Jul 19, 2013
The Federal Communications Commission has been working to beef up internet access across the US, and it's just voted to move ahead with a proposal that'll help to bring high-speed internet connections into almost every school in the nation. The proposal would overhaul the government's E-Rate program, which was established in 1997 to help connect schools and libraries to the web. According to The Hill, the program still focuses on dated technologies — such as paging and phone directory tools — but the new plan would prioritize wireless networking equipment that's capable of handling a high number of users at high speeds. The FCC is now looking into how it can best alter the E-Rate program to provide those modern tools.Read Article >
The proposal is part of President Obama's ConnectEd initiative, which was revealed last month. The initiative intends to bring high-speed internet connections into 99 percent of US schools within the next five years. "Preparing our nation’s students ... will rely increasingly on interactive, individualized learning experiences," President Obama said in a statement. "To get there, we have to build connected classrooms that support modern teaching." According to the White House, the needs of most students aren't being met by the internet connections that are currently available to them in the classroom. The FCC has also been moving to ensure that those high-speed connections are available at home, and it hopes to bring broadband internet to every location in the US by 2020.
Jun 6, 2013
Better technology — particularly better connectivity — is seen as one of the linchpins of education reform, and the White House hopes to overhaul school broadband with a new initiative. The ConnectED program, announced today, is meant to get 99 percent of students in schools access to stable Wi-Fi networks and high-speed broadband, defined as no less than 100Mbps with a target of 1Gbps. To do so, it will rely on the E-Rate or Schools and Libraries Program, which subsidizes internet service discounts for schools and libraries. Currently, E-Rate provides 20 to 90 percent discounts to institutions that meet its criteria. But in a 2012 report on the state of broadband in schools, the FCC noted that 80 percent of E-Rate recipients said their broadband did not meet their needs, with 78 percent saying they needed more bandwidth.Read Article >
Obama has called for the FCC to overhaul the E-Rate program, working with private companies and the President's telecom advisors. E-Rate is administered under the Universal Service Fund, which raises money by adding small fees to consumer telephone bills. The New York Times reports that while Obama has asked the FCC to look for ways to make E-Rate more efficient, he's also asking for consumers to pay an extra $5 a year into the fund. The Universal Service fund distributed a total of $8.71 billion to broadband and telephone access programs in 2012; of that, $2.22 billion went to the Schools and Libraries Program.
Apr 24, 2013
New federal legislation is looking to modernize an aging government assistance program aimed at telephones by turning it into a way for low-income consumers to access broadband internet. The Broadband Adoption Act of 2013 was introduced to the House of Representatives yesterday and would update Lifeline, an FCC-run program that offers subsidized phone service to citizens near the poverty line or enrolled in select government programs such as Medicaid. Under the new legislation, Lifeline would offer the option between discounted telephone, mobile, and internet services. The bill is supported by outgoing FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and was introduced by three Democratic representatives of California, Doris Matsui, Henry Waxman, and Anna Eshoo.Read Article >
The legislation expands on the FCC's efforts to bring broadband to 100 million US homes by 2020. Last year, the organization implemented a pilot program that aimed to modernize Lifeline, and this legislation would expedite that process by effectively mandating the program. The goal is to simultaneously overhaul Lifeline's usefulness and cut down on waste and abuse within the program.
Nov 7, 2012
POTS, the loving acronym for "plain old telephone service," is the single oldest continuously operating network in existence. It predates even the earliest vestiges of the internet by three-quarters of a century. It's so ubiquitous and so reliable that the notion of eliminating it is quite literally banned by law — it's written into Section 214 of Title 47, the portion of the US Code established largely by the Communications Act of 1934:Read Article >
And as modern technology laps POTS over and over again, those regulations increase the burden on legacy carriers like AT&T and Verizon Communications (not to be confused with its part-owned subsidiary Verizon Wireless) to maintain an ancient network whose utility decreases daily. That's not to say that POTS isn't still vitally important: the most rural parts of the United States are often served by no other type of service — service that is guaranteed by federal requirements and subsidized by the Universal Service Fund, which exists in part to keep prices reasonable in areas that would otherwise be unprofitable for carriers or unaffordable for customers.
Jul 27, 2012
Yesterday, the FCC announced the finalized details of the Universal Service Fund's replacement, the Connect America Fund. The $115 million plan will bring high speed internet to nearly 400,000 underserved residents across 37 states within three years time, the first step in the agency's $4.5 billion National Broadband Plan.Read Article >
The FCC plans to bring broadband to 400,000 citizens in three years, seven million in six years, and as many of the 19 million residents that the FCC estimates lack access to broadband by 2020. The organization is calling this an "unprecedented broadband expansion," and says that this news marks the beginning of one of the largest public and private efforts to improve national broadband in American history.
