Thursday, October 8, 2020
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News From the USDA
The United States Department of Agriculture is investing $72 million in grants to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities. These investments will benefit more than 12 million rural residents. USDA is funding 116 projects through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program. The program helps health care and education institutions buy the equipment and software necessary to deploy distance-learning and telemedicine services to rural residents.
Investments will impact Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wyoming, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $11.8 million in grants to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Arkansas. Mountain View Telephone Company (MVTC) will use a $2.9 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,331 people, 39 farms, six businesses, two fire stations, and one post office to high-speed broadband internet in Stone County, Arkansas. Northern Arkansas Telephone Company (NATCO) will use a $4.7 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,202 people, 68 farms, and six businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Marion County, Arkansas. Arkansas Telephone Company (ATC) will use a $4.1 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 491 people, 92 farms, and four businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Pope and Van Buren counties in Arkansas.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $1 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Indiana. Tipmont Rural Electric Membership Corporation will use a $1 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 279 people, 10 businesses and 16 farms to high-speed broadband internet in Indiana’s Fountain County.
Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks called for new scrutiny of undersea cables that transmit nearly all the world’s internet data traffic at the FCC meeting Sept 30. “We must take a closer look at cables with landing locations in adversary countries,” Commissioner Starks said. “This includes the four existing submarine cables connecting the US and China, most of which are partially owned by Chinese state-owned companies.” Commissioner Starks said the FCC “must ensure that adversary countries and other hostile actors can’t tamper with, block, or intercept the communications they carry.”
Next Century Cities wants the governor to bring the California legislature back for a special session to consider a broadband bill, SB1130. Under current law, California's broadband deployment plan is that no later than Dec. 31, 2022, the state will approve funding for infrastructure projects "that will provide broadband access to no less than 98% of California households." The new law would stretch that timeline by two years, but up the ante on what broadband must be deployed. "[N]o later than Dec. 31, 2024, [the state shall] approve funding for infrastructure projects that will provide high-capacity [25 Mbps downstream and 25 Mbps upstream], future-proof infrastructure, as defined, based on current engineering and scientific information available at the time of program application, to no less than 98% of California households, with a latency that is sufficiently low to allow real-time interactive applications to unserved areas and unserved high-poverty areas, and provide last-mile infrastructure to unserved areas and unserved high-poverty areas." Next Century Cities argues that the bill is needed to "ensure that California residents have the requisite connectivity to remain safe and fully recover from the pandemic."
31% of Black households do not have high-speed home broadband, affecting Black school-aged children and their ability to complete homework assignments at a disproportionate rate. Traditionally, there has not been a consistent focus on the improving the educational opportunities of Black children, but amid the first pandemic in over 100 years, a 13% Black unemployment rate, and no clear plan from our government on how to resolve this crisis, Black K-12 children are especially at risk of falling even further behind without access to the remote learning opportunities that broadband connectivity brings. The debate surrounding access to broadband connectivity is often framed as a “rural only” issue, even though there are more than three times as many urban households than rural households that do not have any kind of home broadband.
The National Urban League strongly supports an Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB). An EBB would allow qualifying individuals or families to receive a monthly subsidy to purchase broadband internet from participating providers. This benefit should also be extended to those individuals who qualify for the Federal Communications Commission current eligibility requirements such as SNAP, Medicaid, and SSI recipients. And considering current unemployment rate for Black America, Congress should also extend eligibility to those who have lost their jobs as a result of the circumstances of the pandemic.
[Danielle Adrianna Davis, Esq is an Attorney and National Urban League Tech Fellow]
Beat China By Harnessing Important, National Airwaves for 5G Act of 2020, or the Beat CHINA for 5G Act of 2020, would empower the Federal Communications Commission to open more critical mid-band spectrum for non-federal, commercial wireless use by requiring the FCC to begin an auction of the 3.45-3.55 GHz band by December 2021.
The Report assesses industry compliance over the past two years with sections 255, 716, and 718 of the Communications Act of 1934. These sections require telecommunications and advanced communications services and equipment, and Internet browsers built into mobile phones (collectively, covered products and services) to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. The Report also addresses accessibility barriers to new communications technologies, and the effect of the accessibility-related recordkeeping and enforcement requirements under section 717 on the development and deployment of such technologies. Finally, the Report provides information about the number and nature of, and actions taken to resolve, complaints alleging violations of sections 255, 716, and 718 for the period of January 1, 2018, through December 31, 2019, including the length of time that the Federal Communications Commission took to resolve such complaints, and the number, status, nature, and outcome of any actions for mandamus filed, and of any appeals filed, pertaining to such complaints.
The FCC finds that over the last two years, the record demonstrates significant additional improvements in these areas. It bases this finding on the following: (1) smartphones continue to innovate and incorporate features that enable improved access to telecommunications and advanced communications services; (2) speech-to-text and text-to-speech technology, voice assistants, and screen readers continue to advance; and (3) newer devices such as smart speakers and enhanced compatibility between assistive technologies and advanced communications equipment enable more people with disabilities to communicate. Nonetheless, the record also indicates that accessibility gaps continue to exist with respect to (1) the availability of accessible mobile phones with low-end features, functions, and prices for people who are blind and (2) certain apps that provide telecommunications and advanced communications services that are not readable by screen readers. Further, we find no record evidence that the enforcement and recordkeeping obligations of Section 717 of the CVAA have impeded the development or deployment of new communications technologies.
