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FTC Phillips Stepping Down, Chips Act Now Law, Alaskan Entities Getting $50M in Broadband Grants

Phillips told Politico that he is leaving the competition watchdog this fall.

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Screenshot of President Joe Biden before signing the Chips and Science Act into law on Tuesday

August 9, 2022 – Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips is stepping down from the competition watchdog, according to reporting from Politico.

The Republican commissioner – one of two on an agency with three Democrats – said he told President Joe Biden that he intends to resign this fall, according to the report.

Phillips has been critical of the direction the agency has taken under chairwoman and Big Tech critic Lina Khan, who was appointed by the president to lead the agency.

Phillips has expressed concern about the impact of antitrust rules on consumer prices, criticized the release of a report by the FTC that warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence to combat online harms, alleging that the commission did not consult outside experts, and broadly warned last year about the overall direction of the agency to turn away from the traditional way it viewed competition.

Others outside the agency have also expressed concern that the commission’s tilt, plus pieces of antitrust legislation before Congress, could harm the country’s global competitiveness in the tech industry.

Chips Act signed into law

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law legislation that would provide billions in incentives for the nation to invest in its own semiconductor manufacturing.

In comments delivered before the signing, Biden said the goal of the “once in a generation investment” is to help the country “lead the world in future industries and protect our national security.”

The Chips and Science Act of 2022, which passed the House late last month, is a broad bill with a specific provision that includes $52 billion to incentive domestic manufacturing of chips that power a range of technologies, including phones, watches, cars and laptops, as well as grants for the design and deployment of 5G networks.

Nations during the pandemic have struggled with getting a steady supply of the chips for products, thus contributing to a supply shortage on many important technologies. This triggered increasing concern about the country’s reliance on others for basic technologies.

Currently only 12 percent of global chips are made in the U.S., which is down from 37 percent in the 1990s, according to Senator Michael Bennett, D-CO.

Alaska getting $50 million in broadband grants

Two native entities in Alaska are getting $51 million for high-speed internet, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Monday.

The grants from the Commerce agency’s Internet for All program will go to Doyon Limited and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission to provide connectivity to 581 unserved households across villages in the Doyon region and in eight tribal governments in the Ahtna region for “activities including telehealth, distance learning, telework, and workforce development.”

“The digital divide on our tribal lands, especially in remote Alaska, is stark,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in a press release. “The necessary investment through the Biden-Harris Internet for All initiative provides real change to these communities to participate in the digital economy, whether it’s education, health or jobs.”

The release said NTIA head Alan Davidson is visiting Alaska this week and said it is “humbling to see first-hand how these grants will positively impact the daily lives of Alaskan Natives who have been disconnected for far too long.”

Managing Editor Ahmad Hathout has spent the last half-decade reporting on the Canadian telecommunications and media industries for leading publications. He started the scoop-driven news site downup.io to make Canadian telecom news more accessible and digestible. Follow him on Twitter @ackmet.

Broadband Roundup

Sohn Speaks After Withdrawal, MasterCard Back Indigenous Connectivity, Liberty-CityFibre in Buy Talks

The former FCC nominee spoke for the first time regarding future plans after withdraw.

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Photo of Gigi Sohn from 2012 by Joel Sage used with permission

March 20, 2023 – Former Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn told The Washington Post in an interview published last week that she feels she “got a book to write” about her 16-month-long battle to get the Senate to vote her onto the commission.

Earlier this month, the two-time nominee of President Joe Biden withdrew her candidacy after what she called “dark money political groups” tainting her career. Sohn has been accused by Republicans of being impartial and donating to members of the Commerce committee that had previously pushed her nomination forward but which did not get to Senate votes.

“There’s been a bunch of stuff that’s happened over the past 16 months … that is going to make people’s eyes bug out,” Sohn told the Post.

During Sohn’s confirming process, she said she has been repeatedly subject to “unrelenting, dishonest and cruel attacks” from extremist groups and media.

“That was the first time I felt like ‘Oh my god, this could really rile up some crazies to come to my house … and threaten me and my family,’” the Post said she said. “I owed a duty to me and my family to move on, and this was very, very difficult on me emotionally.”

Sohn said she was “very proud” of the support she received from allies throughout the process, the Post said.

Sohn told the Post she had “several opportunities” lined up, which might be the intent to advocate internet access at the state level. But she also said she could do “something bigger and more,” according to the Post.

Mastercard Foundation partners with indigenous institute for internet access

The Mastercard Foundation announced Monday it is investing $3.7 million CAD, or $2.7 million USD, to help the Indigenous Connectivity Institute expand its current digital equity program.

