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Joel Thayer and Shane Tews: Rural Broadband Requires Out-of-the-Box Thinking

Mobile broadband is largely ignored by federal connectivity efforts.

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The authors of this expert opinion are Joel Thayer, president of the Digital Progress Institute, and Shane Tews, nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Rapid broadband accessibility remains a U.S. priority.

With the passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act and implementation of the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, closing the digital divide may be on the horizon — at least when it comes to broadband at home.

But while these programs are focused on wiring up our rural communities — stringing fiber on poles and down conduits — neither focuses on mobile broadband, a critical part of the equation for those that want to be connected.

The vast majority of Americans (83%!) now rely on their cellphones to communicate on the go, with an increasing number relying on 5G.

5G and its applications are made to serve rural communities. Widespread 5G can help rural, low-income Americans access important medical appointments hundreds of miles away via telehealth apps or allow their children to attend remote tutoring sessions.

The promise of 5G will untether the Internet in ways we can’t even imagine.

But rural America has a 5G problem — 82 million Americans are not yet covered by 5G networks. Even worse, 8 million Americans cannot even access 4G LTE mobile broadband at speeds of 10/3 Mbps — which is slower than the federal benchmark of 25/3 Mbps.

So what can be done about it? A lot.

Spectrum is the lifeblood of any wireless network, and more is needed

First and foremost, there’s a need for more spectrum, the lifeblood of any wireless network.

Over the past six years, the FCC has opened up more than 6 GHz of spectrum for licensed 5G services, with the auction of the 2.5 GHz band to commence this summer.

That auction has been delayed by over a year, and an assortment of stakeholders have tried to delay past auctions at the last minute. The FCC must stand firm and move forward with the auction on schedule — rural America cannot wait any longer.

Unlicensed spectrum is also important. It offers carriers the ability to supplement their licensed spectrum. And it creates an opportunity for wireless Internet service providers to fill in coverage gaps left by the larger players.

There too the FCC has made significant progress, opening up the 6 GHz band for new unlicensed uses. But actual use of the 6 GHz bands for rural America has been delayed by electric companies attempting to relitigate the FCC’s decision.

The FCC should resolve these concerns and move forward quickly to ensure rural Americans can benefit from this spectrum as soon as possible.

Next, we’ve got to make sure we make better use of the spectrum we already have.

Earlier mobile networks were built using low-band spectrum — radiofrequencies that can penetrate buildings and offer service from miles away.

Fortunately, carriers have started to refarm this spectrum for 5G services.

One problem, however, is that opportunistic vendors are attempting to slow down this transition.

Alarm companies and others slow-rolled the deployment of upgrades to their customers to move them off 3G networks and onto modern facilities. It’s allowed them to profit enormously, and now they’re trying to delay the upgrade to 5G in order to stave off the cost of new equipment.

But again, rural Americans shouldn’t be told to wait — they want and need the next-generation networks found in the cities.

It’s time for the FCC to dismiss these misplaced concerns and make clear carriers can move forward with the 5G upgrade.

Another problem is outmoded thinking on how Americans can get mobile broadband.

Since the 1980s, the FCC has limited cellular networks to terrestrial operations. But with the New Space Age dawning, it’s time to heed the words of the late Stephen Hawking: “Remember to look up to stars and not down at your feet.”

New American constellations like SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Kuiper will be offering ubiquitous broadband to rural America. And new entrants like AST SpaceMobile are looking to leverage innovative direct-to-cell satellite technology to bring 5G to rural America.

Move forward with allowing terrestrial licensees to connect the unconnected

The FCC should move forward with allowing terrestrial licensees to connect the unconnected to 5G on their frequencies in partnership with satellite operators.

Letting a satellite reflect a carriers’ signal back to Earth could extend the reach of traditional 5G towers by hundreds of miles at minimal cost.

If the FCC allowed flexible use of wireless rules to allow satellite-provided 5G on their own licensed frequencies, it could bring next-generation mobile broadband to 82 million Americans in short order.

And there’s much more the FCC could do, but all such actions face greater obstacles.

It could continue its work over the last decade to streamline permitting and pole attachments — but States, localities, and electric companies are sure to object.

