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Infrastructure

Reverse Auctions, State-Led Funding, Higher Speeds: Speculation Mounts About Final Infrastructure Bill

Without further word on what to expect in the bipartisan infrastructure framework, Doug Dawson examines what direction it could take.

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July 6, 2021—With the Biden Administration nearing a bipartisan infrastructure agreement, and questions swirling about exactly what the broadband component could look like, one consultant believes the final version could include a reverse auction process to disburse funds and a push for a higher speed minimum.

Both Democrats and Republicans are claiming victory for infrastructure with a tentative compromise that would allocate $65 billion for high-speed broadband. Though this is a far cry from the $100 billion that President Joe Biden’s initial “American Jobs Plan” called for in March, it is also significantly higher than the GOP’s first counter of $20 billion for broadband.

Though both Biden and Speaker of the House Sen. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, have made it clear that they will not support the legislation without specific preconditions, there are still so many unknowns regarding the legislation.

Doug Dawson, the owner and president of CCG Consulting, joined Broadband Breakfast’s Live Online event on June 30 to discuss some of the possible models and solutions that the bill in question might provide.

Reverse auction and state-led fund distribution

He explained that there are a handful of ways that this bill could be rolled out. The first model he pointed to was the reverse auction model, whereby funds are given to those bidders who require the least amount of money to build.

Dawson argued that even though this model was suggested in the “Accessible, Affordable, Internet for All Act” that was put forward by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, he did not anticipate that it would garner much support.

“People have a whole lot of problems with some of the things that popped up in [previous auctions] so I don’t think that idea has as much merit among the talking heads in Washington as it used to,” he said, “and we are certainly not hearing nearly as much support for it.”

In addition to the “Accessible, Affordable, Internet for All Act”, Dawson also brought up the “Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy Act.” This bipartisan model would see that money is given directly to the states and can be distributed for projects as each state deems necessary.

He pointed out that the wrinkle with this model is that while some states will do a fine job ensuring that the funding is distributed one way, others may deviate completely from tried-and-true methods. “Every state has their own politics,” Dawson said. “States are going to decide very different solutions, but I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with that.”

But Dawson stated that these are only some of the more notable proposals, and there are a myriad of models being circulated through Congress right now. “Pretty much every major topic related to how you would give broadband money out is probably on the table right now,” he continued. “I do not imagine [that the final version of the bill] is going to look like either one of those two bills—it’s going to be something brand new.”

Biden may push for 100 Mbps symmetrical speed minimum

Though he said that the plan will likely be under a model that is yet to be revealed, Dawson did point to several items that observers should expect to see the Biden Administration push for. He said that the White House will likely push for an emphasis on providing broadband for low-income communities and 100 Megabits per second symmetrical service as a minimum definition for broadband.

Though there has been little discussion about making any of these bills explicitly aligned with any one technology, Dawson said that there are few technologies that can sustain 100 Mbps symmetrical service, and that fiber may become the de facto technology used.

Satellite technologies in the mix

Despite this, he said that technologies like satellite need to be a part of the conversation for the hard-to-reach homes that could cost tens of thousands of dollars to cover.

“I do not think that [the federal government] has ever said every single home in America gets broadband; we want to get 99 something percent right but that last one percent is incredibly expensive.”

Only time will tell which direction the bipartisan framework will take. Whether Washington decides to model the “Bridge Act,” utilize a reverse auction model, or try something completely new and different, the experts are still left to guessing until more word comes down from Congress or the White House.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the June 30, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “5G, Digital Real Estate Investment Trusts and the Future of Broadband Infrastructure”

There are many potential outcomes and implications of the long-awaited federal broadband infrastructure bill. Join Broadband Breakfast for a session delving into some of the possibilities, as well as data centers, towers and Digital REITs, as the race for 5G accelerates.

More about Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 at Broadband Communities Summit

Panelists:

  • Doug Dawson, President, CCG Consulting
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast

Doug Dawson has worked in the telecom industry since 1978 and has both a consulting and an operational background. He and CCG specialize in helping clients launch new broadband markets, develop new products and finance new ventures. CCG, the largest telecom consulting firm in the United States in terms of clients, has a varied telecommunications practice and helps clients with engineering, regulatory, operation and planning issues. Dawson also writes the daily blog potsandpansbyccg.com, which covers a wide range of topics for broadband and related subjects.

Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. In addition to representing public and private providers on broadband issues, Drew is actively involved in issues surrounding interconnected Voice-over-Internet-Protocol service, spectrum licenses, robocalling including STIR/SHAKEN, and the provision of video franchises and “over-the-top” copyrighted content.

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.

As a child of American parents working abroad, Reporter Ben Kahn was raised as a third culture kid, growing up in five different countries, including the U.S.. He is a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore, where he majored in Policy, Politics, and International Affairs. He enjoys learning about foreign languages and cultures and can now speak poorly in more than one language.

Satellite

LEO Satellite Technology Should Be in All Schools, Gigabit Libraries Network Says

Satellites, at the very least, can act as backup connections, webinar heard.

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Don Means from the Gigabit Libraries Network

October 21, 2021 – Low earth orbit satellites, which are expected to help connect a portion of people who live in remote regions of the country, should be available to all libraries – even if it’s just for redundancy, the director of Gigabit Libraries Network said Thursday.

Don Means, the director of the organization that has a deal with SpaceX’s Starlink beta service to connect a “handful” of libraries, said the technology can be used as backup in the event of a disaster.

“We think this should be in every library, even if it’s a place that has a connection – this would be very valuable as a backup because consider any kind of lights out scenario in a community,” Means said. “With this system, it bypasses the local infrastructure, and if you have a power source and you have a [satellite] dish, you’re connected.”

