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Omni Fiber’s First Markets, NTIA Tribal Grants, Nokia Partners with AST for 5G

Omni Fiber was injected with funds from Oak Hill Capital last month.

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Photo of Tommi Uitto, president of mobile networks at Nokia

August 2, 2022 – A new fiber-to-the-premises provider, Omni Fiber, announced Monday the first underserved cities it will serve in Ohio: Clyde, Dover and Shelby.

“Omni Fiber is committed to serving the residents of small and mid-size towns across the Midwest with high-speed connectivity as quickly as possible,” said Omni Fiber CEO Darrick Zucco in the press release. “We recognize that fast, reliable service is no longer a luxury but a necessity for all Americans, and our company is proud to partner with the cities of Clyde, Dover, and Shelby to provide critical infrastructure for its residents and businesses.”

Construction is underway in Clyde and is expected to begin later this month in Dover and Shelby. It will provide fiber internet speeds up to 2 Gbps symmetrical speeds with no data caps or installation charges and premium Wi-Fi included.

The company announced last month its partnership with Oak Hill Capital to accelerate the deployment of fiber-based broadband to underserved areas in the Midwest. Oak Hill is set to give $250 million to Omni Fiber to fund construction in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Omni Fiber was founded this year and is led by a team with over 80 years combined experience in the industry. It provides fiber-optic broadband internet, TV, and phone services based in Ohio.

NTIA awards $459K to tribal governments

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration awarded the lone Band of Miwok Indians $459,000 through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity program on Friday.

The Tribal Broadband Connectivity program is part of the Joe Biden administration’s commitment to invest in rural infrastructure and affordable high-speed internet through the Internet for All initiative, which makes $980 million available for grants to tribal entities.

The lone Band of Miwok Indians will use the grant money to develop a comprehensive broadband deployment plan involving tribal lands in Amador County, California.

“Our Tribal communities badly need better connectivity to thrive in the modern digital economy. This grant demonstrates President Biden’s commitment to supporting and expanding Internet access for Tribal Nations,” said head of NTIA Alan Davidson in the press release. “The Ione Band of Miwok Indians’ plan to connect their critical wellness, housing, and community centers is a testament to how high-speed internet service can uplift entire communities.”

The NTIA has now made 44 awards totaling approximately $91.7 million through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. The Administration received over 300 applications during the application process, which closed in September. Further awards will continue to be announced as they move through the NTIA’s review process.

Nokia partners with AST SpaceMobile

Finnish 5G equipment supplier Nokia announced Thursday that it signed a five-year 5G deal with Texas-based satellite company AST SpaceMobile to expand universal coverage and connect underserved communities.

AST SpaceMobile is working to eliminate connectivity gaps by bringing cellular connectivity directly to 4G and 5G devices via low earth orbit satellites. It is currently partnering with mobile network operators Vodafone, Orange and Rakuten to achieve its goals.

The launch of SpaceMobile’s low earth orbiting satellite, BlueWalker 3, set for September will start global testing with mobile network operators on six continents.

Nokia will supply equipment from its AirScale portfolio, including its AirScale base stations powered by its latest generation of ReefShark System-on-Chip chipsets. These contributions will add capacity, flexibility, and efficiency in SpaceMobile tests, read the press release.

Nokia will also provide its NetAct solution for network management and its optimization and technical support services.

According to Tommi Uitto, president of mobile networks at Nokia, the two companies have been working together for two years to provide global connectivity. “We are of course proud our technology is playing an important role in underpinning the networks,” he said in a statement.

AST SpaceMobile is aiming to deploy approximately 100 satellites to achieve substantial global mobile coverage.

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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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Broadband Roundup

Carr ‘Surprised’ by RDOF Denials, ‘New Normal’ on Supply Chain, $68M for Student Connectivity

Carr said he was notified via press release of the FCC decision to deny RDOF money to Starlink and LTD.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

August 15, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said he was surprised by the commission’s decision to deny Starlink funding from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“I am surprised to find out via a press release – while I am on a work trip to remote parts of Alaska – that the FCC has made this significant decision,” Carr said about Wednesday’s decision.

“I will have more to say because we should be making it easier for unserved communities to get service, not rejecting a proven satellite technology that is delivering robust, high-speed service today,” he said. “To be clear, this is a decision that tells families in states across the country that they should just keep waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide even though we have the technology to improve their lives now.”

Carr is a Republican who was on the Ajit Pai-led commission that awarded funding for the satellite provider and the LTD Broadband, which also saw its winnings revoked by the commission on Wednesday and told this publication that it is looking into next steps.

Gary Bolton, the head of the Fiber Broadband Association, meanwhile celebrated the decision Wednesday, saying it “provides clarity and a path forward for fiber and closing the digital divide, while returning $885.5M of this precious funding back into the RDOF fund for more appropriate broadband projects.”

Bolton noted that the awarding of funding to Starlink in certain areas would have precluded those areas from getting fiber connections from the $42.5-billion broadband infrastructure program run by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The federal government has previously made numerous reference to fiber as its preferred option for the future of broadband in the country.

