The FCC discovered they can not fix something if they do not know where it is broken. The nation’s broadband maps are truly broken, as any rural cell phone user can attest.
Through the investigation, staff discovered that the MF-II coverage maps submitted by Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile likely overstated each provider’s actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground performance in many instances. Only 62.3% of staff drive tests achieved at least the minimum download speed predicted by the coverage maps—with U.S. Cellular achieving that speed in only 45.0% of such tests, T-Mobile in 63.2% of tests, and Verizon in 64.3% of tests. Similarly, staff stationary tests showed that each provider achieved sufficient download speeds meeting the minimum cell edge probability in fewer than half of all test locations (20 of 42 locations). In addition, staff was unable to obtain any 4G LTE signal for 38% of drive tests on U.S. Cellular’s network, 21.3% of drive tests on T-Mobile’s network, and 16.2% of drive tests on Verizon’s network, despite each provider reporting coverage in the relevant area.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai intends to establish the 5G Fund, which would make up to $9 billion in Universal Service Fund support available to carriers to deploy advanced 5G mobile wireless services in rural America. This investment would be allocated through a reverse auction and would target hard-to-serve areas with sparse populations and/or rugged terrain. The $9 billion Fund also would set aside at least $1 billion specifically for deployments facilitating precision agriculture needs. The 5G Fund would replace the planned Mobility Fund Phase II, which would have provided federal support for 4G LTE service in unserved areas.
SpaceX is launching 12,000 satellites, which can provide low latency “fiber-like broadband” to rural users around the globe. Initial Starlink service is projected to start in the Northern US by mid-summer, with full US coverage by the end of 2020. SpaceX has launched 120 Starlink satellites, with 60 more planned in December. SpaceX is planning two launches per month in 2020, adding capacity and customers with each new launch. By January 2021, the Starlink constellation will have 1610 satellites in orbit, providing high-speed broadband services to customers.
OneWeb, SpaceX’s nearest competitor, has launched six satellites, with more planned in 2020, starting in February, then again in October and November. Each launch will insert 32 more satellites in orbit. OneWeb is not expected to begin service until they have 350 satellites on orbit.
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees broadband policy, approved a multitude of bipartisan broadband and tech-related bills on a variety of topics, from broadband mapping and network security to freeing up spectrum. Two bills in particular were notable in regard to rural broadband.
The first of which was the “Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act” or the Broadband DATA Act (HR 4229), which would require the government to collect granular information about which areas in the U.S. have access to high-speed internet and which do not. The Senate Commerce Committee advanced its own version of the Broadband DATA Act earlier this year, meaning there is significant momentum to move the bill onto President Trump’s desk. The second significant bill was the “Mapping Accuracy Promotion Services Act” (MAPS Act) (HR 4227). This measure would bar anyone from “willfully, knowingly, or recklessly” submitting broadband internet access service coverage information or data to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for mapping purposes if it is untrue. This legislation was largely in response to an admission earlier this year by the FCC that its maps were inaccurate because one internet service provider gave the agency false information about its broadband coverage.
Last week, Senators Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) introduced two broadband-related bills. The first was the Rural Broadband Financing Flexibility Act, led by Senator Capito, which would allow state and local governments to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance public-private rural broadband projects, and allow the federal government to assist state and local governments in bond payments. The second was the “Rural Broadband Investment Tax Credit Act”, led by Senator Hassan, which would create a federal tax credit that states and localities could direct toward rural broadband projects. Read a one-pager on the new bills that Senators Hassan and Capito introduced here.
Last weekend, the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) approved performance testing procedures for carriers receiving Connect America Fund. This would apply carriers to deploy fixed broadband networks to unserved Americans living in rural areas, helping to ensure that rural Americans have access to the same high-quality networks as Americans in urban areas.
The Connect America Fund provides support for broadband and voice service in rural areas where service would not be available or affordable without such support. This approval by the FCC also ensures that carriers remain accountable to consumers, taxpayers, and the commission, while also delivering the network performance they have committed to provide. The flexibility in these new testing procedures will enable carriers of all sizes and technical capabilities to meet testing requirements without unnecessary costs, while maintaining proper accountability.
