Connect with us

Expert Opinion

Tarun George: Unleashing the True Power of LTE Networks for Machines

With the growing requirements of low-latency, high-speed networks, the transition to 5G has become paramount, particularly for internet of things.

Published

on

The author of this Expert Opinion is Tarun George, co-founder of Cavli Wireless.

Although the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) Release 15 has officially commenced the distribution of the 5th Generation of Telecommunication (5G) networks, the adoption of legacy mobile technologies that long reigned in the market such as LTE (Long Term Revolution) is still continuing to gain momentum.

3GPP or the 3rd Generation Partnership Project is a combined project that caters to a huge range of telecommunication networks in the world. It aims at developing widely acceptable specifications for the third generation era of mobile communication systems that includes telecommunication technologies including radio access, core networks, and services.

The major focus for all 3GPP Releases is to make the system backward and forward compatible where possible, to ensure that the operation of the user equipment is uninterrupted. A good example of this principle was the priority placed on backward compatibility between LTE and LTE-Advanced so that an LTE-A terminal can work in an LTE cell and an LTE terminal works in the LTE-A cell.

Growing requirements for low-latency, high speed networks for machines

With the growing requirements of low-latency, high-speed networks and the ability to service more devices than ever before, the transition of 2G/3G/4G to 5G has become paramount. This is accelerated by the deployment of massive IoT, or internet of things.

The burgeoning number of connected devices led to the need for a dedicated low-power wide-area cellular IoT network. 3GPP responded to it with two technologies LTE-M (short for LTE for machines) and NB-IoT, which refers to narrowband IoT.

LTE-M has been made the de facto choice when crucial data has to be sent on a real-time basis with sufficient bandwidth and network speeds to address the needs of M2M communication. With the 3GPP Release 14, the speed of LTE-M has been upgraded by launching LTE-M2 which boasts 4Mbps speeds compared to 1Mbps from the previous generation which can be translated to use cases with higher bandwidth requirements and for devices in mobility & voice capabilities.

Ever since its release in 2010, several Mobile Network Operators (MNO) across the world have heavily invested in the LTE network rollouts, towards the transition from 2G/3G to 4G. Large-scale global deployment of LTE networks has contributed towards improved network coverage, easily available, and affordable high-speed devices.

Figure: LTE subscriptions forecast 2016-2020 (Image Source: GSA)

As reported by the GSA, the contribution of LTE to mobile subscribers has steadily climbed up the ladder over the years. The source reported that the end of 2016 witnessed a massive increase in the number of global LTE subscribers that reached up to 1.52 Bn. It has also forecasted that the number of 4G connections is expected to double by 2020 moving from 23% in 2016 to 45% in 2020. GSA predicts that the number of LTE subscribers would hit 3.8 Bn by the end of 2020.

LTE-M, the industry term for LTE MTC (LTE – Machine Type Communication), which refers explicitly to LTE-M1, is an abbreviation for Long Term Evolution (4G) category M1 or Long Term Evolution of Machines. The radio technology is a standards-based protocol that offers extended indoor and subterranean coverage and is apt for Low Power Wide Area IoT applications, supporting a battery life for smart devices longer than 10 years.

Applications and Use Cases of LTE-M

LTE-M supports several low-power IoT applications such as sensor monitoring, asset tracking, fleet tracking (Fleet Management Solutions), applications that real-time communication, industry 4.0 applications, etc. Use cases include Smart Utility Metering, Fleet Management Solutions, Patient monitoring systems, Asset management solutions, Preventive Maintenance, etc. A total of 32 countries around the world have LTE-M1 coverage through 45 Mobile Network Operators (MNO) as of April 2020.

Fleet Management Solution

Fleet Management Solutions enable SMBs & Enterprises to optimize schedules and routes for their logistics department – be it for vehicles that are traversing interstate or heavy engineering vehicles that move within predefined geo-fences. With LTE-M coverage, be able to remotely optimize vehicle routes, monitor driver behaviour, increase productivity, cost-efficiency, and obtain the efficiency of your fleets.

