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Concern about Rip and Replace, China Telecom Appeals Expulsion, Clarity on Student Privacy

Rural Wireless Association is concerned rip and replace will not compensate for costs related to supply chain and labor issues.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

November 9, 2021 – The Rural Wireless Association said in a submission to the FCC Monday that it is concerned with the ability of small and rural carriers to comply with replacing unsecure telecom equipment even as workforce and semiconductor shortages persist.

In July, the agency voted in favor of ripping and replacing equipment from Chinese manufacturers, including ZTE and Huawei, due to national security concerns and as a result of the Secure Networks Act. It also announced details of the reimbursement process that will compensate those carriers for having to follow through on the order.

But in a submission to the Commerce Department last week and then to the FCC on Monday, the RWA said the labor shortage and the global supply chain crisis, which has claimed shortages in semiconductors, will increase the cost to comply with the order. It is asking for the FCC, Commerce, and Homeland Security to work together to lobby Congress to ensure the reimbursement program covers those “rising costs associated with the supply chain and labor shortages couple with the short time line for completing the Reimbursement Program.

“Alternatively, RWA asks that the Commission issue general extensions to the one-year reimbursement and replacement term to give participants more time, which will in turn lower costs and allow the semiconductor and workforce shortages to be resolved,” it added.

The current reimbursement window closes on January 14, 2022.

China Telecom appeals ban

China Telecom, which was told by the Federal Communications Commission earlier this month that it is having its business authorizations revoked due to national security concerns, is appealing the decision because it claims it did not get a due hearing on the matter.

Filed Friday, the submission challenges the FCC’s vote last month to revoke the operating authorizations of the company’s U.S. subsidiary, effectively ending its ability to provide services in the country, allegedly because the company is at the whim of the Chinese government.

“The Commission’s failure to designate the Section 214 revocation and termination proceedings for a hearing prior to issuance of the Order tramples on [China Telecom Americas’] constitutionally protected property rights, violating the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the Commission’s own precedent governing Section 214 authorization revocations proceedings,” the submission said.

The company added that if the agency doesn’t suspend the order, the company will suffer “massive irreparable harm” from having to “cease large segments of its operations.”

The process to revoke China Telecom’s authorizations began under the Donald Trump administration. In December 2020, the company’s written objections to the FCC commencing proceedings to revoke the authorizations were denied. In March 2021, it said it had asked the FCC to designate the matter for an evidentiary hearing before a neutral administration law judge, which it did not get.

FCC asked to clarify student privacy in schools

The Center for Democracy and Technology asked FCC officials last week to clarify legislation that it says is forcing schools to install invasive software to monitor students’ activity.

The organization brought forth the concerns in a call with FCC officials, which was laid out in a November 3 submission, that the implementation of this software is a “result of an overboard interpretation of the ‘monitoring’ provision” of the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

The legislation requires schools receiving funds from the E-rate broadband subsidy program to enforce a “policy of Internet safety for minors that includes monitoring the online activities of minors,” the CDT said, adding such “invasive surveillance” is not required to abide by the law.

It said this software monitoring occurs outside school hours, dampens student expression, and disproportionately affects low-income students.

“Student activity monitoring software permits schools unprecedented glimpses into students’ lives, from measuring engagement in online learning to analyzing students’ browsing habits and scanning their messages and documents,” the submission said.

“Overbroad, systematic monitoring of online activity can reveal sensitive information about students’ personal lives, such as their sexual orientation, or cause a chilling effect on their free expression, political organizing, or discussion of sensitive issues such as mental health,” it added.

Broadband Roundup

Broadband Prices Decline, AT&T’s Fiber Build in Texas, Conexon Partners for Build in Georgia

A USTelecom report finds that despite high inflation, broadband prices have been declining.

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Screenshot of Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – A USTelecom report released Wednesday found that broadband prices have been declining, despite high inflation.

The association’s 2022 Broadband Pricing Index Report found that broadband pricing decreased even with significant inflation of an estimated 8 percent in the past year, the most popular broadband prices dropped by 14.7 percent, and the highest speed broadband prices dropped by 11.6 percent from 2021-2022.

“Broadband prices at all speeds have decreased in the last five years,” it said.

The analysis also found that broadband prices are half of what they used to be in 2015. The most popular broadband services decreased by 44.6 percent, while the fastest broadband services decreased their prices by 52.7 percent from 2015-2022.

Lastly, the report found that the “consumer value of broadband services has never been higher.” As providers offer faster speeds at lower prices, the overall value to customers has dramatically improved, it said.

“This is great news for American broadband consumers,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association.

AT&T strikes deal in Amarillo, Texas for fiber project

AT&T struck a deal Wednesday with the city of Amarillo, Texas to extend its fiber reach.

A press release said the $24 million project in Amarillo will cover approximately 22,000 locations.

“The city of Amarillo broadband access plan is one of the more significant technological infrastructure advancements in city history,” said Amarillo mayor Ginger Nelson in the release.

It’s the latest partnership for AT&T, which is planning on reaching upwards of 60,000 locations via public-private partnerships in counties in Indiana, Kentucky and now Amarillo, Texas.

