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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).

Managing 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.

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Ye Suspended From Twitter, FCC Issues Licenses, Streamlining ReConnect

The musician recently announced a 2024 bid for the presidency.

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Screenshot of a masked Ye during an interview Thursday with Alex Jones

December 2, 2022 – Twitter suspended the account of Ye, formerly Kanye West, after the musician on Thursday tweeted a graphic of a swastika inlaid in a Jewish star.

In recent months, Ye has repeatedly alleged that a Jewish cabal controls the media and other powerful institutions. Ye has claimed that Jews have attempted to silence, imprison, and financially ruin him. These statements have drawn widespread backlash from a wide range of political commentators and public figures.

The musician recently announced a 2024 bid for the presidency and sparked controversy by partnering with antisemitic internet personality Nick Fuentes and alt-right defender Milo Yiannopoulos.

In an appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show on Thursday, Ye stated, “I like Hitler.” He later added, “I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis.” Ye elected to wear a mask throughout the appearance.

“I tried my best,” Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk tweeted in response to a Twitter user. “Despite that, [Ye] again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended.”

Musk bought Twitter promising to institute more-permissive content moderation policies. However, despite the worries of Musk’s detractors and some of Musk’s own public statements, Ye’s suspension suggests Twitter will maintain at least basic guardrails against egregious content.

In October, before Musk’s takeover, Twitter restricted Ye’s account following a tweet in which he stated he would “go death con [sic] 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” He told Jones he sent the tweet under the influence of alcohol.

That same month, right-wing social-media platform Parler announced Ye planned to purchase the company.

FCC grants spectrum licenses in 2.5 GHz band

The Federal Communications Commission granted 51 long-form applications and issued 650 spectrum licenses in the 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz), the agency announced Thursday.

“This is important spectrum, especially for rural America. I am grateful to our team for moving forward quickly but carefully in processing these applications,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We continue to focus on ensuring that mid-band spectrum is available for 5G and other next-generation wireless services.”

The FCC announced the winners of 2.5 GHz auction in September. The auction raised almost $420 million in net bids, the commission said.

Spectrum allocation has been of late a major issue for the FCC. In October, the agency approved a measuring seeking comment on the 12.7–13.25 GHz band, and Commissioner Brendan Carr the next month urged his colleagues to increase the rate of authorizations.

Over the summer, the commission released an updated memorandum of understanding with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the overseer of federally used spectrum. Many experts have called on federal agencies to relinquish unused spectrum for use in the private sector, which, they say, would drive the expansion of next-generation technologies such as 5G.

Senators introduce bill to “streamline” USDA’s broadband programs

On behalf of a bipartisan coalition, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., on Tuesday introduced a bill that would merge the Agriculture Department’s ReConnect program with the agency’s other broadband funding initiatives.

The coalition, including Sens. Ben Ray Lujan D-N.M., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., argue the Rural Internet Improvement Act would facilitate the efficient dispatch of funding to rural areas. The bill would also limit the disbursal of ReConnect funds to areas in which at least 90 percent of households lack broadband service.

“High-speed, reliable broadband is critical for New Mexico families and businesses, but the digital divide leaves far too many rural and Tribal communities behind,” Lujan said. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to make USDA programs more efficient and ensure that unserved communities receive the investments they need.” 

Trade group NCTA – The Internet and Television Association voiced support for the bill.

“Senator Thune has long been a leader in promoting and sustaining better access to broadband in rural areas, and NTCA appreciates his continued interest and leadership in examining ways to improve the workings of USDA’s ReConnect loan and grant program,” said NCTA CEO Shirley Bloomfield.

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FCC December Agenda, Biden to Visit TSMC plant, Weak Economy Presents Cyber Problem

The December meeting includes digital discrimination prevention, phone service accessibility, and satellite application processes.

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Photo of Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-Hua, via Wikimedia Commons

December 1, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda for the agency’s open meeting on December 21.

The agenda will include digital discrimination prevention, phone service accessibility, and satellite application processes.

The FCC will consider, by vote, whether to have a public comment period on making changes in the satellite and earth station application process, possible requirement of wireless carriers to implement location-based routing on their networks to improve 9-1-1 calls and emergency response times, and next steps to close the digital divide in alignment with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.

Biden to visit TSMC plant in Arizona next week

The White House announced President Joe Biden will visit on December 6 Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s $12 billion semiconductor plant in Phoenix, Arizona, according to Reuters.

TSMC began construction of the plant in mid-2021 and is expecting it to be operational in 2023, according to AZCentral. TSMC is the world’s largest independent manufacturer of microprocessors valued at over $400 billion.

