Tag: "fcc"

Posted January 5, 2021 by sean

While the bulk of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act proposes to invest $100 billion to expand broadband access in unserved and underserved parts of the country, the legislation also looks to build an essential bridge across the digital divide that goes beyond new infrastructure. An important part of the equation involves addressing laws and policies that have proven to be obstacles to Internet connectivity for tens of millions of Americans.

In our previous installments examining the AAIA, we covered the big-ticket items – the why, how and where the $100+ billion would be invested. This final installment in the series covers the last three major sections of the bill: Title IV – Community Broadband; Title V – Broadband Infrastructure Deployment; and Title VI – Repeal of Rule and Prohibition on Use of NPRM.

These last three sections of the AAIA do not call for any federal appropriations but instead aim to tackle several thorny policy challenges.

Removing State Barriers to Municipal Broadband Initiatives

Title IV – Community Broadband (Section 4001) of the bill is straight-forward. It would prohibit state governments from enforcing laws or regulations that prevent local governments, public-private partnerships, and cooperatives from delivering broadband service.

As it stands now, there are 19 states across the country where state legislators have passed laws designed to shield the biggest corporate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from competition. Those laws were mostly written by lobbyists for these behemoth monopolies and duopolies, despite the fact that the Big Telcos have failed to deliver reliable, affordable and truly high-speed Internet access to large segments of the population.

In Colorado, for example, legislators in that state passed SB-...

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Posted January 4, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-...

A host of cities and counties in Arkansas are about to get a major broadband boost thanks to local officials taking steps to act on a grant program deployed by the state last year. Borne out of the state’s 2020 1st Extraordinary Session at the end of March 2020 in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, the new Rural Broadband I.D. Expenses Trust Fund Grant Program will disburse $2 million in funds divided into 30 one-time grants of $75,000 each to towns, cities, and counties to tackle the digital divide in the Toothpick State. The program is financed via Arkansas’ Restricted Reserve Fund with money given to the state by the CARES Act, and is administered by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. And while an array of projects have been awarded funds, money remains available and applications are being accepted on a rolling basis for those who have yet to take advantage.

A Win for Local Self-Reliance and Increasing Competition

The program is expressly designed to bridge the gap for communities that want to begin to improve local Internet access but are stymied by a necessary first step: paying for those economic, design, and feasibility analyses which require pulling together the wide range of options available in the context of local conditions. That’s where this program comes in, according to Rachel Ott, the UAMS Institute’s for Digital Health and Innovation Grant Director. Communities can use the work produced to apply for federal grants down the road, including the recently concluded Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, funds from the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, and any other forthcoming federal funding programs. 

Cities, towns, counties, and unincorporated communities are all eligible to apply. Non-profits and for-profit entities are also eligible to apply, but only in unincorporated communities. If they want to undertake projects in cities or towns, they are required to...

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Posted December 23, 2020 by sean

If you have been following our series on the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act, you already know the proposed legislation calls for a $100 billion investment in expanding broadband access and affordability in unserved and underserved parts of the country. In this fourth installment of the series, we explore the part of the bill that contains the bulk of the funding. Of the $100 billion proposed in the bill, $85 billion of it can be found in the Title III - Broadband Access section.

Amending the Communications Act of 1934, Section 3101 of the bill appropriates $80 billion for “competitive bidding systems” to subsidize broadband infrastructure. That is to say, it requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and states, to use “competitive bidding systems” for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bid on broadband deployment projects in “areas with service below 25/25 Megabits per second (Mbps), and areas with low-tier service, defined as areas with service between 25/25 and 100/100 Mbps.” The term “competitive bidding” seems to suggest a reverse auction process, though it hardly makes sense for each state to set up such a system given the logistical challenges. A legislative staffer responded to our email earlier this year saying he believed that language would allow for state programs that solicited applications from ISPs and scored them for evaluation, much like Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program operates. However, he noted that the FCC would interpret that language ultimately. More on this below. 

Prioritizing Higher Upload Speeds

It’s worth noting that this part of the bill implicitly acknowledges the insufficiency of the current FCC definition of a minimum broadband speed of 25/3 Mbps. As it stands now, the FCC defines “unserved areas” as parts of the country where there is either no Internet access or broadband speeds under 25/3. This legislation raises the bar and broadens the definition of “unserved areas.” It’s a step in the...

