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Settlement Over Failed 911 Calls, Former FCC Chairs Criticize FAA, Kansas Sets 2030 Broadband Goal

AT&T, Verizon, Lumen Technologies have settled for millions for failed 911 calls.

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Kansas Governor Laura Kelly.

December 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission reached a settlement with AT&T, Verizon, Lumen Technologies and other companies over failed 911 calls during network outages in 2020.

The largest fine went to Lumen, which will pay $3.8 million, while Intrado will pay $1.7 million in penalties, the FCC announced Friday. In addition to the networking failure investigation, AT&T is also under investigation by the FCC about whether the company notified customers in a timely manner about call center reliability during a network outage in September 2020.

“The most important phone call you ever make may be a call to 911,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Sunny day outages can be especially troubling because they occur when the public and 911 call centers least expect it. It’s vital that phone companies prevent these outages wherever possible and provide prompt and sufficient notification to 911 call centers when they do occur. I thank the Enforcement Bureau and the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau for their work on these investigations.”

“Sunny day outages” can be caused by animals, accidents, temperature, or worn equipment that causes an outage on a company’s network. The companies under investigation have agreed to a consent decree with the FCC, under which the companies agree to follow the FCC’s 911 rules in the future.

Former FCC chairs criticize FAA over 5G concerns

Six former FCC commissioners wrote a letter last Monday voicing concern about what they alleged was the Federal Aviation Administration’s attempt to undermine public confidence in the FCC’s decision-making process.

Signed by former FCC Chair Ajit Pai, Michael Powell, Tom Wheeler, Mignon Clyburn, Julius Genachowski, and Michael Copps, the former commissioners asked the FAA to work with the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to resolve the FAA’s concern about using the C-band spectrum for 5G services.

Last year, the FCC decided to expand flexible use of the C-band spectrum for 5G. The agency reached that decision after two years of research to confirm the use was safe. But the FAA is concerned that 5G services will cause interference with aircraft altimeters, which help guide the plan to the runway, thus creating potential safety issues.

The letter said the decision to expand C-band spectrum use “followed almost two years of careful review of the public record,” during which other federal agencies were given the chance “to raise—and defend with reliable data—their concerns about interference from transitioning spectrum to new uses.

“The FAA should work with the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)… to assess and resolve the FAA’s concerns expeditiously, but this debate should not be fought publicly in a way that undermines consumer confidence in the process, nor should it require months of additional delays,” the letter said.

Kansas aims for Top 10 connected states by 2030

With a new wave of federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Kansas aims to be in the top 10 states for broadband access by 2030.

“We’re being bold,” said Lt. Gov. and Commerce Secretary David Toland on Wednesday to the Topeka Capital-Journal. “We’re being ambitious. We’re being aggressive. Because we understand how high the stakes are. We are in a race as a state against other states, and we want to win that race so that we can win new residents, we can win new businesses and we can retain the ones that we have.”

Toland said Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s administration will release Kansas’s first strategic plan for broadband expansion soon. The administration is working with the state’s new office of broadband development, which is starting a round of grant funding with $5 million in state funding. So far, state funding overseen by the broadband office has successfully connected 74,000 homes to broadband.

“We’re planting a flag, a clear marker to send a signal, not only to our residents and existing businesses, but to prospective residents and prospective businesses that we want to choose Kansas, that they’re going to have some of the best internet in the country, if they come to our state,” Toland added.

Broadband Roundup

Grid Broadband Bill, Ting Gets Financing, Finley Engineering Has New CEO

A new bill would provide grants to providers who can quickly build middle-mile infrastructure along existing electrical grid system.

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Photo of Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., via Flickr

August 10, 2022 – A bill introduced in the Senate last week would make grants available to those who can build middle mile fiber infrastructure along existing municipal rights-of-way and use existing assets to reduce the financial, regulatory and permitting barriers to broadband buildouts.

