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Infrastructure Bill Hangs in Balance, 2.5 GHz Licenses to Alaska Tribes, TechFreedom Hires Bilal Sayyed

Democrats divided on when to move infrastructure bill, FCC awards 2.5 GHz licenses, antitrust lawyer Sayyed to TechFreedom.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California

August 24, 2021 – House Democratic lawmakers were deadlocked Monday over whether to advance for a vote the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill before the end of a special two-day summer session, with nine Democrats refusing to align with the speaker of the House’s wishes to pass other measures simultaneously and thus setting the stage for the second and final day to move on key party initiatives.

Backed by a contingent of Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has said that she would like to move with the infrastructure bill a $3.5 trillion budget plan, also known as “reconciliation,” that would plow money in social initiatives like climate change, Medicare and child care.

But the nine moderate Democrats have said that such an ask – to “hold hostage” the infrastructure bill before other measures are also put forward — would derail hard-fought progress on an infrastructure bill that was months in the making and that finally passed the Senate earlier this month.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, those moderate Democrats — Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Ed Case of Hawaii, Jim Costa of California, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, and Filemon Vela of Texas – said they were “firmly opposed to holding the president’s infrastructure legislation hostage to reconciliation, risking its passage and the bipartisan support behind it.”

“We can pass the infrastructure measure now, and then quickly consider reconciliation and the policies from climate to health care to universal pre-K that we believe are critical,” they added.

In a Washington Post Live discussion on Wednesday, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman and Pelosi supporter Peter DeFazio said the infrastructure bill’s implementation is October 1, alluding to the fact that so long as the bill is passed before then, there is no need to rush the bill now.

If the infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for broadband and regulations on cryptocurrency, fails to move Tuesday, then it will need to be picked up well after Labor Day, when lawmakers are back from summer break on September 20 for floor votes.

FCC grants 2.5 GHz licenses for native Alaskan communities

The Federal Communications Commission said Monday it has granted six spectrum licenses from the 2.5 GHz band as part of the agency’s Rural Tribal Priority Window, allowing these communities to deploy 5G and other wireless services.

“Today’s action takes another step in helping to bring [connectivity] to more Alaska Native communities, connecting them to the health, education, business, entertainment, and other resources available in the digital age,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a release.

“I’m proud that the FCC could grant these licenses to help provide advanced wireless services to rural Alaskans, and of the ongoing work by the agency to process Tribal applications that are still pending.  I thank Native community leaders for their work as part of this effort,” she added.

The FCC has now granted 270 licenses of the mid-band spectrum to Tribal entities.

TechFreedom brings on antitrust expert

Bilal Sayyed, an experienced antitrust lawyer who previously served at an internal think tank inside the Federal Trade Commission, is joining non-profit technology company TechFreedom as a senior competition counsel, the company announced Friday.

“He will be a leading voice in TechFreedom’s analysis of the application of the antitrust laws to the conduct of online platforms and tech companies,” TechFreedom said in a press release. “Bilal will pay particular attention to mergers and their effects on innovation and potential competition.”

The hire comes at a potential inflection point in American antitrust regulation: The Joe Biden Administration has made a string of hires that have put big tech critics in key regulatory perches, none larger than the hiring of Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Lina Khan.

Sayyed said in the release that “sensible antitrust polic[ies]…are now under siege by those who have forgotten or are unaware of past errors in enforcement and policy.

“I can think of no better place than TechFreedom to defend and advance sensible antitrust enforcement and policy based on sound economics and recognition of the harms of excessive regulation on innovation, entry, and entrepreneurship,” he added.

Assistant Editor Ahmad Hathout has spent the last half-decade reporting on the Canadian telecommunications and media industries for leading publications. He started the scoop-driven news site downup.io to make Canadian telecom news more accessible and digestible. Follow him on Twitter @ackmet

Broadband Roundup

Apple Blacklists Fortnite, T-Mobile Expands Home Internet, Ajit Pai Reflects on Virginia’s Broadband Leadership

Apple will not reinstate Fortnite after court fight, T-Mobile expands in 4 states, Ajit Pai on Virginia’s broadband success.

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Ajit Pai, foreground, right

September 23, 2021 – Apple has blacklisted popular video game Fortnite from its app store until there are no appeals left in its court case, according to the head of the game maker.

On Wednesday, Tim Sweeney, the head of Fortnite maker Epic Games, posted a letter on Twitter from the lawyers for Apple stating that the company would not reinstate Fortnite on its app store until all court appeals have been exhausted, which Sweeney said could be as long as five years.

