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Farm Connectivity Bill, FCC’s $20M Fine Proposal, UTOPIA Fiber’s New Government Affairs Director

A new bill would create another grant program under the USDA for connecting farm devices.



Photo of Sen. Deb Fischer in 2016 by Gage Skidmore

August 1, 2023 – A pair of legislators Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill to expand “last acre” broadband connectivity across farmlands, aimed to facilitate producers’ access to precision agriculture technology.

The Linking Access to Spur Technology for Agriculture Connectivity in Rural Environments bill, or LAST ACRE, introduced by Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. and Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., would establish a new competitive grant under the existing Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program to advance connectivity tailored to farmland structures and devices such as tractors, combines, irrigation systems and drones.

The bill, which builds on recommendations by the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Task Force, would also direct the USDA to revise its questionnaire in the Census of Agriculture, a comprehensive survey conducted by the department every five year to collect detailed data on agricultural practices, production, and the demographics of farmers and ranchers. The update would provide USDA with information about the service speeds and broadband usage purposes.

“Producers looking to adopt precision agriculture technologies need network connectivity that extends far past their residences,” said Fischer in a press release Thursday. “They need to be able to make real-time decisions that increase yields and employ resources more efficiently. Our LAST ACRE Act will ensure that USDA has the strategy and resources needed to support last acre connectivity.”

Tim Donovan, CEO of the industry group Competitive Carrier Associations, also voiced support for the bill in a Thursday’s statement.

“This bill recognizes the critical role wireless connectivity plays in rural America and provides opportunities to expand and augment those networks,” said Donovan. “The Last Acre Connection Act of 2023 can help federal USDA support programs provide the ubiquitous wireless connectivity our country’s agriculture community’s diverse needs demand.”

Dozens of other organizations in the telecom and agriculture industries have also come out in support of the bill, including the American Farm Bureau, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association.

FCC proposed fine against wireless companies

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday proposed a $20 million fine against carriers Q Link Wireless and Hello Mobile Telecom for allegedly failing to authenticate customers before granting them online access to their telephone usage database.

The database, called the Customer Proprietary Network Information, contains personal information such as called phone numbers, location, time, and billing of calls. The FCC’s investigation found the companies relied on readily available biographical information and account information to provide online access to CPNI, which violates the CPNI rules to protect customer data privacy.

The probe also uncovered the companies’ alleged failure to implement “reasonable data security standards,” exposing customers to the possibility of data leakage and misuse.

“Because of the volume of information they possess and the nature of the services they provide, telecommunications companies are high-value targets for cybercriminals and foreign adversaries,” said Loyaan Egal, FCC Enforcement Chief and Head of the Privacy and Data Protection Task Force in a notice Friday. “With this enforcement action, all telecommunications service providers are on notice that protecting customers’ data should be their highest priority, and we will use our authorities to ensure that they comply with their obligations to do so.”

The FCC is currently waiting to hear back from the companies, and the commission would then take further actions after considering the presented evidence and legal arguments.

The latest dispute adds to Q Link’s long history of tussling with the FCC, following a $62 million proposed fine in January for allegedly making excessive claims through the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

UTOPIA Fiber’s has new director of government affairs

UTOPIA Fiber, a Utah-based community fiber network, on Monday welcomed aboard former West Valley City’s assistant manager Nicole Cottle as the new director of government affairs.

In her new role at UTOPIA Fiber, Cottle will manage relationships with local, state, and federal lawmakers, helping to create and guide public policy that promotes the deployment of high-speed fiber infrastructure, according to the announcement on Monday.

“I’m enormously proud to join UTOPIA Fiber,” said Cottle. “By providing essential infrastructure and allowing for competition, UTOPIA Fiber helps transform the communities it serves and I’m very excited to assume my new role with the company.”

Cottle is also a newly appointed Honorary Commander for the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, and she serves on the boards of the Utah Land Use Institute and the Our Hometown Foundation.

For the past 25 years, Cottle has worked in various city government roles, including at the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund, the Intergenerational Poverty Board, the Indigent Defense Commission, the Inland Port Authority, and Utah Infrastructure Agency Board, the financial arm of UTOPIA Fiber.

“Nicole’s legendary 25-years as a municipal leader strongly position UTOPIA Fiber for the future,” said Roger Timmerman, executive director and chief executive of UTOPIA Fiber. “Now more than ever, residents and businesses across Utah and the West depend on high-speed connectivity. Having Nicole on the team will help align policy to meet the needs of local communities, residents, businesses, and all their digital infrastructure needs.”

The announcement comes shortly after Bountiful City announced that its municipal broadband network project would be continuing in partnership with UTOPIA Fiber, beginning in August, after a temporary setback.

