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New Yorkers fret about getting left out of FCC's rural broadband funding

The FCC recently signed off on a plan to allocate up to $20.4 billion for rural broadband. However, New York is the only continental US state not eligible for the bulk of this funding.

Not surprisingly, this is an issue raising concerns among New Yorkers and others.

At issue is the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, created by the FCC in late January to bring "digital opportunity to Americans living on the wrong side of the digital divide." It earmarks up to $20.4 billion to pay telecom companies to extend Internet connections to around 6 million homes in the US that lack broadband services

But New York isn't eligible for the initial $16 billion in RDOF funding. The FCC said this is because New York has already received federal funding for broadband deployment. This happened back in 2015, when Verizon declined a $170 million Connect America Fund award (the FCC's RDOF is based on its CAF program that was designed to provide government subsidies to telecom companies to build services in rural areas).

When Verizon declined the CAF money, the FCC decided to allocate that money directly to the state of New York to increase broadband access.

But New York officials argue that shouldn't affect the state's position in the RDOF.

"State officials were never informed that disbursing CAF funding in this way would have any impact on future RDOF funding eligibility," a group of Congressional lawmakers, led by New York Rep. Antonio Delgado, wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. They asked the FCC to reconsider its decision to exclude New York from its RDOF program.

Troubles in New York
The CAF money awarded to the state of New York hasn't fixed its broadband problems. For example, Syracuse is still considered one of the nation's ten worst cities for broadband, with one in four residents lacking high-speed Internet, according to local reports. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel visited upstate New York and found families with kids who cannot do their homework because they lack Internet access. She disagrees with her agency's decision to exclude New York from the first phase of RDOF funding.

Some people in upstate New York use their mobile phones as their primary Internet connections. But unlike New York City, which is on track to add more 4G and 5G nodes throughout the city, upstate New York has spotty cellular service in a number of places. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has established an Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force to try to work with the wireless industry to increase coverage.

RDOF concerns
Upstate New York is not the only area likely to be excluded from the first phase of the RDOF. According to Rosenworcel, some underserved census blocks will be excluded simply because a small part of the area already has access to broadband. "Right now, if a single subscriber in a census block is identified as having broadband, we conclude broadband is available throughout. That's not right," Rosenworcel wrote after the agency approved the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. "If your home is marked as served by the FCC's maps today and it is not, then for the next decade you are on your own." Rosenworcel is advocating for the creation of more detailed broadband maps in areas where coverage is spotty, but the Commission has voted not to delay funding and plans to move forward with existing maps.

Importantly, new legislation from Congress would require the FCC to improve its maps.

Another potential concern is whether the RDOF money will be effective in crossing the digital divide. For example, as reported by Ars Technica, CenturyLink and Frontier did not deploy telecom services in all the locations they were supposed to under the FCC's previous CAF program for rural broadband deployment.

— Martha DeGrasse, special to Light Reading. Follow her @mardegrasse

brooks7 3/12/2020 | 4:41:53 PM
Re: Once more into the breach... Here is how you recreate the USF...pass a law.

Yep that is it.  You can do the monopoly on a property by property basis like was done with phones.  That way you can ignore maps.

Unfortunately, we spend all our political capital on useless things like Net Neutrality.

seven

 
Duh! 3/12/2020 | 2:04:01 PM
Re: Once more into the breach... I'm afraid that ship has sailed. The Bell System's buy-in to COLR was premised on their mandated monopoly and the Universal Service Fund. I'm don't know how you'd recreate that.

It doesn't matter what entity serves rural communities, only that they be well served. As we're seeing with TDS (a rate-of-return carrier), it could be the incumbent. It could be public/private partnership between an incumbent and a public sector entity. It could be a coop or a muni. Or it could be an upstart. We have examples of all of these that work well in their specific community. Price-cap carriers and MSOs have insufficient ROIC in low density markets (say, <20 HHP/mile). They will build out to those areas only if there are carrots or sticks, and frankly, there aren't enough sticks to give federal, state or local government leverage.

