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FCC Device Partnership, TracFone Settles Lawsuit, New FCC Leadership Hires

The FCC announced a partnership with a trio of companies to deliver devices under the Affordable Connectivity Program.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

April 5, 2022 – Three tech companies are partnering with the Federal Communications Commission to provide 60,000 tablets to Americans as part of the Federal Communication Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

The agency announced Tuesday that it has partnered with everphone, a tablet, smartphone, and laptop supplier that provides companies with devices and repair services through a monthly subscription, as well as network connectivity provider Go Technology Management, and EBF Inc, a mobile device management provider, to provide 60,000 Hyundai Technology tablets to underserved American households over a period of 12-months.

The ACP is an extension of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program and provides to low-income families monthly connectivity subsidies and a one-time discount on the purchase of laptops, desktop computers, and tablets.

The general manager of everphone, Tillmann Schwabe, said that everphone is “incredibly proud to contribute to the Affordable Connectivity Program…Together with Go Technology Management and EBF we will help tens of thousands of American households bridge the digital divide, giving them access to the digital tools and information they need to be productive and successful in their daily lives.”

TracFone Wireless agrees to a multi-million-dollar settlement

The FCC announced Monday that, with the help of the Department of Justice, it has reached a $13.4 million settlement to resolve allegations against TracFone Wireless.

The FCC alleged in a press release that, between 2012 and 2015, TracFone violated the False Claims Act by signing up 175,000 ineligible customers for the FCC Lifeline program, which provides a discount on phone services to eligible citizens through the Universal Service Fund.

The press release blames Tracfone’s lack of oversight for the violation, saying the company did not have enough internal control and thus was unaware of the illegal actions of their sales agents in Florida, who targeted non-low-income veterans, law enforcement, and other non-eligible customers.

“Today’s settlement reflects the FCC’s ongoing commitment to root out waste, fraud, and abuse in its universal service programs,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said.

Rosenworcel has new chief of staff, chief legal advisor

The FCC announced Monday that Narda Jones will be the next chief of staff for agency Chairwoman Rosenworcel, while Priscilla Delgado Argeris will be the next chief legal advisor.

Jones, who previously held various senior positions in the FCC, is leaving her position at the White House as the director of legislative affairs for the Office of Science and Technology Policy to assume the new role.

Jones is replacing Travis Litman, who’s departure was also announced Monday.

Argeris, who was Rosenworcel’s legal advisor when she was commissioner from 2012 to 2015, is rejoining from Meta Platforms, the parent of Facebook, where she worked on spectrum policy issues.

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Kenosha Gets Fiber, Judiciary Committee Advances Journalism Bill, Rosenworcel Touts Women in Tech

SiFi Networks will construct an all-fiber network for 40,000 households in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

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Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, obtained from Kenosha.org

September 23, 2022 – The city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and SiFi Networks on Thursday announced the start of construction of an all-fiber network that is advertised to bring high-speed broadband to all 40,000 households, businesses, and other locations in the city.

The $100-million, privately funded project is scheduled to be completed in approximately three years and will provide speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps), SiFi Networks said. The project has been announced to be open access: Many service providers will simultaneously lease sections of the network. SiFi says this model will enhance competition and bring “the fastest speeds at the most competitive prices to the consumer.”

“Kenosha is a special city with wonderful residents who are ready for modern-day connectivity,” said Marcus Bowman, community relations manager at SiFi Networks. “SiFi Networks is delighted to make the long-term investment in Kenosha because we see how fiber networks transform communities into hubs of innovation, remote work, better healthcare, and smart city services.”

 “Kenosha residents and businesses will see a great benefit from the Kenosha FiberCity project, ensuring that affordable, high-speed internet service is available throughout the entire city,” Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian said.

Cruz and Klobuchar find agreement on Journalism bill

A bipartisan bill that would alter existing antitrust law to create a safe harbor for news outlets engaged in collective bargaining with big-tech platforms was approved Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Supporters of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act say it would give news outlets the influence necessary to obtain fair compensation for their work from large platforms such as Facebook and Google.