Smart Utility Metering

With the need for intelligent and sustainable environments, smart city projects are today gaining much traction. Energy distribution authorities can remotely monitor and control the distribution and consumption of resources at any given location with Smart Utility Metering solutions.

Predictive Maintenance

In environments like factories and industries, heavy machines and equipment would require a timely inspection to detect signs of wear or tear. IoT-enabled techniques are designed to help determine the condition of in-service equipment in order to estimate when maintenance should be performed. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is making this easier for the user by using Predictive Maintenance solutions to forecast and detect anomalies before fault incidents.

Micro-mobility

Micro-mobility services offer an eco-friendly, cost-effective answer to hectic traffic congestion. They bring together a diversity of stakeholders such as traffic authorities, product manufacturers, platform operators, and government agencies to make transportation safer, cleaner, efficient and reliable.
“IoT can finally achieve true mobility with LTE-M. Devices can move unrestricted over a wide range, opening up new application opportunities that would otherwise be impossible using 3G or 4G. LTE-M is the best low power solution for tracking applications, and Orange has been a pioneer in LTE-M across Europe along with the best reach through roaming coverage,” said John Mathew of Cavli.

The Decline of 2G: LTE-M is Here to Reign

Originally designed for voice calling in mobile communications and for applications requiring small amounts of data, 2G networks are popularly known for their reliability but sadly infamous for being among the slowest cellular connections in the market. This makes it difficult to achieve stable connectivity in hard-to-reach areas. With the bandwidth levels reaching their peak in the frequency range allocated for 2G, a new standard technology for its replacement is inevitable given the large adoption of smart connected devices/products in the years to come.

When compared to 2G, LTE-M networks offer a better solution in terms of remote coverage, data speeds, higher bandwidth & network capacity, longer battery life, and low device cost. While the transition remains challenging in several regions where IoT use cases such as Light Vehicle/Asset Tracking relies on 2G, it’s about time that regulators and IoT product makers alike need to realize why LTE-M is the future of connected things. In most cases, simply adding a new modem to the existing infrastructure could be an easy solution. Although an entire replacement of the outdated infrastructure could potentially increase device functionality.

Years of experience handling business operations and marketing equipped Tarun George with the prerequisites to lead as the Chief Operating Officer at Cavli Wireless, Inc. since 2017. Prior to Cavli, Tarun built a long and polished track in the ICT industry, covering the spectrum of operational, regulatory as well as the investment and Venture Capital perspectives. At Cavli, he provides a wide array of expertise for day-to-day operations and global strategy. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

Expert Opinion

Christopher Mitchell: Brendan Carr is Wrong on the Treasury Department’s Broadband Rules

The Federal Communications Commission has no excuse for why the agency finished with the same bad data it started with.

Published

on

The author of this Expert Opinion is Chris Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at Institute for Local Self-Reliance

With all due respect to Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carrhis reaction to the Rescue Plan Act’s State and Local Fiscal Relief Fund (SLFRF) spending rules is way off base. As I wrote last week, the rules for broadband infrastructure spending are a good model for pushing down decision-making to the local level where people actually have the information to make informed decisions. (Doug Dawson recently also responded to Commissioner Carr’s statement, offering a response with some overlap of the points below.)

See Christopher Mitchell, Treasury Department Rescue Plan Act Rules Improve Broadband Funding, Broadband Breakfast, January 13, 2022

The Final Rule from the Treasury Department gives broad discretion to local and state governments that choose to spend some of the SLFRF (SLurF-uRF) funds on broadband infrastructure. The earlier draft of rules made it more complicated for networks built to address urban affordability challenges.

However, in coming out against the rules, FCC Commissioner Carr is giving voice to the anger of the big cable and telephone monopolies that cities can, after collecting evidence of need, make broadband investments even in areas where those companies may be selling services already. Commissioner Carr may also be frustrated that he has been reduced to chirping from the sidelines on this issue because the previous FCC, under his party’s leadership, so badly bungled broadband subsidies in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) that Congress decide NTIA should administer these funds and have the state distribute them.