Last week, the U.S. District Judge ruled that Apple was not being anticompetitive when it banned Fornite from the app. The legal battle emerged when Fornite allowed its players to make in-game purchases directly through the game, which effectively bypassed Apple’s store and the commission it gets for transactions.

Sweeney said on Twitter on Wednesday that Epic agreed to “play by the same rules as everyone else” if reinstated on Apple’s app store.

“Apple spent a year telling the world, the court, and the press they’d ‘welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else,” Sweeney said in a tweet. “Epic agreed, and now Apple has reneged in another abuse of its monopoly power over a billion users.”

In August, Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, introduced the Open App Markets Act to ban app store operators from requiring app providers to use their in-app payment systems.

T-Mobile expands home internet in four states

T-Mobile is expanding its home internet service to 51 cities and towns across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, it said in a Tuesday press release.

The company said it is able to expand its service because of “massive investments” it has made in its 5G network, which was a pitch to regulators when the company purchase Sprint.

“The traditional landline [internet service providers] have failed the south,” the release said. “Across these four states, nearly 1 million people do not have access to a single wired internet provider. That bears repeating — nearly 1 million people across just four states do not have access at all. This is unacceptable. And unfortunately, that’s not all. Landline ISPs have left nearly 1.7 million people without any access to speeds above 25Mbps and nearly 3.3 million people with access to only one provider.

“This lack of access and choice has led to high prices, poor service, and the unhappiest customers in America —ISPs rank dead last in recent customer satisfaction scores from ACSI. Dead. Last.

Fixed wireless technologies, as T-Mobile uses here, can fill gaps where fiber builds in rural and remote areas are prohibitively expensive.

Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai writes op-ed about Virginia’s leadership in narrowing digital divide

Former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai wrote in an op-end in the Washington Post on Wednesday outlining how Virginia became a leader in ending the digital divide.

The Virginia resident, who is now a partner at Searchlight Capital Partners, noted that the state’s Virginia Telecommunications Initiative ensured public funds weren’t a limiting factor to build the last mile connections to homes and businesses, as it plowed money in areas traditionally not ventured by private telecoms because of a lack of return. The initiative also involved public utilities to lease fiber capacity to the telecoms.

“Having led the Federal Communications Commission, I’ve been able to take a bird’s-eye view of the country and assess the effectiveness of various state programs,” Pai said.

“I can say without reservation that Virginia is leading the pack in establishing a framework for what I like to call “digital opportunity” for all its citizens. Its success in broadband can be attributed to several factors: the governor’s consistent prioritization of broadband, bipartisan support and funding from the General Assembly, an efficient and successful VATI program and enabling electric utilities to deploy middle-mile infrastructure.

“This framework will deliver universal broadband throughout the commonwealth. And it is a model for many other states in our nation, large and small, and from coast to coast.”

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Broadband Roundup

Tech Sues Texas over Social Media Law, $80 Billion Investment, Broadband and Growth

A coalition of groups argue the Texas law violates the Constitution, US Telecom on investment and Connected Nation on impact.

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Photo of Mike Saperstein from his Twitter account

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021— NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association have jointly filed a lawsuit against Texas, arguing that a recent law designed to prevent censorship on social media is unconstitutional.

The CCIA is following through on a threat it made to sue the state should the bill be passed into law, following the bill’s passage in Texas’ Republican controlled House. Unsurprisingly, the bill faced little opposition in the state’s Republican Senate and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbot in mid-September of 2021.

“ We will always defend the freedom of speech in Texas,” Abbot said in a statement, “Social media websites have become our modern-day public square. They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely — but there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas. That is wrong, and we will not allow it in Texas.”

The CCIA filed a similar suit in Florida earlier in 2021, and as of September 22, 2021, the law remains blocked following a preliminary injunction granted by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle.

“By tying digital services’ hands, this unconstitutional law will put Texans at greater risk of exposure to disinformation, propaganda, and extremism. There are few First Amendment fouls clearer than regulating based on viewpoint. The law aside, it’s neither good policy nor good politics for Texas to make the Internet a safe space for bad actors, whether that be Taliban sympathizers or people encouraging kids to eat detergent pods,” CCIA President Matt Schruers said in a statement.

Telecom companies have spent $80 billion on capital expenditures

US Telecom’s 2020 annual analysis indicates a significant spending boost for broadband infrastructure amongst ISPs despite the pandemic.

The analysis indicated that providers’ capital expenditures were $79.4 billion higher than the previous year. This brought total capital expenditures for the industry up to $1.9 trillion since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed.

