While You Were Googling 'Impeachment'

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, September 27, 2019

Weekly Digest

While You Were Googling 'Impeachment'

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

Round-Up for the Week of September 23-27

Kevin Taglang

Obviously, there's no bigger story this week than the possible impeachment of the 45th president of the United States. But if we still have your attention, here's some items of note we found this week.

Court Again Rejects FCC Attempt to Loosen Broadcast Ownership Rules

The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out changes to media ownership rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission in 2017, saying the agency should have looked more closely at potential impacts on minority ownership. Benton Senior Counselor Andrew Jay Schwartzman called the decision “a huge victory for the listening and viewing public.”

“The Court of Appeals has found that the FCC has yet again failed to assess how changing its ownership limits affects people of color and women,” Schwartzman said. “Diverse ownership benefits everyone, and rejection of the FCC’s deregulation is a small step in restoring a system that promotes such diversity.”

The FCC's 2017 order had to consider instructions from previous Third Circuit decisions that went against the commission. But the FCC did not comply with the court's instructions, the judges' ruling said.

The "most glaring" problem in the FCC analysis is that it "cited no evidence whatsoever regarding gender diversity," the judges wrote. The FCC claimed in a court filing that "no data on female ownership was available" yet also "purport[ed] to have complied with our instructions to consider both racial and gender diversity, repeatedly framing its conclusion in terms that encompass both areas," judges wrote. 

Of note is just how frustrated this panel of Third Circuit judges is with the FCC. The FCC's failure to seriously address the impact on female ownership would be "enough to justify remand" on its own, judges said. But the FCC also failed to properly examine the evidence on minority ownership, they said. The FCC's analysis of evidence on ownership by racial minorities "is so insubstantial that it would receive a failing grade in any introductory statistics class," the judges' ruling said.


Rebuilding Communications Infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Two years ago, the worst natural disaster in recorded history to affect Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- Hurricane Maria -- caused losses estimated at about $91 billion. The communications infrastructure on the islands was devastated. 

In June 2018, the FCC created the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and the Connect USVI Fund to "rebuild, improve and expand voice and broadband networks" in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The FCC made available $750 million of funding to carriers in Puerto Rico, including an immediate infusion of $51.2 million for restoration efforts in 2018. The FCC also made $204 million of funding to carriers in the U.S. Virgin Islands, including an immediate infusion of $13 million for restoration efforts in 2018

This week, the FCC approved $950 million in funding to improve, expand, and harden communications networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This funding is meant to provide "mid- and long-term support to deploy fast, resilient, and reliable networks that will stand the test of time." The FCC voted to allocate more than $500 million over ten years in fixed broadband support for Puerto Rico and more than $250 million over three years in mobile broadband support. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the FCC allocated more than $180 million over ten years in support for fixed networks and $4 million over three years for mobile networks.

Fixed broadband support will be awarded through a competitive process, in which service providers will bid to serve every location in each covered area with up to gigabit speeds. Providers’ applications will be scored based on objective criteria in three categories: price per location served, network performance (speed and latency), and network resiliency and redundancy. Support for mobile services will be awarded to providers that were offering mobile services in the Territories prior to the hurricanes in order to expand and harden 4G LTE networks and deploy next-generation 5G networks. These high-speed, storm-hardened fixed and mobile networks will ensure that every American living in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is connected to digital opportunity and will have access to communications when they need it most.

Defining the Digital Divide

In the wonky circles we travel, Blair Levin and Larry Downes made some waves when they penned a recent Washington Post op-ed arguing that the "solution to the digital divide is not more broadband, but persuading non-users to join the Internet society." Levin is a frequent contributor to Benton's Digital Beat and, more importantly, the architect of the FCC's 2010 National Broadband Plan. Downes is a project director at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy and a frequent contributor at the Washington Post. When these guys speak about broadband policy, people listen. 

But many (including yours truly) were perplexed that Levin and Downes surveyed the field and found "relevance" to be the culprit. In early 2016, Benton published research that found that people who don't subscribe to broadband services understand pretty well that their lives would be better with a connection at home -- their biggest obstacle is the cost of service. Researchers Colin Rhinesmith and Bibi Reisdorf, you might have noticed, answered Levin and Downes, pointing out that relying solely on survey data to examine reasons for broadband non-adoption -- and not the actual everyday experiences of low-income people -- misses the point. In Rhinesmith's and Reisdorf's research, they found that when following up with additional questions asking why low-income people do not pay for internet access at home, people often cite cost and having to pick and choose between which bills to pay as the number one barrier to broadband adoption. 

Dana Floberg, Free Press

This week, Free Press Policy Manager Dana Floberg also addressed the Levin and Downes article. In The Truth About the Digital Divide, Floberg writes, "The reality is that broadband adoption — particularly for wired service — is highly dependent on income and race. Poorer individuals and people of color are disproportionately more likely to be disconnected, and disproportionately more likely to adopt if there were more affordable services." She continues:

Low-income communities and communities of color by and large want internet service, but are prevented from adopting for a slate of complex reasons — including the fact that broadband prices are too damn high. That’s a serious injustice that denies millions of people the ability to pursue educational and economic opportunities, organize for justice and connect with loved ones. It’s flat-out wrong to let this very real part of the digital divide be hand-waved away — and it risks exacerbating digital inequities even further.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

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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.

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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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