Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Headlines Daily Digest
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Broadband expansion is at the top of Biden’s telecom to-do list. The president-elect’s transition website is now live, and universal broadband and modern infrastructure feature prominently in his vision for the country’s economic recovery and fight against climate change. Where does 5G fit into the equation? Most Americans have not yet experienced the super-fast 5G speeds that wireless giants have been promising for years as they work to keep pace with foreign competitors like China. US carriers don’t have the right airwaves or network architecture to really allow for widespread, robust 5G use just yet, a pitfall that poses an immediate challenge, and window of opportunity, for the next White House. Even in a divided Congress, 5G could be an area for bipartisan consensus, particularly in the middle of a pandemic when connectivity has become more of a lifeline than ever for many Americans.
A Q&A with former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler. He says one major issue for the Biden FCC will likely be restoring Obama-era net neutrality rules that required internet service providers to offer equal access to content on the web. Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reversed those rules in 2017. President-elect Joe Biden will prioritize more spending on broadband infrastructure.
Joe Biden's transformation into president-elect Saturday kicks off a new era for tech, giving an industry that's found itself increasingly at odds with government the chance for a reset. Biden's ascent could see the restoration of some tech-friendly Obama-era policies but is unlikely to end the bipartisan techlash that grew during Trump's term. Privacy, surveillance and hate speech online are all on the agenda. Expect little immediate change in the progress of antitrust enforcement against tech companies — including the Justice Department's lawsuit against Google and a possible move by the Federal Trade Commission and/or several states against Facebook. With control of the Federal Communications Commission passing to Democrats, look for:
- pushes to increase subsidies for universal high-speed internet and possibly to help municipalities build public broadband networks;
- an effort to revive Obama-era net neutrality rules; and
- quick rejection of continued action on Trump’s Section 230 executive order.
If Democrats win a majority of Senate seats, it would give regulatory-minded congressional Democrats the ability to put an end to the legal wrangling over a neutral internet, impose tougher new privacy laws or pass their version of social media regulation. With Republicans holding onto the Senate, there would be no legislation reclassifying internet access as a Title I telecommunications service subject to mandatory access and potentially rate regulation. But a Democratic Federal Communications Commission would almost certainly do the reclassifying and restore rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, which would be challenged in court again and continue the years-long careening from regulation to deregulation of internet access. The FCC under a Democratic chair would likely conclude that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, a 180-degree turn from the Republican-led FCC’s conclusion that progress toward deployment met that definition.
While it is not out of the question that California’s tough privacy law plus follow-up action by other states could encourage Congress to enact legislation, working out issues regarding the right to sue and state preemption controversies would be easier with a Democratic President, House, and Senate than divided party control. In the latter situation, Joe Biden would have to find a few Senators willing to buck their party and vote with him to resolve those issues. Such a coalition could happen, but these kinds of negotiations always are lengthy and complicated.
Section 230 reforms may be one of the issues that move forward even in a divided Congress. The reason is both Republicans and Democrats have grievances against Big Tech. Another prime area for congressional action under divided control would be infrastructure investment. President-elect Biden already has discussed his interest in a major bill in this area that would address problems of highways, bridges, dams, broadband, and digital infrastructure. The goal would be to close the digital divide and aid underserved communities through improved broadband. There are agency actions that could make meaningful progress to help vulnerable communities.
The first 100 days of a new Administration and new Congress are critical to charting a clear, bipartisan course for our nation’s policy agenda. From COVID relief to budget decisions, take bold and decisive action to finish the job of connecting every American home, business and anchor institution to U.S. broadband infrastructure. Particularly amid a global pandemic, the fact that an estimated 18 million American homes do not have broadband access is unacceptable. Working together—public resources alongside private expertise, technology and networks—this is the most solvable of our nation’s leading challenges. Resources + political will = universal connectivity.
- Advance legislation to rapidly and fully invest in the broadband infrastructure programs required to quickly and permanently close the digital divide in America. USTelecom members are ready to immediately go to work with government partners to build these networks, including fiber investment deeper into all corners of America.
- Fund the Broadband Data Act so the FCC can promptly map every home and business without broadband to ensure finite taxpayer resources are targeted efficiently and quickly.
- Ensure the broadband workforce continues to be designated as essential workers with ready and reliable access to PPE so they can safely do their jobs keeping the country connected.
- Move quickly to address antiquated policies that create barriers to broadband deployment and industry competition. From expedited permitting, to lifting mandates that require companies to sustain outdated networks rather than devote more resources to deploying next-generation networks, to rooting-out discriminatory pole attachment rates, all policies should be viewed with an eye toward removing barriers that impede getting broadband to everyone.
- Signal a clear and collaborative infrastructure policy course that encourages all to invest with confidence in the nation’s broadband future.
- Decisively reject any proposal that would treat broadband networks like a government utility.
