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Alabama Dispenses $17M In Broadband Funds, New Broadband Mapping Insight, Pipeline Attack

Ivey announces $17 million to deploy broadband, Microsoft data for broadband map, and “Robin Hood” group involved in pipeline attack.

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Photo of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey

May 11, 2021—Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey awarded broadband providers nearly $17 million in funding to improve and deploy broadband infrastructure to un(der)served communities in the state.

The awards were announced in a press release on the governor’s website. Though the awards may have been prompted by the ongoing pandemic, Ivey stated that this is not a new issue.

“The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced what we already knew; that Alabama’s broadband coverage is an issue we must continue addressing.”

The funds in question were a part of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund, which was established by the Alabama Legislature in 2018. The fund is administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, “Access to broadband can make all the difference in the world to a family or rural business,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said, “ADECA is pleased to join Governor Ivey in this program that is making real differences in the lives of Alabamians.”

This is not the first time the fund has dispensed awards. In 2020, the fund dispensed $12.4 million to finance two separate expansion efforts featuring multiple ISPs across several counties. This most recent round of funding was directed toward 20 projects across Alabama. Qualified ISPs could apply for grants up to $1.5 million per project and could apply separately for multiple projects.

The Verge publishes interactive broadband map

On Monday, the Verge published an interactive broadband map that illustrated the extent to which the U.S. still lacks sufficient broadband.

The map highlighted counties where less than 15 percent of residents have access to speeds of 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload. The map reflects the regional disparity in the Digital Divide; while some regions, like the North East, have few regions highlighted, the West, Midwest, South West, appear to fair far worse—some with more counties without broadband speeds than with.

The data used to construct the map was pulled from Microsoft’s cloud services network and published publicly online. As noted in the Verge’s coverage, there are significant discrepancies between Microsoft’s data and the FCC’s. The Verge pointed to Lincoln County, WA., where the FCC states that 100 percent of residents have broadband coverage, compared to Microsoft’s data which indicates only five percent of residents have broadband.

Insufficient mapping only compounds the challenge of closing the digital divide and realizing the Biden administration’s goal of universal broadband by 2030.

The inaccuracy of FCC broadband mapping has been noted by experts in the past. Critics have pointed out that it is difficult to roll out broadband deployment strategies without accurate maps, but the issue persists.

Hackers behind Colonial Pipeline breach identified

The Colonial Pipeline was subjected to a ransomware attack that exploited a security flaw in the pipeline’s system, which resulted in the pipeline being shut down by its operators out of an abundance of caution. When it was functioning, the pipeline provided gas and jet fuel for nearly half of the east coast.

The FBI has identified the hacker group DarkSide as the perpetrators of ransomware attack. Often compared to the folk tale of Robin Hood, the group uses ransomware attacks as a business model, extorting wealthy organizations and individuals and donating a portion of their ill-gotten gains to charity.

The group claims to never target “hospitals, hospices, schools, universities, non-profit organizations, or the government sector,” has stated that its goal is not to create havoc for society, and that they do not have any political motives or aspirations for power; the group insists that their only motivation is money.

As of Tuesday, the Colonial Pipeline shutdown has been going on for four days.

This is not the first attack on U.S. infrastructure, but it is one of the worst. In February of 2021, the FBI identified an attempted attack on Tampa’s municipal water treatment system, where a hacker added 100 times the necessary level of lye to the water supply in an apparent attempt to poison residents. Thanks to the quick actions of a plant operator, the levels were reset before anyone could be injured in the attack.

The U.S. is already grappling with the alleged Russian cyberattack on software company SolarWinds, one of the most significant in recent memory.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Broadband Breakfast, Washington Jewish Week, and The Center Square, among other publications. He primarily covers Big Tech and spectrum policy.

Broadband Roundup

AT&T Speeds Tiers, Wisconsin Governor on Broadband Assistance, Broadband as Public Utility

AT&T now has a 5 gigabit speeds for residential and business customers in 70 additional markets.

