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Infrastructure

Experts Urge Congress to Diversify Broadband Policy Beyond Wired Infrastructure

Congress should invest in wireless and wired broadband to provide resilient, affordable broadband.

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Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota

June 22, 2021 – Experts warned Congress on Tuesday not to put all its eggs in a “single wireline basket” when it comes to crafting policy on broadband infrastructure.

During a subcommittee meeting on communications, media, and broadband on Tuesday, Jonathan Adelstein, CEO of the Wireless Industry Association, warned the committee against putting all the funding into one kind of broadband infrastructure, specifically in wired broadband.

Discussions over the past several months have been focused increasingly on the importance and prominence of fiber, which many say is the lifeblood of high-quality networks. In March, Republican South Carolina Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham reintroduced the State Fix Act, which would pledge $20 billion for broadband infrastructure using fiber.

Jeff Johnson, chief of the Western Fire Chiefs Association, added that, “When market conditions exist that would allow for the presence of multiple providers [and technologies], then I think adding redundancy to any network adds survivability to the network.”

Johnson spoke about his experience fighting fires and how important networks are to that effort. In 2018, Ars Technica reported that Verizon throttled a California fire department’s unlimited data during a wildfire. The telecom company later said it was a mistake.

All witnesses on Tuesday stressed the importance of resilience in broadband, which ensures networks are always in good health regardless of challenges. Many senators and witnesses alike pointed to the many natural disasters that have caused increased first responder response times and left entire communities without broadband.

Priority should be broadband to underserved communities

Sen. Ben Luján, D-New Mexico, pushed back on the focus of the discussion, suggesting that his main concern is getting broadband to underserved communities. He wanted to put the debate surrounding wired or wireless broadband aside.

This week Congress heard that it should similarly focus on getting some level of connectivity to underserved communities instead of being enamored with higher speeds.

Broadband Mapping & Data

State Broadband Maps Show Significantly Fewer Served Locations than Does FCC’s Map

There is a ‘massive difference’ between federal Form 477 data and state maps in Georgia and North Carolina

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Screenshot of Eric McRae of the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia, at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event earlier this year

WASHINGTON, September 30, 2022 – State broadband maps from North Carolina and Georgia show significantly fewer served locations than do the Federal Communications Commission’s existing data, said a panel at a Fiber Broadband Association web event Wednesday.

For us there is “a massive difference” between Form 477 data and Georgia’s data, said Eric McRae associate director of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. McRae said the number of Georgians the FCC identifies as unserved is “miniscule,” while the state’s estimate is between 1 and 1.2 million unserved.

North Carolina also found the federal data lacking: “There are thousands of people that are technically in FCC considered served blocks that typed in their address and said they had no access or came in with 1 megabit or horrible speeds,” said Ray Zeisz, senior director of the Technology Infrastructure Lab at North Carolina State University’s Friday Institute. “We verified, certainly, that the data was overstated.”

With the two state-mapping leaders, J. Randolph Luening, founder and CEO of Signals Analytics, presented the findings of his recent report, which compares data from Georgia and North Carolina’s maps to the FCC’s Form 477 data.

Luening’s report outlines the contrasting methods employed by North Carolina and Georgia. North Carolina collected – and published – the results of 109,000 speed tests, measuring download and upload speeds, latency, and jitter. The Tar Heel State also gathered information on technology type, service provider, and other relevant factors.

Georgia’s process is more like the FCC’s current map-making process: It created a fabric dataset and solicited coverage data from providers on an iterative basis. The Peach State published its data in block-by-block form.

Unlike the maps generated from Form 477 data, Georgia’s maps show the percentage of served locations in each census block. “We’ve been able to get a very accurate count of the number of unserved locations that we have in the state of Georgia,” McRae said.

Imprecisions and inaccuracies in Form 477 data were largely responsible for the inception of the FCC’s current location-by-location mapping project. The Commission is still constructing this map and will accept challenges to the accuracy of its fabric dataset on a rolling basis. The map will be used to apportion among the states $42.45 billion from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program.

McRae and Zeisz agreed a state must launch its own mapping initiative to check the accuracy of federal maps and ensure receipt of its fair share of BEAD funding.