It could move forward with its $9 billion 5G Fund established to bring next-gen services to rural America — but that funding can’t start until FCC has new coverage maps, which may not even be available this year.

America needs and deserves an all-of-the above approach to ensure every family can connect with 5G.

Moving forward on the 2.5 GHz auction, the 6 GHz implementation, rejecting attempts to wind down last-gen networks, and allowing satellite-terrestrial partnerships are all actions within the FCC’s grasp. And all these solutions will bring 5G to rural America quickly and with minimal cost to the government.

It’s time to get to work.

Joel Thayer is President of the Digital Progress Institute and an attorney based in Washington, D.C. The Digital Progress Institute is a D.C. non-profit seeking to bridge the policy divide between telecom and tech through bipartisan consensus.

Shane Tews is a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where she focuses on cybersecurity issues, including privacy and data protection, next-generation networking (5G), the Internet of Things, international internet governance, digital economic policy, information and communications technology, Artificial intelligence and the metaverse, cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens, and emerging technologies. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

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Dae-Keun Cho: Demystifying Interconnection and Cost Recovery in South Korea

South Korean courts have rejected attempts to mix net neutrality arguments into payment disputes.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Advisor in Dae-Keun Cho, a member of the telecom, media and technology practice team at Lee & Ko.

South Korea is recognized as a leading broadband nation for network access, use and skills by the International Telecommunications Union and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

South Korea exports content and produces platforms which compete with leading tech platforms from the US and China. Yet few know and understand the important elements of South Korean broadband policy, particularly its unique interconnection and cost recovery regime.

For example, most Western observers mischaracterize the relationship between broadband providers and content providers as a termination regime. There is no such concept in the South Korean broadband market. Content providers which want to connect to a broadband network pay an “access fee” like any other user.

International policy observers are paying attention to the IP interconnection system of IP powerhouse Korea and the lawsuit between SK Broadband (SKB) and Netflix. There are two important subjects. The first is the history and major regulations relating to internet protocol interconnection in South Korea. Regulating IP interconnection between internet service providers is considered a rare case overseas, and I explain why the Korean government adopted such a policy and how the policy has been developed and what it has accomplished.

The second subject is the issues over network usage fees between ISPs and content providers and the pros and cons. The author discusses issues that came to the surface during the legal proceedings between SKB and Netflix in the form of questions and answers. The following issues were identified during the process.

First, what Korean ISPs demand from global big tech companies is an access fee, not a termination fee. The termination fee does not exist in the broadband market, only in the market between ISPs.

In South Korea, content providers only pay for access, not termination

For example, Netflix’s Open Connect Appliance is a content delivery network. To deliver its content to end users in Korea, Netflix must purchase connectivity from a Korean ISP. The dispute arises because Netflix refuses to pay this connectivity fee. Charging CPs in the sending party network pay method, as discussed in Europe, suggests that the CPs already paid access fees to the originating ISPs and should thus pay the termination fee for their traffic delivery to the terminating ISPs. However in Korea, it is only access fees that CPs (also CDNs) pay ISPs.

In South Korea, IP interconnection between content providers and internet service providers is subject to negotiation

Second, although the IP interconnection between Korean ISPs is included in regulations, transactions between CPs and ISPs are still subject to negotiation. In Korea, a CP (including CDN) is a purchaser which pays a fee to a telecommunications service provider called an ISP and purchases a public internet network connection service, because the CP’s legal status is a “user” under the Telecommunications Business Act. Currently, a CP negotiates with an ISP and signs a contract setting out connection conditions and rates.

Access fees do not violate net neutrality

South Korean courts have rejected attempts to mix net neutrality arguments into payment disputes. The principle of net neutrality applies between the ISP and the consumer, e.g. the practice of blocking, throttling and paid prioritization (fast lane).

In South Korea, ISPs do not prioritize a specific CP’s traffic over other CP’s because they receive fees from the specific CP. To comply with the net neutrality principle, all ISPs in South Korea act on a first-in, first-out basis. That is, the ISP does not perform traffic management for specific CP traffic for various reasons (such as competition, money etc.). The Korean court did not accept the Netflix’s argument about net neutrality because SKB did not engage in traffic management.