The study also indicated that in the first six months of 2020 alone, approximately five-million additional homes were connected to fiber broadband.

The study also notes that though this level of broadband spending is unprecedented, the approximately $42 billion earmarked for broadband spending by the bipartisan infrastructure framework is less than half of what American telcos invest in broadband annually.

“Putting 25 years of investment figures in context shows that America’s communications providers have a tremendous amount of ‘skin in the game’ when it comes to broadband network deployment, and it is important that additional regulations (beyond those ensuring taxpayer funding is spent as intended) not be structured so as to dissuade or slow private investment,” US Telecom Vice President of Strategic Initiations and Partnerships Mike Saperstein said in a release.

Study published linking broadband expansion to economic growth

Connected Nation published a study Wednesday with several key findings the demonstrate the relationship between improved broadband connectivity and positive economic growth in Michigan.

The study in question illustrated a correlation between expansions in broadband and improved unemployment rates, growth in the information sector, increased in-migration, greater median household income growth, and improved fixed broadband access, competition, and adoption.

Notably, according to the data, connected communities experienced a 9.3 percent change in household incomes between 2017 and 2019 while the statewide average improved by only 8.5 percent during that same period.

The study’s author and Director of Research and Development for Connected Nation Chris McGovern noted that these changes should not be expected in communities over a matter of weeks, and should be viewed as the benefits of long-term investments made for future growth.

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Broadband Roundup

Rosenworcel Talks Spectrum Strategy, Book on Broadband Policy Failure Released, Lifeline Awareness Week

FCC head talks spectrum and network strategy, broadband policy book released, and it’s Lifeline Awareness Week.

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Christopher Ali, author of Farm Fresh Broadband (photo from UVA Press)

September 21, 2021 — Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel spoke Tuesday about the agency’s spectrum strategy, reiterating that it is freeing up more spectrum, diversifying equipment and building security in the networks.

Rosenworcel, who was speaking at the 2021 NTIA Spectrum Policy Symposium on Tuesday, pointed out that the agency is focusing on freeing up critical mid-ban spectrum for 5G, saying that will be a “game changer” for the next-generation networks by ushering more competition, wider coverage and better performance. She pointed to the 3.45-3.55 Gigahertz band auction next month.

She also noted that she appreciates Congress’ focus on fiber broadband as the backbone for other technologies, including wireless networks, and said the FCC is committed to expanding the reach of fiber; that the agency has been focused on diversifying network equipment, including holding a showcase for open radio access network technologies; and that it is focused on the security of the networks, including removing untrusted equipment with policies like “rip and replace.”

“As today’s gathering demonstrates, in each of these principles—whether it is freeing spectrum, expanding broadband, diversifying networks, securing communications, or leading internationally—we have embraced the idea that no single entity can meet this challenge alone,” Rosenworcel said.

“We need a whole-of-government approach to get this done and one that is open to commercial innovation and opportunity,” she added. “To do this, we need to draw on the strengths in our national DNA—our hard-wired belief in the creative possibilities of the future, the power of coordination, and the rule of law.  This is how we turn spectrum scarcity into spectrum abundance.”

Book about broadband policy failure released

A book about the failure of U.S. broadband policy to solve the rural and urban digital divide has been released on Tuesday.

Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity explores the “promise and failure of national rural broadband policy in the United States and proposes a new national broadband plan,” according to the MIT press, which published the book.

The author, Christopher Ali, “argues that rural broadband policy is both broken and incomplete: broken because it lacks coordinated federal leadership and incomplete because it fails to recognize the important roles of communities, cooperatives, and local providers in broadband access,” the webpage says.

This week is Lifeline Awareness Week

The Federal Communications Commission is partnering with organization in an outreach effort to raise awareness about a program designed to make communications more affordable for low-income consumers, the agency said Tuesday.

The FCC said it is partnering with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates to acknowledge Lifeline Awareness Week, which runs from September 20 to September 24, 2021.

The Lifeline program provides up to a $9.25 monthly discount on communications services and up to $34.25 monthly for those on Tribal lands.

The awareness week is part of a larger outreach goal of the FCC to communicate that programs exist for low-income Americans to get connected.

During a discussion hosted by the Innovation Alliance on September 13, Rosenworcel said outreach is the “most valuable thing” for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which offers subsidies of $50 and $75 for low-income Americans, the latter for those living on Tribal lands. Those who qualify for the Lifeline program also qualify for the EBB program.

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