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Wireless Industry Lying About Fixed Wireless Being as ‘Future Proof’ as Fiber

In an effort to capture a major share of the $65 billion dollars becoming available for rural broadband expansion as part of the Biden Administration’s infrastructure funding program, the wireless industry’s top lobbying group is promoting the idea that 5G Fixed Wireless broadband is as future-proof as fiber to the home service.

Make no mistake, they are not being honest with you.

To back up their premise, the CTIA, the lobbying arm of the wireless industry, bought and paid for a report produced by Accenture that is designed to convince lawmakers and regulators that fixed wireless internet access is just as good or even better than fiber, suggesting the technology could potentially provide up to 43% of rural homes with high speed gigabit symmetrical service similar to what many fiber to the home providers offer.

Yet the same wireless industry trying to sell that idea successfully fought to water down standards in Biden’s infrastructure bill that originally required would-be funding recipients to provide customers with minimum speeds of 100/100 Mbps. Now providers can qualify by offering speeds as low as 100/20 Mbps. The CTIA report does not want to talk about that, preferring to claim providers could supply 1,000/1,000 Mbps service over traditional macro cell towers already in use today to subscribers as much as four miles away.

But look out for the fine print:

“Increased service was determined based on the potential economic feasibility of market entry. Estimates for market size, potential operating costs, and the capital investment to deploy were developed for target rural markets. The actual deployment feasibility will vary for individual FWA providers; new entrants will be influenced by the time and costs associated with factors such as market topography, construction, and permitting.”

In other words, if the required cell towers fail the same kinds of Return On Investment (ROI) formulas that have always left many rural communities behind, these 5G services will never happen either without huge concessions, subsidies, and policy changes that will further strip local control over cell tower placement and oversight. That is simply more the same failed reliance on providers to deliver service in places they never have and never will.

Ask any West Virginian about the quality of rural mobile service just to make and receive calls, and you will be told service is spotty outside of the largest communities.

T-Mobile, one of the country’s biggest advocates of fixed wireless, barely even serves West Virginia, which belies their claim that rural expansion is “one of its most promising growth opportunities.” If that growth did not materialize supplying voice, texting, and 4G LTE service in the state, it seems even less likely at materialize on spectrum that providers have always struggled with in mountainous states. To successfully reach most of West Virginia, T-Mobile would need an expensive network of traditional cell towers for which they have never believed there has been much of a business case to provide. Even then, it is inevitable that some would-be subscribers would still be without service, blocked by the terrain.

Chart also courtesy of Broadband World News.

What technology does not care about terrain? Fiber to the home service, which can deliver the same high speed performance to every customer without worrying about hills, mountains and valleys. It also has far more capacity than cell towers, which slow when congestion develops.

The report never actually promises gigabit speed service to all, but does emphasize fixed wireless is cheaper to deploy than fiber to the home service. But at least 20 years of broken and empty promises from the telecom industry to rural America should be enough to recognize that the transformational opportunity of this well-funded broadband stimulus program will allow providers to finally “do it right” with robust, infinitely upgradable fiber broadband technology that won’t slow down if a cell tower gets congested, can deliver the same speed to every subscriber, and delivers excellent customer satisfaction scores.

The wireless industry did not spend tens of millions of dollars trying to water down broadband speed requirements because they were confident fixed wireless could match fiber internet speeds. They know very well the kind of 5G networks they are envisioning for rural America cannot deliver guaranteed gigabits of speed once customers sign up in significant numbers to use it or the wireless industry deems an area unprofitable to serve. How many Americans will still be left behind with zero bars?

Wall Street analyst firm MoffettNathanson recently reviewed performance data from T-Mobile’s existing home broadband service and Starlink satellite internet — two technologies lobbyists point to as a solution for rural broadband dead zones. It found the median download speed for T-Mobile’s fixed wireless service is just 20Mbps. Starlink performed slightly better at 35Mbps. That is a long way away from 1,000 Mbps. Will these technologies threaten to be the dead-end DSL of the 21st century?

Speeds slow down on congested cell towers, and providers have implemented network management technologies that can selectively throttle speeds to all but their most preferred premium customers when they consider it necessary.

