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House Committee Passes Bills, $266M from Emergency Connectivity Fund, Glo Fiber Maryland Grant

The House energy committee pushed forth bills that will, among other things, extend the FCC’s auction authority.

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Photo of Rep. David Trone, D-MD

July 14, 2022 – The House Committee on Energy and Commerce passed four telecom bills to the House floor Wednesday that are intended to improve safety in emergency situations, strengthen service affordability programs, and improve spectrum access for commercial use.

The Spectrum Innovation Act of 2022, H.R. 7624, helps free up airwaves for commercial wireless use, and requires an auction of airwaves of at least 200 megahertz within seven years; the Ensuring Phone and Internet Access Through Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program Act of 2022, H.R. 4275, seeks to facilitate the process for consumers to enroll in federal programs for voice and internet services; the Institute for Telecommunication Science Codification Act, H.R. 4990, reaffirms that the National Telecommunications Information Administration as the agency responsible for overseeing federal airwaves; and the Safe Connections Act of 2022, H.R. 7132, aims to protect survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking by requiring mobile providers to separate a survivor’s phone line from an account shared with their abuser.

The Spectrum Innovation Act also extends the Federal Communication Commission’s spectrum auction authority to March 2024, allowing it to continue to conduct future airwave auctions. Rep Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said her bill had been updated “to establish a new federal grant program to help fund the nationwide adoption of Next Generation 9-1-1.

“This technology will bring our nation’s 9-1-1 services into the 21st Century by allowing emergency communication centers to receive real-time location information, text messages, photos, and video from individuals at the scene of an emergency and be able to share that information with first responders in the field to help them better respond,” stated Eshoo.

FCC announces additional $266 million from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The FCC announced Wednesday that it is committing over $266 million in two new funding rounds through the Emergency Connectivity Fund.

The ECF is a $7.1 billion program intended to help schools and libraries provide the tools and services that communities need for remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money announced this week will support applications from all three of the ECF’s application windows. The last window closed in May. It will support over one million students across the country, 415 schools, 47 libraries, and 16 consortia.

“Thanks to the Emergency Connectivity Fund, now more students across the country have the digital tools they need to support their education,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “In too many communities, kids are still struggling to get the internet and devices they need to connect with teachers and do their homework.  We have to fix this.  This program is helping, and I’m proud of the progress we are making to close the Homework Gap.”

The funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework, to ensure students across the country have the necessary support to keep up with their education.

Total funding committed from the ECF to date, read the press release, is nearly $5.6 billion. It has helped more than 12.8 million students, supporting approximately 10,000 schools, 900 libraries, and 100 consortia, and providing over 11 million connected devices and nearly 7 million broadband connections.

This follows an announcement in May that the FCC approved an additional $50 million from the ECF.

Shentel awarded grant in Maryland

Glo Fiber, a subsidiary of Shenandoah Telecommunications Company, was awarded $10 million from the Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband to deploy fiber-to-the-premises broadband in Frederick County.

The project is provided by the federal American Rescue Plan and will bring fiber to over 3,000 homes and businesses in the county, said a press release. Glo Fiber is currently building a multi-gigabit fiber network in the City of Frederick.

The funding is “a win for investing in Frederick County’s way of life while maintaining access to the essential services and economic benefits that broadband provides,” said Rep. David Trone, D-MD.

Glo Fiber will use Shentel’s 7600-mile regional fiber network to provide unlimited multi-gigabit internet access with symmetrical upload and download speeds.

“Shentel is thrilled at the opportunity to work with local and state officials to finally bring this critical service to residents who have remained unserved for far too long,” said Chris Kyle, vice president of Industry and Regulatory Affairs at Shentel. “These innovative partnerships are exactly what we need to finally close the digital divide, and we are proud to be able to join in the great work that Frederick County and the State of Maryland have been doing.”

This follows a recent announcement that Maryland awarded more than $127.6 million in grants to internet service providers through the Connect Maryland Initiative.

Reporter Riley Haight contributed to this report

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Broadband Roundup

Google Not Publisher to Australian Court, Omnispace Testing 5G Satellites, AT&T’s $6M to Digital Literacy

Australia’s highest court said Google is not a publisher by making available hyperlinks to articles.

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Photo of the High Court of Australia, via Wikicommons

August 18, 2022 – Australia’s highest court ruled Wednesday that Google is not a publisher of information that emerges from the use of its search engine, overturning a lower court decision that opened Google up to a defamation lawsuit.

The Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that Google was a publisher by virtue of the fact that it was providing a hyperlink in its search results to a 2004 news article which outlined conspiracy and incitement to murder charges – that were later dismissed – against the defendant and now criminal lawyer George Defteros. The appeal court upheld this view.

