Senators urge FCC to prioritize rural broadband before 5G

The Benton Institute reports…

Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), James Lankford (R-OK), Jon Tester (D-MT), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and John Kennedy (R-LA) sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai urging the FCC to focus their efforts on providing reliable broadband to rural communities before expanding 5G coverage, as indicated by the announcement of the FCC’s 5G Fund.

While we commend the Federal Communications Commission for acknowledging that critical fact, we have some serious reservations about the recently announced 5G Fund and the decision to focus these limited mobile broadband deployment dollars on the promise of a 5G future when many places in our states still lack 4G service or do not have any service at all. To stand any chance of connecting rural Americans, the FCC needs a more accurate method of data collection, a strong challenge process, and a funding process that includes terrain factors to ensure that the hardest to serve places can compete for limited funding.

5G is a topic that people outside of work ask me about frequently. In the Twin Cities, we got a crash course in 5G leading up to the Super Bowl two years ago. But as I’ve reported in the past, 5G isn’t a likely solution for rural areas with great distance and lower population density. One societal problem with investing in 5G before fixing the rural broadband issue is that we deepen the digital divide.

White Earth Tribal Council and local Blandin Broadband Community partner on local WiFi access

D-L Online reports on the Partnership between the local Blandin Broadband Community Initiative and White Earth Tribal Council  …

The council passed a resolution to partner with the Blandin Foundation to provide funding for community projects to help promote the access and use of broadband for members across the reservation. Examples given in the presentation were Wi-Fi access to community members, libraries, community workforce, and schools.

FCC Announces Plan to Launch $9 Billion 5G Fund for Rural America

FCC announces

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit
Pai announced today that he intends to establish the 5G Fund, which would make up to $9
billion in Universal Service Fund support available to carriers to deploy advanced 5G mobile
wireless services in rural America. This major investment in rural America would be allocated
through a reverse auction and would target hard-to-serve areas with sparse populations and/or
rugged terrain. The $9 billion Fund also would set aside at least $1 billion specifically for
deployments facilitating precision agriculture needs.
“5G has the potential to bring many benefits to American consumers and businesses, including
wireless networks that are more responsive, more secure, and up to 100 times faster than
today’s 4G LTE networks,” said Chairman Pai. “We want to make sure that rural Americans
enjoy these benefits, just as residents of large urban areas will. In order to do that, the
Universal Service Fund must be forward-looking and support the networks of tomorrow.
Moreover, America’s farms and ranches have unique wireless connectivity needs, as I’ve seen
across the country. That’s why I will move forward as quickly as possible to establish a 5G
Fund that would bring next-generation 5G services to rural areas and would reserve some of
that funding for 5G networks that promote precision agriculture. We must ensure that 5G
narrows rather than widens the digital divide and that rural Americans receive the benefits that
come from wireless innovation.”
The 5G Fund would replace the planned Mobility Fund Phase II, which would have provided
federal support for 4G LTE service in unserved areas. Pursuant to the Mobility Fund Phase II
rules, wireless providers were required to submit 4G LTE coverage data in order to help the
Commission target federal subsidies to unserved parts of the country. The Mobility Fund
Phase II challenge process gave stakeholders an opportunity to dispute these coverage maps by
submitting speed tests to the Commission. But in a report released today, Commission staff
finds that the 4G LTE coverage data submitted by providers is not sufficiently reliable for the
purpose of moving forward with Mobility Fund Phase II.
Specifically, FCC staff conducted thousands of speed tests to measure network performance
and concluded that the MF-II coverage maps submitted by certain carriers likely overstated
each provider’s actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground experience in many
instances.
The staff report recommends that the Commission terminate the challenge process, audit the
coverage filings of carriers in other proceedings before the Commission, and take additional
steps to make sure that coverage data the Commission and the public rely on is accurate. The
report, which includes additional staff recommendations regarding future collections of mobile
coverage maps, is available here: DOC-361165A1.pdf.
Data files containing the approximately 25,000 speed tests taken by FCC staff and
approximately 20 million speed tests taken by challengers are available for download here:
https://www.fcc.gov/mobility-fund-phase-2#data
Chairman Pai praised the work of the agency staff on this investigation and report. “I thank the
FCC’s dedicated staff for their diligence in conducting the investigation that led to this report.
This investigation highlights the importance of drive testing to verify mobile coverage claims.
Staff drove nearly 10,000 miles in the course of conducting speed tests of carrier networks, an
unprecedented effort that provided vital information about the extent of actual coverage on the
ground. Mobile carriers must submit accurate broadband coverage data to the Commission.
Simply put, we need to make sure that federal funding goes to areas that need it the most,” said
Chairman Pai.
The Commission recently created the Digital Opportunity Data Collection and has also sought
comment on how to improve the reliability and accuracy of the data submitted by mobile
broadband providers.