Nonetheless, the issues that Commissioner Carr raised are common talking points inside the Beltway and we feel that they need to be addressed.

Background Note

The failure of the FCC to assemble an accurate data collection is many years in the making. No single presidential administration can take the full blame for it, but each of them could have corrected it.

President Joe Biden’s FCC is not yet fully assembled because of delays in appointment and in Senate confirmation, but it would not be reasonable to lay blame on the current FCC for the failures discussed below. That said, it is not clear that we are on a course for having better maps and data that will resolve these problems anytime soon.

Commissioner Carr’s Criticism 

Commissioner Carr jumps immediately into the rural vs urban frame, suggesting that the Biden Administration could leave rural families behind by allowing local governments to invest in broadband in areas where an existing provider may already claim to offer service. Outlawing this practice – which he and others close to the largest cable and telephone companies call “overbuilding” – has been a major point for Republican FCC Commissioners.

  • Rather than directing those dollars to the rural and other communities without any Internet infrastructure today, the Administration gives the green light for recipients to spend those funds on overbuilding existing, high-speed networks in communities that already have multiple broadband providers. This would only deepen the digital divide in this country.

Pardon me? Logically, it is not clear what exactly Commissioner Carr is griping about here. Using Maryland as an example, if Baltimore is allowed to spend some of its funds to ensure unconnected families in public housing have high-quality Internet access, it is not clear that rural Garrett County in the western part of the state is harmed. Local governments do not receive different amounts of funds based on whether they spend it on broadband or other allowable expenses.

See Christopher Mitchell and other from the Institute for Local Self Reliance in the Broadband Breakfast Live Online for Wednesday, January 19, 2022 — The Community Broadband Network Approach to Infrastructure Funding

Broadband Breakfast on January 19, 2022 — The Community Broadband Network Approach to Infrastructure Funding

States could be the issue. Perhaps Commissioner Carr is concerned that Maryland will use some of its SLFRF money for broadband and it will spend too much in urban areas rather than rural regions. That would be an historical anomaly, even though there are far more people living in urban areas than in rural areas who are not on the Internet. And yet, nearly all state and federal dollars have gone to rural areas for infrastructure improvements, with very little being spent to help the low-income families left behind in urban areas. There is no history of states prioritizing urban investments over rural.

Bad Data, Srsly?

What I found really galling though was this bit:

  • It gets worse. The Treasury rules allow these billions of dollars to be spent based on bad data. It does this by authorizing recipients to determine whether an area lacks access to high-speed Internet service by relying on informal interviews and reports—however inaccurate those may be—rather than the broadband maps that the federal government has been funding and standing up

It is 2022. The FCC announced three weeks ago that it did not have a timeline for better maps.  Many of us have complained for more than 10 years about the misleading and inaccurate collection of claims that the FCC advances as its understanding of where broadband exists in the United States.

Commissioner Carr has been an FCC Commissioner for more than four years, nearly all of that time when his agency was run by a Republican. For part of that time, the Republicans controlled the Presidency, the House, and the Senate. They have no excuse for why his party’s FCC finished with the same bad data processes it started with. No one was defending the FCC data or maps during those years, but the FCC did not bother to begin collecting new data.

Now Commissioner Carr claims that “parts of this country” have broadband services at speeds near 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. OK, Commissioner. Where? Do you have a secret list? No, these are talking points to obscure the fact that Commissioner Carr and his agency has utterly failed to track precisely what “parts of this country” actually has access to broadband.

Will I agree that most, perhaps 80 percent, of the country has access to 100 by 20 Mbps? Yes. But that doesn’t matter if no one can agree which homes are well-served. And it opens up a whole other set of questions that Carr neatly sidesteps, which is that contemporary broadband service goes beyond the academic question of whether an ISP provides that service most of the time at some price. If the price isn’t affordable, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Or as we like to say, if it’s not affordable, it’s not accessible. And, if the service is not very reliable, then there is a problem that must be addressed.

