RCRC: Broadband Update

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.

 

Broadband Bills to Keep Tabs On

Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) last week offered a double dose of broadband : the Rural Broadband Investment Tax Credit Act, which would create a tax credit to help spur state and local broadband efforts, and the Rural Broadband Financing Flexibility Act, allowing state and local governments to use tax-exempt bonds to help stand up public-private rural broadband projects. House Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug Collins (R-Ga.), meanwhile, reintroduced his Gigabit Opportunity Act, H.R. 5082 (116), aimed at helping state governors offer tax incentives for providers offering fast internet service.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

RCRC: Broadband Update

This week, Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada), both members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, announced the introduction of their Broadband Parity Act, bipartisan legislation that would bring all federal broadband programs to the current definition of what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines as high-speed internet (currently 25/3 Mbps).

This bill would ensure that all communities receiving federal broadband support have access to internet service that is actually at “broadband” speeds.  Currently, there are over twenty federal broadband programs promoting access to fixed broadband service.  However, some programs define an area as “served” when service is at 25/3 Mbps speeds, while others define being served as having access to much slower 10/1 Mbps speeds.  This discrepancy in bandwidth speeds means that the federal government is often investing in inadequate broadband services.  This bill will remove such inconsistencies in service and improve broadband access for rural America.  Details on the bill can be accessed here.

Source: RCRC Newsletter

Senators Capito, Rosen Introduce Broadband Parity Act

Sen Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)  |  Press Release  |  US Senate

Sens Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) announced the introduction of their Broadband Parity Act, bipartisan legislation that would bring all federal broadband programs to the current definition of what the Federal Communications Commission defines as high-speed internet (currently 25/3 Mbps). Their bill would ensure that all communities and entities receiving federal broadband support have access to internet service that is actually at broadband speeds. Currently, there are over twenty federal broadband programs promoting access to fixed broadband service. However, each program follows its own set of guidelines for bandwidth speed. While some programs define an area as “served” when service is at 25/3 Mbps speeds, others define being served as having access to much slower 10/1 Mbps speeds. The discrepancy in bandwidth speeds means that the federal government is often investing in inadequate broadband services. The bill will remove inconsistencies in service and improve broadband access across the country, which is an essential step toward all Americans having equal access to healthcare, education, and economic opportunity.

“Access to high-speed internet is essential for economic growth, job creation, and an improved quality of life. Unfortunately, in states like West Virginia, many of our rural communities are being left behind as the digital divide grows,” Sen Capito said. “I’m glad to partner with Senator Rosen on this bill that will contribute to our ongoing efforts to close the digital divide by bringing parity on what defines high-speed broadband across all federal broadband programs.”

Source: Benton Institute Newsletter

Politico: Once More, With Broadband?

— FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks is calling on the commission to “conduct a data driven 10-year look-back on how our [broadband subsidy] program has effectively performed in bringing broadband to our remote areas,” as he put it during recent remarks before the Broadband Communities Conference: “I don’t want to wake up in 10 years and live in a world where the FCC does not have any better understanding of how and why we still find significant numbers of our communities left out of our digital world.” The Democratic commissioner said such an assessment would help the FCC develop its planned Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

House Democrat Unveils Broadband Legislation

— Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) on Friday unveiled two bills aimed at improving broadband connectivity, one by requiring broadband providers to annually report actual speed data to the FCC and another to allow governments, cooperatives and small providers to use Agriculture Department grant funding for collecting data about locally available broadband service. “Our rural communities need broadband internet that is accessible, reliable, and matches their internet needs and these measures are important steps to closing the digital divide,” said Delgado, who recently held a field hearing with FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

Doyle Previews Broadband Mapping Markup

— The House Energy and Commerce telecom subcommittee will soon move to mark up legislation to improve the government’s mapping of broadband data, which lawmakers have long complained is riddled with errors. And the panel will likely use the Broadband DATA Act, H.R. 4229, from Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), as the base. “I think the Loebsack bill will be the vehicle it runs through,” subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) told reporters this week. “But I think we’re going to be taking bits and pieces of the other bills, too.”

— Taking out the ‘garbage’: “We can’t have a system at the FCC when it comes to mapping where it’s garbage in and garbage out, because that’s what it is,” Loebsack said. Ohio Rep. Bob Latta , the top Republican on Doyle’s panel and a backer of the Broadband DATA Act, said, “This is something we can get done.”

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

Make policy on bad maps is not good policymaking.  Good maps are essential to good governance, and it is time for the FCC to step up to the challenge.

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.

RCRC: Rural Broadband Update

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai is expected to introduce a regulatory order in August that would require more reporting data from broadband carriers to increase the accuracy of the national broadband coverage map.  Over the last several months, the FCC has faced scrutiny over the accuracy of the national broadband map, which is used by federal agencies to determine areas that lack reliable broadband coverage.

Democrats and Republicans have criticized the FCC for relying on data reported by nationwide carriers that appears to overstate the availability of internet access in some areas.

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit held a hearing this week on “Building Opportunity in Rural America through Affordable, Reliable and High-Speed Broadband.”  During his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman David Scott (D-Georgia) urged FCC Chairman Pai to allow stakeholders from rural America to play a role in the rulemaking process.  The FCC is scheduled to invest billions of dollars in rural broadband over the next several years and Chairman Scott suggested rural areas should be involved in the process.

The question is, how many years will pass before the Broadband Maps are brought up to date?  You cannot fix a problem with money unless you know where the problem is!

American Broadband Buildout Act Would Dedicate $5 Billion to Rural Broadband

The American Broadband Buildout Act, introduced by Senators Susan M. Collins and Doug Jones, would make $5 billion available to help bring broadband to rural areas where the service is not currently available and to support digital literacy and public awareness campaigns.

The funding would come in the form of grants through a program administered by the Federal Communications Commission.

“The legislation would help ensure that rural Americans have access to broadband services at speeds they need to fully participate in the benefits of our modern society and economy,” said Collins in a statement introducing the bill.

American Broadband Buildout Act
Key points of the act include:

  • Funded projects must be in unserved areas.
  • The federal funding must be matched through public-private partnerships between the broadband service provider and the state in which the broadband service will be deployed.
  • Projects must be designed to be “future proof,” meaning the infrastructure must be capable of delivering higher speeds as broadband demand increases.
  • Projects in states that have traditionally lagged behind the national average in terms of broadband subscribers would be prioritized.
  • Some funding would go to digital literacy and public awareness campaigns, with the goal of helping to attract employers to rural areas and addressing the disparity in adoption rates between rural and urban users.

Continue reading HERE.