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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.

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Broadband Roundup

Grid Broadband Bill, Ting Gets Financing, Finley Engineering Has New CEO

A new bill would provide grants to providers who can quickly build middle-mile infrastructure along existing electrical grid system.

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Photo of Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., via Flickr

August 10, 2022 – A bill introduced in the Senate last week would make grants available to those who can build middle mile fiber infrastructure along existing municipal rights-of-way and use existing assets to reduce the financial, regulatory and permitting barriers to broadband buildouts.

The Grants to Rapidly Invest and Deploy Broadband Act is intended to use existing electrical infrastructure to quickly expand broadband infrastructure to the 120 million American households that don’t have adequate connectivity, according to a Wednesday press release from Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who co-introduced the bill with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

The legislation specifically notes that it would like to fund those that have existing partnerships with last-mile providers to connect homes and business and ensure that the technology is scalable for more advanced services, including accelerating 5G wireless infrastructure and making affordable gigabit broadband speeds.

The bill would also require that the network would support the security of the electric grid by installing a private communications network for grid operators.

“Building out fiber along our nation’s existing grid will provide the communications capacity needed to modernize our energy system, make our grid more cybersecure, and bring affordable high-speed internet to tens of millions of hard-to-reach households,” Cantwell said in the release. “It’s a triple win solution for consumers because it leverages existing rights-of-way and private sector ingenuity and investment to deliver cleaner electricity, stronger cybersecurity, and more accessible broadband services.”

Ting Fiber gets $200M financing

Telecommunications company Ting Fiber announced Tuesday that it has secured $200 million in financing from Generate Capital, which the company said will help it deploy next-generation communications infrastructure to municipalities across the country.

“We chose Generate because we wanted more than just a financing partner. We wanted their project management expertise, sustainability expertise and the wide range of capital solutions they offer – all of which will help Ting as we continue to rapidly scale our operations,” said Elliot Noss, CEO of Ting and its parent Tucows.

The financing will be used to accelerate Ting’s network deployment and to take advantage of its move from coaxial to fiber technology.

Some of the financing, which was signed on Monday, will be forwarded as Ting achieved operational milestones, it said.

Finley Engineering announces new CEO

The board of directors of broadband and energy engineering and consulting firm Finley Engineering announced Wednesday that Ty Middleton will be the company’s next president and CEO.

Middleton will replace Mike Boehne, who is retiring after being in the job for 10 years, according to the press release.

The release notes that Middleton has experience in the cybersecurity, software-as-a-service, and telecommunications sectors, the latter of which he has 30 years experience.

“He joins Finley with extensive experience in cross-functional leadership roles including general management, field and business operations, sales, and business development,” the release said.

“Middleton has led high-growth, customer-centric, technology-fueled businesses from start-ups to Fortune 150, including time at MCI Telecommunications, Qwest Communications, and CenturyLink,” it added.

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Broadband Roundup

FTC Phillips Stepping Down, Chips Act Now Law, Alaskan Entities Getting $50M in Broadband Grants

Phillips told Politico that he is leaving the competition watchdog this fall.

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Screenshot of President Joe Biden before signing the Chips and Science Act into law on Tuesday

August 9, 2022 – Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips is stepping down from the competition watchdog, according to reporting from Politico.

The Republican commissioner – one of two on an agency with three Democrats – said he told President Joe Biden that he intends to resign this fall, according to the report.

Phillips has been critical of the direction the agency has taken under chairwoman and Big Tech critic Lina Khan, who was appointed by the president to lead the agency.

Phillips has expressed concern about the impact of antitrust rules on consumer prices, criticized the release of a report by the FTC that warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence to combat online harms, alleging that the commission did not consult outside experts, and broadly warned last year about the overall direction of the agency to turn away from the traditional way it viewed competition.

Others outside the agency have also expressed concern that the commission’s tilt, plus pieces of antitrust legislation before Congress, could harm the country’s global competitiveness in the tech industry.

Chips Act signed into law

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law legislation that would provide billions in incentives for the nation to invest in its own semiconductor manufacturing.

In comments delivered before the signing, Biden said the goal of the “once in a generation investment” is to help the country “lead the world in future industries and protect our national security.”