This is why the final rule is both necessary and good: because it allows communities the flexibility they need to address not just the gaps in infrastructure, but reliability and affordability as well. But of course Commissioner Carr should know that we do not have this information at the federal level, because I’m quite sure he opposes collecting pricing and other information. Despite the many instances in which providers have lied to the Commission in presenting the areas they offer service, Carr objects per se to local evidence gathered via interviews to understand where broadband actually is.

A Prediction: This Is Not A Problem

It is remarkable to see the amount of performative horror Commissioner Carr expresses at the prospect of a city like Baltimore using some of the Rescue Plan dollars to ensure its families in public housing are on the Internet, even if a cable provider could theoretically sell them Internet access for $75/month, or provide a subsidized service if they jump through all the right hoops. Compare that to the silence from the Commissioner when it became clear that the largest telephone companies took billions of dollars in broadband subsidies and might have forgotten to upgrade their services.

The SLFRF Treasury Rules give the appropriate amount of deference to local and state leaders to act in an utter void of information about what is available to each home. Commissioner Carr is deeply worried – because the largest cable and telephone companies are deeply worried – that some places will use these dollars to build networks that are unneeded or would create too much competition for the existing companies.

My prediction is that communities will not do this. Of course it’s not zero: a cardinal rule of dealing with large numbers of humans is that there are always outliers. But of the cities that allocate some of their SLFRF dollars to broadband infrastructure, they will overwhelmingly focus on areas where there are real affordability and reliability challenges from existing services. The reality is that very few of these investments will result in any material losses to existing ISPs, but the monopoly providers know that even modestly opening the door to locally built and operated infrastructure driven by community-driven solutions could open the floodgates to the competition they fear so much.

Commissioner Carr has spent years as one of a very small number of people that could correct the abject failure of the FCC to collect useful information about broadband deployments. The rest of us have had to move on and figure out how to work in the absence of data. The best option is to allow for local decision-making where they can collect evidence and act. And most importantly, they will have to take responsibility for their actions and lack of action in ways that FCC Commissioners often do not.

Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. His work focuses on helping communities ensure that the telecommunications networks upon which they depend are accountable to the community. He was honored as one of the 2012 Top 25 in Public Sector Technology by Government Technology, which honors the top “Doers, Drivers, and Dreamers” in the nation each year. This piece was originally published on MuniNetworks.org on January 20, 2022, and is reprinted with permission.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Continue Reading

Expert Opinion

Ron Yokubaitis: GOP Putting Partisanship over Reform with Gigi Sohn’s FCC Nomination

Nominated by President Biden as Federal Communications Commissioner, Sohn understands the real reason net neutrality is necessary.

Published

on

The author of the Expert Opinion is Ron Yokubaitis, CEO of Golden Frog

The Federal Communications Commission has persistently gotten communications wrong for the past 20 years, even before broadband was a thing.

The commission was supposed to oversee telecommunications networks while leaving the then-nascent internet alone for the most part, but they dropped the ball. Gigi Sohn is the right person to help the FCC get back to its open access roots.

The 1996 Congress envisioned an open, interconnected, interoperable and user-centric internet that offers users “control over the information they receive” and facilitates “diversity of political discourse.” Congress knew that these goals necessarily required an underlying telecommunications infrastructure that was also robustly competitive and itself open, interconnected and interoperable. That is why they enacted new laws basically adopting and extending the FCC’s even then longstanding Computer Inquiries regime that made the internet possible to begin with.

“Broadband” is now provided over fiber. Even broadband wireless requires fiber for backhaul. These are telecommunications facilities, that are – or should be – subject to the FCC’s regulatory jurisdiction. Firms providing fiber-based transmission for a fee are – or should be – common carriers. That, in turn, means they must interconnect, interoperate with and sell network access to other telecommunications carriers and those who provide information services on reasonable terms.

