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Infrastructure Bill’s Broadband Piece Will Help ‘Hasten’ Move to Symmetrical Networks, FBA’s Bolton Says

And lawmakers hope to iron out some wrinkles in infrastructure bill.



Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association

WASHINGTON, August 25, 2021 – The House’s decision to delay passage of the $65 billion spending on broadband included in the infrastructure bill means that final action will wait until Congress returns from its summer break and comes back again for scheduled votes beginning September 20.

Fiber and wireless providers remain optimistic about infrastructure investments in future networks, even as a top lawmaker on Wednesday voiced lingering concerns about spectrum-related provisions in the Senate-passed bill.

On Tuesday, the House passed a budget resolution on a separate $3.5 trillion spending package that is only supported by Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put on hold – until September 27 – a commitment to vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which enjoys bipartisan support.

For more on this topic, attend Broadband Breakfast Live Online (FREE to attend live online) on Wednesday, September 1, 2021, at 12 Noon ET – “What’s Next for Broadband Infrastructure Legislation?

The particulars of the broadband segment of the infrastructure measure that passed the Senate on August 10 have been reported, but not yet fully digested. The bill include grants for service providers that provide broadband at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload.

Upload speeds a center of discussion

That in itself would be a significant bump up from the current federal definition of “broadband” as being 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.

But some broadband enthusiasts wanted Congress to push for the symmetrical  speeds that some Democratic lawmakers have asked for. Symmetrical speeds, in which the up speed is equal to the down speed, are generally seen to favor fiber deployment.

Still, the final measure that passed the Senate decreed that anything under 100 Mbps down would be categorized as “underserved.”

Fiber Broadband Association CEO Gary Bolton put a positive spin on the 100 Mbps x 20 Mbps standard in the Senate-passed infrastructure measure – even as he had originally argued for 100 Mbps x 100 Mbps.

“The bill acknowledges today’s definition of broadband is outdated,” Bolton told Broadband Breakfast. “This bill plus what is happening in the market will hasten the move to symmetrical networks at 100 Mbps and higher.”

Bolton made similar comments more than a year ago in an Expert Opinion piece in Broadband Breakfast in which he stressed the importance of fiber for resilient symmetrical networks.

Symmetrical speeds have become au curant in recent Washington committee hearings. Officials with the Rural Broadband Association NTCA said at a May Senate hearing that higher speeds, and symmetrical speeds, are synonymous with networks built to last.

Others have said that symmetrical service has been attracting businesses to some municipalities.

Previously overlooked upload speeds have now taken center stage during the pandemic. That’s because significantly higher upload speeds are required for users to display themselves for remote work, school and health care.

And that’s not even including the spur in demand for additional web sites and services that require high-speed video uploads.

The 100 Mbps speed threshold isn’t without controversy

Former Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in March that setting an upload speed of 100 Mbps, “does not reflect reality,” and would lead to more companies building higher-capacity networks in places where there were already lower-capacity networks.

He called that kind of broadband construction wasteful.

Some who represent different segments of the broadband industry also support a more gradual approach to building out broadband in rural areas. These industry players take the attitude that connectivity now at a lower speed is better than no connectivity at all.

Jonathan Adelstein, CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association and the former administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, told Broadband Breakfast that his organization worked closely with “key members of Congress to ensure that wireless was included.

“Initial proposals for 100 x 100 symmetrical speeds were actually intended to cut out wireless,” Adelstein wrote. “So we were pleased that Congress ultimately agreed to speeds that wireless can meet.”

Adelstein, who headed the Agriculture Department’s RUS under the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the Obama administration, previously said that “all broadband technologies are needed.”

“We will work with Congress, the Administration, and the states on successfully implementing this program to make sure wireless plays a key role,” he said.

Fiber industry officials also touting lower latency

The $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill, H.R.3684, also includes a requirement to lower latency – the time for a device to communicate with the network – to “allow reasonably foreseeable, real-time, interactive applications,” the text says.

Those applications can include remote conferencing and surveillance, in the case of critical infrastructure.

