimp, STL Hires Former Ericsson Exec

Dish is partnering with IBM for 5G, ConnectMaine’s community broadband grants, Intuit to buy Mailchimp, STL hires Paolo Colella.

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Former Ericsson executive Paolo Colella now on STL advisory board

September 14, 2021 – Dish Network has selected IBM’s artificial intelligence technology to automate its 5G network, it said in a Tuesday press release.

The smart network is said to implement the custom software from the makers of Watson that Dish said will help reduce its costs and create new revenue streams for the company.

Dish has been making several moves to expand its wireless offering, under its Boost Mobile moniker. Earlier this month, the company announced that it is buying prepaid and low-cost mobile carrier Gen Mobile. In the summer of last year, it purchased Ting Mobile.

On Wednesday, the Denver-based company asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to use 600 MHz band licenses to test its 5G network in Las Vegas and Denver. Earlier this year, the company said it was accepting sign-ups for its 5G network.

ConnectMaine announced new community broadband grants

Maine has announced Monday new startup grants to build community broadband and has provided guidelines for eligibility on its website.

“Funded projects are intended to get communities ready to pursue future opportunities for broadband expansion, by committing to firm milestones to expand broadband in a way that reflects the community’s vision and goals,” the webpage reads.

The funded activities for broadband expansion should include the local broadband needs and goals, an inventory of existing infrastructure assets, gap analysis for why infrastructure is needed, cost estimates, and a strategy to promote digital inclusion, the webpage said.

Intuit to buy Mailchimp for $12 billion

The maker of tax software Intuit is set to buy email marketing company Mailchimp for $12 billion, the purchasing company said in a Monday press release.

The release said that Mailchimp will help bring Intuit technology scale and global customer reach.

Mailchimp has a global reach of 13 million users, 2.4 million monthly active users, and 800,000 paid customers, the release said.

STL appoints former Ericsson executive to advisory council

More leadership changes are being made at STL, as the company announced Tuesday that it is bringing former Ericsson executive Paolo Colella to its advisory board.

Colella has more than a 25 years of experience in telecommunications, technology and professional services and has held senior executive positions throughout that time. Sweden’s Ericsson is a leading supplier of 5G and mobile wireless equipment to global telecommunications companies.

The company, which focuses on integrating digital networks, earlier this month announced the appointment of Paul Atkinson, who will run the optical networking business.

STL is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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