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Tribal Spectrum Licensing, Call for More ACP Funding, $32 Million for West Virginia Broadband

FCC seeking comments to facilitate better broadband connectivity in tribal communities.



Photo of Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia in 2021 taken from his webiste

August 8, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comments on tribal nations and native Hawaiian access to wireless spectrum to facilitate better broadband connectivity in tribal communities.

According to the public notice published on Friday, the commission is seeking additional demographic data on applicants for spectrum licensing. This includes a potential addition of legal entity categories and questions on wireless licensing forms. It also invites public input on expanding data collection beyond government entities to include business and citizens, in a way that recognizes “both the sovereign status of Tribal Nations, as well as the broad diversity of Tribal Nations and the Native Hawaiian Community,” read the notice.

The FCC is also seeking feedback on tribal access to licensed spectrum through secondary market transactions, such as leasing arrangements and the sharing of licenses among carriers. This information would serve as the benchmark for the commission’s upcoming Enhanced Competition Incentive Program to spur growth in the secondary licensing market for tribal communities.

In addition to soliciting comments, the commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, in tandem with the Office of Native Affairs and Policy, will kick off an outreach program to further engage tribal and native Hawaiian communities. The forthcoming schedule and events would be made available in the near future, read the notice.

The announcement comes almost a year after Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Brian Schatz urged the FCC to consult more regularly with tribal leaders on the spectrum-licensing processes and ease regulatory burden on small tribes.

Tri-caucus chairs call for more ACP funding

Congressional tri-caucus chairs urged the Joe Biden administration to replenish funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, as experts forecast the program’s funds will be depleted by early 2024.

In a letter dated July 31, chairs of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus voiced concerns over the lapse of ACP funding, a benefit program that provides monthly internet discounts of $30 and $75 to low-income households.

The financial shortfall, if not addressed by Congress, would hurt communities of color and the “myriad systemic inequities” they are facing, read the letter.

The letter then cited a Pew survey that showed only 71 percent of Black households and 65 percent of Hispanic households have access to broadband internet, compared to the FCC’s data that 94 percent of households nationwide subscribe to such service. Lack of affordable high speed internet will put these communities further behind, claimed the letter.

“The Biden-Harris Administration has consistently led on internet access and affordability issues and has done more to close the digital divide than its predecessors,” it continued. “We urge you to support replenishing ACP funding to sustain and build on this important building block to help us overcome the digital divide.”

To date, more than 19 millions households have signed up for the ACP benefits, according to recent FCC’s data. Despite concerns that insufficient funding could impede ongoing broadband expansion and perpetuate the digital divide, Congress has not yet taken any measures to address this issue.

$32 Million for West Virginia broadband

West Virginia’s Governor Jim Justice announced the first round of funding approvals, totaling $32 million, to be distributed among ten recipients as part of the $100 million West Virginia Broadband Investment Plan.

The investment will extend broadband connectivity to more than 6,000 targeted locations through the deployment of 793 miles of new infrastructure. In addition to the current grants, over $16 million in matching funds will bring the total investment to more than $48 million, as outlined in a press release dated July 31.

“I am committed to ensuring that all West Virginians have access to the most advanced internet connectivity possible,” said Governor Justice. “This allocation of funding represents several major steps toward this goal.”

The funding is made available through two programs under the West Virginia Broadband Investment Plan – the Line Extension Advancement and Development and the Major Broadband Project Strategies programs. Projects under the MBPS program, in particular, will prioritize community involvement and use public-private partnerships to maximize investment.

The total fund includes $90 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and $10 million in state general revenue fund, as well as part of the ARPA Capital Projects Fund, which allots $136 million for broadband development in West Virginia, read the press release.

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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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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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Broadband Roundup

Broadcom Finalizes VMware, $191M for Wilkes Rural Broadband, Kinetic Fiber in Georgia

Broadcom announces the closing of their $69 billion acquisition of VMware.



Photo of Broadcom Headquarters, taken 2007.

November 27, 2023 – Broadcom, a semiconductor and infrastructure solution company, announced Wednesday that it has finalized its $69-billion acquisition of VMware, a cloud computing company.

Broadcom will offer modernized VMware cloud services to enterprise customers, which will assist in helping applications deploy more efficiently and improve advanced security services, explained a press release.

“We are excited to welcome VMware to Broadcom and bring together our engineering-first, innovation-centric teams as we take another important step forward in building the world’s leading infrastructure technology company,” said Broadcom CEO Hock Tan.

Broadcom initially announced its intention to acquire VMware in May 2022, and underwent the process of receiving regulatory approvals from countries including  Australia, Brazil and Canada.

Wilkes gets $191M to complete rural broadband rollout

Internet service provider Wilkes Communications and its subsidiary RiverStreet Networks announced November 20 that they have secured a $191.1-million private loan to complete its rural broadband expansion in North Carolina and Virginia.

The financing comes from CoBank, which has a specific stream for rural broadband projects.

The fiber expansion project is expected to reach and service 100,000 locations by the time it is completed with a goal being to replace the remaining Wilkes infrastructure that relies on copper with fiber, read a press release.

“With this substantial financial backing, we are ready to break down barriers and bring the digital future within reach for even the most remote regions of North Carolina and Virginia,” said Wilkes Communications CEO Eric Cramer.

Wilkes has already received $270 million in funding from federal, state and local grants, which will go toward supplementing the loan from CoBank.

Kinetic lays out plan for Georgia buildout

Internet service provider Kinetic announced Tuesday its plan to rollout fiber to more than 70 percent of Colquitt County, Georgia in 2024.

The buildout will include nearly 440 miles of fiber – of which 180 has already been installed – meaning nearly 17,000 homes and 7,400 more customers will get fiber, the company said.

Kinetic said it is working with Colquitt Electric Membership Corp. to complete the $32.5-million fiber network, which includes $21.4 million in state money from the Local Fiscal Recovery Funds Program, which was backed by American Rescue Plan funds, and the remaining $11.1 million will come from Kinetic itself.

“We believe this transformation will open up new opportunities, including enhancing people’s qualities of life and driving economic growth,” said Michael Foor, president of Kinetic Georgia Operations, in the press release.

The company said currently 40 percent of the county is currently eligible to receive their fiber services.

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