Daily Digest 10/15/2020 (José Mario Molina-Pasquel y Henríquez)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Broadband/Internet

The Pandemic's Digital Shadow  |  Read below  |  Adrian Shahbaz, Allie Funk  |  Research  |  Freedom House
USDA Invests More Than $165 Million in Rural Broadband in 9 States  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Department of Agriculture
FCC Announces 386 Applicants Qualified to Bid in Broadband Auction  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission
SpaceX gets FCC approval to bid in $16 billion rural-broadband auction. 400 ISPs qualify, with SpaceX as only LEO satellite  |  Ars Technica
AT&T’s Move to Disconnect DSL Customers Shows Harm of Deregulatory Agenda  |  Read below  |  Harold Feld, Brian Thorn, Francella Ochillo, Paul Goodman, Angela Siefer, Yosef Getachew  |  Analysis  |  Public Knowledge
It’s Time to Put Anchors on the (Broadband) Map  |  Read below  |  John Windhausen Jr  |  Editorial  |  Schools Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition
Public Infrastructure/Private Service: A Shared-Risk Partnership Model for 21st Century Broadband Infrastructure  |  Read below  |  Joanne Hovis, Jim Baller, David Talbot, Cat Blake  |  Research  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Telecom

Why are jail phone calls so expensive?  |  Read below  |  Tyler Kendall  |  CBS

Wireless/Spectrum

FCC, USAID to Collaborate on International 5G Deployment and Security  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission, US Agency for International Development
Apple and Verizon say 5G is here. That's not exactly true yet.  |  Read below  |  Cat Zakrzewski  |  Analysis  |  Washington Post
Xfinity Mobile Expands 5G Coverage Nationwide  |  Comcast
Nokia op-ed: 5G-powered automation will transform work for the better  |  Financial Times

Education

2020 E-rate Trends Report  |  Read below  |  Research  |  Funds For Learning
Why the “homework gap” is key to America’s digital divide  |  Read below  |  Tanya Basu  |  Technology Review
Op-Ed: Students around the country need Congress and the FCC to act  |  RCRWirelessNews

Platforms

Judge Clarence Thomas thinks it's time to rein in Section 230  |  Protocol
To Mend a Broken Internet, Create Online Parks  |  Read below  |  Eli Pariser  |  Op-Ed  |  Wired
How to Deal With a Crisis of Misinformation  |  New York Times
YouTube bans misinformation about Covid vaccinations  |  Guardian, The
Twitter suspends accounts for posing as Black Trump supporters  |  Guardian, The
Twitter Investigation Report: Company lacked adequate cybersecurity protection ahead of July hacks  |  New York State Department of Financial Services
Manhattan Emptied Out During the Pandemic. But Big Tech Is Moving In.  |  New York Times
TikTok Rivals Seek to Exploit US Action, Lawyers Say in Court Filings  |  Wall Street Journal

Elections & Media

Allegation on Hunter Biden Prompts Pushback From Social Media Companies  |  New York Times
Facebook, Twitter seek to keep Hunter Biden report from going viral amid disinformation crackdown  |  Los Angeles Times
Twitter, Facebook face blowback after stopping circulation of NY Post story  |  Ars Technica
NBC Faces Blowback for Holding Trump’s Town Hall Opposite Biden’s  |  New York Times

Government & Communications

Commander in tweets. The dispatches that define the Trump presidency  |  Washington Post

Ownership

Cable, Business Groups Back Comcast in Antitrust Fight  |  Read below  |  Alexandra Levine  |  Politico
Google Was a Godsend for These Companies. Now It’s a Rival.  |  Wall Street Journal

Television

In Shows Like ‘Social Distance,’ TV Learns to Work From Home  |  New York Times

Philanthropy

Comcast Offers Thousands of Grants, Equipment, Marketing and Tech Resources to Small Businesses Hardest Hit by COVID  |  Comcast

Policymakers

Race heats up for top GOP post on powerful House Commerce Committee  |  Read below  |  Juliegrace Brufke, Olivia Beavers  |  Hill, The

Stories From Abroad

Amazon will escape landmark digital tax in UK  |  Times, The
Fifty hours spent trying to get Vodafone to fix my vital broadband  |  Guardian, The
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Speaks Out Against Harmful Online Behavior  |  New York Times
Today's Top Stories

Broadband/Internet

The Pandemic's Digital Shadow

Adrian Shahbaz, Allie Funk  |  Research  |  Freedom House

Three notable trends punctuated an especially dismal year for internet freedom. First, political leaders used the pandemic as a pretext to limit access to information. Authorities often blocked independent news sites and arrested individuals on spurious charges of spreading false news. Second, authorities cited COVID-19 to justify expanded surveillance powers and the deployment of new technologies that were once seen as too intrusive. The third trend has been the transformation of a slow-motion “splintering” of the internet into an all-out race toward “cyber sovereignty,” with each government imposing its own internet regulations in a manner that restricts the flow of information across national borders.

