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Nearly 80 Service Providers Engaged Equipment in Secure Networks Blacklist: FCC Report

These communications providers reported engaging equipment on the agency’s blacklist.



WASHINGTON, March 1, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Economics and Analytics said Wednesday that 79 communications providers reported last year purchasing, renting, leasing or getting equipment from a blacklist of companies that the federal government says poses a national security threat.

In a 2020 ruling, the FCC required that advanced communications providers report to the commission if they use any of the equipment from a blacklist of companies established in March 2021, including Huawei, ZTE, Hytera, Hangzhou Hikvision, and Dahua. The OEA established an online portal in February last year to aid in the reporting.

In a publicly released report on Wednesday, the OEA identified 79 companies, listed below, in its 2022 Supply Chain Annual Report that have engaged equipment on the list. The order emanates from the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019.

The providers must report equipment that has been obtained on or after August 14, 2018, with subsequent additions to the blacklist requiring reporting if the equipment was obtained 60 days or more after the date they were added to the list.

The commission, by way of funding from Congress, has established a $1.9 billion reimbursement program for providers to rid their networks of the equipment from the blacklist. But the FCC has noted and the providers have complained of a shortfall in funding, with a commission report in January finding that nearly half of rip-and-replace firms are struggling with funding. Some rural providers said they can’t even get loans to cover the cost.

One industry association expressed dismay that the funding shortfall was not addressed in the omnibus spending bill.

The providers that reported covered equipment are:

Amherst Telephone Company
Blue Mountain Networks LLC
Board of Trustees, Northern Michigan University
Bristol Bay Cellular Partnership
Bulloch County Rural Telephone Cooperative Inc.
Carrollton Farmers Branch ISD
Cellco Partnership
Central Louisiana Cellular LLC
China Telecom (Americas) Corporation
Commnet Wireless LLC
Computer 5 Inc., DBA LocalTel Communications
Copper Valley Telephone Cooperative
Country Wireless LLC
Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc.
Futurum Communications Corp
Gallatin Wireless Internet, LLC
Gogo Business Aviation LLC
Hargray Communications Group, Inc.
Hillsboro Telephone Co Inc
Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc
Hotwire Communications, Ltd.
Hunter Communications & Technologies LLC
Inland Cellular LLC
i-wireless, LLC
James Valley Cooperative Telephone Company
Kennebec Telephone Company, Inc.
Kerman Telephone Co
LakeNet LLC
Latam Telecommunications, L.L.C.
Leaco Rural Telephone Cooperative, Inc.
Level 3 Communications, LLC
Liberty Communications of Puerto Rico LLC
Liberty Mobile Puerto Rico Inc.
Ligtel Communications Inc.
Manhattan Telecommunications Corporation LLC
Mark Twain Communications Company
Mediacom Communications Corporation
Metro Fibernet, LLC
MHG Telco, LLC
NE Colorado Cellular Inc
NTInet, Inc.
Oneida County Rural Telephone Co.
Orange Business Services U.S., Inc.
Panhandle Telecommunication Systems Inc
Piedmont Communications Services, Inc
Pine Belt Cellular, Inc.
Pine Telephone Company Plant Telephone Company
Plateau Telecommunications Incorporated
Point Broadband Fiber Holding, LLC
PS Lightwave, Inc.
Puerto Rico Telephone Company
Red River Communications
S & T Communications LLC
S&T Telephone Cooperative Association, Inc.
Sagebrush Cellular, Inc.
Santa Rosa Telephone Coop., Inc.
Santel Communications Cooperative, Inc.
Skybeam, LLC
South Canaan Telephone Company
South Central Telephone Coop Inc
Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telephone, Inc.
Star Telephone Membership Corp
Stealth Communications
Texas 10, LLC
Transtelco, Inc.
Union Telephone Company
United Wireless Communications, Inc.
Utah Broadband
Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency
Velocity Telephone, Inc.
Vernon Communications Cooperative
Virginia Everywhere, LLC
Webformix Internet Company
Windstream Communications LLC
Xiber, LLC
Xtreme Enterprises LLC
Yelcot Telephone Company
Zito West Holding, LLC

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 to make Canadian telecom news more accessible and digestible. Follow him on Twitter @ackmet.


