FCC talking about spending caps on Universal Service Funds?!

Apparently FCC Chair Pai is talking about spending caps on Universal Service Funds.

Here is Benton Foundation’s response

The Benton Foundation unequivocally opposes any proposals from the Federal Communications Commission that would allow the FCC to shirk its responsibilities to meet its Congressionally-mandated mission. The FCC is supposed to ensure:

  • Quality services are available at just, reasonable, and affordable rates.

  • Access to advanced telecommunications and information services are provided in all regions of the Nation.

  • Consumers in all regions of the Nation, including low-income consumers and those in rural, insular, and high cost areas, have access to telecommunications and information services, including interexchange services and advanced telecommunications and information services, that are reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas and that are available at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates charged for similar services in urban areas.

  • There are specific, predictable, and sufficient Federal and State mechanisms to preserve and advance universal service.

  • Elementary and secondary schools and classrooms, health care providers, and libraries should have access to advanced telecommunications services.

And according to Politico, here’s the response from other FCC Commissioners…

FCC SUBSIDY CAP PUSHBACK — Count FCC Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) as critics of a proposal from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to explore a spending cap on telecom subsidies to expand broadband access. “Any effort that could harm classroom learning, broadband deployment, rural health opportunities, or connecting more individuals should be shelved and never considered again,” Markey said of the FCC proposal, which would target Universal Service Fund programs.

— Rosenworcel said the item, which was circulated among commissioners Tuesday, “flies in the face of the agency’s own rhetoric about bridging the digital divide.” The measure seeks comment on what the cap should be, including whether it should be set at $11.4 billion, the sum of all USF program budgets in 2018. (Actual disbursements from the fund were about $9.6 billion that year.) Still, the idea has strong support from Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who voted to approve it Tuesday, calling an overall spending cap “overdue and incredibly needed.”

I’ve been looking for the circulated proposal, but as often the case that doesn’t seem to be available. There’s nothing on the Universal Service Headlines. Maybe we’ll see more later – maybe readers will help me out!

MN House committee bumps broadband funding to $100 million for biennium

Today the House Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division met to discussion a few bills, including two on broadband. In short – Rep Kresha introduced a bill (HF1137) that is very similar to an earlier bill but increases the appropriation for broadband grants to $100 million. The previous bill originally requested $70 million; but added a one time increase of $15 million just the other day.

The second bill (HF367) asked that a portion of that funding be set aside for deployment of middle mile infrastructure in Willow River, Pine City, Cromwell, and Aitkin.

Both were referred to Ways and Means. There was some concern that budgets were being set before the budget targets were handed down to committees. Although Representative (and Committee Chair) Pelowski seemed to feel that they should go big with bipartisan and enthusiastic support. There was also concern that HF367 might change how the popular grant program would be run.

(You can my live video via Twitter https://twitter.com/AnnT/status/1105891510816378880)

Here are more complete notes:

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Walz budget provides boost to rural Minnesota

AgriNews highlights ways in which Governor Walz’s budget supports rural Minnesota…

Gov. Tim Walz’s two-year, $49.5 billion budget has several provisions for farmers and rural Minnesota.

Including broadband…

Another proposal in his budget intended to touch every corner of the state is a $70 million statewide broadband initiative to give all Minnesota homes and farms high-speed internet access by 2022. Walz compared the effort to electrification of the state.


How much broadband does $100 million of federal funding buy in MN?

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Frontier Communications has received over $100 million in federal grants to improve rural broadband in Minnesota over the past four years, yet complaints about its internet service suffuse a state investigation of the company.

Minnesota regulators last year commissioned an inquiry into Frontier after fielding numerous complaints. In January, the Minnesota Department of Commerce issued a report concluding Frontier may have broken at least 35 state laws and failed its customers with shoddy service and inadequate network investment.

The report also questioned how Frontier used the federal grant money. Information submitted to the state by Frontier “has been too minimal” for utility regulators to certify that the grants from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Connect America Fund were used appropriately, the Commerce Department said.

“It is obvious to anyone who bothers to look that Frontier is a terrible investment for the federal government,” said Christopher Mitchell, community broadband director for the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Frontier strongly disputes the entire Commerce Department report and expects this week to file a formal response with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The company said in a statement that it is in compliance with all FCC requirements for the Connect America money.

Frontier is not alone is accepting money…

It is one of several large phone companies collecting hundreds of millions of dollars from the Connect America Fund, and it says it has filed all requisite FCC reports and met all its obligations.

Connect America is aimed at FCC-designated rural areas where broadband is deemed too costly for private investment without public subsidies. The program has been criticized for requirements on broadband speed that use outdated government standards.

In 2015 the fund awarded $9 billion over six years to several large U.S. wireline carriers. Money from the 2015 allotment, dubbed Phase 2, has been used extensively in Minnesota by both Frontier and Monroe, La.-based CenturyLink.

