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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.

Reporter Mike Ogunji is from Columbus, Ohio, and studied public relations and information technology at the University of Cincinnati. He has been involved in the Model United Nations and We The People. Mike enjoys books, basketball, broadband and exploring the backwoods.

Broadband Data

TPRC Conference to Discuss Definition of Section 230, Broadband, Spectrum and China

Broadband Breakfast briefly breaks down the topics to be discussed at the TPRC conference.

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Photo collage of experts from TPRC

WASHINGTON, September 17, 2021 – The TPRC research conference on communication, information, and internet policy is right around the corner and it is set to address some of the most pressing issues facing Big Tech, the telecom industry, and society at large. We cover some topics you can expect to see covered during the conference on September 22 to 24.

If the recent election cycle and the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us anything, it is that the threat of misinformation and disinformation pose a greater threat than most people could have imagined. Many social media platforms have attempted to provide their own unique content moderation solutions to combat such efforts, but thus far, none of these attempts have satisfied consumers or legislators.

While the left criticizes these companies for not going far enough to curtail harmful speech, the right argues the opposite— that social media has gone too far and censored conservative voices.

All this dissent has landed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—once a staple in the digital landscape—in the crosshairs of both Democrats and Republicans, as companies still scramble to strike a compromise to placate both sides of the aisle.

Definition of broadband

The future of broadband classifications is another topic that will also be touched on during the conference. This topic quickly became relevant at the outset of the pandemic, as people around the country began to attend school and work virtually.

It became immediately clear that for many Americans, our infrastructure was simply insufficient to handle such stresses. Suddenly, legislators were rushing to reclassify broadband. Efforts in Washington, championed primarily by Democrats, called for broadband standards to be raised.

The Federal Communications Commission’s standing definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload appeared to become unpopular overnight, as calls for symmetrical service, like 100 x 100 Mbps speeds, and even gigabit speeds became a part of the conversation.

Many experts were quick to strike back, particularly those operating in the wireless community, arguing that the average consumer does not need 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds, let alone one gigabit, and such efforts only amounted to fearmongering that would hurt the deployment of broadband infrastructure to unserved communities.

These experts contend that shifting the standards would diminish the utility and viability of any technology other than fiber, as well as delaying when unserved communities (as they are currently defined) can expect to be served. Broader topics surrounding rural broadband and tech-equity will also be prominently featured—addressing many of the questions raised by Covid-19 across the last year and a half.

Future of spectrum

Finally, the quest for spectrum will be discussed at the conference.

As ubiquitous 5G technology continues to be promised by many companies in the near future, the hunt is on to secure more bandwidth to allow their devices and services to function. Of course, spectrum is a finite resource, so finding room is not always easy.

Indeed, spectrum sharing efforts have been underway for years, where incumbent users either incentivized or are compelled to make room for others in their band—just like we saw the military in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band, and more recently between the Department of Defense and Ligado in the L band.

Even though these efforts are ongoing, there is still disagreement in the community about how, if at all, sharing spectrum will impact users in the band. While some argue that spectrum can be shared with little, if any, interference to incumbent services, others firmly reject this stance, maintaining that sharing bandwidth would be catastrophic to the services they provide.

On China

China is also going to be a significant topic at the conference. Due to the competitive nature of the U.S.-China relationship, many regard the race to 5G as a zero-sum game, whereby China’s success is our failure.

Furthermore, security and competition concerns have led the U.S. government to institute a “rip and replace” policy across the country, through which Chinese components—particularly those from companies such as Huawei—are torn out of existing infrastructure and substituted with components from the U.S. or countries we have closer economic ties with. The conference will feature several sessions discussing these topics and more.

Register for TPRC 2021

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Infrastructure

Topic 2 at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021: Last Mile Digital Infrastructure

Topic 2 at DII2021 will consider new ownership models of digital assets. What role will cities and operators play?

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Panelists for Topic 2 at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021

September 16, 2021 – In 11 days, Broadband Breakfast will kick off Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 at the Broadband Communities Summit on Monday, September 27, 2021.

This pathbreaking event brings the broadband infrastructure and financial services communities together to focus on the digital infrastructure and investment asset profile, including fiber, small cells, towers and data center assets required to support a 21st Century information economy.

This second session at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 – Topic 2 — concerns the way that ownership models of broadband assets are evolving. Who will play the lead role in constructing? What entities, including cities, will own digital assets? Who will manage the networks? The conference will kick off at 1 p.m. ET / 12 Noon CT, and this second panel is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET / 1:30 p.m. CT. Unlike other aspects of the Broadband Communities Summit, Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 will be available both IN PERSON and LIVE ONLINE.