“We believe that the bill includes the right incentives to build out future proof networks that are scalable, reliable, and with sufficient capacity to last a generation,” said Bolton of the Fiber Broadband Association.

There are “good arguments to take the bipartisan Senate bill and also arguments for strengthening the bill with improved build out requirements” when the House reviews it in September.

“What is most important is to get this bill across the goal line as advancing broadband is a national imperative for jobs, remote healthcare, online education and digital equity,” Bolton said.

Sticking points for House lawmakers on spectrum and other topics

Putting aside the debates over fiber and wireless and broadband speeds, some members of Congress this week voiced concerns with the decisions made by the other body in the Senate-passed infrastructure measure.

Michael Doyle, D-Pennsylvania, and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, told Broadband Breakfast in an email that, “While bipartisan packages are rarely perfect, this bill prioritizes the build-out of future-proof networks and puts us on the path to connecting all Americans to broadband.”

“I plan on supporting these provisions,” he said. “Of concern, however, are provisions relating to spectrum that depart from the traditional process, and we plan to take a look at that.”

Among the spectrum rules outlined in the bill is a requirement that the Office of Management and Budget transfer $50 million from the Spectrum Relocation Fund to the Defense Department for the “purpose of research and development, engineering studies, economic analysis, activities with respect to systems, or other planning activities.”

The affected spectrum in this case would be the 3.1 to 3.45 GigaHertz (GHz) band, a key mid-band series of radio frequencies that includes some federal users.

The bill includes a stipulation that the Commerce Secretary identify other frequencies for federal use.

At a House Rules Committee meeting this week, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, who serves as the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce committee and who previously said the committee is among the most bipartisan on issues including telecom, said: “Regarding the bill before us today, while there are some aspects I can agree with, it unfortunately falls woefully short in lifting the major barriers that have made major infrastructure projects expensive and, in many cases, impossible.”

She noted that the bill generally does not provision investments in a “more targeted way,” which she said could see “much of the funds authorized and appropriated by this bill…go to waste.”

She specified that “burdensome federal regulations and unnecessary permitting requirements” for closing the digital divide, for example, make it “expensive, slow, and difficult to deploy and upgrade broadband.”

Rodgers also said the bill “does not target funds for deployment to fully unserved parts of America based off the Congressionally-mandated FCC broadband maps. This bill risks wasting billions of dollars in taxpayer money without truly closing the digital divide, leaving rural Americans further behind in the digital economy.”

General support from most in industry and government

When the bill passed the Senate earlier this month, it drew supporters who said it moved the ball forward for much-needed funding to close the digital divide and represented a breakthrough in a divided environment.

“The bipartisan infrastructure legislation demonstrates that policymakers can find common ground on issues that are important for America’s future, including the need to get all Americans connected to robust and reliable broadband service, said Michael Powell, president of the cable industry group NCTA, the Internet and Television Association.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said, after the Senate’s passing of the bill, that “[a]mong the historic investments included in the bill is more than $48 billion in funding for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to fund state and local investments to help reach 100% access to affordable, high-speed broadband service.”

The Commerce Department will have a significant purse for a grant program that will provide funding to states to expand broadband in unserved and underserved areas.

Additional broadband components

The bill also requires fund recipients to provide no less than one low-cost broadband service option, a proposal which would be submitted for approval.

The grants must also be used to build out the networks no later than four years after the entity is given the grant, with some exceptions, and the recipient must submit a final report about the funds’ use after it’s been expended.

The bill includes other provisions that focus on access to information for consumers so they can see eligibility for federal and state broadband subsidies and low-income plans, including the creation of a federal website for that purpose.

The FCC will also be required to submit a report on the future of the Universal Service Fund, the program that supports broadband buildouts using telecoms’ voice revenues. The program has been called unsustainable because voice revenues have been declining over time and critics have proposed different funding avenues, including general broadband revenues.

In a May op-ed published in Newsweek, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr proposed big technology companies contribute to the fund because they benefit from the ecosystem.

Workforce needed for implementation

Among other minor provisions, Adelstein referenced something that Congress should look into regarding future 5G networks: The need for a trained workforce for broadband and wireless buildouts.

