Mobile broadband is good enough for rural areas?!

Ars Technica reports…

Americans might not need a fast home Internet connection, the Federal Communications Commission suggests in a new document. Instead, mobile Internet via a smartphone might be all people need.

The suggestion comes in the FCC’s annual inquiry into broadband availability. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to determine whether broadband (or more formally, “advanced telecommunications capability”) is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. If the FCC finds that broadband isn’t being deployed quickly enough to everyone, it is required by law to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

Sounds like an easier answer than making sure broadband is being deployed quickly – it is move the goalpost – closer and lower…

But with Republican Ajit Pai now in charge, the FCC seems poised to change that policy by declaring that mobile broadband with speeds of 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream is all one needs. In doing so, the FCC could conclude that broadband is already being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, and thus the commission could take fewer steps to promote deployment and competition.

This would also be the first time that the FCC has set a broadband speed standard for mobile; at 10Mbps/1Mbps, it would be less than half as fast as the FCC’s home broadband speed standard of 25Mbps/3Mbps.

Nothing is set in stone, yet, you can chime in!

The changes were signaled yesterday in a Notice of Inquiry, the FCC’s first step toward completing a new analysis of broadband deployment. The document asks the public for comments on a variety of questions, including whether mobile broadband can substitute for fixed Internet connections. You can file comments at this link; initial comments are due September 7, and reply comments are due September 22.

FCC Connect2Health Task Force to host virtual listening sessions

Announcement from the FCC… (Note – Parties interested in participating in these virtual sessions should contact the Task Force by July 28, 2017, by sending an e-mail to connect2health@fcc.gov, and inserting “Virtual Listening Session” in the subject line.)

The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect2Health Task Force announces that it will convene several virtual listening sessions over several weeks, starting the week of August 7, 2017, to more efficiently facilitate targeted input on broadband health issues (including on the rural/urban gap and other digital divide issues) from non-traditional stakeholders and those outside the Washington, DC area. This effort specifically relates to the Task Force’s development of recommendations on critical regulatory, policy, technical, and infrastructure issues concerning the emerging broadband-enabled health and care ecosystem described in the April 24, 2017, Public Notice issued in GN Docket No. 16-46 (FCC Seeks Comment and Data on Actions to Accelerate Adoption and Accessibility of Broadband-Enabled Health Care Solutions and Advanced Technologies).

In addition, the formal comment period for GN Docket No. 16-46 will remain open until September 29, 2017, to give interested parties an opportunity to file additional comments and information following the completion of the virtual listening sessions.1 Parties have also expressed interest in submitting comments and suggestions for enhancements related to the Mapping Broadband Health in America platform released on June 8, 2017, and this extension will facilitate such filings.

The scheduled virtual listening sessions will serve to supplement the Commission’s typical in person, ex parte meeting process and will be conducted via teleconference with participants from specified stakeholder groups as detailed below. We anticipate that each of the sessions will last for about an hour. Conducting these sessions via teleconference will help ensure that interested parties based outside the Washington, DC area can participate. The calls will be led by Task Force staff and will be recorded and transcribed for the record. The resulting transcripts will be publicly-available in the above referenced docket on the FCC’s website. Interested parties may submit comments and any additional input in response to the discussions reflected in the transcripts.

Parties interested in participating in these virtual sessions should contact the Task Force by July 28, 2017, by sending an e-mail to connect2health@fcc.gov, and inserting “Virtual Listening Session” in the subject line. Please identify the session(s) of interest; provide a brief personal biography; your contact information; a description of your organization (and/or link to your organization website), if applicable; and the extent of your availability (specify days and EST times) during the specified week.3 Please note that the stakeholder groups listed below are based on stakeholders that have submitted comments in the above-referenced docket and/or have engaged the Task Force; the list below is not intended to reflect the full range of stakeholders relevant to broadband health issues. The Task Force welcomes the participation of any interested party. Once final schedules are determined, the Task Force will notify participants of the date and time of their selected session(s), as well as any additional information and instructions.