Earlier this month, Means said libraries will need various ways to stay connected and provide access to public Wi-Fi. While the “cheapest, most equitable, most economical way to connect every community with next generation broadband is to run fiber to all of the 17,000 libraries,” Means said previously, other solutions will need to be considered where geography doesn’t allow for a direct fiber connection.

The LEO constellation is unique compared to other kinds of satellites because it hovers closer to earth, theoretically meaning it provides better connectivity and lower latency, or the time it takes for the devices to communicate with the network.

The House is waiting to vote on an infrastructure bill that will pour billions into broadband. People have debated what kinds of technology the money should go toward, with some arguing for hard wiring and others saying wireless technologies have a space at the table.

Despite having a deal with Starlink, Means said he encourages LEO satellite technology in general and not just Starlink in particular.

“We’re not advocates or agents for Starlink,” Means said, “it’s just they’re the first ones out there with this technology. There are others coming…this is a new thing, a burgeoning thing.”

Starlink said this summer it had shipped 100,000 terminals to customers.

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FCC

Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements

The FCC is looking at how to promote broadband competition and access in buildings.

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Photo of Jenna Leventoff from Internet Law & Policy Foundry

WASHINGTON, October 21, 2021 – Opponents of exclusivity arrangements that give tenants of multitenant buildings less choice of internet service provider are urging the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate all manifestations of these contracts that they say harms competition and locks landlords into burdensome long-term contracts.

While the FCC has previously banned exclusive access agreements that granted a single provider sole access to a building, it did not do so for exclusive wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements. That means third party service providers cannot share the building wires with the telecom with that privilege and cannot market their services to the building’s residents.

The FCC launched a comment period in September to field arguments about what to do with these holdout issues that gave priority to ISPs. In an early submission, the internet and television association NCTA said the commission should deny all broadband providers exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

Internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS said in its submission that the competitive environment has continued to suffer due to these exclusive deals and, in the case of retail shopping centers, their deals have been extended over the “last several years.”

It is asking for a complete ban on the wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, which they say “make it tougher for new entrants to effectively compete in MTEs.

“Competitive providers are still asked to participate in revenue sharing arrangements or are routinely denied access to MTEs because of exclusive wiring or marketing agreements,” INCOMPAS said, adding consumers and businesses “lose out on the faster speeds, lower pricing, and better customer service that competitors offer.”

Public Knowledge similarly said there is a lack of competition emerging from these practices that is increasing prices and restricting choice for tenants.

“Although the FCC has banned explicit exclusive agreements in multi-tenant environments (MTEs) such as apartment, condos, and office buildings, landlords and internet service providers have exploited loopholes to nevertheless create de facto monopolies in buildings,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

The group is asking for a ban on “all types” of these arrangements that “negatively impact consumer choice, ensuring all ISPs have access to a building’s wiring regardless of the owner, creating a ‘rocket docket’ to quickly adjudicate supposed violations, and creating a single regulatory regime for both commercial and residential MTEs.”

In a joint submission on Wednesday, Consolidated Communications Holdings and Ziply Fiber said they “often confront such anti-competitive agreements,” with revenue sharing and marketing arrangements being the most “prevalent and troublesome.

“In practice, these agreements frequently work together as a complete bar to competing providers, giving the incumbent broadband provider a de facto exclusive service agreement with respect to an MTE,” the submission said, alleging MTE owners will “explicitly cite their lucrative revenue sharing agreements with an existing provider as their reason for not allowing our companies to access their buildings” and so to not to lose out on that compensation.

Harm on building owners

For the Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, exclusive wiring arrangements have not only limited choice for residents, but it has allegedly locked housing providers into “long-term onerous contracts that prohibit them from pursuing connectivity solutions, such as owner-provided broadband, at their properties.”

Members of the affordable housing group are recommending the FCC impose “reasonable standards” on such agreements, which require ISPs to offer low-cost programs or owner provided broadband at a competitive cost and give landlords an option to exit or renegotiate a contract after a certain time.

The FCC’s look into the issue comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

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Infrastructure

Federal Communications Commission Dispenses $544 Million in Rural Broadband Funds

Funds targeted towards internet providers in areas with poor digital access across 19 states.

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FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it would authorize another $554 million for expansion of broadband service through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The funding announcement represented the finalization of a relatively small portion of the funding awarded as part of $9.3 billion granted in the first phase of the RDOF reverse auction in October and November 2020.

Together with other recent press announcements dribbling out details of RDOF awards, Wednesday’s news puts the FCC’s awards at just more than $1 billion of the $9.3 billion originally awarded at auction.

The FCC, which says that it aims to place broadband infrastructure in areas where it is not currently available, denied LTD Broadband’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline to be designated as an Eligible Telecommunication Carrier in Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota. Becoming an ETC was a necessary prerequisite to receiving RDOF funds.

The agency also denied NW Fiber’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline for submission of a post-auction “long form” application.

With the latest wave of funding, 11 internet providers will be able to bring fiber-to-home gigabit broadband service to more than 180,000 locations across 19 states.

Michigan and Georgia were the states that received the most funding in this wave with $188 and $149 million, respectively. The FCC has cited broadband expansion as an even more necessary priority since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Broadband is an essential service and during the pandemic we’ve seen just how critical it is for families, schools, hospitals and businesses to have affordable internet access,” said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

The FCC also said that they were working to “clean up” the program and address some of the controversial aspects of RDOF funding decisions.

These decisions included:

  • Sending letters to 197 applicants concerning areas where there was evidence of existing service or questions of waste. Bidders have already chosen not to pursue support in 5,094 census blocks in response to the Commission’s letters.
  • Denying waivers for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications.  These bidders would have otherwise received more than $344 million.
  • Pulishing a list of areas where providers had defaulted, thereby making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.
  • Conducting an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review of all winning bidders.

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