Tag Archives: broadband

Legislators should aspire to meet Californians’ broadband expectations

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Higher broadband standards are a threat to legacy telephone companies, like AT&T and Frontier Communications, and to cable companies, like Charter and Comcast. But for different reasons.

When the Federal Communications Commission set the speed standard for advanced telecommunications services at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload in 2015, legacy telcos pushed back because their copper line systems couldn’t come anywhere near it, except in affluent, “high potential” areas where the short return on investment is high. You might think cable companies would have been happy, since they easily exceed that benchmark, but that wasn’t the case. Cable’s political action platoons immediately attacked it because they – rightly – feared being slapped with the monopoly label if consumers only had one choice for broadband service deemed sufficient by the FCC.

So far, cable and telco lobbyists haven’t been able to convince the FCC to dumb down the 25/3 standard, although the commission’s new leadership is seriously considering it. Instead, they’re denigrating the standard at every opportunity by calling it “aspirational”, rather than practical, despite the fact that it’s been adopted as the minimum level for subsidised rural service by the federal agriculture department.

They’re pushing the aspirational argument in Sacramento, as they flex their financial muscles and push friendly legislators toward lowering California’s broadband standards as well.

Assembly bill 1665 would drop the minimum acceptable level of broadband service in California to 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, and funnel infrastructure construction subsidies directly to legacy telephone and, in some cases, cable companies. Independent projects, of the sort that have brought truly advanced fiber service to rural communities, would be locked out.

Those defending the bill, including non-profits hoping to tap what little money might otherwise become available, have taken up the aspirational meme, using it derisively when anyone points to the irrationality of dropping California’s already low broadband standard, instead of raising it to the level consumers need, and buy when they can.

The fate of AB 1665 will be determined in the next two or three weeks, once lawmakers return from their summer vacation. Californians’ legitimate expectations – for broadband service and legislative performance – should not and cannot be dismissed as mere aspirations.

USDA embraces 25 Mbps broadband standard even as FCC dumbs it down

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Somebody knows when to crank it up.

The minimum acceptable broadband speed in rural areas is now 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. At least according to the federal agriculture department.

The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) offers loans to broadband providers – cooperatives and small telephone companies frequently tap the program – for service upgrades in areas that meet the agency’s requirements. One of those requirements deals with the speed and availability of existing service – if a provider is expanding into new territory, then at least 15% of the homes in that area must be “unserved”, as defined by RUS.

Originally, the RUS threshold for acceptable service was 4 Mbps down/1 Mbps up. If that level of service wasn’t available, then an area qualified as “unserved”. It’s periodically revised that definition, and for its latest broadband loan window, RUS has raised the bar

For the purposes of this [notice of funding availability], the agency is revising the definition of ‘‘Broadband Service’’, such that for applications submitted under this window, existing Broadband Service, the rate used to determine if an area is eligible for funding, shall mean the minimum rate- of-data transmission of twenty-five megabits downstream and three megabits upstream for both mobile and fixed service.

The new RUS rules also require any infrastructure that’s funded by its loans be capable of delivering service at those speeds…

With respect to the ‘‘Broadband Lending Speed’’, the rate at which applicants must propose to offer new broadband service is a minimum bandwidth of twenty-five megabits downstream and three megabits upstream for both mobile and fixed service to the customer.

It’s the same minimum that the Federal Communications Commission has set for advanced telecommunications services – high speed broadband, in other words. But ironically, while RUS raises its minimum, the FCC lowered its threshold for mobile broadband subsidies in rural areas to 5 Mbps down and no particular requirement on the upload side, and is considering dropping its advanced services benchmark to 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up for mobile, and perhaps all, service.

RUS has it right.

Mobile-only and wireline broadband divide is about poverty, not usability

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Some people only have mobile broadband service, so that must be all they need. That’s the core argument that the Federal Communications Commission poses in its inquiry – and request for public comment – on what is the proper definition of advanced broadband services.

Right now the standard is 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. Sporadic spurts and bursts aside, mobile broadband service doesn’t come anywhere near that level. So the FCC is considering lowering the benchmark and declaring mobile service that runs at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds is as capable of supporting advanced services as wireline broadband that hits the 25/3 mark.

That’s nonsense on the face of it, and it completely falls apart when real people in the real world are considered. FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn says the premise is false

We seek comment on whether to deem an area as “served” if mobile or fixed service is available. I am extremely skeptical of this line of inquiry. Consumers who are mobile only often find themselves in such a position, not by choice but because they cannot afford a fixed connection. Today, mobile and fixed broadband are complements, not substitutes. They are very different in terms of both the nuts and bolts of how the networks operate, and how they are marketed to customers, including both from the perspective of speed and data usage. I have heard from too many consumers who can only afford a mobile connection, and even then they have to drop service in the middle of the month because they cannot afford to pay for more data.

