Friday, October 2, 2020
Headlines Daily Digest
Elections & Media
Stories From Abroad
This week, House Democrats unveiled (and later passed) an updated version of the HEROES Act, a pandemic-relief bill the House passed in May, but was never considered by the U.S. Senate. The original Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act included a number of provisions aimed at getting and keeping more people in the U.S. connected and safe during the pandemic. The updated legislation would reduce the price tag of economic relief to $2.2 trillion, compared with the $3.5 trillion bill the House passed in May. Does that mean less support for broadband connections? Government data showed U.S. household income fell sharply in August, due to a drop in unemployment benefits. Worker layoffs also remained high. We obviously need some heroes to deliver relief and help keep us all connected.
More than two dozen advocacy groups have filed briefs with a federal court supporting California’s net neutrality law as it faces an attempt to block it by the Department of Justice. The groups filed two separate amicus curiae, or friend of the court briefs, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. The briefs were put together by some of the biggest groups who advocate for net neutrality. One filing is signed on by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the ACLU of Northern California, Fight for the Future, Media Justice, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and Reddit [and the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, if you're scoring at home]. The other brief is headlined by Mozilla, Public Knowledge, and Free Press. The two briefs argue in favor of California’s law and urge the court to deny the request for an injunction from the Justice Department.
The National Science Foundation has awarded $1.5 million to Cornell engineers and researchers to help them bridge New York’s digital divide by designing the nation’s first statewide Internet of Things public infrastructure. Cornell faculty will collaborate with community partners around New York – through Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) in each county – to set up networks based on low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) technology, a form of low-frequency radio.
Gov Bill Lee (R-TN) and the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group today announced $61 million will be awarded in Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund grants to improve access to broadband internet across the state. The grants are funded through the State’s Coronavirus Relief Fund allotment from the federal government and distributed through the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD). ECD received 84 applications for $89.1 million in funding. Following review and a public comment period, 62 projects representing $61.1 million will be funded. The remaining $28 million in projects were denied due to a number of factors including project feasibility, applicant experience, and public comments received from existing broadband providers. Unfunded applicants will be invited to submit an application for the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Grant Program, funded at $15 million this year, where applicants are given significantly more time to complete project builds. Pursuant to federal guidelines, these projects are limited to those that would enhance access to individuals and families affected during the COVID-19 pandemic by the lack of broadband access in their area. Eligible entities included those authorized to provide broadband services in Tennessee, and eligible areas were limited to those unserved or underserved locations lacking all equipment necessary to provide a broadband connection capable of supporting telemedicine, distance learning, and telecommuting.
A network of community partners working to completely bridge the digital divide for Hamilton County (TN) students came together to thank state leaders for dedicating more than $3 million in Tennessee Community CARES funding toward the effort to help students during the pandemic. The new funding helps advance several carefully coordinated initiatives by more than a dozen public-private partners. Hamilton County Schools serves as the hub for reaching the goal of providing all students with internet access - along with the devices needed to learn online. This project is funded under a grant with the State of Tennessee, created to help communities solve obstacles the pandemic has caused. Through the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS), The Enterprise Center will receive about $1.5 million to help students continue their studies during the pandemic by providing fiber optic internet connectivity at home for some 28,000 Hamilton County School students - with no charge to families for up to 10 years through HCS EdConnect powered by EPB. At the same time, Public Education Foundation (PEF) and the Chattanooga Chamber Foundation will use nearly $1.5 million in Tennessee Community CARES funding to provide about 3,200 Chromebooks and tablet devices to help close the device gap, allowing all students to learn from home as schools respond to COVID-19.
Gov Roy Cooper (R-NC) announced nearly $40 million in funding for NC Student Connect, a new partnership created to address internet connectivity gaps that are a barrier to remote learning for many North Carolina students. When school resumed in August, superintendents estimated that at least 100,000 students still lacked a reliable internet connection at home. NC Student Connect investment includes:
- $30 million to distribute 100,000 wireless high speed hot spots for students to connect with their remote learning classes.