The Grants to Rapidly Invest and Deploy Broadband Act is intended to use existing electrical infrastructure to quickly expand broadband infrastructure to the 120 million American households that don’t have adequate connectivity, according to a Wednesday press release from Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who co-introduced the bill with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

The legislation specifically notes that it would like to fund those that have existing partnerships with last-mile providers to connect homes and business and ensure that the technology is scalable for more advanced services, including accelerating 5G wireless infrastructure and making affordable gigabit broadband speeds.

The bill would also require that the network would support the security of the electric grid by installing a private communications network for grid operators.

“Building out fiber along our nation’s existing grid will provide the communications capacity needed to modernize our energy system, make our grid more cybersecure, and bring affordable high-speed internet to tens of millions of hard-to-reach households,” Cantwell said in the release. “It’s a triple win solution for consumers because it leverages existing rights-of-way and private sector ingenuity and investment to deliver cleaner electricity, stronger cybersecurity, and more accessible broadband services.”

Ting Fiber gets $200M financing

Telecommunications company Ting Fiber announced Tuesday that it has secured $200 million in financing from Generate Capital, which the company said will help it deploy next-generation communications infrastructure to municipalities across the country.

“We chose Generate because we wanted more than just a financing partner. We wanted their project management expertise, sustainability expertise and the wide range of capital solutions they offer – all of which will help Ting as we continue to rapidly scale our operations,” said Elliot Noss, CEO of Ting and its parent Tucows.

The financing will be used to accelerate Ting’s network deployment and to take advantage of its move from coaxial to fiber technology.

Some of the financing, which was signed on Monday, will be forwarded as Ting achieved operational milestones, it said.

Finley Engineering announces new CEO

The board of directors of broadband and energy engineering and consulting firm Finley Engineering announced Wednesday that Ty Middleton will be the company’s next president and CEO.

Middleton will replace Mike Boehne, who is retiring after being in the job for 10 years, according to the press release.

The release notes that Middleton has experience in the cybersecurity, software-as-a-service, and telecommunications sectors, the latter of which he has 30 years experience.

“He joins Finley with extensive experience in cross-functional leadership roles including general management, field and business operations, sales, and business development,” the release said.

“Middleton has led high-growth, customer-centric, technology-fueled businesses from start-ups to Fortune 150, including time at MCI Telecommunications, Qwest Communications, and CenturyLink,” it added.

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FTC Phillips Stepping Down, Chips Act Now Law, Alaskan Entities Getting $50M in Broadband Grants

Phillips told Politico that he is leaving the competition watchdog this fall.

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Screenshot of President Joe Biden before signing the Chips and Science Act into law on Tuesday

August 9, 2022 – Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips is stepping down from the competition watchdog, according to reporting from Politico.

The Republican commissioner – one of two on an agency with three Democrats – said he told President Joe Biden that he intends to resign this fall, according to the report.

Phillips has been critical of the direction the agency has taken under chairwoman and Big Tech critic Lina Khan, who was appointed by the president to lead the agency.

Phillips has expressed concern about the impact of antitrust rules on consumer prices, criticized the release of a report by the FTC that warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence to combat online harms, alleging that the commission did not consult outside experts, and broadly warned last year about the overall direction of the agency to turn away from the traditional way it viewed competition.

Others outside the agency have also expressed concern that the commission’s tilt, plus pieces of antitrust legislation before Congress, could harm the country’s global competitiveness in the tech industry.

Chips Act signed into law

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law legislation that would provide billions in incentives for the nation to invest in its own semiconductor manufacturing.

In comments delivered before the signing, Biden said the goal of the “once in a generation investment” is to help the country “lead the world in future industries and protect our national security.”

The Chips and Science Act of 2022, which passed the House late last month, is a broad bill with a specific provision that includes $52 billion to incentive domestic manufacturing of chips that power a range of technologies, including phones, watches, cars and laptops, as well as grants for the design and deployment of 5G networks.