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Posted December 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

2020 is nearly over, and it's that time of the year we sit back with a cold glass of eggnog and reflect on what was, what is, what might have been, and what will be. In this episode the Community Broadband Bits podcast the MuniNetworks team cranks up Zoom for the zillionth time this month to review our previous years' predictions to see who swung the hardest and missed back in 2019, and who might be hiding a secret gift at prognostication that would put Zoltar to shame.

With the departure of Lisa and Katie, GIS and Data Researcher Michelle Andrews is the only one who must reckon with her predictions head on. Also on the show are two recent arrivals: Senior Writer and Editor Sean Gonsalves, and Senior Researcher Ry Marcattilio-McCracken. Hannah Trostle returns from a short hiatus as well, to offer insight and secretly watch Chris to make sure he hasn't turned into a total despot. During the show we talk state preemption laws, progress by municipal networks, electric cooperatives, and county governments in expanding affordable broadband, the recent RDOF auction, New Hampshire, Sean's water feature, and our favorite stories of the year. 

This show is 50 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Transcript coming soon.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or ...

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Posted December 17, 2020 by sean

Without good information from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the federal government is essentially shooting in the dark when it comes to determining how to best target the allocation of resources for underserved and unserved communities. Even private sector investments are less efficient because of the lack of good data about broadband availability and pricing. That’s why the second major section of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (AAIA), currently languishing in the U.S. Senate, aims to address the nebulous nature of broadband data at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In this third installment of our series on the AAIA, we explore the ”Title II – Broadband Transparency” section of the Act, which requires the FCC to adopt rules to gather accurate and up-to-date information from ISPs about broadband service plan prices and subscription rates. It also requires the FCC to collect data that will allow the federal government to assess the resiliency of the nation’s broadband network in the event of a natural disaster or emergency.

Better Data is Needed

Anyone who closely follows FCC news is already familiar with the problems associated with the agency’s broadband coverage maps, which most experts agree overstate actual broadband coverage. Though recent studies indicate there may be as many as 41 million people who lack access to fixed broadband in the United States that meets minimum speed of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), the FCC claims that number is closer to 18 million. It’s a big discrepancy with big dollar implications, as the coverage maps are the basis upon which agencies and states make major funding decisions.

The problem lies with the FCC’s existing Form 477, which seeks service availability data from ISPs. There’s widespread agreement that the form gleans data that is inaccurate, outdated, and misconstrued, as we detail here...

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Posted December 9, 2020 by christopher

The FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund results are a puzzle. RDOF was the recent auction for large swaths of rural areas of the U.S. that have no broadband access, in large part because they were the territories of big companies like AT&T, CenturyLink (now rebranding as Lumen in hopes of improving its dismal image among its subscribers), Frontier, Windstream, and others. Up to $16 billion was at stake though the auction will actually disperse some $9+ billion dollars because many areas were bid well below what was expected. 

Please understand that this post is the best I can do right now - this is confusing and we are sorting our way through it. Please let me know if you can help us understand it. See our past coverage for more information.

The auction resulted in far more gigabit - 85% of locations I believe - than anyone expected, at far lower subsidy than expected. However, there is a lot of frustration and confusion because it is not clear that some of the top bidders can deliver. NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association - shared my original enthusiasm for RDOF and our concerns - best articulated over the years by Jon Chambers from Conexon - that the FCC was going to blow this auction by not ensuring those who bid had the capacity to deliver on the promised level of service. Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, wrote this and recently tweeted on this:

Doug Dawson, President of CCG Consulting, has addressed this in the...

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Posted November 30, 2020 by sean

The failure of policy and leadership at the federal level in addressing the digital divide was ever more clearly exposed as Covid-19 restrictions were put into place last spring. And, as the pandemic continues to rage, daunting connectivity challenges remain. 

Yes, the Connect America Fund (CAF) II program has doled out over $11 billion since 2015 in subsidies to the big telcos like AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, Windstream, and Consolidated ostensibly to upgrade rural broadband to speeds of at least 10/1 Megabits per second (Mbps). But, as Doug Dawson, president of CCG Consulting notes, it’s been a massive subsidy failure given that “even in 2015, it was ludicrous to spend money to build 10/1 Mbps broadband” – the same year the FCC defined broadband as 25/3 Mbps, which means “the FCC was investing in new Internet infrastructure in 2015 that didn’t qualify as broadband at the time of the award of funding.”

And there is reason to doubt that those subsidized upgrades were even completed, even as the FCC just extended the CAF II program for a seventh year.

So as states — and in many instances, local municipalities — step into the breach, the National Governors Association has released a new report that outlines a list of strategies governors can use to increase broadband access in underserved communities. 

