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FCC Commissioner Simington Says Universal Fiber to the Home Can Wait

Simington also raised idea of Big Tech contributing to Universal Service Fund.

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FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington.

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Nathan Simington said Tuesday that adoption issues for fiber is delaying the need to make universal fiber to the home a priority right now.

“I think we can push back on fiber to the home universally, at least in noting that there are edge cases and adoption issues there and that some degree of wireless is going to have to be part of the broadband future,” Simington said in a one-on-one conversation with the Internet Innovation Alliance.

A large part of the discourse surrounding the future of broadband expansion in the country is what kinds of technologies are most prudent to ensure connectivity now and scalability in the future. The Wireless Industry Association has pressed the fact that multiple technologies, including wireless, have a play in broadband’s future, while the Fiber Broadband Association and others have said fiber buildout is the best, most scalable technology.

The last mile, where the cable physically attaches to the home or business, was said at the Digital Infrastructure Investment conference this week to be a goal for broadband expansion.

But Simington said that while fiber is a “robust technology,” there’s a chunk of Americans that may not want it.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there are some users who are not particularly interested in fiber,” Simington said. “That might be people who are, for example, device-only users and they don’t want a home broadband connection — that’s about 20 percent of the national population (of broadband users), although the question of want is sort of up in the air.

“Obviously to a person who is device-only, the only use that fiber would have would be to provide hotspot. And if you’re spending your entire day out and about working, what matters to you is having adequate wireless coverage in your area,” he added.

Simington touches on Universal Service Fund

Modernizing the Universal Service Fund has been one of the hot topics for broadband this year. The fund, which extends basic telecom services to all Americans, has been called unsustainable due to its reliance on shrinking voice revenues.

Some have suggested that the fund’s reliance be wholesale replaced with general taxation from Congress, while others have said that the fund’s revenue base should be extended to include the increasing broadband revenues.

Simington prefaced his comments by saying he didn’t want to get ahead of Congress, which would set the parameters of a new regime, but raised previous recommendations – including from FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr – that part of the money can come from big technology companies, like Facebook and Google.

“We might also say that there are companies that have built their model on there being universal broadband and have been the beneficiaries of the buildout without having to do much to contribute to it…that’s something that has been raised on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

He added that another approach “would simply be to say that broadband is essentially the equivalent of a telephone service back in the day and therefore we are going to put it on everyone’s broadband bill instead of on the relatively small installed base of phone line subject to the USF. That would certainly be one approach. It would smooth things out somewhat, it would presumably broaden the base very substantially.”

In any case, Simington said the USF is “absolutely vital” and that it’s failure would be “at minimum…immensely disruptive.”

Spectrum strategies and future technologies  

In his roughly hour-long chat, Simington touched on a myriad of other issues before the FCC, including the future of satellite technologies, spectrum strategies, and funding for programs to deliver telecommunications services to all Americans.

The commissioner noted that the FCC is prioritizing clearing spectrum for technologies including the next-generation 5G networks, and that the agency is looking to “squeeze every drop” of mid-band frequencies for that end. The FCC has already held a number of auctions for mid-band spectrum, including its massive C-Band auction.

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said earlier this year that the mid-band spectrum is a priority for the agency over millimeter wave spectrum to close the digital divide.

Simington also said spectrum sharing will increase as technological advances are made. The FCC is fielding comments about how to handle the 12 GHz spectrum band, which is effectively pitting satellite providers who say it can’t be shared and 5G providers who say that it can.

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

FCC

FCC Announces Additional Details From Second Wave, Additional Money for First Wave, of Emergency Connectivity Fund

FCC said it disbursed an additional $269 million in the first round.

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FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, October 26, 2021 ­– The Federal Communications Commission announced additional details Monday about the second wave of funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, including additional money that has been allocated from the first filing window.

The agency, which allocated $1.1 billion earlier this month, said second wave applicants filed for nearly $1.3 billion from all 50 states. The second window was open for applications between September 28 and October 13.

The agency also announced that an additional $269 million was allocated for the first filing window applications, which disbursed $1.2 billion from the $7.17 billion program.

The applications submitted for the latest round will go to fund 2.4 million connected devices and over 564,000 broadband connections to benefit schools and libraries. The agency has so far committed a total of $2.63 billion from the fund.

These latest commitments mean more than nine million students will be connected with the money. The support provided from the funds is expected to make homework completion and virtual learning more possible for students with connectivity issues, as many schools continue to operate remotely.

