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Broadband Champions Necessary to Combat Obstacles and Drive Public Financing, Panelists Say

“Some communities are way ahead of others,” Illinois Broadband Office Director Matt Schmit said about quest for IIJA funds.



Photo Matt Schmit (left on screen), moderator Benjamin Kahn (left), Roger Timmerman and Tom Coverick by Drew Clark

HOUSTON, May 4, 2022 – Those planning to utilize public funding opportunities need to communicate with all levels of stakeholders and worthwhile partnerships to make the most of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding.

Financing plans live or die by stakeholder involvement, said Tom Coverick, Keybanc Capital Markets managing director.

“Every project needs a champion,” he said here during Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment mini-conference at Broadband Communities Summit on Monday. “We are looking at rising interest rates and [rising] costs of labor. Without the local champions, these local projects would have a very difficult time moving forward.”

“The reality is those champions in the local areas will know everyone who has to get involved, and if they do not know, they will find out how it is pretty quickly,” Coverick said.

“Some communities are way ahead of others,” Illinois Broadband Office Director Matt Schmit said. “There are a lot of really great models around the country that have [created] community engagement and outreach programs.”

Schmit used Illinois’ “Accelerate Illinois” partnership between the state and Heartland Forward. He explained how this program helped guide communities that have committed to securing public funding for broadband but may not have concrete goals or a vision of how to achieve them.

“[These communities] have not had that inclusive conversation at the community level, or they may not exactly know how to put together a grant application, or [how to] find the ideal private provider partner.”

Schmit also emphasized the importance of communication, and emphasized a three-legged stool of access, adoption and use. “Being available [to community leaders – to that local champion –] is really important,” Schmit said. “This is going to make or break so much of our investment in the US.”

California Emerging Technology Fund CEO Sunne Wright McPeak said that communication needs to be encouraged from all stakeholders, top to bottom. She spoke particularly about state leaders informing local community leaders about opportunities available to them through grant funding.

Some of this coordination has helped to drive middle-mile investments to connect qualifying communities, she said.

“Systematically reaching out to the public agencies that have to approve projects and give the permitting, and those that will develop the project and apply for the funding [is critical.” McPeak said.

“The folks who really are on the ground on adoption are what we call the trusted messengers,” she added. “They are the community-based organizations that can do the outreach – in language and culture – and increase that take-rate.”

“Where there is a will, there is a way,” said UTOPIA Fiber CEO Roger Timmerman. “If you have elected officials or groups or community leaders and you want to solve the broadband problem in your area, you need to organize that effort and come up with good partners.”

Information about the presentations made during the “Public Financing” panel are available at the Digital Infrastructure Investment page.

Contributing Reporter Teralyn Whipple, who joined Broadband Breakfast in 2022, studied marketing at Brigham Young University. She has reported extensively on broadband infrastructure, investments and deployment. She has also headed marketing campaigns for several small companies.


DISH Agrees to First FCC Enforcement Action Over Space Debris

DISH did not adhere to its plan for disposing of a satellite, the commission said.



Photo of Loyaan Egal, head of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau.

WASHINGTON, October 3, 2023 – DISH Network has agreed Monday to settle with the Federal Communications Commission over the carrier’s failing to properly dispose of a satellite.

As part of the settlement – the first space debris enforcement action from the commission – DISH agreed to pay a $150,000 fine and adhere to a compliance plan.

When the company’s EchoStar-7 satellite reached the end of its life, the order read, DISH moved it 122 kilometers above its normal position into a disposal orbit – an orbit designated for old and unused equipment that sits far away from currently operating satellites and communication equipment.

But DISH had agreed as part of its operating license to put the satellite almost 180 km further into space by May 2022.

The company was unable to fully move the satellite because it ran out of fuel in February of that year. But the failure to comply with its FCC license still constituted a violation of the Communications Act of 1934, the agency said in a statement, and the dead satellite “could pose orbital debris concerns.”

