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Reaction To Biden’s Broadband Plan A Mix Of Praise, Caution And Criticism

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April 1, 2021 – In response to President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure “American Jobs Plan,” including $100 billion for broadband projects, many in the broadband industry are applauding the administration’s effort to bridge the digital divide, but with some caution and criticism as well.

“We share the administration’s belief that connectivity for all is a national priority of the highest order,” said USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter in a statement. “Let’s remember this: our shared communications networks are backed by $1.8 trillion in private investment that helped the country navigate the depths of the pandemic with reliable and resilient connectivity.

The plan, announced Wednesday, includes a pledge to provide broadband access to all Americans by 2030.

“Today’s broadband marketplace is also ultra-competitive, defined by increasing speeds, declining prices, new entrants and next generation technologies. Congress now should prioritize affordability and accessibility solutions that are fast and smart and incentivize continued private investment to get the job done. We shouldn’t lose this fundamental context as we drive toward our collective connectivity goals.”

John Windhausen, executive director at the advocacy organization Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition said in a statement that Biden’s plan “recognizes the importance of investing to connect 100 percent of Americans to broadband. It wisely calls for future-proof capacity, which will encompass the high-bandwidth demands of anchor institutions.”

Meanwhile, Christina Mason of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said the organization is “greatly encouraged by President Biden’s push to create new jobs and rebuild much of America’s core infrastructure. The President’s focus is right on target.”

Some criticism, including impact on competition

The Internet and Television Association’s (NCTA) response to the new Biden plan was more critical. “The White House has elected to go big on broadband infrastructure, but it risks taking a serious wrong turn in discarding decades of successful policy by suggesting that the government is better suited than private-sector technologists to build and operate the internet,” CEO Michael Powell said.

“Government does have a critical role to play in getting networks to areas that lack service and helping low-income families afford it. However, those targeted, shared goals are not served by suggesting wrongly that the entire network is ailing and that the solution is either to prioritize government-owned networks or micromanage private networks, including the unfounded assertion that the government should be managing prices,” Powell said.

American Enterprise Institute’s Daniel Lyons also expressed caution over the proposal. “The plan accurately frames the multifaceted problem of America’s digital divide. But the devil is in the details — and the few details released so far cast significant doubt on how Biden hopes to achieve this goal,” he said.

Lyons calls out specific aspects of the plan, including future-proofing networks, which he says should not favor fiber over other broadband technology. “Picking winners and losers among network models undermines the intermodal competition that pushes all technologies forward and increases the chances of finding the most efficient way of serving individual pockets of unserved customers,” he said.

He also highlighted the importance of unserved over underserved areas. “Subsidizing a new company to compete directly against an unsubsidized competitor raises different issues than providing service where none currently exists, and it can effectively punish companies that have invested private dollars to connect hard-to-serve populations economically,” Lyons said.

He was also skeptical of possible rate regulation. “As I recently discussed in a piece about the Texas Blackout, political pressure to keep prices low can lead companies to forego investment in resiliency and innovation,” Lyons said.

Biden compared his broadband initiative to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, which provided loans to companies to get electricity to every unserved area at that time. But Lyons said the comparison to modern broadband fails because it was loans, not grants, that provided electricity to Americans. “This key control is lacking in today’s broadband buildout efforts, which may explain why America faces a broadband gap despite spending countless billions of dollars on buildout subsidies,” he said.

Congressional applause and disappointment

“There is no better way to rebuild our economy for the future than to modernize our badly aging infrastructure, and President Biden’s American Jobs Plan is exactly what our nation needs right now,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee. “The President’s plan aligns with the LIFT America Act, which I introduced earlier this month with all Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats. Our legislation invests in clean and efficient energy, safe drinking water, expanded access to broadband, Brownfield cleanups, and improving our nation’s health care infrastructure,” he said.

But Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., ranking Republican member on the Energy and Commerce committee, took issue with the plan. “On broadband, President Biden is poised to waste billions of dollars and hurt private investment in our networks without actually closing the digital divide,” she said. Rather than promoting competition, President Biden’s plan will set rural America back even further and force higher costs on families. Instead, we should be turbocharging our public and private investments and encouraging competition by streamlining permitting processes,” she said.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, chairwoman of the House Science, Space and Technology committee, commended the Biden plan’s impact on transportation, energy, a cleaner environment, climate change, American manufacturing, research and development, STEM workforce, and equitable engagement for all communities. “The American Jobs Plan is a great start to achieving that goal,” she said.

Broadband Roundup

‘Squid Game’ Exposes Traffic Problem, Virginia’s $2B Broadband Investment, West Virginia Mapping

Netflix hit’s traffic struggle, Virginia expects $2B from P3, op-ed says FCC expects states to get good maps before FCC.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

October 20, 2021––A South Korean broadband company is suing Netflix to cover the cost of the surge in traffic from its hit television show “Squid Game.”

The show, which according to Netflix has more than 100 million streams, became a global hit last month.

The Financial Times reports that SK Broadband, owned by SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest mobile operator, argues that streaming platforms should pay for the congestion on its networks.

The company said that the traffic Netflix generated on its network increased to 1.2 trillion bits of data processing per second since September, an increase that’s equal to 24 times the company’s normal traffic over three years. The company said its network had to be upgraded twice to accommodate the traffic surge caused by customers streaming the show on Netflix.

Local law in South Korea requires the companies with more than 1 million users and using more than 1 percent of total network traffic to pay internet fees to distribute the maintenance costs incurred by broadband providers.

Netflix accounted for almost 5 percent of internet traffic in the fourth quarter and had more than 1.7 million paid subscribers. SK Broadband argues that Netflix must pay more in network usage fees.

Virginia announces $2 billion public-private broadband partnership

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the state expects more than $2 billion in funding for high-speed broadband investments after announcing a public-private partnership with local governments and private internet service providers, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Northam announced that the state received requests to fund 57 projects to expand broadband across 84 localities across Virginia, totaling $943 million in grants. It would be matched by $1.15 billion in private and local government funds.

“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” said Northam. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic has pushed us all to move even faster.

“Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by [2024], which means more connections, more investments, more online learning and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia,” he said.

Northam and the Virginia general assembly appropriate $700 million of the $4.3 billion that Virginia received under the federal emergency aid package to accelerate Virginia’s universal broadband coverage goal. The expected completion has been moved up from 2028 to 2024.

The plan is expected to bring internet access to more than 250,000 homes and businesses.

The state is using federal emergency aid from the American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide in Virginia.

Op-Ed: West Virginia being asked to produce quality broadband maps before FCC

Advocates for more accurate maps say that the federal government is hypocritical in asking West Virginia for more accurate maps than the Federal Communications Commission can produce.

“The state is being asked to produce accurate maps, which the federal government knows full well its own agency did not produce” for the state the invest millions of dollars in federal American Rescue Plan funding for broadband expansion, writes a Wednesday op-ed in the Weirton Daily Times.

The FCC has been under fire for flaws in its broadband mapping data, which was relied upon to produce winners for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which forced the commission to clean-up the result of the reverse auction after finding that some of the money would go toward wasteful spending.

West Virginia’s effort to expand broadband is led by the state Department of Economic Development. State Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael said that if self-reported maps show no service in an area “you can bet your life there’s no service there.”

“There’s a lot more at stake as the department works to get these maps right. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of education and employment in West Virginia is riding on it,” said the Times. “Good luck, then, to Carmichael and his department as they work to clean up yet another federal government mess that has left the Mountain State struggling for too long.”

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Broadband Roundup

New Senate Antitrust Bill Reaction, Charter Making Executive Changes, T-Mobile, Verizon Top Charts

Trade association doesn’t like new antitrust bill, Charter makes changes at the top, T-Mobile leads wireless, Verizon on wireline.