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Satellite

As LEO Industry Grows, FCC Adopts Rule to Limit Space Debris

The vote on space debris comes as an increasing number of LEO satellites are gearing up for launch.

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Illustration of simulation of communications from Globalstar LEO network used with permission

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday unanimously adopted an order that requires operators of low-Earth orbit satellites to dispose of their spacecraft within five years of mission completion.

The new “five-year rule” applies to all low-Earth orbit satellites that are planned to be disposed of via uncontrolled reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. It replaces a non–legally binding recommendation that LEO satellites be removed within 25 years. The adopted order follows the commission’s 2020 further notice of proposed rulemaking that sought comment on the 25-year benchmark.

The commission said it hopes the five-year rule will limit the amount of debris in space. “We recognize the merits of shortening the 25-year period and agree with commenters who argue that a shorter benchmark would promote a safer orbital debris environment,” the order said.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel argued the order would remove an impediment to innovation. “Right now there are thousands of metric tons of orbital debris in the air above—and it is going to grow,” her statement read. “We need to address it. Because if we don’t, this space junk could constrain new opportunities.”

“Our space economy is moving fast,” she added. “The second space age is here. For it to continue to grow, we need to do more to clean up after ourselves so space innovation can continue to respond.”

An FCC press release following the order’s adoption on Thursday noted, “There are more than 4,800 satellites operating in orbit as of the end of last year, and the vast majority of those are commercial low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.” According to that release: “The satellite and launch industry is now an estimated $279 billion-a-year sector.”

LEO satellites are a relatively new source of broadband connectivity. Amazon’s Project Kuiper plans to launch a “constellation” of 3,236 low-Earth orbit satellites the company says will bring broadband service to unserved and underserved areas. Last Spring, Amazon announced it agreements with Arianespace, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance for 83 launches.

The FCC approved Kuiper’s constellation application in 2020. Last year, the commission approved Boeing’s proposed constellation of LEO satellites for connectivity. Other companies such as OneWeb and ATS SpaceMobile have also been active in the LEO space.

SpaceX’s Starlink program, the most high-profile satellite player, recently lost a $885.5 million grant from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in August – a decision panned by Commissioner Brendan Carr. Starlink appealed the setback earlier this month.

Other measures adopted at Thursday’s meeting

At Thursday’s meeting, the FCC also unanimously approved three other measures. The commission adopted an order to improve access to communication services for incarcerated individuals with disabilities, an order that will improve the clarity of emergency alerts, and a notice of proposed rulemaking to modernize regulations for television broadcast stations.

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Fiber

Public–Private Partnership Model ‘Most Effective Way’ to Address Digital Divide: AT&T Rep

The company’s president of broadband access and adoption initiatives lauded AT&T’s public-private partnerships.

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Screenshot of Jeff Luong, president of AT&T’s broadband access and adoption initiatives

September 28, 2022 – Touting its fiber build in an Indiana county, an AT&T representative said Wednesday that public–private partnership models for broadband expansion are the “most effective way” to bridge the digital divide.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Las Vegas, Jeff Luong, president of the telecoms giant’s broadband access and adoption initiatives, said broadband builds should incorporate multiple revenue streams and allow local communities to adapt to their own unique circumstances.  

Luong said his preferred model blends public funds with private funds and the localized expertise of community leaders with the technical expertise of companies like AT&T. He said that AT&T has contracted to build fiber networks using the public–private partnership model in several states, including Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas.

Luong highlighted his company’s partnership with Vanderburgh County, Indiana, where AT&T is building a fiber network. The deal was struck last year and is scheduled to be completed in 2023. AT&T will own and operate the network, investing $29.7 million to the county’s $9.9 million. The county’s contribution comes from the American Rescue Plan Act.

And while he acknowledged the importance of federal investments, Luong emphasized the role of private investments in expanding broadband.

“The bulk of network investment comes from the private sector,” he said. “The upcoming federal [Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment] program has $42 billion to spend on broadband over four plus years. Let’s not forget the top three mobile carriers have [a] combined capital expenditure of more than $50 billion in just this past year,” he said.

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