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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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.

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

Today: FCC 5G Infrastructure Push

— Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) are today bringing back their STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, a measure aimed at speeding up 5G wireless buildout. The proposal drew fierce pushback during the last Congress from local governments that viewed it as federal overreach. Although the two sponsors had suggested they would take those concerns into account, the new version is no different than what they unveiled last summer. “Making 5G technology a reality has been a priority for me since I began serving on the Commerce Committee,” Thune said

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

This has implication for all rural communities, especially those communities trying to preserve their historical charm. Experience has shown that mmWave 5G needs to have a small cell site on every block, see details HERE and HERE.

Chicago_Verizon 5G minitower
Ugly Chicago Mini-Cell Tower

Those providers that are using low band (600-800MHz) 5G will be more welcome in rural communities as fewer cell sites are needed, reducing line of site requirements. The downside is low band 5G cannot provide the mind-blowing speeds that mmWave 5G does. Will rural towns, cities, and neighborhoods get to pick their provider and the technology used to provide 5G under the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, or do they get whoever shows up? Verizon is using a mmWave strategy, AT&T a mixed approach, while T-Mobile/Sprint is planning to use low band and existing 4G frequencies for their 5G services. More decisions will depend on the spectrum the FCC is offering for 5G services, both mobile and fixed.

This is going to be an ugly fight to keep ugly technology out of rural towns and villages. If I were responsible for 5G implementation, I would be working with designers to develop a classic mini-cell enclosure, to hide the ugly electronics and wire bundles.  Your thoughts?

Picking Up The Broadband Tab

— Internet connectivity is back in the spotlight today as Trump meets with Democratic leaders to discuss how to pay for a possible $2 trillion infrastructure plan (which could help fund both rural broadband and AI). House Energy and Commerce, meanwhile, holds a hearing on Democrats’ legislation slating $40 billion for broadband. “The only way we’re going to get rural broadband deployment is with money,” telecom subcommittee chair Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) told John. “There just isn’t a business case to do it.” The big question: Where’s this cash coming from?

— Doyle expressed interest in auctioning C-band airwaves, which he says could generate tens of billions of dollars for broadband buildout. Former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn (now a T-Mobile adviser) will testify that $40 billion is necessary and should go toward gigabit-speed internet.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

Note: The Infrastructure talks have broken up due to some name calling by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

Pelosi ratchets up rhetoric, says Trump may have committed ‘impeachable offense’ in ‘plain sight’

Trump walks out of the meeting after three minutes.   This is not how to get critical infrastructure plan in place.  Your thoughts?

Top Dem Launches Rural Broadband Task Force Amid Infrastructure Talks

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Monday announced the creation of an all-Democrat task force on rural broadband, signaling his support for the inclusion of broadband funding in any infrastructure package.

The move comes as Democratic leaders pursue a potential $2 trillion infrastructure deal with President Trump, with both sides saying rural broadband would likely be included.

“It’s unacceptable in 2019 that many rural communities have limited to no access to the internet,” Clyburn said in a statement. “If rural America is to thrive in the 21st century information economy, it must have affordable and accessible internet service to every community.”

The group of 17 House Democrats aims to ensure federal funding for rural broadband is spent “effectively” and that legislation is passed to expand internet access to all Americans by 2025, according to a statement about the new coalition. Its members include lawmakers representing rural districts, as well as some progressive leaders like Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

“Majority Whip Clyburn and the President agreed on the need to include significant funding for rural broadband in the package,” the statement reads.

Continue Reading at The Hill

Trump promised to put rural broadband in his previous budgets and it did not happen. Let’s hope this time it is a real deal!