The COVID-19 pandemic has been “an unprecedented stress test of the internet” in this country, according to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. He was the keynote speaker Monday for a virtual event by the Federal Communications Bar Association (FCBA).
FCBA President Josh Turner of Wiley Rein law firm asked him to detail what the agency has done over the years to ensure phone networks are strengthened since 9/11. “We’ve done a lot to track network performance,” said Carr. The agency speaks with carriers as well as third-party data sources.
“We usually see internet use peak around 9 p.m.,” after kids have gone to bed and people watch a movie, according to the Commissioner. Now, peak levels are lasting longer and have shifted earlier. He characterized the increase in wired network capacity at between 20 to 25 percent, and wireless at some two percent. Overall, fixed, wired networks have more “built-in capacity,” said Carr.
The FCC, “reversed some heavy-handed” internet rules that led to increased investment, he noted. “We’re in great shape to handle [something like the pandemic] as a country because we’re investing in capacity. Our networks are out-performing other countries that have a different regulatory environment,” he said.
Concerning the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, he said, “There’s no way to get around the maps” issue. They’re “not good enough” to accurately determine what areas have broadband and which do not, he said.
The FCC in February voted to distribute more than $20 billion at auction to increase rural broadband in two phases. The first would use available map data while the second would incorporate new location information. The item, “tees up good options. We can use what we have today or we can wait to get better data. I’ll be interested to see what the record shows [as to] which way we should go,” said Carr.
When asked how his wireless infrastructure workforce initiative is going, Carr noted the industry could use another 20,000 tower climbers for 5G. “If you can’t go back to your existing job after the pandemic, you can do this. I think we need to spread the word,” he said. Those who wear headphones to conduct their software jobs in coffee shops are crucial, “but these jobs where you wear a hard hat and a harness are just as vital.”
Finally, he had “no news” to report on when the agency would vote on pending CTIA and WIA wireless infrastructure petitions. Last year, WIA asked the FCC to clarify its rules to facilitate broadband deployment by promoting co-locations on existing wireless facilities. The association asked the agency to begin a rulemaking to further speed deployment of macro tower upgrades related to 5G deployment.
CTIA’s Petition for Declaratory Ruling asked the agency to clarify the terms ‘‘concealment element,’’ ‘‘equipment cabinet,’’ and ‘‘base station,” and explain that when an application is ‘‘deemed granted’’ under Section 6409, applicants may lawfully construct even if the siting authority has not issued construction permits. CTIA also asked the Commission to: (1) Determine the definition of the term ‘‘pole’’ in Section 224 includes light poles; (2) conclude that utilities may not impose blanket prohibitions on access to certain parts of the pole; and (3) clarify that utilities may not ask attachers to accept terms and conditions that are inconsistent with the Commission’s rules.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief