Friday, November 11, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
We generally observe Veterans Day but thought we should share Thursday's breaking news. Enjoy the holiday.
Stories From Abroad
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration expects to communicate Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment allocation levels to eligible entities by June 30, 2023. The Biden-Harris Administration is required by law to allocate Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment funds according to a formula derived from the map data. NTIA coordinates closely with the FCC to ensure that this data is accurate and reliable and will continue to do so. NTIA’s efforts to date include:
- Calling every single Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the United States to remind them of their obligations relating to the Broadband Data Collection (BDC) process, register any concerns or technical assistance requests, and relay those to the FCC;
- Engaging in sustained outreach with Governors’ offices, state broadband offices, and stakeholder communities to share technical assistance resources, solicit feedback, and relay major areas of concern; and
- Producing and sharing materials to break down the process with key dates and deadlines for affected stakeholders.
NTIA will engage in a comprehensive outreach effort to support the FCC in its efforts to ensure that every state that wishes to file a challenge can do so. This effort will include:
- Technical assistance to state broadband officials and governors’ offices as they prepare challenges;
- Webinars for members of the public wishing to learn more about how to participate in the challenge process;
- Regular engagement with state officials to identify and resolve issues.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau, in conjunction with the Office of Economics and Analytics, authorized 497 winning Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) bids. This is the fifteenth authorization of RDOF bids from the FCC. The full list of authorized bids can be found here. Winning bids were approved in Arizona (California Internet, L.P. dba GeoLinks), Nevada (California Internet, L.P. dba GeoLinks), and Virginia (Shenandoah Cable Television). The FCC also announced that two bids by Peoples Communication in Texas are in default as is one bid by Shenandoah Cable Television in Virginia.
The Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program (ACP Outreach Grant Program) is comprised of four complementary grant programs: 1) National Competitive Outreach Program (NCOP), 2) Tribal Competitive Outreach Program (TCOP), 3) Your Home, Your Internet (YHYI) Outreach Grants, and 4) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Navigator Pilot Program (NPP) Outreach Grants. The Federal issues this Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) to describe the requirements under which it will award grants for the NCOP and the TCOP. [A separate NOFO will be issued for the ACP Outreach Grant Program – Pilot Programs, YHYI and NPP.] Complete applications must be received through https://www.grants.gov no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) on January 9, 2023. Late applications will not be accepted. FCC expects to complete its review, make selection of successful applicants, and process awards on or before March 10, 2023.
Tribal lands and Native American communities are some of the least connected places in the United States. Infrastructure deployment lags behind that in other rural communities. Only 46.6 percent of housing units on rural tribal lands have access to broadband service. And even when they are connected, households on tribal lands tend to pay more for basic broadband plans and receive lower speeds. Native Americans are increasingly building their own broadband networks to deliver high-quality internet access for their communities, but they face significant challenges—from access to financing, to access to spectrum, to technical knowledge and skills. Tribal Broadband Bootcamps (TBBs) provide an intensive learning experience on the technical, business, policy, and social aspects of building, maintaining, and using broadband networks in Native American communities. Over three days, bootcamps bring together network architects, service managers, and policy experts to walk tribal participants through building and operating networks. TBBs are focused on hands-on, practical learning that demystifies the technical aspects, including how deep to trench fiber and how to build, break, and repair wireless connections. Through sessions on funding opportunities and how to enroll community members in the Affordable Connectivity Program, TBBs ensure that these networks are sustainable and will continue to serve Native American communities for decades to come.
Educators around the country began to engage in dialogue regarding the digital divide as they recognized the reality that many students did not have access and connectivity as once believed. So a new concept has emerged: “digital equity.” It’s an important idea, and one to which educators and education institutions should pay close attention. Educators and college leaders should build on efforts to expand digital equity and digital inclusion in education by considering the following:
- Create an institution-wide taskforce for identifying short- and long-term community solutions: Educators should focus on providing availability, affordability, and, adoption to their communities and students, as institutions of higher education serve as a critical and neutral partner to lead conversations that affect the health and economic mobility of the communities they serve.
- Find ways to partner with state and local governments leading digital equity efforts to aid in workforce preparedness: The preparedness and sustainability of the American workforce depend on governments and higher education acting now to ensure a digitally accessible, skilled and, equitable future. Institutions of higher education should be aware of their role in assuring a viable and sustainable workforce with a keen focus on digital literacy and inclusion.