The session will moderated by Joan Engebretson, Executive Editor, Telecompetitor. This session and the others will will set the stage for a broader discussion that includes investment fund manager, institutional investors, venture capitalists and senior broadband leaders speaking in Topics 3 and 4 later in the day. Infrastructure investment funds, public-private partnerships, and the future of shared infrastructure will be considered in other panels at the event.

Topic 2 includes, as panelists, Monica Webb, Head of Market Development & Strategic Partnerships, Ting Internet; John Burchett, Head of Public Policy, Government and Community Relations, Google Access and Google Fiber; Carter Old, Co-founder, President and Chief Growth Officer, Tachus LLC; Ramiro Gonzalez, Director of Government & Community Affairs, City of Brownsville; and Julie Wheeler, President Commissioner, York County, Pennsylvania.

Visit Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 to register, and for the most up-to-date information about the mini-conference.

Panelists for Topic 2:

  • Monica Webb, Senior Director, Market Development and Strategic Partnerships, Ting Internet
  • John Burchett, Head of Public Policy, Government and Community Relations, Google Access and Google Fiber
  • Carter Old, Co-founder, President and Chief Growth Officer, Tachus LLC
  • Ramiro Gonzalez, Director of Government and Community Affairs, City of Brownsville
  • Julie Wheeler, President Commissioner, York County, PA
  • Joan Engebretson (moderator), Executive Editor, Telecompetitor

Monica Webb serves as the senior director of market development & strategic partnerships and oversees the expansion into new internet markets for Ting; whether by building FTTP networks, acquiring businesses, or through partnerships with network infrastructure owners, both municipal and private. Additionally, she direct Ting’s government affairs strategy in local markets.

John Burchett is the Head of Public Policy, Government and Community Relations for Google Access and Google Fiber. Before moving to Access/Fiber in 2016, Mr. Burchett led the public policy for Google in the US States, Latin America and Canada since 2007.  Prior to joining Google, he was Chief of Staff to Governor Jennifer Granholm where he acted as the Chief Operating Officer for the State of Michigan.

Carter Old is Co-founder, President and Chief Growth Officer of Tachus LLC, one of the fastest-growing privately-held FTTH companies in Texas.  He has a background as a co-founder in tech-focused startups, namely OmniEarth Inc. which sold to EagleView in 2017, and as an investment banker at Fieldstone Partners, where he co-led the Space and Ground Infrastructure finance group.  Before joining the private sector, he also served as a Surface Warfare Officer in the US Navy.

Julie Wheeler was elected to her first term on the York County Board of Commissioners in 2019. Julie grew up in York County and graduated from Dallastown Area High School. She earned a degree in biology from Randolph–Macon Woman’s College. She brings extensive business acumen. She started her career at Adhesives Research, and then went on to work for General Electric, where she most recently served as the General Manager for a medical device business.

Joan Engebretson (moderator) Joan Engebretson has been writing about technology and telecommunications since 1992. She is currently executive editor for Telecompetitor, a news website focused on broadband. Joan has a BA in journalism and an MBA from the University of Michigan. She has won awards for her commentary from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and in min’s Editorial and Design awards.

Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 will take place at the Broadband Communities Summit, and online, on Monday, September 27, 2021. 

Join the Broadband Breakfast Club and Register for the LIVE ONLINE version of Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 for the Member’s Rate of $149. First month of Broadband Breakfast Club Membership included.

REGISTER NOW

The Broadband Communities Summit is ​the ​leading ​conference ​on ​broadband ​technologies ​for ​communities. It will take place in Houston, Texas, from September 27 – September 30, 2021.

The Summit ​attracts ​broadband ​system ​operators, ​network ​builders ​and ​deployers ​of ​all ​kinds. ​Many ​of ​the ​country’s ​major ​property ​owners ​and ​real ​estate ​developers ​attend ​the ​Summit ​each ​year, ​along ​with ​independent ​telcos ​and ​cable ​companies, ​municipal ​and ​state ​officials, ​community ​leaders ​and ​economic ​development ​professionals. ​

For more information on the Summit, visit Broadband Communities, as well as 2021 Travel & Hotel Information.

Broadband Breakfast Club Members receive discount pricing on both the Broadband Communities Summit and Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021.

Join the Broadband Breakfast Club and Register for BOTH the Broadband Communities Summit and the IN-PERSON Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 for the  Member’s Rate of $349. First month of Broadband Breakfast Club Membership included.

REGISTER NOW

 

Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 Sponsors:

Platinum Sponsor

Lit partners with municipal, county and other governmental entities, as well as a variety of private partners to deploy last-mile fiber optic network infrastructure. Residents and businesses connected to our networks will receive service from a local internet service provider that delivers a local brand and promise of great service and customer support.

