RCRC: Barbed Wire Broadband Update

FCC Proposes “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund” Program

On August 1, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held an Open Commission Meeting where commissioners considered multiple issues that could impact the deployment of broadband internet in rural California. During the meeting, Commissioners proposed a new program to invest in rural broadband projects entitled the “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.”

The Rural Digital Fund (the Fund) would invest $20.4 billion to expand broadband in rural areas without adequate internet access. The proposal would raise the bar for rural broadband deployment by making more areas eligible for support and requiring faster service than the Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II reverse auction. In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC seeks comment on continuing the expansion of broadband where it’s lacking by using an efficient reverse auction that builds on the success of the CAF Phase II auction. The Fund would focus on areas currently served by “price cap” carriers, along with areas that were not won in the CAF Phase II auction and other areas that do not currently receive any high-cost universal service support. The official Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requests comment on the following policy proposals for the new fund:

• Make eligible for support any price cap area currently receiving CAF Phase II model-based support but lacking broadband at speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream, 3 Mbps upstream, as well as the areas un-awarded in the CAF Phase II auction.

• Make additional homes and businesses eligible for support by including areas that remain unserved, despite previous expectations that they would be served without subsidies due to estimated lower costs.

• Raise the standard for broadband deployment from the CAF’s 10 Mbps/1 Mbps minimum to at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, with incentives for faster speeds.
• Allocate support through a multi-round reverse auction like that used in last year’s CAF Phase II auction. In that auction, competition reduced the cost of reaching over 700,000 unserved homes and businesses from the $5 billion auction reserve price to $1.488 billion.

• Implement a two-phase approach: 1) In Phase I, target wholly unserved census blocks, using an existing FCC data collection 2) In Phase II, target unserved locations in partially unserved census blocks, using new, more granular data being developed through the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, along with areas not won in Phase I.
• Set a budget of $20.4 billion in high-cost universal service support, making available at least $16 billion for Phase I and the remainder available for Phase II. Both phases would have 10-year support terms.
• Adopt technology-neutral standards, opening the auction to all types of providers that can meet program standards.
• Ensure a smooth transition of support from existing providers to auction winners.
• Include measures to require accountability to ensure that funding is used wisely to expand broadband deployment.

Broadband Mapping Update

In order to identify geographic areas that lack adequate broadband access, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is instituting a new process for collecting fixed broadband data. This proposal would reform the FCC’s broadband deployment data collection rules, and improve the accuracy of the National Broadband Map overseen by the National Telecommunications Information Agency (NTIA).

The order established a new collection process known as the Digital Opportunity Data Collection which require mobile and landline service providers to submit detailed coverage maps to show specific areas they serve at the census block level. The order was praised by third parties such as Microsoft, a leading voice from the private sector to improve broadband coverage data, while acknowledging the order is only a step in the right direction. In general, the order is expected to increase the granularity of the data shared by service providers which should lead to more accurate coverage information.

Presidential Candidates Release Broadband Plans

Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential elections are pitching themselves to rural America this week during their campaign tours across the State of Iowa. Some candidates are seizing this opportunity to launch their rural policy platforms and appeal to rural voters.

On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) announced her plan to deliver high speed broadband coverage to rural areas. As part of her policy platform for rural America, Senator Warren proposed the creation of a new Department of Economic Development which would oversee an $85 billion federal broadband grant program that would provide funding to electricity and telecommunications co-ops, nonprofits, tribes, and local governments. Nationwide carriers would not be eligible for funding.

In her rural platform launch, Senator Warren also said she would back federal legislation that would authorize local governments to construct their own broadband networks. Municipal-owned networks are outlawed in 26 states, including California, but Senator Warren suggested as president she would support federal legislation to lift these bands and authorize municipal broadband networks nationwide.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) published her plan for rural America called “Rebuilding Rural America to Build Our Future,” which would create a $50 billion fund within the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute block grants to rural communities for infrastructure, public assistance, and economic development programs. In addition, Senator Gillibrand promised her administration would spend $60 billion to deliver high-speed internet access in rural areas.

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Microsoft Disputes FCC’s Broadband Availability Data

Microsoft is challenging the Federal Communications Committee’s (FCC) recent broadband-availability reports. According to Microsoft, the FCC’s data overstates the extent to which broadband is actually available throughout the nation. The FCC currently defines broadband as 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. In some areas, however, Microsoft asserts that not all households have access to this standard.

Microsoft has build an interactive tools to demonstrate their findings. Here is one example:

Screen Shot 2019-08-06 at 10.34.14 AM

Select your county at the link and see the results HERE. Scroll down the page to the interactive map.  The FCC disputes these findings in their Order to validate the Nations broadband maps.  More details in FCC Order FCCCIRC 1908-02 which Establishes the Digital Opportunity Data Collection system at this LINK.

 

 

Federal Reserve Bank Report on Broadband Digital Divide

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released its report Disconnected: Seven Lessons on Fixing the Digital Divide on July 31st at a State Broadband Leaders Network Meeting.

CONCLUSION: THREE OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTION

The digital divide is wide and complex. No one group can bridge the divide alone—not government, banks, businesses or community organizations. Each of these groups, however, must play a role if the divide is to be narrowed.