State Broadband Leaders Emphasize Planning, Community Involvement: Connected America Conference

While waiting for grant funding, state broadband leaders should work to engage and educate local communities.



Photo of panelists at Connected America 2023

DALLAS, March 29, 2023 — Local broadband stakeholders should take advantage of the time before federal grant funding is disbursed to make detailed plans and build strong community relationships, according to state broadband officials and industry experts at Connected America on Wednesday.

“I like to start with setting reasonable expectations — it takes a while to design a grant program, administer it, score applications,” said Earnie Holtrey, deputy director of the Indiana Broadband Office. “And then once the ink dries on the contract, the real work begins, and the implementation timelines… can stretch out six or eight years.”

While many state officials are eagerly awaiting funding from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program and other government initiatives, taking the time to thoroughly plan will be key to maximizing the awards, advised John Tait, director for North America at Biarri Networks.

“The giant influx of money in and of itself is not a panacea,” he said. “The more detailed your plan is [and] the more data you have available, the faster you’re able to shift and make better use of that capital when it does come.”

BEAD funds are unlikely to be disbursed before early 2024, Holtrey predicted. This gives state broadband offices, service providers and other stakeholders a year to refine their plans and educate their local communities, he said.

Local leaders should then “use the next four years to know where your local assets are and really begin to leverage those,” said Brian Mefford, vice president of broadband strategy at VETRO.

Although the federal grant processes move slowly, Holtrey encouraged stakeholders to begin planning and launching connectivity projects as soon as possible. “Spend some money now, get some projects going — there’s still going to be plenty of projects to do when the BEAD money comes around,” he said. “And we really know that even after BEAD, probably, it’s not going to be completely done.”

One potential first step is investing in education at the local level in order to become a trusted resource, Holtrey added.

State broadband officers “don’t just need to be a vehicle to transmit funds — they need to be an educator for their state,” Tait said. “They need to be a resource for their communities.”

Tait also emphasized the importance of local community involvement, calling it a “key common denominator to projects that are successful.”

“Where you’ve got that engagement and that drive at the local level, typically, you’ll see a really, really good outcome in a broadband deployment,” he said.

Glen Howie, director of the Arkansas State Broadband Office, said that his team is fostering this engagement by visiting each individual county, meeting with local leaders and helping them to create their own connectivity plans.

“Yes, there’s a lack of capacity, but there’s strong passion,” he said.

Grant programs that operate at the state and local levels are better able to work with regional providers, said Amanda Hofer, assistant general manager at the Central Texas Telephone Cooperative. “When it’s made at a federal level, they don’t understand the microeconomics and the players who are there supporting those local communities, so… the communities do not always get served the way that is best for them.”

However, local operations often involve a separate problem: “They just don’t have the manpower and the resources, and they don’t even know where to begin,” Hofer said.

Another challenge is that some of the compliance requirements of federal grant programs are difficult for small, local service providers to meet, Howie said. “That’s something that we have to continue as an office, as a state, to try to triage.”

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Fiber Deployment Should Consider Equity and Sustainability: Connected America Conference

Industry leaders agreed that fiber deployment should be prioritized, with other technologies supplementing as needed.



Photo of panelists at Connected America 2023

DALLAS, March 29, 2023 — As state broadband offices and internet service providers prepare for an unprecedented wave of federal funding, they face several critical decisions about how to best construct next-generation networks while maximizing adoption and sustainability.

Industry leaders at Connected America on Tuesday agreed that fiber deployment should be prioritized with other technologies supplementing as needed, although some differed over where that line should be drawn.

“The public policy goal is to push fiber as far as we possibly can,” said Scott Woods, vice president of and former senior executive at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

“As a neutral host provider, we look at this from the lens of building the elements that can ultimately serve the end user,” said Victoria Lambeth, founder and CRO of ZenFi Networks. “And in many cases, that means delivering fiber all the way to the [premise], but in some cases that may be using a host of alternative solutions… it’s not one size fits all.”

