October 28, 2019

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UTC Urges ‘Expeditious’ Action on Rural Broadband Funding Proposal

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) should work “expeditiously” to finalize its $20.4 billion rural broadband funding proposal and ensure that it funds broadband projects with high speeds and low latency, UTC said.

In comments filed last week with the FCC, UTC also urged the agency to disregard critics of the plan who continually argue, without evidence, that utility pole-attachment policies remain a barrier to broadband deployment.

“Pole attachments from [electric utilities] are not a barrier to broadband,” UTC said. “Even when these utilities have offered free pole attachments, broadband service providers have refused to deploy in these utilities’ service areas.”

At issue is the FCC’s proposed Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), a $20.4 billion proposal to grant qualified entities support for expanding broadband services in unserved and underserved areas (Industry Intelligence, Aug. 5, 2019). The proposal would focus on areas currently served by “price cap” carriers, along with areas that were not awarded funding from the previous programs like the Connect America Fund Phase II auction and other areas that do not currently receive any high-cost universal service support.

UTC filed initial comments on the plan in late September (Industry Intelligence, Sept. 30, 2019); it filed reply comments last week.

UTC “urges the Commission to move forward expeditiously towards conducting the auction next year,” the comments said.

In its comments, UTC responded to claims from some telecommunications providers that public- and cooperatively owned utilities should be subject to FCC pole-attachment policies. It also pushed back against requests that entities who receive the funding be required to receive so-called “Eligible Telecommunications Carrier” (ETC) status within their states. Because ETC status is traditionally awarded at the state level, and many states prohibit utilities from becoming ETCs, UTC said this request actually inhibits broadband deployment.

“UTC urges the Commission to allow utilities who are subject to such state restrictions to be able to obtain access to RDOF by waiving the ETC requirement, which is clearly unnecessary and in fact hurts consumers by denying access to funding that would promote broadband access into unserved areas by third party service providers who use utility broadband networks,” UTC said.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

UTC Hosts Nov. 6-8 5G, Broadband Workshop

Is your utility helping bridge the Digital Divide? Do you have the latest information about new federal proposals to fund rural broadband efforts? Do you know how new pole-attachment rules may impact your utility?

Even if you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, you should join your colleagues next month for UTC’s 5G, Broadband, and Small Cells for Utilities: What You Need to Know workshop next month in Nashville.

The Nov. 6-8 workshop will address how utilities are key players in the deployment of new communications technologies expected to unleash a wave of faster and broader connectivity. As bandwidth demand for these communications technologies, including both wireless and wireline, increases, so too does the demand on utilities, both in terms of increased broadband capacity and infrastructure access.

At the workshop, panelists will address what these changes mean for the deployment of fiber for retail and wholesale communications, including broadband for rural unserved areas and backhaul for wireless networks.  Attendees will learn how upgrading wireline and wireless networks improve utility communications, including for grid modernization and the industrial Internet of Things (IoT).

Finally, this workshop will address the implications for more small wireless antennas being attached to utility infrastructure, along with more regulations for faster deployment of the antennas and related equipment.

For more information, click here: https://utc.org/event/5g-and-utilities-workshop/.

See you in Nashville!

Amid Division, FCC Initiates Annual Review of Broadband Deployment

A divided Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) last week initiated the agency’s annual review into whether broadband services are being deployed “in a timely manner” across the U.S.

While the majority of the FCC commissioners, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, said the review will facilitate and expedite broadband deployment, the agency’s two Democrats disagreed.

“The law directs the FCC to ‘determine whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion’,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “This statutory directive is clear, but the direction we take today with regard to the Broadband Report is far from it.”

At issue is the annual broadband progress report the FCC is required to release each year. Congress directs the FCC to annually assess the pace of broadband deployment throughout the U.S. Its most recent report, released in May, drew criticism from all sides after the agency concluded that broadband is being deployed at an appropriate pace, despite relying on allegedly suspect data (Industry Intelligence, May 6, 2019)

In the order initiating the next version of the report, the FCC says it will use the same datapoints, drawn essentially from telecom providers’ deployments on a year-over-year basis. Commissioner Starks said such an approach “tells us nothing about broadband deployment in areas where carriers haven’t deployed and have no plans to do so. It does little to help us to understand the deepening state of internet inequality in the U.S. and it does nothing to prepare us to address the problem.”

Commissioner Starks also takes issue with the inquiry’s reliance on certain federal forms—specifically FCC Form 477—for data. Even though the inquiry itself notes that the data included on this form is not always accurate, the FCC is going to allow its use anyway, the Commissioner noted.

“Good decisions require good data, and we have to do better than this,” he said. “The Commission can’t just acknowledge and disclaim the problem. We have to fix it.”

In his statement, FCC Chairman Pai dismissed these concerns. “I agree that this data has shortcomings; that’s why the Commission two months ago voted, over their partial dissents, to adopt the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection, which will collect more precise and granular data from broadband service providers and incorporate public feedback on the accuracy of that data,” he said.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

UTC CALENDAR OF EVENTS

Calendar of UTC committee/division conference calls

  • Nov. 6-8: UTC 5G, Broadband & Small Cells Workshop, Nashville – Click here to learn more
  • May 18-22, 2020: Telecom & Technology Annual Meeting, Providence, RI

CONFERENCE CALLS/WEBINARS!

  • Nov. 6: Sponsored Webinar! Aviat: OT over Packet Radio—Chugach Case Study
  • Nov. 12: UtiliSite Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Nov. 12: Knowledge & Learning Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Nov. 15: Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • Nov. 19: Utilities Broadband Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Nov. 20: IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Nov. 21: Technical Division Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Nov. 21: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Nov. 21: Public Policy Division Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz