More than 700 companies have taken the FCC’s “Keep America Connected” pledge, which the agency instituted to ensure that broadband networks would be there for users during this time when they have been forced to work at home, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told the audience yesterday during Part 2 of the Wireless West Virtual Series.
“In early March, it became apparent to me that there would be a big shift in our lives and connectivity would become critical, from telework to telehealth and remote learning,” Pai told the audience. “I have been overwhelmed by the response from the broadband telecommunications industry who took that pledge.”
Companies pledged that they would not terminate service if a customer is unable to pay due to the disruptions caused by pandemic; waive late fees incurred because of circumstances related to the pandemic; and open Wi-Fi hotspots to any user who needs them.
Pai also challenged carriers to increase speeds at no charge and to work with schools and hospitals. As well as the national carriers, smaller carriers have reached out and provided Wi-Fi coverage to students so they can continue to learn at home.
Although its 1,500-employee staff has been working at home, the FCC has been busy implementing the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which comprises $200 million in funding from Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to connect health care providers with patients.
“We have been aggressively rolling out approvals of applications from across the country,” Pai said. “[These providers] will use the grants for connected devices and to improve the state of their wireless networks, which will help patients get the health care they need.” He said the commission hopes telehealth will gain in popularity after the pandemic.
Pai discussed the success of quickly granting access to additional spectrum to carriers in mid-March to help meet demand during the pandemic. Spectrum licensees rose to the occasion, lending the use of the frequencies to carriers for 60 days free of charge.
On March 18, the FCC granted Verizon’s request to use licenses held by Dish Network’s designated entities, adding as much as 10 megahertz of spectrum in some markets. As a result, Verizon delivered mean LTE download speeds of around 36 Mbps during the first four months of 2020, representing a 10.7 percent increase year over year, according to Speedtest by Ookla.
AT&T benefited from the use of spectrum in the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) band that was loaned by Dish Network. Mean LTE download speeds subsequently increased up to 32.6 percent year-over-year for the carrier.
T-Mobile also profited from the temporary use of 600-MHz spectrum licensed to Dish, Bluewater, Channel 51, Comcast, NewLevel, LB Holdings and Omega Wireless. With quadruple the spectrum, T-Mobile’s mean download speed over LTE recorded a 10.5 percent improvement when comparing April 2020 with April 2019, according to Speedtest by Ookla.
“The FCC has been busy granting STAs to companies that have worked well collaboratively to put the spectrum assets in the hands of those carriers that can use them to the maximum effect,” Pai said. “Because of the STAs, they were able to bump up their speeds a significant amount. We want to encourage that type of cooperation in the private sector.”
The FCC is continuing to prepare for spectrum auctions set for later this year. The 3.5 GHz CBRS Priority Access auction will take place, although it was postponed to July 23 from June 25. The C-band auction is still set for December 8, although a lawsuit has been filed against it. Work continues on the 2.5 GHz auction and freeing up the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use. The reverse Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction is set for October.
Part 3 of the Wireless West Virtual Series will take place 11:30 am Pacific on May 26, with a session titled “Siting in the Time of COVID.”