The funding will “enable the ICI to expand current programs and develop new initiatives to reach 10,000 Indigenous young people over the next three years,” according to the release.

“This support from the Mastercard Foundation has the potential to advance Indigenous digital equity beyond our imaginations and make real the projects and collaboration we’ve been dreaming up for years. I am so excited to see this new partnership in action,” Darrah Blackwater, ICI Advisory Council member, said in a press release.

The indigenous-led organization is focused exclusively on digital equity in Canada and the United States by providing training programs to advance technical and advocacy skills, the release said.

“A fast, reliable internet connection is essential to ensuring that Indigenous young people can access high-quality education and meaningful employment opportunities,” says Jennifer Brennan, Director of Canada Programs at the Mastercard Foundation. “The shared vision for this partnership is a commitment to ensuring Indigenous young people and communities have the capacity, support, knowledge, and financial resources to lead digital equity to advance their aspirations and strengthen their communities.”

State broadband leaders will join Broadband Breakfast’s online event and talk about how their states are approaching the digital equity planning process and what they hope to accomplish with federal funding on Wednesday April 15 at 12 noon ET.

Liberty Global acquisition of Cityfibre and Liberty Global unlikely to be approved

Virgin Media O2 is seeking to acquire fiber competitor CityFibre for £3 billion, according to media reports.

The Telegraph reported Saturday that Virgin is in talks with the competitor, but questions remained about the likelihood of the deal moving past regulators.

Capacity reported Monday that equity analyst Jerry Dellis from Jefferies Equity Research does not believe it will get past the Competition and Markets Authority.

“A VMO2-CityFibre combination would appear to threaten the regulatory objective of network competition providing choice for ISPs, leading to better outcomes for consumers,” a Dellis research note said, according to Capacity.

“With a back-book comprising millions of customers that have been subject to multiple years of retail price increases, we question what incentive VMO2 has to compete down wholesale pricing.”

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TikTok U.S. Must Sell or Get Banned, T-Mobile’s New Buy, 5 More States Receive ECF Money

The threats come ahead of the first congressional committee appearance by TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.

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Photo of T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert from the company

March 16, 2023 – President Joe Biden and his administration said it wants the Bytedance, TikTok’s owner, to sell the U.S. version of the video sharing app or face a ban, according to the New York Times.

The demands were sent to ByteDance in recent weeks, said the Times, citing anonymous sources.

The threats come ahead of the first congressional committee appearance by TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew next Thursday.

TikTok’s efforts to win U.S. government approval come in the face of growing Congressional hostility toward the platform. Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and John Thune, R-S.D., on Tuesday unveiled a bill aimed at giving the Commerce Department the ability to impose a complete ban of the app.

The Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act (RESTRICT Act) requires the Commerce Department to examine critical infrastructure products, including those that go toward telecommunications networks, and to ensure “comprehensive actions to address risks of untrusted foreign information communications and technology products by requiring the Secretary to take up consideration of concerning activity identified by other government entities,” a White House release said.

Last month, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget required agencies to identify a banned application, such as TikTok, remove it and disallow installation on devices, and prohibit internet traffic within 30 days, as part of the governments’ efforts to rid security threats on government devices.

T-Mobile to acquire Mint Mobile for $1.35B

T-Mobile just announced Wednesday that it has agreed to acquire Ka’ena Corporation and its subsidiaries and brands including Mint Mobile, Ultra Mobile and wholesaler Plum, according to a press release.

T-Mobile is acquiring the brands’ sales, marketing, digital, and service operations, and plans to use its supplier relationships and distribution scale to help the brands to grow and offer competitive pricing and greater device inventory to more U.S. consumers seeking value offerings, it said in the release.

T-Mobile will pay up to a maximum of $1.35 billion, 39 percent in cash and 61 in stock to acquire Ka’ena, with the actual price based on the performance of Ka’ena during certain time period before and after the closing, the release said.

“Mint has built an incredibly successful digital direct-to-consumer business that continues to deliver for customers on the Un-carrier’s leading 5G network and now we are excited to use our scale and owners’ economics to help supercharge it – and Ultra Mobile – into the future,” said Mike Sievert, CEO of T-Mobile, in the release.

“Over the long-term, we’ll also benefit from applying the marketing formula Mint has become famous for across more parts of T-Mobile. We think customers are really going to win with a more competitive and expansive Mint and Ultra,” Sievert added.

FCC commits $1.7M from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Wednesday it is committing $1.7 million through the Emergency Connectivity Program to help over 5000 students gain better access to internet.

Wednesday’s announcement will support approximately 15 schools and 2 libraries in California, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, and New York.

