Monday, October 31, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
Over the last two years, in California and across the country, billions of public dollars have been allocated to end the digital divide. The Digital Equity LA coalition, supported by the California Community Foundation (CCF) Digital Equity Initiative, has mobilized to ensure these investments are directed to the communities that need them most—those that have been historically marginalized and are disproportionately disconnected—and deployed in support of the most effective long-term solutions. Low-income households, people of color, and immigrants are significantly more likely to be stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide than people living in wealthy, white neighborhoods. The most common reason disconnected people report for not having a fast and reliable connection is affordability; the price is too high, or the service they can afford isn’t fast or reliable enough to justify the expense. Digital Equity LA and the CCF Digital Equity Initiative set out in Slower and More Expensive: Sounding the Alarm - Disparities in Advertised Prices for Fast, Reliable Broadband to document what people are being asked to pay for home internet in diverse neighborhoods across Los Angeles County. The findings of the research echo concurrent national research released by The Markup: low-income communities and communities of color routinely are advertised internet service at higher prices and slower speeds than whiter and wealthier neighbors. These findings are sobering, raising significant red flags about the potential efficacy of current interventions to close the digital divide.
[Shayna Englin is the CEO of 42 Comms, a strategic advisory firm, and is the Director of the Digital Equity Initiative at the California Community Foundation.]
An explosive report from nonprofit journalism outlet The Markup analyzed data on internet speeds and pricing in 38 US cities and found that AT&T, Verizon, EarthLink, and CenturyLink all disproportionately offered lower-income and less-white neighborhoods slower internet for the same price that nearby whiter, wealthier neighborhoods paid for faster speeds. Discriminating against those communities by charging them more for the internet is digital redlining, and it’s yet another example of the technology and telecommunications industry’s ability to entrench and amplify social inequities. The Federal Communications Commission is the agency best poised to create and enforce rules on this matter, and the agency promised to look into this exact issue. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is working to create a task force to tackle digital discrimination, and the commission has initiated an inquiry into the problem of how it can best prevent digital discrimination. The intent is to launch new rule-making under the legal authority of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This would allow the FCC to create a new regulation that would target digital discrimination. While it is positive that the FCC is taking charge to fix this problem, the agency’s efforts have arguably been hampered by the fact that the agency is still operating without its full number of commissioners. Republicans have refused to confirm Gigi Sohn, a well-known expert in technology and communications policy. 250 civil society groups recently signed a letter supporting her confirmation. Until the day comes that we do have strong laws that protect internet access as a civil right, we will need to continue speaking up and shedding light on discrimination and inequity.
[Tiffany C. Li is a technology lawyer and legal scholar. She is an assistant professor of law at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a fellow at Yale Law School's Information Society Project.]
Across the country, rural households and low-wage workers are stuck with slow or no internet while the rest of the world moves forward with high-speed broadband. Lack of broadband shuts workers out of jobs. People who live in rural areas without high-speed internet access depend on local coffee shops and other public facilities with high-speed internet to fill in the gap. Beyond work, online healthcare, education, and conveniences like online shopping work best—and sometimes only—with broadband. During the pandemic, these tasks became necessities for many. Millions of people qualify for reduced internet costs but aren't signing up. Broadband has eluded low-income and rural households for one main reason: money. It’s a thorn for consumers and broadband providers alike. For providers, the challenge is justifying the capital investment to establish rural broadband infrastructure in low-density areas with fewer subscribers. While the federal government poured billions into expanding internet access to low-income and rural households, there are still road bumps to achieving connectivity. A recent survey by Education Superhighway found that the greatest hurdle for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) enrollment is awareness: an astonishing 75% of people in many communities don’t know this program exists. On a national level, the adoption rate is 25%, but the rate of adoption fluctuates sharply by state. Additionally, monopolies drive up the price of internet services. More than 200 million Americans only have a choice between two ISPs, according to a White House fact sheet. In these markets, consumers may pay up to five times more than those living in areas with more options for broadband providers.
Rural communities are an integral part of the American economy, security, and identity. However, on the whole, rural areas lag behind urban and suburban areas in broadband deployment and adoption. The solution to the problem of rural needs for broadband will not, however, be one-size-fits-all; rural communities vary in the infrastructure already available for broadband development and vary in their demands for broadband resources. The following 12 policy recommendations are meant to bridge the American rural digital divide:
- Create a Rural Broadband Information Clearinghouse: Create an easy-to-locate, accessible resource clearinghouse that centralizes solutions, data, and information for their own community. An effective clearinghouse will reduce the administrative burdens to build out their broadband networks.