Two things have to happen to get universal broadband coverage. First, it's going to take government grant, loans and municipal bonds, efficiently distributed. The risible National Broadband Map stands in the way of efficiency, and there's insufficient money appropriated to do what needs to be done.

Second, incumbents need to lead, follow or get out of the way. That means accepting competition in the patches they cherry-picked from entities that serve the outlying areas. One-touch Make-Ready helps. But states and the FCC need to step up and remove other opportunites for incumbents to gum up the process of others serving the unserved. Also, future grant programs should not automatically exclude areas that are already covered, in the interest of serving those that aren't.
Duh! 3/12/2020 | 2:03:09 PM
Re: Once more into the breach... I'm afraid that ship has sailed. The Bell System's buy-in to COLR was premised on their mandated monopoly and the Universal Service Fund. I'm don't know how you'd recreate that.

It doesn't matter what entity serves rural communities, only that they be well served. As we're seeing with TDS (a rate-of-return carrier), it could be the incumbent. It could be public/private partnership between an incumbent and a public sector entity. It could be a coop or a muni. Or it could be an upstart. We have examples of all of these that work well in their specific community. Price-cap carriers and MSOs have insufficient ROIC in low density markets (say, <20 HHP/mile). They will build out to those areas only if there are carrots or sticks, and frankly, there aren't enough sticks to give federal, state or local government leverage.

Two things have to happen to get universal broadband coverage. First, it's going to take government grant, loans and municipal bonds, efficiently distributed. The risible National Broadband Map stands in the way of efficiency, and there's insufficient money appropriated to do what needs to be done.

Second, incumbents need to lead, follow or get out of the way. That means accepting competition in the patches they cherry-picked from entities that serve the outlying areas. One-touch Make-Ready helps. But states and the FCC need to step up and remove other opportunites for incumbents to gum up the process of others serving the unserved. Also, future grant programs should not automatically exclude areas that are already covered, in the interest of serving those that aren't.
brooks7 3/12/2020 | 12:28:29 PM
Once more into the breach... So, I have advocated here for years for us to change methods of approaching 100% broadband connectivity.  This article points out a number of challenges with how things are measured and dealt with.  We don't really have an effective map nor way of dealing with how money is spent.  Carriers look to maximize their ROI and rural broadband is not it.  It never will be it.  We have to acknowledge that and understand that this makes the notion of incentives very difficult.  Carriers are large organizations with lots of clever people who will figure out the best way to game the system.  There is nothing wrong with that, but we keep trying to make systems and they keep finding ways to game them.

In the telecom world in the US, we have dealt with this before.  The solution that they found then can work today and I advocate that it is our best path forward.  That is to make Broadband a Universal Service.  This would mandate the instalation of technologies to every residence in the US at a minimum speed and if not available, fines would be levied.  I think our current notion of rate cap could apply and then we just need to work out the subsidies required to make this a reasonable business for all involved.  We would have to create the notion of a Broadband Carrier of Last Resort and also work out the tariff details.

CSPs keep trying to make Internet more than a commodity utility and have failed at every turn.  It is time to turn broadband into a true utility and regulate it into existence for everyone.

One last thing.  We have been arguing about Net Neutrality and I belmieve that Carriers have done so to avoid this discussion.  As far as I can tell, the implementation and repeal of Title II light has done nothing.  Things are the same as they have ever been.  I think it is time to implement Title II in its fullest extent here.  The one thing is that cable would be involved and part of this system.  I recognize that no Communications Service Provider wants this and that will skew the view of those here that serve that community.  But remember, the IOCs have about 3% of the lines and tend to have some of the best broadband service in the world.  If we fragment broadband that way, all we are doing is adding money to the bottom line of equipment companies.  If you think about it, you will end up with 100s or 1000s of buyers with little leverage.

TL:DR - Make Broadband a Universal Service.  I would mandate a 100Mb/s symmetric service.

seven
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