Thursday, October 29, 2020
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
For all that has changed since the Benton Institute released Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, this goal remains paramount. In October 2019, we said that connecting our entire nation through High-Performance Broadband would bring remarkable economic, social, cultural, and personal benefits. We said that open, affordable, robust broadband is the key to all of us reaching for—and achieving—the American Dream. We did not know that the world would change, permanently, with the spread of COVID-19, nor how poignantly our digital divides would be revealed—and deepened. Now we know that universal and affordable High-Performance Broadband is more than a goal—it is a necessity. We ask you now to do more than just join the conversation; we ask that you lend your voice in demanding that policymakers ensure everyone has affordable access to, and can use, the essential service of our time. The strength of High-Performance Broadband is that it will—if fully accessible to all in America—help solve some of our most critical challenges and help people overcome key barriers regardless of where they live and who they are. Last year we asked you to imagine each community enabled to identify and build on its strengths and employ technology accordingly. This year we say we can’t wait any longer to make it happen. We must start addressing at-home internet access not as a troubling issue, but as a civil rights emergency in need of a comprehensive solution. We ask for Broadband for America Now since our current crises demand it.
In October 2019, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society issued Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. The agenda was comprehensive, constructed upon achievements in communities and insights from experts across the nation. The report outlined the key building blocks of broadband policy—deployment, competition, community anchor institutions, and digital equity (including affordability and adoption). The agenda called for everyone to be able to use High-Performance Broadband by the end of the decade. When we released the report last fall, we promised a refresh in 2020 because we knew there were issues that required additional development and more success stories that needed to be told. What we did not know was that the world would be changed permanently by COVID-19, creating health, economic, and social crises, resulting in the worst economic setback in America in decades and unveiling a connectivity crisis that spans rural and urban places, threatening to create an even more divided America. This essay offers our key recommendations by describing the likely pattern of changing broadband usage once the present crisis recedes, and by emphasizing how federal, state, tribal, and local governments should work together to implement a comprehensive broadband agenda.
- We continue to advocate for a new definition for broadband internet from 25 Mbps download / 3 Mbps upload to 100 Mbps download / 25 Mbps upload to reflect the shifting needs of an increasingly digital economy.
- The top five states with the highest percentage of access to 100 Mbps download / 25 Mbps upload in order starting from the highest rate are Washington DC, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York.
- The bottom five states with the least access in order starting from the lowest rate are Montana, Wyoming, Maine, South Carolina, and Alabama.
- Rhode Island has the highest level of access to affordable plans with speeds of at least 100 Mbps download / 25 Mbps upload, followed by Washington, D.C., New Jersey, New York, and Maryland.
- New Jersey fared best for latency performance overall, while Hawaii and Alaska lagged behind the other states.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $5 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Kentucky. This investment is part of the $550 million Congress allocated to the second round of the ReConnect Program. Peoples Telecom LLC will use a $2.4 million ReConnect grant and a $2.4 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 1,618 people, 25 businesses, two farms, a public school, a post office and a fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Rockcastle, Perry, Breathitt and Lee counties in Kentucky.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $1.8 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Iowa. This investment is part of the $550 million Congress allocated to the second round of the ReConnect Program.
- Osage Municipal Utilities will use a $368,000 ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 397 people, 27 farms, 14 businesses and a post office to high-speed broadband internet in Mitchell County, Iowa.
- C-M-L Telephone Cooperative Association will use a $744,000 ReConnect grant to deploy a last-mile, fiber-to-the-premises network, which will connect three farms left out of past middle-mile deployment efforts in Cherokee County, Iowa.
- Citizens Mutual Telephone Cooperative will use a $731,500 ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 941 people, 40 farms and seven businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Wapello County, Iowa.
High quality, affordable broadband is foundational for a prosperous 21st century Appalachia. Children and families—and the local businesses, schools and health care institutions that serve them—require broadband to ensure their well-being. All Appalachians, regardless of their income or race, must be able to access the internet. Universal broadband is also necessary for a smart grid.
