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“The bill acknowledges today’s definition of broadband is outdated,” Bolton told Broadband Breakfast.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.
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.”
Christopher Ali’s New Book Dissects Failures of Rural Broadband Policy and Leadership
“Farm Fresh Broadband” explains the world of broadband policy and provides solutions to bridge the digital divide.
WASHINGTON, September 24, 2021—In his most recent book, University of Virginia Professor Christopher Ali argues that the ongoing battle for improved connectivity is not only far from over, but also critically flawed.
“Farm Fresh Broadband” proposes a new approach to national rural broadband policy to narrow the rural-urban digital divide. In Ali’s view, the lack of coordinated, federal leadership and a failure to recognize the roles that local communities and municipalities need to play in the deployment of broadband has contributed to a lack of competition between carriers, and ultimately, higher costs to consumers.
Just two days after it was released, Ali sat down for a video interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark to discuss his story – and Ali’s recommendations that resulted from his journey.
Ali raises the question about How the $6 billion in federal funds allocated to broadband is spent annually? Based on his findings, he makes policy recommendations to democratize rural broadband policy architecture and re-model it after the historic efforts to bring telephony services and electricity to Americans across the country.
In particular, Ali discusses how, in one chapter of his book, he raises the provocative question about whether “Good Is the Enemy of Great: The Four Failures of Rural Broadband Policy.” In his telling, less money, lower speed, and poor-quality broadband mapping have all contributed to an approach that, in seeking “good enough,” federal policy has failed Rural America.
Ali, an associate professor at UVA’s Department of Media Studies and a Knight News Innovation Fellow with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, is also the chair of the Communication Law and Policy Division of the International Communications Association and the author of two books on localism in media, “Media Localism: The Policies of Place” (University of Illinois Press, 2017) and “Local News in a Digital World” (Tow Center for Digital Journalism, 2017)
“Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity” available at the MIT Press.
See Professor Ali’s recent Expert Opinion for Broadband Breakfast, “Christopher Ali: Is Broadband Like Getting Bran Flakes to the Home?“
Topic 4 at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021: The Future of Shared Infrastructure
Topic 4 explores the past and future of the shared infrastructure model with more smart city deployments.
September 23, 2021 – In four 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 fourth session at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 – Topic 4 — is about the future of shared infrastructure. What will best practices look like for ownership models? How will the landscape shift as we continue to deploy 5G technologies across the country?
In particular, this session will consider how cellular towers were once proprietary, before carriers partnered with infrastructure owners. Will future wired and wireless deployments, including smart city projects, have any bearing upon the shared infrastructure model?
The conference will kick off at 1 p.m. ET / 12 Noon CT, and this fourth panel is scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m. ET / 4:15 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 Mari Silbey, Senior Director of Partnerships and Outreach for US Ignite, and Program Director for the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) program, and includes, as panelists, Jonathan Adelstein, President & CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association; C. Earl Peek, Founder and Managing Partner, Diamond Ventures and Peek, LLC; and Deborah Simpier, Co-founder and CEO, Althea Networks.
Panelists for Topic 4:
- Jonathan Adelstein, President and CEO, Wireless Industry Association
- C. Earl Peek, CPA, Founder and Managing Partner, Diamond Ventures and Peek, LLC
- Deborah Simpler, Co-founder and CEO, Althea Networks
- Mari Silbey (moderator), Senior Director of Partnerships and Outreach, US Ignite
Jonathan Adelstein has headed the Wireless Industry Association since 2012, representing the businesses that build, develop, own, and operate the nation’s wireless infrastructure. He is a former Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission and Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. He previously served 15 years on the U.S. Senate staff, culminating as a senior legislative advisor to Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
C. Earl Peek, CPA, Founder and Managing Partner, Diamond Ventures and Peek, LLC, is a graduate from Wilberforce University in Ohio with a B.S, in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude and has an extensive background in public accounting, banking, commercial lending, and venture capital formation. As an entrepreneur he ran his own business for eight years. He founded and was greenlighted to be a Small Business Investment Company (SBIC). As Senior Policy Advisor at the U.S. Treasury he was a key voting member for deploying capital to ethnic minorities, minority depository institutions, community banks, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and other U.S. entities deploying nearly $6B in all states, cities, and more than 400 community banks. Mr. Peek, was an Assistant Vice-President /Director of the Bank Commercial Business Development with Industrial Bank and later he was Vice President in Commercial Banking with BB&T- both in Washington, D.C.
Deborah Simpier is a small business veteran and has been active in the Pacific Northwest mesh networking and net neutrality scene for several years. Before she became co-founder and CEO, she was Althea’s first user.
Mari Silbey (moderator) is Senior Director of Partnerships and Outreach for US Ignite, and Program Director for the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) program, a $100 million initiative funded by the National Science Foundation and a consortium of more than 30 wireless companies and associations. Mari has 20 years of experience in communications and technology. She has worked previously as a writer, analyst and consultant in the private sector, and as a journalist covering broadband and wireless infrastructure.
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.
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.
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.
Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 Sponsors:
To inquire about Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Adrianne Furniss: Lifeline Needs A Lifeline
The FCC should hit the pause button on a current plan to zero out support for voice-only services.