Telecom head says there’s ‘new normal’ on supply chain

The CEO of Consolidated Communications said he sees a new view on the supply chain following disruptions in product supply over the pandemic, according to reporting Thursday from Fierce Telecom.

The backup in the supply chain on many products overseas has caused delays in shipments for telecom and technology equipment that have pushed back some broadband builds in the country. Some have suggested that telecommunications executives will now need to consider stocking up on inventory well in advance of construction to make sure projects are completed on time.

“I wouldn’t say you can guarantee it’s all behind us now, but we’ve got more visibility than we ever have into how to manage it and more forward information on when people are running into either demand challenge or raw material challenges,” said Bob Udell during a Cowen investor conference, according to Fierce.

“I think we’re in a new normal that will continue to stabilize to something different than what we’ve known in the past,” he’s cited as saying in the story.

The company is currently in the midst of a fiber expansion, which Udell said its diversity of suppliers put it in good shape to continue, the story said.

FCC commits another $68M to student connectivity

The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday it is committing another $68 million from the Emergency Connectivity Program, a fund intended to help students continue school work remotely.

The latest round will go toward funding broadband connections and devices for over 100,000 students across the country, including in California, Florida, North Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, according to the release.

“As we inch closer to the start of another school year, the Homework Gap remains a real concern for far too many students who lack internet access after the school day ends,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We’re working hard to fix this and support students as they prepare to return to the classroom in the coming weeks and this latest round of funding will help us do just that.”

So far the agency has committed over $5.7 billion from the $7.1 billion fund, which has gone toward nearly 12 million devices and seven million broadband connection to roughly 10,000 schools, 900 libraries, and 100 consortia.

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Broadband Roundup

Appeals Court Affirms FCC’s Spectrum Authority, FTC Privacy Rulemaking, (Root) Beer and Broadband

The Federal Communications Commission’s reallocation of intelligent transportation service spectrum was not arbitrary and capricious, the court held.

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August 12, 2022 – The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed the the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to reclassify radio frequency spectrum and make more of the 5.9 GigaHertz band available for broadband communication.

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission reallocated a part of the radio spectrum from use by intelligent transportation systems to use by unlicensed transmission devices such as Wi-Fi routers.

In a unanimous running by a three-judge panel, Judge Justin R. Walker wrote: “Several groups that want to retain their old use of the reallocated spectrum argue that the FCC’s reallocation was arbitrary and capricious. It was not.”

In the relatively brief 15-page decision in ITS America v. FCC, the court upheld the FCC’s manner of changing a band’s usage.

In 1999, the FCC gave the auto industry 75 MHz of spectrum exclusively for “Dedicated Short-Range Communications” for the purpose of improving public safety. After more than 20 years of waiting for the industry to deploy DSRC, in 2020 the FCC approved an Order to phase out DSRC and replace it with a new, more efficient technology called Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything.

Supporters of the FCC, including non-profit groups like Public Knowledge, argued that 30 MHz of spectrum the auto industry retained is more than sufficient for collision avoidance and safety purposes. Rather than allowing the auto industry to retain excess spectrum for commercial uses such as location-based advertising, the FCC repurposed the lower 45 MHz for unlicensed use which will enable next-generation Wi-FI.

“By reaffirming the FCC’s decision, the D.C. Circuit will ensure that our airwaves are being put to their best and most efficient use,” said Kathleen Burke, policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

FTC opens process to consider new privacy rules

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday announced proposals to go after businesses that collect and analyze personal-based information, and that don’t deploy the strong forms of data security.

“Firms now collect personal data on individuals at a massive scale and in a stunning array of contexts,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan. “The growing digitization of our economy—coupled with business models that can incentivize endless hoovering up of sensitive user data and a vast expansion of how this data is used—means that potentially unlawful practices may be prevalent.”

The agency’s press release went on to blast companies that “surveil consumers while they are connected to the internet – every aspect of their online activity, their family and friend networks, browsing and purchase histories, location and physical movements, and a wide range of other personal details.”

On July 20, the Senate Commerce Committee passed comprehensive privacy legislation a restricting collection and transfer of personal data of U.S. citizens without consent.

The measure has not yet passed the House, where Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said in Thursday response: “I appreciate the FTC’s effort to use the tools it has to protect consumers, but Congress has a responsibility to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation to better equip the agency, and others, to protect consumers to the greatest extent.

“Ultimately, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act is necessary to establish comprehensive national statutory privacy protections for all Americans and I’m committed to getting it passed and signed into law.”

(Root) Beer and Broadband episode features Broadband Breakfast’s Drew Clark

Bonfire Engineering and Construction on Thursday released a new episode of its “Beer and Broadband” podcast.

Featuring Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast, Russ Elliott, CEO of Siskiyou Telephone, and Megan Beresford of LDAGrants, the episode focused on “How Data & Policy Impacts Broadband Expansion.”

Nick Dinsmoor and Brian Hollister of Bonfire, hosts of the informal program, structured the roundtable series as a way to bring together leaders in the broadband and infrastructure space to share their thoughts without egos, agendas, or selling.

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