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Republicans on Big Tech USF Contribution, Permanent Broadband Solution After Covid, Mobile Mayo Clinic

Republicans on Big Tech pay into USF, leaders press for long-term digital divide solution, Mayo Clinic’s mobile WiFi clinic.

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Kevin McCarthy says Big Tech contribution to Universal Service Fund "thought-provoking"

June 29, 2021– Key Republicans commented Monday on a proposal to tax Big Tech to help pay for internet subsidy programs, Axios reported.

Americans pay a fee on their phone bills that goes into the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund (USF), which is used for broadband subsidy programs that bring basic telecommunications services to rural areas, schools, libraries, and hospitals.

Debate has been raging about how to sustain the fund because its money base is reliant on voice revenues that have been decreasing over the years. In an op-ed earlier this month, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested big technology companies that benefit from the internet should pay into the fund.

GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, called the proposal “thought-provoking” on Monday, according to Axios. His office noted that video streaming accounts for more than 50 percent of web traffic and online advertising is a $100 billion-a-year industry, Axios reported.

Top Republican on the Commerce Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, said he thinks Congress should explore the idea, his office told Axios. Similarly, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, ranking Republican on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, thinks all options should be on the table, her office said.

On the other side, President Dane Snowden of The Internet Association, a trade group that includes Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple, said in a statement, “We hope the FCC will take a common-sense approach and not punish innovative, high-quality streaming services that are fulfilling consumer demand.”

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called the idea “intriguing” and that the FCC should be open to new ideas, but said Congress would need to take action.

Social justice leaders press for permanent solution to digital divide

The Internet Innovation Alliance launched a “Connected Roundtable” this month and pushed for the government to formulate a permanent plan to bridge the digital divide beyond the current short-term pandemic programs.

The group said there should be a permanent broadband subsidy to help low-income families afford broadband service, even after the Emergency Broadband Benefit runs out.

“There’s a window of opportunity while the Emergency Broadband Benefit is available to design a permanent broadband benefit that will keep low-income folks connected once the program ends,” said Joi Chaney, executive director of the National Urban League’s Washington Bureau. “Now is the time—while policymakers are acutely aware of the plight of the disconnected—to solve both rural and urban problems contributing to the digital divide.”

Dominique Harrison, director of technology policy for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said “With a subsidy amount of just $9.25 per month, some low-income families have to prioritize food and utilities over broadband and could never afford to be online—it’s time to boost the benefit.”

Mayo Clinic unveils new mobile health clinic

The Mayo Clinic unveiled a new mobile health clinic in the state of Minnesota on Monday.

The clinic has been set up to offer high-speed internet connections for patients in the rural area to access online services, do expressive care online, or participate in video visits with their providers within the Mayo Health community.

The mobile clinic includes two exam rooms and an onsite laboratory that will travel to communities across southern Minnesota. The clinic is designed for in-person visits and virtual care via onsite telehealth equipment.

The Mayo Clinic said it hopes this clinic will benefit communities by providing services including vaccinations, pediatrics, preventative services, and a variety of other options for virtual patients.

Broadband Roundup

Utah’s Monumental Fiber City, Google Fiber Advertising, Starry Jersey City Expansion

With 141,000 residents, West Valley City, Utah, is now the second largest city in the country fully connected to fiber.

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Photo of Roger Timmerman, CEO of UTOPIA Fiber, and Chief Marketing Officer Kim McKinley at Mountain Connect

May 27, 2022 – West Valley City, Utah, announced Tuesday that it had become the second largest city in the country fully connected to fiber, and the largest U.S. city connected via an open access network. With a population of 141,000, the city trails only Chattanooga, Tenn., as the largest fully-fiberized community in the country.

Utah’s largest city fully connected to fiber and one of the original 11 cities open-access network UTOPIA Fiber targeted in the state, city manager Wayne Pyle emphasized the importance of fiber to the city’s economy. Pyle also serves on UTOPIA’s board.

“Not only have we been able to attract and retain major employers,” he said, “now having fiber built to every home and business has enabled us to bridge the digital divide,” said Pyle.