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Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

October 19, 2021 – A Senate antitrust bill introduced Monday that would empower the Federal Trade Commission to further regulate technology companies will harm start ups and small business, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

The trade association, which represents companies across the tech sector, said the American Innovation and Consumer Choice Act – introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa – will “cause irreparable harm to small businesses and startups and put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage against China and other nations eager to overtake our country as global tech leader.”

The bill would prohibit “dominant platforms” from favoring their own products and services to the detriment of competition, stop conduct that is harmful to small businesses including preventing interoperability with big platforms, requiring payment to receive preferential treatment on the big platform, bias search results, and misuse business data to compete against the small companies.

Amazon, for example, was accused of having taken the information of products of smaller companies on its platforms to create their own competing products.

According to the release, the bill received the support of at least 10 other Senators across party lines and companies including Spotify and Roku.

But the CCA said the bill, in empowering the FTC, would allow it to “ignore the consumer welfare standard, while imposing massive fines with minimal due process.

“Further, the bill will take away features and functions that millions of Americans love and use in their everyday lives,” the CCA statement said. “Say goodbye to Amazon Prime free shipping, Google maps in search results, preinstalled iPhone apps and many more.”

The House already has before it six antitrust bills that are awaiting votes.

Charter makes executive changes

Charter announced Tuesday that it is promoting chief financial officer Chris Winfrey to chief operating officer and Jessica Fischer will move from executive vice president to the COO position.

John Bickham will be vice chairman before he retired at the end of 2022, the company also announced in a press release, while chief product and technology officer Rich DiGeronimo will oversee the company’s network operations as an additional responsibility.

“I have worked with John for three decades and at every turn, his knowledge, leadership and steady hand have not only contributed greatly to the success of the companies we led, but made a profound impact on the growth of our industry,” said CEO Tom Rutledge. “I am grateful that John will continue to serve Charter in this new capacity as a strategic advisor to me and the executive team, and his guidance will help ensure a successful transition for Chris into the COO role.”

T-Mobile gets top billing for wireless, Verizon for wireline

According to an Ookla report Monday, T-Mobile ranked as the fastest mobile operator in the country in the third quarter with a median download speed of 62.35 Megabits per second, as Verizon took home the top rank for wireline download speeds at 178.38 Mbps.

For wireless, AT&T was second in speed at 47.42 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 39.91 Mbps. T-Mobile also ranked first in 5G performance with a median speed of 135.17 Mbps, followed by Verizon at 78.94 Mbps and then AT&T at 72.46 Mbps. T-Mobile was also top in 5G availability with 64.4 percent, with AT&T second at 44.8 percent and Verizon third at 34.3 percent.

T-Mobile completed its merger with Sprint last year. It proposed that the combined entity was the only way the companies could compete against the top players and offer a competitive 5G product.

On the wireline side, Cox was second to Verizon on download speed at 168.56 Mbps, followed by Comcast’s Xfinity at 161.87 percent, Spectrum fourth at 143.57 Mbps, AT&T Internet at 132.48 Mbps, and CenturyLink at 59.80 Mbps.

New Jersey had the fastest median download speed on wireline at 158.19 Mbps, followed by New York at 147.46 Mbps, California at 142.56 Mbps, Florida at 141.88 Mbps, and Texas at 140.15 Mbps.

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband Access Barriers, NY Fiber Fees, Arizona Highway Fiber Law, Rosenworcel Reportedly On Way Out

Lower broadband access barriers, NY lawmakers want fiber fee end, Arizona’s fiber on highways, Rosenworcel reportedly not enough for Biden.

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New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner.

October 18, 2021–– James Baller, president of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, argued Friday that states should lower barriers to broadband deployment by making public-private partnerships more accessible.

Speaking with Pew Charitable Trusts, Baller says that he’s happy to see states “stepping forward aggressively” in expanding broadband their states’ communities, “especially underserved ones.”