“Clearly there still is a tremendous demand for help in our communities to meet the broadband needs of students and library patrons engaged in online learning,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

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FCC

Biden Nominates Rosenworcel as FCC Chair, Sohn as 5th Commissioner and Alan Davidson as NTIA Head

Industry reacts to the appointments of Rosenworcel as first permanent woman chair, Sohn as first openly gay commissioner.

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Gigi Sohn is officially appointed as Federal Communications Commissioner.

WASHINGTON, October 26, 2021 – After nine months as interim chair of the Federal Communications Commission, the White House announced Tuesday that it intends to nominate Jessica Rosenworcel as the agency’s permanent head, becoming the first full-time woman in that position.

Rosenworcel will be flanked by former FCC staffer Gigi Sohn, long speculated as a frontrunner for the top job, to be the crucial party tie-breaking fifth — and first openly gay – commissioner on the agency, the White House also announced Tuesday. Alan Davidson, a former director of public policy at Google, has also been nominated as the assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under the Department of Commerce, making him the head of the agency.

The positions must now be confirmed by the Senate.

Rosenworcel said in a statement that she is “deeply humbled” by the announcement and congratulated Sohn and Davidson on their selections. “It is an honor to work with my colleagues on the Commission and the agency’s talented staff to ensure that no matter who you are or where you live, everyone has the connections they need to live, work, and learn in the digital age,” she said.

In a tweet, Sohn said she is “deeply honored to be nominated by [Biden] to serve as FCC Commissioner. If confirmed, I’ll work to fulfill his goal of ensuring that every household in the US has robust broadband internet. Congratulations to [Rosenworcel] on her ascension to Chair – well deserved!”

Observers had speculated that a delay in making these nominations could hamper the Democratic party’s broadband policy agenda. The wait caused enough concern for educational institutions and senators representing 17 states to write letters urging Biden to nominate Rosenworcel. Even former FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican, said he was perplexed by the delay in Rosenworcel’s nomination.

Industry praise

Companies and industry association came out to praise the nominations as important steps forward to complete a commission that has before it an ambitious agenda to provide universal access to high-speed internet across the country.

“Having a fully staffed Commission will allow the fast paced communications industry to more quickly deliver results to American consumers,” said the Rural Wireless Association in a statement, which praised the nominations. “Rosenworcel has been a good steward as Acting Chair these past 9 months, and for over 30 years, Gigi Sohn has relentlessly served the public interest and kept Big Tech in check.”

Adrianne Furniss, the executive director of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society for which Sohn is currently a senior fellow, said in a statement that Sohn is “not only a broadband and telecommunications policy expert, but is expert at mastering complex policy issues, bringing disparate voices together to find common purpose, and pursuing the public interest.

“I’ve seen firsthand how effective she is as a leader who identifies, organizes, and partners with public interest groups; philanthropy; bipartisan federal, state, and local representatives; academics; and companies large and small,” Furniss added.

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said the commission at full strength “is important as issues from net neutrality to spectrum to the expansion of high speed broadband access are more necessary than ever as more people rely on internet connectivity during the pandemic…Having a seasoned DC veteran lead the NTIA will further help the administration advance its goals toward 5G and better internet connectivity.”

Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, said in a statement that each of the three nominees “brings into these core positions years of experience, deep connections, and legal and administrative know-how,” adding the commission will finally be operating at full capacity to “benefit American consumers, our economy, as well as those who linger without competitive and evolving broadband solutions in the digital divide.”

The Internet Innovation Alliance said in a statement that Rosenworcel has “proven time and again that she is an astute and balanced decisionmaker who is highly capable of bringing forward-looking policy prescriptions to the Commission and serving the best interests of the American people.” The association also had high praise for Sohn as “well-qualified and respected,” bringing years of policy and consumer advocacy” to the agency.

Michael Powell, president and CEO of the NCTA Internet and Television Association, congratulated the nominees and for Rosenworcel’s work during the pandemic, stating that the three will now play a crucial role in policy design to “promote continued investment and innovation in wired and wireless broadband networks – including the growth of licensed and unlicensed platforms – and in supporting Congress’ clear direction to build next generation networks in unserved and underserved areas.”

USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter said of Davidson’s nomination that Biden “has nominated a person with a range of technology and innovation experience, and a perspective that crosses the public, private and non-profit spheres.”

Joan Marsh, executive vice president of federal regulatory relations, highlighted in a congratulatory statement Rosenworcel’s accomplishments on programs including the Emergency Broadband Benefit and Emergency Connectivity Fund. She also noted Sohn’s “significant experience in the telecom policy arena.

“We look forward to working with her and her colleagues as the agency addresses the many pressing issues before it,” the statement added.

