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Christopher Ali on Infrastructure Bill, FCC Approves Telehealth Money, Boost Intros 5G Phone

Author of Farm Fresh Broadband talks considerations for infrastructure funding, FCC approves 72 telehealth apps, Boost Mobile’s 5G device.

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Erik Carlson, CEO of Dish Network.

September 30, 2021 – The author of a new book on the failures of American policy on rural broadband said Wednesday he hopes the infrastructure bill’s billions for broadband, if passed, will be utilized with additional oversight to ensure the money is distributed and used effectively.

Christopher Ali, the author of Farm Fresh Broadband, which was released on September 21, said in a one-on-one conversation with the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition he wants the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to be cognizant of the policy errors in the past and ensure that it lays out an accountability framework, which includes reporting on where money is going, to adequately utilize the valuable “once-in-a-lifetime” funds.

The states are expected to receive $42 billion from the NTIA out of a total of $65 billion allocated for broadband infrastructure in the bill, which could see a vote in the House on Thursday.

For the money to be effective, Ali said it should include smaller providers having an “equitable shot at funding, that states have to produce or have to create broadband offices that are well staffed, and that there are rules for accountability. I think if we have those three elements in place, this $42 billion is going to do a tremendous amount of good in this country, so I am really excited about the potential here.”

The Federal Communications Commission has recently been going through a cleansing operation to weed out areas that may already be adequately served as part of effort to maximize the efficiency of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, whose winners were announced when Ajit Pai was still chairman in December 2020.

Ali also noted that the better broadband maps need to be there. Many of the winners of RDOF money, who defaulted on some areas they won money to cover, said they only realized that their areas were adequately served through the FCC’s newer map data.

FCC approves $41 million in telehealth program

The FCC on Wednesday approved 72 health provider applications for a total of $41 million in round two of its Covid-19 telehealth program, it said in a press release.

The money goes toward reimbursements provided to telecommunications services, information services, and connected devices that are necessarily to enable health care providers to tend to their patients remotely.

The first round of funding disbursed $42 million, with both rounds amounting to $83 million. Once the agency has committed $150 million in funding, it will provide an opportunity for all remaining applicants to supplement their applications.

Boost Mobile introduces new 5G device

Dish Network’s Boost Mobile announced Thursday a new phone optimized for 5G that will be available sometime fall, the company said in a press release.

Boost says the Celero5G is an affordable device that has a 6.52-inch screen, four cameras, 36 hours of battery life, and 4GB of memory.

New and existing customers can pre-order the device online at boostmobile.com. New and existing customers will get 12 full months of free unlimited talk, text and data on the new device for $279 (through 10/31/21).

“Subscribers have told us loud and clear: they want speed, cool features, and a fair price. The Celero5G is built to make 5G affordable,” said Stephen Stokols, head of Boost Mobile, in a press release.

Boost Mobile has been aggressively pushing its mobile wireless efforts, as it tests its 5G network in Las Vegas and Denver. Earlier this month, it announced that it is buying pre-paid carrier Gen Mobile.

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

Rosenworcel and Sohn Expected On FCC, Electric Coops Praise USDA Program, Internet Speeds Up 40%

Report says Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel will be permanent and Gigi Sohn will break the party tie on the FCC.

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Gigi Sohn, right, is expected to be selected as commissioner of FCC, Politico reports.

October 26, 2021 – President Joe Biden is expected to select Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel as the permanent head of the Federal Communications Commission and will install former agency official Gigi Sohn as the tie-breaking commissioner, according to Politico, citing sources.

Biden has been under pressure from senators representing 17 states and has been urged by institutions and former FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly to make interim head Rosenworcel permanent.

Observers have speculated that the lack of action on the selections have put the Democratic agenda for broadband policy at risk. It has even stirred speculation that Rosenworcel was on her way out.

But one consistent has been speculation that Sohn, a net neutrality advocate, could have gotten the nod as chair of the commission.

If selected, Democrat Sohn will break the party deadlock that has pitted two Democratic and two Republican commissioners.

