Very Little In Trump's 'Bold' New Rural Broadband Plan Is Actually New

from the head-fake dept

Last week the Trump administration and the Ajit Pai FCC held a major press conference announcing a "bold" new three-pronged program they claimed would address the nation's longstanding rural broadband issues. During the conference, the President and Pai were flanked by a chorus line of cellular industry employees and ranchers adorned in both tower climbing gear and cowboy hats, apparently in a bid to add a little authenticity to the Village People-esque proceedings:

In his speech, Trump offered his insights on how the "race to 5G" (fifth generation wireless) was an administration priority and a cornerstone of the purportedly new plan:

"We were at 4G, and everybody was saying, “We have to get 4G.” And then they said, before that, “We have to get 3G.” And now we have to get 5G, and 5G is a big deal. And that’s going to be there for a while. And I guess, at some point, we’ll be talking to you about number 6. What do you think? (Laughter.) Do you think that’s true, Ajit?"

According to the administration, part one of the plan involves a new spectrum auction to help drive the deployment of 5G to rural areas. Part two involves clearing away a lot of the "regulatory underbrush" (read: net neutrality, privacy protections, FCC authority over ISPs) the industry has falsely claimed stifled its ability to adequately deploy broadband. And part three is the creation of a "new" $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund it promised would help connect up to four million rural homes and small businesses to high-speed broadband networks over the next decade.

On the surface that all sounds lovely, and the larger technology press was quick to parrot the claims without much skepticism:

"The two proposals reflect the most intensive effort of the Trump era to close the so-called “digital divide” and gain an edge in the global race to build a fully functioning, nationwide 5G network. Proponents say the advances that 5G offers over 4G LTE will enable mobile download speeds of up to 1,000 megabits per second — roughly 100 times faster than the standard — and pave the way for new technologies such as self-driving cars and virtual reality."

You may, however, be shocked to learn the government's real plan is a far cry from what it was portrayed as.

For one, telecom policy experts told me the "new" $20 billion fund isn't actually new. It appears that the FCC is just renaming an existing fund (the Connect America Fund, slated to expire in 2021) and making a few tweaks to it. Of course the FCC hasn't actually announced the specifics behind the changes, though given its fealty to the likes of AT&T and Verizon, you can probably be fairly certain that it involves ensuring that the biggest telecom companies wind up getting a larger chunk of subsidies to help fund their fiber backhaul and 5G deployments.

Granted throwing more money at AT&T and Verizon never really actually fixes much of anything, as the countless billions taxpayers have doled out for half-completed fiber connections pretty routinely shows. These are the same companies that just received billions in Trump tax breaks and countless regulatory favors. They don't need more taxpayer money, but having watched this industry for years I'd wager these two companies' lawyers are the ones driving whatever changes to the program Pai has in store.

Two, the spectrum auctions that Trump and Pai heralded as helping rural America not only weren't new (they'd been planned since the previous FCC), the spectrum being auctioned doesn't actually help rural America in the slightest. Wall Street telecom analyst Craig Moffett noted last week how the millimeter spectrum being auctioned has numerous line-of-sight, range, and wall penetration issues, and will only likely be used in urban markets:

"Aside from unresolved phone battery issues, Moffett told Motherboard that 5G requires “incredibly wide” blocks of spectrum ideally up to 800 MHz wide. The only place blocks of that size reside is in the upper reaches of millimeter wave spectrum. But that spectrum comes with its own issues, Moffett said—namely difficulties with long range signal penetration of building walls, something journalists quickly discovered when testing Verizon’s Chicago 5G launch.

As a result, the technology will be useful for many urban environments, but only via the use of numerous “small cells,” frequently placed on city light poles or building roofs. In more rural and suburban markets carriers will rely on “sub-6” (below 6 GHz) spectrum for cost reasons, providing connectivity that’s going to be a far cry from the speeds promised by carrier marketing.

“Yes, it will be better than 4G eventually, and it will be great for supporting huge numbers of low bandwidth IoT connections,” Moffett said. “But broad-based availability of the kinds of insane speeds people have gotten so excited reading about won’t be available for many, many years, if at all.”

In short, the major "new" funding wasn't new, and the major "new" spectrum auction not only wasn't new, it had nothing to do at all with rural users. Granted Pai also tried to hand off policy moves like killing net neutrality and neutering FCC authority over ISPs as solving the industry's problems, when that's not really true either. Giving entrenched natural monopolies a free pass to behave anti-competitively and jack up captive customer bills doesn't aid rural broadband users, it just doubles down on all the problems that brought us to this point in the first place.

The wireless industry has tried hard to obscure a basic fact: that the same coverage and high prices that plague 4G will plague 5G.