“Our community has been a place where generations of families can enjoy a great quality-of-life, while new immigrants can join the community and prosper.”

Speaking about the milestone at Mountain Connect, UTOPIA Fiber CEO Roger Timmerman said that while believe that the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated the speed of the build, the open access fiber operator had been on a five-year expedited plan for finishing the city. “They were done waiting around,” Timmerman said of city officials. “And with today’s increased interest rates, and rising cost of construction, it’s a good time to finish these projects.”

Photo of West Valley City, Utah from August 2016 by An Errant Knight used with permission

Google Fiber will alter its advertising following challenges

Fierce Telecom reported Friday that Google Fiber, Google’s fiber-to-the-premises service, would alter its advertising following challenges from the National Advertising Division and cable company Charter Communications that offshoot company made a number of unsupported claims on its speeds.

Google Fiber asserted that it could provide “faster download speeds than you’d get with traditional cable,” and additionally that it offers up to 77x faster uploads and 12x faster downloads as well as that it has “fewer outages than cable internet.”

The company will respect the recommendations of the NAD despite the fact that it disagrees with the agency’s ruling.

In February, Charter was largely successful in challenging advertising from AT&T when the NAD recommended the latter stop saying it offers “better internet” than cable.

Starry oversees a housing community broadband expansion

Fixed-wireless provider Starry Internet announced Tuesday that it would be partnering with the Jersey City Housing Authority to provide residents of two housing communities in Jersey City, New Jersey with access to its digital equity program known as Starry Connect.

Residents will also be able to opt into the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

272 building housing units will have the opportunity to benefit from Starry’s program.

“We are ecstatic to partner with Starry to bridge this gap by building essential broadband infrastructure and offering high-speed, low-cost access to our residents,” said Vivian-Brady-Phillips, JCHA executive director.

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Broadband Roundup

Former FCC Chair Joins Company Board, Twitter to Pay $150 million in Privacy Case, Telehealth Prescriptions

Tom Wheeler is joining the board of a mobile network company.

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Photo of Tom Wheeler, by Mark Wilson

May 26, 2022 – Alef, a mobile network company, announced on Wednesday that Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, will join its board of directors.

According to the press release, Wheeler will “serve as an advocate for enterprises to rapidly adopt mobility inside the enterprise private network.”

Wheeler has more than 40 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. During his time at the FCC, he led efforts to adopt the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum band, net neutrality, and enhanced cybersecurity policies.

“Alef is a pioneer for the kind of competitive offering that we were envisioning when the FCC created CBRS, and thus it is an honor to join this Board of Directors,” said Wheeler in the press release.

In the same press release, Alef announced it also joined the OnGo Alliance, an organization designed to support the development of new solutions for the CBRS.

Working with OnGo, Alef will identify key issues and drive the development of LTE and 5G NR solutions for CBRS, the press release said. “This news demonstrates the company’s continued leadership across the telecom industry, ushering in a new era of capability delivered to the enterprise from the mobile edge,” stated the press release.

Alef gives enterprises and developers the ability to create, customize, and control their own private network infrastructure, the release said.

Twitter to pay $150 million to settle privacy suit

Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million fine following a privacy lawsuit settlement made public on Wednesday concerning allegations that the company improperly collected and handled user data between 2013 and 2019.

The settlement requires a court approval before being finalized.

The lawsuit, which was initiated by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, stated that Twitter had collected phone numbers and email addresses from platform users to secure accounts but allowed advertisers use the information to target ads without notifying users.

According to an FTC press release, Twitter used this personal information to “further its own business interests through its Tailored Audiences and Partner Audiences services.” This was in violation of a 2011 privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

“As the complaint notes, Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads,” FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan said in a release.

The settlement, in addition to the fine, will require Twitter to “maintain a comprehensive privacy and information security program, notify users whose information was misused, limit employee access to personal data, and offer multifactor authentication options.”

Twitter apologized for the breach in 2019, claiming that the data “may have been inadvertently used for advertising.”

Damien Kieran, Twitter’s chief privacy officer, said in a blog post that “keeping data secure and respecting privacy is something we take extremely seriously, and we have cooperated with the FTC every step of the way.”

