WASHINGTON, November 8, 2021 – After pressure from groups, the Federal Communications Commission ruled Friday that it will extend by a year the deadline to phase-out the Lifeline low-income broadband subsidy for voice-only subscribers.
The commission said in its decision that recent data show that “a persistent percentage of Lifeline subscribers still rely on voice-only support for their connectivity needs.
“Moreover, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic provides unique justifications for continuing voice-only support, and the newly formed [Emergency Broadband Benefit] Program, which also provides support for broadband service for low-income consumers, present new considerations for the future role of the Lifeline program,” the agency added.
The commission said the pause makes sense because the EBB’s creation could help those voice-reliant people get broadband, which would then give it the impetus to phase-out the voice-only support.
The Lifeline program, which is a product of the Universal Service Fund, provides a $5.25 subsidy for low-income Americans who only have voice services for communications. That subsidy has been whittled down over the years, after the agency in 2016 put in place a plan to phase-out that subsidy for voice-only subscribers when it broadened the beneficiaries of the program to broadband customers. It also was set to increase the minimum service standard for mobile broadband data capacity, which was also halted as a result of Friday’s decision.
Industry pressure to suspend phase-out
Friday’s decision comes after pressure from associations and public interest groups to suspend the phase-out of the subsidy, citing specific data to show that a chunk of Americans still only use voice for their communications needs.
On Wednesday, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners submitted a letter to the FCC saying the phase-out of voice-only support is “illogical on its face,” considering that low income need basic voice services to get emergency services, get a job, access medical services and communicate with the government. The NARUC estimates that roughly 522,000 Americans would’ve been affected by this phase-out.
NARUC is not just asking for a stop to the phase-out, but a reinstatement of the full subsidy, which was once $9.25 and been gradually reduced over time.
The National Tribal Telecommunications Association and the NTCA Rural Broadband Association had also urged the FCC to reconsider the move, as well.
Previously, the executive director of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Adrianne Furniss, said in a Broadband Breakfast op-ed in September that such a move would harm nearly 800,000 low-income people and urged the agency to pause the phase-out.
President Biden Signs Infrastructure Bill at White House, Touting Better Broadband
President Biden celebrated $65 billion for broadband deployment.
WASHINGTON, November 15, 2021 – President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law, securing $65 billion for broadband deployment.
Biden declared that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would connect all Americans to the internet.
The legislation includes $65 billion in funding to “make high-speed Internet affordable and available everywhere, everywhere in America — urban suburban, rural — and create jobs laying down those broadband lines,” he said. “No parent should have to sit in a parking lot of a fast food restaurant again just so their child can use the internet to do their homework,” Biden declared. “That’s over.”
Biden said the fundamental need for high-speed internet everywhere in America became clear over the past year. Comparing to internet access to utilities “as essential or water or electricity,” Biden said that remote learning during the pandemic highlighted the urgency for connecting all Americans.
“Is this not a great day to sign a bill?” said Denita Williams, an optical fiber maker in Wilmington, North Carolina who opened the event by highlighting that investments in infrastructure supports workers like her.
“One of the most exciting parts about this bill is the $65 billion upgrade to expand broadband in communities across the country,” she said. “Communities like mine, in rural north Carolina. This is a not just an investment in broadband. This bill will help everyone have access to the internet to teach their children, run their businesses, and help them run their farms.”
Biden also highlighted green energy technologies
The President also highlighted the law’s provisions that would increase the manufacturing and export of clean energy technologies. “It’s going to make it possible for Americans to get off the sidelines and into the game of manufacturing solar panels, wind turbines, batteries to store energy and power for electric vehicles, including electric school buses, which means millions of children will no longer inhale the dangerous diesel fumes at comes out of the buses.”
The cold and wind did not keep President Biden and his top advisors from gathering on the South Lawn of the White House. Governors and mayors from around the country attended. So did many equity advocates, such as Rev. Al Sharpton.
Additionally, more than a dozen Teamsters, journeymen, and other union workers attended the signing.
The crowd was electric. They cheered as Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi delivered their remarks.