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Broadband Roundup

Nvidia Navigates Export Rules, FCC on High-Cost, Kansas Awards Fiber Grants

Department of Commerce continues to combat the export of U.S. semiconductors to adversarial nations



Photo of U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

December 4, 2023 – Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Saturday that the department is ready and willing to impose further export restrictions on any products made by graphics card maker NVIDIA that assists adversarial nations in developing their artificial intelligence capabilities, according to a story from Fortune

“If you redesign a chip around a particular cut line that enables them to do AI, I’m going to control it the very next day,” Raimondo said at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, according to Fortune. 

Nvidia, which has been focusing on its development as an AI company, has restructured its advanced chips to access the Chinese market, which is worth at least $400 million in sales. In response to exports restrictions imposed by Commerce in August 2022, Nvidia tweaked its A100 chip series to comply with U.S. rules, limiting the processing capabilities and re-releasing the chips under a new name, the A800 series.

In October 2023, Commerce imposed additional licensing requirements based on performance threshold to limit the export of high-performance computing chips, to include the A800 series. Less than a month later, Nvidia had introduced a series of GPUs with limited computing capabilities in compliance with Commerce export requirements, made available to Chinese customers.

Commerce has said it is trying to limit risks of the chips being used in foreign military operations.

In response to Secretary Raimondo’s recent claims, Nvidia told Broadband Breakfast, “We are engaged with the U.S. government and, following the government’s clear guidelines, are working to offer compliant data center solutions to customers worldwide.”

The advanced chips are central components to the rise of artificial intelligence, autonomous machines, cloud and high-performance computing.

FCC issues guidance to high-cost support recipients 

The Federal Communications Commission released guidance Wednesday for recipients of high-cost support, outlining the coordination necessary between the recipients, state broadband offices and Tribal entities to avoid overbuilding in areas supported by multiple broadband programs. 

The FCC notes that the recipients of the high-cost programs, which include the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, Enhanced Alternative Connect America Cost Model, and Connect America Fund, must participate in the broadband map challenge process as states prepare to deliver money from the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program.

“Full participation of high-cost support recipients in BEAD Program challenge processes is critical to ensuring that the FCC’s high-cost funding is not duplicated by the BEAD Program,” the FCC said in the guidance. 

“Participation in the BEAD Program challenge process also ensures state broadband offices receive information about high-cost program supported deployments beyond the valuable information provided on the Broadband Funding Map,” it added. 

These recipients should coordinate with their respective state broadband office by taking steps to ensure that the National Broadband Map accurately reflects the locations they serve, the speeds they provide to the locations, and the technologies they are using to serve those locations, the FCC emphasized. 

In addition, the FCC guidance emphasizes that high-cost support recipients should engage with each relevant Tribal government annually to obtain the necessary consent, permits, and other approvals as soon as practicable, even if the recipient has not begun deployment. 

The Tribal engagement obligation set by the FCC represents an opportunity for Tribal governments and high-cost support recipients to coordinate on many issues critical to the deployment and adoption of communications technologies on Tribal lands.

Kansas awards $28.5 million in state broadband grants

Kansas announced it is awarding $28.5 million in broadband grants Wednesday to twelve internet service providers through the state’s Lasting Infrastructure and Network Connectivity program. All of the funding dedicated to broadband infrastructure is going toward deploying fiber technology.

One of the largest awards is to the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, a native American tribe, which will bring fiber-to-the-home connectivity to all of the nation’s 204 residences, as well as to 10 Tribal government services locations on the PBPN reservation. 

Additionally, included in the awards is funding for Kansas’ first carrier-neutral Internet Exchange Point, which will be located on the campus of Wichita State University. The IXP stands to reduce IP transit pricing to below 10 cents per megabit, an expected 90% reduction in cost as compared to current transport and transit pricing through Kansas City, Missouri. 

The awards will also expand middle mile infrastructure through two economically distressed counties in north central Kansas. 

The state funds will be matched by the ISPs for a total of $33.9 million in additional investments.

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Broadband Roundup

Supply Chain Improvements, Bill for Broadband in Public Parks, FCC Grants Alert System Compliance Extension

The Biden administration announced Wednesday a list of new measures to promote supply chain resiliency.



Photo of Congressman Raúl Grijalva, taken by Gage Skidmore 2018. 

November 30, 2023 – President Joe Biden announced at an inaugural meeting Wednesday new measures to improve national supply chain resilience, many of which are targeted at bettering semiconductor manufacturing. 

These new measures will see the development of a geospatial mapping protocol that will be used to account for and track trade disruptions of raw materials, with a special focus on ones that are involved in semiconductor manufacturing.

Additionally, the US plans to develop a resilience center to assess risks and supply chain vulnerabilities specifically inside national ports alongside looking at how to better implement CHIPS and Science funding.

In July of 2022, the Biden administration signed into law the CHIPS and Science Act, which was broadly supported by lawmakers, putting $52 billion into semiconductor research and development and a 25 percent investment tax credit to promote manufacturing. 

More recently, Biden has announced tech innovation hubs supported by CHIPS Act funds, four of which will focus directly on improving semiconductor production and manufacturing. 