“Closing the Homework Gap means we need to connect all our students to digital tools for communicating with teachers and schools,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Today’s funding round is another important step toward reaching that goal.”

Since the launch of the $7.171 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund in 2021, the FCC has allocated a total of $6.6 billion in funding commitments. The program is set to end this year, with the service delivery deadline for the first two rounds approaching on June 30.

Some organizations have called on Congress to allocate additional funding for its extension.

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Stakeholders Urge Higher Speed Standard, NTIA’s Spectrum Strategy, ACP Outreach Funding, Yellowstone Awarded $65 Million

Industry groups urged Congress to codify 100 Mbps.

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Photo of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in 2022 by Walter Duerst used with permission

March 15, 2023 — Multiple industry groups and other rural broadband stakeholders on Tuesday urged Congress to codify a minimum symmetrical speed standard of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) in the upcoming reauthorization of the so-called Farm Bill, a multiyear package of legislation that governs a wide range of agricultural and food programs.

“Employing a lesser standard would represent an inefficient step backwards… failing the rural communities that need broadband capable of keeping pace with user demand for decades to come,” the stakeholders wrote in a letter to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees.

“Policies that encourage sustainable networks that meet the needs of consumers now and into the future will be most efficient in responding to consumer demand over the lives of those networks, particularly when compared to short-term solutions that are likely to be quickly outpaced by technological evolution and consumer demands and require substantial re-investment relatively soon thereafter.”

Among the groups signing the letter were the Fiber Broadband Association, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The organizations noted that robust connectivity is “especially important for rural Americans who, because of the long distances needed to travel, often rely even more than their urban counterparts on online access.”

The letter also emphasized the high demand for funding through the ReConnect Program, which supports rural broadband deployment, “notwithstanding high program expectations for service performance and network capability.”

This demand proves “that there is a surplus of providers interested and able to deliver better broadband services to rural America,” FBA President Gary Bolton said in a statement. “Our hope in raising the minimum standard is to ensure that every American to benefit from the Farm Bill will have access to high-quality, high-speed fiber broadband.”

NTIA requests comment on national spectrum strategy

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Wednesday requested public comment on identifying spectrum bands for new and additional private sector and federal uses, as part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to develop a national spectrum strategy.

The initiative aims to “make the most efficient use of this critical resource, with the goal of identifying new spectrum bands for potential repurposing that will spur competition and innovation for years to come,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said.

The NTIA’s proposed national strategy involves three pillars: developing a spectrum pipeline, long-term spectrum planning and expanding spectrum capacity through technology.

“Our airwaves are a valuable resource and we need a whole-of-government plan for managing them and using them,” Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said. “That is why this kind of long-term spectrum planning is so important. Combining it with short-term action to restore auction authority and provide a steady pipeline of spectrum for new commercial opportunities is the best way to ensure continued United States leadership in the wireless economy.”

Congress on Thursday failed to renew the FCC’s spectrum auction authority, sparking broad criticism.

FCC announces $7.5 million in funding for ACP outreach programs

The FCC on Wednesday announced nearly $7.5 million in funding for two new year-long pilot outreach grant programs aimed at promoting the Affordable Connectivity Program, which subsidizes internet services and connected devices for low-income households.

The agency selected 23 applicants to receive almost $5 million in grant funding through the Your Home, Your Internet Program, in an attempt to encourage ACP awareness and participation for communities receiving federal housing assistance.

The agency awarded the remaining $2.5 million to nine applicants through the ACP Navigator Pilot Program, which aids entities such as school districts and Tribal governments in assisting consumers through the ACP application process.

“These outreach grants are a powerful tool to help us reach communities that could benefit from the Affordable Connectivity Program,” Rosenworcel said. “We want families that could use help with their internet bills to know about this largest-ever broadband affordability program, now supporting internet connections in nearly 17 million households.”

Yellowstone Fiber awarded $65 million for high-speed fiber network

Yellowstone Fiber was awarded a $65 million industrial bond deal to finance a high-speed fiber optic network in rural Montana, CEO Greg Metzger announced on Tuesday.

The project aims to bring connectivity to areas that are currently unserved or underserved by major internet service providers — without waiting for funding from the $42.5 million Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program.

“All signs point to the BEAD money leading to incremental builds, with most of the money lining the pockets of large ISPs whose future depends on not ‘overbuilding’ their existing outdated infrastructure,” Metzger claimed. “Montana has some of the worst connectivity in the nation and Yellowstone Fiber didn’t want to wait for the possibility of a handout; we wanted to create a solution.”

The planned network will utilize an open access model, hoping to foster competition by enabling multiple private-sector service providers to use the infrastructure.

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