[Mordecai I. Brownlee is the president of Community College of Aurora in Aurora, Colorado]
Connect Humanity is working with the city of Orangeburg (SC) and Claflin University to extend the university’s broadband out into the surrounding community at affordable rates. And because research from McKinsey suggests that more than 80 percent of HBCUs are located in “broadband deserts,” it’s a strategy that may work elsewhere in the country, too. The Orangeburg approach is an example of the role higher education could play in helping to get millions of people of all backgrounds, income levels and parts of the country connected to high-quality internet in order to more-fully participate in the modern world—a concept that some advocates have started to call “digital equity.” This was the topic of a webinar hosted last month by the American Association of Colleges & Universities, in which Ben-Avie and other panelists urged college leaders to embrace their institutions’ identities as “anchors” in their neighborhoods and regions in order to help conquer the digital divide. Higher ed has been paying more attention to this idea since pandemic-era remote learning underscored students’ uneven access to computers and internet. Yet researchers and nonprofit and government leaders are calling on colleges to think bigger, beyond their own students, to consider how they can lend their expertise and resources to make a difference off campus, too.
The Federal Communications Commission will unveil a pre-production draft of new broadband maps on November 18, 2022. This version is the first release of the map required by the Broadband DATA Act and will begin an ongoing, iterative process that will improve the data submitted by providers by incorporating challenges from individuals and other stakeholders. Broadband availability will be based on data submitted by providers during the initial Broadband Data Collection filing window and will reflect services available as of June 30, 2022. When published, the draft maps will display location level information on broadband availability throughout the country and will allow people to search for their address, and review and dispute the services reported by providers at their location. The FCC will also accept bulk challenges to the reported availability data from state and Tribal governments and other entities. As a result, this map will continually improve and refine the broadband availability data relied upon by the FCC, other government agencies, and the public. The pre-production draft map release is an important first step forward in building more accurate, more granular broadband maps, which are long overdue and mandated by Congress. Historically, the FCC’s maps have been based on broadband availability data collected at just the census block level rather than the location level, which kept unserved locations hidden if they were in partially served census blocks. Once the draft maps launch, individuals will also be able to submit challenges, or request corrections, to e Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric locations directly through the map interface. They will also be able to request missing locations be added. Information from those challenges will be incorporated in future versions of the Fabric.
To help consumers better understand broadband options, Congress has mandated that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revamp its concept of broadband labels, with the goal of providing more detailed info about competitive offerings from different providers. The idea is that providers use these templates to share information like the base monthly cost of broadband, activation fees, optional monthly charges, discounts, and other details regarding performance and reliability with consumers. According to Jon Peha, Professor of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, consumers want more information to make an informed choice. In a nutshell, consumers want more clarification regarding prices, existing broadband label proposals come across as confusing, and lastly, consumers want more information about performance and reliability. According to industry experts, the FCC will have to decide how to balance the needs of consumers and broadband providers. Consumers want as much information as possible, yet providers don't want to paint themselves into a corner by providing too much information. A couple of ways to address this, Peha said, is that the FCC could make information shared through the labels available to third parties or create layered labels with more information.
Pole attachment issues are nothing new in the broadband space, but a fresh focal point is emerging in the long-running discussion in this arena: the role of investor-owned utilities (IOUs). Charter Communications and Altice USA both flagged their experiences with such companies in recent filings with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), warning permitting practices implemented by IOUs could slow their broadband deployments by years. The issues are apparently so bad that Altice said it could be forced to take construction underground at four times the cost of its aerial deployment plan.
T-Mobile is expanding the footprint of its 5G Home Internet service across Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where millions are still without access to high-speed internet. With this expansion, more than 6 million homes throughout these states, and more than 40 million homes nationwide, are now eligible for T-Mobile Home Internet. T-Mobile 5G Home Internet is just $50 a month with AutoPay. And for families with Magenta MAX – T-Mobile’s most popular phone plan – they’ll get an additional $20 off Home Internet every month. Reliable home internet should be available to everyone, yet many families across these states still lack access. In Michigan, 1.2 million residents – or 1 in 4 statewide – lack a permanent fixed broadband connection. In Wisconsin, it’s even worse. 1.3 million households lack access or can't afford broadband internet service. Add this to the fact that 82% of Americans live under a broadband monopoly, and we have a big problem. Far too many people in these three states are still without adequate access to home internet. T-Mobile is stepping up to bring more choice and competition to these communities.