- Reduce Regulatory Impediments: Eliminate and reduce unnecessary rules and regulations around broadband deployment. Broadband policies should improve the availability of affordable broadband services in rural areas, including the underserved and unserved areas in rural America.
- Identify and Leverage Local Rural Technology Champions: It is imperative that all levels of policy conversations around broadband include the input of people living and working in those rural communities. Obtaining buy-in from local communities assists with adoption and affordability.
- Leverage Technology as an Enabler and Not an End: Broadband solutions will need to be tailored to specific community needs. Policies should remain technology-neutral to allow for current and future deployment.
- Mapping for Rural Communities: Mapping on a house-by-house, location-by-location basis is important to understand where broadband internet service is available and to show where broadband issues and connectivity are lacking.
- Affordable Access: Providers should be encouraged to offer programs for adoption addressing broadband affordability for consumers. Providers should be made aware of and encouraged to participate in the existing and future federal broadband affordability programs.
- Leverage Local Anchor Institutions and Other Partners: Anchor institutions like schools, libraries, hospitals, medical or healthcare providers, community colleges, and other institutions of higher education can be leveraged for greater adoption.
- Increase Digital Literacy: Consider having local rural organizations drive adoption by developing programs specifically geared toward specific demographics (i.e., aging, immigrants, etc.). For successful adoption, the internet must be shown to be helpful in everyday life.
- Middle Mile: Approving the funding for middle-mile infrastructure reduces the cost of rural community members while simultaneously ensuring that the anchor institutions which are essential to rural life have broadband.
- Workforce Development: Rural broadband offers significant opportunities to live and work in rural communities, creating and maintaining jobs that sometimes pay higher than local wages.
- Change Matching Grant Requirements for Rural Communities: To deploy grant funding, change requirements for matching funds to accommodate the funding challenges that rural communities will face.
- State Framework: Policies should provide a framework for states to determine the application process in a fair and straightforward manner. There should not be blanket prioritization and strategies for states, each state is unique.
One existing resource that is often overlooked in designing wireless networks is AM radio towers. For the most part, companies deploying fixed wireless and microwave antenna have avoided these towers. The conventional wisdom has been to avoid the AM towers as being too hot in power and frequency to use for other purposes. But the AM towers don’t have to be a wasted asset. There are two methods that can be used to install other radios on AM towers that often get overlooked by cellular companies and wireless broadband providers. The first technique is known as a folded unipole. This consists of a vertical metal rod, called a mast, that is connected at the base of the AM tower to a conductive surface called a ground plane. This is a common technique used to connect an FM transmitter to an existing AM tower, but it can also allow for cellular or fixed wireless radios. The other method for isolation is to install electronics on the transmission line that carries the radio content signal to the antenna. The most common device is called an iso coupler, which allows RF signals within a certain frequency range to pass through while continuing to isolate the AM signal from the ground. Both of these methods are referred to as detuning, meaning that a new radio can be isolated from the tuned AM signal that permeates the whole tower. Anybody looking for tower space shouldn’t shy away from this option because the folks who own AM towers are likely to be open to negotiating an affordable connection since they don’t often get the opportunity.
Telecommuting relates directly to transportation demand and pattern, congestion mitigation, and population migration, as well as to the sustainability, livability, and prosperity of communities. The objective of this research is to assess the impact of temporarily shifting the workforce to telecommuting in Greater Minnesota on workplace policy changes, employee support, and future telecommuting plans; employees’ experience of telecommuting during COVID-19 and forecast of future telecommuting; and differences among geographic areas, life circumstances, and demographic characteristics. Findings include the following:
- Greater Minnesota respondents were more likely to telecommute no more than one day a week post-pandemic, while Twin Cities respondents were more likely to telecommute two to three days a week.
- Those with one or more children living at home were more likely to have a formal post-pandemic telecommuting agreement with their employers.
- Baby boomers were the most likely to telecommute four to five days a week post-pandemic.
- Gen Z respondents were the most likely to telecommute no more than one day a week post-pandemic.
- 71.4% of respondents indicated that most employees would return to in-person work post-pandemic, and 24.4% indicated that employers would only support infrequent (less than one day a month) telecommuting post-pandemic.
- Roughly a quarter indicated their organizations may recruit completely remote talent from outside of Minnesota. Employer representatives, compared to worker survey respondents, were much more likely to indicate their organizations had not developed a telecommuting policy for the future at the time of the survey.
- Worker survey respondents were much more likely to indicate that employers would support telecommuting anywhere between one and five days a week.
