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FCC Considering 18-24 Month Delay of $9 Billion Rural 5G Subsidy Until Accurate Coverage Maps Appear

The FCC is likely to delay for up to two years a massive $9 billion subsidy program that will provide 5G wireless service in rural America because the agency’s broadband coverage maps are too flawed to credibly determine where the money is needed.

The delay is just the latest in a series of speed bumps that have slowed down rural wireless service expansion, hampered mostly by service coverage maps that typically over-promise service that just doesn’t exist in many areas.

A revised subsidy program would double the funds available for rural wireless service, but delay projects at least 18-24 months, with the first awards granted sometime in late 2022.

The wireless subsidy program is designed to enhance rural wireless/mobile coverage across the United States. The FCC estimates about 83% of rural America is currently covered by 4G LTE service providing an average of 10/3 Mbps. In urban and suburban communities, 97% of areas have 4G coverage and often at faster speeds. Small, independent wireless carriers have popped up to serve rural states and regions that have been ignored by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, but coverage gaps still remain far from well-traveled interstate highways or in mountainous regions. Carriers have typically considered those areas unprofitable to serve, failing Return On Investment formulas that expect investments to pay off within a certain number of years. Wireless subsidies cover a portion of the cost to build and operate unprofitable rural cell towers, coaxing wireless companies to be more willing to expand coverage.

The ongoing problem of wireless coverage accuracy has had a direct impact on rural funding programs that have rules forbidding spending in areas that already have coverage. Wireless companies with overeager marketing departments have routinely issued coverage maps claiming solid 4G LTE coverage in areas where many claim it doesn’t exist. The conflict over accurate coverage maps became so contentious, the FCC canceled plans to spend billions on wireless subsidies in late 2019 until more accurate coverage maps could be created.

Next week the FCC plans a vote to authorize the new $9 billion subsidy program, but funds will likely be held until wireless companies can prove their coverage claims and update coverage information so the FCC can pinpoint areas that can qualify for the funds.

“This approach won’t be the fastest possible path,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote. “But it will allow us to identify with greater precision those areas of the country where support is most needed.”

Verizon Expands Both 5G “Ultra Wideband” and Nationwide Dynamic Spectrum Sharing 5G

Verizon customers in over 1,800 cities across the United States can now get a speed boost with the launch of Verizon’s nationwide Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) 5G, which runs simultaneously with existing 4G LTE on the same lower band spectrum, giving customers with 5G-capable devices faster service.

DSS technology is important to Verizon as it shares the limited amount of 4G spectrum it has in some cities with a slowly growing number of 5G customers. Now both can share the same spectrum without Verizon having to dedicate scarce low band frequencies exclusively to 5G service. The tradeoff is that low band DSS 5G service will not deliver the speed boost Verizon’s “Ultra Wideband” millimeter wave 5G service can offer.

Verizon simultaneously announced the addition of several cities now slightly covered by Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, which can now reach up to 4 Gbps speed in some locations with the use of carrier aggregation. The rollouts are very limited, often covering just a few neighborhoods, a park, or shopping center, so check verizon.com/coverage-map for current coverage information.

Anaheim, Calif.

Where Available: West Anaheim, Downtown Anaheim (along Harbor Boulevard), Betsy Ross Park, Chaparral Park.

Baltimore, Md.

Where Available: Inner Harbor, Downtown, Power Plant Live, Camden Yards & M&T Bank Stadium, Towson University, and Cockesville.

Hartford, Conn.

Where Available: Trinity College, Frog Hollow and City Hall.

Jersey City, N.J. 

Where Available: Bayside Park, The Heights, and Journal Square.

Las Vegas, Nev.

Where Available: Las Vegas Strip, Mirage Volcano, Bellagio Lake, Welcome to Vegas Sign, and Paris/Eiffel Tower.

Oklahoma City, Okla.

Where Available: Quail Springs Mall, OU Medical Center, and near Hidden Trails Country Club.

Philadelphia, Pa.

Where Available: Temple University, South Philadelphia Sports Complex, Logan Circle, Broad Street, and Hawthorne.

Raleigh, N.C.

Where Available: Triangle Town Center, outside Duke Raleigh Hospital, and Crabtree Valley Mall.

Richmond, Va.

Where Available:  Scott’s Addiction, near VCU, and Church Hill.

San Francisco, Calif.

Where Available: Mission Bay, Yerba Buena Gardens, Marina Green Park, outside Oracle Park, Palace of Fine Arts, and Huntington Park (Nob Hill area).

Sarasota, Fla.

Where Available: Burns Square, along N Lemon Ave, and Rosemary District.

Syracuse, N.Y.

Where Available: In the Northside Neighborhood, near Schiller Park, outside St. Joseph’s Health Center.

Tucson, Ariz.

Where Available: Downtown, Historic Fourth Avenue and University of Arizona.

AT&T Stops Selling DSL Service

Phillip Dampier October 5, 2020 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Rural Broadband 3 Comments

AT&T stopped accepting orders for traditional DSL service from customers across its landline service area on Oct. 1, and will no longer allow existing customers to change speeds or transfer DSL service if they move to a new address.

