Monday, October 19, 2020
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On October 1, AT&T stopped selling digital-subscriber-line (DSL) connections. At first glance, the move may seem like a market-based decision to drop an obsolete technology. But as journalists and advocates were quick to pick up on: What about the abandoned customers? At a time when safety dictates that many of us learn and earn from home, how are people to do so when a commercial decision impacts health and well-being? Although the situation seems ripe for government intervention, the Federal Communications Commission's adherence to "light-touch" regulation is preventing any recourse for consumers.
SatelliteInternet.com published a report based on more than 1 million internet speed tests in rural cities: communities with populations of less than 10,000 people that are at least an hour away from the nearest major city. Over the last ten months, the national average for all rural speed tests increased from 39.01Mbps to 45.9Mbps, which is encouraging. The rural areas with high internet speeds: Boardman, OR (103.8Mbps), Madisonville, LA (101.7Mbps), Rifle, CO (96.7Mbps), Pulaski, VA (96.6Mbps), Seaford, DE (96.4Mbps), Ware, MA (92.0Mbps), Barnegat, NJ (90.1Mbps), Lock Haven, PA (89.5Mbps), Cotati, CA (89.0Mbps), Valley, AL (86.6Mbps), Winchester, CA (85.9Mbps), Avon, CO (83.2Mbps), El Cerrito (82.8Mbps), Inwood, WV (82.4Mbps), Reedsburg, WI (81.3Mbps), Mahopac, NY (79.8Mbps), Scottsville, KY (79.7Mbps), Erwin, TN (78.8Mbps), Ruckersville, VA (78.7Mbps), and Chilhowie, VA (77.9Mbps).
The rural cities with the lowest internet speeds: Hyden, KY (4.2 Mbps), White Hall, AR (5.4 Mbps), Yale, MI (5.9 Mbps), Farmington, ME (6.4 Mbps), Stevensville, MT (6.6 Mbps), Stowe, VT (7.3 Mbps), Blue Hill, ME (7.3 Mbps), Fairfax, VT (7.5 Mbps), Caldwell, TX (7.7 Mbps), Mountain View, AR (7.7 Mbps), Winnemucca, NV (8.3 Mbps), Bellville, OH (8.3 Mbps), Mariposa, CA (8.6 Mbps), Kingston, WA (9.2 Mbps), Merrill, WI (10.3 Mbps), Linden, TN (10.9 Mbps), Sylva, NC (11 Mbps), Pecos, TX (11.1 Mbps), Spring Hill, KS (11.2 Mbps), and Grayson, KY (11.2 Mbps).
The tantalizing prospect of 10G internet service — which would be 10 times faster than today's 1G networks — is starting to take shape, and soon city officials will need to set policy guidelines for this next generation of cable broadband. For now, ubiquitous 1 gigabit internet is "really going to be needed to ensure that the U.S. is at the forefront of global economic growth and opportunity," says Angie Kronenberg of INCOMPAS, the internet and competitive networks trade association. (INCOMPAS issued a new policy paper aimed at impressing lawmakers with the immediate need for broadband funding.) Kronenberg's advice to city officials:
- Plan for an effective and efficient permitting process.
- Add networks, not fees.
- Update maps to detect where connectivity problems lie.
- Provide "future proof" networks by prioritizing the laying of fiber.
Ligado Networks is raising $3.85 billion in expensive new financing to stay out of bankruptcy. The company's survival could be crucial to the long sought-after, and sometimes controversial, dream of deploying a nationwide 5G network. JPMorgan bankers presented Ligado’s bond deal earlier with juicy interest payments of 13% on the highest priority notes and 16% on the more junior notes. But that wasn't good enough — the bank changed the terms Oct 15 in order to drum up more demand. Ligado reduced the amount it is borrowing from $4.3 billion, and is now offering to pay a 15.5% coupon on the more senior notes and 17.5% on the junior bond.
The vast majority of school district leaders and principals say at least some of their students still don't have sufficient internet access at home for remote learning. And most educators believe the U.S. government should be providing more funding to ensure that's no longer the case. Two recent surveys reflect strong convictions among educators that the level of home internet access in the communities they serve continues to be inadequate. With millions of students learning from home as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the urgency to resolve those issues remains very high.
Slightly more than two-thirds of district leaders and principals say they need government funds for purchasing hotspots or home Wi-Fi for families, according to a nationwide EdWeek Research Center survey conducted in late September and early October. Only 11 percent of respondents to that survey said all students in their school or district have the level of home internet access they need to fully participate in remote instruction.
Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan group of state and district education leaders, released a report calling for a federal commitment to universal broadband access. The group highlights local efforts to improve internet access in various states, but argues schools don't currently have the resources to comprehensively solve the problem on their own.
Only six weeks after its launch, last week marked a major milestone for the Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students Program: We have connected more than 100,000 low-income students statewide and the number grows by the thousands each day. These Alabama students now have reliable broadband service—paid for by the State of Alabama—that enables them to do homework and distance learn, with the cost of broadband removed as a barrier to learning. The ABC for Students Program is part of how Alabama is confronting the challenges of supporting our students in the midst of pandemic. In late July, as it became clear that some Alabama schools would use distance learning for some of the upcoming school year, Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) dedicated $100 million in federal CARES Act funding for this new public-private partnership program to support low-income students. The mission? Quickly deliver no-cost broadband services to low-income K-12 students across the state. The challenge? Standing up, in a matter of weeks, an enormously ambitious—and absolutely critical—program with collaboration between the State and internet service providers.
