Thursday, May 12, 2022

Administration favors fiber advanced telecom infrastructure for IIJA funding. Law could advantage governments and utility cooperatives.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law-funded networks should be built to stand the test of time and be fast enough to accommodate current and future needs. Given current demand and evolving technologies, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law programs should prioritize the fastest speeds possible and require a minimum of at least 100/20 Mbps. Relatedly, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding should prioritize fiber-to-the-home wherever practical to future-proof the infrastructure. At the same time, respondents expressed the need for states to have flexibility to utilize both fixed and wireless technologies to fully reach all Americans and called for the ability to substitute fixed wireless and satellite options where fiber is not cost-effective or where no provider is willing to offer fiber. (Emphasis added)

The administration today clearly affirmed its preference for fiber optics for advanced telecom delivery infrastructure funded by the Infrastructure Investment of Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA), shifting away from the technology neutral policy of the 1996 Telecom Act.

The IIJA prioritizes grant funding for up to 75 percent of capital costs of deploying advanced telecommunications infrastructure for projects where at least 80 percent of the premises to be served are not advertised landline or wireless connectivity of at least 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.

But capital project construction is only part of the overall cost. The fiber infrastructure must also be maintained and repaired. Field electronic equipment must be updated and replaced every several years. These additional costs may deter a commercial entity that must earn a profit for its investors from building fiber in the sparsely populated areas deemed "unserved" under the IIJA and prioritized for funding. That would favor governmental operators and consumer utility cooperatives that operate without the burden of generating profits and paying income taxes, particularly if the federal government deems that grants awarded under the IIJA are taxable income.

Thursday, May 05, 2022

U.S. advanced telecom policy has produced highly fragmented infrastructure, wide access disparities

Before the National Broadband Plan, policy groups did not truly work together to create broadband implementation strategy, Baller said. The project in which he was involved helped establish that a national unified plan for expansion was necessary in order for internet access to actually increase.Groups did not “think how their interests and others worked together,” he said.
 
This unified approach still impacts the strategy behind implementation today of Congress’ 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Further, his experiences consulting with Google’s Fiber for Communities project influenced how he has approached his work to ensure implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
 
The goal is to maximize the effect to close the digital divide. And the tool to do that, according to Baller, is to focus on local broadband deployments: Look at where incumbents lagging in their efforts to deploy higher capacity broadband.
 
 
This assessment is way off the mark. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan issued in 2010 hasn't produced a unified national approach to modernizing the nation's outdated copper-based telecommunications delivery infrastructure to fiber. Instead, it's highly fragmented with only about a third of all homes with access to fiber connections from a mix of investor-owned, utility cooperative and government owned infrastructure. In many areas, stopgap wireless technologies have been employed to fill the gaps. Nor does the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) set a unified national approach or infrastructure standard, instead allocating grants to the states based on the degree to which they fall short of an arbitrary minimum "broadband" throughput.
 
The local municipal focus advocated here has accentuated the fragmentation, with policymakers making patchwork efforts to increase "broadband throughput" instead of regarding advanced telecommunications infrastructure more widely in a regional and interstate context as universal telephone service was before it.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Infrastructure Bill "broadband mapping" timeline: The fighting begins this fall

Washington, March 31, 2022 – The chair of the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that the improved broadband maps needed to adequately disburse billions in federal infrastructure dollars will come this fall. During a House Energy and Commerce Committee Oversight hearing Thursday, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said, “Absolutely, yes. We will have [complete] maps in the fall.”

Completed Maps Will ‘Absolutely’ Be Available This Fall, FCC’s Rosenworcel Says

That will start the clock on multiple rounds of disputes over the accuracy of the maps as well as proposed advanced telecom infrastructure projects whose eligibility for 75 percent planning and construction grant funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA)  is linked to the maps. The maps will determine projects ineligible for funding because less than 80 percent of addresses are deemed under IIJA provisions as "unserved:" areas where no incumbent providers offer "broadband" service of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up

Here's the timeline of how these battles will likely play out, assuming the maps are issued as projected by the fall:

Fall 2022: FCC releases maps for state input as to their accuracy.

Fall 2022-Spring/Summer 2023: States dispute maps accuracy claiming they overstate “served” areas as with prior FCC "broadband maps."

Fall 2023:  After FCC deems new maps accurate, states and incumbents/WISPs continue to disagree over their accuracy.