USDA Invests More Than $165 Million in Rural Broadband in 9 States

Press Release  |  Department of Agriculture

The US Department of Agriculture is investing over $165 million to provide broadband service in 9 states as part of the second round of the ReConnect program. 

  • Emery Telecommunications & Video Inc. will use a $6.3 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,638 people, 91 farms, 52 businesses, three fire stations, and two post offices to high-speed broadband internet in Dolores, San Miguel, and Montezuma counties in Colorado.

  • AP&T Wireless Inc. will use a $21.5 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 225 people, 32 businesses, an educational facility, a post office and a fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area, Alaska.

  • Unicom Inc. will use a $25 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 7,441 people, 310 businesses, 10 educational facilities, seven post offices, four fire stations and a city hall to high-speed broadband internet in Kodiak Island Borough, Lake and Peninsula Borough, Aleutians East Borough and Aleutians West Census Area in Alaska.

  • South Slope Cooperative Telephone Company will use a $2.7 million grant and a $2.7 million loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,984 people, 147 farms and 26 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Iowa and Johnson counties in Iowa.

  • Hamilton County Telephone Co-op will use a $20 million grant and a $20 million loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 19,749 people, 462 businesses, 347 farms, 16 educational facilities, three post offices and four fire stations to high-speed broadband internet in Saline, Williamson, Franklin, and White counties in Illinois.

  • Flat Rock Telephone Co-op Inc. will use a $3.2 million grant and a $3.2 million loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,460 people, 50 farms, 13 businesses, and a fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Crawford and Lawrence counties in Illinois.

  • Valley Telecommunications Cooperative Association Inc. will use a $5.5 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,561 people, 30 businesses, 185 farms, three essential community facilities, and six educational facilities to high-speed broadband internet in Beadle, Brookings, Clark, Kingsbury, and Moody counties in South Dakota.

  • Midvale Telephone Company will use a $5.4 million grant and $5.4 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 236 people, 15 businesses, four farms, and one fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Washington, Custer, Blaine, Valley, and Idaho counties in Idaho.

  • Direct Communications Rockland Inc. will use a $9.8 million grant and a $9.8 million ReConnect Loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 2,064 people, 118 farms, 30 businesses, a post office, and a fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Bear Lake, Power, Franklin and Oneida counties in Idaho.

  • Oregon-Idaho Utilities Inc. will use a $12.8 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 612 people, 75 farms, and three businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Owyhee County, Idaho; Malheur County, Oregon; and Humboldt and Elko counties in Nevada.

  • Project Telephone Company will use a $5.4 million grant and $5.4 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 2,182 people, 160 farms, and 67 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Big Horn, Stillwater, and Carbon counties in Montana.

  • Alliance Communications Cooperative Inc. will use a $1.5 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,176 people, 19 businesses, and 30 farms to high-speed broadband internet in Lincoln and Turner counties in South Dakota.

FCC Announces 386 Applicants Qualified to Bid in Broadband Auction

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission announced that 386 applicants are qualified to bid in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction. The FCC's Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force, Office of Economics and Analytics, and Wireline Competition Bureau identified the qualified applicants and provided educational materials for participating in the auction. The number of qualified bidders represents a more than 75% increase in the number of bidders in 2018’s successful Connect America Fund Phase II auction and also includes bidding consortia that contain multiple service providers. Qualified bidders will compete to receive up to $16 billion over ten years to provide broadband to wholly unserved areas, with priority given to bids for higher speeds (up to 1 Gbps) and lower latency.