Gold Sponsors

BroadbandNow is a data aggregation company helping millions of consumers find and compare local internet options. BroadbandNow’s database of providers, the largest in the U.S., delivers the highest-value guides consisting of comprehensive plans, prices and ratings for thousands of internet service providers.

 

Render Networks provides an entirely new approach to fiber deployment. Utilizing innovative geographic information systems (GIS), mobile and automation technology, Render’s platform and data management enable network operators, engineers and builders to deliver quality networks without the need for manual, paper-based construction packs. Render uses real-time geospatial data to provide increased control and visibility, resulting in significant resource productivity across the delivery lifecycle.

Silver Sponsors

SiFi funds, builds and owns FiberCity™ networks for use by Internet Service Providers, 4G/5G carriers and other service providers wishing to deliver ubiquitous high-speed broadband services to business and residential properties as well as connectivity for city-wide Internet of Things applications.

 

Created by a group of Utah cities, the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) is a community-owned fiber optic network that uses the Open Access model to promote competition by giving customers the freedom to choose which telecommunication services they want.

 

Positron Access specializes in carrier-grade telecommunications products that increase bandwidth delivered and the distance covered within both core access networks and residential buildings using existing wiring infrastructure. These include line powered digital subscriber line amplifiers/extenders that double the customer serving areas and increase the bandwidth, G.hn Gigabit Access Mulitplexors (GAM) that provide managed non-blocking symmetrical gigabit bandwidth to subscribers in multiple-dwelling units/multi-tenant units over copper pairs or coaxial cables; and bonded copper solutions for mobile backhaul, core transport, access and edge aggregation.

 

The California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) has been on a mission over the last decade to forge partnerships and foster public policy to close the Digital Divide. This work has been strategically-focused, results-oriented, and people-centered. CETF is a leading proponent of the Digital Equity Bill of Rights

 

See Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment Archives for a complete list of prior DII events, including DII 2020

To inquire about Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021, contact drew@breakfast.media.

Digital Infrastructure Investment 2020

Digital Infrastructure Investment 2020 took place online on August 10, 2020, from 1 p.m. ET to 5:30 p.m. ET. It was broadcast at the Broadband Communities Virtual Summit on Tuesday, September 22, 2020.

See Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment Archives for a complete list of prior DII events, including DII 2020

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Infrastructure

Pandemic Possible Inflection Point in States’ Move Away from Restrictions on Community Networks

The number of states restricting municipal broadband networks has dropped during the pandemic.

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Photo of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee from June 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

In years past, states have implemented preemptive laws that make it more difficult or impossible for communities to build their own Internet networks.

These state barriers were often enacted at the behest of large telecom monopolies to limit competition, and include everything from outright bans on municipal broadband networks to oppressive restrictions and requirements which create legal uncertainty for communities attempting to offer telecommunications and Internet services, including via partnerships.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, there were 19 states maintaining significant restrictions on municipal networks. Today, the number of states upholding these barriers has been reduced to 17. The pandemic served as a turning point in the fight for local authority, and in the past year, Arkansas and Washington adopted legislation significantly rolling back legislative barriers on publicly owned broadband networks.

In February of 2021, both chambers of the Republican-dominated Arkansas State Legislature voted unanimously to send Senate Bill 74 to State Governor Asa Hutchinson, who signed the bill into law. The legislation grants government entities the authority to provide broadband services and expands the financing options available to municipalities to fund municipal broadband projects.

In May of 2021, Washington State Governor and Democrat Jay Inslee signed two bills expanding municipal authority to provide retail internet services to end-users, House Bill 1336 and Senate Bill 5383. Both bills reduce barriers to municipal networks, but House Bill 1336, which completely removes all previously-held restrictions on public broadband in the state of Washington, is expected to take legal precedence.

The recent progress made by Arkansas and Washington is extremely timely as more federal, state, and local funding is available to improve broadband infrastructure than ever before. Momentum for municipal broadband is mounting, but there is still a long road to travel to overturn the legal barriers which remain in 17 states.

Advancing, stalling and nearly retreating

Every year, bills aiming to expand the authority of local governments and municipal electric cooperatives to construct broadband networks are introduced in state legislatures. And every year, these bills stall, are withdrawn, and die as a result of the immense lobbying power of the private monopolies. In 2021, state legislators in IdahoMontanaMissouriTennesseeNebraska, and North Carolina, all introduced legislation to lessen state-held barriers against municipal broadband. Many of these bills died in committee after action on the legislation was indefinitely postponed.

