Biden Nominates Broadband-for-all Advocate Rosenworcel to Lead FCC

Phillip Dampier October 27, 2021 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters No Comments

Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Jessica Rosenworcel, a champion of broadband access for low-income American households, is President Joe Biden’s choice for permanent chair of the Federal Communications Commission, the White House confirmed on Tuesday.

A Democrat who already serves as acting FCC chairwoman under Biden, she is expected to win U.S. Senate approval for a new term on the five-member telecoms regulator. Biden announced he intends to nominate her for a new term and a White House official said Biden will tap her to become the first woman to serve as permanent FCC chief.

Biden has waited more than nine months to make nominations for the FCC, which has not been able to address some issues because it currently has one vacancy and is divided 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans.

For the open seat, the White House confirmed to nominate Gigi Sohn, a former senior aide to Tom Wheeler, who served as an FCC chairman under President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

Rosenworcel has overseen the FCC’s temporary $3.2 billion broadband subsidy program created by Congress in December that provides discounts on monthly internet service and on the purchase of laptops or tablet computers to more than 6 million lower-income American households or people afflicted by COVID-19.

She has said the lack of broadband access leads to a “homework gap” for lower-income Americans because most teachers assign homework that requires internet access.

The White House also confirmed Biden will nominate Alan Davidson, a senior adviser at Mozilla, as director of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the executive branch agency principally responsible for advising the White House on telecommunications and information policy issues. NTIA is also expected to oversee tens of billions of dollars in funding from Congress to expand internet access.

Last month, a group of 25 U.S. senators wrote to Biden in support of Rosenworcel, a former Senate staffer, for a new term and the chair role. They wrote “further delays will unnecessarily imperil our shared goal of achieving ubiquitous broadband connectivity.”

Rosenworcel and her staff did not respond late on Monday to requests for comment on the announcement expected as soon as Tuesday. Without being confirmed to a new term, Rosenworcel would need to leave the FCC at the end of the year.

She has said the FCC decision under then-Republican President Donald Trump in 2017 to overturn net neutrality rules had put the FCC “on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”

The FCC under Obama, Trump’s predecessor, adopted the net neutrality rules in 2015 barring internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes.

Supporters of net neutrality say the protections ensure a free and open internet. Broadband and telecoms trade groups contend their legal basis from the pre-internet era was outdated and would discourage investment.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Howard Goller and David Gregorio

Spectrum Mobile Cuts Pricing on Multi-Line Unlimited Data Plans

Charter Communications this week reduced prices on multi-line unlimited data plans.

A customer with one line of unlimited data service will continue to pay $45 a month for the plan, but each additional line of unlimited data will now cost $29.99 a month — a $15 reduction from Spectrum’s old pricing.

Xfinity Mobile, Comcast’s similar wireless service, already cut multi-line unlimited pricing to $30 a month back in April 2021.

Rutledge

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge told investors last spring that he wanted to drive customer growth in Charter’s mobile phone offering by slashing mobile service pricing.

“Our goal is to do the same with mobile in our service area as we did with wireline voice, where we made Charter the predominant wireline phone carrier by reducing consumer telephone bills by over 70%, meaning Charter can grow for a long time because we remain under-penetrated and our growth will reduce customer costs,” Rutledge said.

For several years, Charter charged most bundled customers $10 a month for a flat-rate, unlimited long distance home phone line. The company raised prices $3 a month for landline service earlier this year, but claims it still delivers significant savings over traditional landline service.

Both Charter and Xfinity Mobile operate their wireless mobile services using a combination of Wi-Fi calling and roaming on Verizon’s 4G and 5G networks. Customers must agree to bundle home broadband service to get the lowest mobile pricing. If a customer drops internet service, mobile pricing increases $20/mo per line.

Charter’s new pricing undercuts T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon:

Service pricing for two-line unlimited data plans

  • Spectrum Mobile: $75/mo
  • T-Mobile: $105/mo
  • AT&T: $125/mo
  • Verizon: $130/mo

San Jose Partnership Will Mine Cryptocurrency from Helium Hotspots to Benefit Low Income Residents

Phillip Dampier October 5, 2021 Public Policy & Gov't, Wireless Broadband No Comments

A public-private partnership between the city of San Jose, Helium, and the California Emerging Technology Fund will install 20 Helium-compatible IoT Hotspots that will deliver limited internet connectivity, mine cryptocurrency, and convert the proceeds into prepaid debit cards for low-income residents to subsidize the cost of home internet service.

The program, currently in a six-month trial, is expected to return enough cryptocurrency proceeds to provide a $120 one-time debit card to each of over 1,300 low income residents in the city.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said the program was “one of many innovative public-private partnership models that we’re advancing to bridge the digital divide for residents.”

Unlike traditional Wi-Fi hotspots that provide wireless internet connectivity, the Helium Hotspot uses a “Long-Fi” radio signal and routes packets from low-power devices in an area that use LoRaWAN and have been deployed to the Helium Network. Typically these are devices such as GPS trackers, environmental sensors, weather meters, etc., that only need to transmit and share small bits of information. The Hotspot uses an existing internet connection (via Wi-Fi or Ethernet) to deliver the data packets sent by devices. It does not replace internet or cellular service for regular devices like computers and smartphones.

