Monday, October 30, 2023
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The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program—established by Congress in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—gives priority to projects that will result in broadband internet access service being offered in areas where service wasn't available before. Given that federal funds will provide 75 percent of the costs to deploy these networks, the chances that competing networks will be built at any time in the foreseeable future are very slim. Absent any market forces to check price increases, what guarantee do taxpayers have that the networks they are funding will offer services they can afford? States, territories, and the District of Columbia (known as "Eligible Entities") are now working on Initial Proposals, a prerequisite for receiving the BEAD funding. Initial Proposals describe the competitive processes the Eligible Entities propose to use to select subgrantees to construct broadband projects. Initial Proposals must describe how Eligible Entities will ensure that every resident has access to a reliable, affordable, high-speed broadband connection. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) oversees the BEAD Program and has asked Eligible Entities to address service affordability for both low-income and middle-class households. In determining whether to approve an Eligible Entity’s proposed definition of “low-cost broadband service option,” NTIA will consider, among other factors, (1) whether prospective subgrantees will be required to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program, any successor program, and/or any other household broadband subsidy programs; (2) the expected cost (both monthly and non-recurring charges) to a low-income subscriber for a typical broadband internet access service plan after the application of any subsidies; and (3) the performance characteristics of the proposed options, including download and upload speeds, latency, data caps, and reliability commitments. NTIA has also asked Eligible Entities to submit a plan to ensure that high-quality broadband services are available at reasonable prices to all middle-class families in the BEAD-funded network’s service area.
In the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress requires Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program subgrantees (the entities that will build and maintain the new broadband networks) to offer "at least one low-cost broadband service option for eligible subscribers." Congress tasked the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees the BEAD Program, to define who the eligible subscribers are—and left it to states, territories, and the District of Columbia (known as "Eligible Entities") to define what low-cost broadband service options are.
Simply put, if a household is receiving federal housing assistance, that household should be connected. We’ve made great progress getting eligible households connected. Through the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ongoing partnership, we have made it easier than ever to enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program. But there is more work to do. Approximately 5 million households receive federal housing assistance and are eligible for ACP. So, I hope we can build on the momentum we have and, with your support, get every one of your eligible households enrolled. It's clear—ACP is a success and a priority for the Biden Administration. President Biden officially asked Congress to appropriate another $6 billion to continue to support the over 21 million households relying on the program. This is a huge deal! I have consistently called for ACP to be re-funded to continue on the fantastic work we have done to connect those most in need. President Biden’s leadership will ensure that those already in the program are supported, and that we can continue to sign up even more eligible households so they can take advantage of all the opportunities broadband has to offer.
AARP urged Congress to support critical funding, included in the President’s domestic supplemental request, for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Affordable high-speed internet service is especially important for older Americans, many on fixed incomes, who have too often been left behind. The ACP, created by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, has helped more than 21 million households—including 9.3 million age 50 and older—get and stay online. Unfortunately, if the funding for ACP is allowed to run out, millions of older Americans will once again lose access to affordable internet service. Without ACP, despite spending billions of dollars on broadband infrastructure, there will be fewer customers on the other end who can afford the service. AARP is strongly committed to ensuring affordable high-speed internet service is within reach for older Americans who rely on it for so much of their daily lives.
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) awarded nearly $54 million to 64 projects in 217 counties through its POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative, which directs federal resources to economic diversification projects in Appalachian communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries. Included in the awards is a grant of $2,500,000 to Washington County, Pennsylvania, for Washington County's East Finley Broadband Expansion project. This project will enable Washington County to contract with a preferred vendor to expand the provision of high-speed broadband services to 857 unserved locations in East Finley Township. The preferred vendor will design, build, maintain, and own a broadband network to make available a full suite of services, including broadband service, voice, video, and home security. This project is part of phase III of Washington County’s county-wide internet access expansion effort. The contract for high-speed internet services will provide economic and educational benefits to 808 unserved or underserved residences and 49 unserved or underserved businesses over the course of the grant period.
We write to urge the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to make the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program more accessible to unconnected regions across the country by considering alternatives to the program’s irrevocable standby Letter of Credit (LOC) requirement. One alternative to the LOC requirement is the use of performance bonds, which are commonly used in construction projects. Performance bonds would allow participants to provide a financial guarantee for the delivery of the project without requiring them to put up large amounts of capital upfront. We also recognize that there are a number of other alternatives to this requirement that NTIA could implement—such as parental guarantees—and should consider as an effective substitute for the LOC, to the extent they provide reasonable assurance of performance by the funding recipient and meaningful recourse for the government in cases of failed performance. We respectfully request a written response, no later than November 7, 2023, detailing potential alternatives to the LOC requirement under consideration by NTIA and how NTIA plans to incorporate these alternatives into the implementation of the BEAD program.