There's still little real incentive to cover rural America because the return on investment isn't there. Subsidies don't work because state and federal lawmakers have become corrupted. And there's still regional geographical monopolies over things like cell tower backhaul that will keep prices high. Meanwhile, as our obsession with merger mania escalates (Sprint, T-Mobile), the incentive to genuinely compete on price drops proportionally. Add in some regulatory capture and the Pai FCC's assault on consumer protections, and it shouldn't take a genius to see that American consumers, especially rural ones, aren't a top priority.

Last week's press conference appears to be entirely focused on trying to trick rural voters into thinking the Pai FCC has their best interests at heart. There's little real evidence to suggest that's actually true, though the majority of the press was happy to dutifully carry forth the claim to those voters all the same.

Filed Under: 5g, ajit pai, donald trump, fcc, rural broadband, spectrum


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  • icon
    Gary (profile), 16 Apr 2019 @ 6:59am

    So Bold

    Just look all those hats - this is obviously going to help the little guy, not the big millionaires. Drain the swamp! Make things great again!!

    El Cheetos knows in his gut that people will believe him. Past performance shows he is correct.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AnonyOps, 16 Apr 2019 @ 7:35am

      Re: So Bold

      Why is all their clothing/gear spanking brand new? Because the regime is using actors as props to build an image for those with weak minds.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2019 @ 7:40am

        Re: Re: So Bold

        It's fun to stay at the YMCA

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2019 @ 7:43am

        Re: Re: So Bold

        What. how dare you!!! These are obviously NOT actors, they are Trumpeters who probably paid for the privilege of meeting the supreme leader, and as such, they were more than happy to participate in the village people mascaraed ball by dawning the corporate sponsored outfits.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 16 Apr 2019 @ 7:05am

    With that $20B in USF money being funneled into ISPs' slush funds, now we know why Pai wanted to cap USF Lifeline spending on the poor people that needed it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 16 Apr 2019 @ 7:06am

    I would like to think that nothing about this administration is real, sadly its just their words that aren't real.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2019 @ 7:21am

    “Yes, it will be better than 4G eventually, and it will be great for supporting huge numbers of low bandwidth IoT connections,”

    So it is about adding more spying focused on advertising, a boon for the ISP's, and not about actually getting broadband to the citizens in these areas.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 Apr 2019 @ 7:55am

    And I guess, at some point, we’ll be talking to you about number 6. What do you think? (Laughter.) Do you think that’s true, Ajit?

    I really hope he's gone long before we start talking about 6G...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Some Guy, 16 Apr 2019 @ 7:56am

    "We were at 4G, and everybody was saying, “We have to get 4G.” And then they said, before that, “We have to get 3G.” And now we have to get 5G, and 5G is a big deal. And that’s going to be there for a while. And I guess, at some point, we’ll be talking to you about number 6. What do you think? (Laughter.) Do you think that’s true, Ajit?"

    What exactly is the purpose of this rambling? To prove he knows what number comes after 5?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Not.You, 16 Apr 2019 @ 11:24am

    5G will never be a rural thing

    The range is like 1000 to 1500 feet. The rural bandwidth problem is already a problem because it isn't worth the build-out for how few customers there are. If anything 5G would exhibit that problem to a greater degree. You would literally have a single customer per tower, nobody is going to be building that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2019 @ 12:21pm

    Ashit I’m sorry ajit is so tropico el presidente in everything he does that iI’m pretty sure the funds for that broadband expansion are in his Swiss bank account.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2019 @ 12:32pm

    Correction to my above comment.
    I assumed ajit was making that speech not Donald.....
    ......they are not the same person right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Apr 2019 @ 1:47pm

    Only one of those groups I'd WANT to listen to

    During the conference, the President and Pai were flanked by a chorus line of cellular industry employees and ranchers adorned in both tower climbing gear and cowboy hats, apparently in a bid to add a little authenticity to the Village People-esque proceedings:

    Objection! The Village People are far more authentic and credible than anyone in that picture.

    Granted Pai also tried to hand off policy moves like killing net neutrality and neutering FCC authority over ISPs as solving the industry's problems, when that's not really true either.

    That depends entirely on what 'problems' you're talking about, because if you classify 'we can't do whatever we want in order to get as much money as we want' as the 'problem' then his actions most certainly are 'solving the industry's problems'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 16 Apr 2019 @ 2:59pm

    When a company OWNS

    When a corp owns 1 thing, TOTALLY and Wholly..
    They can do anything they wish with it..

    The last thing on the market is Food and water....and they are doing VERY well in marketing that also..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    stderric (profile), 16 Apr 2019 @ 9:36pm

    Last week the Trump administration and the Ajit Pai FCC held a major press conference announcing a "bold" new three-pronged program they claimed would address the nation's longstanding rural broadband issues.

    Based on that picture, I've gotta assume that one of those prongs includes a plan for "Graboid Casualty Mitigation".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2019 @ 11:34pm

      Re:

      Which kind? The American desert variety, the primordial African variant, or the Arctic subspecies that looks like the African one for some reason?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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