Also in this roundup: MTA, ICA want FCC to reject LTD; Cincinnati Bell signs fiber deal with Boone County, Kentucky; OneWeb launches 36 satellites; Virgin Media, Openreach announce fiber accomplishments.
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) released its proposal to expedite futureproof, gigabit broadband delivery to the entire US and end the digital divide. At a virtual press event this week, Claude Aiken, WISPA president and CEO, outlined the proposal, which calls for localized spectrum policy, subsidy programs for existing providers in hard-to-reach communities, changes to infrastructure policy to allow for small innovators to compete, and programs to promote digital adoption and inclusion.
Overall, WISPA's proposal urges policymakers to recognize that closing the digital divide requires tailored policies not one-size-fits-all attempts, which have historically failed; and that it's crucial to support small and existing providers.
On the spectrum front, Aiken stressed that identifying "a couple hundred MHz of coordinated, point-to-multipoint midband spectrum, to supercharge gigabit fixed-wireless deployment ... without a single further subsidy dollar, would do incredible work to get gigabit speed broadband out to rural America today, and would enable more robust deployment in exurban and suburban America as well."
WISPA's proposal comes as lawmakers are putting forth broadband legislation – like the $94 billion Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act – and discussions of a $3 trillion infrastructure package are underway in the Biden administration. It remains unclear what, if anything, can get passed by the US Senate that still requires 61 votes.
The Minnesota Telecom Alliance (MTA) – a trade association of 40 rural telecommunications companies – and the Iowa Communications Alliance (ICA) – which serves 115 community-based broadband providers – have submitted a joint petition to the FCC, asking the agency to deny LTD Broadband's long-form application "for 18,110 Census Blocks (102,005 locations) in the State of Minnesota and 3,798 Census Blocks (12,916 locations) in the State of Iowa." In a letter, MTA and ICA say " there is no indication that LTD has the technical, engineering, financial, operational, management, staff, or other resources to meet RDOF build-out and service obligations," and further, that "LTD does not presently offer residential broadband speeds anywhere close to the RDOF Gigabit service tier."
Meanwhile, they say, local providers are indeed ready to serve: "Many members of MTA and ICA – either bidding themselves or as members of consortia – participated in the RDOF Phase I Auction. They continue to be ready, willing and able to extend their existing fiber optic networks to provide low-latency, very high-speed broadband services (such as one Gigabit per second downstream, 500 Megabits per second upstream service) to locations in many of the Minnesota and Iowa areas that apparently were won by the very low bids placed by LTD."
Cincinnati Bell has inked a partnership with Boone County, Kentucky, to make its "one gigabit high-speed broadband fiber network available to every address in the county." According to a press release, the network is to be deployed within the next two to three years. Funding for the build includes Boone County Fiscal Court's commitment of $13.6 million and a Cincinnati Bell investment of more than $30 million. "The partnership with Cincinnati Bell will leverage significant private capital investment that would not have been made without the commitment of the Fiscal Court," said Boone County Judge/Executive Gary Moore in a statement. As per the partnership terms, Cincinnati Bell will expand its fiber network to more than 40,000 currently unserved and underserved business and consumer addresses and will offer qualified K-12 students "access to discounted pricing programs for home-based internet as well as other subsidized broadband programs based on availability."
Low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite company OneWeb confirmed the launch of 36 satellites yesterday, which was its second launch under new ownership by the UK government and India's Bharti Global. This brings OneWeb's total in-orbit constellation to 146 satellites, which it says will ultimately grow to 648. In a press release, OneWeb said this is the second in a five-launch program that will enable service to start by end of year in the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas and Canada; before taking it to the rest of the globe in 2022. You can watch a video of the launch below, should you so desire:
UK fiber providers Openreach and Virgin Media announced accomplishments this week on the road to a full-fiber future. Openreach declared that it has hit its first target of making fiber broadband technology available to 4.5 million premises across the UK by the end of March and remains on track to reach 20 million premises "by the mid to late 2020s." Virgin Media said this week that it has connected hundreds of public sites across Greater Manchester, "delivering an economic boost already worth nearly £12m." In a partnership formed in early 2020, Virgin Media committed to delivering FTTP to public sector sites throughout the city. "The £23.8M Local Full Fibre Networks Programme, with additional local authority investments, set out a plan for up to 2,700km of new fibre optic broadband infrastructure to be laid across the region connecting more than 1,500 public sites, making this the UK's largest Local Full Fibre Networks Programme to date," it said.
Charter has sparked RDOF work in all 24 states where it won bids. The cable op booked about $19 million in RDOF revenues in Q1, and expects to have about $9 million per month come in over the next ten years.
Launch of 2-Gig and 5-Gig FTTP tiers in 70-plus markets puts more pressure on cable ops to enhance their existing DOCSIS 3.1 network or accelerate their upgrade activity centered on the new DOCSIS 4.0 specs.