Companies participating in Phase 2 must provide download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 1 Mbps. That target was set when the FCC standard for download speeds was 4 Mbps. But by 2015, the FCC had redefined broadband as 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.

Essentially, Connect America phase 2 projects were obsolete before they rolled out, Mitchell said. “It’s totally wasteful.”

Bill Coleman, owner of St. Paul-based Community Technology Advisors, said that 10 Mbps service is an improvement for some remote areas. Also, the lower — and therefore less costly — standard allowed the FCC to spread Connect America funding over a larger area, he noted.

“But whether it positions Minnesota or any state for rural economic vitality, I would say no,” said Coleman, who works with small communities on telecommunications issues.

How much federal funding has been spent?

Federal records show that Frontier has already been allotted $109.5 million for Minnesota through 2018. The company completed more Connect America projects by the end of 2017 than it was obligated to finish, records show, and Frontier said that was also true for 2018.

CenturyLink, Minnesota’s largest wireline provider with 430,000 customers, received Phase 2 Connect America funding of $505.7 million annually for six years. For Minnesota, CenturyLink gets $54 million each year. The company says it expects to have completed more than 60,000 Connect America-funded projects by the end of March.

CenturyLink and Frontier, not surprising given their size, have been targets of various grievances to the PUC.

The PUC logged 216 service complaints about CenturyLink from Jan. 1, 2017, through Feb. 28, 2018, said Dan Wolf, the PUC’s executive director, in an e-mail. During the same time, 63 were filed about Frontier.

Is the FCC minimal requirement enough?

Frontier and CenturyLink said they annually report the status of Connect America projects to the FCC. Both companies said that many locations under the program are eligible for download and upload speeds that are faster than 10/1 Mbps.

A report last summer from the Grand Rapids-based Blandin Foundation concluded that it is difficult to gauge the effects of Phase 2 Connect America investments in Minnesota. “The lack of transparency and accountability in [the program] has been challenging and frustrating,” the report said.

Connect America-funded networks don’t meet Minnesota’s own definition of broadband, which is the same as the FCC’s current characterization: 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.



FCC pledges more funding for rural broadband deployment

From the FCC

WASHINGTON, February 25, 2019—The Federal Communications Commission today offered an additional $67 million in annual support to certain rural broadband providers that could bring improved service to nearly 110,000 homes and businesses in rural communities
across 43 states. Carriers that accept the offer must expand the availability of broadband service delivering at least 25 Mbps downloads/3 Mbps uploads to their rural customers.

Carriers have 30 days to decide whether to accept the additional funding.
Closing the digital divide is the FCC’s top priority. The Connect America Fund is key to this effort, providing funding in sparsely populated rural areas where the cost of providing and deploying service can be high.
The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau made the offer of additional support to 207 rural rateof-return carriers that receive funding through the Connect America Fund’s Alternative Connect America Cost Model, or A-CAM. In return for this increased funding, the providers
must significantly expand the availability of service delivering at least 25/3 Mbps speeds in locations which otherwise would have received 10/1 Mbps or worse service, thereby better meeting the needs of consumers and businesses in today’s online world.

Interesting to see the push for 25/3 access, which is the MN State speed goal for 2022. The speed goal for 2026 is 100/20.

Rep Kresha introduced HF 1137 – $100 million for broadband funding

The Brainerd Dispatch reports…

Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, authored a bill, H.F. 1137, that would provide $100 million to improve high-speed internet access for unserved and underserved areas of the state.

Kresha has been a strong proponent of broadband expansion throughout his first six years in the House and has successfully authored previous legislation to fund Minnesota’s Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program, according to a new release.

Here’s more info on the bill:

White House report: how the Federal Government can increase broadband access

The White House releases a report on broadband…

This report outlines a vision for how the Federal Government can increase broadband access and actions that Agencies are taking to increase private-sector investment in broadband. Previous attempts to expand broadband connectivity have made progress and provided valuable lessons that guide this Initiative. The report’s recommendations are grouped into three categories: streamlining Federal permitting processes to speed broadband deployment, leveraging Federal assets to lower the cost of broadband buildouts, and maximizing the impact of Federal funding.

Here are the actions they highlight in the report:

  1. Launch and Effectively Execute $600 million in New Federal Investment in Rural Broadband, Using Strategies to Spur Private-Sector Capital and Maximize the Value of Taxpayer Dollars.
  2. Leverage the Department of the Interior (DOI) Towers for Communications Use.
  3. Provide Tools for Expedited Access to Federal Assets in Priority Markets.
  4. Create One-Stop for Broadband Permitting Information.
  5. Revise Common Application Form and Quarterly Metrics for Permit Requests.