Monday, October 26, 2020
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The digital divide hasn’t gone away, despite much money spent and many speeches made. A patchwork of conflicting government programs, flawed maps, and weak enforcement have left broad swaths of the country without access to high-speed or even basic internet service when people need it more than ever. The result is a longstanding source of personal frustration and economic disadvantage for many rural communities in areas where spread-out housing makes adding new wires expensive. That lack of access extends to many more-crowded suburban and exurban counties where home internet coverage is available in one neighborhood but out of reach just down the road.
Rep Roger Williams (R-TX-25) introduced the Eliminate the Digital Divide Act to empower states to carry out their own broadband programs and ensure low-income individuals have access to low-cost broadband services. The bill would create a $10 billion State Broadband Program where governors receive funds based on the number of unserved individuals in their state and then partner with broadband service providers to build out networks. The bill also provides a platform for consumers to access information on the broadband options available to them and allow them the capability to enter their own financial information to see if they qualify for any state or federal subsidy programs.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $11.7 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Kentucky and Illinois. West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative Corporation Inc. will use a $11.7 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 8,206 people, 204 farms, 82 businesses, four post offices, three fire stations, two health care facilities and two schools to high-speed broadband internet in Graves County, Kentucky, and Alexander, Union, Pulaski, Johnson and Massac counties in Illinois.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $596,000 to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in the state of Washington. Whidbey Telecom will use a $596,000 ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect underserved residents and businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Point Roberts, Washington.
Can the Federal Communications Commission regulate the internet? Can it offer consumer protections for broadband subscribers? Can it regulate the content found on social media sites? These questions, some of which are decades-old and some more recent, have taken new twists of late as the FCC concurrently considers 1) the impact of its 2017 decision to repeal net neutrality rules and 2) its oversight role over digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The FCC’s number one job is to ensure that all Americans have access to the communications networks and the lawful content of their choosing over those networks. But the current FCC majority has chosen not to use its authority to ensure it can deliver on that job. Rather, it is going to inject itself into online content moderation debates.
The internet has grown into a utility, and internet access should be regulated as such. The position of the US government — not to mention phone and cable companies — is that the internet is a free-market service, full stop. It’s not a utility. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai says the internet industry merits only what he calls “light-touch” regulation, which is to say hardly any regulation at all. “The FCC’s light-touch approach is working,” Chairman Pai declared in 2019.
At first glance, that seems to be true. Over the last decade, the percentage of Americans with access to broadband internet climbed to 93.5% from 74.5%, according to a recent report from BroadbandNow. But rather than comparing current internet prices with how much we paid 10 years ago, we should be comparing our prices to what people in other developed countries pay. By that yardstick, Americans are getting a lousy deal, not just in terms of pricing but also in terms of service quality — that is, speed. The simple fact is that if the internet is a necessity, like power and water, we need clear rules to ensure the greatest possible access and the lowest possible price.
Extending the internet to space isn’t just a matter of installing Wi-Fi on rockets. Scientists have novel obstacles to contend with: The distances involved are astronomical, and planets move around, potentially blocking signals. Anyone on Earth who wants to send a message to someone or something on another planet must contend with often-disrupted communication paths.
The Trump administration is getting pushback from industry groups, both sides of the aisle, and even internally about the Pentagon's moves toward a possible 5G network owned and operated by the government. President Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, is reportedly leading a pressure campaign for the White House's favored candidate, wireless company Rivada Networks, in its efforts to construct a 5G network, though Rivada says such a network should not be government-owned. Senior administration officials are reportedly alarmed at Meadow's efforts to get the Department of Defense to fast-track the process toward a request for proposal (RFP) on nationalized 5G. Sources said the wireless industry has been requesting a meeting with Meadows for weeks to discuss 5G and the controversy over the Pentagon RFP. There is suspicion in the industry that an RFP could be released within a matter of days or weeks.
