BBWN Bites: Pop goes Loon
Also in this roundup: Outgoing FCC chair releases "confounding" report; SHLB announces policy agenda; Rogers ranked "most consistent" by Ookla.
- Following an optimistic launch in Kenya in July 2020, balloon-powered broadband company Loon announced today that it's shutting down. According to a blog post, Loon's CEO Alastair Westgarth said the company was unable to find a viable business model. "While we've found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven't found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business," he said. Just a few months ago, Westgarth called the availability of Loon in Kenya "the first of what will be many commercial deployments around the world." Well, guess not. While Westgarth acknowledges in his goodbye note that Loon is attempting to do something technologically extraordinary by connecting the "last billion users," the apparent reality is that the technology isn't the issue so much as the ability to capitalize off of it. No doubt this was an ambitious and laudable project to connect people in the hardest-to-reach places, but that a Google/Alphabet company can't find the means to keep such an important service alive is disappointing and doesn't bode well for companies' collective will to do what's necessary to address the digital divide. And it's certainly a blow to African communities that were set to benefit from the service; especially following the UN's report last week revealing that 95% of children and young people in West and Central Africa do not have Internet at home. (Read more about the impact of Loon's shutdown on our sister site, Connecting Africa: Alphabet grounds Loon Internet project.)
(Source: Loon [RIP].)
- In other news that disrespects people who can't access the Internet, the now-former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, released a self-congratulatory report on his final day on the job this week claiming that the "digital divide is rapidly closing." In a statement, the ex-boss said, "From my first day as Chairman, the FCC's top priority has been closing the digital divide ... These successes resulted from forward-thinking policies that removed barriers to infrastructure investment and promoted competition and innovation." This would be news to the millions of Americans who have been unable to access the Internet for school, work or otherwise during this past pandemic year. Acknowledging reality, democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel released a note of dissent to the report, saying: "if this crisis has revealed anything, it is the hard truth that the digital divide is very real and very big. So it confounds logic that today the FCC decides to release a report that says that broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion … We have real work to do before we can claim that 100% of this country has access to broadband service." Fortunately, Rosenworcel has just been named by President Joe Biden as acting chairwoman of the FCC; a good sign that the digital divide will be taken seriously by the new administration.
- To that end, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition released its policy platform this week, with renewed hope for what it can achieve. "The Biden Administration gives us all a fresh opportunity to rectify the inequities revealed by the coronavirus pandemic, especially the ever-present digital divide," said John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, in a statement. The coalition released nine policy priorities to ensure that community anchor institutions (CAIs) "have the broadband support they need and that they are empowered to connect residents who lack home access," said Windhausen. Those initiatives include: increasing affordable residential broadband and adoption through CAIs; developing more accurate broadband maps that include CAIs; spectrum availability for CAIs; and more.
- In a world of unknowns, we can all appreciate some consistency. Kudos then to Canada's Rogers Communications for earning the distinction of "most consistent" national broadband provider, according to analysis by Ookla. In a press release, Rogers confirmed that Ookla's analysis occurred from October through December 2020 and showed that Rogers was the "fastest fixed broadband provider in Ontario and New Brunswick for Q4 2020 with a Speed Score of 147.42 in Ontario and 157.67 in New Brunswick." Furthermore, Rogers Internet boasted a Consistency Score of 88.7% for all of Canada, the highest in the country.
— 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.
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