Computer Inquiry, the 1980s AT&T and GTE divestitures and the 1996 legislation all so required. But the FCC went rogue in the late 1990s. It allowed the dominant telephone and cable companies to close their local infrastructure, which allowed them to dominate mass-market internet access. The FCC purposefully killed most local market competition. Most independent internet service providers and competitive local exchange carriers were then forced out of business. Only a few major players still compete at the local level, and it is they who control mass-market “access to the internet” over “Broadband.”

Texas.net dueled early in the Lone Star state with Southwestern Bell

I started Texas.Net in 1994. We were one of the first independent ISPs in Texas. Southwestern Bell controlled the local network, and it soon started limiting our ability to get the lines we had to have so our customers could get to the internet. We turned to competitive local exchange carriers, and even became one ourselves.

SWBT and the other incumbent carriers convinced the FCC to limit competitors’ access to the last-mile connections serving homes and small businesses. The FCC refused to enforce its Time Warner Cable open access mandate. More than 7,000 independent ISPs were put out of business. That is why the telephone and cable companies now have a largely unregulated mass-market telecommunications and internet access duopoly.

“Net neutrality” was and is necessary only because of the FCC’s decision to close access to local infrastructure. America will continue to suffer high cost, rationed broadband telecommunications and internet for residential, small business, rural and high-cost customers for so long as the FCC allows and encourages the telephone and cable companies’ domination over local network access. The FCC must return to its “open access” roots.

Sohn is practical and willing to compromise in seeking bipartisan solutions

I have known Gigi Sohn since she led Public Knowledge. She understands that net neutrality is just a patch and the real solution is true open access to the underlying local telecommunications infrastructure. I certainly don’t agree with 100% of Sohn’s viewpoints, and we’ve told her so. But even when we disagree our voices are heard, understood and considered. She is practical and willing to compromise. She will seek bipartisan solutions to the real problem.

The Republicans’ effort to derail Gigi Sohn’s nomination to the FCC is misguided. All it does is cripple the FCC’s ability to return to its roots and do what is truly necessary to get America up to speed with the rest of the developed world when it comes to advanced infrastructure in general and internet ubiquity in particular. This is too important a moment for partisan gamesmanship. Billions of dollars and the connectivity of millions of Americans are at stake.

Sohn is the right person at the right moment in history. Her 30 years of experience in telecom, broadband and technology policy, her strong commitment to the First Amendment and diversity of viewpoints, and her work to promote a competitive environment where consumers are best served more than qualify her to be an FCC Commissioner.

Ron Yokubaitis is CEO of Golden Frog, a company dedicated to protecting internet privacy online, and a director of sister company Giganews, a global provider of Usenet. Both are headquartered in Austin, Texas. This Expert Opinion is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Continue Reading

Expert Opinion

Christopher Mitchell: Treasury Department Rescue Plan Act Rules Improve Broadband Funding

The Treasury Department has resolved all of the concerns that the Institute for Local Self Reliance identified in May.

Published

on

The author of this Expert Opinion is Chris Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Communities across the United States got an unexpected gift from the Biden Administration last week in the form of additional flexibility to use Rescue Plan funds for needed broadband investments, particularly those focused on low-income neighborhoods in urban areas.

When Congress developed and passed the American Rescue Plan Act, it tasked the Treasury Department with writing the rules for some key programs, including the State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). That program is distributing $350 billion to local and state governments, which can use it for a variety of purposes that include broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion efforts.

Treasury released an Interim Final Rule in May, 2021, detailing how local governments would be allowed to invest in broadband. I promptly freaked out, at the restrictions and complications that I (and others) feared would result in local governments backing away from needed broadband investments due to fears of being out of compliance with the rule.

After we worked with numerous local leaders and the National League of Cities to explain the problems we saw in the proposed rule, Treasury released updated guidance in the form of a Q&A document to explain how local governments would be able to build and partner for needed networks.

Given the many challenges the Biden Administration has had to deal with, we did not expect significant new changes to the Rescue Plan rules around the SLFRF. But after many months of deliberations, the Treasury Department has resolved all of the concerns that we identified as areas of concern in May.

