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Congressman Clyburn Plans to Reintroduce $100 Billion Rural Broadband Expansion Fund Bill

Clyburn

Congressman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) plans to reintroduce a bill offering $100 billion dollars to provide rural high speed internet service in unserved and underserved parts of the United States and to provide subsidies as needed to ensure that internet service is affordable.

The return of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will be welcomed by the House Rural Broadband Task Force and other groups appealing for rural broadband funding to resolve the pervasive lack of high-speed internet access in unprofitable service areas.

Clyburn notes that in his home state, one in ten rural South Carolinians lack access to suitable broadband service, despite years of more modest funding programs. His bill went nowhere in the 2020 session as part of the Democrats’ $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, dubbed the Moving Forward Act. With the election of President Joe Biden and the razor thin Democratic majority control of the U.S. Senate, some form of expanded infrastructure spending bill is likely to emerge in Congress this spring, which will include rural broadband funding.

Like last year’s bill, the 2021 version will likely include:

  • $80 billion in direct subsidy funds to build out high-speed rural internet access to homes and businesses.
  • $5 billion set aside for low interest broadband deployment loans
  • $5 billion for distance learning programs
  • Funding for Wi-Fi service in school buses
  • The creation of the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to monitor, promote, and assist rural communities and those economically disadvantaged in getting affordable high-speed internet service established in their community.
  • Funding for digital equity programs to train those not yet connected in how to use the internet.
  • A requirement that the FCC track and analyze national broadband pricing and ensure price transparency.

Clyburn’s 2020 bill also knocked down state barriers on building and expanding municipal broadband networks.

According to the FCC, 21 million Americans and 10 million school-age children do not have internet access. Low-income households are the least connected in America, and, not surprisingly, rural communities are the least served. What might surprise us all is that the data reveals a 75% correlation between median household income and broadband access In 2019, US Representative Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) created the Rural Broadband Task Force to close the digital divide, with the goal of all Americans having high-speed internet access by 2025. The digital era is to the 21st century what electricity was to the 20th, argues Clyburn. Bridging the digital divide is something we must address if we are going to reset the US economy for all. Featuring Jim Clyburn in conversation with Naomi Nix. (9:21)

Comcast Postpones Data Caps in Northeast Until July

Comcast on Wednesday said it will give its customers a six month reprieve on implementing its 1.2 TB data cap after state legislators in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania’s attorney general complained about the prospect of families paying more for internet access during a pandemic.

“As Pennsylvanians continue to navigate this pandemic, we know millions are relying on the internet for school and work more than ever. This is not the time to change the rules when it comes to internet data usage and increase costs,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “My office negotiated with Comcast to delay the implementation of these overage charges and waive any early termination fees for customers who opt out through December 2021. We also limited the impact of these changes on low-income households.”

The postponement applies to Comcast broadband customers in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

In addition to a delayed introduction of data caps, Comcast has also agreed to:

  • not implement any data caps for low-income customers enrolled in Comcast’s Internet Essentials discount internet program for the rest of 2021;
  • waive any early termination fees for customers planning to switch providers and signed a contract before November 2020;
  • delay any overlimit fees until July, which will first be seen on customers’ August bills;
  • more prominently disclose the fact Comcast has a data cap in its marketing materials.

Pennsylvania consumers concerned about how Comcast’s data threshold may affect them should file a complaint with the Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Comcast also reminded customers the data cap postponement announced today only applies to customers in the northeastern U.S. states noted above.

Charter Spending $5 Billion to Expand Its Rural Footprint; Carolinas, Wisconsin, Ohio, E. Texas Will See Biggest Expansions

Charter Communications will spend almost $5 billion a part of a multiyear, 24-state broadband buildout to deliver high-speed internet service to more than a million unserved homes and businesses.

Approximately $1.2 billion of the cost to serve these low-density, mostly rural communities will come from the federal government’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which is subsidizing some of the expenses associated with providing service in areas deemed unprofitable to serve.

Preparation and planning for Charter’s RDOF Phase 1 broadband buildout has already begun, with an additional 2,000 employees and contractors expected to focus on Charter’s rural expansion efforts in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The biggest expansions in coverage area appear to be in North and South Carolina, North and Eastern Wisconsin, East Texas, Ohio, and Eastern Tennessee.

Charter’s RDOF Expansion Project Map

The network Charter will build in these rural areas will offer Spectrum 1 Gbps high–speed broadband access to all newly served customer locations with starting speeds of 200 Mbps, with no data caps, modem fees, or contracts. Customers will also be able to subscribe to Spectrum TV, home phone and wireless mobile service.

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge said one of the most important factors governing when service will become available is how well the cable company will be received by the owners of utility poles in the various regions.

“The more cooperation we have with the pole owners and utility companies, the faster we can connect these communities with high-speed internet services,” Rutledge said in a company news release. “We look forward to working with local municipalities, electric cooperatives, and investor-owned utilities to ensure that permits are obtained in a timely, fair and cost-effective fashion.”

Mediacom Warns Top 0.05% of Uploaders to Cut It Out, Cites Network “Stress”

Phillip Dampier January 27, 2021 Broadband "Shortage", Consumer News, Data Caps, Mediacom 3 Comments

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding traffic growth has apparently taken its toll on network capacity at Mediacom, forcing the company to reach out to a growing number of its heavy uploaders and telling them to reduce usage or face a speed throttle or the possible closure of their account.

