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Consumers Should Be Better Informed on Factors Throttling Download Speeds

Consumers should know what they are purchasing and what they are getting with internet speeds.

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WASHINGTON, April 27, 2022 – As the Federal Communications Commission embarks on crafting labels that clearly outline internet speeds consumers purchase, experts at a Broadband Breakfast event said last week that consumers should get to know the difference between advertised and actual download speeds.

“I think speed tests are part of the problem in this area because we have set the bar really, really high,” said Luke Deryckx, chief technology officer at data analytics company Ookla, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast. “When you get a gigabit connection, if you take a speed test and you don’t see 900+ gigabits you think ‘what’s wrong?’ That’s not the right answer. The right answer is to look at all the things you can do with that connection.”

The internet speeds that consumers purchase won’t always be what they get. Those theoretical speeds – say that gigabit connection – may be throttled by a number of variables, including the number of devices sharing the network and whether the devices are using either a wireless connection (Wi-Fi) – which may experience signal loss as it must penetrate walls – or a hard-wired connection, which provides speeds closest to what the consumer purchased.

Consumers who have trouble with their internet connection, therefore, are potentially looking at an in-home network problem, according to panelists at the event.

“I think the distinction is important here because router-based speed tests are misleading at best and don’t reflect the consumer experience using devices connected wirelessly,” said Jeff Gavlinski, global vice president of telecom and wireless associations at Plume, a software company.

“We should really think about this from the perspective that there are two distinctly different networks serving a premise,” Gavlinski said. “One to the outside of the premise or router and then one wireless network inside the premise. Perception of the overall quality for both networks, however, is based on the in-premise wireless network.”

The conversation surrounding the problems of in-premise wireless connections comes at a time when the Federal Communications Commission is implementing “broadband nutrition labels” that list information on the pricing and speeds of internet service that internet service providers provide. People within the industry have argued that these labels must be kept simple for consumers, as many don’t understand the intricacies of Wi-Fi connections.

“I’m not sure a lot of consumers today actually want to take the time to understand this [Wi-Fi],” Gavlinski said. “We all do because we’re in the industry. Furthermore, the generation that’s coming up now only cares about whether they do or don’t have a good connection,” said Gavlinski.

At an event earlier this year, Vint Cerf, an early developer of the internet architecture, said episodic measurements of speed using speed tests often yield “skewed data” because people only really run it when they get poor performance. He posited whether there can be a way to “distinguish between poor performance as a consequence of badly configured Wi-Fi versus a poorly performing internet access point or internet access to the ISP.”

This photo was taken at the event.

At a separate FCC consumer advisory meeting on Tuesday, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said, “I believe that transparency is the best disinfectant. And so, we need to make sure that consumers have the information they need to be making informed choices.”

Carr added, however, that the labels made by the FCC need to balance how much information is provided to consumers.  “I think within that statutory structure, [we should] focus as much as possible on information that is going to benefit people – not be irrelevant, not be distracting – to find ways that people can quickly and efficiently get the information they need to make that beneficial, informed choice.”

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event and REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022, 12 Noon ET — Broadband Mapping and Data: In-Home Connections

Even with massive improvements to broadband infrastructure, many customers continue to face trouble transmitting internet signals within their homes. How much of consumers’ complaints about low bandwidth performance can be attributed to poor Wi-Fi transmission or slow computing speeds within the home? And equally important, how will actual speeds factor into the Federal Communications Commission’s and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s updated broadband maps and data? Join us for a continuation of the Broadband Breakfast’s ongoing series about Broadband Mapping and Data.

Panelists:

  • Jeff Gavlinski, Global Vice President of Telecom & Wireless Associations, Plume
  • Luke Deryckx, Chief Technology Officer, Ookla
  • Robert Ballance, Founder, The Center for Internet as Infrastructure, LLC
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Jeffrey Gavlinski is currently Global Vice President of Telecom & Wireless Associations at Plume Design.  He is responsible for the strategic alignment of Plume’s industry Association partnerships globally.  He is also the owner and CEO of Mountain Connect LLC, a company facilitating a broadband development conference that services the U.S. and is hosted in Colorado since 2011.

Luke Deryckx has focused his career on creating, improving, and measuring broadband connectivity of all kinds. He has over two decades of telecommunications and technology industry experience, including time spent with major national service providers, local and regional ISPs, and broadband measurement and analytics technology. In addition to Luke’s work as the Chief Technology Officer for Ookla, he serves on the FCC’s precision agriculture task force in a working group focused on measuring and mapping connectivity in rural and agricultural lands.

Throughout his career, Bob Ballance has helped people and organizations to integrate, optimize, and deploy rapidly-evolving computing systems and new technologies. Bob served as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow (1/2016-4/2017) when he worked with the BroadbandUSA program at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).  Prior to his assignment in Washington DC, he was a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff at Sandia National Laboratories.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

Photo of a router from Ctrl blog

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Health

FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.

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Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

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Health

FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’

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WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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