Thursday, October 19, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
See Upcoming Events Below
Kids & Media
OMB Cyber Chief Tells Agencies to Tap Brakes on AI | Wall Street Journal
Artificial Intelligence and Election Security | Brennan Center for Justice
The Foundation Model Transparency Index | Stanford University
Stories From Abroad
The Federal Communications Commission committed $37.7 million in a new funding round through the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, which provides digital tools and services to support students in communities across the country. This funding commitment supports applications from the third application window, benefitting approximately 100,000 students nationwide, including students in Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington. This funding commitment will support approximately 220 schools and school districts, 2 library systems, and 4 consortia. The funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework, and online learning programs to ensure students across the country have the necessary support to keep up with their education. To date, the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program has provided support to over 18 million students, 11,400 schools, 1,060 libraries, and 125 consortia, and provided nearly 13 million connected devices and over 8 million broadband connections.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration's new dashboard allows anyone to track how Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program Eligible Entities are progressing through the major milestones necessary to submit their Initial Proposal by the December 27, 2023 due date. The dashboard shows a check mark when an Eligible Entity has achieved one of the eight enumerated milestones. Those milestones include sharing a pre-submission draft of Volume 1 with NTIA for guidance and feedback, releasing Volume 1 for public comment and submitting Volume 1 for NTIA approval. The remaining milestones on the dashboard are the same actions for Volume 2. The dashboard also notes whether NTIA has approved each volume, although initial proposals do not need approval before the December deadline. The NTIA has still urged states and territories to submit their Volume 1 for approval as soon as they can, as upon Volume 1 approval and submission of Volume 2, a state or territory can commence their challenge process. NTIA will update the dashboard weekly; to view Initial Proposals that have been released for public comment, visit here.
We write today to ask the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to provide guidance on alternatives to the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program’s requirement that all applicants for program funding obtain an irrevocable letter of credit of 25% of the award, in addition to the 25% company match requirement. We believe that the letter of credit requirement in its current state will force many ISPs out of the program. And with our companies, the requirement may reduce our ability to reach—at a minimum—20% of the recipients we could deploy to absent the current framework. Small, rural, municipal, and tribal ISPs have been vocal about the burden this requirement will create for their companies, organizations, and governments. We may be larger companies, but we will face similar burdens. These financial demands will reduce broadband investment by our companies, because we will either have to divert funds from ongoing network deployment or not participate in the BEAD program at all. We believe that there are alternatives to the BEAD letter of credit requirement that will both show financial capability and protect taxpayers in the event an ISP defaults, while at the same time allowing the BEAD program to achieve its goals. We suggest that NTIA encourage broader participation by financially capable ISPs of all sizes by modifying the letter of credit requirement as follows:
- Reducing the letter of credit requirement to 5% of the total grant amount;
- Requiring ISPs to obtain the letter of credit when grant funds are received, not during the application process and the initial construction phase (this will ensure taxpayer dollars are protected); and
- Retire the Letter of Credit upon certification of grant compliance.
In addition, many stakeholders have suggested using surety bonds, certification of good standing, or parent guarantees, to protect the government’s interests, and NTIA should allow these to be used as alternatives to a letter of credit.
It’s my understanding that the annual Agriculture Reauthorization Bill includes new money for the ReConnect grant program that is administered by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), which is part of the Department of Agriculture. The ReConnect grants only fund areas that are remote and include a test that gives priorities to grant areas that are the farthest distance from towns and cities. There have been changes in the broadband industry that have made it harder each year to define a ReConnect grant area. The RUS grant rules favor grant requests that cover large contiguous areas. You can cobble together grant service areas that include multiple different geographic pockets of homes and businesses, but this involves a lot more paperwork. It’s getting quickly harder to find big contiguous unserved areas. This started with the CAF II reverse auction and really came to fruition with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). RDOF often chops rural areas into small pieces and leaves behind scattered pockets of homes that are not easy to aggregate into a grant like ReConnect. This chopping up of grant areas continued as States and counties have been awarding broadband grants, often for grant areas that cherry-pick the densest pockets of homes. This not only breaks up the remaining unserved areas, but it also makes it harder to justify somebody asking for a grant to serve the areas that are left over.
Verizon is hiring 1,800 additional technicians to support its East Coast broadband expansion efforts in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Washington (DC). Many of the targeted markets are rural and traditionally underserved communities, and so they qualify for funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. The American Rescued Plan lowered one of the biggest barriers to closing the digital divide — it is simply too expensive to put in the infrastructure that the return on investment takes too long or is simply non-existent, network operators have said. However, with the sector now flush with cash, another challenge emerged: finding the fiber technicians to do the job. Therefore, Verizon’s focus on training and hiring field technicians makes perfect sense. The new Verizon jobs are union positions, represented by the Communications Workers of America or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and are expected to be filled by July 2026.