Even the 25/3 standard is too low, Clyburn says, noting that it “would not even allow for a single stream of 1080p video conferencing, much less 4K video conferencing”.

That’s what advanced services are supposed to be about. There’s nothing advanced about reading email or watching low-quality video or sharing a photo. Standards for the future shouldn’t be based on what was possible 20 years ago.

Mobile carriers say their broadband isn’t very fast, so FCC sets lower standard

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The Federal Communications Commission is on a mission to slow down broadband in rural areas. Or at least protect incumbents who don’t invest in their networks in rural markets where competitive options are few to non-existent.

The latest move approved by commissioners sets a low bar for mobile broadband service. Similar to its Connect America Fund program that subsidises fixed, mostly wireline service in communities with sub-standard Internet service, the FCC administers the Mobility Fund for mobile carriers. In order for qualify for subsidies under the plan reaffirmed by the FCC earlier this month, existing mobile broadband speeds have to be below 5 Mbps download, with no standard at all set for upload performance.

That’s in contrast to the wireline subsidy program, which sets 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up as the minimum. Rural carriers wanted the FCC to use the same standard for mobile service, and in the process make more areas eligible for subsidies. But the FCC didn’t buy it, arguing that they have to establish service levels that are “reasonably comparable” to what’s available in urban areas and, contrary to what they advertise, the big mobile carriers say they don’t do all that well…

Although [the rural wireless carriers group] claims that the median download speed provided by nationwide carriers is approximately 12 Mbps, Verizon counters that, depending on demand, consumers in an urban market may see service slower than 5 Mbps. Furthermore, despite the fact that providers have used different standards and methodologies to report coverage…the nationwide carriers are all generally reporting minimum advertised download speeds of 5 Mbps for their 4G LTE network coverage.

Other national mobile carriers, including notably T-Mobile, made similar arguments. It’s funny how they try to sell customers on blazing fast performance, and then turn around and trash talk it when it’s time to protect their poorly served rural turf from subsidised competition.

The Trump administration’s FCC is also considering lowering the standard for advanced service from the current 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up level to 10 down/1 up, at least for mobile broadband, another move that would please big incumbent telcos and cable companies and help protect their monopoly business models.

Making much of the rural U.S. a competition-free safe zone for incumbents is the wrong thing for the FCC to do, and sanctioning lower broadband speeds at a time when demand is skyrocketing is the wrong direction to take.

If we dumb down standards, more people will have advanced broadband, says FCC

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The Federal Communications Commission is floating the idea of treating fixed and mobile broadband service as equivalents when it assesses whether or not people in the U.S. have access to “advanced telecommunications services. It’s an annual enquiry, and in 2015 it produced the useful benchmark of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds as the minimum threshold for any given broadband service to be reckoned as advanced.

For now, the FCC is just asking for public comments on the concept, although given the weight afforded to lobbyists for AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Charter and other major telecoms companies, don’t be surprised if comments from some members of the public are deemed, um, more equal than others.

The question posed by the FCC is whether fixed and mobile broadband are two different paths to the same, advanced telecommunications goals…

13 percent of Americans across all demographic groups are relying solely on smartphones for home internet access. Given that Americans use both fixed and mobile broadband technologies, we seek comment on whether we should evaluate the deployment of fixed and mobile broadband as separate and distinct ways to achieve advanced telecommunications capability. Taking into account the differences between the various services and the geographic, economic, and population diversity of our nation, we seek comment on focusing this…Inquiry on whether some form of advanced telecommunications capability, be it fixed or mobile, is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.

An inconvenient truth – also well explained by the FCC in last week’s notice – is that mobile broadband technology does not have the speed or the overall capacity to deliver data like wireline services can. But they also suggest a solution: lower the minimum standard for advanced services to 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload for mobile, while keeping the fixed benchmark at 25/3.

That is an irrational and dangerous path to follow. Speed matters, and setting a lower standard for mobile service would mislead and ultimately disappoint anyone who was conned into relying on it because the FCC stamped an advanced services label on it. And it would only encourage lobbyists for AT&T, Frontier Communications and other telcos that are milking the last dollars they can out of decaying rural copper networks to make the same argument for wireline service.

