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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.

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Broadband Prices Decline, AT&T’s Fiber Build in Texas, Conexon Partners for Build in Georgia

A USTelecom report finds that despite high inflation, broadband prices have been declining.

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Screenshot of Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – A USTelecom report released Wednesday found that broadband prices have been declining, despite high inflation.

The association’s 2022 Broadband Pricing Index Report found that broadband pricing decreased even with significant inflation of an estimated 8 percent in the past year, the most popular broadband prices dropped by 14.7 percent, and the highest speed broadband prices dropped by 11.6 percent from 2021-2022.

“Broadband prices at all speeds have decreased in the last five years,” it said.

The analysis also found that broadband prices are half of what they used to be in 2015. The most popular broadband services decreased by 44.6 percent, while the fastest broadband services decreased their prices by 52.7 percent from 2015-2022.

Lastly, the report found that the “consumer value of broadband services has never been higher.” As providers offer faster speeds at lower prices, the overall value to customers has dramatically improved, it said.

“This is great news for American broadband consumers,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association.

AT&T strikes deal in Amarillo, Texas for fiber project

AT&T struck a deal Wednesday with the city of Amarillo, Texas to extend its fiber reach.

A press release said the $24 million project in Amarillo will cover approximately 22,000 locations.

“The city of Amarillo broadband access plan is one of the more significant technological infrastructure advancements in city history,” said Amarillo mayor Ginger Nelson in the release.

It’s the latest partnership for AT&T, which is planning on reaching upwards of 60,000 locations via public-private partnerships in counties in Indiana, Kentucky and now Amarillo, Texas.

Conexon partners with Georgia electric company for broadband build

Georgia’s Ocmulgee Electric Membership Corporation partnered with internet service provider Conexon Connect on Tuesday to bring reliable, affordable, high-speed fiber broadband to rural Georgia.

The partnership will see the deployment of a network that spans 2,100 miles of fiber to the home for service to up to 8,000 members in centra Georgia, a press release said.

“I commend Ocmulgee EMC and Conexon for this exciting public-private partnership and their commitment to creating value for their communities,” said Governor Brian Kemp in a press release.

The project is estimated to take 2-4 years to complete and is set to start this September. The first customers expected to be connected in early 2023.

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TikTok Data Concerns, Broadband Data Collection System, Internet Access on COVID-19 Mortality

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is requesting Apple and Google remove the TikTok app over data concerns.

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Photo of Brendan Carr

June 29, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores.

The app is run by ByteDance, a company that is “beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC’s surveillance demands,” read the June 24 letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sunder Pichai.

“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data,” said Carr, calling it a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data” such as search histories, keystroke patterns and biometric identifies.”

Carr claims that TikTok’s pattern of conduct regarding persons in Beijing having access U.S. sensitive data violates policies that both companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on the app stores. “I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms.”

TikTok has assured users that American’s data is being stored in the U.S. but, according to Carr, this statement “says nothing about where that data can be accessed from.”

FCC opens mapping data system for filers early 

The Federal Communications Commission released a public notice on Thursday announcing that filers of broadband availability data in its new maps may obtain early access of the system for registering filer information.

The filing window for the Broadband Data Collection opens June 30, but early access will enable users to register their entities in the system and become familiar with the system before that date, the FCC said.

“We are making this functionality available in advance of the opening of the filing window to enable filers to log in, register, and be ready to enter their availability data as early in the filing window as possible,” read the public notice.

The BDC program is said to help improve broadband mapping data to help funnel federal dollars to where broadband infrastructure is needed. Most fixed and mobile broadband providers will be required to file information in the system, but third parties and government entities are also encouraged.

Impact of internet access on COVID-19 mortality

New analysis released last week by private research university Tufts found that increased broadband access in the United States reduced COVID-19 mortality rates.

“Even after controlling for a host of other socioeconomic factors, a 1 percent increase in broadband access across the U.S. reduced COVID mortality by approximately 19 deaths per 100,000, all things equal,” read the report.

The study also found that the impact was felt more strongly in metro areas, where a 1 percent increase in broadband access reduced the deaths by 36 per 100,000.

By conducting a correlation analysis, Tuft researchers found that broadband access is negatively correlated with COVID mortality, even after controlling for other major factors such as health status, income, race and education.

The study only considered pre-vaccine number to account for inconsistencies.

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Rosenworcel Committed to Net Neutrality, Better Spectrum Coordination, Starlink Up in Internet Speeds

The FCC chairwoman reaffirmed her commitment to net neutrality at a conference on Friday.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – At a conference hosted by the American Library Association on Friday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel reaffirmed her support for net neutrality rules.

According to a press release, Rosenworcel stated she wants to make a “return to common carrier regulation of internet service providers which aims to prevent ISPs from slowing down or blocking web traffic.”

Rosenworcel “fully backs” net neutrality rules passed under the Obama administration that were repealed during the Trump administration. “I opposed the last administration’s effort to roll it back, and I want it to once again become the law of the land,” she stated at the ALA.

A press release calls Rosenworcel ’s statement on net neutrality the “hallmark of her tenure” and says she faces opposition in her attempt to bring back net neutrality rules.

“It is just wrong for the internet to have slow lanes for people with less money,” Patty Wong, president of the ALA, said at the conference.

Better coordination needed for receiver performance 

On Monday, non-partisan think tank TechPolicy urged more coordination by the Federal Communications Commission with other agencies to better utilize spectrum assets during its receiver performance study, filing comments in response to the commission’s public consultation about that matter.

“The Commission has a considerable expertise and prior work to review in assessing whether it has the statutory authority in this area, and how to best incentivize all parties to build more robust receivers to operate in more and more congested spectrum,” the think tank said.

It suggested engaging with other agencies, such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as well as users of government receivers.

James Dunstan, general counsel of TechFreedom, stated, “the FCC cannot fine-tune spectrum management with only half the orchestra.” He added that if the FCC does not engage with government users, “there will be little progress made toward finding broad solutions to increased spectrum congestion.”

The FCC and the NTIA have already agreed earlier this year to coordinate on spectrum management.

Ookla finds Starlink increased speeds by 38 percent over the past year

Metrics company Ookla said Tuesday that, according to its review of Starlink satellite broadband service in the first quarter, the company saw an increase of 38 percent in internet performance in the United States over the past year, said a press release.

However, the company’s analysis also showed that Starlink’s upload speeds decreased nearly 33 percent in the U.S. from 16.29 Mbps in 2021 to 9.33 in 2022.

Ookla notes that even as consumers choose Starlink, competitors are not far behind. It mentioned as key developments FCC approval for Amazon’s Project Kuiper to test its satellite service this year, and Viasat getting closer to merging with Inmarsat for a constellation launch next year.

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