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Republican Concern Over Sohn, Reservation to Buy Midstate, Pause on Lifeline Phase-out

Republican senators can tolerate FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, but not Commissioner-nominee Gigi Sohn, says Politico.

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Nominee for FCC Commissioner Gigi Sohn

November 2, 2021 – Some Senate Republicans say Gigi Sohn, nominated last week by President Joe Biden to be the Federal Communications Commission’s fifth commissioner, would be too heavy-handed on regulation for their liking, according to Politico.

While Republican senators can tolerate FCC chair nominee Jessica Rosenworcel, according to the publication Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-South Dakota, don’t see the same in Sohn.

“Sohn, obviously, her views are going to be very far apart from where mine are on all the issues,” Thune told the publication. “She’s very left, she’s going to be a heavy hand in regulation, very heavy in net neutrality.”

Sohn, who was previously president and CEO internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, has been a staunch advocate of net neutrality, the principle that no internet service provider can influence the content of the network traffic.

Those past positions, and statements she’s made in that vein, “could prove to be of concern to members of the committee,” Wicker said, according to Politico.

The nominees must be approved by the Senate, whose Democrats have been marred by a stonewall in Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, who have not toed the party line on all their agenda items, including a massive social spending bill that threatened to delay House votes on the Senate-approved infrastructure bill.

Reservation buys Midstate

North Dakota-based Midstate Telephone Company and Reservation Telephone Cooperative have filed a joint application to the Federal Communications Commission asking for it to approve Reservation’s purchase of Midstate.

The application, filed Friday, would see Reservation acquire all operations and assets of the Midstate company, which the companies say will “promote the public interest by enabling the Applicants to achieve economies of scale.

“The proposed transaction will strengthen the Midstate Companies’ combined competitive position by allowing the Midstate Companies’ to leverage RTC’s financial, technical and managerial resources to continue to provide high-quality services and compete effectively in the telecommunications marketplace,” the application said.

The companies said no service disruptions will be experienced by Midstate customers.

Reservation is a cooperative that is owned by member subscribers, none of which own or control more than 10 percent equity in the company.

Associations concerned about Lifeline subsidy phase-out

The National Tribal Telecommunications Association has backed concerns by the NTCA Rural Broadband Association about an FCC proposal to phase-out a $5.25 subsidy on standalone voice service subscribers, which comes from the long-standing Lifeline program.

The concern is that the move, which would take effect December 1 this year, would harm low-income and older individuals, who don’t use broadband and rely on voice service “as an affordable method of contacting health care providers, government agencies, and public safety,” the NTCA said.

The phase-out plan was instituted in 2016, when the agency adopted a reform and modernization proposal for the program that included support for broadband.

“With many of these elderly Native Americans on fixed incomes, their connection is at risk unless more funds can be found to pay for the increased charge previously covered by the federal Lifeline program. Nothing about these vulnerable Native Americans has changed, other than the elimination of vital support for their connection to the outside world, including emergency and health care services,” the NTCA added.

The NTTA is asking for the FCC to delay the credit elimination on an expedited basis to protect vulnerable Americans.

Adrianne Furniss, the executive director of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, has also urged the commission to pause the move, which she said will impact nearly 800,000 Americans who receive the subsidy through the Universal Service Fund, itself the subject of talk for reform.

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

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Rosenworcel Confirmed, Rohingya Meta Class Action, FTTH Builds Increase, WOW! Offers 1 Gig

FCC chairwoman cleared, refocusing attention on party tie-breaking nominee Gigi Sohn.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel at a Senate committee hearing last month

WASHINGTON, December 7, 2021 – The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Jessica Rosenworcel as commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

The chairwoman of the FCC had 68 votes in favor and 31 against and will serve another five-year term on the agency. She was pushed ahead by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee on Wednesday after being questioned by the committee last month.

“Chairwoman Rosenworcel has served as a tireless advocate for consumer protection in today’s digital landscape,” said Senator Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, in a press release. “Now more than ever, the FCC needs a chair who understands the importance of net neutrality and critical protections for broadband users, and I know Chairwoman Rosenworcel is up for the task.” Markey added that Rosenworcel is the “best person to lead” the administration of programs, including the Emergency Connectivity Fund and the E-Rate subsidy.