Quick primer on 5G phones – lowband vs highband – in time for Black Friday

I understand 5G technology as well as the next guy. But I don’t know phones. So when I saw this article I knew I better read it before I see my family for Thanksgiving because I know someone will ask me about 5G phones before they go Christmas shopping. I thought there might be readers in the same boat so I wanted to share.

Light Reading outlines why there’s a difference between lowband and highband phones – but inherent in the description is a Readers Digest description of the differences…

If you’re shopping for a 5G phone in the US this holiday season, you’ll have to make a choice: Do you want a lowband 5G phone or a highband 5G phone?

Because you will not be able to purchase a phone that does both.

A bit of info on the difference between low and high band…

Highband 5G is typically only available in select parts of a few big cities, based on the relatively short distances such signals can propagate — but highband 5G can support superfast connections. Lowband 5G, on the other hand, can cover wide geographic areas but can’t support superfast connections.

And the why, which should seal the deal of your tech genius…

The reason US shoppers are being forced to make this choice is because handset makers like Samsung and others don’t yet have access to the kinds of chips (like Qualcomm’s X55) that can run 5G concurrently in both lowband spectrum and highband spectrum. Those chips are scheduled to arrive sometime next year.

The issue is partly due to the fact that highband spectrum (also called millimeter-wave spectrum, which typically sits about 20GHz) is relatively new to the commercial wireless industry. For the past 40 years or so, most cellular communications have been conducted in midband and lowband spectrum.

Democratic candidates’ take on broadband plan – and IIA’s view to 5G

Next Gov recently ran a letter to the editor from Bruce Mehlman, founding co-chairman of Internet Innovation Alliance. It gives a quick synopsis on how Democtractic candidates are leaning in regards to broadband…

In a very crowded Democratic primary—October’s presidential primary debate was the largest in American history—the issue of broadband access is popping up with great (and welcome) frequency. With this month’s debate fast-approaching on Nov. 20, candidates are continuing to try to distinguish themselves and, as often happens in campaigns, there’s a bidding war going on.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, for instance, has proposed spending $20 billion on broadband access; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren quadruples that with a proposal for $85 billion. Not to be outdone, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to spend $150 billion on broadband deployment (as former Sen. Everett Dirksen once said, “A billion here, a billion there; pretty soon you’re talking about real money”).  Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar wants to connect every house to the internet by 2022 as part of a $1 trillion plan to improve the country’s infrastructure. …

Mayor Pete Buttigieg favors a “public option” for broadband in areas “[w]here companies have not provided coverage or where it is unaffordable”, with a total cost of about $80 billion.

Mehlman’s not very positive of most of their plans in short because he seems to prefer a provider-focused plan and his focus seems to be on 5G…

If the private sector does not have the right incentives to invest in broadband deployments, how can it invest the tens, even hundreds, of billions each year that will be necessary for the full deployment of 5G wireless technology? Without those investments, we cannot make the next leaps in connectivity and security—things like truly connected cars, the internet of things, and other innovations that will improve our daily lives even more radically than in the past decade. If the dollars do not come from the private sector, we can expect presidential candidates in 2024 or 2028 to call for trillions in government investments, while bemoaning our national failure to keep up with Chinese 5G investments that are happening today.

Worse, some of the Democratic candidates’ proposals would permit this spending only for certain types of groups—not private-sector network operators who have delivered broadband across the country for the past 20 years … but instead only for local governments, nonprofits, and cooperative organizations. Some candidates explicitly favor government-funded networks to the exclusion of private players.

He has a solution…

Fortunately, there is a better way: Encourage private sector investments and then target federal funding to areas that, principally for reasons of geography, are difficult to serve. There is no need to reinvent the wheel—or to shift broadband to government-owned-and-operated networks—for everyone to enjoy fast broadband service across the country.

But the focus on 5G gives me pause to question how highly he has prioritized rural America in his plan.

New FirstNet Cell Site to Support Public Safety in Northwestern Minnesota near White Earth Reservation and Surrounding Community

Big news from AT&T…

New Infrastructure will Improve Connectivity for Tribal First Responders, Expand Rural Broadband Access for Tribal Community

BAGLEY, Minn., Nov. 14, 2019 – First responders in northwestern Minnesota and those serving the White Earth Reservation are getting a major boost in their access to broadband communications with the addition of a new, purpose-built cell site. The site – located between the White Earth Reservation and Itasca State Park – is part of the FirstNet network expansion taking place in Minnesota, which is bringing increased coverage, capacity and capability to first responders across the state. Additionally, the new FirstNet site will give first responders access to the fastest overall network experience.1

FirstNet is the nationwide, wireless communications platform dedicated to America’s first responders and Public Safety community. Backed by Congress, it’s designed to strengthen and modernize Public Safety communications, helping first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. FirstNet is for all first responders – whether rural, tribal, urban or suburban. That’s why extending the FirstNet network in rural, tribal and remote parts of America is a top priority.