“Congress should look to invest in workforce training and apprenticeship in the next reconciliation bill,” said Adelstein.

The $3.5-tillion budget that the House passed Tuesday will initiate a reconciliation plan that might address some of these issues.

“With a historic amount of money to be distributed soon for broadband deployment, we need to make sure we have a large enough and properly trained workforce to build out broadband networks and 5G networks,” Adelstein said. “Building a 5G ready workforce is crucial to efficiently spending taxpayer money and to winning the race to 5G.”


BEAD Could Spur Private Investment in Network Expansion: Experts

BEAD efforts to stimulate private investment may hinge upon the availability of the Affordable Connectivity Program.



Connect Humanity's Brian Vo at the BEAD Implementation Summit

WASHINGTON, September 26, 2023 – Federal and state broadband grants can serve as catalysts for other sources of funding, experts said at the Broadband Breakfast BEAD Implementation Summit on Friday.

The $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program is providing an unprecedented amount in federal funds for expanding broadband infrastructure, but some states have estimated their allocations will fall short of the amount needed to get high-speed internet to all of their residents. 

For Steve Coran, an attorney at Lerman Senter and counsel for WISPA, the trade group for fixed wireless internet providers, previous funding programs – the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, known as RDOF, and the Connect America Fund, or CAF – are a source of hope. The certainty of federal funds, he said, has helped many of his clients secure private investments to serve rural areas.

Using that certainty “to generate additional capital investment is, I think, an underappreciated aspect of the RDOF and CAF programs,” he said.

Willie Heflin, managing director of investment firm Kinetic Ventures, said his experience investing in smaller internet service providers confirmed this. He pointed to a provider who received $187 million over 10 years from RDOF and was able to raise an additional $240 million from equity investors, including Kinetic Ventures.

“They were able to really build a company and provide services for people who weren’t getting it before,” he said.

Federally subsidized projects can also spur network expansion by making it cheaper and easier for communities to connect to nearby infrastructure, filling some of the holes left by funding programs, said Brian Vo, chief investment officer at Connect Humanity.

The extent to which BEAD projects will be able to stimulate private investment will hinge on the availability of affordability funds like the Affordable Connectivity Program, according to Blair Levin, an analyst at New Street Research and former executive director of the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan.

“The single biggest delta for the economic models that will drive deployment in rural areas is whether the ACP is funded,” he said. “If it is, that makes the economics a lot easier. And if it’s not, it makes them a lot harder.”

The $14 billion program, established with the 2021 Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, provides monthly internet subsidies of $30 for low-income households and $75 for residents of Tribal lands. It is set to dry up as early as April 2024, with no clear path to refunding.

If you missed the BEAD Implementation Summit, sign up for Broadband Breakfast’s BEAD Starter Pack for $35/month (cancel anytime). You’ll get access to all the videos and each of the three Breakfast Club reports prepared for the BEAD Implementation Summit:

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State Broadband Officers Outline BEAD Implementation Efforts

Broadband heads from 5 states listed community outreach, mapping, and program deadlines as top priorities for BEAD.



State broadband officers from Arkansas, New Jersey, Maine and North Carolina at the BEAD Implementation Summit

WASHINGTON, September 25, 2023 – State broadband leaders addressed on Friday their key areas of focus as they look to allocate billions in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grants.

The conversation took place at the Broadband Breakfast BEAD Implementation Summit, along with panels of other federal grant program officials, service providers, and investors. The $42.5 billion program is getting under way, with states releasing their initial proposals for implementing it and hearing public comments. Those proposals are due to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration by December 27.

Community outreach

Broadband heads cited engaging with communities – especially around challenges to broadband map data and fostering internet adoption – as being essential to the success of the program.

In New Jersey, broadband office leader Valarry Bullard and her team organized a listening tour. They go to churches and community centers to explain how high-capacity internet can play a role in people’s lives and local programs, without, she emphasized, jargon or acronyms.

“You kind of meet people where they’re at, you know?” she said.