Conexon partners with Georgia electric company for broadband build

Georgia’s Ocmulgee Electric Membership Corporation partnered with internet service provider Conexon Connect on Tuesday to bring reliable, affordable, high-speed fiber broadband to rural Georgia.

The partnership will see the deployment of a network that spans 2,100 miles of fiber to the home for service to up to 8,000 members in centra Georgia, a press release said.

“I commend Ocmulgee EMC and Conexon for this exciting public-private partnership and their commitment to creating value for their communities,” said Governor Brian Kemp in a press release.

The project is estimated to take 2-4 years to complete and is set to start this September. The first customers expected to be connected in early 2023.

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Broadband Roundup

TikTok Data Concerns, Broadband Data Collection System, Internet Access on COVID-19 Mortality

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is requesting Apple and Google remove the TikTok app over data concerns.

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Photo of Brendan Carr

June 29, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores.

The app is run by ByteDance, a company that is “beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC’s surveillance demands,” read the June 24 letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sunder Pichai.

“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data,” said Carr, calling it a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data” such as search histories, keystroke patterns and biometric identifies.”

Carr claims that TikTok’s pattern of conduct regarding persons in Beijing having access U.S. sensitive data violates policies that both companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on the app stores. “I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms.”

TikTok has assured users that American’s data is being stored in the U.S. but, according to Carr, this statement “says nothing about where that data can be accessed from.”

FCC opens mapping data system for filers early 

The Federal Communications Commission released a public notice on Thursday announcing that filers of broadband availability data in its new maps may obtain early access of the system for registering filer information.

The filing window for the Broadband Data Collection opens June 30, but early access will enable users to register their entities in the system and become familiar with the system before that date, the FCC said.

“We are making this functionality available in advance of the opening of the filing window to enable filers to log in, register, and be ready to enter their availability data as early in the filing window as possible,” read the public notice.

The BDC program is said to help improve broadband mapping data to help funnel federal dollars to where broadband infrastructure is needed. Most fixed and mobile broadband providers will be required to file information in the system, but third parties and government entities are also encouraged.

Impact of internet access on COVID-19 mortality

New analysis released last week by private research university Tufts found that increased broadband access in the United States reduced COVID-19 mortality rates.

“Even after controlling for a host of other socioeconomic factors, a 1 percent increase in broadband access across the U.S. reduced COVID mortality by approximately 19 deaths per 100,000, all things equal,” read the report.

The study also found that the impact was felt more strongly in metro areas, where a 1 percent increase in broadband access reduced the deaths by 36 per 100,000.

By conducting a correlation analysis, Tuft researchers found that broadband access is negatively correlated with COVID mortality, even after controlling for other major factors such as health status, income, race and education.

The study only considered pre-vaccine number to account for inconsistencies.

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Broadband Roundup

Rosenworcel Committed to Net Neutrality, Better Spectrum Coordination, Starlink Up in Internet Speeds

The FCC chairwoman reaffirmed her commitment to net neutrality at a conference on Friday.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – At a conference hosted by the American Library Association on Friday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel reaffirmed her support for net neutrality rules.

According to a press release, Rosenworcel stated she wants to make a “return to common carrier regulation of internet service providers which aims to prevent ISPs from slowing down or blocking web traffic.”

Rosenworcel “fully backs” net neutrality rules passed under the Obama administration that were repealed during the Trump administration. “I opposed the last administration’s effort to roll it back, and I want it to once again become the law of the land,” she stated at the ALA.

A press release calls Rosenworcel ’s statement on net neutrality the “hallmark of her tenure” and says she faces opposition in her attempt to bring back net neutrality rules.

“It is just wrong for the internet to have slow lanes for people with less money,” Patty Wong, president of the ALA, said at the conference.

Better coordination needed for receiver performance 

On Monday, non-partisan think tank TechPolicy urged more coordination by the Federal Communications Commission with other agencies to better utilize spectrum assets during its receiver performance study, filing comments in response to the commission’s public consultation about that matter.

“The Commission has a considerable expertise and prior work to review in assessing whether it has the statutory authority in this area, and how to best incentivize all parties to build more robust receivers to operate in more and more congested spectrum,” the think tank said.

It suggested engaging with other agencies, such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as well as users of government receivers.

James Dunstan, general counsel of TechFreedom, stated, “the FCC cannot fine-tune spectrum management with only half the orchestra.” He added that if the FCC does not engage with government users, “there will be little progress made toward finding broad solutions to increased spectrum congestion.”

The FCC and the NTIA have already agreed earlier this year to coordinate on spectrum management.

Ookla finds Starlink increased speeds by 38 percent over the past year

Metrics company Ookla said Tuesday that, according to its review of Starlink satellite broadband service in the first quarter, the company saw an increase of 38 percent in internet performance in the United States over the past year, said a press release.

However, the company’s analysis also showed that Starlink’s upload speeds decreased nearly 33 percent in the U.S. from 16.29 Mbps in 2021 to 9.33 in 2022.

Ookla notes that even as consumers choose Starlink, competitors are not far behind. It mentioned as key developments FCC approval for Amazon’s Project Kuiper to test its satellite service this year, and Viasat getting closer to merging with Inmarsat for a constellation launch next year.

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