However, states have barriers that prevent local broadband initiatives and public private partnerships from forming, Baller says. “Some states prevent local governments from taking full advantage of available federal or state funds. That has to change.”

In the project planning stage, Baller says “the public entity must map out how it or its partners will deal with various funding, structural, governance, and regulatory issues, including rights-of-way, pole attachments, and easements”

“Things will surely get better as a result of the lessons from these experience and the substantial influx of federal, state, local, and private funding for broadband that we’ll see over the next few years” Baller says

He says in the past year, there has been greater recognition that states have a critical role in accelerating broadband deployment, adoption, and use. States’ responsibility in delivering broadband can be reflected in the growing number of state offices dedicated to broadband deployment initiatives.

The pandemic, however, may be easing restrictions on community networks.

NY legislators want to end fiber fees to increase broadband deployment

New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner joins the NY legislator push to end fiber optic right-of-way fees in the state, according to a Monday report from Observer Today.

Woerner has introduced a bill in the assembly to amend the state’s highway law to prohibit the state from including fees in its agreements with fiber optic utility.

Her support follows Senator George Borrello’s proposal to end the right-of way fees to stimulate greater broadband deployment in New York. Her proposal would deem any existing agreements unenforceable but would allow the state to keep money it already collected. Since the fiber optic fee was established in 2019, the state collected $330,000 from fiber optic companies.

Senator Borello argues that broadband access is “akin to running water and electricity.” He noted that fiber optic providers are being charged for the same rights of way for which other utilities are given free access.

The continuing lack of broadband service in rural regions of New York is an inequity highlighted by the pandemic because of how parents in his district responded to the 2020 lockdown. “Parents in my district have been driven to desperate measures to assure their kids can get online and do their schoolwork, including parking for hours in fast-food parking lots for the wi-fi access.” This is “utterly unacceptable” he said.

Arizona transportation department laying fiber along highway

The Arizona Department of Transportation began laying fiberoptic broadband cables along a 46-mile stretch of highway in northern Arizona last week.

The initiative was established by the Arizona DOT and the Arizona Commerce Authority to “create more affordable opportunities to provide more rural communities in Arizona with high-speed internet service,” according to an Arizona government press release.

According to the DOT, the purpose of the project is to install a high-speed fiber topic “backbone” that connects the state’s existing Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) devices with new ITS improvements.

The DOT said it plans to use the fiber to provide additional “smart highway” technology. The Arizona government says they will start using overhead message boards, message boards, traffic cameras, weather stations, and wrong way driving detection technology. The state government is hopeful that the infrastructure “will help lay the groundwork for emerging technology like connected and automated vehicles.”

Arizona’s broadband initiative, championed by Governor Doug Ducey, was sponsored in the legislator by Republican Rep. Regina Cobb. This latest fiberoptic installation follows the fiber optic conduits placed in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. The state has also installed a stretch of fiber optic cables for dust detection and warning systems. Construction is expected to last until summer of 2022.

FCC Acting Chair Rosenworcel on way out, report claims

Citing sources, a report in the Washington Examiner Sunday said Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel will not be selected by President Joe Biden as the permanent head of the agency because she’s not liberal enough.

The report, citing four unnamed sources, said Biden wants someone like Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Lina Khan, who has held anti-monopoly and critical views of big technology companies.

“Jessica has been around a long time, and she’s a real professional, but she’s not someone who is looking to revolutionize the FCC in the way Lina Khan is at the FTC,” the report said, citing a person familiar with Rosenworcel’s situation.

“The problem is Jessica is perceived as not progressive enough, and the administration feels the left wing of the party doesn’t support her. She has no sizzle,” the person added.

The agency’s four-person commission has been stuck in a party deadlock, with two Democratic and two Republican commissioners. Senators, educational institutions and former FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly have all called for Rosenworcel — who was selected by Biden as interim head following his inauguration — to be made permanent. Democrats have reportedly been frustrated with Biden’s delay.

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