An East Moline, Ill. Mediacom broadband customer of 10 years was offended to receive a phone call from Mediacom’s “Fraud and Abuse Department” telling him he was overusing his gigabit internet account, which includes a 6 TB data cap. The customer was certain he never exceeded Mediacom’s data cap, and in fact recorded 2.5 TB of usage over the last month, well below his data allowance.

Mediacom’s representative explained the problem was not with how much he downloaded.

“He told me my upload was 450 GB over their average and if I didn’t reduce my usage they would either throttle or disconnect me,” DSL Reports‘ reader poonjahb wrote. “I argued that I used less than half of the total data allowed by my plan, but he said my 1.2 TB of upload was too much and that this was my warning.”

Other Mediacom customers across the Midwest also received similar letters in early January, and several contacted Stop the Cap! Many were already annoyed Mediacom had earlier imposed a data cap, but were incensed they were now being threatened when usage was well under that cap.

“I am paying for gigabit internet service just to never have to worry about a data cap,” said Cory, a Mediacom customer in Missouri. “It comes with a 6,000 GB monthly allowance, which is way more than I will ever use, but I still received a warning letter claiming I was uploading too much. I discovered I used about 900 GB over the last two months, setting up a cloud backup of my computer. At most I can send files at around 50 Mbps, which they claim is interfering with other customers in my neighborhood. I don’t understand.”

Several filed complaints with the FCC, which the agency forwarded on to Mediacom customer service. Most received form letter replies.

COVID-19 Pandemic Causes Traffic Surge, Mediacom Tells Stop the Cap!

“Mediacom routinely reviews both download and upload usage trends to determine if any customers are using a disproportionate share of bandwidth compared to average users,” explains Thomas J. Larsen, senior vice president of government and public relations at Mediacom. “If a customer falls into the top 0.5% of downstream or upstream capacity users in a given month, they may receive a letter or call from Mediacom regarding their usage. This would apply to both business and residential customers. The reason for contacting the customers is to explain that their usage patterns may be degrading the performance of the network and affecting other users.”

Larsen pointed to statistics from the cable industry’s largest trade group, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, which reported a 31.8% total cumulative growth in downstream internet traffic and a 51.1% increase in upstream traffic since the spring COVID-19 lockdowns back in March 2020.

A Mediacom letter sent to customers complaining to the FCC about the practice cited network “stress” caused by excess upstream traffic. Larsen told Stop the Cap! the company regularly reviews customers’ download and upload traffic trends, looking for outliers that use a disproportionate share of bandwidth compared to average users. Larsen would not admit if heavy users were noticeably affecting other customers with congestion-related slowdowns, but said the company was “reaching out … more frequently than before” to the top 0.5% of traffic generating users anyway. He also noted this policy equally applied to both residential and business accounts.

“This is not the easiest topic to explain because internet usage is growing rapidly in this work from home/study from home environment, so it is difficult to give an exact number that puts a customer into the 0.5% category because that number changes from month to month,” Larsen noted. “Understandably, that may make the policy seem arbitrary when we are really just trying to stay in line with moving usage trends.”

Internet Service Providers Have Wide Latitude to Cut Off Heavy Users

Virtually every internet service provider has a provision in their acceptable use policy allowing them to terminate or restrict service when a customer causes problems for that provider. Mediacom is no exception, telling subscribers “without limitation, customer’s usage of the service cannot restrict, inhibit, interfere with or otherwise disrupt or cause disruption, performance degradation of other users or impair or threaten to impair the operation of Mediacom’s systems or network.” This policy is in addition to whatever data usage plans are in place.

But Larsen insists Mediacom is not trying to alienate its customers.

“[We want to] work with our customers to address this issue in a productive manner,” Larsen told Stop the Cap!

At the moment, the only solution seems to be to reduce usage enough to stay off of the company’s “top 0.5%” radar.

Mediacom’s Warning Letters Uncommon Among Other Providers

Mediacom’s crackdown on heavy usage has not been copied by most other U.S. providers. Although traffic growth has been measured by virtually every provider in the country, most providers are mitigating possible service degradation by aggressively upgrading capacity or quietly node splitting neighborhoods experiencing the highest traffic growth, which immediately eases congestion issues.

The company did not indicate if its usage crackdown was temporary or if any planned network upgrades would allow it to ease restrictions sometime in the near future.

Other small providers dealing with congestion issues found a better solution sending letters to high traffic customers explaining forthcoming upgrades and temporarily requesting they limit upstream traffic during peak usage times, while not penalizing them for any off-peak traffic. That might prove to be a useful compromise between Mediacom and its customers and preserve goodwill.

Spectrum Drops FCC Request to Allow It to Impose Data Caps in 2021; Was Likely to Be Rejected

Spectrum internet customers can be assured of an additional two years of unlimited internet service after Charter Communications dropped its petition Tuesday with the FCC to allow the cable company to introduce data caps.

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau acknowledged receipt of Charter’s withdrawal of its petition to end a prohibition on the company imposing data caps and usage-based pricing mechanisms two years before the original agreement with the regulator expires on May 18, 2023.

The company claimed it had no immediate plans to impose data caps or usage-based pricing, but its decision to rescind the request assures that. The FCC imposed a seven-year ban on Spectrum imposing data caps as part of its approval of Charter’s 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. The earliest the company can impose data caps is May 18, 2023.

Sources tell Stop the Cap! Charter likely made the decision to withdraw its petition after realizing the current Republican-dominated Commission was not planning to approve it in the waning days of the Trump Administration and it was highly unlikely to win approval under the incoming Biden Administration. It is not uncommon for petitioners to quietly withdraw requests to avoid the publicity of having them publicly rejected.

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