Published just before Thanksgiving, the report first lays out the challenge:

According to the FCC, in 2018, at least 18.3 million people lacked access to fixed broadband in the United States that meets minimum [I]nternet access speed of 25/3. 1 Of those 18.3 million people, representing 6 percent of the total population, 14 million live in rural areas and 1 million live on Tribal lands, which amounts to 22 percent and 28 percent of those respective geographic populations [even as] studies have claimed that the FCC data is undercounting the number of people in the U.S. without fixed broadband access, and that the total may be as high as 42 million people.

“In addition to lack of access, the cost of broadband services remains a considerable barrier for many households,” the report points out. “The COVID-19 pandemic has...

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Posted November 23, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

On Episode 3 of Connect This!, Christopher is joined by Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Deb Socia, President of The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Travis Carter, CEO of US Internet

Tune is to hear them talk about solving the broadband gap and all of the obstacles it presents, from digital literacy training, to redlining, to funding programs. Along the way they also talk about how the federal government has failed to connect people over the last nine months and whether they're optimistic about a Biden administration and the future of broadband.

Mentioned during the course of the episode: An episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast with Deb Socia and Geoff Millener about digital inclusion in Chattanooga during the early months of the pandemic, and a white paper about tier flattening by Verizon and AT&T which forces users to pay high costs for decaying broadband infrastructure.

Subscribe to the show using this feed

Watch the episode below.

Posted November 18, 2020 by sean

Podcasts can be a great way to glean important insights on all things broadband – from the policies and politics that shape the digital landscape to the pathways and platforms that connect us to or keep us from the Internet.

If you haven’t already tuned into our own weekly podcast, "Broadband Bits", consider this an invitation to do so. (Or the brand new Connect This show.) But, we also want to highlight two new limited podcast series that we think are worth checking out.

#SpreadtheTech

One is #SpreadtheTech created by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Digital Charlotte – a ten-episode series that “showcases interviews with digital inclusion stakeholders and practitioners from across the country highlighting their community-based efforts to address the digital divide.” This Verizon-sponsored podcast is hosted by NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer, Digital Charlotte’s Executive Director Bruce Clark, and the Director of Operations for Digital Charlotte, Andrew Au.

In the first four episodes, #SpreadtheTech covers how digital inclusion advocates have pivoted their work to focus on the significance of Internet connectivity as we deal with the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.

The first episode looks at how the North Carolina Department of Information Technology is responding to connectivity challenges brought on by Covid-19. The featured guest of that episode is Amy Huffman, Digital Inclusion and Policy Manager for the Broadband Infrastructure Office within the North Carolina Office of Information and Technology Services.

Huffman reports on how the state created an interactive searchable map that allows North Carolina residents to enter their address to see if they have access to one of the discount or low-cost programs the state’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are offering. The map also shows the locations of community anchor institutions (libraries, schools, and community colleges) which have Wi-Fi hotspots in their parking lots that allow residents to access the Internet from their cars.

...

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Posted November 13, 2020 by sean

In the interest of “closing the digital divide,” the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry in August “Concerning Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion.” According to the notice, the FCC still considers it reasonable and timely to define the minimum broadband speed as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, the same minimum speeds the FCC first established in 2015.

It’s an important benchmark that is widely-agreed to be outdated in the era of families juggling multiple video chat calls and other digital tasks at the same time.

However, according to the FCC’s most recent look at the issue, there remains “significant support for maintaining this benchmark.” Therefore, the notice went on to say, “we propose to maintain the 25/3 Mbps benchmark for fixed services.”

This, despite the objection of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, whose official dissent noted that, in addition to the “nonstop criticism from consumers and Congress” over the FCC’s misleading data on how many Americans lack access to broadband, “in its last report, the FCC continued to use a broadband standard that is too low for a nation that has moved so much online.”

“Many households with multiple users are calling, watching, listening, gaming, and searching online all at the same time,” Rosenworcel noted. “But the FCC has been sticking with a download standard of 25 megabits per second that it adopted more than five years ago. We need to set audacious goals if we want to do big things. With many of our nation’s providers offering gigabit service, it’s time for the FCC to adjust its baseline upward, too. We need to reset it to at least 100 megabits per second.”

A year prior to Rosenworcel’s dissent, Next Century Cities submitted comments noting how much had changed both up and downstream since the 2015 standard was put in place.

“As more people work from home or engage in online education courses, the requirement of multi-tasking while participating on an HD video conference will overwhelm that 3 Mbps capacity, even if no other devices in the household are attempting to share the network.” 

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