Monday, November 2, 2020
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Top Senate Democrats are calling on electric, gas, water and telecommunications giants to voluntarily halt all utility shutoffs for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. The request - sent in a letter to 21 of the largest utility companies including AT&T and Verizon - illustrates the country’s lingering economic needs even as Washington fails to coalesce around a new coronavirus relief package, which congressional Democrats say should include a disconnection ban and other aid to help families in dire financial straits. Nine party lawmakers, led by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the top Democrat on the Banking Committee, and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), stressed that the absence of a federal shutoff moratorium particularly threatens Americans’ safety and wellbeing at a time when authorities are encouraging people to wash their hands frequently and work or learn from home.
The Federal Communications Commission has a program, known as the high-cost program, to promote broadband deployment in unserved areas. Although the performance goals for the high-cost program reflect principles in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, not all of the goals are expressed in a measurable or quantifiable manner and therefore do not align with leading practices. Furthermore, FCC’s measures for its performance goals do not always align with leading practices, which call for measures to have linkage with the goal they measure and clarity, objectivity, and measurable targets, among other key attributes. For example, as shown below for two of FCC’s five goals, GAO found that FCC’s measures met most, but not all, of the key attributes. By establishing goals and measures that align with leading practices, FCC can improve the performance information it uses in its decision-making processes about how to allocate the program’s finite resources. Leading practices also suggest that agencies publicly report on progress made toward performance goals. FCC does so, however, only in a limited fashion, which may lead to stakeholder uncertainty about the program’s effectiveness. The FCC faces three key challenges to accomplish its high-cost program performance goals: (1) accuracy of FCC’s broadband deployment data, (2) broadband availability on tribal lands, and (3) maintaining existing fixed-voice infrastructure and attaining universal mobile service. GAO is making four recommendations:
- The Chairman of FCC should revise the high-cost performance goals so that they are measurable and quantifiable.
- The Chairman of FCC should ensure high-cost performance measures align with key attributes of successful performance measures, including ensuring that measures clearly link with performance goals and have specified targets.
- The Chairman of FCC should ensure the high-cost performance measure for the goal of minimizing the universal service contribution burden on consumers and businesses takes into account user-fee leading practices, such as equity and sustainability considerations.
- The Chairman of FCC should publicly and periodically report on the progress it has made for its high-cost program’s performance goals, for example, by including relevant performance information in its Annual Broadband Deployment Report or the USF Monitoring Report.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing over $53.6 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in 10 states.
- Cross Cable Television LLC will use a $15.8 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 2,815 people, 125 farms, nine businesses, one educational facility and a fire department to high-speed broadband internet in Haskell and Muskogee counties in Oklahoma.
- Pine Telephone Company Inc. will use a $6.9 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 2,099 people, 82 farms, 30 businesses, two fire stations, a post office and a public school to high-speed broadband internet in Atoka County, Oklahoma.
- Medicine Park Telephone Company will use a $3.7 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,082 people, 21 farms and 16 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Comanche County, Oklahoma.
- Seneca Telecommunications LLC will use a $544,000 ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 928 people, five farms and a business to high-speed broadband internet in Cattaraugus, Erie and Chautauqua counties in New York. This grant will provide high-speed internet service to the Cattaraugus Reservation of the Seneca Nation.
- Yampa Valley Electric Association will use a $6 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 553 people, 27 farms, 27 businesses and three post offices to high-speed broadband internet in Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Grand and Eagle counties in Colorado.
- Reservation Telephone Cooperative will use a $6.9 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 1,413 people, 104 farms, 49 businesses, a public school and a fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Dawson, Richland and Wibaux counties in Montana and McKenzie County, North Dakota.
- Beehive Telephone Company Inc. will use a $2.3 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect four residents, four farms and four businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Washington County, Utah.
- Beehive Telephone Company Inc. of Nevada will use a $2.7 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 147 people to high-speed broadband internet in Elko County, Nevada.
- All West Communications Inc. will use a $5.6 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 188 people, nine businesses and five farms to high-speed broadband internet in Summit County in Utah, Bear Lake County in Idaho, and Sweetwater and Lincoln counties in Wyoming.
- Rock County Telephone Company will use a $3.1 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network that will connect 261 people, 70 farms and seven businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Rock, Keya Paha and Brown counties in Nebraska.