Electric co-ops pleased with changes in USDA ReConnect broadband program

Electric cooperatives are praising changes made to the third round of applications for the $1.15 billion ReConnect loan and grant program for rural broadband, which include increasing the download speed for served areas.

That means for the latest round of applications, served areas will be defined by access to speeds of 100 Megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload, compared to 10/1. In addition, networks built with the funds will need to deliver symmetrical speeds of 100/100 Mbps; applications to areas that lack 25/3, the federal standard, will be prioritized; and areas lacking 100/20 Mbps service that have previously received federal money will be eligible.

“We greatly appreciate USDA’s work to help spur rural broadband deployment, and their appropriate recognition of the need to make sure the program continues to serve those communities most in need of broadband,” the National Rural Electric Cooperation Association, which represents nearly 900 local electric cooperatives, said in a press release Friday.

“Significant changes to this new round of the ReConnect program will allow electric cooperatives and other broadband providers to offer service to many more unserved and underserved rural communities.”

Report finds internet speeds increased 40% over pre-pandemic speeds

According to a report from comparison website WhistleOut this month, average internet speeds have increased 40 percent nationwide over pre-pandemic speeds, which the organization said could be due to customers upgrading their internet packages or providers increasing overall speeds.

The speeds bump on average moved from 84.5 to 118.4 Mbps, with Alaska seeing the largest bump at a 170 percent increase. Idaho followed with a 77 percent increase, then it was Kentucky at 70 percent, Iowa at 64 percent, Wyoming at 62.6 percent, Kansas at 60.3 percent, Maine at 59.7 percent, Montana at 57.7 percent, Oklahoma at 57.4 percent, and South Carolina rounding out the top 10 with 56.1 percent.

The only state that saw a decrease was West Virginia, which saw a decline of 17 percent over the period.

Whistleout measured nearly one million speed test results from December 1, 2019 to March 15, 2020 (pre-Covid) and from May 1, 2021 to August 17, 2021 (during Covid).

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Broadband Roundup

Space Cybersecurity Concerns, USTelecom’s New Board, Agriculture’s $1.15 Rural Broadband Grant

Cybersecurity experts are concerned about space hacking, USTelecom elects new board, USDA makes $1B for rural broadband.

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Jaisha Wray of the NTIA.

October 25, 2021 — Cybersecurity experts raised concern Friday about the vulnerabilities of satellite technology to hacking at the FCBA’s cybersecurity lunch event.

“There’s a wide range of malicious activity that is disruptive to space activity,” said Jaisha Wray, associate administrator for international affairs at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Wray is raising alarm about the potential losses from bad actors in space missions. Space agencies risk the loss of mission data or even completely losing control of their space systems, Wray said. Space systems are defined as a combination of a ground control network, a space vehicle, and a user or mission network that provides a space-based service.

The problem, she said, is space systems are difficult to physically access while in orbit. The solution, panelists said, is to design cybersecurity features into space systems prior to launching into orbit. Cybersecurity should be integrated into “the full life cycle” of the space system to ensure systems are protected from bad actors, the panelists agreed.

Wray said that the U.S. must identify risks and coordinate with stakeholders to manage cybersecurity risks to space systems. “Information sharing [between government and suppliers] is key” to protecting U.S. data in space, she said.

Wray said that Space Policy Directive 5, signed in September 2020 by then-President Donald Trump, emphasized the need to improve cyber protections when developing space systems. Wray worked on the development of Space Policy Directive 5 as director of international cyber policy on Trump’s National Security Council.

USTelecom elects new mostly women-led board, officers, and leadership

Telecom trade association US Telecom announced Friday a number of telecommunications executives to the board of directors and leadership, making US Telecom’s board mostly women-led for the first time in the association’s 124-year history.

The elected positions represent “the full spectrum of US Telecom’s diverse and innovative membership” said CEO Jonathan Spalter.

Kathy Grillo, senior vice president of the public policy and government affairs group at Verizon, was elected as the new chair of the USTelecom board of directors. Calling this moment “a pivotal time” for broadband expansion, Grillo emphasized broadband’s impact on our economy and her call to action.