But the country’s highest court disagreed Wednesday. “A hyperlink provides a reference to another source and does not itself constitute publication of it,” the decision said. “Although the link may facilitate the transfer of information, which her Honour accepted as a hallmark of publication, it is equally clear that when a person follows a link, they are leaving one source and moving to another.

“The fact that accessing the content is made far easier with hyperlinks does not alter the fact that a hyperlink, by itself (and as distinct from a search result in which the link is embedded), is ‘content-neutral,’” added the decision.

In a press release on Wednesday, internet advocacy group Public Knowledge said it supports the decision, which “affirms the important of 230-like protections for entities that provide access to user-generated content,” referring to a provision in the Communications Decency Act that shields internet platforms from being liable for what their users post.

Omnispace and Philippine telecom collaborating on 5G from space

Virginia-based mobile communications and satellite company Omnispace announced Wednesday it is partnering with Philippines-based telecom Smart Communications to test space-based 5G communications using low-earth orbit satellites.

The demonstration will examine use cases for the Philippine market, according to a press release, including enabling 5G in rural areas, using internet of things and sensors to monitor weather and natural calamities, and enhancing network coverage for disaster relief and other uses.

Earlier this year, Omnispace completed the deployment phase of its Omnispace Spark program, which is the initial phase in the company’s delivery of a 5G capable satellite network. Omnispace’s satellite network will communicate with mobile networks on land to serve mobile subscribers.

“We are excited to announce this collaborative agreement with Smart Communications, which shares our vision of delivering reliable mobile connectivity to consumer, government and enterprise users, everywhere,” Brian Pemberton, chief commercial officer at Omnispace, said in a press release. “Together with Smart, we seek to bridge the digital divide, while also providing the communications infrastructure to power the development of the Filipino economy of the future.”

Meanwhile, USCellular and Swedish telecom equipment provider Ericsson announced earlier this summer that they were testing 5G performance at attitude using drones.

AT&T commits $6M to digital literacy initiatives

AT&T said Tuesday that it is making $6 million in contributions to in-person digital literacy workshops ot more than 400 libraries and community centers across the country.

The telecom said in a press release it aims to help more than 65,000 people learn to use computers and mobile devices, navigate the internet and apps, participate in the digital world, and avoid scams.

The $6 million is part of a $2-billion commitment the company is making from 2021 to 2023 to bridge the digital divide, it said in the release.

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Broadband Roundup

All States Want BEAD Funds, Digicomm Secures Investment, Glo Fiber Expanding in PA

The NTIA announced all states and territories have applied for initial planning money from the $42.5B BEAD program.

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Photo of NTIA head Alan Davidson, left, via Flickr

August 17, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Wednesday that all states and territories have submitted applications for initial planning funds from its $42.5 billion broadband infrastructure program.

The announcement comes two days after the deadline to apply for the funds from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, part of the federal government’s Internet for All initiative. The NTIA said in a press release it will be evaluating the applications and “make awards available as expeditiously as possible.”

The initial planning funds could be used for activities including research and data collection, outreach and communications, technical assistance to potential subgrantees, training for employees of a broadband program, establishing a broadband office, mapping, surveys identifying underserved areas, and marketing the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband subsidy program, the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Within 270 days of receiving the funds, recipients are required to submit a five-year action plan establishing the goals and priorities for internet service, which will serve as a needs assessment, the NTIA said.

“The Internet for All Initiative will provide states and territories the resources they need for thorough planning, which is essential to ensure funding is used equitably, efficiently, and effectively,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information. “I want to thank every state and territory for meeting our deadline so that we can close the digital divide as quickly and completely as possible.”

The unprecedented amount of money, which spawned from the passing of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act in November, received letters of intent to participate from all 50 states, D.C., and the territories, the NTIA announced last month.

Digicomm gets private equity investment

A private equity firm that has made investments in the likes of Charter Communications announced Tuesday it is making an investment in broadband distributor and reseller Digicomm.

Crestview Partners will make an undisclosed contribution to the Colorado-based company, which specializes in hybrid connections involving both coaxial and fiber lines for broadband.

“We believe that Crestview can support Digicomm’s growth through organic investments and M&A to expand the Company’s breadth of product and service offerings as it continues to serve as a value-added partner to its customers in the evolving broadband and communications industries,” Brian Cassidy, co-president and head of media at Crestview, said in a press release.

The investment will also involve adding John Schanz, former chief network officer at Comcast Cable, along with members of Crestview, including Cassidy, to Digicomm’s board.

Crestview has previous made investments in Congruex, WOW!, Insight Communications, Interoute Communications, and OneLink Communications.