AT&T’s Move to Disconnect DSL Customers Shows Harm of Deregulatory Agenda

Harold Feld, Brian Thorn, Francella Ochillo, Paul Goodman, Angela Siefer, Yosef Getachew  |  Analysis  |  Public Knowledge

Public Knowledge, Communications Workers of America, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Next Century Cities, Common Cause, and Greenlining Institute filed an ex parte warning the Federal Communications Commission that its deregulatory agenda leaves consumers vulnerable to losing broadband service during the pandemic. AT&T recently told the FCC that it is discontinuing DSL broadband service. The news helps demonstrate the flawed reasoning in the FCC’s draft net neutrality Remand Order. The Order would affirm the 2017 decision to reclassify broadband as a Title I information service on the grounds that whatever harms this might do to public safety, or how it might impact access for rural and poor Americans, are “outweighed” by the benefits of deregulation. But as AT&T’s action shows, deregulating broadband actually reduces the availability of broadband to the poorest and most rural Americans. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai should withdraw the Order and restore the FCC’s oversight authority over broadband.

It’s Time to Put Anchors on the (Broadband) Map

John Windhausen Jr  |  Editorial  |  Schools Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

We already know that the Federal Communication Commission’s current broadband maps are flawed – they overstate broadband availability, they don’t contain pricing information, and they rely too heavily on industry-provided data. The FCC is now seeking additional funding from Congress to improve its mapping efforts. But before Congress appropriates these funds, it should consider addressing another critical weakness in the proposed maps: the exclusion of schools, libraries, healthcare providers and other community anchor institutions (CAIs). The FCC’s July 2020 Second Report and Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) proposes to improve mapping granularity and accuracy for businesses and residential consumers, as required by the Broadband DATA Act. Unfortunately, despite language in the House Commerce Committee report and a floor statement from Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) calling for the FCC to include anchor institutions in the broadband maps, the FNPRM barely mentions CAIs. In addition, paragraph 90 of the FNPRM asks whether the FCC should use the new broadband maps for awarding E-rate and Rural Health Care (RHC) funding. Congress already answered this question – they should not.

Public Infrastructure/Private Service: A Shared-Risk Partnership Model for 21st Century Broadband Infrastructure

Joanne Hovis, Jim Baller, David Talbot, Cat Blake  |  Research  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

The Public Infrastructure/Private Service model puts the locality in the business of building infrastructure, a business cities and counties know well after a century of building roads, bridges, and utilities. The model leaves to the private sector most aspects of network operations, equipment provisioning, and service delivery. The Public Infrastructure/Private Service model leverages the best capabilities of the public and private sectors. In this model, cities and counties do what they’ve always done: finance and build basic infrastructure, manage rights-of-way, and maintain that infrastructure over long periods of time—ensuring that the entire community benefits from the infrastructure and that government functions can happen over fiber that connects municipal offices, libraries, public safety agencies, and schools. This emerging model presents a scalable option for communities that lack the expertise or interest to operate communications networks or act as internet service providers themselves but want to own and control the core communications assets in their community as a means of securing the benefits of the broadband internet.

Telecommunications

Why are jail phone calls so expensive?

Tyler Kendall  |  CBS

Why are prison phone rates so high? Experts say inmates are subject to monopolies and surcharges because they're unable to shop around for phone providers. Nationwide, the average cost of one 15-minute phone call from jail is $5.74, but that amount can range as high as $24.82, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Those rates don't include additional fees, such as charges for setting up an account or listening to voicemails. Most people detained at county jails are typically held temporarily, often housing those awaiting trial or intake into the state system for longer sentences. According to experts, that's creating a climate for predatory phone costs — since individual jails have less negotiating power with contractors than the state does. Jails are also less likely to be covered by legislation that provides protections to those in the state's custody.

In Sept, 373 organizations urged the US Senate to take on a bill that would ban facilities from receiving compensation from communication providers, which often drives up the prices of calls. The House passed the Martha Wright Phone Justice Act as part of its next phase of coronavirus stimulus, but talks for any relief have remained stalled on Capitol Hill. The legislation is named after a mother who had to choose between affording her medication or calling her incarcerated son.  

Spectrum/Wireless

FCC, USAID to Collaborate on International 5G Deployment and Security

The Federal Communications Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Agency for International Development to promote secure and open 5G networks in the developing world. Under the agreement, the FCC and USAID will promote open, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet and digital infrastructure and advance interagency coordination on network security in developing countries. The agreement affirms the following goals and objectives:

  • Promoting competition, innovation, and investment in broadband services and facilities within developing countries;
  • Boosting the U.S. economy by ensuring a competitive framework for evolving communications networks and services in emerging markets;
  • Encouraging the highest and best use of spectrum domestically and internationally; and
  • Strengthening the defense of our Nation's communications infrastructure.