As we explain below, local governments have wide latitude to use SLFRF funds for a variety of needed broadband infrastructure investments, especially to resolve affordability challenges.

Summary and TL;DR

The rest of this post will cover some key points in the Final Rule with references to the text in the hopes that it will help communities better understand their options and share key passages with their advisers and attorneys.

The SLFRF Final Rule weighs in at just under 500 pages and comes with an overview. The overview focuses on broadband on pages 39-40 and includes this summary toward the beginning:

Recipients may fund high-speed broadband infrastructure in areas of need that the recipient identifies, such as areas without access to adequate speeds, affordable options, or where connections are inconsistent or unreliable; completed projects must participate in a low-income subsidy program.

The relevant broadband infrastructure sections of the final rule are on pages 260-264 and 294-313. Pages 85-90 focus on digital inclusion, which is relevant and overlapping depending on community plans.

In general, the SLFRF has simplified the rules to give more flexibility to state and local governments (across all of the eligible uses, not just broadband infrastructure). The original rule focused on areas lacking reliable 25/3 Mbps service – with a big focus on the word “reliable.” But there is no mention of 25/3 in the Final Rule.

Local governments do still have to make a determination that they are building the network to solve one of the problems that SLFRF uses as a trigger to allow broadband infrastructure investments, but they do not have to get approval from Treasury or any other entity. More detail below, but the triggers include lack of access to a reliable 100/100 connection or lack of access to affordable broadband service.

Any network built with SLFRF must be designed to deliver 100 Mbps download and upload, with the ability to do only 100/20 Mbps in some situations. That is the same as in the Interim Final Rule but now networks must also support the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) for as long as the program exists.

Qualifying to Use SLFRF for Broadband Infrastructure

Treasury set the tone for the revisions by noting on page 261:

  • Treasury recognizes that there may be a need for improvements to broadband beyond those households and businesses with limited existing service as defined in the interim final rule.

This was a primary concern we heard from cities back in May – that the focus on served/unserved/underserved based on available broadband speeds did not adequately address the problems they faced, even with a strong caveat about reliability.

Cities may have 100 percent high-speed cable coverage but still have neighborhoods where many people are not able to access a broadband Internet connection due to challenges common to impoverished households. Treasury listened to these comments and adjusted the Rule (page 302 – emphasis added):

  • The final rule expands eligible areas for investment by requiring recipients to invest in projects designed to provide service to households and businesses with an identified need for additional broadband infrastructure investment. Recipients have flexibility to identify a need for additional broadband infrastructure investment: examples of need include lack of access to a connection that reliably meets or exceeds symmetrical 100 Mbps download and upload speeds, lack of affordable access to broadband service, or lack of reliable broadband service. Recipients are encouraged to prioritize projects that are designed to provide service to locations not currently served by a wireline connection that reliably delivers at least 100 Mbps of download speed and 20 Mbps of upload speed, as many commenters indicated that those without such service constitute hard-to-reach areas in need of subsidized broadband deployment.

Local governments need to identify areas where at least some households lack high-speed services, or lack affordable access, or lack reliable broadband Internet service. As Treasury has made very clear, not every housing unit served by a network has to meet this condition (pages 302-303 emphasis added):

  • Households and businesses with an identified need for additional broadband  infrastructure investment do not have to be the only ones in the service area served by an eligible broadband infrastructure project. Indeed, serving these households and businesses may require a holistic approach that provides service to a wider area, for example, in order to make ongoing service of certain households or businesses within the service area economical.

We believe that a good source of data that can demonstrate an affordability or other problem that justifies broadband investment is where schools have sent mobile wireless hotspots home with students. This is a data set that nearly every school district should already have.

How to Prove an Area Qualifies

Even though local governments do not have to get approval for their determination that an area qualifies for this SLFRF expenditure, Treasury provides guidance for what evidence municipalities should consider in making the determination (page 303):

  • Consistent with further guidance issued by Treasury, in determining areas for investment, recipients may choose to consider any available data, including but not limited to documentation of existing broadband internet service performance, federal and/or state collected broadband data, user speed test results, interviews with community members and business owners, reports from community organizations, and any other information they deem relevant.