The bill was scheduled to advance out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this month. Its passage was delayed by sponsor Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., after the committee adopted an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, that would limit platforms’ ability to moderate content.

Cruz’s amendment would have outright removed the antitrust exemption if outlet–platform negotiations included content-moderation policies, which Klobuchar called the amendment a “get out of jail free card” for platforms. Instead, the version of the bill advanced Thursday states that bargaining shall be conducted “solely to reach an agreement regarding the pricing, terms and conditions.”

“This is a major win for free speech and it strikes a blow against the virtual monopoly that Big Tech has to limit the information that Americans see online,” said Cruz’s official statement on Thursday. “The bottom line is Big Tech hated this bill from the start and now they hate it even more.”

Rosenworcel speaks to Grace Hopper Celebration 

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel touted the importance of women in technology at the Grace Hopper Celebration networking event on Thursday. 

“The Grace Hopper Celebration is known for being the world’s premier networking event for women in technology,” Rosenworcel said. “It is great to see it and just be here.  Because in my two decades of working on technology policy, I have not been in a lot of rooms like this.  In fact, I have lost count of the times that I have been the only woman in the room.”

The FCC’s chairwoman called on colleagues to “pull up a chair” for other women in tech as well as struggling community members. Speaking of her time as a commissioner at the FCC, Rosenworcel said she was one of only a few officials working to close the “homework gap” before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She also committed to advance “issues that affect women in technology,” promising to promote telehealth solutions for maternity care, extend basic phone services to victims of domestic abuse, and scrutinize the privacy standards of mobile providers to ensure the privacy of women’s medical history.

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ReConnect Funding, More Emergency Connectivity Fund Money, 5G Training Grant in South Africa

The Agriculture Department announced $502M will go to service providers in 20 states.

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Photo of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

September 22, 2022 – The Agriculture Department announced Thursday it is committing from the ReConnect program $502 million to providers in 20 states for fiber-to-the-premises builds.

Recipients include rural and tribal lands in Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

The largest recipients include Egyptian Telephone Cooperative Association (IL), which will receive a loan of $25,282,255; Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa (MI), which is receiving a grant of $24,944,355; Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (NC) will receive $24,664,687; and Big Bend Telephone Company Inc. (TX) will get $24,018,756.

“High-speed internet will improve the rural economy. It will help rural businesses grow and get access to new markets. It will help rural residents get access to more and better health care and educational opportunities. USDA knows rural America is America’s backbone, and prosperity here means prosperity for all,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

For ReConnect program funding, an applicant would serve an area where high-speed internet service speeds are lower than 100 Megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload. The applicant must also commit to building facilities capable of providing access to symmetrical high-speed internet at speeds of 100 Mbps.

FCC commits additional funding from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday it is committing another $55-million in a third-round of funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund program, which provides subsidized connectivity to keep students away from school connected.

“With the school year in full swing, kids need to be able to connect with teachers and homework assignments when they are away from school grounds,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release. “Our latest funding commitments will provide this support, and continue our ongoing progress to close the Homework Gap.”

The commission has so-far committed over $5.6 billion of the $7.1-billion program to 10,000 schools, 900 libraries, and 100 consortia, and provided nearly 12 million connected devices and over seven million broadband connections, the release said.

Wireless Infrastructure Association gets Commerce grant for 5G training in South Africa

The Wireless Infrastructure Association was awarded a grant by the Commerce Department Wednesday to put toward workforce training for the development of 5G infrastructure in South Africa.

“Through our Telecommunications Education Center, WIA has become a global leader in broadband and 5G training, and we’re honored by the opportunity to support this project to bring the benefits of efficient 5G rollout to South Africa and strengthen America’s leadership as an exporter of 5G technology,” the WIA said in a press release Wednesday.

The Commerce Department’s Market Development Cooperator program is intended to remove trade barriers and help American firms export. It includes a proposal called the Roadmap to 5G Success project to accelerate 5G deployment in South Africa and help drive business for American companies.

Wednesday’s announcement was part of a larger committed by the department, which awarded five other grantees for a total investment of $1.7 million. The grantees will need to invest $3.4 million of their own resources “and collaborate with International Trade Administration staff around the world to remove trade barriers and promote U.S. exports in their industries.”

