RCRC Commentary: Empower Local Communities to Close the Digital Divide

Greg Norton President and CEO of Rural County Representatives of California.

The deployment of broadband infrastructure supporting speed-of-commerce connectivity is among the most critical missing components needed to drive economic development in California’s rural communities. Broadband access is essential to connecting rural communities to the 21st century economy. Yet the barriers to deploying infrastructure continue to inhibit access in some of California’s most disadvantaged communities in both rural and urban areas.

The Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) represents 36 of California’s 58 counties, covering approximately 56 percent of the state’s land mass. It is estimated that merely 47 percent of California’s rural households within this population area have access to high-speed broadband.

I recently had the opportunity to speak about this crisis on a panel before the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) titled “The Imperative of Digital Inclusion.” In their 2016-17 Annual Report, CETF identified internet access as a “21st Century Civil Right,” and the internet is now firmly established as an operational epicenter for business, government, education, information, and basic services.

Access to broadband provides multiple economic and social benefits to rural residents by allowing access to vital government services and resources. Broadband contributes to job creation, economic growth and business investment improves access to critical healthcare services, and expands access to educational resources and opportunities. Broadband access for farmers and ranchers would allow for improved stewardship of our natural resources through the use of technology to monitor and measure water and soil conditions and usage.

Local governments have joined forces in advocating for the acceleration of broadband deployment in California’s rural communities, and have outlined a number of key provisions. First, the technology deployed must be an appropriate fit for the area — high-speed fiber connections are imperative. Second, we must look to rural electrification as a model, and fund local municipalities to develop the infrastructure, and provide the services. Lastly, local governments should be empowered to step up as lead partners with the federal government to formulate and execute upon strategies that achieve broad-based access to high-speed services.

When high-speed connectivity is unavailable, too slow, or too expensive, it has a significant impact on the economic success and quality of life in these communities. As a result of the digital divide, rural communities are suffering, and struggle to tap basic resources including educational opportunities, medical care, economic and trade opportunities, and vital government services, including public safety.

We’re aware of the challenges involved in deploying adequate capacity across the broadband infrastructure in California’s rural communities. Rugged terrain, remote locations, and sparse populations are all factors that lead to increased deployment and maintenance costs. However, these challenges must be addressed in order to provide this fundamental socio-economic tool and resource to the residents within these communities. While technological advances such as 5G are beneficial to the overall industry, this type of innovation only serves to create a greater chasm between the haves and the have-nots. Priority should be focused on an equitable deployment of appropriate level services throughout the state, not on the next big thing for the fortunate few.

Community-driven broadband partnerships offer a solution. We can quickly resolve this problem by including local communities in the process of choosing the appropriate means to deliver the requisite broadband to ensure quality of life, business growth, and household capital formation. In partnership with the federal government, communities can choose the approach to delivering broadband best suited to their specific needs. Options could include innovative public-private partnerships, other government financing, or through the enforced requirement of leveraging infrastructure investments made with federal dollars by incumbent providers. The Federal Communications Commission has deployed and earmarked enormous amounts of capital to closing the urban-rural divide that exists with access to broadband. Despite these massive influxes of capital, too many rural communities remain without access.

It is imperative that ubiquitous middle-mile fiber optic cable technology is provided at the speed of commerce to allow small to medium-sized businesses to compete in the digital global marketplace, and attract economic development opportunities to California’s rural communities. Although we have made advancements in expanding broadband, there is more to do to ensure that universal access to broadband services is realized for all rural residents. Now is the time — we must allow local communities to develop high-speed solutions that fit their rural communities’ broadband infrastructure needs. Broadband is fundamentally necessary to a community’s economic health, quality of life, and opportunity at prosperity.

The source is HERE.

Comment:

The Federal funding to improve rural access to broadband is the Connect America II Fund, which is a 10-year program.  The telco 5G build-out is expected to take at least a decade. If the LEO satellite programs from SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb, LeoSat, and Telesat are successful, space-based broadband will become available in 2021 which is only two years away. By 2024 there will be multiple broadband satellite companies competing for rural communities business. These companies are planning to provide 4G and 5G backhaul services at a lower cost than fiber, which has to deal with “rugged terrain, remote locations, and sparse populations.”  One of the obstacles to satellite broadband is the current CPUC and CETF policies which discriminate against satellite services. These are policies that were put in place due to the low speeds, long latency and high cost of geo-satellite broadband services.  LEO satellites latency is on par with cable networks and shared fiber services, and current speeds are equal to cable internet and on long distances exceed fiber speeds.  These policies need to be revisited and adjusted to match future broadband services. More in this issue in future posts.

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Substantive Objections to a Government 5G Wholesale Network

FCC Commission Michael O’Rielly

Over the last few months, various ideas have been floated about the offering of 5G wireless services via a government-sponsored network. This entire effort seems convoluted and borders on the preposterous. Just the notion of the U.S. moving away from the highly-successful, private-sector led approach that is responsible for our country’s premier position globally would be a serious misstep. In essence, it would throw a monkey wrench into one of the greatest success stories in the history of technology. At the same time, it has been nearly impossible to nail down with any granularity what exactly is being contemplated by this new “network.” To call this effort a trial balloon is insulting to balloons, as all the ideas mentioned have far less consistency than balloons, and more closely resemble a child’s bubbles. Based on what we do know, however, the entire effort is jam-packed with insurmountable problems.