Dense urban environments with plenty of fiber can still struggle to connect a significant unserved and underserved population, Lambeth added. For example, nearly one-third of New York City households lacked in-home broadband in 2021, according to city data.

While panelists discussed the many challenges associated with closing the digital divide, they also expressed optimism about the historic federal funding supporting broadband deployment and adoption.

Service providers have a responsibility to be “good shepherds of these once-in-a-lifetime but finite dollars that we’re being given,” said Esther Northrup, assistant vice president for market expansion at Cox Communications.

“It’s on us as an industry to be very thoughtful about how we’re deploying our own capital dollars in order to serve our customers, but ultimately to serve those communities,” Lambeth agreed.

Woods noted the importance of being realistic about the timeline for broadband deployment, urging stakeholders to not “think we can do it in three years, when in actuality it’s going to take 10 or 15 or 20 years.”

“Let’s be intentional about how we go about making sure our plans are defensible, making sure the costs are justified and making sure that we have a plan to ensure that no other community has to go through not having connectivity during a pandemic,” he said.

This planning process should involve careful consideration of the data, Woods added. “We really have to get into the granular level to determine where broadband is and is not so that we can effectively and efficiently be able to invest the resources.”

On a broader level, panelists discussed the need for community and private sector involvement to ensure network longevity.

“There are so many other layers of services, digital literacy services, that need to be layered on top of that in order to maximize that investment for the community,” Lambeth said. “We often talk about the physical nature of connectivity, but at many points, it’s this affordability [and] adoption issue that ends up being the greater issue.”

Private sector involvement will also play a key role in enabling continued deployment beyond the expiration of federal funding, Woods said.

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Universal Service

Bill Would Require FCC to Make Rules on Expanding Funding Base of Universal Service Fund

The bill requires the FCC to study and reform the contribution base of the Universal Service Fund.



Photo of the current FCC

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2023 – A bill introduced in both chambers Tuesday would require the Federal Communications Commission to study and make rules on expanding the funding base of the Universal Service Fund.

The Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act of 2023 – a previous version of which was introduced two years ago – would require the FCC within one year of the enactment of the bill to solidify rules to reform how the fund is supported and within 120 days to conduct a study on the need to broaden the fund’s base and submit the report to Congress.

The contents of the bill should include the “relative equities and burdens” of the changes on consumers, businesses and seniors, who often bear the brunt of the cost of support because the fund is currently supported by landlines.

The House version was introduced by Lizzie Fletcher, D-TX, Joe Neguse, D-CO, and Angie Craig, D-MN, and the Senate companion was introduced by Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and John Thune, R-S.D.

“Ensuring broadband service in the most remote, hardest-to-serve areas requires a sustainable Universal Service Fund with a sustainable funding formula,” Brandon Heiner, senior vice president of government affairs at industry association USTelecom, said in a statement. “Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) recognize that the contribution mechanism must be reformed to preserve connectivity for rural Americans. Directing the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to expand the contributions base will help secure the future of universal service.”

The bill’s introduction follows an FCC report to Congress that requested the legislative body provide the commission with the authority to change the fund’s contribution base.

The USF, which includes four high-cost programs supporting basic telecommunications services for institutions and low-income Americans, receives roughly $9 billion a year from voice service providers, whose revenue base has been dwindling for years.

The reliance on those providers has called into question the fund’s sustainability. Various experts have proposed different remedies, including expanding the base to include contributions from broadband service providers, large technology platforms, and from the general taxation pool.

Prior to the FCC’s report to Congress, some experts argued that the commission can unilaterally expand the fund’s base. Those same experts warned that Congress may take too long to implement necessary legislation.

On Friday, an appeals court denied a petition that challenged the FCC’s authority to raise funds and subdelegate the work of coming up with the quarterly contribution amounts providers must pay into it. The petition must go through two more levels of appeal.

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