Lowering standards in order to please incumbents with deep pockets and a habit of being generous to their Beltway friends would be a supreme disservice to the U.S. public and a dereliction of the FCC’s duty.

More wireless broadband spectrum auctions proposed in U.S. senate

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A second bill aimed at freeing up more wireless spectrum for broadband service is floating in the U.S. senate. Tagged the Airwaves act, it would set deadlines for the Federal Communications Commission to auction off several bands and other federal agencies to give up ownership of several more. It would also set aside 10% of the auction proceeds for wireless broadband infrastructure in poorly served rural areas.

It was introduced earlier this week by a bipartisan pair of senators – Maggie Hassan (D – New Hampshire) and Cory Gardner (R – Colorado) – and immediately praised by wireless industry lobbyists and FCC commissioners alike. Presumably they’ve seen the full text, although it hasn’t been officially published yet. On the public safety side of the fence, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council also seems to have seen it. According to a post on the group’s blog

By Dec. 31, 2018, the FCC would have to complete an auction of the 3550-3650 megahertz band. By Dec. 31, 2019, it would have to auction the 28 GHz (27.5-28.35 GHz), 37 GHz (37-38.6 GHz), and 39 GHz (38.6-40 GHz) bands, for which the FCC adopted rules last summer (TR Daily, July 14, 2016).

By Dec. 31, 2020, the FCC would have to complete an auction of bands that the FCC generally decided in a further notice last summer to study for 5G use. They are the 24-25 GHz (24.25-24.45/25.05-25.25 GHz), 32 GHz (31.8-33.4 GHz), 42 GHz (42-42.5 GHz), 48 GHz (47.2-48.2 GHz), and 51 GHz (50.4-52.6 GHz) bands.

Within one year, the FCC would have to identify spectrum between 71.25 and 84 GHz for unlicensed use…

The bill also would require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to submit a report to Congress by Dec. 31, 2020, on the relocation of federal operations between 1300-1350 MHz and 1780-1830 MHz.

The Airwaves act joins the Mobile Now act in the U.S. senate’s hopper. Introduced at the beginning of the year, it’s been languishing in the commerce, science and transportation committee, despite (or perhaps because) its author is John Thune (R – South Dakota), the chair of that committee.

$20 million still available for California broadband subsidies

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There’s about $20 million, plus or minus, left for broadband infrastructure grants in the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), against pending proposals totalling $5.7 million. That’s without taking into account a possible top-up that’s under consideration in the California legislature, but which might also make spending it on anything other than minimal upgrades by Frontier Communications or AT&T virtually impossible.

Over the years, the California legislature has pumped $315 million into the kitty, with $270 million of that allocated to construction subsidies for broadband systems – middle and last mile – in areas that are either completely unserved or lack service at a minimum of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. The balance is budgeted for broadband facilities and programs in public housing, regional broadband consortia operations and a lightly used infrastructure loan account.

From the time the CASF program began in 2008 until today, the California Public Utilities Commission has approved grants totalling $225 million for broadband projects. That’s a net figure – it doesn’t include the $4.5 million for grants that were approved but later rescinded, primarily because the projects didn’t happen.

The CPUC also pays for its own overhead out of the infrastructure grant fund, with $15 million either spent or budgeted through the middle of next year. Currently, the annual overhead hit is just north of $3 million. There’s at least four or five more years of administrative oversight required, but as the work shifts from reviewing applications to managing project grants, that yearly figure will probably come down. So to keep the numbers round and on the conservative side, let’s say another $10 million will be needed for CPUC overhead, for a total of $25 million.

That leaves $20 million still available for broadband construction grants. There are four project proposals currently under review – Kennedy Meadows in Tulare County ($2.3 million), Connect Anza Phase 2 in Riverside County ($2.2 million), Las Cumbres in Santa Cruz County ($730,000) and Vandyland in Santa Barbara County ($460,000) – that total $5.7 million.

I’m not betting all of them will be approved as proposed, but any way you look at it, there’s somewhere between $15 million and $20 million in the CASF broadband infrastructure grant program that hasn’t been spoken for. That’s enough for a couple of mid-sized, middle mile projects, one big new fiber to the home build, or maybe even a dozen or so smaller upgrade proposals. But only if California lawmakers don’t turn CASF into a private piggy bank for AT&T and Frontier.

Microsoft discovers Google’s business model in spectral gaps

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Me too.

Microsoft’s TV white space broadband initiative is many things – a worthy effort to expand Internet access, a way of squeezing more useable bandwidth out of finite radio spectrum, a call to action for rural economic development and, as willingly acknowledged, a business opportunity.