Virtual Listening Sessions — TENTATIVE SCHEDULE AND STAKEHOLDER GROUPS

Week of Aug. 7: Health Care Provider Forum: e.g., Health system administrators and CIOs, clinicians and other health care providers (including allied health professionals); community health officials and clinicians; small medical practices; public safety and EMS professionals; and researchers

Week of Sept. 11: Rural and Consumer Issues Forum: e.g., Associations and advocacy groups representing rural interests, Tribal lands, people with disabilities, veterans, and older Americans

Week of Sept. 18: Technology and Broadband Services Forum: e.g., Telecommunications carriers, broadband services providers, manufacturers, innovators, and entrepreneurs

Week of Sept. 25: Policymakers Forum: e.g., Federal policymakers; state and local health officials (or their representatives) and other policymakers; associations representing state, county, and city health officials and policymakers; state and local officials involved in developing technology and broadband policies and strategies

For questions and additional information about these virtual listening sessions, please contact Ben Bartolome, Special Counsel, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, at (770) 935-3383, or via e-mail at Ben.Bartolome@fcc.gov.

August is Rural Broadband month at the FCC

FCC Chair Ajit Pai announces

I’m pleased to announce that August will be Rural Broadband Month at the Federal Communications Commission. Our agenda for the open meeting on August 3 will feature several items that will help bridge the digital divide.

Leading off will be a Public Notice to initiate the pre-auction process for the Connect America Fund Phase II auction. This auction will award up to $2 billion over the next decade to broadband providers that commit to offer voice and broadband services to fixed locations in unserved high-cost areas in our country. To maximize the value the American people receive for the universal service dollars we spend, this will be the first auction to award ongoing high-cost universal service support through competitive bidding in a multiple-round, reverse auction. With this Public Notice, we are seeking comment on the procedures to be used during this auction. Moving forward now will put us on track to conduct the auction in 2018.

The FCC will also consider taking the next step in implementing Phase II of another key universal service program, the Mobility Fund. In February, the Commission adopted a Mobility Fund framework to allocate up to $4.53 billion over the next decade to advance 4G LTE service, primarily in rural areas that would not be served in the absence of government support. The proposed Order on the August agenda would establish a “challenge process”—that is, a process for resolving disputes over whether areas should be eligible for Mobility Fund subsidies. This measure will allow us to proceed to a reverse auction as soon as possible. It is critical that we use accurate data to determine which areas will be included in that reverse auction. Many have complained to the FCC that the data that we currently collect through our Form 477 isn’t good enough to serve as the basis for that decision. I agree. Therefore, I am proposing to collect new and more granular data that will serve as the starting point in deciding which areas will be included in the Mobility Fund Phase II auction.

Separately, we need to do a better job collecting data through the FCC’s Form 477.

Does the Internet look different to you today? It’s a glimpse at a repeal of Net Neutrality

The Washington Post reports…

Visitors to Facebook, Google, Netflix and dozens of other websites will likely be greeted Wednesday by a special message about the future of the Internet, as part of a broad campaign by the companies to stop what they say is a threat to the Web as most consumers know it. …

It’s up to each site to decide how far to go — and virtually all of them are mum about what they intend to do — but the participating businesses are expected either to write messages to visitors, or change the look of their homepages or user interfaces, in ways that make it impossible to browse those sites without learning about the issue of net neutrality. Some may post graphics like these that seek to simulate the experience of a “slower” Internet.

I wrote about the event last month. You can learn more about the movement, who is participating and what it means.

FCC reports – fixed broadband deployment and CAF eligible areas

The FCC just released data based on their 477 forms. Here’s info on the forms (or form fillers) from the FCC…

  • All facilities-based broadband providers are required to file data with the FCC twice a year (Form 477) on where they offer Internet access service at speeds exceeding 200 kbps in at least one direction. 
  • Fixed providers file lists of census blocks in which they can or do offer service to at least one location, with additional information about the service.*
  • Mobile providers file maps of their coverage areas for each broadband technology (e.g., EV-DO, HSPA, LTE).  See Mobile Deployment Data.