Late 2023-Early 2024: Incumbents/ WISPs file challenges of proposed projects with states, contending they cover “served” areas.

Summer/fall 2024: Incumbents/WISPs appeal state determinations to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) as allowed by the IIJA.

Early 2025: States and incumbents/WISPs appeal NTIA determinations to the courts.

Friday, March 25, 2022

IIJA language on “digital discrimination:” Happy talk with no real world impact.

Title V and specifically Section 60506 of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) enacted in November 2021 contains provisions titled “digital discrimination.” They state federal policy that “insofar as technically and economically feasible— subscribers should benefit from equal access to broadband internet access service within the service area of a provider of such service.” Section 60506 defines ‘‘equal access’’ as “the equal opportunity to subscribe to an offered service that provides comparable speeds, capacities, latency, and other quality of service metrics in a given area, for comparable terms and conditions.”

It directs the Federal Communications Commission to take steps to ensure that “all people of the United States benefit from equal access to broadband internet access service” and adopt rules by November 2023 to facilitate equal access to broadband internet access service, “taking into account the issues of technical and economic feasibility presented by that objective, including— preventing digital discrimination of access based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin and identifying necessary steps for the FCC to take to eliminate discrimination.”

That definition sounds in language similar to provisions of Title II of the Communications Act that regards telecommunications as a common carrier utility and mandates reasonable requests for service to be honored while barring neighborhood discrimination. The FCC’s Open Internet rulemaking adopted in 2015 applied Title II to Internet protocol-enabled advanced telecommunications services. It was repealed and replaced in 2018. The Biden administration in a July 2021 executive order urged the FCC to readopt the 2015 Open Internet rulemaking.

The IIJA also requires the FCC to report to Congress on the FCC’s options for improving its effectiveness in achieving the universal service goals. The report, due by August 15, “will focus on examining options and making recommendations for Commission and Congressional actions toward achieving those goals,” according to a proceeding the FCC opened to gather public comment.

The administration is more likely to move the nation toward universal service as it was initially inclined to do by subsidizing public sector and consumer cooperative owned advanced telecommunications infrastructure, aptly noting these entities don’t operate with the economic burden of earning profits for their shareholders. The administration abandoned that stance in negotiations leading up to the IIJA’s enactment last year.

While few would object to Section 60506’s provisions, they are essentially happy talk with no real world impact. In the predominant market-based U.S. telecommunications landscape, commercial providers have incentive to discriminate since their shareholders naturally object to serving neighborhoods that are less profitable. That’s why only about a third of American homes that should have been connected to modern fiber optic delivered advanced telecommunications infrastructure at least a decade ago are not and still have copper telephone connections.

Section 60506’s language while nominally barring “digital discrimination” gives commercial deployers an out with exculpatory language, applying only where “economically feasible.” Fiber connections simply aren’t economically feasible within the business models of investor-owned providers, an economic reality seemingly unacknowledged by Section 60506. Digital discrimination is baked into the market segmentation strategies of those business models that favor newer and more densely developed neighborhoods in urban and suburban areas. Additionally, commercial providers have and will continue to argue it’s not technologically feasible to deploy fiber connections to homes and businesses within their service territories citing challenging geography.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

O'Rielly incorrect on IIJA advanced telecom infrastructure funding eligibility

Former FCC Commissioner O'Rielly Emphasizes 'Unserved' As Priority for Infrastructure Bill Funds : Broadband Breakfast:

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2022 – Setting the speed threshold too high for federal infrastructure funding will move money away from a focus on the unserved, said a former Federal Communications Commissioner.

Mike O’Rielly said on a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event late last month that the 100 Megabits per second download and 20 Mbps requirement for money from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act will see funding flow to better-connected areas, which cost less to update versus installing basic speeds in unserved areas. The argument is in-line with critics who say that speeds in some rougher and harder-to-reach areas require at least some connectivity at first, with gradual increases.

Just the opposite. The language of the legislation defines "unserved" areas as eligible for funding as those where no less than 80 percent of addresses are not offered service with throughput of at least 25 Mpbs down and 20 Mbps up.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Charter CEO: Focus on symmetrical speeds due to marketing, not need | Fierce Telecom

Charter CEO: Focus on symmetrical speeds due to marketing, not need | Fierce Telecom: Echoing comments made by Comcast CEO Brian Roberts earlier in the week, Rutledge dismissed the competitive threat from fixed wireless access technology, arguing it will fall by the wayside much like DSL has as bandwidth and speed demands rise.