Governor John Carney (D-DE) joined state leaders and representatives of Comcast, Verizon, Mediacom, and the Communication Workers of America (CWA) at the Innovation Technology Exploration Center to celebrate progress on broadband expansion and preview next steps. With federal investments from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocated by Governor Carney, Delaware has successfully connected nearly 6,000 homes, businesses, and organizations to broadband in the last year. Delaware is on track to become the first state in the nation to be fully-connected. President Biden signed the nearly $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to provide COVID-19 relief to millions of Americans, and Governor Carney assigned $33 million of Delaware’s share for broadband expansion. In the last 12 months, the State of Delaware and Comcast, Medicom, and Verizon have made high-speed internet available for the first time to 5,859 homes and businesses, mainly in rural areas of the state. There are 372 locations remaining to be installed with ARPA funding. Those locations will be reached over the next few months. Once those residences are competed, the State of Delaware will have spent $33 million in ARPA funding on broadband connection.
The Massachusetts Broadband Institute at MassTech (MBI), on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has launched the Broadband Infrastructure Gap Networks Grant Program, a new competitive grant program funded by $145 million from the US Department of Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund that aims to deliver high-speed internet infrastructure to areas that currently lack broadband-level service. The Gap Networks program aims to expand connectivity to unserved and underserved locations throughout the state to help bridge the digital divide, with a particular focus on communities with substantial low-income households and disadvantaged populations. The program is administered by the MassTech Collaborative and the state’s Executive Office of Economic Development to fund projects that will deploy broadband infrastructure in areas that currently lack access to high-speed internet service, which is defined under the federal program guidelines as service that offers download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of at least 20 Mbps. Full details on program requirements can be found here.
Net neutrality has become the Washington equivalent of a Hollywood franchise: As if the sequel to the sequel weren’t enough, another installment of the debate over rules for the internet’s roads arrived this month. This time, however, there’s a plot twist. What, exactly, net neutrality rules look like matters less than that there are meaningful rules for broadband more generally. Broadband is an essential service. Yet there isn’t a single government agency with sufficient authority to oversee this vital tool. Asserting federal authority over broadband would empower regulation of any blocking, throttling or anti-competitive paid traffic prioritization that they might engage in. But it could also help ensure the safety and security of US networks. The Telecommunications Act’s complex, archaic classification scheme has never been well-suited to the modern internet. How could it be, when in 1996 the narrow swath of American society that could get online at all had to dial up? Ideally, Congress would write a new law for a new era. And, ideally, lawmakers would also consider other elements of the internet technology industry that define Americans’ online experience, including app stores, social media sites and more. In the less-than-ideal present, however, the FCC is the only body proposing any version of internet governance. It would be better than nothing.
The United States is no stranger to wildfires. These fires can ignite utility poles, melt aerial fiber optic cables, obscure wireless signals, or damage transmitting or receiving equipment. This kind of damage can cut homes off from key public safety resources, and prevent calls for help in the most dire situations. As states now know their share of the $42.5 billion Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, they should begin planning new network deployments and upgrades to withstand increasingly severe natural disasters. States and localities are not the only ones that should take proactive planning measures to ensure new and existing telecommunications and broadband networks are resilient. Providers and other network operators should upgrade equipment or ensure that proper backups are in place to mitigate future outages before a disaster strikes a community. What’s more, resilience planning requires collaboration at every level of government. By taking a few simple steps to enhance communication and planning, both governments and providers can ensure that consumers maintain connectivity during and in the wake of natural disasters when they need it the most.
The information collected by, and stored within, mobile networks can represent one of the most current and comprehensive dossiers of our life. Our mobile phones are connected to these networks and reveal our behaviours, demographic details, social communities, shopping habits, sleeping patterns, and where we live and work, as well as provide a view into our travel history. This information, in aggregate, is jeopardized, however, by technical vulnerabilities in mobile communications networks. Such vulnerabilities can be used to expose intimate information to many diverse actors and are tightly linked to how mobile phones roam across mobile operators’ networks when we travel. Specifically, these vulnerabilities are most often tied to the signaling messages that are sent between telecommunications networks which expose the phones to different modes of location disclosure. This report provides a high-level overview of the geolocation-related threats associated with contemporary networks that depend on the protocols used by 3G, 4G, and 5G network operators, followed by evidence of the proliferation of these threats.
