BBWN Bites: FCC approves $50 monthly broadband subsidy
Also in this roundup: West Virginia demands documents from Frontier; hopes are high for Starlink; Nextlink to expand in 11 states; Alaska Communications gets Xtreme.
- In a unanimous vote, the FCC has approved enacting the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a $3.2 billion federal initiative to provide qualifying households discounts on their broadband service and devices. In a press release, the FCC confirms that the program will provide eligible households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service (up to $75 a month if the household is on Tribal lands); and a one-time discount of up to $100 for a computer or tablet. Qualifying households include those that are "at or 135 percent above the poverty line, those who qualify for free and reduced school lunch, or have experienced substantial loss of income since Feb. 29, 2020." In a statement, Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel cheered the move as one that will have a significant impact on families across the US: "This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection. It will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work. It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning. It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries," she said, adding that the program should be open to eligible households within 60 days.
- Speaking of government bodies doing things to try to help people get connected to the Internet, a committee in West Virginia's House of Delegates voted this week to hold Frontier Communications accountable for its fiber commitments to the state, which have previously fallen short. According to the Weirton Daily Times, the committee is seeking a series of documents from Frontier related to its work in the state, including on its progress with Connect America Fund Phase II expansion plans to deliver broadband to 89,190 locations in West Virginia by end of 2020. If Frontier does not comply with the request for documents, the delegation vote then empowers Chairman Daniel Linville (R-Cabell) to subpoena company officials to appear before the committee. The pressure to ensure that Frontier can meet its commitments to the state have only intensified since the company walked away with $247.6 million in RDOF dollars, by far the largest share of West Virginia's pie; despite its prior failings (West Virginia was forced to return $4.7 million in federal funds back in 2017, awarded by the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, when Frontier dramatically scaled back its planned fiber build).
- In other RDOF-related news, fixed-wireless provider Nextlink Internet detailed plans for using its federally awarded $429.2 million. The funding will allow the company to expand high-speed Internet services to more than 206,000 locations in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming, over the next 10 years. In a press release, the company said it has taken steps to prepare to meet this obligation, including "its rapid expansion across America's Heartland under the FCC's Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II auction; its investment in the FCC's Citizen's Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) airwaves auction; and its recent agreement with American Tower Corp. to access 1,000 additional structures for accelerating deployment into more rural areas."
- Elon Musk made news via Tweet early this week when he said that the SpaceX-owned Starlink satellite Internet service will double in speeds this year to approximately 300 Mbit/s, with latency dropping to around 20 milliseconds. In another hopeful nod for Starlink, a new report based on beta tester data exclusively provided to PC Mag by Ookla Speedtest suggests that the service could be a game changer for rural America. In comparing download speeds against other fixed service providers in 30 counties, Starlink's download speed was the winner in rural areas including Vilas County, Wisconsin; Ravali County, Montana; Waldo County, Maine; Okanogan County, Washington; and Lamoile County, Vermont.
- Alaska Communications announced the launch of Xtreme Internet, a service to deliver up to 1-Gig speeds to some residential locations. The company says it will deliver the service via 60GHz mesh fixed wireless over Facebook Connectivity's Terragraph technology, which can deliver "fiber-like speeds in urban settings." It plans to upgrade approximately one third of its network through Xtreme Internet and other technologies, reaching 42,000 new and existing customers in areas of Fairbanks and Anchorage throughout 2021.
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor, Light Reading
Here's where you can find episode links for 'The Divide,' Light Reading's podcast series featuring conversations with broadband providers and policymakers working to close the digital divide.
As we have for the past two years, Light Reading will present our Cable Next-Gen Europe conference as a free digital symposium on June 21.
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As we have for the past two years, Light Reading will stage the Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies conference as a free digital event over two half-days in mid-March.
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