Other statements of support poured in on Tuesday following the approval.

Gigi Sohn, another President Joe Biden nominee for FCC commissioner, has yet to be confirmed. If so, the Democrat will be the fifth and tie-breaking commissioner on a commission that has been divided along party lines.

Meta facing class action from Rohingya

Meta, formerly Facebook, has been sued Monday by Rohingya refugees for $150 million for allegedly allowing anti-Rohingya hate speech that preceded mass killings.

The case has been brought as a class action in California court.

The Rohingya genocide has been ongoing in Myanmar since 2016. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled the country, and more than 25,000 have been killed. Marzuki Darusman served as the chairman of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission in Myanmar and stated that Facebook played a “determining role” in the genocide.

“[Facebook] was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own [Facebook pages] and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities,” said U.N. Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee, according to Reuters.

Telcos turn up heat with increased FTTH builds, Broadband Communities

According to data assembled by Broadband Communities on Monday, AT&T, Verizon, and other large telcos are continuing to grow their base of fiber users, with AT&T and Verizon gaining 289,000 and 98,000 fiber broadband subscriptions, respectively.

Broadband Communities Associate Editor Sean Buckley notes that even though more Americans rely on older coax cable for internet rather than fiber-to-the-home services, that difference is shrinking. Both Tier-1 and Tier-2 telcos are increasing their penetration across the country, with Frontier CEO Nick Jeffery stating that Frontier’s FTTH subscription number were up by a factor of five within the last year, as reported by Buckley.

“Fiber assets are likely to escalate, and that’s going to be a growing source of pressure for cable operators,” said Managing Partner of New Street Research Jonathan Chaplin, according to Buckley.

WOW! offers 1 Gbps download speeds to Michigan

WOW!’s fiber-to-the-neighborhood in mid-Michigan will provide gigabit download speeds for residential and business properties.

“We are thrilled to be able to bring our fastest internet speeds to our mid-Michigan service area and give our customers even more choices for how they connect to what matters to them most,” said WOW! CEO Teresa Elder in a statement. “For most people across the country, having access to a fast and reliable internet connection is essential to their everyday life, especially these days.”

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CaptionCall $40 Million Settlement, World Bank Broadband in Rwanda, Tribal Broadband Money Not Enough

CaptionCall agreed to pay over $40 million over misuse of the free service for individuals with hearing disabilities.

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Matthew Rantanen, director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairman’s Association

December 6, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it reached a $40 million settlement with telecommunications relay service provider CaptionCall for its business dealings with health professionals.

Telecommunications Relay Service, or TRS, provides persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or have speech disabilities access to the telephone system at no cost, enabling communications with telephone users in a manner similar to other telephone users. Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS) allows users to read the other party’s words in real time with an internet-enabled device.

TRS is funded by mandatory contributions to the TRS Fund by telecommunications providers, who typically pass the costs to customers.

The FCC’s investigation revealed that Sorenson Communications’ subsidy CaptionCall “offered and provided incentives, including monetary contest awards and free meals” to Hearing Health Professionals, a clinic providing services to individuals that are deaf or hard of hearing. In return, Hearing Health Professionals referred users to CaptionCall IP CTS. CaptionCall at times gave Hearing Health Professionals gift cards and gift baskets to encourage future referral and “improperly reported costs associated with these wasteful practices” to the TRS Fund, the FCC wrote in its consent decree.

To settle these allegations, CaptionCall agreed to pay $28 million to the TRS Fund in addition to a $12,500,000 penalty. CaptionCall also agreed to a compliance plan in which the company’s staff must follow the TRS Fund rules.

World Bank funds broadband in Rwanda

Rwanda is set to receive $100 million from the World Bank to fund broadband, the bank said Friday.

The World Bank Group, the largest development bank in the world, provides loans to “developing” and transitioning countries.

“For Rwanda to leverage digital transformation as a driver of growth, job creation and greater service delivery, digital adoption needs to markedly improve,” said Isabella Hayward, team leader on the World Bank project.

The bank approved Friday to assist the Government of Rwanda advance broadband adoption across the country. The Digital Acceleration Project will expand digital access and inclusion initiatives, such as providing 250,000 households with financing to purchase smart devices. The project will also train three million people in digital literacy.