It is helpful to look for the profit motives behind what’s happening in our shopping lives. So why does it feel as if every other commercial you see on TV or online is a phone company blaring “5G! 5G! 5G!” into your earholes? Because each once-in-a-decade changeover in wireless technology is a shot for companies like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile to pad our cellphone bills without us going nuts and to steal customers from one another. That’s not necessarily bad for us, but it does mean that the next time you’re buying a new phone or staring at a marketing message from a phone company, you should watch your wallet. You want to make sure you’re making a purchase that is good for you, and not just good for the phone company’s bottom line.
Several partner organizations announced the launch of the American Connection Project (ACP) interactive Wi-Fi map. The map provides a free resource to help the public locate more than 2,300 free Wi-Fi locations across 49 US states. The map includes Wi-Fi locations from Land O’Lakes, Inc. and its ag retail owner network, along with several partner organizations including 4-H, CentraCare, Compeer, Kentucky Farm Bureau, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Polaris, Inc., the Public Library Association, Tractor Supply Company and Watch Communications, and support from Microsoft and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.
The battle over the 12 GHz band – one that some say could provide much-needed mid-band spectrum for 5G in the US – is heating up, including among a group of unlikely collaborators. SpaceX disclosed that CEO Elon Musk was among those on a conference call with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai that included discussion of the 12 GHz band. Separately, SpaceX was part of a group of players arguing against a proposal by Dish Network that would have the FCC take a closer look at the rules for the 12 GHz band and potentially make it usable for 5G. Here’s where it gets stranger. The signatories to the letter opposing Dish’s proposal include the aforementioned SpaceX, as well as AT&T, OneWeb, SES, Intelsat and Kepler Communications. In another world, apparently, SES and Intelsat were at one another’s throats when they parted ways over the C-Band Alliance. But they share the belief that the Dish petition should be dismissed.
The Department of Justice's case against Google hones in on the company's alliance with Apple as a prime example of what prosecutors say are Google’s illegal tactics to protect its monopoly and choke off competition in web search. The scrutiny of the pact, which was first inked 15 years ago and has rarely been discussed by either company, has highlighted the special relationship between Silicon Valley’s two most valuable companies — an unlikely union of rivals that regulators say is unfairly preventing smaller companies from flourishing. “We have this sort of strange term in Silicon Valley: co-opetition,” said Bruce Sewell, Apple’s general counsel from 2009 to 2017. “You have brutal competition, but at the same time, you have necessary cooperation.”
Today’s showcase is bringing together venture capital groups, community development financial organizations, technology companies, and civil rights organizations to facilitate access to economic opportunities in the ICT sector for small and diverse businesses. We will also have a workshop to assess the impact of COVID-19 on small, diverse businesses and to evaluate CARES Act implementation and additional opportunities for financial support and relief.
Here’s the bottom line: the Federal Communications Commission’s Diversity Advisory Committee is busier than ever. And it’s more important than ever. This dedicated group of professionals—who volunteer their time and energy— has truly met the moment with their important work on diversity and inclusion. We appreciate your role in bringing important, underrepresented perspectives to our policies and decisions at the Commission.
When PBS arrived a half century ago, television was essentially a three-network game, and PBS thrived by championing programming and audiences ignored by NBC, CBS and ABC. But that distinctiveness has faded in today’s world of hundreds of cable channels and seemingly unlimited streaming services, many built after rivals saw the commercial value in PBS’s embrace of food lovers, costume drama obsessives, home improvement tinkerers and other niches. PBS may still execute many of its programs better than its rivals, and its content remains free and over-the-air, crucial for reaching those with lesser means and those without broadband. But in a country where the vast majority gets their TV through a paid service, that distinction rarely registers. This cornucopia of programming viewers can enjoy across the television landscape only intensifies the political pressures facing PBS. Why should the federal government subsidize public broadcasting, conservative politicians and others ask, when the commercial marketplace appears to be doing just fine delivering those types of programs?
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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