There is no violation of net neutrality in the transaction between Netflix and SKB. There is no action by SKB to block or throttle the CP’s traffic (in this case, Netflix). In addition, SKB does not undertake any traffic management action to deliver the traffic of Netflix to the end user faster than other CPs in exchange for an additional fee from Netflix.

Therefore, the access fee that Korean ISPs request from CPs does not create a net neutrality problem.

Why the Korean model is not double billing

Korean law allows for access to broadband networks for all parties provided an access fee is paid. Foreign content providers incorrectly describe this as a double payment. That would mean that an end user is paying for the access of another party. There is no such notion. Each party pays for the requisite connectivity of the individual connection, nothing more. Each user pays for its own purpose, whether it is a human subscriber, a CP, or a CDN. No one user pays for the connectivity of another.

Dae-Keun Cho, PhD is is a member of the Telecom, Media and Technology practice team at Lee & Ko. He is a regulatory policy expert with more than 20 years of experience in telecommunications and ICT regulatory policies who also advises clients on online platform regulation policies, telecommunications competition policies, ICT user protection policies, and personal information protection. He earned a Ph.D. in Public Administration from the Graduate School of Public Administration in Seoul National University. This piece is reprinted with permission.

Request the FREE 58 page English language summary of Dr. Dae-Keun Cho’s book Nothing Is Free: An In-depth report to understand network usage disputes with Google and Netflix. Additionally see Strand Consult’s library of reports and research notes on the South Korea.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Luke Lintz: The Dark Side of Banning TikTok on College Campuses

Campus TikTok bans could have negative consequences for students.

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The author of this expert opinion is Luke Lintz, co-owner of HighKey Enterprises LLC

In recent months, there have been growing concerns about the security of data shared on the popular social media app TikTok. As a result, a number of colleges and universities have decided to ban the app from their campuses.

While these bans may have been implemented with the intention of protecting students’ data, they could also have a number of negative consequences.

Banning TikTok on college campuses could also have a negative impact on the inter-accessibility of the student body. Many students use the app to connect with others who share their interests or come from similar backgrounds. For example, international students may use the app to connect with other students from their home countries, or students from underrepresented groups may use the app to connect with others who share similar experiences.

By denying them access to TikTok, colleges may be inadvertently limiting their students’ ability to form diverse and supportive communities. This can have a detrimental effect on the student experience, as students may feel isolated and disconnected from their peers. Additionally, it can also have a negative impact on the wider college community, as the ban may make it more difficult for students from different backgrounds to come together and collaborate.

Furthermore, by banning TikTok, colleges may also be missing out on the opportunity to promote diverse events on their campuses. The app is often used by students to share information about events, clubs and other activities that promote diversity and inclusivity. Without this platform, it may be more difficult for students to learn about these initiatives and for organizations to reach a wide audience.

Lastly, it’s important to note that banning TikTok on college campuses could also have a negative impact on the ability of college administrators to communicate with students. Many colleges and universities have started to use TikTok as a way to connect with students and share important information and updates. The popularity of TikTok makes it the perfect app for students to use to reach large, campus-wide audiences.

TikTok also offers a unique way for college administrators to connect with students in a more informal and engaging way. TikTok allows administrators to create videos that are fun, creative and relatable, which can help to build trust and to heighten interaction with students. Without this platform, it may be more difficult for administrators to establish this type of connection with students.

Banning TikTok from college campuses could have a number of negative consequences for students, including limiting their ability to form diverse and supportive communities, missing out on future opportunities and staying informed about what’s happening on campus. College administrators should consider the potential consequences before making a decision about banning TikTok from their campuses.

