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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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Broadband Roundup

FCC Proposal for Robotexts, FCC Mapping Problems, TikTok’s Preliminary Deal

The FCC is looking to adapt its robocall methods for texts.

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September 27, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is requesting comments on a proposed new rule to apply caller ID authentication standards to text messaging, according to the release on Monday.

The FCC is proposing requiring mobile wireless providers to block texts, at the network level, that appear to be from invalid, unallocated, or unused numbers, and numbers on a Do-Not-Originate (DNO) list. It also seeks input on other actions the commission might take to address illegal texts, including enhanced consumer education, the release said.

“Recently, scam text messaging has become a growing threat to consumers’ wallets and privacy,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “More can be done to address this growing problem and today we are formally starting an effort to take a serious, comprehensive, and fresh look at our policies for fighting unwanted robo texts.”

In August, the FCC’s Robocall Response Team reported an increase of consumer complaints about unwanted text messages, which have risen steadily in recent years from approximately 5,700 in 2019 to 8,500 this year.

The FCC’s STIR/SHAKEN robocall regime – which requires providers to authenticate phone calls – went into force in late July.

Broadband data collectors flag early problems with FCC mapping data

Telecompetitor is reporting Monday that organizations are already flagging problems with the FCC’s broadband mapping fabric, including missing locations.

The database is designed to provide address and geolocation information for every broadband serviceable location in the country.

Telecompetitor is reporting that Mike Romano, executive vice president of rural broadband trade association National Telephone Cooperative Association, said 90 percent of its members saw missing locations on the FCC database maps.

According to the story, one complained that coordinates for a broadband serviceable location actually pointed to a swamp; another talked of a location that pointed to a boulder.

“NTIA realized the maps won’t be done until the challenge process is completed,” Romano said, referring to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is handling $42.5 billion for broadband infrastructure contingent on those FCC maps.

The next FCC-issued broadband maps are set to be released in November, and the challenge process is ongoing for state agencies, community organizations, and consulting firms to correct potential inaccuracies.

TikTok reaches preliminary deal with White House on security concerns

The Biden administration and video-sharing app TikTok have drafted a preliminary agreement to make changes to its data security and governance without requiring its Chinese-based owner to sell the company, the New York Times reported on Monday.

The drafted terms, according to the Times, state that TikTok would store its American data solely on servers in the United States – rather than on its own servers. Cloud company Oracle is then expected to monitor TikTok’s algorithms that determine the content that the app recommends. TikTok is also expected to create an oversight board made up of security experts that will report to the government, according to anonymous sources cited by the Times.

Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is not convinced of the measures. “Anything short of a complete separation” [of TikTok from ByteDance] “will likely leave significant national security issues regarding operations, data and algorithms unresolved,” he said, according to the story.

Former President Donald Trump, who wanted to ban TikTok, attempted to bridge a deal with ByteDance for a portion of TikTok to be sold to Oracle, which did not materialize.

Concerns have swirled around ByteDance, the Chinese owner of the popular app, and its alleged surveillance and privacy policies that require data from any Chinese applications to be shared with Chinese authorities. TikTok US has repeatedly denied breaching US data privacy regulations.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who has been an outspoken critic of the app, said on Twitter that the preliminary deal “is very concerning” in that the terms “fall short of securing our [national security].”

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Broadband Roundup

NTCA Smart Rural Communities, International Telecommunications Union Conference, Carr on TikTok

‘How do we make sure that you can keep that home grown talent?’

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Photo of Shirley Bloomfield, NTCA Rural Broadband Association CEO, at Monday's Fall Conference

September 26, 2022 –Rural Broadband Association CEO Shirley Bloomfield on Monday announced a partnership with the National Rural Education Association to promote educational opportunities for rural children.

Speaking at the launch of the NTCA trade show in San Francisco on Monday, Bloomfield said that the program will help educate kids about the value of rural broadband services.

Bloomfield said it will help address a common lament in rural areas: “How do we make sure that you can keep that home grown talent?”

The pilot program with the rural education group will help promote the importance of broadband jobs in rural areas.

Telecom officials to be in Hungary for ITU election

Key telecom agency officials are expected this week to attend the International Telecommunications Union conference, where the election of the new head of the United Nation’s telecom regulator will be selected.

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Alan Davidson, and deputy secretary of the Commerce Don Graves are expected in Bucharest, Romania, where American Doreen Bogdan-Martin is in the running against Russian challenger Rashid Ismailov.

Last week, President Joe Biden said he strongly supports the candidacy of Bogdan-Martin.

The ITU develops international connectivity standards in communications networks and improving access to information and communication technologies for underserved communities worldwide.

The conference is being held from September 25 – 29.

The FCC expressed concerns over TikTok security and big tech contributions

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in a statement Monday that he spoke with European Union officials in Brussels about the need for Big Tech to contribute to the development of broadband networks and about the alleged security risks of the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok.

Carr has previously said that big technology companies should contribute to the Universal Service Fund, a roughly $10-billion pot of money that goes to support basic telecommunications builds across the nation. Money for the fund comes from voice service providers, but critics have said that the fund’s base of contributors needs to be broadened for its sustainability.

Carr also reiterated his position that TikTok poses a security and privacy threat to Americans.

“TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data,” he said in the statement. “And recent reporting indicates that there is no check on this sensitive data being accessed from inside China.”

The security of TikTok has been an ongoing issue, with American Senators saying that TikTok may be collecting biometric data and storing it in an unknown database.

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Broadband Roundup

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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