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Emergency program to give people $50 off internet bill

Associated Press

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Americans can begin applying for $50 off their monthly internet bill on Wednesday as part of an emergency government program to keep people connected during the pandemic.

The $3.2 billion program is part of the $900 billion December pandemic-relief package. The government is increasing spending on broadband as the pandemic made stark that millions of Americans did not have access to, and could not afford, broadband at a time when jobs, school and health care was moving online.

It’s unclear how long the money will last but it’s expected to be several months. Tens of millions of people are eligible, although the Federal Communications Commission, which is administering the program, did not specify a number.

For example, your household is eligible if you receive food stamps, have a child in the free or reduced-price school lunch program, use Medicaid, or lost income during the pandemic and made $99,000 for single filers, or $198,000 for joint filers, or less.

There are other eligibility requirements, too — see https://getemergencybroadband.org to find out if you qualify.

You can get the discount even if you owe your phone or cable company money. That’s important because some people have been barred from low-cost plans offered by internet service providers when they owed their service provider money. More than 800 cellphone and home-internet companies are participating, including AT&T, Charter, Comcast, T-Mobile and Verizon.

People in tribal areas are eligible for up to $75 off their bill. There is also a $100 reimbursement for desktop computers, laptops or tablets — in that case, you must pay between $10 and $50 of the cost of the device yourself and buy it through your broadband provider.

The discount could apply to a household’s whole bill, or you can use it to trade up to a more expensive offering and your bill is partly covered.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is a more robust, although temporary, program to help people afford internet than Lifeline, the FCC’s other affordability program, which subtracts only $9.25 a month from phone or internet bills. A household can use both the Lifeline and EBB programs.

The Biden administration has proposed $100 billion to get Americans connected, and even before that, billions of dollars are going to improve internet access.

The FCC on Tuesday approved a $7.2 billion program for schools and libraries to connect students in their homes. The Treasury Department is also setting up a $10 billion fund for improving internet connectivity. The money for both came from the $1.9 trillion March pandemic relief package.

There has also been hundreds of billions more in general funds sent to states that could be spent on broadband access.


By TALI ARBEL AP Technology Writer

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Telecoms

Patrick Drahi’s Altice acquires 12.1% stake in Britain’s BT

Inside Telecom Staff

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Patrick Drahi

France’s second largest telco, Altice, announced on Thursday the acquisition of a 12.1 percent stake in the UK’s BT Group for a valuation of $3.1 billion, as it looks to double down on its ambition of building a nationwide fiber broadband network.

Altice – which is owned by telecoms tycoon Patrick Drahi – operates in the U.S., France, Portugal, and Israel delivering fiber and mobile networks to more than 40 million users.

Altice UK is owned by Next Alt, Drahi’s private holding, which also controls SFR, the second largest telecoms operator in France behind Orange.

However, Altice UK, a company set up specifically for the acquisition, had rushed to calm critics by publicly informing “the BT board that it does not intend to make a takeover offer for BT.”

The company even highlighted that it holds the board and management team at BT “in high regard and is supportive of their strategy.”

In parallel, BT echoed Altice’s intentions as they released a statement categorizing the 12.1 percent acquisition as “support for our management and strategy.”

“We welcome all investors who recognize the long-term value of our business and the important role it plays in the UK,” BT Group’s statement read.

While others consider that BT, which is the UK’s largest broadband and mobile operator, is championing itself as a national hero by revamping the country’s networks which are currently trailing behind other EU countries such as Spain.

According to previous announcements, the telco is planning to extend its fiber broadband to 25 million homes and businesses by 2026 – a case in point of why the acquisition was approved.

This was doubled down by Drahi who released a statement noting that the investment “has a compelling opportunity to deliver one of the UK Government’s most important policies, namely the substantial expansion of access to a full-fiber, gigabit-capable broadband network throughout the UK.”

“Our approach is to combine high levels of technical expertise, resilience and operating efficiency with a strong focus on innovation and customer service. Altice has brought an entrepreneurial culture, energy and effectiveness to building its networks and operations,” the telecoms tycoon added.