It is also a foray into the market economics of free software. White space is the gaps between active television channels, which vary according to where you are in relation to whatever TV stations might be around. The proposed solution to this spectrum management problem is active management via databases run by private companies. Like Microsoft.

Or like Google. Which opened up its database to all comers four years ago. Microsoft’s answer, which is wrapped in a well articulated but completely ordinary white paper about rural broadband access, is to offer up its intellectual property in a similar manner…

Our Rural Airband Technology Program will make our U.S. patents available under a royalty-free license to all comers, including to our competitors, for any work they undertake to stimulate broadband access through TV white spaces. These patents help tackle common problems associated with TV white spaces in a variety of ways…

Microsoft’s database-driven TV white spaces technology has continuously been improved through the use of machine learning that populates, maintains, and improves the content of the database, and cloud-based analytics to respond to database queries that, for example, leverages prior spectrum assignments for particular devices.

Google went from a Silicon Valley garage start up to being (at times) the world’s most valuable company by amassing vast quantities of data, giving away software that can make efficient use of it and then making gigabucks as the resulting traffic passed through – and made detours into – its servers.

In that context, its open access white space venture was nothing remarkable. And from that perspective, neither is Microsoft’s. Except that, well, it’s Microsoft. Welcome to club.

California lawmakers revive Internet privacy rules dumped by Trump administration

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California is stepping into the privacy vacuum created by federal policy makers when they scrapped consumer protection rules adopted last year. Assembly bill 375 was approved by the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee yesterday. It would put sharp restrictions on what Internet service providers can do with their customers’ information…

An Internet service provider may use, disclose, sell, or permit access to customer personal information if the customer gives the Internet service provider prior opt-in consent, which may be revoked by the customer at any time. The mechanism for requesting and revoking consent under this subdivision shall be clear and conspicuous…not misleading, in the language primarily used to conduct business with the customer, and made available to the customer at no additional cost. The mechanism shall also be persistently available on or through the Internet service provider’s Internet Web site, or mobile application if it provides one for account management purposes.

The bill is supported by consumer groups and carried by assemblyman Ed Chau (D – Monterey Park). The opposition was led by the California cable industry’s lobbying front, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, with AT&T, Frontier, Comcast and Charter singing back up.

That wasn’t enough to stall it. Internet privacy is one of the battle line issues between California democrats and the Trump administration, as several senators made clear. It’s become a high profile one too, judging by the TV news cameras in the room.

Committee chair Ben Hueso (D – San Diego) set the tone at the beginning of the hearing, with a rambling discourse on the essential nature of telecommunications services and the importance of privacy, including detours into the evils of communism and the role of Russian hackers in the last election. Although the telecoms industry lobbyists claimed they should be treated like any other Internet business, committee members pointed to the lack of choice consumers have when buying broadband service and argued for even tighter privacy rules.

In the end, they approved it, albeit with scant support from republicans. AB 375 now moves to the senate judiciary committee and from there, it seems likely, on to a full floor vote.

Hostile takeover of California broadband subsidies on ice, for now

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The attempt by telephone and cable companies to hijack the California Advanced Services Fund – the state’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program – is derailed, for at least a few weeks and probably forever. Keeping in mind that forever in Sacramento’s dictionary means until the next legislative session, which begins in January.

Assembly bill 1665 was pulled off of this morning’s agenda in the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee, which means that it can’t be considered again (in the normal course of business) until lawmakers return from their summer break on 21 August 2017. After that, there’s nothing preventing the committee from taking it up, but it would be unusual. With only three weeks left in the session at that point, legislative triage begins to kick in. If it looks too badly damaged to save or there’s no appetite for doing so, it’ll be allowed to die peacefully.

No guarantees, though. The bill was amended last week to make it an “urgency” measure, which is a parliamentary maneuver that allows it to dodge most of the deadlines that the legislature sets for itself. Otherwise, it would already be in the dead file due to a similar delay last week. The chairman of the committee, senator Ben Hueso, has been an extremely good friend to telecoms industry lobbyists so far this year and could go to bat for them again. Even if it means going outside the boundaries of the normal course of business.

Telecoms companies and their lobbyists have higher priorities this year, including getting unfettered access to publicly owned poles and stopping an attempt to put the Internet privacy rules they convinced the federal government to kill into California law. So it’s more likely than not that AB 1665 will lie in its coffin until next year, when the bill’s backers will decide if its worth resurrecting. But it’s not certain. And certainly not a safe assumption.