In less than three months, nearly 800,000 low-income people who receive telephone subsidies through the Universal Service Fund’s Lifeline program will be negatively impacted by changes scheduled to go into effect at the Federal Communications Commission on December 1. That is one of the most troubling — and pressing — conclusions of an independent evaluation of the FCC’s Lifeline program conducted by Grant Thornton. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the FCC must act now to ensure people can retain essential communications services.
As of June 20, 2021, approximately 6.9 million subscribers were enrolled in the Lifeline program; most (approximately 94 percent) are enrolled in supported wireless plans. Voice service remains a desired service for both Lifeline subscribers and the general American consumer. Only 1 percent of surveyed American adults live in a home with neither fixed nor mobile voice service, and mobile-only voice subscribers comprise more than 60 percent of U.S. households.
In 2016, the FCC adopted a comprehensive reform and modernization of the Lifeline program. For the first time, the FCC included broadband as a supported service in the program. Lifeline program rules allowed support for stand-alone mobile (think cell phone) or fixed broadband Internet access service (think home broadband service delivered over a wire), as well as bundles including fixed or mobile voice and broadband. The 2016 decision also set in motion a plan to zero-out support for voice-only services.
In its February 2021 report, Thornton found that the phase-down and ultimate phase-out of voice services by December 1, 2021 may negatively impact 797,454 Lifeline consumers (that’s over 10 percent of all Lifeline enrollees) who use voice-only services for fundamental needs. So that’s nearly 800,000 households that could face being disconnected from phone service this winter.
The FCC needs to change course and help more Americans keep connected to communications services that are essential to navigate the ongoing public health and economic crisis.
And it needs to act before December 1.
Most importantly, the FCC should act swiftly and hit the pause button on the 2016 plan to zero-out support for voice-only services. During the pandemic, the stakes are just too high for anyone to be disconnected from essential communications networks.
Then the FCC should launch a new effort to reform and further modernize the Lifeline program, informed by what we’ve witnessed during COVID, and the findings in Thornton’s and the FCC’s own recent review of the Lifeline program.
First, Lifeline needs to have foundational governance documents—such as strategic plans, performance objectives, and an integrated communications plan—to assist in the longitudinal success and guidance of the program.
Second, the FCC has to consider raising Lifeline’s monthly subsidy, $9.25, so it can make more meaningful services affordable for low-income families. Home-broadband prices (both for fixed and wireless service) remain disproportionately high when compared to the Lifeline program subsidy. The FCC should evaluate minimum service standards in relation to the average cost of wireless, wireline, and broadband data plans and determine if the subsidy will cover all, or even the majority of costs to provide Lifeline services.
Third, the FCC must adopt changes in the program so it better benefits the people it was created to connect.
- The FCC should seek to understand the composition of Lifeline households and what services various members need (i.e., school-aged children, telecommuters, etc.). The minimum services supported by Lifeline should address the needs of the entire household.
- Just 25 percent of the people eligible to participate in the Lifeline program actually enroll. The FCC must understand why and should consider ways to improve awareness of the Lifeline program. One idea is to partner with other federal benefit programs, and the state agencies that administer those programs, to not only increase outreach about Lifeline, but ideally to integrate Lifeline’s application processes into those program applications.
- The FCC should adopt program rules that incorporate Lifeline consumer feedback to ensure the program works for the most vulnerable people in society.
Fourth, changes in the Lifeline program should encourage all telecommunications and broadband service providers to compete to serve low-income households in their service areas.
Finally, the FCC should also consider revising its measure of affordability of broadband for low-income consumers. Currently, the FCC considers “affordable service” as 2 percent of disposable income of those below 135 percent of the federal poverty level. Instead, the FCC should consider affordability in the context of a subscriber’s purchasing power in a geographic location and balanced with availability of services and choice of providers. The FCC should evaluate the pricing packages of voice and broadband services offered by Lifeline carriers and provide assurance that packages offered are in the reasonable standard of affordability for low-income consumers. And the FCC should institute a structured process to regularly review the Lifeline program’s pricing packages and incorporate measures of both the subsidy rate and service standards for similar programs (like the Emergency Broadband Benefit), income statistics of current consumers, and the percentage of Lifeline subscribers who pay out of pocket for services.
The commitment to connecting people with low incomes to essential communications services is not new. But the past 18 months have offered stark reminders of the importance of universal service. We need the FCC to act now to keep everyone connected. And we need the FCC to update the Lifeline program so everyone can rely on a basic level of connectivity no matter how much income they have.
Adrianne Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society. She manages the institute’s staff and relationships with Benton experts, partners, and supporters in service to Benton’s mission and in consultation with Benton’s Trustees and Board of Directors. Previously, she held management positions at both non-profit and for-profit content creation companies, focused on program development, marketing, and distribution. This piece was originally published in the Benton Institute’s Digital Beat, and is reprinted with permission. © Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2021. Redistribution of this publication – both internally and externally – is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to email@example.com. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
- Christopher Ali: Is Broadband Like Getting Bran Flakes to the Home?
- Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates
- Christopher Ali’s New Book Dissects Failures of Rural Broadband Policy and Leadership
- Washington’s Antitrust Push Could Create ‘Chilling Effect’ on Startups, Observers Say
- Apple Blacklists Fortnite, T-Mobile Expands Home Internet, Ajit Pai Reflects on Virginia’s Broadband Leadership
- Topic 4 at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021: The Future of Shared Infrastructure
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