Nations during the pandemic have struggled with getting a steady supply of the chips for products, thus contributing to a supply shortage on many important technologies. This triggered increasing concern about the country’s reliance on others for basic technologies.

Currently only 12 percent of global chips are made in the U.S., which is down from 37 percent in the 1990s, according to Senator Michael Bennett, D-CO.

Alaska getting $50 million in broadband grants

Two native entities in Alaska are getting $51 million for high-speed internet, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Monday.

The grants from the Commerce agency’s Internet for All program will go to Doyon Limited and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission to provide connectivity to 581 unserved households across villages in the Doyon region and in eight tribal governments in the Ahtna region for “activities including telehealth, distance learning, telework, and workforce development.”

“The digital divide on our tribal lands, especially in remote Alaska, is stark,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in a press release. “The necessary investment through the Biden-Harris Internet for All initiative provides real change to these communities to participate in the digital economy, whether it’s education, health or jobs.”

The release said NTIA head Alan Davidson is visiting Alaska this week and said it is “humbling to see first-hand how these grants will positively impact the daily lives of Alaskan Natives who have been disconnected for far too long.”

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Broadband Roundup

Affordable Connectivity Outreach Program, Amazon’s SpaceX Satellite Concerns, Axios Acquired

The establishment of the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program is intended to bring awareness to the program.

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Photo of Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, via Wikicommons

August 8, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Friday established an outreach program to get more American households registered to its broadband subsidy program.

The Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a discount on broadband services of up to $30 per month and a one-time $100 toward a device, currently has over 13 million low-income American households signed up, but the FCC has said that there are millions more eligible who are not taking advantage of the program.

During an open meeting on Friday, the commission approved an order directing the agency’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau to develop, administer and manage the new Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program, which is intended to raise awareness about the ACP.

The commission was infused with grants from Congress in the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to put toward outreach for the program. As such, $100 million will go toward the effort.

“Since the inception of the ACP, Commission staff have engaged in extensive outreach, including numerous speaking engagements and enrollment events, and continue to seek out opportunities to coordinate with other federal agencies,” the agency said in a Friday press release.

“Throughout these efforts, the Commission has worked closely with trusted local entities that are familiar with the communities they serve.  However, for many of these partners, budget constraints limit the extent of ACP outreach they can perform without additional financial support.”

The agency on Friday also established the “Your Home, Your Internet” one-year pilot program, which is intended to raise awareness and make it easier to apply to the ACP for households receiving federal housing assistance

Ahead of the announcement, telehealth advocate Craig Settles wrote an op-ed for Broadband Breakfast outlining ideas for how to improve outreach to the ACP.

Amazon warns FCC about volume of SpaceX satellites

In a meeting with FCC officials last week, Amazon representatives repeated concerns about the alleged negative effect of the number of broadband satellites SpaceX will launch into space.

According to a post-meeting letter released Thursday, Amazon urged the commission to ensure that SpaceX’s deployment of its Gen2 non-geostationary orbit fixed-satellite services “does not come at the expense of competition and innovation from other emerging NGSO FSS systems.”

Part of the concern for Amazon, which is preparing its Project Kuiper low-earth orbit constellation, is the size of the proposed deployment. At nearly 30,000 satellites, according to Amazon, it “raises questions about space safety, interference, and coexistence with other operators that will impact competition and deployment for decades.”

SpaceX’s Starlink already has a large LEO constellation for broadband service, with more than 2,700 and with approval to put many more thousands in LEO to come.

Cox acquires news website Axios

News company Axios announced Monday that it has agreed to be acquired by Cox Enterprises, a large media company with a telecommunications arm, for $525 million.

Cox made a previous investment last year in the news company, and it said in a Monday press release that this latest move is part of its effort to “grow and diversify the company.”

The deal will see the co-founders still lead the day-to-day operations of the company, according to a press release.

Axios, which was founded in 2017, is known for its brief lines on news items that cuts to the point.

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