Monday, October 23, 2023
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Over the coming weeks, the Administration looks forward to continued engagement with members of both parties to reach a comprehensive, bipartisan agreement to fund the Government and invest in critical national priorities. As part of that process, the Congress has an opportunity and obligation to advance our national security by addressing critical needs that should earn bipartisan support. I am writing to provide you with the President’s request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 emergency supplemental funding for these key national security priorities. Our Nation faces additional urgent needs for millions of hard-working Americans. The Office of Management and Budget is refining our estimates of funding required to address recent natural disasters, avoid the risk that millions of Americans lose access to affordable high-speed internet or child care, provide additional resources for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, and avert a funding cliff for wildland firefighter pay. I anticipate submitting a request for supplemental funds in these areas in coming days, and I continue to urge the Congress to address critical funding needs I communicated in September, including for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young released the final budget results for fiscal year (FY) 2023. Outlays for the Federal Communications Commission were $17.9 billion, $2.3 billion lower than the Mid-Session Review estimate. This is mainly due to lower-than-anticipated outlays for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and the Emergency Connectivity Fund for Educational Connections and Devices (ECF). Also, Universal Service Fund outlays were $498 million higher than anticipated.
How Congress, the federal Executive Branch, state and local governments, and carriers can forestall likely, measurable declines in broadband geographical penetration and subscription rates achieved during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, a look at the reforms needed to make ongoing universal service subsidy programs sustainable and more effective in achieving additional progress in bridging the Digital Divide as emergency grant programs wind down.
Moving digital equity forward requires getting people in power to care. Francella Ochillo, the former executive director of Next Century Cities, says the starting point for tackling digital equity is acknowledging that some people have better, faster and cheaper access to technology, and some people are left to rely on public resources. It’s important for community organizations to perfect the way they explain this issue and the data about digital equity to make a bigger impact—and get more people to care about digital equity in the first place. There is never enough money to provide adequate resources for digital equity work, said Gigi Sohn, senior fellow at the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, a national organization focused on access to affordable broadband. For example, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is expected to run out of money in 2024, which would leave families who rely on that subsidy without support. Sohn would like to see more philanthropic organizations and large companies get involved in this effort like the way Comcast has. She referenced Comcast’s 12-year-old Internet Essentials program and the company's efforts to spread the word about ACP. “It’s about enabling full participation in our economy, our democracy, our healthcare system, our education system, and hopefully we can message better, we can get more resources,” Sohn said. “Trust me, I know it’s difficult. It’s been frustrating. But there are more foundations and local foundations also coming into the field.”
The South Dakota Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED), in partnership with the South Dakota Department of Labor & Regulation (DLR), seeks public comments on the state's draft Digital Opportunity Plan. This Digital Opportunity Plan (also referred to as the DO Plan) outlines a path for the state to achieve its full potential through the powerful force of an internet-enabled workforce, government, and society. For South Dakota, the key to achieving digital opportunity for all is through identifying the barriers and opportunities in three areas: 1) access to affordable, reliable broadband technology, 2) access to affordable devices, and 3) resources to learn digital skills. The DO plan provides the broad framework for how to get South Dakota from where it stands to a digitally empowered future. Through the DO Plan, South Dakota strives for a comprehensive framework to bridge the gap between the availability and adoption of broadband. The DO Plan serves as an inclusive vision for bridging the digital divide, with the explicit aim of working towards South Dakota’s broader economic goals. The state recognizes that empowering its residents with 21st-century technologies and skills is crucial to preserving South Dakotans' way of life and allowing small towns to thrive. South Dakota will maximize and optimize the funding that will be made available to it under the Digital Equity Act, using this plan as its roadmap.
