March 15, 2023 — Multiple industry groups and other rural broadband stakeholders on Tuesday urged Congress to codify a minimum symmetrical speed standard of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) in the upcoming reauthorization of the so-called Farm Bill, a multiyear package of legislation that governs a wide range of agricultural and food programs.
“Employing a lesser standard would represent an inefficient step backwards… failing the rural communities that need broadband capable of keeping pace with user demand for decades to come,” the stakeholders wrote in a letter to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees.
“Policies that encourage sustainable networks that meet the needs of consumers now and into the future will be most efficient in responding to consumer demand over the lives of those networks, particularly when compared to short-term solutions that are likely to be quickly outpaced by technological evolution and consumer demands and require substantial re-investment relatively soon thereafter.”
Among the groups signing the letter were the Fiber Broadband Association, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
The organizations noted that robust connectivity is “especially important for rural Americans who, because of the long distances needed to travel, often rely even more than their urban counterparts on online access.”
The letter also emphasized the high demand for funding through the ReConnect Program, which supports rural broadband deployment, “notwithstanding high program expectations for service performance and network capability.”
This demand proves “that there is a surplus of providers interested and able to deliver better broadband services to rural America,” FBA President Gary Bolton said in a statement. “Our hope in raising the minimum standard is to ensure that every American to benefit from the Farm Bill will have access to high-quality, high-speed fiber broadband.”
NTIA requests comment on national spectrum strategy
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Wednesday requested public comment on identifying spectrum bands for new and additional private sector and federal uses, as part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to develop a national spectrum strategy.
The initiative aims to “make the most efficient use of this critical resource, with the goal of identifying new spectrum bands for potential repurposing that will spur competition and innovation for years to come,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said.
The NTIA’s proposed national strategy involves three pillars: developing a spectrum pipeline, long-term spectrum planning and expanding spectrum capacity through technology.
“Our airwaves are a valuable resource and we need a whole-of-government plan for managing them and using them,” Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said. “That is why this kind of long-term spectrum planning is so important. Combining it with short-term action to restore auction authority and provide a steady pipeline of spectrum for new commercial opportunities is the best way to ensure continued United States leadership in the wireless economy.”
Congress on Thursday failed to renew the FCC’s spectrum auction authority, sparking broad criticism.
FCC announces $7.5 million in funding for ACP outreach programs
The FCC on Wednesday announced nearly $7.5 million in funding for two new year-long pilot outreach grant programs aimed at promoting the Affordable Connectivity Program, which subsidizes internet services and connected devices for low-income households.
The agency selected 23 applicants to receive almost $5 million in grant funding through the Your Home, Your Internet Program, in an attempt to encourage ACP awareness and participation for communities receiving federal housing assistance.
The agency awarded the remaining $2.5 million to nine applicants through the ACP Navigator Pilot Program, which aids entities such as school districts and Tribal governments in assisting consumers through the ACP application process.
“These outreach grants are a powerful tool to help us reach communities that could benefit from the Affordable Connectivity Program,” Rosenworcel said. “We want families that could use help with their internet bills to know about this largest-ever broadband affordability program, now supporting internet connections in nearly 17 million households.”
Yellowstone Fiber awarded $65 million for high-speed fiber network
Yellowstone Fiber was awarded a $65 million industrial bond deal to finance a high-speed fiber optic network in rural Montana, CEO Greg Metzger announced on Tuesday.
The project aims to bring connectivity to areas that are currently unserved or underserved by major internet service providers — without waiting for funding from the $42.5 million Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program.
“All signs point to the BEAD money leading to incremental builds, with most of the money lining the pockets of large ISPs whose future depends on not ‘overbuilding’ their existing outdated infrastructure,” Metzger claimed. “Montana has some of the worst connectivity in the nation and Yellowstone Fiber didn’t want to wait for the possibility of a handout; we wanted to create a solution.”
The planned network will utilize an open access model, hoping to foster competition by enabling multiple private-sector service providers to use the infrastructure.