Mettalic COAX cable TV distribution infrastructure won’t be able to keep up either. The U.S. should have started a massive transition to fiber to the premise (FTTP) advanced telecom infrastructure 30 years ago. Instead, it adopted a laissez faire policy of allowing a wild west, constrained commercial market in "broadband" bandwidth. That created perverse incentive for legacy telephone and cable companies to sell higher bandwidth tiers at a price premium rather than invest in FTTP that would effectively end the scarcity-driven "broadband" market created by their underinvestment in distribution infrastructure.

Now the nation is caught in a never ending game of catch up, attempting to keep the advanced telecom infrastructure sufficient to end user needs with the minimum possible investment. That's beneficial to shareholders of these companies. But despite their relatively much smaller number, national policy of the past three decades has accorded their interests far greater weight than the broader public's.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Infrastructure Act gives FCC option to route around “broadband map” delays

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allocates $43.45 billion in grants to the states for the construction of advanced telecommunications infrastructure. The IIJA links the amount of that funding for a given state to geographic service availability data collected by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission as required by the 2020 Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act. That data is integral to determining eligible infrastructure projects for which the states can fund up to 75 percent of construction costs. The FCC announced this week announced data as of June 30, 2022 is due to the FCC by September 1, 2022.

However, final datasets are likely be delayed into 2023 and possibly beyond. Provisions of the DATA Act and FCC regulations implementing it authorizing state, local, and tribal governments and other entities or individuals to challenge their accuracy. The IIJA requires the FCC to timely resolve challenges within 90 days after the final response by a provider to a challenge.

States and local governments have complained for years FCC data overstates the availability of landline and mobile wireless advanced telecommunications availability. That historical point of tension between federal and state/local government will likely to be heightened given the large amount of funding the IIJA appropriates for advanced telecommunications infrastructure. Some states anxious to remedy infrastructure deficits magnified over the past two years by pandemic public health measures have developed their own data and suggested it should be utilized rather than the FCC’s for IIJA funding given the urgent funding need.

Additionally, the IIJA requires states to establish a process allow nonprofits, local governments and service providers to challenge grant awards. The IIJA also authorizes the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to modify the challenge process and overturn state determinations on challenges. Challenges to these IIJA funded projects are likely from incumbent commercial landline and wireless service providers claiming a proposed infrastructure project would “overbuild” their proprietary infrastructure and duplicate their advertised services as shown in availability data.

The IIJA provides the FCC the option to circumvent the service availability data-based eligibility standard and associated controversy and delay. Section 60102(a) of the IIJA defines project eligibility based on either the availability data being compiled by the FCC or for areas lacking access to “broadband service” as defined by the FCC’s 2018 Internet Freedom rulemaking “or any successor regulation.”

Such a regulation could be in the offing. In a July 2021 executive order, President Joe Biden encouraged the FCC to adopt new rules similar to the FCC’s superseded 2015 Open Internet rulemaking that classified Internet protocol delivered service as telecommunications utilities regulated under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. This gives the FCC an opportunity to redefine “broadband service” using a utility delivery infrastructure definition and specifically fiber optic infrastructure.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Hope is not a strategy: America's aspirational and unrealistic advanced telecom infrastructure policy cannot attain universal access

It's been said that hope is not a strategy. The United States doesn't truly have a strategy to attain universal access to advanced telecommunications service for all Americans because its telecom policy of the past 25 years is largely aspirational. It's based on the hope that:

  1. By having the telephone companies report annually on the broadband bandwidth they sell in a given census block, unspecified actions can be taken to increase competition notwithstanding that telecom infrastructure like other utilities is a natural monopoly.
  2. Increased competition in turn will encourage investment in areas where the return on infrastructure is riskier, ensuring relative parity of access to advanced telecommunications among urban and less urbanized areas of the nation.
  3. By creating "broadband maps" (based on #1) delineating levels of throughput offered by various wireless and landline technologies, the maps will guide early and efficient construction of advanced telecommunications infrastructure by showing where it’s needed in order to ensure universal access to advanced telecommunications.
  4. The maps can be updated in 2022 to show where throughput is the lowest to guide federal grant subsidies to states to cover 75 percent of the cost of building advanced telecommunications distribution infrastructure at least comparable to that of existing cable TV providers.