“Broadband during the pandemic, broadband helped sustain our economy,” Grillo said. “But we can do better. We must close the digital divide and ensure all Americans have access to broadband and the benefits it brings. Expanding broadband’s reach will fuel our nation’s future growth,” Grillo said.

The board also elected Julie Kearney, vice president of communications regulatory affairs and policy at Twilio. Other elected members include Jason Williams, CEO of Montana-based Blackfoot Communications, and Takami Abe, general manager at Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.

USDA to make $1.15 billion available for broadband, distance learning grants  

Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Friday that the agency would make up to $1.15 billion available to fund broadband expansion nationwide.

Beginning November 24, the USDA will begin accepting applications to distribute the funds in loans and grants to expand the availability of broadband in rural areas through the ReConnect program.

“For too long, the digital divide” has left too many people living in rural communities behind: unable to compete in the global economy and unable to access the services and resources all Americans need,” Vilsack said. “As we build back better than we were before, the actions I am announcing today will go a long way toward ensuring that people who live or work in rural areas are able to tap into the benefits of broadband, including access to specialized health care, educational opportunities and the global marketplace.”

To be eligible for funding through the ReConnect program, an applicant must service an area without broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload). An applicant must also commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in its proposed service area.

Vilsack also announced a $50 million investment in 105 rural distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and Puerto Rico. The awards will be funded by USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program.

The announcement follows President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda by mobilizing federal agencies to invest in the nation’s infrastructure.

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Broadband Roundup

House Passes Ban on Chinese Equipment, 3.45 GHz Auction Reaches Reserve Price, Against a ‘Wi-Fi Tax’

Bipartisan Senate bill clears the House, FCC auction prices climb higher, tech groups oppose newly proposed fee

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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florids

October 22, 2021—The House of Representatives passed the Secure Equipment Act of 2021 on Wednesday, with a goal of mitigating perceived national security threats from equipment manufacturers, particularly Chinese companies.

The bill would require the Federal Communications Commission issue rules prohibiting new equipment licenses to potentially dangerous companies on the agency’s “Covered Equipment or Services List.”

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., initially introduced the act before its passage in the Senate. The House version of the bill was introduced by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana.

Chinese state-backed firms Huawei and ZTE are among the companies included in the FCC’s list of technology companies that the agency has deemed a national security threat. The agency was required by the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 to detail which companies it believes to pose a severe threat to U.S. safety.

The new measure would make it impossible for U.S. telecommunications carriers to continue using equipment from companies deemed threats by the FCC if that equipment was purchased with private or non-federal government dollars. That practice was previously allowed, even those using such equipment with federal funds had already been effectively banned.

FCC 3.45 GHz auction proceeds reach reserve price

The 3.45 GHz auction at the FCC hit the agency’s reserve price of $14.77 billion Wednesday.

Many doubts existed about whether the auction would not hit the reserve price and become the first to do so in the FCC’s history.

Should this auction follow the same progression as this year’s C Band auction, it is possible proceeds could reach $20 billion. Current proceeds total $16.43 billion.

Success of the auction would come as a large relief to AT&T, which is projected to be the auction’s largest spender ahead of T-Mobile and Dish.

Analysts at New Street Research stated that they believe it is likely that the auction will meet the reserve price and that the actions of the Department of Defense will serve as a strong indicator of the auction’s success because it uses the mid-band spectrum that is most sought after by carriers.

CCIA opposes a proposed ‘Wi-Fi tax’

The Computer & Communications Industry Association on Thursday in submitting comments to the FCC on Thursday in opposition to a proposal that would charge regulatory fees to users of unlicensed spectrum.

The CCIA was joined in its opposition by the Internet Association, Digital Media Association and Incompas.

The organizations said that the FCC’s proposed fees would “effectively result in something like a Wi-Fi tax.”

CCIA said that the proposal would be “unworkable to implement” and that it exceeds the legal authority and mission of the FCC. Further, they state it would also harm innovators who use unlicensed spectrum to create services for consumers.

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