The Federal Communications Commission announced the 2020 winners of the Chairman's Awards for Advancements in Accessibility (Chairman’s AAA). This FCC program, which began in 2011, is focused on improving access to telecommunications and technology for people with disabilities. The award winners for 2020 are:
- Telecommunications attorney Karen Peltz Strauss
- Claude L. Stout, Executive Director Emeritus of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Inc. (TDI)
- Tom Wlodkowski, Vice President of Accessibility and Multicultural Technology and Product at Comcast Corporation
The awards will be presented during the FCC’s 10th anniversary celebration of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) on Oct 8.
It’s become clear to teachers, administrators, and community members that the digital divide is too big for schools to bridge on their own. The infrastructure needed to teach rural students remotely would require systemic change — it would require government assistance. Months into the pandemic, educators say they still don’t have what they need.
Part of the problem for rural areas is income. Just over half of households with annual incomes under $30,000 use broadband internet, according to Pew Research Center. Poverty rates are much higher in non-metro areas than they are in metro areas across the US — and the largest gap, by far, is in the South. And the COVID-19 pandemic, which demolished 113 straight months of job growth, has overwhelmingly impacted low-income minority communities. The average cost of internet service is $60 per month in the US. And in areas where cable isn’t available, some families need to turn to satellite service, which is even more expensive at $100 per month on average. That’s a cost not all families can bear, especially during a recession. But high-speed internet isn’t an option even for some households that could afford the service.
“This pandemic has taught us that this [broadband] is not something that families need to be without,” said Alex Beene, who teaches adult education and ACT prep classes in western Tennessee. “This needs to be just like water in the year 2020. Every home needs to have it. It needs to be running and plentiful. It’s opening our eyes to the fact that we need, for education, to have an infrastructure that allows all of our families to be online.”
Hundreds of school-age children in suburban Cook County (IL) public housing will get free laptops paid for by federal coronavirus stimulus money starting Oct 7, as part of an ongoing effort to ensure digital access after the COVID-19 pandemic upended in-person learning. About $270,000 of CARES Act money allocated to the Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC) will be used to purchase laptops for 900 students who live in the public housing complexes to keep and otherwise would struggle to complete remote learning. The giveaway is part of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s efforts to address long-standing racial inequities that have intensified under the grip of the coronavirus.
HACC Executive Director Richard Monocchio said the new program was an “incalculable investment” because unlike electronic devices loaned from some school districts during the academic year, these laptops don’t need to be returned. “I can’t think of a better way, to be quite honest, to invest government funding than on our kids,” Monocchio said. “This pandemic has really magnified the discrepancies that we see in this country and this county. And it’s not acceptable.”
Melissa Lawson does whatever she can to ensure her children have a great education. The single mom of three juggles working as a licensed cosmetologist, a Zumba instructor and a school’s lunch and recess monitor while ensuring she has the money to keep her children at Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School and Gibault Catholic High School. But now that Lawson’s children are remote learning this school year, she’s had to double her efforts because she can’t afford internet service in her home. She leaves her phone with her kids while she goes to work so they can use her hotspot for school.
Many families in East St. Louis (IL) — a Black-majority community where nearly 40% of residents live below the federal poverty line — can’t afford internet service and struggle to find ways for their children to do their remote learning. East St. Louis and nearby Washington Park have 200 or less residential fixed internet connections per 1,000 households, the lowest rate in St. Clair County, according to an analysis of Federal Communications Commission data based on census tracts. The data also shows that predominantly white and more affluent communities like Belleville and O’Fallon have at least 800 residential internet connections per 1,000 households.
“It would be nice if some of these internet companies can work with us,” Lawson said. “Everything works with technology, and I feel like why should we be restricted in the poor community. We deserve to have the same access and things that other people do. We deserve to have those same things. I’m not saying that we don’t have to work for it, but maybe they can offer some incentives so we can have it.”
Things got technical at the Supreme Court as the justices heard arguments from Google and Oracle in a blockbuster copyright dispute that has captivated Silicon Valley for a decade. The dispute concerns about 11,500 lines of code that Google used to build its popular Android mobile operating system, which were replicated from the Java application programming interface developed by Sun Microsystems. Oracle, which acquired Sun in 2010, sued Google shortly afterward, arguing that Google’s use of the code violates its ownership rights. Google, on the other hand, has said the code it copied was purely functional, and that its own engineers authored all of Android’s code that could be said to be creative and subject to copyright protection. At the end of an hour and a half of arguments, Justice Stephen Breyer, who at one point read aloud some code, seemed to be the only sure vote. The liberal justice appeared to lean toward Google. Several of the other justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, suggested they were sympathetic to Oracle’s copyright claims. Still, they appeared reluctant to rule in Oracle’s favor.
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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