- $8 million to create accessible sites in convenient locations across the state such as school parking lots, municipal areas, and state parks, museums and historic sites. These NC Student Connect sites will provide free high-speed internet for students to connect to the Internet to download lessons and complete assignments offline.
- $2 million for educator professional development, parent training and student involvement in a spectrum of activities that go into effective remote learning. More than 1,300 educators from rural North Carolina already participated in a virtual conference focused on remote learning to help them be better prepared to teach throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the pandemic pushes Americans into online school and work, lawmakers are calling for ways to address the “digital divide”—the great number of people who don’t have consistent or reliable internet access. Reps Donna Shalala (D-FL) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) spotlighted ways in which they are working to confront and help close the gap during a livestream conversation hosted by The Washington Post Spet 30. In the course of the chat, they proposed pivoting the government’s digital divide-centered focus from connecting organizations, to more directly hone in on connecting individual people and families. “We need to do a lot more for individuals and, you know [McMorris Rodgers], there's a lot of money in the E-Rate program—about $2 billion, I think—sitting over there at the [Federal Communications Commission] and we ought to be using it to get to individuals,” Rep Shalala said. “What we're talking about now is not institutions, but individuals, and getting it to families so the kids have access.”
NECA is introducing two temporary discount programs to help rural phone and internet providers recognize the needs of students in low-income households for broadband services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The filing, effective Oct 1, will allow carriers to facilitate prolonged at-home student learning by helping low-income households access much needed higher bandwidths or those without broadband access to acquire it. The programs will allow companies to offer:
- a temporary discount on certain new broadband services or
- a speed upgrade at no additional charge on certain existing broadband service from 1/6 to 50/100 Mbps (asymmetric digital subscriber line) or from 10/10 to 100/100 Mbps (symmetric digital subscriber line).
Households with a student in grades kindergarten through 12 who qualify for a reduced cost or free lunch through the National School Lunch Program are eligible. A 25% discount applies to monthly recurring rates for the following services. In addition, access order and non-recurring installation charges are waived for these promotional offerings. No minimum service periods or term commitment penalties apply. ADSL and SDSL lines in service under this promotional offering may be counted toward the DSL Volume Pricing Plan.
5G is coming to Milwaukee, causing worries about how and where the new cellular equipment will be installed. “My board members and every citizen in Milwaukee County really want to have control over what is being approved and what is not,” says Milwaukee County Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman, who has been at the forefront of concerns about the 5G rollout. “The federal government and state government have a lot of regulations and rules on the topic, and local government has very little ability to control the situation. We are being made to follow federal guidelines.” He said, "We, as local officials, are very upset and concerned about the nationalization of 5G installation. We have serious concerns about the fact this is happening without local control over where and what and who is allowed to make decisions. We feel very much that this is power that has been taken away from the local authorities and vested in national companies and national government to the detriment of local communities.”
Apparently, the Trump administration is pressuring Republican Senators to ratchet up scrutiny of social media companies it sees as biased against conservatives in the run-up to the Nov 2020 election. In recent weeks, the White House has pressed Senate Republican leaders on key committees to hold public hearings on the law that protects Facebook, Twitter and other internet companies from lawsuits over how they treat user posts. And action is following. Senate Commerce Chair Roger Wicker (R-MS) held a vote in his committee Sept 30 to issue subpoenas to the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google to testify about how they police content on their platforms. That's after Democrats initially prevented the Mississippi Republican from pushing through subpoenas that could have compelled the CEOs to testify with only a few days' notice. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently introduced new legislation to address alleged bias on social media and the same day scheduled a markup of the bill — a move that would have made it the fastest any bill on tech's liability protections has moved from introduction to a markup on Capitol Hill in recent memory. Chairman Graham announced Sept 30 that consideration of the measure had been tabled.
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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