The first-of-its-kind fine comes as the FCC is looking to expand its regulatory presence in space and crack down on debris orbiting the planet. The commission established its Space Bureau this year and adopted a rule in September 2022 shortening the window for companies to dispose of satellites after they complete their missions.

The commission also voted in September 2023 to streamline satellite application processing.

“As satellite operations become more prevalent and the space economy accelerates, we must be certain that operators comply with their commitments,” FCC Enforcement Bureau chief  Loyaan Egal said.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in September the commission is working on new regulatory frameworks to support satellite-to-smartphone communications.

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A Hidden Issue Potentially Impacting BEAD Implementation: Pole Attachments

Problems accessing poles could delay fiber builds funded by the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program.



The heat that arose over the course of 2022 on the topic of pole attachments shows no signs of abating. Indeed, the rollout of the broadband infrastructure program under the bipartisan infrastructure law may be heightening tensions over the topic.

Now, some experts are claiming that concerns about access to poles could delay fiber builds funded by the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In order to deploy broadband networks, fiber and cable companies must run wires either underground or above ground. Utility poles, the poles that support public utility services such as electricity, are an attractive option to minimize deployment costs and reach every address in a provider’s jurisdiction.

The specific controversy generally centers around the rates that broadband companies seeking to put fiber on utility poles need to pay the owners of the poles, often utilities. Internet companies claim that utility companies place an undue financial burden on attachers, which can hinder builds through the federal grant programs coming down the pipeline.

Utilities often require that new attachers pay the price of pole replacement or else the cost to make the poles ready for new attachments. This financial burden is felt particularly heavily by new entrants that do not have the necessary capital to invest in these poles. In fact, Google Fiber faced these hurdles in Nashville in 2016 when pole attachment permits became hard to acquire and financially burdensome.

Pole attachments differ from pure conduits

Pole attachments differ from conduits, which are structures containing one or more ducts — a single enclosed path for conductors, cables or wire — usually placed in the ground, in which cables or wires may be installed. Service providers may rent conduit, often owned by utilities or other providers, for their broadband networks.

read more….

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Broadband's Impact

FCC Inspector General Suspects Providers of Improperly Taking Subsidies

The agency’s Office of the Inspector General said providers were still paid for un-enrolled subscribers.



Photo of the FCC's headquarters at 45 L Street NE from the Smith Group.

WASHINGTON, October 2, 2023 – Dozens of mobile broadband providers are likely not complying with federal subsidy rules, the Federal Communications Commission inspector general said in a report on Friday.

The Affordable Connectivity Program provides about 20 million low-income households a $30 monthly internet discount. That money is paid by the government to providers giving those households broadband service.

When customers receiving ACP discounts stop using a provider’s broadband service, the provider is required to report that to the FCC so money is only disbursed for active users. Typically, anywhere from a third to one half of an ACP provider’s subscribers will be de-enrolled each month, according to the report from the Office of the Inspector General.

But the OIG said that it found “dozens” of providers report few, if any, of these lost customers, making it likely the providers are taking government subsidies for broadband service they are not providing. It did not name the providers.

“We strongly suspect [the unnamed providers] are not complying with program usage and related de-enrollment rules,” the OIG wrote.

One company repaid the commission almost $50 million after being approached by the OIG. That’s one third of all ACP subsidies the provider received from June 2021 to July 2022.

The OIG released data from five of the suspect providers showing they failed to de-enroll more than three percent of their monthly subscribers, making them and similar providers outliers among ACP providers. One provider had over 1 million subscribers.

The office said in its report that it has gathered additional evidence of the same providers taking ACP money for subscribers who are not using their service. Those investigations are ongoing.

In 2021, the OIG found similar abuses in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, a predecessor to the ACP. The office again found dozens of providers reporting more households with dependent children than existed in several school districts.

In response to the report, the FCC released a public notice directing the Universal Service Administrative Company, the arm of the agency responsible for administering the ACP and other broadband subsidy programs, to strengthen its monitoring around de-enrollment and other requirements.

The ACP, a $14 billion fund set aside by the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, is set to dry up in April 2024. There have been repeated calls for Congress to renew the program.

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