And if that was not sufficiently clear, Treasury goes above and beyond to be very clear that cities should not be bullied by the occasional intimidating ISP or some other opponent of more broadband investment (page 303 still):

  • In addition, recipients may consider the actual experience of current broadband customers when making their determinations; whether there is a provider serving the area that advertises or otherwise claims to offer broadband at a given speed is not dispositive.

This is a tremendously flexible framework. The federal government is giving local governments millions of dollars and trusting them to make wise investments that focus on the most vulnerable residents that are being left out of the opportunities the Internet offers. Some 17 states still limit local Internet choice by interfering with community authority to build a network or partner with an ISP. But everywhere else, communities have no one else to blame if they do not seize this historic opportunity.

Low-Cost Requirements and Encouraged Practices

Treasury adopted stronger requirements to ensure that the public dollars spent on these networks results in networks that are more accessible by all, including those living in poverty (page 308):

  • In response to many commenters that highlighted the importance of affordability in providing meaningful access to necessary broadband infrastructure, the final rule provides additional requirements to address the affordability needs of low-income consumers in accessing broadband networks funded by SLFRF. Recipients must require the service provider for a completed broadband infrastructure investment project that provides service to households to:
    • Participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP); or
    • Otherwise provide access to a broad-based affordability program to low-income consumers in the proposed service area of the broadband infrastructure that provides benefits to households commensurate with those provided under the ACP.

Though it isn’t required, Treasury recognizes the importance of a low-cost, high-quality tier of service, and spells out key parts of it (page 309, emphasis added):

  • Additionally, recipients are encouraged to require that services provided by a broadband infrastructure project include at least one low-cost option offered without data usage caps at speeds that are sufficient for a household with multiple users to simultaneously telework and engage in remote learning. Treasury will require recipients to report speed, pricing, and any data allowance information as part of their mandatory reporting to Treasury.

Other Bits of Interest

The Treasury Department uses OECD data as supporting evidence that the United States has a problem with affordable broadband Internet access on page 87:

  • However, even in areas where broadband infrastructure exists, broadband access may be out of reach for millions of Americans because it is unaffordable, as the United States has some of the highest broadband prices in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Treasury urges these expenditures use fiber optic technology (pages 306-7):

  • Treasury continues to encourage recipients to prioritize investments in fiber-optic infrastructure wherever feasible, as such advanced technology enables the next generation of application solutions for all communities and is capable of delivering superior, reliable performance and is generally most efficiently scalable to meet future needs.

As with every previous iteration of these rules, Treasury encourages prioritizing community networks – cooperatives, nonprofits, and local governments (page 298):

  • Treasury continues to encourage recipients to prioritize support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, nonprofits, and cooperatives.

Recipients of SLFRF funds have to report how they are using the funds. For broadband infrastructure expenditures, that reporting will include speed tiers, pricing, and data caps (page 309). Larger recipients report on a quarterly basis, smaller ones annually. More information on reporting guidelines here.

Additional discussion about the rule is available in the Q&A document, in this Beyond Telecom Law Blog, and CCG’s Pots and Pans.

Final note – I might be the only person who calls this the SLurF-uRF program but I encourage you to consider using that too because doing this work shouldn’t rob us of a juvenile sense of humor. Thanks for reading this far!

Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. His work focuses on helping communities ensure that the telecommunications networks upon which they depend are accountable to the community. He was honored as one of the 2012 Top 25 in Public Sector Technology by Government Technology, which honors the top “Doers, Drivers, and Dreamers” in the nation each year. This piece was originally published on MuniNetworks.org on January 13, 2022, and is reprinted with permission.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Continue Reading

Recent

Signup for Broadband Breakfast

Get twice-weekly Breakfast Media news alerts.
* = required field

Trending