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Governor Tony Evers
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers

January 25, 2022 – AT&T announced Monday the launch of symmetrical 2-gigabit and 5-gigabit residential and business broadband services to over 70 US markets.

The speed packages come with unlimited data with no additional equipment fees and don’t require annual contracts. The monthly price for the 2-Gig service is $110 per month for residential, or $225 per month for businesses, and the 5-Gig package is $180 per month for residential or $395 per month for businesses.

AT&T also boasts that it has reached 10-Gig speeds in the lab, but have yet to roll it out to customers.

Wisconsin governor encourages residents to apply for broadband assistance

Governor Tony Evers on Monday encouraged residents to apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program, a program that was administered by the Federal Communications Commission late last year and acts as an extension of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

According to BroadbandNow data, in Wisconsin, only about 20 percent of the estimated 650,000 eligible households were enrolled in the program, which represents approximately 1.6 million people and provides discounts of up to $30 a month for eligible households and up to $75 a month for homes on tribal lands.

Eligible households are also able to receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet.

The FCC on Friday adopted new rules for the program, which includes limiting the subsidy to one per households to get more homes connected and making it easier for providers, who collect the money, to qualify for the upgraded program.

U.S. Senate candidate calls for broadband to be considered public utility

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Godlewski published Tuesday a plan that included a call for a push to make broadband a public utility.

Currently, 173,000 Wisconsinites do not have access to any internet provider, and 836,000 Wisconsinites only have access to one provider.

Godlewski promised that if she is elected to the Senate, she would “engage” and “ensure that Washington politicians finally start hearing Wisconsin’s rural voices.”

“In the 21st century, broadband internet access can no longer be treated as a luxury. [Goldewski] wants to make the internet a public utility in order to provide everyone in Wisconsin with guaranteed access to reliable and affordable internet service,” a Tuesday press release said.

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Broadband Roundup

New Multitenant Proposal Praised, Dutch Fine Apple, Cameron Comms Expands in Louisiana

Associations including INCOMPAS and WISPA applaud new multitenant proposal.

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Apple CEO Time Cook

January 24, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel‘s proposal Friday to impose new rules that would ban some, but stopped short of other, exclusivity agreements between internet service providers and multitenant units is being lauded by some.

The proposal would ban exclusive revenue sharing agreements, in which the landlord gets a share of service provider contracts; require providers disclose to tenants “in plain language” the existence of exclusive marketing arrangements; and clarifies rules to allow for multiple service providers to use building wires to deliver service. The proposal will now go to a vote by the commission.

“For far too long monopolies have locked out broadband competition and blocked faster speeds, lower prices, and better service to a hundred million Americans who live in apartments and condo buildings. We are encouraged to hear that Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has taken action to move forward on an Order in the proceeding,” Chip Pickering, CEO of Internet and Competitive Networks Association (INCOMPAS), said in a statement.

“We look forward to working with Chairwoman Rosenworcel and the entire FCC to forge a bipartisan decision that will enable every customer to choose their broadband provider and will lead to more competition bringing faster speeds, better customer service, and lower prices.”

In its own statement Monday, the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association applauded the proposal. “WISPA members have long-sought to open up the underserved Multi-Dwelling/Multi-Tenant marketplace to more providers,” the statement said. “We believe that the Chairwoman’s work represents great forward progress on the matter, which, when completed, should help consumers experience better and more affordable offerings for their broadband services.”

In submissions to the FCC late last year, housing and public interest groups urged the agency to ban all forms of exclusivity agreements, including marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, that they said lessened service provider competition for tenants.

Dutch antitrust authorities fine Apple

Dutch antitrust authorities have fined Apple €5 million after the company failed to adhere to an order to support third-party, alternative payment systems.

The Authority for Consumer Markets issued the fine on Monday a little more than a week after Apple said it would comply with the body’s order on Jan. 15; the ACM maintains Apple failed to comply. Apple was originally ordered to make changes back in December.