AT&T sells three classes of wired internet service to residential customers:

  • DSL: Traditional, old-fashioned DSL is sold primarily in rural and exurban areas that were never upgraded to AT&T’s U-verse service. Download speed is typically between 1-6 Mbps. This service is no longer available to new customers.
  • U-verse: AT&T’s fiber-to-the-neighborhood service delivers 24 Mbps or faster download speed. AT&T uses fiber optic cables between the central switching office and the customer’s neighborhood, where it connects with existing copper wiring that runs down your street and into your home. Most AT&T internet customers are still served by U-verse.
  • Fiber: About 4.3 million former U-verse customers have been upgraded to AT&T Fiber, the company’s fiber to the home service. This upgrade eliminates the copper wiring that runs to your home, which provides for vastly faster internet speeds.

Only AT&T’s DSL service has been discontinued. The company claims about a half million customers still get DSL service from AT&T as of the second quarter of 2020. Most don’t choose DSL by choice. It is often the only option, because the customer lives in a rural area where no other options for internet service exist. That may leave some new customers with no options for wired internet service at all.

“We are focused on enhancing our network with more advanced, higher speed technologies like fiber and wireless, which consumers are demanding,” AT&T said in a statement. “We’re beginning to phase out outdated services like DSL and new orders for the service will no longer be supported after October 1. Current DSL customers will be able to continue their existing service or where possible upgrade to our 100% fiber network.”

AT&T has been slowly expanding its wireless 4G LTE home internet service in select rural areas, but the service is unlikely to reach all the areas now shut out of DSL service.

While AT&T’s rural customers have been left behind, prices for AT&T Fiber are coming down, at least for new customers. Spectrum and Comcast have offered attractive new customer promotions in areas served by AT&T, and the phone company is now responding with better offers. New customers can now get 100 Mbps from AT&T Fiber for $35 a month, 300 Mbps for $45 a month, and 1,000 Mbps for $60 a month (all promotions good for 12 months and do not include equipment fees or taxes).

Google Fiber To Offer 2 Gbps Internet for $100/Month

A week after the cable industry signaled it was slowing down speed and system upgrades, Google Fiber has once again antagonized the cable industry with word their customers will soon be able to upgrade to 2 Gbps speeds for $100 a month, $30 more than what customers pay for Google Fiber’s 1 Gbps plan.

Google Fiber is testing its new 2 Gbps tier with interested “trusted testers” in Nashville, Tenn., and Huntsville, Ala., along with a new Wi-Fi 6 router and mesh extender capable of supporting reliable gigabit Wi-Fi speeds. Regular customers in those cities will get access to the faster tier sometime later this year, with Google Fiber and Google Fiber Webpass customers in other cities getting 2 Gbps available in early 2021.

“This year has made this need for more speed and bandwidth especially acute, as many of us are now living our entire lives — from work to school to play — within our homes, creating unprecedented demand for internet capacity,” according to an article on Google Fiber’s blog. “2 Gig will answer that challenge. At $100 a month, it’s double the top download speed of our 1 Gig product (with the same great upload speed) and comes with a new Wi-Fi 6 router and mesh extender, so everyone gets a great online experience no matter where they are in the house.”

Google Fiber also emphasizes the tier will come with no data caps or speed throttling. Google’s announcement may have come in part because cable and phone companies have gotten comfortable with their existing product offerings and have opted to slow down investment in upgrades. Some industry observers predict Comcast, and possibly Charter and Cox will perceive Google’s announcement as a competitive threat and reconsider plans to delay the introduction of DOCSIS 4, which allows cable operators to offer up to 10 Gbps. The announcement also calls out competitors for their anemic upload speeds, which are still a fraction of download speeds on cable broadband platforms. Google Fiber’s new tier will support 2 Gbps uploads.

Google Fiber is enrolling people to help test its 2 Gbps service, starting in Nashville and Huntsville next month and in our other Google Fiber cities later this fall. Customers can join the Google Fiber Trusted Tester program to get early access to the new speed tier.  Sign up here to be among the first to test 2 Gbps in your Google Fiber city.

FCC Releases New Speed Test App That Will Better Track Performance of Mobile Networks

The Federal Communications Commission has announced a new updated version of its FCC Speed Test app, helping consumers evaluate their internet connection while also sharing performance data with the Commission.

The new version is designed with more accurate measurements of users’ mobile internet connections in mind, including emerging 5G services.

“This new and improved app is an important tool that will empower consumers to collect information about the services they are receiving,” said Monisha Ghosh, the FCC’s chief technology officer. “These improvements will build on the success of this effort over the years and help the FCC bridge the digital divide.”

Versions are available for iOS in the Apple App Store and Android in the Google Play Store.

Users running the app will be able to check upload and download speed, network latency, packet loss, and jitter on both wired and wireless networks. Results are shared anonymously with the FCC, which compiles network performance data as part of an agency mandate, the Measuring Broadband America program. That program reports whether the nation’s service providers are delivering internet speeds that match their advertising claims.

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