Noah Campbell, co-founder and CEO of telecom RS Access, which has been fighting to have the 12 GHz spectrum shared between satellite and 5G mobile service providers, said Rosenworcel has shown “tremendous leadership by bringing hundreds of megahertz of 5G spectrum to market in her roles at the FCC. She has been a staunch advocate for freeing more mid-band spectrum, while delivering on the promise to connect all Americans and close the digital divide.” He also congratulated Sohn and praised her commitment to public service.

Some background on nominees

Rosenworcel, a lawyer by training and graduate of New York University School of Law, would come into the helm as a long-time FCC veteran, having served as commissioner since her nomination by then-President Barack Obama in 2011, and before that an advisor to FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. During this time, she voted in favor of net neutrality rules, which have been quashed under previous agency head Ajit Pai and will serve as one of the most potent issues to review by this new-look commission.

Rosenworcel has also pressed national security issues to the front, having taken action on suspected threats to the country’s networks by proposing to ban licenses to companies with ties to the Chinese Communist government. She has advocated to diversify radio technology equipment by advocating for more open technologies for lower cost and better security.

Sohn, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, is a distinguished fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy. Beside her advocacy work at the Benton Institute, she was also for 12 years the president and CEO of internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, before becoming counselor to the chairman of the FCC in 2015, according to her LinkedIn profile. She has also held fellowship positions at the Open Society Foundations and the Mozilla Foundation.

Davidson, a graduate of Yale Law School, was in the early 2000s a professor at Georgetown University and director of public policy for the Americas at Google in Washington D.C. He served director of digital economy at the Department of Commerce, as vice president and director of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, and as tech policy fellow and then senior advisor at the Mozilla Foundation, according to his LinkedIn page.

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Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements

The FCC is looking at how to promote broadband competition and access in buildings.

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Photo of Jenna Leventoff from Internet Law & Policy Foundry

WASHINGTON, October 21, 2021 – Opponents of exclusivity arrangements that give tenants of multitenant buildings less choice of internet service provider are urging the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate all manifestations of these contracts that they say harms competition and locks landlords into burdensome long-term contracts.

While the FCC has previously banned exclusive access agreements that granted a single provider sole access to a building, it did not do so for exclusive wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements. That means third party service providers cannot share the building wires with the telecom with that privilege and cannot market their services to the building’s residents.

The FCC launched a comment period in September to field arguments about what to do with these holdout issues that gave priority to ISPs. In an early submission, the internet and television association NCTA said the commission should deny all broadband providers exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

Internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS said in its submission that the competitive environment has continued to suffer due to these exclusive deals and, in the case of retail shopping centers, their deals have been extended over the “last several years.”

It is asking for a complete ban on the wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, which they say “make it tougher for new entrants to effectively compete in MTEs.

“Competitive providers are still asked to participate in revenue sharing arrangements or are routinely denied access to MTEs because of exclusive wiring or marketing agreements,” INCOMPAS said, adding consumers and businesses “lose out on the faster speeds, lower pricing, and better customer service that competitors offer.”

Public Knowledge similarly said there is a lack of competition emerging from these practices that is increasing prices and restricting choice for tenants.

“Although the FCC has banned explicit exclusive agreements in multi-tenant environments (MTEs) such as apartment, condos, and office buildings, landlords and internet service providers have exploited loopholes to nevertheless create de facto monopolies in buildings,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

The group is asking for a ban on “all types” of these arrangements that “negatively impact consumer choice, ensuring all ISPs have access to a building’s wiring regardless of the owner, creating a ‘rocket docket’ to quickly adjudicate supposed violations, and creating a single regulatory regime for both commercial and residential MTEs.”

In a joint submission on Wednesday, Consolidated Communications Holdings and Ziply Fiber said they “often confront such anti-competitive agreements,” with revenue sharing and marketing arrangements being the most “prevalent and troublesome.

“In practice, these agreements frequently work together as a complete bar to competing providers, giving the incumbent broadband provider a de facto exclusive service agreement with respect to an MTE,” the submission said, alleging MTE owners will “explicitly cite their lucrative revenue sharing agreements with an existing provider as their reason for not allowing our companies to access their buildings” and so to not to lose out on that compensation.

Harm on building owners

For the Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, exclusive wiring arrangements have not only limited choice for residents, but it has allegedly locked housing providers into “long-term onerous contracts that prohibit them from pursuing connectivity solutions, such as owner-provided broadband, at their properties.”

Members of the affordable housing group are recommending the FCC impose “reasonable standards” on such agreements, which require ISPs to offer low-cost programs or owner provided broadband at a competitive cost and give landlords an option to exit or renegotiate a contract after a certain time.

The FCC’s look into the issue comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

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