Luke Lintz is a successful businessman, entrepreneur and social media personality. Today, he is the co-owner of HighKey Enterprises LLC, which aims to revolutionize social media marketing. HighKey Enterprises is a highly rated company that has molded its global reputation by servicing high-profile clients that range from A-listers in the entertainment industry to the most successful one percent across the globe. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Jessica Dine: Broadband Networks Are Doing Well, Time to Shift to Adoption Gap

There is a perennial policy debate over why the digital divide exists and what to do about it.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Jessica Dine, a research assistant for broadband policy at the ITIF

It turns out there are two digital divides in America. The first one is the familiar divide between those who have Internet subscriptions and those who don’t. Everyone agrees this is a persistent concern, with about 10 percent of the public lacking subscriptions at last count. But then we come to the second divide: There is a perennial policy debate over why the digital divide exists and what to do about it.

This second digital divide is once again on full display around the latest edition of the biennial Communications Marketplace Report from the Federal Communications Commission. Those who think that broadband should fundamentally be in the hands of the government will no doubt claim it shows America’s private-sector broadband system is a failure; we are a backward nation with inadequate service offerings that are too expensive for consumers and too profitable for providers. The solution to this, advocates say, is to weaken corporate providers and strengthen non-corporate alternatives, including government-run networks.

But the empirical evidence belies their claims. An evenhanded look at broadband data show that U.S. broadband infrastructure is not the problem; it’s a lack of adoption that’s causing the digital divide to persist.

Comprehensive data reveal that almost everyone in the United States is passed by fixed broadband matching the FCC’s 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload speed requirement. And the expansive coverage doesn’t end there — 94 percent of people are passed by networks at speeds of 100/10, and the majority of Americans have multiple providers at broadband speeds or higher. 4G wireless coverage is almost everywhere; 5G, still in its early stages, already covers the majority of the U.S. population at 93 percent and reaches competitively high speeds for most of the country. The first iteration of the long-awaited National Broadband Map confirms that deployment is strong. Modern broadband deployment in the United States outpaces coverage in the European Union and is competitive at the international level. And with the use of fixed-wireless and low-earth-orbit satellites continuing to grow, it’s only getting better.

As for prices, U.S. broadband has been shown to be relatively affordable. The ITU finds U.S. fixed broadband prices are just one percent of an average person’s income, proportionately lower than the prices charged in Japan and South Korea. While U.S. mobile prices are relatively higher in the rankings, they’re still significantly lower than one percent of the average income per person. Moreover, Americans are paying for high-speed, high-quality networks, as evidenced by the Ookla’s latest Speedtest Global Index, which put U.S. fixed network speeds in 6th place globally, above even digital frontrunners like South Korea and Denmark. By October 2022, U.S. fixed median download and upload speeds were each roughly seven times the FCC broadband benchmark.

Time to focus on what’s causing the digital divide to persist: Broadband adoption

But even though broadband deployment is already strong, the government has packaged billions of dollars for more to take place. It’s time to stop throwing money at deployment. It’s time to focus on what’s really causing the digital divide to persist, and that’s broadband adoption.

It’s one thing to have access to broadband service but another to “adopt” — to sign up for and purchase — that service. The United States has room for improvement when it comes to adoption. Ninety percent of households subscribe to some form of Internet connection — for context, that’s similar to broadband adoption in 10 EU countries according to Eurostat, and it’s nine percentage points behind the leader. Though U.S. adoption rates are not appallingly low, they still lag behind the country’s performance in deployment. In other words, a substantial percentage of Americans, given the opportunity to connect to the Internet, simply chooses not to.

While a simplistic policy solution would throw money at the problem to lower prices, that likely wouldn’t make a significant dent in the adoption rate. The U.S. Commerce Department’s Internet Use Survey finds, instead, that the main barrier to connectivity is a lack of interest, with 58 percent of respondents stating so. Meanwhile, price comes in distant second, with only 18 percent of respondents putting it down as their answer.

No matter how much money and effort policy makers put into closing the digital divide, they will never close it if they fail to target the true root cause. Pouring money into deployment under the misimpression that U.S. networks themselves are lacking or designing policies to regulate allegedly high U.S. prices and ramp up slow speeds — these are tactics that take scarce funds away from the more pressing challenge of adoption.

Jessica Dine is a research assistant for broadband policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. She has conducted research and written on closing the digital divide, the state of U.S. broadband, and how 5G can play a role in reducing environmental harm. She holds a B.A. in economics and philosophy from Grinnell College. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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