The purpose of Biden’s visit is to promote the domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, a key component in many technologies and a major component of the Chips and Science Act passed this summer. That law provides an incentive of $52 billion to get domestic manufacturing of the chips in the U.S.

Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-Hua told reporters in Taipei that she thinks “…we [TSMC] will form a good supply relationship with the United States,” according to Reuters.

TSMC’s Chair Mark Liu had previously told CNN in August that there is a concern with the rising conflict between China’s recent “reunification” efforts with the sovereign island nation.

“Nobody can control TSMC by force,” Liu said. “If you take a military force or invasion, you will render [the] TSMC factory not operable. Because this is such a sophisticated manufacturing facility, it depends on real-time connection with the outside world, with Europe, with Japan, with U.S., from materials to chemicals to spare parts to engineering software and diagnosis.”

Norton sees economy having impact on cyber vulnerability

The weakening economy will make people more vulnerable to cyber crime in 2023, according to a new report from Norton, a brand of cybersecurity company Gen Digital.

“This year, inflation and other unfavorable macroeconomic factors are likely to make people particularly eager to find good deals and they may therefore be at greater risk than in previous years,” Kevin Roundy, Norton’s researcher and technical director, said in a release.

False government assistance programs, false e-stores and users who create deepfakes – manipulated media to appear like a person is saying or doing something – for romance scams pose a risk for users to disclose personal and financial information, Norton said.

“Taking a few proactive steps today could help you to be safer all year long,” Roundy said.

Norton recommends in a press release that users keep a balanced level of skepticism, avoid using the same password for multiple sites, and implement unphishable factors to two-step authentication, such as device-level security checks – verifying your identity on a different device.

Elsewhere, according to Norton’s cybersecurity analysis for 2023, companies that use weak two-factor authentication systems and/or are short-staffed on information technology support are more vulnerable for data breaches.

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Vermont Challenges FCC Fabric, BTX Gets President, Starlink Performance Dip

Vermont said 22 percent of its known locations don’t appear on the FCC map.

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Starlink graphic from SpaceX website https://www.universetoday.com/156383/starlink-satellites-are-still-bright/

November 30, 2022 – Vermont has challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s preliminary broadband map, saying 11 percent of the FCC location data don’t match Vermont’s own map, according to a story from VTDigger.

Vermont said 22 percent of its known locations don’t appear on the map, according to the story. Vermont created its broadband maps that show 29 percent of houses went underserved last year.

“The difference seems to come from claims on the new FCC maps that satellite and fixed wireless broadband can reach huge numbers of folks—something that is not true in hilly and wooded Vermont,” the story reads.

Other states have created their own maps to challenge the FCC’s map, which was released earlier this month. New York said it is challenging some of the data.

New ISP BTX Fiber has a president

Lit Communities announced Tuesday that Richard Hogue has been named the new president of new subsidiary internet service provider BTX Fiber.

BTX Fiber is building a fiber network to provide high-speed broadband service to Brownsville, Texas. It launched in October and plans to install 100 miles of middle-mile cable and 500 miles of last-mile cable, including plans for other communities throughout the area, a press release said.

Hogue has over 20 years of telecommunications construction and management experience. His most recent position was the general manager of Point Broadband in Maryland.

“Brownsville is quite literally pushing out the leading edge in broadband internet availability to the community. BTX Fiber is thrilled to be crucial to this effort in partnership with the City of Brownsville,” said Hogue.

Starlink performance dropped in third quarter: Ookla

The download speeds of satellite broadband company Starlink dropped 17 percent in the U.S. in the third quarter compared to the last quarter, according to data released by metrics company Ookla on Wednesday.

Median download speeds dipped in the third quarter to 53 Mbps , and dropped by at least 14 percent in Canada.

“Over the past year, as we’ve seen more users flock to sign up for Starlink (reaching 400,000 users worldwide during Q2 2022), speeds have started to decrease,” Ookla writes. “Without a doubt, Starlink often can be a life-changing service for consumers where connectivity is inadequate or nonexistent.

“Even as speeds slow, they still provide more than enough connectivity to do almost everything consumers normally need to do, including streaming 4K video and video messaging. The biggest thing you might have issues with is if you’re trying to play multiplayer online games — even being a low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite, latency still lags far behind low-latency fixed broadband connections,” it added.

Starlink provides global high-speed satellite internet coverage and aims to provide coverage to rural and remote areas. The FCC has already denied Starlink funding from the $9.2 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, in part because of its alleged unreliability. Starlink has since appealed.

In August, Starlink announced its partnership with T-Mobile in an effort to expand cell coverage to remote areas in the US.

Ookla is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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