- Broadband is essential: A lot has changed since the previous Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality. A devastating pandemic reaffirmed the essential nature of broadband access to protect the health and economic security of all Americans.
- Abdicated oversight: The 2017 FCC approach was not “light touch.” It was a complete abdication of authority.
- Targeted approach: Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s approach is targeted, not heavy-handed.
- Pandemic lessons: Comparing anecdotal evidence of broadband reliability during the pandemic between the U.S. and Europe is like comparing apples to oranges.
- Broadband outage oversight: Title II would bolster FCC authority to require internet service providers to address internet outages.
- Judicial track record: The record shows that the FCC’s ability to adopt net neutrality protections can pass judicial muster. If final rules are challenged in court, challengers will have to grapple with the fact that the D.C. Circuit has previously upheld the FCC taking that same course of action.
- The investment myth: Restoring the FCC’s oversight authority over broadband networks would not delay new broadband investments and innovation.
- Broadband network security: Without broadband oversight, the FCC is unable to monitor and respond to critical national security threats.
- Consumer data protection: Net neutrality protections would increase the tools the FCC has available to protect consumer data and respond to evolving consumer threats.
- Our work continues: The FCC is doing a lot more than just focusing on net neutrality.
The Federal Communications Commission will begin implementing President Biden’s plan for increasing government control of the Internet. There will be lots of talk about “net neutrality” and virtually none about the core issue before the agency: namely, whether the FCC should claim for itself the freewheeling power to micromanage nearly every aspect of how the Internet functions—from the services that consumers can access to the prices that can be charged. The entire debate over whether Title II regulations are necessary or justified was settled years ago. Indeed, when my FCC colleagues and I voted in 2017 to overturn the Obama Administration’s failed, two-year experiment with Title II, activists and politicians alike guaranteed the American public that the Internet would quite literally break without it. They predicted that prices for broadband would spike, that you would be charged for each website you wanted to visit, and that the Internet itself would slow down. Did any one of those predictions come to pass? Of course not
The Utah Broadband Center (UBC) has important updates about significant progress on its Broadband Access Grant projects. The Broadband Access Grant is an American Rescue Plan Act-funded grant that set aside $10 million to help households and businesses impacted by COVID-19. The UBC awarded the grant to subgrantees All West Communications, Box Elder County Government and CentraCom Interactive. Beehive Broadband placed 36,000 feet of fiber In Mantua, installed 72 handholes for splice enclosures, and completed 100 percent of all aerial pole attachments. Meanwhile, All West Communications installed all 4.38 miles of engineered fiber in Croydon, installed the main FDC cabinet, and attached 12 homes to the network in preparation for internet activation. These projects will connect over 800 residences in rural Utah with 1Gbps symmetrical broadband service by the end of the year. The grant program has significantly improved the broadband outlook in rural Utah and given residents hope they will soon join the ranks of served broadband subscribers.
Lumos announced its expansion into Greenville County (SC) with nearly a $100 million investment to build out over 775 miles of its 100% fiber network throughout the county. As a result of this expansion, Lumos will be the first fiber provider to families, households, and businesses throughout portions of the Greenville market, establishing underserved areas of South Carolina for economic success in the future. The expansion will bring fiber-optic internet to thousands of residents and businesses in the greater Greenville area. This is Lumos’ third expansion into South Carolina since the start of 2023, with the company investing over $250 million into Greenville, Spartanburg, Richland and Lexington (SC) Counties.
In an era where every click, tap or keystroke leaves a digital trail, Americans remain uneasy and uncertain about their personal data and feel they have little control over how it’s used. This wariness is even ticking up in some areas like government data collection, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted May 15-21, 2023. According to the study, Americans – particularly Republicans – have grown more concerned about how the government uses their data. The public increasingly says they don’t understand what companies are doing with their data. Additionally, most believe they have little to no control over what companies or the government do with their data. There is bipartisan support for more regulation of what companies can do with people’s data. Some 72% of Americans say there should be more regulation than there is now; just 7% say there should be less. Support for more regulation reaches across the political aisle, with 78% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans taking this stance.