To give an example, legislation (H.B. 422) introduced early on in Montana’s 2021 Legislative Session – which would have allowed the state’s local governments to own and operate community broadband networks – underwent a dramatic twist of fate when dozens of legislators who previously supported the proposal suddenly turned against it, causing the bill to die in a final House vote.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic State Rep. Kelly Kortumtold the Daily Montanan that he attributes its failure to 11th-hour lobbying efforts of incumbent telecommunications companies in Montana, which he believes were caught off guard by the vast support the bill initially received.  “I expected it to fail on the House floor. It didn’t, and then the lobbying really began,” Kortum said.

Next door, in Idaho, it has been a cable monopoly and local telephone companies that have pushed hard against municipal open access approaches that would create robust competition. In largely rural states, some local telephone companies are deeply afraid of competing in an actual marketplace.

Many states preserved previously-established barriers throughout 2021, but one state, Ohio, nearly became the first state in a decade to erect new barriers to the establishment and expansion of municipal broadband networks.

In June, the Ohio Senate included an amendment that effectively banned the creation of municipal broadband networks in its two-year, $75-billion budget bill. Thankfully, after local officials, community broadband advocates, and angry residents and businesses from across the state spoke out against it, the anonymously-added amendment was removed from the budget. The governor and lieutenant governor, both Republicans, spoke out against these limits on municipal broadband.

While some state legislators are working tirelessly to reduce barriers to municipal broadband, the largest ISPs are able to use their outsized influence and cash reserves to block legislation that would undermine their control over the broadband marketplace. “In the 116th Congress alone, these corporations spent an astounding $234 million on lobbying and federal elections,” reports Common Cause and the Communications Workers of America, in a recent study, Broadband Gatekeepers: How ISP Lobbying and Political Influence Shapes the Digital Divide.

A partisan issue on the federal level

The Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan centered on bolstering nonprofit, municipal, and cooperative models to develop high-speed broadband infrastructure nationwide. Unfortunately, in the sausage-making, the focus on community broadband networks was dropped and outspoken federal support for municipal networks largely quieted as the monopoly lobbyists descended on Congress and the White House.

This is representative of a disconnect that exists between congressional Republicans and Republican officials on the local and state level. While expanding local internet choice is an overwhelmingly bipartisan issue at the local level, it is a highly partisan issue in Congress.

For example, in the same month that the Republican-dominated Arkansas State Legislature removed restrictions on municipal broadband, Congressional Republicans introduced a bill package attempting to ban communities from constructing their own networks and engaging in public-private partnerships nationwide.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have pushed to preempt states from enacting or enforcing laws that restrict municipalities from building and operating broadband networks. In March, congressional Democrats introduced the Community Broadband Act, which would prohibit banning or limiting the ability of any state, regional, or local governments to build broadband networks and provide Internet services. However, the Democrats were ultimately not united in pushing that language into the infrastructure bill.

A web of legal barriers

Common approaches to preempting municipal broadband networks range from straightforward bans to confusing financial restrictions and complicated legal requirements. While some states have established one main barrier to community broadband, many more have adopted a web of regulations that kill any possibility of municipal connectivity, if only because of the legal uncertainty created by complex and vague laws.

Out of the 17 states with restrictions on municipal networks, a few explicitly ban local governments from providing communications services to their citizens. In Nevada, only municipalities with less than 25,000 people and counties with less than 55,000 people can offer telecommunications services. Tennessee bars municipalities without electric utilities from providing Internet access in most situations. Local governments in Missouri and Texas are limited to offering Internet access and no other telecommunications services. Montana and Pennsylvania state laws permit municipal networks, but only in unserved communities, with vague definitions of what that means.

In states that don’t expressly forbid municipal networks, state legislatures can still establish legal roadblocks that deter investment in community broadband networks. One of the strongest examples of this is North Carolina, where an array of burdensome restrictions and requirements “collectively have the practical effect of impairing public communications initiatives,” according to the Coalition for Local Internet Choice [pdf].

Other states, including Virginia, Florida, and South Carolina, require that municipal networks impute private sector costs, pay additional taxes, set excessively high prices, and/or refrain from subsidizing affordable service, in the name of protecting private “competition.” In other states, legislators have established stringent procedural requirements, including a prescribed bidding process in Michigan and community referenda in Alabama and Minnesota.

To learn more

To learn more about the legislative bans states maintain, check out this resource [pdf], maintained by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), which summarizes state barriers to public broadband as of July 2021.

CLIC’s list is focused on a more legalistic look at state barriers and still includes Washington and Arkansas, while they see how the law settles. The Institute for Local Self Reliance focuses on the 17 states where state limits significantly restrain municipal broadband networks and partnerships, while agreeing with CLIC that additional states have barriers that can also discourage investment.

Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Jericho Casper, a reporter for the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. Originally appearing at MuniNetworks.org on September 15, 2021, the piece is republished with permission.

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