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Lumen Responds to Allegations it Underbuilds While Collecting Public Funds

The Communications Workers of America is accusing Lumen of underinvesting in broadband while taking public money.

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CWA District 7 Vice President Brenda Roberts

July 20, 2021—A labor union association is accusing Lumen Technologies of underinvesting in broadband infrastructure and discriminating against lower-income households while collecting public money, but the company is disputing the premise of the claims.

The Communications Workers of America’s allegations are compiled in a report released last month in cooperation with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance that analyzes multiple sources, including the Federal Communications Commission’s June 2020 form 477 data in over 30 states where Lumen operates its network.

Among the findings of the report is the allegation that 42 percent of households with access to Lumen’s fiber are in census blocks with median incomes of above $75,000, while only seven percent are in blocks with median incomes of below $35,000.

In counties with higher populations of Native Americans – more than 25 percent of households – only about 5.2 percent have access to fiber-to-the-home service and 50 percent have DSL access, the report said.

The CWA also claims that 39 percent of Lumen’s footprint does not meet the FCC’s definition of broadband of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload.

All the while, Lumen has been receiving $506 million annually from 2015 to 2021 from the FCC’s Connect America Fund to get broadband to underserved areas, a fact that makes the allegations more egregious, the report said.

The company also received $262 million over ten years in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction to build fiber-to-the-home in underserved areas.

What’s more, since 2017, the company has cut more than 4,500 CWA-represented jobs critical to broadband deployment, according to the report.

“Lumen Technologies is a clear example of what happens when telecom companies aren’t held accountable to their workers and customers,” said CWA District 7 Vice President Brenda Roberts.

Lumen disputes

But Lumen disputes these claims.

“We’ve made significant investments in our network to bring broadband access to every corner of our service territory where it is economically feasible,” Linda Johnson, senior manager of corporate communications at Lumen, said in a statement to Broadband Breakfast.

“Sparsely populated areas are difficult for any communications provider to serve due to the costs of building and maintaining the network infrastructure,” Johnson said.

Lumen says it is working with policymakers to develop public-private partnerships that encourage broadband investment and high-speed internet to more homes and businesses.

In the report, the CWA calls on Lumen to double the number of households passed by fiber by investing in more fiber deployment within two years; upgrade networks in rural and tribal communities across its footprint with federal dollars; and stop outsourcing publicly funded broadband jobs to non-union contractors.

This is a similar call the union representative made in a recent campaign, called Build Broadband Better, in which it is asking the federal government to include requirements attached to federal funds that the recipients not hire subcontractors.

The CWA also wants the expansion of internet service to schools and other places in low-income areas as a form of investment from Lumen.

Within a six-month timeframe, the CWA expects Lumen to invest in building its fiber networks, given that part of the company is showing an increasing number of subscribers.

“We expect Lumen to work with union members to meet the challenges of building broadband in a constructive dialogue,” said CWA’s research economist Zane Farr.

Other data points the CWA said it used for the report includes CWA records, a study of Lumen’s quarterly earnings reports, the FCC’s internet access services status report, a Pew Research Center report on mobile technology and home broadband in 2021, a Columbia Telecommunications Corporation’s white paper called “Mobile Broadband Service Is Not an Adequate Substitute for Wireline,” a Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis report called “The digital divide in Indian Country,” and the U.S Census Bureau report called “Differences in income growth across U.S Counties.”

The FCC did not respond to a request for comment.

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Broadband Mapping

FCC Opens Broadband Data Collection Program

The data will go toward improved maps, which the FCC chair said will be available by the fall.

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Screenshot of Bill Price, vice president of government solutions for LightBox

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday officially opened its new system to collect broadband service information from over 2500 broadband providers.

The Broadband Data Collection “marks the beginning of [the FCC’s] window to collect location-by-location data from providers that we will use to build the map,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release.

Screenshot of Bill Price, vice president of government solutions for LightBox

Broadband providers will be required to provide availability claims and supporting data. Supporting data will include sections such as “propagation modeling information” and “link budget information.” The deadline to submit is September 1.

Rosenworcel said the agency has established consistent parameters that require broadband providers to submit data using geocoded locations that will “allow [the FCC] to create a highly precise picture of fixed broadband deployment, unlike previous data collections, which focused on census blocks, giving us inaccurate, incomplete maps.”

With this information, the FCC will build a common dataset of locations in the United States where fixed broadband service can be installed, called the “fabric.” Rosenworcel said that this fabric will serve as a “foundation upon which all fixed broadband availability data will be reported and overlaid in our new broadband availability maps.”

Following the completion of the maps, government entities and internet service providers will be given a challenge window where availability claims may be challenged based on submitted data.

Rosenworcel previously said that the improved broadband maps will be available by the fall.

States expect to be busy fact-checking these claims as they are released, said panelists at Broadband Breakfast Live Online Event Wednesday. States will be involved in individual challenging processes and will be expected to provide information on availability through individual speed testing.