The Chips and Science Act of 2022, which passed the House late last month, is a broad bill with a specific provision that includes $52 billion to incentive domestic manufacturing of chips that power a range of technologies, including phones, watches, cars and laptops, as well as grants for the design and deployment of 5G networks.

Nations during the pandemic have struggled with getting a steady supply of the chips for products, thus contributing to a supply shortage on many important technologies. This triggered increasing concern about the country’s reliance on others for basic technologies.

Currently only 12 percent of global chips are made in the U.S., which is down from 37 percent in the 1990s, according to Senator Michael Bennett, D-CO.

Alaska getting $50 million in broadband grants

Two native entities in Alaska are getting $51 million for high-speed internet, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Monday.

The grants from the Commerce agency’s Internet for All program will go to Doyon Limited and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission to provide connectivity to 581 unserved households across villages in the Doyon region and in eight tribal governments in the Ahtna region for “activities including telehealth, distance learning, telework, and workforce development.”

“The digital divide on our tribal lands, especially in remote Alaska, is stark,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in a press release. “The necessary investment through the Biden-Harris Internet for All initiative provides real change to these communities to participate in the digital economy, whether it’s education, health or jobs.”

The release said NTIA head Alan Davidson is visiting Alaska this week and said it is “humbling to see first-hand how these grants will positively impact the daily lives of Alaskan Natives who have been disconnected for far too long.”

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Broadband Roundup

Affordable Connectivity Outreach Program, Amazon’s SpaceX Satellite Concerns, Axios Acquired

The establishment of the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program is intended to bring awareness to the program.

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Photo of Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, via Wikicommons

August 8, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Friday established an outreach program to get more American households registered to its broadband subsidy program.

The Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a discount on broadband services of up to $30 per month and a one-time $100 toward a device, currently has over 13 million low-income American households signed up, but the FCC has said that there are millions more eligible who are not taking advantage of the program.

During an open meeting on Friday, the commission approved an order directing the agency’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau to develop, administer and manage the new Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program, which is intended to raise awareness about the ACP.

The commission was infused with grants from Congress in the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to put toward outreach for the program. As such, $100 million will go toward the effort.

“Since the inception of the ACP, Commission staff have engaged in extensive outreach, including numerous speaking engagements and enrollment events, and continue to seek out opportunities to coordinate with other federal agencies,” the agency said in a Friday press release.

“Throughout these efforts, the Commission has worked closely with trusted local entities that are familiar with the communities they serve.  However, for many of these partners, budget constraints limit the extent of ACP outreach they can perform without additional financial support.”

The agency on Friday also established the “Your Home, Your Internet” one-year pilot program, which is intended to raise awareness and make it easier to apply to the ACP for households receiving federal housing assistance

Ahead of the announcement, telehealth advocate Craig Settles wrote an op-ed for Broadband Breakfast outlining ideas for how to improve outreach to the ACP.

Amazon warns FCC about volume of SpaceX satellites

In a meeting with FCC officials last week, Amazon representatives repeated concerns about the alleged negative effect of the number of broadband satellites SpaceX will launch into space.

According to a post-meeting letter released Thursday, Amazon urged the commission to ensure that SpaceX’s deployment of its Gen2 non-geostationary orbit fixed-satellite services “does not come at the expense of competition and innovation from other emerging NGSO FSS systems.”

Part of the concern for Amazon, which is preparing its Project Kuiper low-earth orbit constellation, is the size of the proposed deployment. At nearly 30,000 satellites, according to Amazon, it “raises questions about space safety, interference, and coexistence with other operators that will impact competition and deployment for decades.”

SpaceX’s Starlink already has a large LEO constellation for broadband service, with more than 2,700 and with approval to put many more thousands in LEO to come.

Cox acquires news website Axios

News company Axios announced Monday that it has agreed to be acquired by Cox Enterprises, a large media company with a telecommunications arm, for $525 million.

Cox made a previous investment last year in the news company, and it said in a Monday press release that this latest move is part of its effort to “grow and diversify the company.”

The deal will see the co-founders still lead the day-to-day operations of the company, according to a press release.

Axios, which was founded in 2017, is known for its brief lines on news items that cuts to the point.

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