Arkansas broadband director Glen Howie said his team went to all 75 counties in the state to explain how mapping challenges will work and work with counties to set up local broadband committees.

“You go into a county and you tell folks they have an opportunity to challenge their internet availability, they get fired up,” he said.

Mapping and data

As part of their proposals to the NTIA, states are required to outline a process for accepting challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s map of broadband coverage. That map, now on its third iteration, is based on coverage reported by internet service providers, which is widely considered to be overstated.

Those map challenges will be crucial, both for BEAD and other federal broadband programs, the panel said. 

“It’s the foundation of all of our programs. We spend a huge amount of time on mapping,” said Angie Bailey, North Carolina’s head broadband officer. “We can’t do this work without strong, location-level mapping.”

In Maine, Andrew Butcher and the Maine Connectivity Authority have been investing in broadband mapping efforts for years, he said. A parallel mapping process to the FCC’s has helped them allocate previous broadband funds and confirm coverage reported by providers.

“It has allowed us to have a data-driven conversation, as opposed to a policy of dibs,” he said. “We want to understand where there’s service and where there’s not.”


Deadlines, both for submitting initial proposals and awarding subgrants, are on broadband leaders’ minds. Those initial proposals are being submitted in two parts, and states have one year from the approval of part II to award their entire BEAD allocations.

That has Howie’s office in Arkansas worried about completing the challenge process, grant awards, and state rulemaking before the deadline

“The one year, arbitrary timeline that we’re all under at the moment is a huge concern for us,” he said.

Taking time on the initial proposal deadlines is helping states with smaller and newer broadband offices, like Bullard’s office in New Jersey, she said, learn from other states and prepare for the task ahead of them.

“Our plan will be submitted December 27, probably at 11:59,” she said. “It’s giving us some more time for that investment. We’re learning more about our counties… we’re connecting with our community anchor institutions.” 

If you missed the BEAD Implementation Summit, sign up for Broadband Breakfast’s BEAD Starter Pack for $35/month (cancel anytime). You’ll get access to all the videos and each of the three Breakfast Club reports prepared for the BEAD Implementation Summit:

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Michigan Island Asks FCC to Require Fiber for Some Carriers

Missing out on BEAD-funded fiber could ‘materially impair’ the Beaver Island’s ability to compete, a local committee argued.



Photo of Beaver Island from the Beaver Island Boat Company.

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2023 – A small Michigan island, Beaver Island, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to require broadband carriers receiving legacy federal funds to lay fiber-optic cable, or face competition from other providers.

The 55-square mile island is the largest in Lake Michigan and had a population of 616, according to the 2021 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Beaver Island’s Joint Telecommunications Advisory Committee made the request in a September 18 filing to the FCC asking that the commission reconsider its adoption of the Enhanced Alternative Connect America Cost Model, or Enhanced ACAM. That model updates the previous allocation of federal money from the Universal Service Fund to internet providers in rural areas.

The model makes $13.5 billion available through 2028. It allows carriers to continue receiving funding if they upgrade or continue to provide service at 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) upload by 20 Mbps download – regardless of the technology they use to do so.

This, the island’s committee says, will prevent the island from being reached with fiber-optic cable, the highest capacity, most future-proof broadband technology. The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, established in 2021, allocates $42.5 billion for states to expand broadband infrastructure, but disqualifies areas already served by federal funding.

Michigan’s broadband office estimated its portion BEAD funding could provide fiber-based internet to every location in the state currently receiving less than 100 * 20 Mbps service. That covers all of Beaver Island. But the island expects its providers will take the Enhanced ACAM  money and update their older, copper-based equipment to meet speed requirements rather than compete at auction for BEAD grants to build fiber.

“Rather than assuring [sic] those areas affected by the Order will receive adequate service,” the filing reads, referring to the commission’s official adoption of the new model on September 1, “the Order instead all but guarantees they will receive a service that will quickly become outdated.”

The committee  said in its filing that in order for an Enhanced ACAM recipient to prevent an area from being eligible for BEAD funding, it should be required by the FCC to use fiber.

Providers have until September 29 to accept or deny Enhanced ACAM funding.

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