Hundreds of thousands of families are challenged by modern economic, education, and health-care systems while living without internet access in rural Ohio. COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue, but the problem has been persistent in Appalachia for decades. In 2019 the Buckeye Hills Regional Council applied for a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to conduct an eight-county study — in Athens, Hocking, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Perry and Washington counties — in partnership with Ohio University and the Athens County Economic Development Council. The results showed that 80% to 90% of households (in areas with 20 or fewer households per square mile) have no access to broadband. The council estimated that more than 340,000 households, approximately 1 million residents, in Ohio do not have any internet access.
Tuesday, November 3, is Election Day. And as you may well be trying to decipher the latest polls to predict who'll be running the federal government for the next four years, policymakers haven't taken a break. Here's a quick recap of the major news of the week.
The telecom industry turned out in force to oppose a recent Pentagon proposal to build a shared fifth-generation wireless network, with a familiar pot-stirrer making an exception: Dish Network. The satellite-TV company submitted a list of suggestions for the Department of Defense, which is exploring 5G technology for its own operations. The Colorado company said its under-construction cellular network could meet many of the criteria that the military is considering while also serving private-sector interests. “There is a precedent for how the DoD can take advantage of shared physical assets and network resources, while maintaining operational control and flexibility to support the DoD’s objectives,” Dish wrote in its filing, citing satellites that handle commercial and military clients and the FirstNet public-safety network run by AT&T.
President Donald Trump has changed the internet in obvious ways. During his first term, Americans have watched his administration relish the opportunity to destroy net neutrality—the core principle of a free and open internet. We’ve had to ask whether social-media platforms should penalize the president for threatening and glorifying violence and whether the president might in turn just ban internet companies he doesn’t like. We’ve seen some people on the internet turn into emotionally-numb doom-scrollers, while others have joined the #Resistance, engaging in viral virtue signaling and creating a micro-economy of political merch. But Trump’s impact on the internet is bigger than its weirdest memes or its most prolonged Twitter fights. His presidency has changed how Americans communicate with one another on the internet, heightening its tone of divisiveness and suspicion, shaping its norms and rules, and creating an expectation that each day online will be more surreal than the one before. We’ll look back at these years as an era of major upheaval in nearly everything about being online: The internet is a fundamentally different place from what it was in 2016, and using it the way many people do, the president’s influence is undeniable. Four years in, Americans are only starting to get a sense of how President Trump has altered daily American life. Regardless of what happens on Election Day, we can expect four of the biggest changes to last.
Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners said it is buying Astound Broadband, the sixth-largest US cable-TV provider, for $3.6 billion, in one of the biggest leveraged buyouts of 2020. Astound, owned by private-equity firm TPG and cable-management company Patriot Media Management, is the operator of RCN Telecom Services LLC, Grande Communications, Wave Broadband, and enTouch Systems. Based in Princeton (NJ), it provides high-speed-internet, broadband, digital-TV, and phone services to more than one million customers in markets around the country including New York City, Chicago, Northern California, Texas, and Washington (DC). Including its $4.5 billion of debt, the deal values Astound at $8.1 billion. Patriot, which manages Astound, will partner with Stonepeak and continue to run the company.
Charter Communications reported financial and operating results for the three and nine months ended September 30, 2020. Total residential and small and medium business (SMB) Internet customers increased by 537,000, compared to 380,000 during the third quarter of 2019. Over the last 12 months, total Internet customers grew by 2.3 million, or 8.8%, to 28.6 million. Charter added 494,000 residential Internet customers in the third quarter of 2020, versus third quarter 2019 residential Internet customer net additions of 351,000. As of September 30, 2020, Charter had 26.8 million residential Internet customers, with over 85% subscribing to tiers that provided 100 Mbps or more of speed, and over 50% subscribing to tiers that provided 200 Mbps or more of speed. Currently, 200 Mbps is the slowest speed offered to new Spectrum Internet customers in approximately 60% of Charter's footprint, with 100 Mbps the slowest speed offered in the remaining 40% of its footprint. Charter added 363,000 mobile lines in the third quarter, compared to 276,000 during the third quarter of 2019. As of September 30, 2020, Charter served a total of 2.1 million mobile lines.
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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