This paper examines how the quality of Internet service from existing providers is affected when voters in Colorado approve referenda eliminating a barrier to their local governments providing broadband service. Using a difference-in-differences framework, the research design exploits variation in the timing of a community’s approval of a referendum in order to examine whether incumbent private providers adjust their speed offerings in response to the signal that public entry is more likely. I find no evidence that cable providers’ upgrading behavior responds to the passage of a referendum. However, after a municipality passes a referendum, the largest DSL provider in the state offers speeds in that local area 11%–26% lower than what they would have been otherwise. I find weak evidence that small-time DSL providers substantially upgrade speeds after a referendum passes. Analyses of a referendum’s effect on subscription rates are inconclusive.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau seeks comment on petitions for reconsideration of the Restoring Internet Freedom (RIF) Remand Order filed by Common Cause, INCOMPAS, Public Knowledge, and the County of Santa Clara. The petitioners request that the FCC reconsider its decision in the RIF Remand Order, reverse or vacate that Order, and initiate a rulemaking proceeding to address the concerns raised by the DC Court of Appeals pertaining to the 2018 RIF Order. In addition to the issues raised in the petitions, the FCC invites comment on how the issues under consideration in the new net neutrality proceeding (WC Docket No. 23-320) bear on this proceeding.
Despite vowing to eschew involvement in the latest Network Neutrality drama, I cannot sit back and let stand the resumption of the distorted gospel preached by the anti-network neutrality crowd. This group has legitimate criticisms, many of which I have tried, via hundreds of law review pages—to analyze, and even endorse, in specific instances. Network neutrality regulation will not create a suffocating Internet rate regulation regime. The Democratic majority has clearly exempted broadband internet access from Title II common rate regulation. By the way, Title II still explicitly applies to wireless telecommunications, like cellphone service, and no one can credibly claim that carriers are severely constrained by overpowering Federal Communications Commission oversight. Network neutrality orders have always applied light-handed regulatory oversight. Title II of the Communications Act does not impose some atavistic, old school “public utility” regulation. Despite the growing efforts of the Supreme Court to prevent regulatory agencies from responding to changed circumstances, the FCC has frequently recalibrated its Title II regulatory toolkit over time. The FCC does not have to insist on an either/or dichotomy, Nothing in the Communications Act mandates this. We have had to tolerate decades long regulatory toggling between telecommunications service and information service, because the FCC cannot wrap its head around the reality that convergence requires a nuanced and admittedly more complicated blend of definitions.
Dish and T-Mobile have resolved their dispute over 800 MHz spectrum, with Dish agreeing to pay $100 million now toward the spectrum, in exchange for an extension to buy the spectrum fully. Dish made an SEC filing on October 19, saying the two companies entered into an amendment to their License Purchase Agreement, extending the date by which Dish may purchase the 800 MHz spectrum to April 1, 2024. Dish and T-Mobile have an agreement whereby Dish said it would purchase all of T-Mobile’s 800 MHz spectrum licenses for approximately $3.59 billion by June 30, 2023. The agreement was part of the 2020 deal approved by the Department of Justice in order for T-Mobile to purchase Sprint and allowing Dish to move forward as a fourth facilities-based wireless operator. However, when Dish was scheduled to purchase the spectrum, it was not in a good liquidity position and asked for an extension. Presumably, Dish will be on better financial footing by April, thanks to its planned merger with EchoStar, a distribution agreement with Amazon, and other device and distribution partnerships.
The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules to improve Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) by making WEA messages available in more than a dozen additional languages, including American Sign Language; adding increased functionality; and providing public information on where and how WEA is available. At present, WEA messages are available only in English or Spanish. In a new Order, the FCC required wireless providers that participate in WEA to support messages in the 13 most commonly spoken languages in the US as well as English and American Sign Language. Participating wireless providers are to support this expanded multilingual alerting by enabling mobile devices to display message templates that will be preinstalled and stored on the mobile device. The FCC directed its Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to seek comment on various implementation details of the multilingual alerting requirements and future expansion to additional languages. In addition, to help personalize emergency alerts, the Order requires participating wireless providers to support the inclusion of maps in WEA messages that show the alert recipient’s location relative to the geographic area where the emergency is occurring. The Order also establishes a Commission-hosted database to provide the public with easy-to-access information on WEA availability.
The Federal Communications Commission's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau seeks to partner with any entities that have a solution for delivering Wireless Emergency Alerts to mobile devices that are not connected to functioning cell towers. The Bureau asked interested parties to submit detailed information about their solution, including whether it would work with mobile devices currently in use by consumers, how to address any issues with delivering geographically targeted alerts, and how best testing should be conducted. The Bureau intends to partner with as many providers as practical to test solutions that seem technically feasible and capable of implementation without introducing significant costs or burdens to consumers, such as the need to buy new devices. The Bureau aims to begin testing in the second quarter of 2024.
Twenty senators penned a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging the agency to improve access to local media on streaming platforms. Current law and FCC rules state that traditional cable and satellite networks must work directly with a local television station before broadcasting local news, sports, and other programming. However, linear streaming services over the internet are not required to negotiate directly with local television stations. Streaming services have a large and growing portion of the video media market as consumers cut the cord and make the switch from traditional television providers like cable and satellite TV to streaming services over the internet. In 2014, nearly 9 in 10 households subscribed to cable or satellite. In 2023, fewer than half of families subscribe. As consumers show their preference for the freedom that streaming services provide, it is critical for Congress to ensure continued access to local journalism.
Government & Communications
The Supreme Court allowed Biden administration officials to continue to contact social media platforms to combat what the officials say is misinformation, pausing a sweeping ruling from a federal appeals court that had severely limited such interactions. The justices also agreed to hear the administration’s appeal in the case, setting the stage for a major test of the role of the First Amendment in the internet era — one that will require the court to consider when government efforts to limit the spread of misinformation amount to censorship of constitutionally protected speech. Three justices dissented from the court’s decision to lift the restrictions on administration officials while the case moves forward. “Government censorship of private speech is antithetical to our democratic form of government, and therefore today’s decision is highly disturbing,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch. The lawsuit against the federal government, initiated by Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri, raises significant and novel questions about how free speech protections apply online, with implications for how government officials interact with social media companies and communicate with the public on the popular platforms. Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, called the case a significant opportunity for the Supreme Court to resolve an increasingly urgent and relevant issue.
On October 27, 2023, Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Rosenworcel will host a listening session in Chicago (IL) to hear from formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones about their experiences using incarcerated people's communications services (IPCS). Participants will explain the critical importance of affordable communications services to incarcerated people, as the FCC works to implement the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 (Martha Wright-Reed Act). The purpose of this listening session is to obtain additional public comment in support of the FCC's ongoing efforts to ensure just and reasonable rates and charges for IPCS consumers. The program agenda will include opening remarks from Chairwoman Rosenworcel, Sen Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Illinois Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton (D-IL) followed by a discussion with current and former IPCS consumers, providing the FCC with first-hand accounts. The listening session will be incorporated into the record.
Windstream Wholesale, Windstream’s optical transport division, touted it’s reached a “major construction milestone” on its CanAm2 long-haul fiber build, a 440-mile route that will eventually connect Montreal, Canada, to New York City. The Canadian portion of the route—from Montreal to the New York state border—is substantially complete, said Karl-Arne Hegewald, Windstream’s SVP of network infrastructure and program management. He noted Montreal is “an important growth hub” for content providers and other data centers. The company expects to complete the segment from the border to Albany by the end of first quarter 2024, and then complete the extension from Albany to New York City by the end of 2024. While Windstream has an existing Montreal-New York route, that infrastructure is aging and “demands for new high-capacity long-haul technology point to the need for new glass.” “Fortunately, we have spare conduit along much of the route that we are leveraging, which eases some of the build cost,” said Hegewald.
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 25––Tribal Broadband Opportunities and Challenges (Fiber Broadband Association)
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.
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