This election, Chicagoans will vote on a non-binding referendum about whether Chicago should ensure citywide access to broadband internet. The referendum provides a unique opportunity to envision a more innovative way to connect Illinoisans—through investment in an open access broadband network. The largest such network in operation in the US is the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, or UTOPIA. In South Side neighborhoods where approximately fifty percent of the residents lack reliable internet service, open access broadband would be a game changer—the difference between enough bandwidth to handle one spotty Zoom call or several in HD.
There’s no doubt that more patients and providers are relying on telehealth than ever before. But rural Americans are 10 times more likely to lack broadband access than their urban counterparts. This rural telehealth crisis must be addressed at the federal level. Whatever the total cost of solving the rural broadband challenge, it is clear that tens of billions of dollars in federal investment is needed. Critics may claim that the private sector can, and should, solve this problem. But if that were true, it would have already done so. Back in the 1930s, electric companies had the ability—but not the economic incentive—to electrify rural areas. The same holds true today for rural broadband. Today’s lack of rural broadband is a market failure that can only be cured with federal dollars. Federal investment in rural electrification helped ignite investment across the country.
[Mark Dornauer and Robert Bryce are visiting fellows at the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity]
The pandemic has widened long-existing inequities like the digital divide — the term used to refer to the fact that many people across the country lack access to affordable broadband due to a cycle of profit-driven discrimination. Congress cannot stand idly by while millions of people across the country are unable to connect with loved ones, work from home, engage in distance learning, take advantage of telehealth or otherwise fully participate in society because they lack affordable broadband access. Now, more than ever before, is the time to take the necessary steps toward universal, affordable broadband service. The House of Representatives passed an infrastructure bill, the Moving Forward Act, containing strong provisions to expand broadband access that create and protect good jobs across the country. The legislation not only provides millions of families with an affordable internet connection, but it ensures that the very workers who build and maintain those networks have access to the internet themselves and are able to exercise their collective bargaining rights. It’s time for the Senate to step up and ensure that the 44 million households that lack even a standard connection get the essential service they need. If they do not act, we must hold them accountable. And we must make sure that the Moving Forward Act becomes the new baseline for expanding broadband access across the country.
[Chris Shelton is the president of the Communications Workers of America. Angela Siefer is the executive director of The National Digital Inclusion Alliance, which advocates for the expansion of broadband access.]
Democrats on the Federal Communications Commission are taking issue with Chairman Ajit Pai's announcement that the agency would clarify edge providers' Section 230 immunity from civil liability over third-party content, as the White House has asked. Chairman Pai also said he has been assured by commission lawyers that it has the authority to do so. Democrats pointed out that the FCC had cited Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in defending its elimination of net neutrality regulations and its adoption of an "information services" definition for internet access that squared better with Section 230's grant of immunity that allowed the marketplace more freedom. Section 230 allows social media sites to host third-party speech without being subject to legal action based on the content that is posted or what they do with it. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out that Section 230 had been in the news lately as "we all grapple with the frustrations of social media" -- and she noted that the FCC was trying to have it both ways in upholding its net deregulation and pursuing its Section 230 clarification. Commissioner Geoffrey Starks echoed that sentiment.
The Senate Commerce Committee convene a hearing to examine whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has outlived its usefulness in today’s digital age. Lawmakers hammered the chief executives of Twitter, Facebook, Google -- and one another. Republicans claimed the companies were suppressing conservative views. Of the 81 questions asked by Republicans, 69 were about censorship and the political ideologies of the tech employees responsible for moderating content. Democrats accused their colleagues of holding a “sham” hearing for political gain. Democrats asked 48 questions, mostly about regulating the spread of misinformation related to the election and the coronavirus pandemic. [full coverage at the link below]
House Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai demanding answers for the FCC’s recent and sudden announcement that it is moving forward with a Section 230 rulemaking. Chairmen Pallone and Doyle wrote that since the FCC is an independent regulatory agency responsible directly to Congress, it should be avoiding even the appearance of acting on behalf of the President. They requested answers to a series of questions, including:
- Has anyone from the White House, Executive Office of the President, the NTIA or Department of Justice contacted FCC regarding this Section 230 rulemaking? If so, what was discussed?