Kids & Media
Sens Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ted Budd (R-NC) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced legislation to limit children's access to social media at school by requiring schools receiving federal broadband funding to prohibit access on subsidized services, devices, and networks. The senators’ new legislation, The Eyes on the Board Act, comes as the Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on October 19 to expand the E-Rate program to fund Wi-Fi on school buses, even though Congress explicitly confined the FCC’s E-Rate authority to classrooms and libraries. The Eyes on the Board Act would:
- Limit kids’ use of distracting and addictive social media apps or websites at school by prohibiting schools or school districts from receiving E-Rate or Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) subsidies unless they prohibit access to social media on subsidized services, devices, and networks;
- Promote parental limits and transparency on screen time in schools by requiring schools receiving E-Rate subsidies to adopt a screen time policy as a condition of receiving federal funding; and
- Provide parents and the public with needed transparency by requiring the FCC to create a database of schools’ internet safety policies.
The Federal Trade Commission has issued its latest report to Congress on protecting older adults, which highlights key trends based on fraud reports by older adults, and the FTC’s multi-pronged efforts to combat the problem through law enforcement actions, rulemaking, and outreach and education programs. The report finds that older adults reported losing more than $1.6 billion to fraud in 2022. The report’s analysis shows that older adults filed the largest number of reports about online frauds—where consumers were first exposed to the fraud via social media, the web, or online ads. The largest median losses, however, were reported by older adults on fraud that started with a phone call. The impact of scams where older adults were contacted on social media also increased; the median reported loss from this type of scam jumped from $460 in 2021 to $800 in 2022. The report also details the FTC’s outreach and education efforts through such programs as the Pass it On campaign, which focuses on providing fraud prevention resources to older adults so they can help protect their communities by sharing the information and materials with family and friends. It also details the FTC’s ongoing efforts to implement the Stop Senior Scams Act of 2022.
Cable operators and vendors are a bit defensive about comparing cable’s hybrid fiber coax (HFC) networks with fiber networks. New fiber builds are being driven by the $42.5 billion in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. Jay Lee, chief technology and strategy officer with ATX, said he attended the Fiber Broadband Association’s Fiber Connect conference in August. “I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised the fiber guys were going to beat up on the cable guys,” he said. “It just felt like there’s an extreme level of confidence that fiber is going to kick some butt.” But he added, “I just feel cable’s in a great spot both from a technology timeline and in terms of upgrading the network far more quickly than fiber will be able to build out.” Colin Howlett, chief technology officer at Vecima, said, “Eventually, we’re all going to be fiber operators.” But he said cable’s HFC plant still “has a long life left in it.”
Velocity, founded in 2018 and located in south central Kansas, is a subsidiary of the Butler Electric Cooperative and serves approximately 5,500 consumer customers. Velocity’s fixed wireless service operates on more than one band of unlicensed spectrum, depending on the loading and density of each tower. However, the organization will be migrating to fiber in the coming months and years. As a nonprofit, Velocity is trying to provide service as close to cost as possible. Velocity’s current fixed wireless pricing ranges from $49 (up to 15/3 Mbps) to $84 (up to 100/10 Mbps). These prices are “all-in” pricing and include equipment, managed Wi-Fi, and parental controls—all from Calix. Incumbent competitors to date, both wired and fixed wireless, have not reacted by investing in their own infrastructure to improve customer connectivity. Recently Velocity received a $10 million Kansas Capital Project Fund grant to provide high-speed fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) internet access to approximately 4,300 rural Kansans. The fiber build is in a signup phase as construction is underway and the first customers will begin to receive service in November. Brownlee says there has been significant interest and signups for fiber service ranging from $72 (up to 100 Mbps) to $124 (up to 2 Gbps). Butler Electric’s grant application sought Kansas Capital Project Funds to provide fiber internet to their entire electric service territory but was only partially funded. Velocity CEO Kevin Brownlee says that they will be pursuing Kansas BEAD dollars to supplement current fiber expansion and praises Kansas Director of Broadband Jade Piros de Carvalho.
Oct 19––2nd Annual Spectrum Summit (Joint Center for Politics and Economic Studies)
Oct 19––2023 Future of Black Communities Summit (Joint Center for Politics and Economic Studies)
Oct 20––2023 USTelecom Broadband Investment Forum (USTelecom)
Oct 23––Fireside Chat with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel (AARP)
Oct 24––41st Annual Everett C. Parker Lecture & Awards Breakfast (United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry)
Oct 24––The A.I. Divide: What is the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Digital Equity? (Michelson 20MM)
Oct 26––Oregon Connections: Navigating the Funding Flood. (Oregon Connections)
Oct 29––The CyberShare Summit (NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association)
Oct 30––Alerting Security Roundtable (FCC)
Oct 31––The Future of Private Networks (New America)
Nov 2-3––Michigan Broadband Summit (Merit Network)
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), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2023. Redistribution of this email publication — both internally and externally — is encouraged if it includes this message. For subscribe/unsubscribe info email: headlines AT benton DOT org
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society All Rights Reserved © 2023