Image Courtesy: lynacWave7 Research also reported that T-Mobile is already concerned about network congestion on its existing fixed wireless service and that T-Mobile is moving “very cautiously with respect to network loading, in an attempt to limit the number of subscribers per cell, and even per cell sector.” That does not sound “future proof” to us if customer limits are already being enforced.

The wireless industry itself seems to hint at future capacity issues in a report that heavily emphasizes the need for the federal government to clear more spectrum that can eventually supply more wireless capacity.

MoffettNathanson’s Craig Moffett seems convinced any fixed wireless or satellite provider is going to be more  capacity and performance-limited than wired alternatives like fiber to the home service. In Moffett’s view, these wireless technologies are best suited to extremely rural areas where fiber or cable deployment is simply untenable, even with the much larger amount of subsidy funding soon to be made available.

The biggest benefit of the Biden infrastructure program is that it actually does allow the country to “build back better” instead of offering the usual incremental upgrades delivering “good enough for you” internet access that has left millions stuck with slow speed DSL or low capacity rationed satellite internet. Now that funds are finally becoming available, why divert them to a technology that “may” one day provide unguaranteed gigabit service when fiber to the home technology is available today that can meet and exceed those speeds comfortably and has sufficient capacity to serve rural America’s needs for decades to come.

FCC Approves Verizon’s Acquisition of TracFone

The Federal Communications Commission today approved Verizon’s acquisition of low-cost carrier TracFone Wireless, which will bring a familiar brand for prepaid wireless service under the wireless giant’s corporate umbrella.

Sources indicate there were enough votes in favor of the deal late last week for FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to distribute an approval order on Friday ahead of the formal vote.

The approval means Verizon will control the country’s largest wireless carrier for low income subscribers enrolled in the federal government’s Lifeline program, which offers substantial discounts on phones and service. About 1.7 million customers currently use TracFone under the Lifeline program, and Verizon committed to the FCC that it would continue participating in the program for at least the next seven years. The company also promised to maintain TracFone’s existing rate plans for at least three years and would continue to promote and educate consumers about Lifeline service.

A separate agreement with the California Public Utilities Commission commits Verizon to provide subsidized wireless service to low-income California residents for at least 20 years, and a free phone to qualified customers starting in late 2022.

“Verizon welcomes the FCC’s approval today of our TracFone acquisition,” said Kathy Grillo, Verizon SVP & DGC, public policy and government affairs, in a statement. The deal will provide customers with the best of both worlds: more choices, better services and new features thanks to Verizon’s investment and innovation. Customers will benefit with enhancements in devices, network performance and innovative products and services — as well as a continued commitment to Lifeline.”

TracFone was one of the country’s largest independent wireless brands. The company was formerly a unit of Mexico’s America Movil, controlled by billionaire Carlos Slim.

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

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.

Judge Orders Permanent Injunction That Likely Deals Final Death Blow to Locast

The same New York District Court judge that forced a temporary shutdown of Locast, which streamed over the air broadcasts inside their communities of service, has dealt what is likely a final death blow against the non-profit group, issuing a permanent injunction that forbids the service from operating.

Judge Louis L. Stanton signed the two-page permanent injunction on Wednesday:

ORDERED that, Defendants, along with their officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys and other persons who are in active concert or participation with Defendants or the officers, agents, servants, employees, or attorneys (if they receive actual notice pursuant to Rule 65 (d) (2) of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure) are permanently restrained and enjoined from operating Locast.

Two weeks earlier, Judge Stanton found Locast’s arguments that it was operating legally under an exemption to the Copyright Act to be uncompelling. Locast had argued it was operating a translator service on a not-for-profit basis, offering TV stations improved coverage within their broadcast service area at no charge to station owners or viewers. But Judge Stanton found Locast was nagging viewers with persistent requests for donations, interrupting the signal every 15 minutes for those who did not contribute at least $5 a month. In his mind, that made Locast a de facto subscription service, and an apparently profitable one, collecting at least $2 million more than it needed to operate the service in the past year.

Stanton ruled Locast’s profits disqualified the service from being considered exempt from the Copyright Act, and rejected Locast’s arguments that as a translator service, it did not need the permission of local stations to stream their signals.

Locast earlier predicted it planned to appeal. Unless it does and wins an appeal ruling in its favor, the three-year old service will remain permanently closed down.

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