Glo Fiber expanding in Pennsylvania

Glo Fiber announced Tuesday it has reached agreements with municipal officials to deploy direct fiber lines to homes in several areas in York County, Pennsylvania.

The areas include York Township, Dallastown Borough, Red Lion Borough, Yoe Borough, Windsor Borough, Windsor Township, and Spring Garden Township.

The subsidiary of Shenandoah Telecommunications Company said construction in the county began this month and will continue into 2023, bringing fiber and symmetrical download and upload speeds, streaming TV and unlimited local and long-distance phone service to over 24,000 homes and businesses throughout the county.

“We have a long, successful history of offering fiber service to large businesses in York County,” Chris Kyle, vice president of industry and regulatory affairs at Shentel, said in a press release. “It is exciting to continue this work by bringing Glo Fiber to thousands of county residents and businesses. Our network is capable of multi-gig service that will provide the speeds citizens need on a daily basis as well as offering a much-needed competitive choice.”

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Points to Congress on USF, Texas Hires LightBox, Lit Communities Hires Lindsay Miller

The FCC will let Congress make changes to its authority to add contributors to the Universal Service Fund.

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Photo of Lindsay Miller, who was hired by Lit Communities as consulting president

August 16, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is leaving it to Congress to institute legislative reforms to allow it to make changes to the contribution base of a fund that supports basic telecommunications services to Americans, according to its report to Congress released Monday.

The agency has been fielding comments about what it should do about the Universal Service Fund, a nearly $10-billion pot of money that goes to support broadband expansion in low-income and rural areas. The fund has been under scrutiny because it relies largely on declining voice service revenues – often passed down to customers – which has called into question its sustainability. Some have called on the agency to unilaterally expand the base to include broadband internet revenues.

But in its report on the future of the USF, the agency said its authority on making such a change to the base is not that clear.

“On review, there is significant ambiguity in the record regarding the scope of the Commission’s existing authority to broaden the base of contributors,” the report said.

“As such, we recommend Congress provide the Commission with the legislative tools needed to make changes to the contributions methodology and base in order to reduce the financial burden on consumers, to provide additional certainty for entities that will be required to make contributions, and to sustain the Fund and its programs over the long term.”

Experts have previously argued that the commission has the authority to broaden the base without requiring congressional approval. Other recommendations to support the fund include having the entire fund supported by general taxation, while another suggests having big technology companies that rely on the internet to contribute to it.

For the latter to happen, the report notes that there would need to be an examination and application of the definition of “telecommunications” to those big technology companies.

“We recommend that in considering changes to the contributions base, the Commission should closely evaluate this record and take efforts to avoid raising the cost of broadband service and shifting the financial burden from corporations to consumers at a point in time when the federal government is working to address affordability challenges contributing to the digital divide,” the report said.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who raised the idea of a contribution from Big Tech, said he was pleased the report recommends Congress provide the tools necessary for changes, including possibly expanding the base to include those new contributors.

Texas hires LightBox for broadband map

The Texas Comptroller’s Office announced this month that it is contracting LightBox, a location data company, to develop the state’s broadband availability map.

The map is said to help the comptroller’s Broadband Development Office determine which areas are in most need of broadband connectivity and thus where to invest public money. It will feature addresses including homes, businesses, public and charter schools, governmental entities, anchor institutions, military bases, community colleges and tribal areas, an August 8 press release said.

“When this map is complete, the BDO along with community leaders and members of the public will be able to extract information from the map to better understand the needs of their regions and to make better decisions establishing programs related to broadband development,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said in the release.

LightBox, which is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, also has partnerships with Georgia, Alabama and Montana to develop broadband coverage maps. The company’s vice president of government solutions told Broadband Breakfast that states are making their own maps to also challenge any deficiencies in the Federal Communications Commission’s own upcoming maps – which could mean more or less federal dollars.

Lit Communities hires broadband attorney consulting president

Fiber broadband consulting company Lit Communities announced Tuesday it has hired Lindsay Miller, a parnter at Ice Miller LLP, as president of consulting.

The Alabama-based fiber construction and design firm said in a press release it frequently collaborates with Miller’s law firm on “consulting engagements that include community broadband interest assessments, service access mapping, incumbent provider analysis, and financial and network modeling.

“Lindsay Miller is well known in the community broadband space and we’re delighted to have her join our team and devote her energy and knowledge full-time to the broadband industry,” Lit founder and CEO Brian Snider said in the release. “Her passion for the business and deep connections with its many, diverse stakeholders will serve Lit and, most importantly, all of our current and future clients.”

With over 15 years of experience in broadband initiatives, Miller advises municipalities on how to utilize public-private partnerships for fiber and wireless expansion.

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