In parallel, it is worth mentioning that this acquisition places Altice as the largest BT shareholder, steaming ahead of Deutsche Telekom’s 12.06 percent stake, according to numbers by Refinitiv.

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Telecoms

BT triples broadband speeds for 8,500 micro-businesses

Karim Husami

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BT is tripling broadband speeds for 5,900 micro-businesses in Manchester and 8,500 micro-businesses in Birmingham to promote the launch of its new business unit dedicated to small firms and start-ups.

The new unit is launching in Birmingham by offering discounted full fiber packages for thousands of micro businesses – which typically have a handful of employees.

BT’s recent survey found that nearly a third of Birmingham small businesses (28 per cent) planned to move more of their operations online following lockdown restrictions easing; while 67 per cent would be more likely to adopt new technologies if they knew the technology industry provided training or support.

The survey also found that more than 70 per cent of small firms in Birmingham are confident in the success of their business as the lockdown restrictions lift. And with more than 18,000 businesses set up in Birmingham during 2020, the rise of digital shopkeepers and freelancers mean that an increasing number are running their business from home.

BT’s new online tools are designed to remove some of the biggest barriers which are preventing the UK’s smallest companies from using digital advertising to boost their online presence and reach new customers. The new service is currently being trialed with customers and BT will share more details over the coming weeks.

Working with its infrastructure partner Openreach, BT’s Enterprise business will focus on bringing full fiber to businesses across Birmingham, including 8,500 micro businesses initially. These businesses will be able to access BT’s fastest full fiber speeds yet – up to 900Mbps – a tripling of the speeds previously available.

Sarah Walker, BT Enterprise business director for the Midlands, said: “By setting up this new unit we’re investing in the future of Birmingham’s smallest firms and start-ups which are the lifeblood of the local economy. I’m really proud that we’re creating this new unit at a time when their success has never been more important in securing the city’s future as it rebuilds after the toughest economic crisis in a generation.

“In addition, we’re tripling the speed of full fiber broadband for businesses in Birmingham, with nearly 8,500 of the city’s smallest firms now able to access speeds of up to 900Mbps through BT. The availability of our fastest business broadband speeds yet will grow over time as Openreach continues to expand its full fiber footprint across the city,” Walker said.

Together with the launch of the UK’s first ‘unbreakable’ Wi-Fi for micro-businesses – delivering guaranteed coverage across the workplace, full fiber speeds and free tech expert support – the new unit will help the UK’s smallest firms and start-ups to rebuild and get set for growth.

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Telecoms

Finland, Japan team up to develop 6G research

Inside Telecom Staff

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As this article is being written, a new 5G connection is being setup somewhere around the world as operator after operator are swiftly working to either roll it out or refine it.

But while the fifth generation of mobile networks has become the goal for many countries across the world, major telecom players around the world have started planning ahead for 6G.

Industry groups from both Japan and Finland announced on Tuesday a joint research to develop the sixth generation of mobile networks, in a bid to compete with Chinese companies who have already started forging 6G standards.

Both nations will cooperate through the Finnish 6G Flagship research program coordinated by the University of Oulu and the Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium of the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was published in Tokyo in connection with the Global Digital Summit organized by The Nikkei, a Japanese financial media, and the Japanese Ministry of the Interior and Communications.

6G Flagship and the Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium are now launching research and development collaboration on 6G technology. “The goal is to contribute significantly to the global standardization and regulatory development of 6G technology,” University of Oulu said in a statement.

“Japan is a major global player in the development of wireless mobile technologies, and it is in Finland’s interest to expand the cooperation to themes where mutual competitive advantage can be achieved for 6G development. The importance of the collaboration is underlined by Japan’s decision earlier this spring to invest $2 billion in the development of 6G technologies,” the statement added.

This cooperation comes following $4.5 billion commitment by both Japan and the U.S. toward the advancement of next-generation communications technology, dated back in April. Extending the cooperation to “third-countries” to promote secure connectivity is seen helping in the competition with China to set global standards.

In addition to the University of Tokyo and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, the key member organizations of the Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium in Japan includes several Japanese telecommunications companies, operators, and the conglomerate SoftBank.

6G Flagship is a research, development and innovation program funded by the Academy of Finland and the University of Oulu for 2018−2026.

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