You may recall a number of years ago when Google experimented with delivering broadband from balloons in an effort labeled Project Loon. The project was eventually dropped, but a remnant of the project has now resurfaced as Taara—broadband delivered terrestrially by lasers. Project Loon functioned by beaming broadband from dirigible to receivers on the ground, and Taara sprung out of the idea of using those same lasers for terrestrial broadband. Taara claims to be able to beam as much as 20 gigabits for 20 kilometers (12 miles). While that is impressive, the important claim is that the hardware is affordable and easy to install and align. The Taara effort came out of the effort by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to form a division to work on moonshots – ideas that are futuristic sounding, but that could someday make the world a radically better place. This resulted in the creation of X, the parent of Taara, which is the laboratory in charge of the moonshot ideas. Taara sees this technology as a way to increase broadband access in areas with little or no broadband access. This is also envisioned as a technology that can provide better backhaul to cell towers and ISP hub sites. The most promising use of the technology is to bring a high-speed connection to the many small villages around the world that aren’t connected to broadband.
President Biden issued a landmark Executive Order to ensure that America leads the way in seizing the promise and managing the risks of artificial intelligence (AI). The Executive Order establishes new standards for AI safety and security, protects Americans’ privacy, advances equity and civil rights, stands up for consumers and workers, promotes innovation and competition, advances American leadership around the world, and more. The Executive Order directs the following actions:
- New Standards for AI Safety and Security: As AI’s capabilities grow, so do its implications for Americans’ safety and security. With this Executive Order, the President directs the most sweeping actions ever taken to protect Americans from the potential risks of AI systems.
- Protecting Americans’ Privacy: Without safeguards, AI can put Americans’ privacy further at risk. AI not only makes it easier to extract, identify, and exploit personal data, but it also heightens incentives to do so because companies use data to train AI systems. To better protect Americans’ privacy, including from the risks posed by AI, the President calls on Congress to pass bipartisan data privacy legislation to protect all Americans, especially kids.
- Advancing Equity and Civil Rights: Irresponsible uses of AI can lead to and deepen discrimination, bias, and other abuses in justice, healthcare, and housing. The Biden-Harris Administration has already taken action by publishing the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and issuing an Executive Order directing agencies to combat algorithmic discrimination, while enforcing existing authorities to protect people’s rights and safety.
- Standing Up for Consumers, Patients, and Students: AI can bring real benefits to consumers—for example, by making products better, cheaper, and more widely available. But AI also raises the risk of injuring, misleading, or otherwise harming Americans.
- Supporting Workers: AI is changing America’s jobs and workplaces, offering both the promise of improved productivity but also the dangers of increased workplace surveillance, bias, and job displacement.
- Promoting Innovation and Competition: America already leads in AI innovation—more AI startups raised first-time capital in the United States in 2022 than in the next seven countries combined.
- Advancing American Leadership Abroad: AI’s challenges and opportunities are global. The Biden-Harris Administration will continue working with other nations to support safe, secure, and trustworthy deployment and use of AI worldwide.
- Ensuring Responsible and Effective Government Use of AI: AI can help government deliver better results for the American people. It can expand agencies’ capacity to regulate, govern, and disburse benefits, and it can cut costs and enhance the security of government systems. However, use of AI can pose risks, such as discrimination and unsafe decisions.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, high-speed internet was a luxury to which to aspire. Can you remember such a time? Rural Americans certainly can. Fortunately, today, for many but not all, triple-digit Mbps download speeds are available and reasonably affordable. Peggy Schaffer is among the broadband advocate-actualizers who’ve helped relegate those days to a faint memory. Schaffer – a resident of the rural Maine town of Vassalboro, midway between Portland and Bangor – has served in multiple roles in advancing rural broadband in her home state and beyond. She was co-chair of the Maine Broadband Coalition, director of the ConnectMaine Authority and served on the State Broadband Leaders Network. She’s now a board member of the American Association for Public Broadband and a strategic adviser to VETRO FiberMap. She’s assumed these duties because she recognized some years ago what high-speed internet access could afford and what its absence would curtail. She recognized it would be every bit as important, if not more so, for rural residents as urban.
Charter Communications released its third quarter earnings for 2023, reporting that total residential and small and medium business ("SMB") Internet customers increased by 63,000. As of September 30, 2023, Charter served a total of 30.6 million residential and SMB Internet customers. Third quarter total residential and SMB mobile lines increased by 594,000, and Charter currently serves a total of 7.2 million mobile lines. As of the end of the third quarter, Charter had a total of 32.2 million residential and SMB customer relationships, which excludes mobile-only relationships. Third quarter revenue of $13.6 billion grew by 0.2 percent year-over-year, driven by residential Internet revenue growth of 3.7 percent, residential mobile service revenue growth of 33.8 percent and other revenue growth of 28.8 percent, primarily driven by higher mobile device sales.
Oct 29––The CyberShare Summit (NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association)
Oct 30––Alerting Security Roundtable (FCC)
Oct 30––Tribal Business of Broadband (Institute for Local Self-Reliance)
Oct 31––The Future of Private Networks (New America)
Nov 1––Truth, Trust, and Democracy: Leadership in the Information Ecosystem (Shorenstein Center)
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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