Apple and Verizon say 5G is here. That's not exactly true yet.

Cat Zakrzewski  |  Analysis  |  Washington Post

5G remains a work in progress throughout the United States. Access to 5G networks is limited to a handful of US cities, and in some instances, it’s currently slower than 4G speeds. The fastest early deployments have been concentrated in areas most Americans aren’t visiting very much since the pandemic began — such as stadiums. “It will likely be a few more years before we see what kind of revolution 5G will bring about in the tech world,” said Stan Adams, the deputy general counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Washington policymakers broadly agree that 5G is important — especially when it comes to the United States maintaining its tech dominance and competing with China, which has aggressively embraced the next generation of wireless networks. But there are competing proposals for how the federal government could most quickly and effectively commercialize the most valuable airwaves. Many experts say the future of 5G depends carriers having greater access to airwaves known as mid-band spectrum, which is ideal for 5G deployment because it provides both fast speeds and greater coverage. But much of that is controlled by the Pentagon, which currently uses the spectrum for radar and aviation. And the future of those airwaves is in doubt. 

Education

2020 E-rate Trends Report

Research  |  Funds For Learning

The E-rate program supports nearly every school and library in America, annually providing billions of dollars of much-needed support for Internet access, telecommunications, and computer networking. Over 21,000 applicants and 4,100 vendors currently participate in the program. For most, their perception of the program is limited to a handful of funding requests and a few personal interactions with USAC customer service representatives. The purpose of this analysis is to provide stakeholders with a broader picture of the E-rate program. The data and information provided is derived from publicly available funding request data as well as a nationwide survey of applicants conducted in June 2020. All information is current as of July 17, 2020.

Why the “homework gap” is key to America’s digital divide

Tanya Basu  |  Technology Review

A Q&A with Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel on the “homework gap,” the term she coined to describe a problem facing communities where kids can’t access the internet because infrastructure is inadequate, their families can’t afford it, or both. Commissioner Rosenworcel is passionate about getting the FCC to update the E-Rate program, a federal education technology service created in 1996 that offers schools and libraries discounted internet access. 

Platforms

To Mend a Broken Internet, Create Online Parks

Eli Pariser  |  Op-Ed  |  Wired

Our digital public sphere has been failing for some time. Technologies designed to connect us have instead inflamed our arguments and torn our social fabric. It doesn’t have to be this way. History offers a proven template for how to build healthier public spaces. As wild as it sounds, part of the solution is no further than your nearest public park. But social media and messaging platforms weren't designed to serve as public spaces. They were designed to monetize attention.

Ownership

Cable, Business Groups Back Comcast in Antitrust Fight

Alexandra Levine  |  Politico

The US Chamber of Commerce, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, and others asked the Supreme Court to hear an appeal by Comcast on when courts can force a monopoly to do business with its rivals. The cable giant has asked the High Court to reverse a February appeals court decision that reinstated an antitrust suit against it by Viamedia, a company that sells ads on behalf of cable and telecom providers. “If left in place, the decision ... will have a major impact on businesses’ ability to choose the parties with whom they deal,” the Chamber said in its brief. “Firms should be free to refuse to deal with others whenever doing so is supported by a rational, procompetitive purpose.” NCTA, which lobbies on behalf of the cable industry, also criticized the appeals courts’ “tangential discussion” about interconnects — one-stop shops for advertisers to buy cable ads in a geographic area rather than dealing with each cable operator individually. The appeals court misunderstood how interconnects work, the cable lobby said.

Policymakers

Race heats up for top GOP post on powerful House Commerce Committee

Juliegrace Brufke, Olivia Beavers  |  Hill, The

Rep Greg Walden (R-OR) is retiring, opening up the top Republican spot on the House Commerce Committee. Reps. Michael Burgess (R-TX), a doctor and the most senior Republican on the panel, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) are viewed as the frontrunners. Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) is seen as a dark horse. The race is heating up. All three lawmakers have met multiple times with members of the Republican Steering Committee — which is tasked with determining committee posts — to tout their credentials for a coveted position on a panel that oversees a broad number of policy areas ranging from health care to energy to telecommunications. Another factor in the decision-making process will be their fundraising efforts, though all have shown an ability to bring in large amounts of cash for the party.

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Benton (www.benton.org) provides the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband, while connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events. While the summaries are factually accurate, their sometimes informal tone may not always represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by Kevin Taglang (headlines AT benton DOT org) and Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.


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