A new Benton Institute for Broadband & Society report recommending policies it says would help ensure that every American can access high-speed internet.
The broadband revolution is sparking broad social and economic change. We see three overarching benefits that High-Performance Broadband can deliver in the next decade:
• . Growing the American Economy. High-Performance Broadband transforms industries that are basic to everyday life, positively impacting agriculture, education, healthcare, energy, and more.
• Empowering Workers. High-Performance Broadband advances skills training to boost individual opportunity, helping to overcome income inequality and economic frustration.
• Strengthening Communities. High-Performance Broadband spurs economic growth and jobs. It can enable civic participation. It can improve the health, education. and learning of community members.
Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020scollects, combines, and contributes to a national broadband agenda for the next decade. Our work is built on the lessons of communities, public-interest advocates, government officials, and industry experts that have labored to expand broadband’s reach to everyone in the United States. They deserve credit for their investments and innovations, and we have attempted to reflect their accomplishments and ideas, while contributing Benton’s own insights — insights built on a body of work stretching back to the 1980s.
This publication is a part of a discussion on how public policy can close the digital divide and extend digital opportunity everywhere.
The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act (S. 1822), sponsored by Senator Rodger Wicker (R-Mississippi), would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to collect detailed data twice-a-year on the availability of broadband internet access services.
Under the bill, the FCC would establish and maintain a comprehensive database and create detailed and publicly available broadband coverage maps. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated that the bill would cost the FCC approximately $65 million over the 2020-2024 period. However, because the FCC is allowed to collect fees to offset the costs, CBO estimates the net effect on spending would be insignificant.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stated his fear that a patchwork of local and state regulations on internet technologies could hurt the competitiveness of the US in the tech sector. As the FCC has continued deregulation at the federal level, states have stepped in to fill the void with their own regulation. California has been at the forefront of this effort with their passing of internet protections following the dismantling of net neutrality. Chairman Pai argued that “while that federalist system has served us very well” up to this point in our nation’s history, it’s time for Congress to consider “whether or not we can still maintain a multilayer regulatory system.” He said allowing states and local governments to pass their own laws regulating internet services, creates market uncertainty.
The FCC will vote later this month on broadband speed testing procedures for recipients of Universal Service Fund (USF) support, said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a blog post. Pai said he had circulated a draft of USF broadband speed testing requirements to the other FCC commissioners in preparation for a vote at the October FCC monthly meeting.
USF Broadband Speed Testing
Pai noted that the FCC has been reviewing testing procedures for several months aimed at ensuring that USF recipients deliver broadband at the speeds they are required to deliver as a condition for receiving USF support. He said the proposed performance measurement procedures strike “the right balance.”
“On one hand, we want to make sure that subscribers are getting the quality of service that they have been promised and our rules require,” Pai wrote. “On the other, we also want to make sure that our testing procedures don’t impose unnecessary burdens on small carriers located in hard-to-serve areas that often face unique challenges.”
He didn’t provide many details on the speed test procedures and the draft order is not yet available publicly, but he did note that the proposed requirements would change testing implementation dates so that those dates are more closely aligned with when a carrier has its first mandatory build-out obligations.
He also noted that the speed test procedures call for a pre-testing period aimed at enabling carriers to ensure that their testing systems are performing correctly before testing begins.
Speed testing could become increasingly important as companies that won funding through the Connect America Fund CAF II auction begin their buildouts, as some companies gained a bidding advantage by committing to provide higher-speed service.
What is this accountability noise? It is rare that an ISP provides the level of service promoted in their marketing campaigns. This contract accountability could make for some very nervous providers, I can smell the sweat already.
— Telecom and utility groups are urging congressional appropriators to continue investing in rural broadband in fiscal year 2020. “The health and productivity of the people we represent throughout rural America are dependent on access to high-quality broadband,” The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, the Utilities Technology Council and nearly two dozen other groups wrote in a letter to Senate and House appropriators. The groups are pressing lawmakers to include $605 million to fund the USDA ReConnect Program, which provides loans and grants to pay for broadband in remote areas without access. “Continued direct federal investment is critical to closing the digital divide and enabling rural consumers to fully participate in our 21st Century economy and society,” they tell Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Kay Granger (R-Texas).