Legislation put forth to expand broadband to public parks 

Congressman Bruce Westerman, R-Arkansas, and Congressman Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, introduced legislation Wednesday that would bring broadband connectivity to public parks and lakes. 

The Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences Act would include increasing broadband connectivity in those visitor centers and surrounding areas as well as create digital passes for visitors to use when going to those parks. 

“The increasing popularity of outdoor recreation is a boon for local economies and job creation, but we must make sure our public land management agencies have the tools, resources, and staff they need to keep up,” said Grijalva. 

The broader legislation looks to improve access to public lands and waters, modernize visitor experiences and reduce overcrowding. 

FCC granted emergency alert development extensions to broadcasters

The Federal Communications Commission granted extensions to certain national broadcasters Wednesday, allowing them more time to acquire equipment needed to comply with national emergency alert system requirements. 

There are two ways that broadcasters can transmit emergency messages, either to devices connected to the internet using what is called the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System or over audio channels, which is referred to as the legacy emergency alert broadcast system. 

Historically, messages sent via IPAWS transmit more information to the recipient than ones that are formatted for being transmitted via the legacy system. Because of that, in 2022 the FCC required emergency broadcasters to alert constituents via the IPAWS unless they were unable to. 

Broadcasters were required to comply with this by December 12 of this year. However the National Association of Broadcasters and REC Networks, a broadcast advocacy group, filed a joint request for a 90-day compliance extension.

They explained that Sage Alerting Systems, a manufacturer of firmware needed to encode and decode emergency messages, is not able to meet supply demands for broadcasters to update equipment by the December 12 deadline. 

As a result, the FCC waived the deadline and granted a 90-day extension to emergency broadcast participants who are customers of Sage Alerting Systems. 

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Fines TracFone, Rip and Replace Extensions, Kansas State Internet Exchange Point

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has entered into a settlement with TracFone for subsidy program violations.



Photo of Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly taken by K-State Research and Extension, 2023.

November 29, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday that the Enforcement Bureau and TracFone Wireless, a Verizon Subsidiary, have reached a $23.5 million settlement for TracFone’s violation of broadband subsidy program rules

After TracFone was acquired by Verizon, the company self-reported instances in which it violated the FCC’s regulatory rules for the Lifeline and Emergency Broadband Benefit programs, according to the agency  

During an investigation into TracFone, the agency found that the company reported improperly claiming support for customers jointly-enrolled in subsidy programs and improperly using inbound text messages to make claims for customers who had not been using those services for at least 30 days, according to a press release.

According to the FCC, TracFone also conceded that some of their field enrollment representatives used false tax documents to enroll customers in the lifeline and EEB programs.

“Whether attributable to fraud or lax internal controls, or both, we will vigorously pursue allegations of misconduct that harms critical FCC programs designed to help those most in need of communications-related services,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Loyaan A. Egal.

As part of the settlement, TracFone has entered into an improvement plan agreement with the Enforcement Bureau.

Wireline Bureau grants more rip and replace extensions 

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau announced in an order Wednesday that it has granted rip and replace extensions to Montana providers Triangle Telephone Cooperative Association Inc. and Triangle Communication System Inc.

The rip and replace program requires service providers to remove and replace any equipment they use that was manufactured by Huawei Technologies Company or ZTE Corporation that were installed prior to June 30, 2020, because of security concerns. 

Triangle Telephone filed for an extension on October 18 and on November 10th, requesting an extension to replace the equipment by Map 29, 2024 as opposed to their original deadline of November 29 of this year.

Triangle Communications filed their request for extension on October 18 and November 16 of this year requesting for additional time up until July 13, 2024, as opposed to January 13, 2024. 

Both petitioners cited supply chain disruptions and delayed equipment delivery as factors preventing them from replacing existing equipment alongside poor weather conditions and a decreasing number of employees. 

Both providers were granted the extensions they had requested. 

Additional funding from Congress has been requested by president Joe Biden to finance the rip and replace program, as a report published by the Federal Communications Commission in July of 2022 noted that the program’s initial $1.9 billion would not be enough to support providers. 

In October of this year the FCC’s Wireline Bureau issued extensions to two other providers who cited that they were unable to completely replace the equipment due to lack of funding. 

Kansas awards $5 million to internet exchange point 

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday announced that the state had awarded $5 million to help fund the construction of the first carrier-neutral internet exchange point at Wichita State University.

The construction of this carrier-neutral internet exchange point will allow for the operation of cloud services and streaming content networks to operate more efficiently alongside local and regional internet networks, explained a press release. 

The endeavor will be undertaken by Connected Nation, a Kentucky non-profit, and Hunter Newby, founder of Newby Ventures investment firm, working with them to build and operate the internet exchange facility. 

Tom Ferree, CEO of Connected Nation, said that the exchange point will support Wichita State and the economy well “by improving the entire regional broadband landscape — preparing Wichita, and Kansas more broadly, for the future evolution of the Internet and all that it will enable.”

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