[Kenneth W. Boswell is Director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs]
Technology companies are set to end the year with their greatest share of the stock market ever, topping a dot-com era peak in the latest illustration of their growing influence on global consumers. Companies that do everything from manufacturing phones to operating social-media platforms now account for nearly 40% of the S&P 500, on pace to eclipse a record of 37% from 1999, according to a Dow Jones Market Data analysis of annual market-value data going back 30 years. Apple accounts for more than 7% of the index on its own. Early last month, it accounted for 8% of the S&P, the largest share ever for any stock in data going back to 1998. Trends like remote work and cloud computing are driving growth at these firms, helping tech companies expand their businesses when many are struggling. Yet the concentration of gains in a narrow group of companies concerns many investors, who worry that stocks are too dependent on the sector and that a significant pullback in a few names could bring down markets.
Without us even realizing it, the Internet’s most-used website has been getting worse. On too many queries, Google is more interested in making search lucrative than a better product for us. There’s one reason it gets away with this, according to a recent congressional investigation: Google is so darn big. An impending antitrust lawsuit from the Justice Department is expected to make a similar point. How does Google’s alleged monopoly hurt you? Today, 88 percent of all searches happen on Google, in part because contracts make it the default on computers and phones. But whether Google is actually fetching you good information can be hard to see. First, Googling is easy and free, which blinds everyone a bit. Second, we don’t have a great alternative for broad Web searches — Microsoft’s rival Bing doesn’t have enough data to compete well. (This is the problem of monopolies in the information age.)
There is a fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites that aim to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country. Yet the network, now in all 50 states, is built not on traditional journalism but on propaganda ordered up by dozens of conservative think tanks, political operatives, corporate executives and public-relations professionals. The sites appear as ordinary local-news outlets, with names like Des Moines Sun, Ann Arbor Times and Empire State Today. They employ simple layouts and articles about local politics, community happenings and sometimes national issues, much like any local newspaper. But behind the scenes, many of the stories are directed by political groups and corporate PR firms to promote a Republican candidate or a company, or to smear their rivals. The network is largely overseen by Brian Timpone, a TV reporter turned internet entrepreneur who has sought to capitalize on the decline of local news organizations for nearly two decades. He has built the network with the help of several others, including a Texas brand-management consultant and a conservative Chicago radio personality.
Government & Communications
Superior Court Judge Shana Frost Matini ruled that Michael Pack overstepped his authority when he fired the board of an agency that helps dissidents and journalists in repressive countries and sought to replace it with his own slate of directors, including himself. Shortly after taking over the US Agency for Global Media, Pack began a sweeping overhaul of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other government-funded media operations, firing five of their directors; two others resigned in anticipation of his cuts. But the board of the Open Technology Fund, which Pack dismissed along with its director, rejected his order, arguing that he didn’t have the authority to replace them, and at one point, it blocked Pack’s chosen slate of directors and his new chief executive designee from taking over its offices in the District of Columbia. The District’s attorney general, which oversees nonprofits in the city, sued on the agency’s behalf. Judge Shana Frost Matini agreed that Pack was not authorized by the fund’s bylaws to replace its leadership and that the board Pack has been seeking to replace is the “valid” one at the agency.
The Trump administration has undercut democracy activists in Belarus and Hong Kong by abruptly ending funding to a US internet freedom organization that provides technological tools to evade censorship and surveillance, according to cyber experts and lawmakers. The organization, a nonprofit called the Open Technology Fund, said the sudden disappearance of $20 million has forced it to cancel plans to deliver emergency aid to journalists and civil society groups facing authoritarian clampdowns in Belarus and Hong Kong. The funding halt forced the Open Technology Fund to issue stop-work orders for all of its projects in Belarus, where it has operated for years, said Karen Kornbluh, a former senior U.S. diplomat who is chair of the fund's board. The $20 million represented the bulk of the Open Technology Fund's 2020 budget. The freeze was ordered by the new CEO of the US Agency for Global Media, Michael Pack, a conservative documentary filmmaker and ally of Steve Bannon, the former adviser to President Donald Trump.
We are gathering virtually at a pivotal moment in the evolution of communications technology. Across America and around the world, private companies are rolling out the next generation of wireless technology—commonly known as 5G. These networks will bring exponential increases in speed, responsiveness, and capacity—creating an incredible wireless experience for both consumers and enterprises. As we have pursued our own actions to address security threats, the United States has been working closely with our international partners. Put simply, international cooperation is critical if we are to protect our 5G infrastructure. Efforts to secure 5G networks do not stop at our borders. We are in this together.
At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal court issued a temporary restraining order against Marc and Courtney Grisham and two companies they operate, Disruption Theory LLC and Emergent Technologies LLC, which do business as inmatecall.com and inmatecallsolutions.com. In its complaint, the FTC alleges that the operators advertised and marketed calling plans for unlimited minutes, which they did not provide. Prison and jail calls are provided by specialized service providers, which have contracts with correctional facilities and charge for calls at predetermined per-minute rates. Specialized service providers have not and do not currently offer unlimited calling plans. This is the first case the FTC has brought involving inmate calling plans.
The FTC alleges that the operators of the scheme preyed on inmates’ families and friends who rely on phone calls to stay in touch with their incarcerated loved ones—particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when in-person visitation has been suspended at prisons—and may be looking for cheaper calling options given the high cost of per-minute calls. According to the complaint, inmatecall.com and inmatecallsolutions.com charged prices ranging from $29.97 for one month of their purported “unlimited” service to $49.97 for three months, and $89.97 for a year.
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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