Accordingly, I’ve attempted to expose a few of the issues that someone trying to create a government-sponsored 5G network would face – no matter how it was structured – and explain why it doesn’t make logical sense. Perhaps all the rhetoric and lobbying in favor of this scheme will end once people examine some straight facts and salient arguments.

Read the full post at the FCC Blog HERE.

 

Democrat Dings FCC Broadband Reports

— FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel took aim at two new broadband reports issued by the agency Wednesday, one measuring deployment in Indian Country and the other focused on veterans’ access to high-speed internet. Both reports, she said, came more than a month after their deadline under the RAY BAUM’S Act.

— The tribal broadband report finds that residents of tribal lands have lower rates of both fixed and mobile broadband connectivity than their non-tribal counterparts. But Rosenworcel points out the report relies on data the Government Accountability Office previously concluded leads to overstating service on tribal lands. “This is unacceptable,” Rosenworcel said. “The FCC needs to do better.” According to the report, the FCC intends to launch a proceeding to help close the broadband gap on tribal lands.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

FCC Approves SpaceX’s Revised Starlink Satellite Plan; First Wave Gets Set For Liftoff

GeekWire has the details:

The Federal Communications Commission today [26 April] approved SpaceX’s proposed revisions in its plan to put thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit to provide global broadband connectivity, clearing the way to start launching satellites next month.

SpaceX already had authorization for 4,425 Starlink satellites that would use Ku- and Ka-band radio spectrum to beam internet data, but last November, the company asked the FCC to sign off on a plan that would put more than a third of the satellites in 550-kilometer-high (340-mile-high) orbits rather than the previously approved 1,150-kilometer (715-mile) orbits.

Eventually, SpaceX plans to add another wave of more than 7,500 satellites in even lower orbits to enhance the constellation’s coverage.

[. . .]

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, praised the FCC’s action in an emailed statement:

“This approval underscores the FCC’s confidence in SpaceX’s plans to deploy its next-generation satellite constellation and connect people around the world with reliable and affordable broadband service. Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing.”

SpaceX says that first wave of satellites will be launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida no earlier than May.

[. . .]

SpaceX has said an initial version of its Starlink service could offer high-speed connectivity starting in the 2020-2021 time frame. SpaceX is required to put half of its constellation’s satellites into operation by 2024. To facilitate that task, SpaceX is laying the groundwork for its super-heavy-lift Starship launch system in Texas. [Emphasis added]

The full article is HERE

It is estimated that a super-heavy-lift Starship launch system could put 375 Starlink satellites on orbit per launch. Source

Here is an interesting Starlink video: https://youtu.be/QrI6aCGdB00

About that FCC Rural Broadband Fund

— Pai grabbed headlines Friday by unveiling a $20.4 billion “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund” as part of a White House 5G event. But the fund, to be spent over a decade, is a rebranding of the FCC’s Connect America Fund program, which supports broadband deployment in hard-to-serve areas. The current funding term for the program ends in 2020, and Pai told reporters the rural fund will involve a “repurposing” of Connect America money. To get the subsidies, providers have had to offer broadband speeds of at least 10 Mbps, but the new funding could be used to upgrade service to 25 Mbps.

— The FCC’s Democrats, who said they didn’t have details of the fund, expressed skepticism. “It looks to me like they are dressing up an old program in new, Trump-era clothes,” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said at the press conference following the FCC’s meeting Friday. “It doesn’t look like any new funding, but instead, same old, same old.”

— Commissioner Geoffrey Starks also said he wants to learn more. “It does seem to smell like something that is repackaging some of the money that we already have, because coming up with $20 billion from the FCC is not something that you just trip over.”

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

President Trump to hold WH Meeting on 5G and Rural Broadband (Updated 04-12-19)

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 9.13.03 PM

Looking forward to seeing the results of this meeting.  Rural broadband needs all the public attention it can get.  In the scheme of things, rural communities will be the last to get 5G unless some government action is taken to change the ROI for the telecom providers.

Update 04-12-19:  From POLITICO Morning Tech

5G IN THE WHITE HOUSE — Pai is slated to head to the White House this afternoon for a 5G-themed meeting with Trump, as Margaret reported for Pros. The afternoon event will focus on U.S. efforts to build the next-generation networks and comes amid feuding by Trump advisers on how best to advance the technology. The meeting is also expected to include a rural broadband funding announcement, according to an administration official. Remember: Pai briefed Trump on American leadership in 5G last week, and Trump also heard from AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson about his company’s progress.

The State Of Our Maps

— Senate Commerce holds a hearing this morning on the steps needed to improve the accuracy of broadband mapping data, particularly in rural communities where the lack of reliable information has become a source of frustration for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Panel Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) has criticized the FCC’s handling of the issue and, six months ago, contemplated the use of a congressional spending bill to force the commission to revisit the problem. “Flawed and inaccurate maps ultimately waste resources and stifle opportunities for economic development in our rural and underserved communities,” Wicker said in an opening statement shared with MT.

— Witnesses include USTelecom President Jonathan Spalter, who is leading his own mapping initiative. (Charter Communications and Microsoft both outlined their own concerns with the mapping process and suggestions for improvement in blog posts this past week.)

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech