Thursday, October 15, 2020
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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