CVS, Walmart to stop telehealth prescriptions

CVS Pharmacy and Walmart will no longer be filling prescriptions for controlled substances ordered by telehealth companies Cerebral Inc. and Done Health in response to concerns from a review that CVS conducted on their prescription practices. Walmart, according to the Wall Street Journal, did not disclose why they made the decision.

“We recently conducted a review of certain telehealth companies that prescribe controlled substance medications,” said CVS in a statement to The Hill. It is “important that medications are prescribed appropriately.”

CVS reportedly was unable to resolve “concerns” they had with Cerebral and Done Health, but did not elaborate on the concerns.

Cerebral said in a statement to The Hill that CVS’s timing was unfortunate, noting that they had stopped prescribing controlled substances earlier this month. “In light of CVS’s decision, Cerebral is doing everything possible to ensure these patients get access to medications that their health care providers have determined they need.”

Cerebral said that they would reach out to every patient impacted by CVS’s decision to help them transition to another pharmacy “as seamless as possible.”

As reported by The Hill, pharmacists at other locations that have adopted similar policies “expressed concerns that telehealth companies were over-prescribing certain medications like Adderall.”

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Broadband Roundup

Digital Equity Foundation Guide, UScellular Selects Ericsson for 5G, Brightspeed Targets

A policy paper recommends how a federally funded digital equity entity should be funded and structured.

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Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project

May 25, 2022 – A policy paper released Wednesday outlined recommendations for a federally funded Digital Equity Foundation, including how it should be structured and funded.

New America’s Open Technology Institute and the Philanthropic thru Privatization report recommends the foundation focus on having a stable endowment to maintain the its annual support, an ability to raise outside funds, to have advisory groups with a broad range of expertise to guide the foundation, and to have transparency principles that would see it have federal appointees and report regularly to the Senate and House commerce committees.

The paper comes after a joint note from New America and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies in April 2021 to Congress for funding for the foundation. At least 75 organizations support the Digital Equity Foundation.

“A federally funded Digital Equity Foundation isn’t a radical concept. Rather, it’s a common-sense policy solution to a longstanding national problem,” said Chuck Bell, a project associate for the PtP Project. “This proposed foundation would meet vital community needs, fit with longstanding legal precedents, and provide sustainable national funding to bridge the digital divide for millions of underserved Americans.”

Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project, said that even with the billions in broadband investments from the Infrastructure, Investment Jobs Act – which provides funding for digital equity – we won’t close the digital divide without “sustained investments in digital literacy and adoption efforts at the community level.”

UScellular selects Ericsson for C-band deployment

UScellular, the nation’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, announced Wednesday an agreement that will see Swedish telecom equipment supplier Ericsson help the telecom build out its 5G network using the C-band spectrum.

The telecom looks to use the spectrum to build out its fixed wireless network.

“Ericsson’s advanced mid-band coverage extension functionality with Carrier Aggregation network solutions will increase coverage and capacity for UScellular customers both at home and on the go,” said a press release Wednesday.

“Ericsson has a valued, long-standing relationship with UScellular, and we share their commitment to providing a resilient and sustainable network through the use of industry-leading innovations, ultimately elevating the customer experience,” Eric Boudriau, Ericsson’s vice president and head of customer unit regional carriers, said in the release.

Brightspeed announces first-year build target for its fiber network

On Wednesday, telecom company Brightspeed announced first-year plans for its proposed $2 billion network transformation plan, including an aim to have one million new fiber passings across rural and suburban regions of the U.S. and reaching close to three million homes and businesses by the end of 2023.

The company said it is optimistic the first deployment will take place in North Carolina in a few weeks and will serve as a company blueprint for future applications.

“We have already begun design and construction preparations necessary to hit the ground running on day one. We will be well-equipped to quickly deliver on our mission to bring ultra-fast, reliable Internet and Wi-Fi to more homes and businesses” said Bob Mudge, CEO of Brightspeed.

The company said its network is expected to provide more than one gigabit per second download speeds.

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