Feb 17, 2012
The House passed an extension of the payroll tax cut this morning after representatives from both sides of the chamber hammered out a deal earlier this week; a Senate vote is planned for this afternoon, and early indications are that it'll pass. That may not seem like an interesting development for members of the wireless community, but approval of the voluntary auction of spectrum currently reserved for television broadcasts — a contentious issue over the past couple years — is attached to the bill, and virtually every stakeholder in the wireless community (including the FCC) is in favor of the auction. The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents television stations that currently own the licenses, had been a key holdout, but it has dropped opposition in recent months as its concerns have been addressed.Read Article >
The exact guidelines for the auction are yet to be laid out, but in brief, this means that key segments of spectrum below the existing 700MHz band — currently occupied by television stations — will have the option of relinquishing their licenses. In turn, they'd receive a portion of proceeds as the licenses are taken to market and sold to carriers, who will refarm the spectrum for additional mobile broadband. The FCC has been making noise about the impending "spectrum crunch" for years, and underused (and unused) television licenses had long been seen as a potential refuge — particularly since they occupy high-quality spectrum that can travel long distances without repeaters. That's good news for rural areas, where lower frequencies are cheaper to deploy across low-density expanses. It's also a good deal for broadcasters, most of whom received the original licenses at no charge.
Feb 11, 2012
In a statement on Friday, the FCC reiterated its commitment to extending rural broadband access by reminding everybody it is planning a reverse auction, the winner of which will receive a one-time payment of $300 million in order to fund the buildout of wireless data in rural areas. It's all a part of the FCC's revamped Universal Service Fund, which was originally designed to bring landlines to the far corners of the US but has been re-purposed for broadband access. Along with the reminder, the FCC took advantage of the MapBox online mapmaker and data from American Roamer to release a new interactive map showing the areas where it believes 3G coverage is lacking (which is to say, nonexistent). FCC Chair Julius Genachowski's statement pretty much sums it up:Read Article >
You can zoom into areas of the map to find the gray zones where there is no 3G coverage as well as census data that should give you an idea of how many people are missing out. Unfortunately, the timeline for building out 3G and 4G in those areas is quite long, the FCC's reverse auction won't happen until September 27th, 2012.
Feb 1, 2012Read Article >
Under Chairman Julius Genachowski, the FCC has been driving hard for the expansion of broadband into rural America. Today it announced cost-saving changes to its Lifeline subsidy program that will help fund a new test program to bring broadband to low-income households. They're aimed primarily at cutting out waste and abuse of the 25-year-old Lifeline program, which helps subsidize the cost of basic telephone service for those who can't otherwise afford it. A new National Lifeline Accountability Database will be created to prevent subsidies from being funneled to multiple phone carriers on behalf of the same individual, while a secondary database will provide a streamlined way to determine any given customer's eligibility. Also changing is the way households are viewed under Lifeline: moving forward, multiple families living at the same address with be considered one single "economic unit," and will be blanket-covered accordingly. The FCC hopes the changes will save $2 billion over the next three years, with $200 million in savings set as the benchmark for 2012.
Oct 31, 2011
As expected, the FCC has thrown its full weight behind a fundamental rethinking of the Universal Service Fund, a government-backed fund created decades ago originally designed to bring landline telephone service to relatively unprofitable rural areas. Acknowledging the shift from telephone to broadband, the renamed Connect America Fund will receive up to $4.5 billion annually to subsidize broadband build-out to roughly 7 million Americans currently underserved (or entirely unserved) by high-speed data services. It's not just about landline, though: LTE figures prominently into the equation — particularly in the 700MHz spectrum that can travel long distances between cell sites — and to that end, the FCC has also approved a Mobility Fund that would specifically pour money into mobile broadband across "tens of thousands of road miles."Read Article >
The action is expected to add roughly 10 to 15 cents to many consumers' existing bills, though it phases out on bills above $30 and among low-income customers enrolled in the FCC's Lifeline program. All told, the funds are expected to pay out over the next six years, with new charges declining in the years thereafter.
- Read Article >
Verizon's senior VP of federal regulatory affairs, Kathleen Grillo, has indicated that her company is bullish on the FCC's intentions to shift the focus of the Universal Service Fund from landline telephones to broadband data — but naturally, she leaves herself wiggle room on the specifics pending the full plan:
- Read Article >
Under Julius Genachowski's leadership, the FCC has been keen on incentivizing companies to build out broadband data service to underserved rural areas that aren't profitable enough to be served without subsidy. To do that, the agency has wanted to modernize the so-called Universal Service Fund — historically used to build out telephone service to the same areas — which is clearly a relic of a bygone era. After working on a plan for most of the year, Genachowski has just announced that he's put together a plan that would fix the USF and spur the first new buildouts in 2012 with "universal" broadband on tap for the US by the end of the decade. He says he plans on circulating the plan for a vote among the FCC's commissioners by the end of the month, but seeing how the entire board has already voiced support for USF reform, it'll likely sail through to approval.