FCC calibrates testing for CAF-supported Carrier networks

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission today approved performance testing procedures for carriers receiving Connect America Fund support to deploy fixed broadband networks to unserved Americans living in rural areas, helping to ensure that rural Americans have access to the same high-quality networks as Americans in urban areas.

Here are the specifics…

In response to Petitions for Reconsideration and Applications for Review of an earlier bureaulevel Performance Measure Order, the FCC today maintained the existing requirement that carriers conduct quarterly speed and latency tests between specified numbers of active subscribers’ homes and the Internet, and made targeted modifications to the testing procedures, including:

· Modifying the schedule for commencing testing by basing it on the deployment obligations specific to each Connect America Fund support mechanism;

· Implementing a new pre-testing period that will allow carriers to become familiar with testing procedures without facing a loss of support for failure to meet the requirements;

· Allowing greater flexibility to carriers in identifying which customer locations should be tested and selecting the endpoints for testing broadband connections

Minnesota and Blandin Foundation get nice nod from Christopher Ali as broadband instigators

Telecometitor has a nice feature on Professor Christopher Ali of the University of Virginia. He researches broadband policy noting…

In comparing what he hears today with what people have told the FCC and USDA in the past, Ali said, “the conversation hasn’t changed at all.”

We still hear that rural areas need broadband and people are “frustrated” because “large telecom is gobbling up the subsidies,” he said.

He also mentions Minnesota and the Blandin Foundation…

Ali singled out several success stories he encountered in his research, including a couple from Minnesota, where the Blandin Foundation has played a key role in spurring rural broadband deployment. In Rock County, Minnesota the community managed to build a fiber-to-the-home network to reach nearly 100% of the 10,000 people in the area. The modern infrastructure helped attract a shrimp company that wanted to set up operations there and although the company ultimately opted against that, the reason was unrelated to broadband but instead related to other Minnesota regulations.

Another success story comes from Winthrop County, Minnesota, where RS Fiber Cooperative built a broadband network that attracted a satellite medical college that required high-speed connectivity, Ali noted.

Also Minnesota gets a nod for our speed goals…

Asked about what the broadband speed target should be, Ali said “100/100 would be amazing” and noted that this is the target that the state of Minnesota has used successfully.

The 2026 speed goals are actually 100/20 (100 Mbps down and 20 up) but anyone applying for broadband grants must build networks that are scalable to 100/100.

Latest Primer on Net Neutrality Update

Thanks to the Benton Foundation for creating a Cliff Notes-like cheat sheet on the latest chapter of Net Neutrality; yesterday the US Court of Appeals issued a decision…

We uphold the 2018 Order, with two exceptions. First, the Court concludes that the Federal Communications Commission has not shown legal authority to issue its Preemption Directive, which would have barred states from imposing any rule or requirement that the FCC “repealed or decided to refrain from imposing” in the Order or that is “more stringent” than the Order. 2018 Order ¶ 195. The Court accordingly vacates that portion of the Order. Second, we remand the Order to the agency on three discrete issues: (1) The Order failed to examine the implications of its decisions for public safety; (2) the Order does not sufficiently explain what reclassification will mean for regulation of pole attachments; and (3) the agency did not adequately address Petitioners’ concerns about the effects of broadband reclassification on the Lifeline Program. Despite the Commission’s failure to adequately consider the 2018 Order’s impact on public safety, pole-attachment regulation, and the Lifeline Program and despite our vacatur of the Preemption Directive, we decline to vacate the 2018 Order in its entirety…

Check out the page for everything you could want to know in record time!

Bicameral Bill Introduces to Increase Access To Broadband Service For Low-Income Americans

From Senator Durbin’s press release (Sen Klobuchar is co-signer)…

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18) today introduced a bicameral bill that would increase access to broadband service for low-income urban and rural Americans.  The Promoting Access to Broadband Act would help states increase awareness of, and enrollment in, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline program, which aims to help low-income households pay for their telephone and broadband service charges by providing a monthly subsidy of $9.25.  Enrollment in the Lifeline program remains extremely low nationwide. …

Along with Durbin and Maloney, the Promoting Access to Broadband Act is also cosponsored by Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 50 percent of non-broadband users cite cost as a reason that they do not have broadband at home, with 21 percent citing cost as the most important reason they do not have broadband.  In 2017, the Lifeline program had just a 28 percent participation rate nationwide.

The Promoting Access to Broadband Act would do the following:

  • Award grants to at least five states;
  • Direct the FCC to consider several factors in evaluating the applications, including: states that have a higher number of covered individuals, states with plans with the potential to reach a higher percentage of eligible-but-not-enrolled households, and the geographic diversity of the applicants;
  • Allow states to use the funds for a variety of Lifeline enrollment efforts, including:
    • Informing Medicaid enrollees or SNAP participants of potential eligibility in the Lifeline program,
    • Providing these individuals with information about how to apply for the Lifeline program,
    • Partnering with non-profit and community-based organizations to provide individuals with assistance applying for Lifeline and information about product and technology choices; and
  • Require the FCC to issue a report to Congress within a year of establishing the grant program evaluating the program’s effectiveness.

The bill is supported by the National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients; the United Church of Christ, OC Inc.; the National Digital Inclusion Alliance; Third Way; and Public Knowledge.

FCC dedicates 41.5 billion to broadband: $1.8 million in MN

BroadbandBreakfast reports…

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday announced that it had authorized $112.2 million in funding over ten years to expand broadband to nearly 48,000 unserved rural homes and businesses in nine states.

This is the fifth wave of support from last year’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction. Broadband providers will begin receiving funding later in September.