They released a list of census blocks eligible for Connect America Phase II support in states where price cap carriers accepted the statewide offers of model-based Connect America Phase II support. It’s a spreadsheet of eligible census tracts by state. It would be valuable if you had questions on a specific census tract or were able to visualize the tracts. It shows the high cost (HC) and extremely high cost (EHC) areas as well as the providers.

The FCC also released updated data on fixed broadband deployment as of June 30, 2016. You can download that dataset by state – and the data includes advertised speeds up and down. Here’s an important caveat from the site…

A provider that reports deployment of a particular technology and bandwidth in a census block may not necessarily offer that service everywhere in the block.  Accordingly, a list of providers deployed in a census block does not necessarily reflect the number of choices available to any particular household or business location in that block, and the number of such providers in the census block does not purport to measure competition.

FCC Chairman Pai visits Madelia to talk to local telcos

On June 7th, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his Senior Counsel Nick Degani stopped in Southern Minnesota as they traveled from Minneapolis to Sioux City, Iowa as part of a larger 5 state road trip. I mentioned this earlier – but was happy to talk with MTA President/CEO Brent Christensen (and host to Pai) about the visit.

Brent noted that this is only the second time in past 20 years that a FCC Chairman has visited Minnesota and the first time one toured Greater Minnesota. The Chairman was specifically interested in learning from rural telcos about the challenges they are facing deploying broadband. He also wanted to see how the Connect America Fund (CAF) and Alternative Connect America Model (A-CAM) were actually being implemented in the field.

The Chairman stopped in Madelia where he was given a tour of Christensen Communications Company, a 114 year old family owned company deploying fiber to the premise. The Chairman heard from the Christensen family on how the company started and its commitment to the communities they serve. He was then shown the outside plant upgrade plans and told of how new A-CAM money is being used to expedite the deployment. This was followed by a tour of the Central office where the Chairman was able to have an open dialog with CCC installers on the pros and cons of fiber, fixed wireless and other technologies being used by the company

Following the tour, the Chairman convened a round table discussion in a local restaurant with area telcos. The group talked about contribution reform, the rate floor for landline telephone service, Internet privacy, and other related topics. The Chairman concluded his visit with media interviews.  Brent noted, “I have always been a fan of Chairman Pai and his commitment to rural America, but now I am even more so. He is extremely down to earth and easy to talk to.  Like he said, he comes from a “fly over” state.  When it was all over, the Chairman and Mr. Degani got into their rented Hyundai and continued down the road. It doesn’t get anymore “real” than that.”

FCC Chari visits Madelia MN to talk to rural broadband providers

According to the Mankato Free Press

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai visited Madelia Wednesday to talk with rural broadband providers about how to get high-speed internet to more Minnesotans.

He visited with…

Along with [Brent] Christensen [of MN Telecom Alliance], representatives from 702 Communications of Moorhead, Bevcomm of Blue Earth, CenturyLink of St. Paul, KM Telecom of Kasson, Minnesota Valley Telephone/Winthrop Telephone of Franklin, Minnesota Office of Broadband Development and New Ulm Telecom attended the discussion, which was closed to the media.

Sounds like they discussed the future of FCC funding, at least at a high level…

Pai said part of how the FCC can alleviate the cost of the burden is to continue current work on policies that ensure the FCC’s millions in federal subsidies are administered “wisely” to the places that would benefit most and go the farthest, like rural areas.

Sometimes USDA Rural Development grants also are used to support broadband expansion, such as a project completed by RS Fiber last fall in Sibley County. Dan Pacerina, CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Communications, said it cost about $1,000 per home to install the high-speed connections.