This site is located in Zerkel near the intersection of State Highway 92 and State Highway 200, and to the east of the White Earth Reservation. Public safety stakeholders identified this location as a prime spot for increased network coverage and capacity to better support emergency communications. The site will help improve coverage along the eastern edge of the White Earth Reservation.

“Minnesota’s first responders deserve reliable coverage across the state to help them effectively and efficiently address emergency situations. And with FirstNet, that’s exactly what they are getting,” said Paul Weirtz, president, AT&T Minnesota. “We couldn’t be more pleased to support the public safety mission and bring the state’s first responders – and residents – greater access to the connectivity they need.”

This is the first new FirstNet site to be publicly announced in Minnesota following the State of Minnesota’s decision to advance the state’s Public Safety broadband communications with FirstNet. It was constructed using Band 14 spectrum, as well as AT&T commercial spectrum bands. Additional new FirstNet sites are underway, and Band 14 has been and is actively being added to existing sites across Minnesota. Band 14 is nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet. It provides public safety with a dedicated lane of connectivity when needed.

FirstNet is built with AT&T* in a public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) – an independent agency within the federal government. To ensure AT&T and the FirstNet Authority are putting coverage and capacity where first responders need it most, the FirstNet build is being done with direct feedback from state and public safety officials.

“FirstNet is a dedicated broadband network for Public Safety, by Public Safety,” said Jeff Bratcher, Chief Technology and Operations Officer, FirstNet Authority. “The FirstNet Authority worked hand-in-hand with Minnesota’s public safety community to understand their needs for the network. And this cell site is a prime example of how that input and feedback is becoming reality. We look forward to supporting White Earth first responders’ use of FirstNet to help them save lives and protect their community.”

In addition to further elevating Public Safety’s connected experience in support of their emergency response, the new site will also help improve the overall coverage experience for AT&T wireless customers in the area. Communities can take advantage of the AT&T spectrum bands, as well as Band 14 when additional capacity is available.

For more about the value FirstNet is bringing to public safety, check out FirstNet.com.

1Based on AT&T analysis of Ookla® Speedtest Intelligence® data average download speeds for Q2 2019. Ookla trademarks used under license and reprinted with permission.

2“‘Indian tribe’ means any Indian tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community, including any Alaska Native village or regional or village corporation as defined in or established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (85 Stat. 688) [43 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq.], which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.” 25 U.S.C. § 5304(e) (formerly cited as 25 U.S.C. § 450(b))

About the First Responder Network Authority

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) is an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Chartered in 2012, its mission is to ensure the building, deployment, and operation of the nationwide, broadband network that equips first responders to save lives and protect U.S. communities. Learn more at FirstNet.gov/mediakit and follow the FirstNet Authority (@FirstNetGov) on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

 

Thinking about driverless cars? Don’t let your license lapse yet

I hate to drive. So I almost hate to share this passage from a recent post from Doug Dawson because I want driverless cars to happen so much – but not badly and it looks like driverless cars happening, especially in rural areas, soon would be bad…

A colleague sent me an article that had been published earlier this year in MachineDesign magazine that predicts that driverless cars can’t be realized until we have a ubiquitous 5G network. When looking for the original article on the web I noticed numerous similar articles like this one in Forbes that have the same opinion.

These articles and other similar articles predict that high-bandwidth, low-latency 5G networks are only a few years away. I’m not quite sure who these folks think will invest the $100 billion or more that would likely be required to build such a wireless network along all of the roads in the country. None of the cellular carriers have such grandiose plans, and if they did their stockholders would likely replace a management team that suggested such an investment.

Doug goes on to outline a number of practical reasons that 5G isn’t there and the investment isn’t likely; ending with…

Network engineers also would advise that for a critical task like driving at high speeds that every vehicle should have a redundant back-up connection, meaning a second wireless connection in case the first one has a problem. Anybody that puts critical tasks on a fiber network invests in such redundancy. Hospitals that use broadband as part of a surgical procedure or a factory that does precision manufacturing will have a second fiber connection to be safe. It’s hard to imagine a redundant connection for a moving car since the only place it can come from is the nearest cell sites that provide the primary connection.

I don’t know how other feel about this, but I’m not about to trust my life to a self-driving car that needs a connection to an external data center to be safe. I know too much about how broadband networks function to believe that 5G networks will somehow always make perfect connections when other fiber networks don’t.