Here’s what they have slated for our areas…

Four rural phone companies are receiving $1.8 million to offer gigabit-speed fiber service to 536 rural homes and businesses in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin

And a map of the winning areas (near us)…

Impact of competition on broadband speeds may come down to type of provider

Roberto Gallardo and Brain Whitacre have a new report out – A Look at Broadband Access, Providers and Technology. They used FCC Form 477 to figure out who are the biggest providers in the country, the state of competition and access to speeds of 25/3 (FCC definition of broadband) in rural vs urban areas and more.

Here are the six largest providers in the US:

I was surprised to see Charter with 22 percent rural housing units since I think of Charter as cable and I don’t think of cable as a primary rural provider. But that wasn’t what I found most interesting in the report.

I was a little surprised to see the discrepancy between urban and rural household access to 25/3:

I don’t know why I was surprised but the stark difference between 1 percent and 26 is jarring. But even that isn’t what really caught my eye. What caught my eye was the map of broadband providers by group:

Here’s an explanation of the key:

Figure 5 shows four layers: the orange layer indicates where top 6 and non-top 6 providers overlap; the blue layer indicates where Top 6 providers were the only providers (darker blue indicates a higher number of top 6 only providers); the green layer indicates where other (nontop 6) were the only providers (darker green indicates a higher number of other providers only).

Remember “top 6” are the providers shown above.

What struck me was the blueness of East Central Minnesota – trailing up north.

Roberto was kind enough to below of the Minnesota portion of the map for me. I’d like to compare it to two other maps. In each map you can see the color pattern in East Central MN – just north of the Twin Cities.e

  • The first map blue indicates only one of the “Top 6” providers serves that area.
  • The second map shows access to 25/3 broadband; orange means 50-60% have access, beige is 60-70% and light blue is 70-80%
  • The third maps shows access to 100/20; it is more diverse but yellow indicates less than 50 percent have access.
  • The first maps also shows where there is only one “other provider” which may be a cooperative, an independent or really anyone outside of the top 6.

I think it’s a powerful image of the impact of limited competition – and impact of the type of provider. Comparing East Central MN to West Central – each has areas served by one provider but the type of provider seems to make a difference in the speed of connection.

Roberto was also kind enough to send a spreadsheet with provider numbers and types by county – but with the county-level into we lose the granularity of the map. There are areas where the county may have numerous providers but a section of that county has just one – that is better demonstrated by map.

[Updated Sep 8: I’m delighted to share a new map from Roberto that includes county boundaries and provider number/types.]

Could 5G deployment impact weather reporting?

I am several degrees shy of my meteorologist degree. (OK – all credits shy.) But I found this fascinating. Evaluation Engineering reports that 5G may hinder the 10-day forecast…

The current adage in meteorology is that today’s 10-day weather forecast is as accurate as the seven-day used to be, which is as accurate as the five-day used to be in the 1990s, which is accurate as the three-day used to be in the 1980s. Those crucial extra forecast days gained over the years has allowed local governments to issue evacuations at least several days before hurricanes impact an area, and gives local services time to prepare for damaging impacts and the aftermath following the storm.

But according to many people involved with this forecasting, the onset of 5G technology could ruin that decades-long progress. This past May, the acting chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Neil Jacobs, testified on Capitol Hill that the interference from 5G wireless technology could reduce the accuracy of weather forecasting by as much as 30%. Jacobs told the House Subcommittee on the Environment that such a setback would result in coastal residence having at least two or three less days to prepare for a hurricane and could lead to less accurate predictions on the path of hurricanes and where they will make landfall, endangering lives by doing so. Jacobs said that’d set hurricane forecasts back to where they were in 1980.

Here’s the reason…

In a nutshell, the issue with 5G and weather forecasting comes from 5G’s use of spectrum in the 24 GHz frequency band, which is nearly that the 23.8 GHz spectrum band that NOAA uses to gather data for weather prediction. Some of the frequencies the Federal Communications Commission plans to use for 5G are located next to the only frequency where weather satellites can detect water vapor—a crucial component for weather forecasting, especially for hurricanes. …

Water vapor emits a faint 23.8 GHz signal in the earth’s atmosphere, which satellites monitor to collect data that is then fed into weather prediction models. That gives meteorologists no flexibility to use a different frequency.

“We can’t move away from 23.8 or we would,” Jordan Gerth, a research meteorologist at the Universifty of Wisconsin-Madison told WIRED in May. “As far as 5G is concerned, the administration has a priority to put 5G on the spectrum, and they thought this was an OK place to do it. It’s just close to where we are sensing the weather.”

Gerth and Jacobs said that reducing the power emitted by 5G wireless radios could help prevent some of spectrum-water vapor interference. NOAA and NASA want to limit interference noise to closer to that considered acceptable by the European Union and World Meteorological Organization. At its current FCC proposal, Jacobs said 5G interference would result in a 77% loss in data from NOAA satellite sensors.

It is interesting to me that the FCC is not in line with European Union and World Meteorological Organization standards. I would have thought there’s be more alignment with something like this. It sounds like more issues may come up – some will likely have a greater impact on Minnesota weather watchers…

But even if a compromise is met between the meteorological community and the FCC over the 23.8 GHz frequency used to track water vapor, it won’t be the last clash between those two sides. Down the road, the FCC plans to action off 5G radio frequency bands close to that used to detect rain and snow (36-37 GHz), atmospheric temperature (50.2-50.4 GHz), and clouds and ice (80-90 GHz). So, expect to hear similar news about these issues going forward.