- Has anyone from the Trump campaign contacted FCC regarding Section 230?
- Has Chairman Pai or his staff contacted either the White House or the Trump campaign regarding Section 230, and if so, what was discussed?
They requested an answer by November 2, 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief a host of problems that at their core are about fairness—issues of racial justice, economic security, and the digital divide, among others. I am an optimist, and believe that technology, and the wireless communications sector in particular, has an important role to play here. All around the nation, people are relying on connectivity more than ever, and they’re using their smartphones to document both injustice and inspiration. These events support a longstanding point that has only become clearer during the pandemic: full participation in civil society requires an internet connection. That’s why we must do more to make high-quality, affordable broadband, including 5G wireless service, available to everyone. Our collective 5G success will rely on smart policy decisions, and industry execution. We’ve made available hundreds of megahertz of spectrum, in low, mid, and high bands. Our capital investment per capita is on par with or ahead of other developed countries, and our wireless companies spend far more on research and development than their overseas counterparts. This is good, and that trend has proven to be durable and reliable; even the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t appear to have appreciably disrupted 5G supply chains or deployments. We must continue our efforts by working with our federal partners on spectrum like the lower 3 GHz band, encouraging partnerships between cities and providers for ubiquitous infrastructure deployments, and investing in digital readiness so all consumers understand the benefits of 5G.
T-Mobile announced another expansion of its 2.5GHz midband 5G network, which is now available in dozens of new cities, nearly doubling the coverage of its last major midband rollout from the end of September. T-Mobile says that it now has midband 5G support in nearly 410 cities and towns in the United States. T-Mobile’s 5G network combines its widely available 600MHz low-band network (which offers coverage on a nationwide scale but not much in the way of speed improvements of LTE) with the faster 2.5GHz network (which it acquired from Sprint) along with its ultra-fast mmWave network (which has the best speeds but the worst range). It’s what the company likes to call its “layer cake” approach to 5G, with the 2.5GHz chunk of the cake the “Goldilocks” portion: fast enough to offer a meaningful speed increases over regular LTE and low-band 5G but still able to be transmitted over broad chunks of cities and towns without worrying about interference from trees, walls, or buildings (problems that greatly limit mmWave).
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the items below are tentatively on the agenda for the November Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Wednesday, November 18, 2020:
- Modernizing the 5.9 GHz Band – The Commission will consider a First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Order of Proposed Modification that would adopt rules to repurpose 45 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.850-5.895 GHz band for unlicensed operations, retain 30 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.895-5.925 GHz band for the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) service, and require the transition of the ITS radio service standard from Dedicated Short-Range Communications technology to Cellular Vehicle-toEverything technology. (ET Docket No. 19-138)
- Further Streamlining of Satellite Regulations – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would streamline its satellite licensing rules by creating an optional framework for authorizing space stations and blanket-licensed earth stations through a unified license. (IB Docket No. 18-314)
- Facilitating Next Generation Fixed-Satellite Services in the 17 GHz Band – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose to add a new allocation in the 17.3-17.8 GHz band for Fixed-Satellite Service space-to-Earth downlinks and to adopt associated technical rules. (IB Docket No. 20-330)
- Expanding the Contribution Base for Accessible Communications Services – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose expansion of the Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) Fund contribution base for supporting Video Relay Service (VRS) and Internet Protocol Relay Service (IP Relay) to include intrastate telecommunications revenue, as a way of strengthening the funding base for these forms of TRS and making it more equitable without increasing the size of the Fund itself. (CG Docket Nos. 03-123, 10-51, 12-38)
- Revising Rules for Resolution of Program Carriage Complaints – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would modify the Commission’s rules governing the resolution of program carriage disputes between video programming vendors and multichannel video programming distributors. (MB Docket Nos. 20-70, 17-105, 11-131)
- Enforcement Bureau Action – The Commission will consider an enforcement action.
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.
© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2020. 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
727 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
headlines AT benton DOT org
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society All Rights Reserved © 2019