Though Apple is appealing the fine, according to Reuters, ACM said that the company would face weekly fines beginning at €5 million, going up to €50 million.

This comes after a slew of alleged antitrust violations levied against Apple in both the United States and European Union.

Cameron Communications expands in Louisiana

American Broadband Holding Company subsidiary Cameron Communications announced Monday its expansion into Westlake, Louisiana where it will deploy fiber-to-the-premises services and gigabit speeds for both residents and businesses.

The expansion into Westlake is a part of a broader initiative to further serve rural communities in the region, the company said in a statement.

“We believe everyone should have access to quality and reliable internet service and are excited to provide the Westlake community with an offering that brings the future of communications and entertainment into their homes and businesses,” Cameron Communications General Manager Bruce Petry said in the statement. “We understand the needs of Westlake customers because we have decades of expertise serving this region of the state and navigating the challenges that come with it.”

Cameron Communications is based out of southern Louisiana but maintains networks throughout the state and in several localities in Texas.

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Broadband Roundup

Biden’s Involvement in 5G, Residential 5 Gbps in Northwest, New Technology Advisory Council

The president urged wireless carriers to comply with the aviation industry’s requests for further delays on new network launches.

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January 21, 2022 – President Joe Biden says he pushed wireless carriers to accommodate aviation companies’ concerns about the networks’ launch of 5G that occurred Wednesday.

Biden encouraged carriers to give airlines even more time to examine their aviation equipment for possible interference with 5G before the new network updates were launched.

Verizon and AT&T announced Tuesday that they would limit 5G service around some airports, giving in to some of the aviation industry’s concerns.

Both companies had initially planned to launch their network changes on January 5 but further delayed launch at the request of airlines. January 5 was already a delayed launch date, with the companies having earlier planned rollout for 2021.

“What I’ve done is pushed as hard as I can to have the 5G folks hold up and abide by what was being requested by the airlines until they could more modernize over the years, so 5G would not interfere with the potential of a landing” said Biden following the events of Wednesday’s launch.

He says he spoke with Verizon and AT&T on the same day the launch took place.

The president did not mention any government fixes to the conflict, saying it was an argument between “two private enterprises,” despite speculation that following the messy fight the administration may develop a national spectrum strategy or the Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration may release updated memoranda on the issues.

Ziply Fiber offers 5 Gigabit per second residential service

Internet service provider Ziply Fiber announced it has begun offering ultra-high-speed 5 Gigabit per second (Gbps) and 2 Gbps residential fiber internet service to customers in several cities across the Northwest.

The expansion in Washington state, Oregon and Idaho makes Ziply Fiber the first company to introduce a 5 Gbps speed for residential services, the company said.

In its announcement Thursday, the company says the expansion will bring service to nearly 170,000 residential customer addresses across 60 cities and towns.

Ziply Fiber began building out fiber in Northwest markets in 2020 and has announced construction of 57 fiber projects since then.

The company plans to introduce its 5 Gbps and 2 Gbps service in Montana later in Q1 of 2022.

FCC sets stage for new TAC membership

The FCC has appointed a new group of members to serve on its Technology Advisory Council and set a February 28 date for its first meeting with the new class.

“The advisory council provides technical expertise to the Commission to identify important areas of innovation and develop informed technology policies,” according to the FCC.

Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the new membership Wednesday with the commission’s press release calling them “a diverse group of leading technology experts.”

Dean Brenner, a former Qualcomm executive, will serve as chairman of the council, Michael Ha, chief of the policy and rules division in the Office of Engineering and Technology, will continue to serve as the designated federal officer and Martin Doczkat, chief of the electromagnetic compatibility division in the OET, is the alternate designated federal officer.

Rosenworcel highlighted that the council will work on advancing 6G research as well as numerous other issues such as examining both supply chain vulnerabilities and global standards development.

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