While You Were Checking the Latest Polls

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, October 30, 2020

Weekly Digest

While You Were Checking the Latest Polls

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of October 26-30, 2020

Kevin Taglang

Tuesday, November 3, is Election Day. And as you may well be trying to decipher the latest polls to predict who'll be running the federal government for the next four years, policymakers haven't taken a break. Here's a quick recap of the major news of the week.

Federal Communications Commission Meeting and More

The Federal Communications Commission convened for its monthly open meeting on October 27. As we highlighted last week, net neutrality was again on the agenda, and the FCC's Republican majority, after a court-mandated review, found no basis to alter its conclusions in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, the 2017 repeal of net neutrality protections. Most disheartening for public interest advocates is the FCC's declaration that any potential negative effects that the reclassification of broadband service may have on the three issues the court asked the FCC to reexamine ( public safety, the regulation of pole attachments, and universal service support for low-income consumers through the FCC's own Lifeline program) are limited. Further, the FCC declares it would not change its classification decision even if such negative effects were substantiated because the “overwhelming benefits of Title I classification and restoration of light-touch regulation outweigh any adverse effects.”

The FCC also created a new program in the Universal Service Fund, the 5G Fund for Rural America. (We highlighted the proposal on October 9.) The 5G Fund will replace the FCC's existing Mobility Fund which has been used to support deployment of 4G LTE networks in rural, insular, and high cost areas of the country. The FCC will distribute up to $9 billion in universal service support to bring mobile voice and 5G broadband service to rural areas of the country. 5G Fund support will be delayed, however, until the FCC has new, more precise, verified mobile coverage data collected through its Digital Opportunity Data Collection

The FCC also launched bidding in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction this week. The first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund targets up to $16 billion in subsidies to build broadband networks where service is not available today. Three hundred and eighty-six broadband providers have qualified to participate in the auction that will award funds to the carrier that needs the least amount of support to build a network in an unserved area. Eligibility for participation is technologically neutral and open to new providers, and the bidding procedures prioritize bids for higher speeds (up to 1 Gbps). (We wrote about the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in more detail back in February and June.)

Senate Hearing on the Infamous Section 230

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee convened a hearing on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The 1996 law, which some refer to as the “26 words that created the internet,” has provided social media platforms immunity from liability for third-party content on their platforms and for their moderation efforts of those postings. (Again, we looked at this debate last week.) Some were disappointed with this week's hearing. The top executives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter testified, but senators seemed to take a partisan approach to the proceeding. Republicans claimed the companies were suppressing conservative views. Of the 81 questions asked by Republicans, 69 were about censorship and the political ideologies of the tech employees responsible for moderating content. Democrats accused their colleagues of holding a “sham” hearing for political gain. Democrats asked 48 questions, mostly about regulating the spread of misinformation related to the election and the coronavirus pandemic. As we're apt to say (with an inappropriate eye roll), "A fun time was had by all." See our longer summary of the 4-hour hearing.

Broadband for America Now

Finally, big news out of our home office in Evanston, Illinois: Benton updated our call for a new, national broadband strategy in a new publication authored by Senior Fellow, Jonathan Sallet, titled, Broadband for America Now. In 2019, Benton jumpstarted a conversation around a comprehensive agenda to make sure everyone in the U.S. could use High-Performance Broadband in the 2020s. We promised a refresh in 2020 because we knew there were issues that required additional development and more success stories that needed to be told. What we did not know was that the world would be changed permanently by COVID-19, creating health, economic, and social crises, resulting in the worst economic setback in America in decades and unveiling a connectivity crisis that spans rural and urban places, threatening to create an even more divided America.

As we near the end of 2020, we need to inject a new sense of urgency into implementing equitable broadband policies. We can’t wait any longer to make truly universal broadband happen. We must start addressing at-home internet access not as a troubling issue, but as a civil rights emergency in need of a comprehensive solution. Our current crises demand it.

As we did last year, we base sound broadband policy on four foundational elements:

  • Digital Equity: Making affordable High-Performance Broadband available to low-income, unserved, and underserved populations—accompanied by training in digital skills that empowers users to make the most of their connections—will contribute to a more equitable society.
  • Deployment: In a world in which the talents of all people matter, broadband infrastructure investment is a necessary economic strategy. There is no reason to saddle any rural and urban area with second-rate broadband.
  • Competition: Americans should not have to pay more merely because public policy has failed to promote competition effectively.
  • Community Anchor Institutions: Using broadband to fulfill their missions, these institutions should be able to reach users wherever they are—from dining room tables to parking lots—and serve as launching pads for communitywide access.

Finally, we recognize the importance of federal, state, tribal, and local governments working together. Broadband is more than just a technology; it is the way that society is being shaped. Broadband deployment and usage should include strategies that build on different state, tribal, and local circumstances, including their political and economic environments, health threats, resource levels, and broadband usage needs. Fusing federal support with state, tribal, and local leadership will allow for implementation of a comprehensive broadband agenda.


We'll be back next week looking (we hope) at election results and their impact on 2021 broadband policy. Until then, stay sane.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Nov 4 -- How did the pandemic change digital inclusion work – on the ground and in policy? (National Digital Inclusion Alliance)

Nov 6 -- Broadcaster Access to Capital Virtual Symposium (FCC)

Nov 6 -- Successful Strategies for Obtaining RHC Support (Schools Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition)

Nov 10 -- When good is the enemy of great: Rural broadband in a time of COVID (Oxford University)

Nov 10 -- Nomination Hearing for Nathan Simington  (Senate Commerce Committee)

Nov 18 -- November 2020 Open Commission Meeting (FCC)

Dec 4 -- The Courts, The Hill and The FCC - A Year in Review and Setting the Stage for 2021 (National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors)

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2020. Redistribution of this email publication - both internally and externally - is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
727 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
headlines AT benton DOT org

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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Kevin Taglang.