States want to get these maps right because they serve as a broadband investment decision making tool, said Bill Price, vice president of government solutions for LightBox, a data platform that is helping states build broadband maps. That means many states are committed to obtaining accurate local coverage data to utilize federal and state funding.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022, 12 Noon ET –Broadband Mapping and Data

Now that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Notice of Funding Opportunity has been released, attention turns to a core activity that must take place before broadband infrastructure funds are distributed: The Federal Communications Commission’s updated broadband maps. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as implemented by the NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, these address-level maps from the FCC will determine the allocation of funds among states and serve as a key source of truth. Our panelists will also consider the role of state-level maps, the NTIA challenge process and other topics. Join Broadband Breakfast as we return to one of the subjects that we know best: Broadband data and mapping.

Panelists:

  • Bill Price, Vice President, Government Solutions, LightBox
  • Dustin Loup, Program Manager, Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition
  • Ryan Guthrie, Vice President of Solutions Engineering at ATS
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Bill Price, Vice President of Government Solutions, is responsible for LightBox broadband data and mapping solutions for government. Bill has more than 40 years in telecommunications and technology services development and operations. His track record includes delivering the Georgia statewide location level broadband map, the first fiber metropolitan area network in the U.S., and launching BellSouth’s internet service. LightBox combines proven, leading GIS and big data technology to transform how decisions are made in broadband infrastructure planning and investment.

Dustin Loup is an expert on internet governance and policy and program manager for the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition. Much of his work centers on improving digital inclusion and establishing transparent, open-source, and openly verifiable mapping methodologies and standards.

Ryan Guthrie is VP of Solutions Engineering at Advanced Technologies & Services.  He started with ATS in 2006 and has been involved in all aspects of the business from sales and marketing through solution design and implementation.  Ryan also manages regulatory solutions for ATS and has been deeply involved with the federally funded broadband projects by assisting ISPs with their performance measures testing compliance.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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FCC

FCC Commissioner Supports Rural Telco Efforts to Implement ‘Rip and Replace’

In remarks at the Rural Wireless Association event on Wednesday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks reaffirmed the FCC’s goals.

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Photo of Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association, leading a discussion at the summit on Wednesday by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 30, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks acknowledged the agency’s goal of obtaining secure broadband networks at an event of the Rural Wireless Association on Wednesday.

“We must ensure that our broadband networks are secure,” Starks said in keynote address at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here, delivered via Zoom. “This is evident in the constant barrage of attacks of American networks from hostile state and non-state actors.”

Starks continued, “insecure networks, by definition, can’t provide the stable, reliable, always on communications we need. Especially during emergencies… Broadband must be secure for the full benefits of broadband to be achieved.”

The issue of ridding American telecommunications networks of equipment manufactured in China was a constant theme during the conference.

In addition to Starks’ presentation, several sessions addressed the dilemma faced by telecommunications carriers, particular rural ones, that had in the past invested heavily in lower-cost equipment from Huawei, a leading Chinese manufacturer.

As the political winds have changed on the topic over the past three years, Congress has allocated funds for a “rip and replace” program. The FCC is expected to announce the providers that will receive nearly $2 billion as part of the program by July 15.

But some fear that number could be more than $4 billion short of needed funds.

“The funds available will cover only a very small portion” of the costs to replace Huawei with non-Chinese manufacturers, said Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association.

Potential new requirements imposed on telecom providers

The commission recently sought comment on whether it should require carriers that receive high-cost support to have include baseline cyber security and supply chain risk management plans.

If these plans are included in requirements, Starks said that American communication networks would be protected from bad actors. Moreover, they are consistent with requirements already included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Starks thanked the RWA for its activity and advocacy in the “rip and replace” proceedings, officially dubbed the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program.

“The threat is real,” called Starks. “Companies that are deemed by the federal government to be a threat to the United States and its people can not have free reign in data centers featuring some of the most sensitive data of Americans.”

This comes only days after Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores in response to the apps’ obligation to comply with the Peoples Republic of China’s surveillance demands.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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Infrastructure

States Must Ease Zoning, Permit Regulations for Broadband Buildouts

‘You have to take a serious look at red tape.’

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Screenshot of Heather Gold , Carolyn Price, Shane Butler and Bob Knight (left to right)

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – States must ease regulations surrounding local building permits and zoning that may prevent internet service providers from building broadband infrastructure, said experts in community and stakeholder engagement at a Rural Broadband Conference on Tuesday.

“If you want to attract private industry or want to bring fiber to your community, you have to take a serious look at red tape,” said Bob Knight, CEO of marketing firm Harrison Edwards Strategic Communications.

“Let’s be realistic,” Knight continued. “We are operating at a time where private investment can go anywhere, we are operating at a time where materials are scarce… now is not the time to mess around and slow up the process [through regulations.]”

The Upstate New York Town Association, a group dedicated to serving the needs of upstate New York communities, indicated that it would continue to lobby for an easing of state regulations to support broadband connectivity in its region.

Knight encouraged states to engage with stakeholders and local community members to make the process easier and build networks in a timely fashion. “Get as many [local] voices as you can.”

Communities in Upstate New York worked with local engineers to develop broadband models that work for their topography. Understanding the local geography proved beneficial in building out networks that connect to all community members, said Carolyn Price, executive director of the Upstate Association.

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