Amid the usual checks for close Senate races, tech is giving to spread crypto, help out VC, and bring more tech talent to politics. GMI PAC has been one of the biggest recipients of Silicon Valley's largesse in the leadup to the midterm election. The crypto-allied, independent group focused on races that attracted little national interest and were almost studiously bipartisan. In other words, GMI doesn't really look like the stereotype of Big Tech's big giving to progressives in hot-button contests — a caricature that certainly has a big grain of truth. “Our mission is to keep this a bipartisan issue,” said Michael Carcaise, a strategist for GMI. GMI seems to represent another side of Silicon Valley’s $291 million in political giving — one that, essentially, is trying to bring more Silicon Valley to the world, whether it’s GMI’s efforts to herald the arrival of the crypto industry as a political force or a PAC that helps Democratic campaigns hire top tech talent.
The Federal Communications Commission has been working to fulfill three important Congressional mandates. One would enhance national security by ensuring that untrustworthy communications equipment is not authorized for use within our border. Another would empower consumers to make more informed decisions about broadband service by requiring broadband providers to display “nutrition” labels that disclose information about pricing and network performance. A third would improve transparency and accountability for the new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which is helping more than 14 million households across the country get and stay online. Stay tuned because action on all three of these initiatives is forthcoming. On top of all this work, we’ve lined up the following proposals for consideration at our November meeting.
- We're improving 911 reliability: We place an estimated 240 million emergency calls each year to the nation's more than 5,700 911 call centers. When 911 outages occur, action is needed to help the public maintain access to emergency responders. The FCC will consider rules to ensure that 911 call centers receive timely and useful notifications of network disruptions that affect 911 service, which will help them to inform the public when to use alternatives to call 911. The rules would also harmonize and maintain certain 911 reporting and certification requirements that will help improve 911 reliability.
- We’re fixing outdated media rules: The FCC’s rules specifically state that the Nielsen Station Index Directory shall be used to determine a television station’s local market for carriage purposes. The Nielsen Company recently phased out this report, replacing it with a monthly Local TV Station Information Report. As supported by the record, the FCC will vote to adopt this new Local TV Report as the publication for determining market areas.
- We will also consider an action from our Enforcement Bureau.
Charter's total residential and small and medium business ("SMB") Internet customers increased by 75,000. As of September 30, 2022, Charter served a total of 30.3 million residential and SMB Internet customers. Additionally, Charter had 29.9 million residential customer relationships, with year-over-year growth of 0.4%. Third-quarter residential Internet customers increased by 61,000, compared to an increase of 243,000 customers during the third quarter of 2021. Residential video customers decreased by 211,000 in the third quarter of 2022, compared to a decline of 133,000 in the third quarter of 2021, partly driven by downgrades following an April pass-through of higher programming expenses. As of September 30, 2022, Charter had 14.6 million residential video customers. During the third quarter of 2022, residential wireline voice customers declined by 271,000, compared to a decline of 230,000 in the third quarter of 2021. As of September 30, 2022, Charter had 7.9 million residential wireline voice customers. Also, during the third quarter of 2022, Charter added 396,000 mobile lines, compared to a growth of 244,000 during the third quarter of 2021.
Stories From Abroad
In Europe, the battle between US Big Tech companies and telecommunications firms has reached a fever pitch. Telecom groups are pushing European regulators to consider implementing a framework where the companies that send traffic along their networks are charged a fee to help fund mammoth upgrades to their infrastructure, something known as the “sender pays” principle. Their logic is that certain platforms, like Amazon Prime and Netflix, chew through gargantuan amounts of data and should therefore foot part of the bill for adding new capacity to cope with the increased strain. The European Commission is preparing a consultation examining the issue, which is expected to launch early next year. For at least a decade, telecom firms have tried to get digital juggernauts to fork out to support upgrades to network infrastructure. Broadband operators are investing seismic sums of cash into their infrastructure to support next-generation 5G and fiber networks — 50 billion euros ($48.5 billion) a year, per one estimate. US tech giants should “make a fair contribution to the sizable costs they currently impose on European networks,” the bosses of 16 telecom operators said in a joint statement last month. A fundamental issue with the proposal is that it’s not clear how the payments to telecom companies would work in practice. It could take the form of a tax taken directly by governments. Or, it could be private sector-led, with tech firms giving telcos a cut of their sales in proportion to how much traffic they require. Not all regulators are on board. A preliminary assessment from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications found no justification for network compensation payments. In the UK, the communications watchdog Ofcom has also cast doubts, stating it hadn’t “yet seen sufficient evidence that this is needed.”
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 Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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