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Dish and EchoStar to Combine, Over Half of Rural Telcos Grants in 2022, FEC Considering New Rules for AI in Campaigns

The deal is expected to “amplify” 5G private networks.



Photo of Hamid Akhavan

August 14, 2023 – Dish Network and EchoStar Corporation announced last week that they have entered into an agreement for the companies to combine operations following unanimous approval by both boards of directors. 

“By integrating Dish spectrum with EchoStar’s technological capabilities, we will have the ability to amplify 5G private networks,” said Charlie Ergen, founder of both companies and new executive chairman. “What we’re able to do is combine satellite communication and terrestrial communications, all within a 5G cloud native platform.” 

EchoStar CEO Hamid Akhavan will serve as president and CEO of the combined company, headquartered in Colorado. The company has a number of customer brands with 18 million total combined subscribers. 

“Bringing together Dish’s enormously valuable portfolio of nationwide a spectrum built for private networks and EchoStar’s decades of network experience… we will be able to provide a more attractive and higher quality offering to capitalize on the significant 5G private network opportunity,” Akhavan said in a statement. 

Akhavan added that while it is difficult to combine satellite and telecom together, the company “was designed to put a satellite component into it.” 

“As a combined company, we will offer a broad suite of robust connectivity services, using a superior portfolio of technology, spectrum, engineering, manufacturing and network management expertise. DISH shares our customer-first culture.” 

Ergen founded EchoStar in 1980 as a satellite TV distributor which then developed the Dish Network brand, which was spun out in 2008. EchoStar sold its satellite broadcast business to Dish in 2019. “This is a strategically and financially compelling combination that is all about growth and building a long-term sustainable business,” he added. 

Over half of rural telecoms received broadband grants last year

Accounting firm Forvis, which specializes in rural telecom, published a Rural Telecommunications Benchmark Study Friday that reported over half of rural telecoms in the United States received broadband grants in 2022.  

Of the 167 rural internet providers that participated in the study, 85 received broadband grants totaling about $600 million. In comparison, the study found that 69 companies received grants totaling $336 million in 2021. 

“There was a 23 percent increase in companies and a 79 percent increase in broadband grant awards over amounts awarded during 2021,” read the report. “These grant programs include state-administered broadband grant programs utilizing state funds, state-apportioned federal CARES Act funds, and American Rescue Plan Act funds, along with federal broadband grant programs administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Rural Utilities Service.” 

The study found that the median grant size is $2.7 million with 19 companies reporting total grants of more than $10 million each, an increase from the 11 companies the year prior that reported the same metric. It also found that companies that received grants had higher operating income as a percentage of revenue compared to those companies that did not receive grants.  

Operating expenses in comparison with operating revenue increased between 2021 and 2022 by 5.1 percent. This is almost double the increase in total operating revenue in 2022, read the report, and signals that operating expenses are on the rise for broadband projects. 

FEC Considering New Rules for AI in Campaigns 

The Federal Election Commission unanimously voted Thursday to seek comments about a potential rule clarification that would address the use of artificial intelligence in political campaigns.

The petitions, brought by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, request that the FEC clarify that its law against “fraudulent misrepresentation” applies to deceptive AI campaign communications. Already, 2024 campaign content has been made with generative AI, a tool that can create new content. The presidential campaigns for former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have produced high-profile videos with AI. 

This is “obviously a topic that is very timely and very important. I don’t pretend that the FEC can solve all of the problems people are concerned about in the field of AI, but it is possible we can solve some of them,” said Democrat Commissioner Ellen Weintraub in the Thursday meeting. 

The vote comes only months after three Republicans on the six-member commission blocked the petition in a first attempt in June. Republican Commissioner Allen Dickerson still expressed concerns about the FEC’s authority to address the use of AI in campaigns. 

Dickerson said there is “nothing special” about the “buzzwords” of generative AI and deepfakes concerning the FEC’s authority to regulate fraud in campaigns.  

Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president at Public Citizen, said the FEC’s vote sets a timeline that could lead to a possible rule change in time for the 2024 presidential election. “Certainly, there is enough time to put guidance in place from the FEC such that it would impact this election cycle.” 

“Without them [the FEC] doing so, we’re just going to see AI ballooning, and candidates really having to undergo this accelerated level of lies and misinformation that all these deep fakes are going to bring,” said Gilbert, referring to convincing video of people in which their face or body has been digitally altered to appear like someone else. 

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Ben Lujan, D-N.M., issued statements in support of the FEC’s move.  

“The deceptive use of AI technology, like deep fakes, poses a new threat to our elections,” Schiff posted on X, formerly Twitter, calling the move a “step in the right direction.” 

Lujan added that “safeguards are needed as AI capabilities advance.” 

Klobuchar said she plans to “introduce bipartisan legislation to make the FEC’s authority to deal with this clear, whether they already have the authority or not.”  

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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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Broadband Roundup

NTIA Awards $13 Million from Wireless Fund, New Ritter CTO, Middle Mile in Virginia and North Carolina

The NTIA has awarded $13 million to open network projects.



Photo of Victor Esposito from Ritter Communications.

November 28, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Tuesday that it is committing $13 million in grant funding from the $1.5 billion Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund. 

“The transition to open, interoperable wireless networks is now well on its way — bringing with it greater security, competition, and resiliency,” said NTIA Alan Davidson in a press release announcing the funding, adding the fund will accelerate the transition toward open and interoperable wireless by financially backing research and development. 

The seven projects that will be awarded funding are expected to improve the networks’ security, energy efficiency, and allow them to leverage AI to automate the network testing process. 

The fund is supported by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, which aims to invest in domestic manufacturing to improve national supply chain resiliency. 

Ritter Communications new CTO

Telecom service provider Ritter Communications announced Monday that Victor Esposito will serve as the company’s chief technology officer, after having served as its vice president of engineering and network operations. 

In his new role, Esposito will lead all of Ritter’s technology-related teams, read a press release. 

“[Victor] has the leadership, skills and drive to keep us and our customers on the cutting edge of innovation as well as maintaining the company’s steep growth trajectory,” said Ritter Communications president Heath Simpson. 

Esposito joined Ritter Communications in April of this year and will succeed Greg Sunderwood, who served as CTO position for 11 years.

Middle mile to be built in Virginia and North Carolina 

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative announced Tuesday that it is partnering with Ciena, a networking systems service provider, to help install middle mile infrastructure to serve more than 31,000 customers in Virginia and North Carolina.  

MEC currently services 4,511 square miles in those respective states with its electric distribution system and is partnering with Ciena to deliver low-latency connectivity and aggregate operation technology to better broadband, explained a press release. 

“During our network deployment, we will pass tens of thousands of homes, businesses, and organizations, and we found it unthinkable to miss the opportunity to extend this fiber resource to our communities,” said Dwayne Long, vice president of information technology at MEC. 

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