WASHINGTON, November 30, 2021 – Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, has introduced a bill this month to study whether the Universal Service Fund should broaden its contribution base to ensure the contribution requirement is imposed more equitably.
The “Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act of 2021” – co-introduced with Sens. John Thune, R-South Dakota, John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas – requires that the Federal Communications Commission conduct a study on assessing the need to expand the contribution base of the USF, a program that funds basic telecommunications services to rural, remote and low-income communities, and to submit a report to Congress on the results.
The legislation asks to “ensure that the contribution requirement” under the Communications Act of 1934 is “imposed fairly and equitably.”
The bill has been read twice and was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. If the bill is passed in the committee, it will move on to a vote in the Senate. Should it pass with no amendments, the bill will then move onto the House where it will be voted on again.
The bill was introduced to the Senate on Nov. 18, 2021, and as of Tuesday, no further action has been taken on the bill.
On Monday, 254 organizations representing a swath of public interest groups, anchor institutions and telecommunications companies signed a letter to Washington policymakers to sustain the program by broadening the USF’s contribution base – which relies on declining voice service revenues – to include broadband revenues.
New ‘era’ for broadband
In a Tuesday op-ed for the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Joanne Hovis, Ryland Sherman, and Marc Schulhof coined the past two years as “The Era of Broadband Public-Private Partnership,” following the “wave” of collaboration between public and private entities as Americans search more desperately than ever for means to bridge the digital divide.
The authors of the op-ed attributed the dawn of this era to four primary components: an influx of capital, a desire to invest in broadband infrastructure at the state and federal level, a sense of urgency to invest in broadband, a newfound willingness to operate with different types of internet service providers.
Though all these conditions existed prior to the pandemic, the authors argue that the pandemic was largely responsible for driving much of the urgency and demonstrated “to American policymakers the absolute need for plentiful connectivity and the crises faced by those who don’t have it — and simultaneously demonstrated to private investors the economic potential of best-in-class, future-proof broadband.”
In the view of the authors, public-private efforts represent win-win situations, whereby consumers are able to finally get the broadband coverage they need, and private entities are able to receive a greater return on their investment that may not otherwise be possible in certain regions and communities.
“The potential for public-private collaboration changes that binary and attracts private investment to areas where return is low or nonexistent but can be improved through collaboration with the local community,” the op-ed states. “And the potential for collaboration unlocks local public investment in already-served communities where policymakers want better broadband but prefer to do so in partnership with the private sector.”
The authors also recently published a new report covering these trends.
US Telecom expands their government affairs team
The Broadband Association announced the promotion of Hawley Stanton to senior director of Government Affairs. Additionally, Diana Eisner was made vice president of Policy and Advocacy, and Nicole Henry was made senior director of Government Affairs.
“I am thrilled to welcome new team members Diana Eisner and Nicole Henry and to announce a well-deserved promotion for Hawley Stanton. They are talented, experienced and ready to help advance our shared broadband priorities in 2022 and beyond,” said USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter.
Giving Tuesday appeals
Organizations from across the telecom industry have rolled out their Giving Tuesday appeals, asking from members of their communities to donate what they can in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The trend started back in 2012 as a way for communities to show their appreciation, thanks, and charity on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. In 2020 alone, nearly $2.5 billion was given to various institutions in the U.S.
Though telecom advocacy only makes up a percentage of that total, groups have pointed out how important their work is as the Covid-19 pandemic continues into its third year.
USDA Hires Lumen, Ligado Marketing Services, IRS Facial ID, New Public Knowledge Hire
The Department of Agriculture awarded Lumen a $1.2-billion, 11-year contract for data services.
January 20, 2022 – On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $1.2-billion network services contract with telecom Lumen Technologies.
The 11-year contract will provide the department with data transport service with remote access and cloud connectivity, leveraging Lumen’s fiber network to connect 9,500 USDA locations across the country and abroad to better manage agriculture in the country, the press release said.
“Lumen is bringing modern technology solutions that will make it easier for the USDA to accomplish its mission of promoting the production of nutritious food that nourishes our people, providing economic opportunity to rural Americans, and preserving our nation’s natural resources through smart forest and watershed conservation,” said Zain Ahmed, Lumen’s public sector senior vice president.
The contract was granted under the General Services Administration’s $50-billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions program.
Ligado Networks and Select Spectrum to strengthen critical networks
Mobile communications company Ligado Networks and spectrum brokerage and advisory firm Select Spectrum announced an agreement on Tuesday that will market and sell Ligado’s mid-band spectrum services for critical infrastructure.
“We know the critical infrastructure sector has an urgent need for dedicated access to licensed spectrum, and our mid-band spectrum, with both satellite and terrestrial connectivity, is uniquely positioned to meet this need and empower companies to operate private networks on a long-term basis,” said Ligado Networks’ CEO Doug Smith in a press release.
According to the agreement, Select Spectrum will search for those seeking to use Ligado’s licensed spectrum in the 1.6 GHz band in order to provide 5G capabilities to projects like power grid modernization and advanced transportation initiatives.
IRS to require facial recognition for taxes access
According to a Wednesday Gizmodo article, starting this summer online tax filers will have to submit a selfie to a third-party verification company called ID.me in order to make payments or file taxes online. Along with facial identification, users will also have to submit government identification documents and copies of bills to confirm their identity.