They lauded the legislation as “historic” and described it as “once in a generation.” The Democrats at the event promised Americans that the infrastructure bill was only the first step to “build back better.”
“We will keep working with you, Mr. President, to build on today’s success by passing the rest of your ‘Build back Better’ agenda in the weeks ahead, so we can keep our promises to help families achieve the American Dream,” said Schumer, “This is a great day for America.”
“Our work is already underway, and we’re eager to engage with stakeholders in every state, territory, tribe, and community to ensure these programs succeed,” said Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and the National Telecommunications and Information administrator.”Under the leadership of President Biden and Secretary [Gina] Raimondo, we now have the resources we need to close the digital divide and make America more connected, more competitive, and more equitable than ever before.”
Ben Kahn, a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast, contributed to this report.
Bigger Investment Needed for Next Generation 9-1-1 Services, Experts Say
Former head of NTIA said it could cost $12 billion.
WASHINGTON, November 15, 2021–– Experts at a Federal Communications Bar Association event earlier this month said the current funding allocation for next-generation 911 services is inadequate.
Currently, under the Joe Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act, the new 911 services – which will allow people to share videos, images and texts with 911 call centers – is allocated $500 million.
“It’s not enough to fully fund 911,” David Redl, CEO of consulting group Salt Point Strategies, said on the FCBA’s “What Comes Next in 911” panel on November 4. Redl was formerly the head of the Commerce Department’s telecom agency National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Redl said the number could be “about 12 billion.” For Redl, the challenge is to address the funding gap for NG911 “when there’s skepticism in Washington and the [Federal Communications Commission and] when states have different ideas about the best way to allocate funding and best technology to use.”
Dan Henry, director of government affairs at the National Emergency Number Association, agreed.
While Henry said he’s excited about the national-level interoperability tools for call centers that will allow the ability to transfer emergency calls across states with the call’s incident file intact, the failure to get sufficient funding for NG911 puts health and safety at risk. “We’re not near what we need to get [NG911] across the finish line,” he said.
The technology to deploy NG911 is ready, added Chandy Ghosh, chief operating officer and general manager of emergency services at communications company Inteliquent. “It’s not a tech issue,” she said. Wireless clients have been testing NG911 with successful results.
Stakeholders need to communicate with government
Chris Moore, principal at consulting firm Brooks Bawden Moore, said a federal investment is required to deploy NG911. He suggested that industry stakeholders should convene to tell government what they need.
“For now we’ll get what we get, we’re going to continue to push for more funding, but it’s not going to be this round,” he said.
On October 26, the National Association of State 911 Administrators Association asked the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to assist with the implementation of NG911 by clarifying the agency’s authority to regulate the delivery of 911 services through internet protocol-based emergency networks and shift cost-bearing to service providers.
Another $700 Million for 26 States Through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund
Over 400,000 locations across the U.S. will get broadband in this funding wave.
WASHINGTON, November 12, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday that it will authorize $709,060,159 for 26 states through its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
These are disbursements of the $9.2 billion that were announced in round one of the RDOF reverse auction that took place in the fall of 2020.
The rural fund supports new broadband deployment efforts for 50 broadband providers in 400,000 locations across the U.S. Much of the funding will go to nonprofit rural electric cooperatives to deploy broadband in their service areas.
But others awarded funding under the auction have already defaulted on coverage that they said they would provide as part of their winning bids.
The 26 states ready to receive Wednesday’s funding include Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that the announcement “highlights the agency’s commitment to supporting even more opportunities to connect hundreds of thousands of Americans to high-speed, reliable broadband service while doing our due diligence to ensure the applicants can deliver to these unserved communities as promised.”
The Commission’s announcement comes after the FCC launched the second round of its COVID-19 Telehealth Program on Tuesday, granting $42.5 million for health care providers. This telehealth program and exceeds the FCC’s $150 million goal by reaching $166.13 million for telehealth funding.
These funding programs provide reimbursements for telecommunication and information services and connected devices the providers have purchased to continue their telehealth services. The Commission also announced $421 million on Monday to keep over 10 million students connected across the U.S. as part of the Emergency Connectivity Fund.
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