- Immediately halt DOD plans to establish its own commercial 5G network or select a single gatekeeper for its communications.
Technological innovation has long been and will continue to be critically important to per-capita income growth, economic competitiveness, and national security. So it is important to examine President-elect Joe Biden’s policy agenda through that lens. This report compiles information from the president-elect’s campaign website and policy documents, from the Democratic Party platform, and from media accounts of statements he has made. The report begins with an overview of the general philosophy the president-elect has articulated on tech and innovation policy, and then examines his policy positions and likely initiatives across 10 issue areas including broadband. The public record suggests the Biden administration is likely to push for more regulation of broadband, including on net neutrality and supporting municipally provided broadband, but also support increased investments in closing the digital divide and spurring rural broadband deployment.
Confronting the Biden transition are five existential crises. The pandemic is surging. The economy is stalling. Social justice is faltering. Climate change is on a rampage. And the government that is essential to dealing with each of these problems has been hollowed out by four years of constant attacks. And, oh yes, these issues must be dealt with despite a potentially divided government and deeply divided citizenry. As a tech policy wonk, I am often asked, “How will the Biden transition handle tech policy?” It is the wrong question. The more appropriate question is how tech policy will help deliver solutions to the existential crises. Tech policy is no longer an isolated island where policy wonks debate nuances. Tech had a role in getting us into the current situation. What will it now do to get us out?
Tribes are some of the least connected communities in the United States. The lack of broadband availability is especially acute on tribal lands, where the American Indian Policy Institute found that only 49 percent of residents have fixed home internet service. Recent testimony by the president of the Navajo Nation confirms that this figure is even worse in the Navajo Nation, where over half of Navajo chapters lack any broadband access. This analysis of internet service plans in 109 Navajo chapters shows that not only is federal data on internet service in the Navajo Nation inaccurate, but the market is characterized by slow, outdated, and expensive service plans. Internet service in the Navajo Nation is on average $21.70 to $44.01 more expensive than elsewhere in the country, making it unaffordable for many living on Navajo land whose incomes are at or under the poverty level.
By most measures, China is no longer just leading the US when it comes to 5G. It is running away with the game. China has more 5G subscribers than the US, not just in total but per capita. It has more 5G smartphones for sale, and at lower prices, and it has more-widespread 5G coverage. Connections in China are, on average, faster than in the US, too. When it comes to the things that are supposed to make 5G revolutionary, not just evolutionary—the apps made possible by the greater speeds and capacity—China’s front-runner status is less well-entrenched. For both countries, supposedly life-changing 5G applications, like self-driving cars, remote surgeries and automated factory floors, are still years away from widespread use. However, China’s lead in 5G-network rollouts could set it up to pull ahead in this respect as well.
Recently, T-Mobile expanded the company’s home broadband pilot to more than 20 million households. Nov 9, T-Mobile is expanding Home Internet to more than 130 additional cities and towns across Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin. T-Mobile Home Internet is just $50/month all-in and features many of the same benefits that have made T-Mobile the fastest growing wireless provider for the past seven years.
Months into the school year, the one thing many families have learned is how much they rely on a functioning internet connection to access remote classrooms. So education equality experts who are trying to chip away at the many challenges families are struggling with through the pandemic are starting by simply trying to identify which students aren't connected to make sure those households have access to affordable packages. But even though most internet service providers, or ISPs, offer affordable packages, they refuse to say how many customers they have signed up for the programs. Five of the country's largest ISPs, including Charter (also known as Spectrum), AT&T, Verizon and Lumen (formerly CenturyLink), in addition to Comcast all declined to provide information about how many low-income customers had signed up for their programs. They all said the information was proprietary. That is forcing some city officials and internet equality groups to take data-gathering into their own hands.
Today, more than 9 million students lack proper access to reliable broadband internet at home, which creates obstacles for both the students and teachers. This, coupled with potential learning disabilities, households with multiple students, and parents or guardians with language barriers, creates unprecedented challenges. In January 2020, the Federal Communications Commission authorized commercial use of Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) connectivity, an initiative that broadly opens the use of the 3.5 GHz spectrum band for shared public and private use. This enables commercial users — e.g. school districts — to leverage a vast amount of invaluable underutilized mid-band spectrum. It provides a cost-effective and high-performance connectivity solution to make uncompromised 4G LTE- and 5G-quality connectivity readily available for education buildings, school campuses, and district networks. As a result, schools and universities across the country are looking to provide a private wireless internet network, to be exclusively used by the school district, via shared spectrum connectivity within the 3.5 GHz CBRS band. By deploying a private LTE network for distance-learning, shared spectrum connectivity can provide students and staff access to a more reliable network from their homes — creating a better and more seamless distance-learning experience.
[Alan Ewing is the Executive Director of the CBRS Alliance]
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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