ID.me will use the selfie and compare it to the government identification document to verify the user. If the system fails to match the two documents, the user can join a recorded video to provide verification to the user.
Gizmodo’s article claimed that both the IRS and ID.me could not provide a method to access user accounts without providing a face scan. This could be problematic for tax filers that don’t have access to certain technologies.
Public Knowledge hires new senior policy analyst
Non-profit public interest group Public Knowledge announced Tuesday that it has brought on Lisa Macpherson as senior policy analyst.
According to a press release, Macpherson’s “experience driving digital marketing transformation on behalf of brands led to concerns over the broader impacts of digital technology on individual well-being, civil society, journalism, and democracy.”
National Privacy Law, Digital Infrastructure Firm’s $8B Raise, Wicker Wants Spectrum Cooperation
Business groups are asking Congress to supersede state laws by passing privacy legislation that sets a national standard.
January 19, 2022 – As states begin to pass their own privacy laws, business groups are asking the federal government to pass legislation that would mitigate confusion by creating a national standard, reports MediaPost Communications.
The Association of National Advertisers, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the U.S. Chamber of Congress are just a few of the business groups that are asking for a national privacy law.
“As the Federal Trade Commission considers a privacy rulemaking that would add a further layer of complexity to the state patchwork, it is critical that Congress pass one single national standard”, the groups stated in a letter that was signed by 15 national organizations and then by local business groups from across the country, the MediaPost report said.
California, Virginia, and Colorado are just a few of the states that have passed their own version of a privacy law, and while they all serve a similar purpose, they have various nuances that the business groups said they believe will be difficult to navigate for their businesses and for consumers across state lines, MediaPost reports.
In addition, there are members of Congress who are also asking for a national plan for consumer privacy.
Digital infrastructure firm DigitalBridge raises over $8 billion
DigitalBridge Investment Management, an investment firm in digital infrastructure, raised a higher-than-expected $8.3 billion, according to a Wednesday press release, illustrating interest in projects including fiber builds.
“The Fund has already invested in nine portfolio companies across towers, easements, hyperscale data centers, edge infrastructure, indoor DAS infrastructure and fiber, running reliable, mission-critical network infrastructure for many of the world’s leading hyperscale cloud providers and mobile network operators,” the release said.
The round comes as the federal government pushing billions of dollars into infrastructure, including broadband and as the pandemic has shown a need for remote capabilities driven by broadband.
Republican lawmaker calls for NTIA-FCC cooperation on spectrum
Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, sent a letter earlier this month to the head of the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration asking them to consider a renewed agreement to work together on spectrum management.
The January 13 letter to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and new NTIA head Alan Davidson said their “relationship can be strengthened” on matters related to the shared use of radiowaves between federal and non-federal users by refreshing the memorandum of understanding that was last updated in 2003.
“In light of recent disputes over spectrum allocations, it is more important than ever that the [FCC and NTIA] work together to promote spectrum policy that best serves the dual goals of furthering commercial innovation and enabling the mission-critical operations of federal agencies,” the letter said.
Airlines’ 5G Warning, 3.45 GHz Winners, Bongino YouTube Suspension
Airlines claim the need to cancel a many flights because of interference between altimeters and 5G transmitters.
January 18, 2022 — Major American airlines are saying that they will need to cancel a significant number of flights from possible interference between aircraft altimeters and 5G signals this week, according to multiple news reports.
Verizon and AT&T, which are deploying 5G services around airports using the C-band spectrum, had already agreed to a deployment delay earlier this month at the behest of the airlines, but are planning of turning on service this week.
The signals that come from the 5G service risk “interfering with safety equipment pilots rely on to take off and land inclement weather,” said the CEOs of major American airlines in a letter to United States officials, according to NBC News.
“The nation’s commerce will grind to a halt” and leave “tens of thousands of Americans” stranded overseas, the letter said, adding “immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies.’”
Industry group Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association stated that “5G is safe and the spectrum is currently in use in nearly 40 other nations.”
FCC announces winning bidders in 3.45 GHz auction
The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday the winning bidders for the 3.45 GHz auction, frequencies important for 5G services.
The top five winners were AT&T with winning bids worth just over $9 billion; Weminuche won bids worth just over $7 billion; T-Mobile took nearly $3 billion worth; Three Forty-Five Spectrum nabbed $1.4 billion worth; and United States Cellular Corp took licenses valued at nearly $600 million.
According to a press release from the FCC, 13 of the 23 companies that won bids are “small businesses or as entities serving rural communities.”
Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that enabling “commercial use of this spectrum is important to America’s continuing economic recovery and 5G leadership.” The gross proceeds of this auction were over $22.5 billion.
Dan Bongino latest conservative voice ousted from tech platform
Alphabet’s YouTube temporarily suspended conservative commentator Dan Bongino‘s channel due to misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, making him the latest voice from the right to be removed for that purpose.
The Hill reported that Bongino declared masks “useless” in the fight against COVID-19, which was in direct violation of YouTube’s COVID-19 policy, which “specifically prohibits content denying the effectiveness of wearing masks, which the vast majority of the scientific community agrees reduces the risk of infection.”
The suspension, which includes him being removed from a program that allows him to get paid for his uploads, lasts a week with a second offense leading to a two-week suspension, and a third to a permanent ban.
The ban follows social media company Twitter’s removal of Georgia Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, which was followed by Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul removing himself from YouTube earlier this month.
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