Unlike traditional cryptocurrency mining computers, Helium’s hotspots do not consume large amounts of electricity. Each hotspot on the network uses approximately 5 watts and transmits and receives an average of less than two megabytes of data per month. The city of San Jose expects to utilize the network for certain city “Internet of Things” low data traffic applications such as air quality monitoring, fire detection, water leakage, and climate-related data.

There are tens of thousands of consumers who also own and deploy Helium-compatible hotspots to mine cryptocurrency as part of a passive income strategy.

Although San Jose’s partnership with Helium will not directly provide internet service, the proceeds earned from mining cryptocurrency will help reduce the cost of internet service for some city residents. Helium has a network of approximately 200,000 active hotspots supporting a myriad of IoT applications, from agricultural monitoring, weather and buoy data, and even one application that returns information about the amount of dryer lint accumulating in an apartment complex’s laundry room.

Cox Waives Its Own Data Cap When It Faces Unlimited 5G Home Wireless Competition

Phillip Dampier September 22, 2021 Broadband "Shortage", Competition, Consumer News, Cox, Data Caps No Comments

With unlimited home wireless broadband from T-Mobile and Verizon starting to take a dent out of Cox Communications’ customer base, the cable operator is shoring up a defensive position by waiving its arbitrary data cap for existing customers signed up for gigabit speed service in select areas.

“We’re showing our appreciation by giving you free unlimited data for two years,” reads the postcard sent to one of Stop the Cap’s readers in Phoenix. “Now you can stream away without worrying about overages.”

Phoenix residents currently have a choice of up to four different providers — Cox Cable, CenturyLink, Verizon 5G Home Internet, or T-Mobile’s 5G fixed wireless home broadband. Verizon and T-Mobile both offer service with no data caps, but coverage remains selective, especially for Verizon.

Customers must receive the postcard offer and redeem it with Cox to waive their data cap, and the offer is not transferable. It applies only to subscribers with gigabit speed and after 24 months, Cox’s 1.25 TB data cap returns.

The fact Cox is willing to waive its own arbitrary data cap for marketing and competition reasons further demonstrates that artificial limits imposed on internet service have nothing to do with congestion, “fairness,” or network management.

 

CenturyLink Has “Given Up” and Abandoned Its Customers, Leaving Some Without Service for Months

Two months after a late July thunderstorm interrupted phone and internet service for some CenturyLink customers in parts of Albemarle County, Va, some are still waiting for the phone company to restore service.

Multiple CenturyLink customers around the area told The Daily Progress about the extended outage, and the company’s lack of responsiveness in restoring service. Many report their service appointments are unilaterally canceled or a repair technician just never shows up. Others are receiving messages the repairs are complete, but they still have no service.

Mobile phone service is spotty in this part of central Virginia, so many customers keep their landlines to reach emergency services. With service out for nearly two months, making emergency calls or accessing the internet has been difficult.

In August, CenturyLink employee Derek Kelly told attendees at a Albemarle Broadband Authority meeting that at storm brought down almost a mile of CenturyLink’s legacy copper wire network, which has been in place for decades. Kelly noted CenturyLink intended to replace the damaged copper wiring with more copper wiring, instead of upgrading to fiber optics, and because of supply chain issues, customers have been left waiting.

“We ran into logistical issues of being able to find that length of copper,” Kelly said. “I think between COVID and everything else, supplies are limited, so it took us longer than we typically hope for to get the copper in place and get it in town and get it hung back up and spliced in.”

So far, customers are still being billed for service they do not have, and the company has refused to issue automatic credits for customers left without service. Some customers want CenturyLink to compensate them extra for interrupted service as well as for the company wasting their time on unfulfilled service calls and being left on hold, sometimes for an hour, trying to resolve the problem.

Firefly is a service of municipal/co-op power companies in central Virginia.

Albemarle County Supervisor Donna Price has been hearing complaints from local residents for weeks and she is also well aware CenturyLink is in the process of selling a large part of its legacy local phone operations in 20 states to Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm. The phone company will keep its most profitable customers in 16 states — many already served by fiber optics, under its Lumen brand. As that sale waits to close, Price believes CenturyLink has already walked away from their soon-to-be ex-customers.

“I believe that corporate CenturyLink has basically given up and has abandoned their responsibility, which leaves it all upon the individual consumers to either seek some sort of collective relief or basically just suffer until a new provider comes in,” Price told the newspaper. “I think CenturyLink has failed in customer service, in the delivery of service and, I’ll be a little more generous, in the recovery from the storm, because those are really difficult situations.”

Some customers in nearby Fluvanna County who have also experienced multi-month service interruptions from CenturyLink were lucky enough to have a choice of broadband providers, and many have switched to Firefly Fiber Broadband, which also supplies landline phone service. Firefly is owned and operated by a partnership subsidiary that includes the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. That fiber to the home network has survived serious storms in the past without lengthy service interruptions. The member-owned cooperative has also invested heavily in fiber broadband and communications services its members demand, and if something goes wrong, local repairmen answerable to local supervisors are on hand to manage any issues.

Firefly Fiber is currently looking to expand its operations within its central Virginia service area, which includes the counties of Albemarle, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Goochland, Greene, Louisa, and Powhatan.

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