This report identified three specific opportunities for action, which align with the three legs of the digital 1inclusion stool:

1. Research and evaluate the impact of policy on broadband expansion.

Good policy requires good data. Throughout this project, we found research related to the economic affect broadband has on communities. The studies documented the correlation between broadband and economic opportunity, but questions remain as to what policies best encourage broadband expansion. Policies vary greatly from one state to the next, especially as it relates to which types of entities—large carriers, small independent for-profit providers, municipalities and cooperatives—are allowed to build and operate networks. Elected officials would find it easier to make informed decisions if they had access to research on the effectiveness of these policies on boosting broadband deployment and improving affordability. Broader research on improving affordability and adoption would also help inform the field.

2. Support and expand workforce development programs focused on digital skills training.

Digital skills are a must for the in-demand jobs of today and tomorrow. Innovative approaches to preparing workers can provide a pathway to living-wage jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, or, in many cases, even a two-year degree. Simply training workers on basic office-related programs like email and word processing can boost their employability. Registered apprenticeship programs can further expedite the process of developing and onboarding qualified workers. Workforce development programs targeting LMI individuals may also attract interest from banks seeking CRA-related activities, as outlined in Engaging Workforce Development: A Framework for Meeting CRA Obligations by the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas and Kansas City.

3. Support computer donation programs targeting those in need.

Businesses, government agencies, universities and other anchor institutions frequently replace computers in two-year to four-year cycles. Surplus computers have little monetary value, typically just pennies on the dollar. When donated, though, they can make a significant difference—whether the computer goes to a low-income mom pursuing her education, or a student learning to code. A donated computer can be a low-cost, high-impact way to change one’s economic trajectory. Such initiatives, particularly when targeting LMI populations and combined with workforce training programs, could also attract interest from banks seeking CRA-related activities.

The full report, with a long section on rural broadband, including a sidebar on mapping issues, can be downloaded HERE.

RCRC: Restoring Local Control Over Public Infrastructure Act

RCRC has conveyed its support to the Restoring Local Control Over Public Infrastructure Act (Act), authored by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. The Act would overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s order and restore the authority of local governments to make important determinations regarding the siting of wireless facilities in their respective communities.

RCRC believes local officials are best equipped to assess the impacts of new telecommunication facilities on their residents. Federal policies that preempt the application review process and lessen discretion presents significant concerns to California’s rural counties. RCRC supports a regulatory framework that not only empowers local governments to determine the best pathway to viable broadband service in their communities, but also incentivizes broadband deployment to those rural areas that remain unserved and underserved.

RCRC’s support letter can be accessed here. Please contact Tracy Rhine, RCRC Legislative Advocate, at (916) 447-4806 or trhine@rcrcnet.org for more information.

 

In his report at Brookings on 5G Tom Wheeler, former FCC Commissioner identified local control as one of the five hidden issues here. He indicated that 5G would be slow coming to rural communities and the resort to local control would slow the process even more.  More on the local control issue here.

 

AI, Broadband Amendments Catch A Ride

— House lawmakers unanimously approved several amendments dealing with broadband funding and artificial intelligence as part of the second minibus appropriations bill on Wednesday and Thursday. That includes an amendment from Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) requiring the National Science Foundation to assess the social impact of artificial intelligence research it supports.

— On the broadband front: The House signed off on language forbidding the Commerce Department’s NTIA from relying only on the FCC’s carrier-submitted data in any update to its broadband mapping as well as an amendment dictating an additional $1 million be spent on its mapping efforts. In roll-call votes Thursday, lawmakers approved by wide margins amendments that would boost funding for the USDA Re-Connect broadband loan and grant program by $55 million and funding for the Community Connect broadband grant program by $5 million.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

RCRC Rural Broadband Update

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is under mounting pressure to re-evaluate the accuracy of the broadband mapping data used in the commission’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report.  On June 2, 2019, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) became one of the loudest critics yet when he pointed to the disparities between the FCC’s report and a 3rd party study conducted by Microsoft.

In addition, Congressman Doug Collins (R-Georgia), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai requesting the commission consider a more accurate and reliable approach to mapping broadband coverage.  Unreliable broadband coverage data from the FCC paints an overly optimistic picture of broadband coverage in rural areas and undermines the ability of policymakers to prioritize funding for areas that are truly underserved.  More members are calling for improvements to broadband mapping data to better address the digital divide and improve broadband coverage in rural areas.

Source: RCRC Barbed Wire Newsletter

Supervisors Deny 70 Household Critical Infrastructure

Note:  This letter to The Union Editor was submitted on 30 May 2019

Nevada County supervisors oppose new cell tower read the headline!

“Nevada County Supervisor Ed Scofield said he usually supports new cell towers. However, he wasn’t going to approve one at 13083 Wildlife Lane.
Speaking near the end of a Tuesday hearing for a tower, Scofield said the proposed 110-foot AT&T tower would bring broadband access to only some 70 homes.”
In today’s digital world Broadband access has become critical infrastructure, just like water, power and waste management according to the Brookings Institute, California Public Utilities Commission, the Federal Communication Commission and other future assessing organizations.
Would the Supervisors deny 70 households access to water, power, or waste management? No! So why do they deny 70 homes access to more economic opportunity, better education, and healthcare that is available on this critical infrastructure called broadband?
I have invested 1,000 of hours promoting broadband in Nevada County, mapping broadband deficiencies, working with Congress and the FCC to promote federal investment in rural broadband. Now that it has arrived Supervisor Schofield says, “We do not need that” Really, how clueless to the needs of modern digital society can a Supervisor be?
This kind of leadership is destroying the economic potential of a beautiful County. It would help if Nevada County had a more knowledgeable representative.