“We have seen time and again that working with non-profit industry groups is key to reaching markets in different parts of the globe and generating exports that will ultimately serve our goal of strengthening the competitiveness of U.S. industry. We look forward to adding the six new projects to our successful MDCP program, which has a strong history of creating multiplier effects and producing a significant return on investment for U.S. business.”  Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a department release.

In March of this year, the Wireless Infrastructure Association issued telecommunications tower technician programs at Ohio State University. WIA acts as an in-house expert to aid in workforce education and implementation.

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Biden Wants American at ITU, FCC Acts Against Chinese Telecom, Mid-Band Spectrum Needed

Doreen Bodgan-Martin is running to head the United Nations’ technology regulator.

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Photo of President Joe Biden and Doreen Bogdan-Martin by Adam Schultz

September 21, 2022 – President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he strongly supports American candidate Doreen Bodgan-Martin for the role of secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations’ technology regulator.

The current director of the ITU’s Telecommunications Development Bureau “understands the importance of connecting every school to the Internet and making sure every student can access virtual learning, providing women and girls the digital tools they need to succeed, and extending the benefits of online health and educational resources,” Biden said in a statement, urging all United Nations member states join the United States in voting for Bogdan-Martin at the upcoming ITU election in Bucharest, Romania.

The election process, which will result in the leadership team for the next four years, is set to begin on September 29, according to the ITU. The ITU develops international connectivity standards in communications networks and improving access to information and communication technologies for underserved communities worldwide.

Bogdan-Martin is running against Russian candidate Rashid Ismailov, who experts said earlier this year should not be counted out just because he hails from the nation that invaded and is at war with Ukraine.

FCC expands their list of services and equipment that could pose a security threat

The Federal Communications Commission’s added Tuesday Pacific Network Corp. and China Unicom Operations Ltd. to a growing list of communications equipment banned from the country on national security grounds.

“Today we take another critical step to protect our communications networks from foreign national security threats,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release.

“Earlier this year the FCC revoked China Unicom America’s and PacNet/ComNet’s authorities to provide service in the United States because of the national security risks they posed to communications in the United States,” she added. “Now, working with our national security partners, we are taking additional action to close the door to these companies by adding them to the FCC’s Covered List. This action demonstrates our whole-of-government effort to protect network security and privacy.”

The FCC said it leveraged information from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Justice in making the decision.

The ban follows FCC orders on equipment and services from AO Kaspersky Lab, China Telecom (Americas) Corp, China Mobile International USA Inc., Huawei, and ZTE to its list, which is part of its obligation to the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019.

The federal government has taken a hostile stance toward Chinese companies, as it has charged that they are beholden to a Communist government that allegedly collects data and spies on Americans.

The U.S. must release more mid-band spectrum to keep up globally

An updated report commissioned by telecom industry trade group CTIA and released Tuesday finds the United States lags behind other countries on the release of mid-band spectrum key to next generation 5G technology.

“In updating this study, we again took a big-picture look at potential spectrum availability that other countries currently have and are considering,” said Janette Stewart, a partner with Analysys Mason, the firm that conducted the study on the 3 Gigahertz to 7 GHz band.

“Our work makes clear that the U.S. lags in licensed mid-band spectrum, critical to fuel 5G innovation,” she said.

The Analysys Mason study found the country lags behind Japan, the United Kingdom and France by an average of 530 Megahertz of released spectrum, the airwaves that drive wireless connectivity.

The study also found that China is making licensed mid-band spectrum available that could outpace the U.S.

The FCC has made available slices of mid-band spectrum for 5G, including this summer’s auction for parts of the 2.5 GHz band.

“The FCC made great progress with recent mid-band spectrum auctions, but this study shows there is more work to be done,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, CTIA president and CEO in the release.

“We need Congress, the Commission and the Administration to develop a meaningful pipeline plan to build upon our recent success,” she added. “We look forward to working with policymakers to identify the next set of 5G spectrum auctions, so that the United States maintains our position as leader of the growing 5G economy.”

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