“Expanding digital access and adoption, enhancing digital public service delivery and promoting digitally enabled innovation are essential for Rwanda’s digital transformation which can in turn help drive a robust post-COVID-19 recovery,” said Rolande Pryce, World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda. “The Rwanda Digital Acceleration Project encompasses all these elements and will contribute to Rwanda’s vision to become a knowledge-based economy and upper middle-income country by 2035, by leveraging digital technologies to accelerate growth and poverty reduction.”

In the 2021 fiscal year, the bank provided nearly $100 billion in loans to developing countries.

Tribal broadband money in infrastructure bill isn’t enough, some say

The funds approved by the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is not enough for tribal lands, according to a Monday report in Wired.

About $2 million was approved to expand broadband access to tribal lands and reservations as part of the $1.3 trillion infrastructure bill, signed into law last month. However, 280 tribes have submitted requests totaling $5 billion for broadband finds, Wired reported Monday.

Matthew Rantanen, director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairman’s Association, estimates that closing the digital divide for Native peoples will cost around $8 billion.

“If you look at the fiber grid in the United States, there are some large communication deserts, and it just so happens that most of the tribes are in those spaces,” says Rantanen.

The problem is acutely felt in schools on tribal lands. At a school on the Duck Valley Indian Reservations, 300 students in the Shoshone-Paiute tribes struggle to stay connected for the sake of their learning. Most of the reservation covering 450-square-miles doesn’t have cell service: dial-up is still the only way for many residents to access the internet, the story said.

Rantanen says the $8 billion cost will rise once demand lowers the availability of fiber-optic cables. “What we’re looking to do is build robust networks,” he says. “We’re not trying to build with Band-Aids.”

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Broadband Roundup

Biden Acts on Surveillance, Florida Broadband Maps, Free State Wants Constitutional Spectrum

The administration’s efforts are mostly directed at curtailing the Chinese government.

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President Joe Biden

November 3, 2021 – The Biden administration announced on Thursday an initiative to prevent the use of technology for surveillance by authoritarian governments, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Chinese government is among many authoritarian governments that rely on imported technology to conduct state surveillance.

U.S. technology has been used in China to surveil citizens, modernize its military and target Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Biden’s plans include creating a code of conduct for export licensing, which authorizes specific transactions and controls which technologies the U.S. ships out, as well as sharing with international allies vital information on technologies that are weaponized against political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and government officials, per WSJ.

The action comes after Biden in June banned Americans from investing in companies linked to Chinese military and surveillance activities, per Axios.

The administration’s new initiative will be announced at the inaugural Summit for Democracy gathering over 100 democratic governments to counter authoritarianism next Thursday and Friday. China and Russia have criticized the gathering following their exclusion from the event.

Florida added to Citizen’s National Broadband Map

Citizen’s National Broadband Map has added Florida to its expanding list of 15 state participants, GEO Partners said in a press release Thursday.

Florida will join the project which already includes states such as Washington, Minnesota, Maine, Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana and Nevada.

GEO is the integration of software and software derived services, specifically designed to perform broadband modeling, costing and financial analysis for localities.

GEO Partners says its platform “permits grant administrators to interactively verify the impact of their programs and intended targets in real-time, without relying on out-dated historical maps.”

“Crowdsourced mapping has the ability to determine if broadband deployments and related grant programs are meeting expectations,” says GEO Partners.

Free State Foundation says Constitution requires more market-based approaches to spectrum policy

The Free State Foundation, a free market think tank, wrote in an op-ed Friday that “foundational constitutional principles” require government approaches to spectrum policy to be more market-based than they are at the present.

The op-ed says that the government should move from its current practice of controlling large swaths of private spectrum to reallocation of government spectrum to both licensed and unlicensed private commercial use, consistent with what FSF says is a constitutional requirement for the government “to promote private property and private sector commerce.”

FSF urges licensing on an exclusive basis for spectrum bands suited to commercial licensing.

Additionally to fulfill government responsibilities, FSF suggests excluding “application of ‘hard caps’ on wireless providers’ acquisition of spectrum licenses” as well as rejecting “net neutrality” or “open access” restrictions.

The think tank believes federal agencies should relinquish, or at least share, government spectrum that they are underutilizing and “prioritize the 3.1-3.5 GHz band for examination and timely repurposing.”

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