The Federal Communications Commission, which has responsibility for protecting Americans from potential radiation hazards generated by wireless transmitters and cellphones, has repeatedly sided with the telecommunications industry in denying the possibility of virtually any human harm. Federal law and FCC rules are so aligned with the industry that state and local governments are barred from taking action to block cell towers to protect the health of their citizens, even as companies are explicitly empowered to sue any government that tries to take such an action. Several cities have fought cell sites only to be forced to back down — and evidence of a striking shoulder-to-shoulder partnership between a federal agency and the industry it is supposed to regulate. The build-out of a new generation of wireless networks, known as 5G, is amping up the stakes of this conflict for localities across America. The FCC is an improbable organization to serve the role of protecting humans. It specializes in technical issues that make the communications system function, not in health and safety. The US Court of Appeals in Washington (DC) responding to a pair of lawsuits filed by the Environmental Health Trust and other activist groups, ruled in August 2021 that the FCC had failed to meet “even the low threshold of reasoned analysis” in finding that its limits “adequately protect against the harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation unrelated to cancer.” (The FCC had responded sufficiently to fears that wireless radiation causes cancer, the judges wrote.) The FCC’s actions, the court wrote, waved off any concern about protections for children and ignored “substantive evidence of potential environmental harms.” “Ultimately,” the court wrote, “the Commission’s order remains bereft of any explanation as to why, in light of the studies in the record, its guidelines remain adequate.” In a statement, the FCC said it is exploring “next steps” with its “federal partners.” However, the FDA, the FCC’s chief partner on health concerns, said in its own statement that it is not currently working with the FCC on any response to the court ruling. There’s been no visible sign of any preliminary FCC steps, according to four lawyers and representatives of the environmental groups that brought the court challenge.
It’s been a busy few weeks with announcements from the satellite broadband industry.
- OneWeb successfully launched 36 new satellites with rockets supplied by NewSpace India Limited. The company has also been hinting at using the satellites to bring broadband to remote cell towers and to remote outposts for governments and militaries around the world.
- Project Kuiper, owned by Amazon and Jeff Bezos is finally ready to hit the skies and plans to launch its first two prototype satellites in early 2023. The company has an ultimate goal of launching a total of 3,236 satellites.
- Starlink recently added new language to the terms of service for both residential and business customers that introduces the idea of a data cap. The new terms of service say that customers will get a monthly limit of ‘priority access’, and once that limit is reached, the customer will no longer be prioritized over traffic generated by other customers. This is interesting from several perspectives:
- Starlink said in the early days of the business that it would never put a cap on usage. The company still hasn’t done that since customers will be free to continue to use broadband for the remainder of the billing cycle.
- Numerous engineers have speculated that any satellite constellation will have a finite capacity to move data, and this announcement hints that that data limit is already foreseeable for Starlink. Of course, the company can continue to launch more satellites and has plans on the drawing board to have as many as 30,000 satellites in its constellation. But for now, with a little over 2,300 satellites, this announcement says that the constellation is probably already getting over-busy at times.
Voters in Alabama approved a new state constitution as well as 10 amendments, one of which frees up the state and local governments to use stimulus funds from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to attract internet service providers in hopes of expanding broadband service. Amendment Two was passed alongside several other amendments concerning election laws, criminal justice, and taxation. The measures were all attached to a new state constitution replacing a document written in 1901. [That constitution, in addition to having grown over the last 120 years to nearly 400,000 words and 900 amendments — making it the world’s longest governing document — was riddled with racist language and laws, including interracial marriage bans, poll taxes for Black voters, and segregated schools.] The broadband amendment passed with nearly 80% support. Under it, the state government and Alabama’s localities will be authorized to “grant federal award funds or any other source of funding designated for broadband infrastructure by state law to any public or private entity for the purpose of providing or expanding broadband infrastructure.” The amendment had already been approved unanimously by the Alabama Legislature and had the backing of Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL). Gov Ivey said that Alabama would seek to use $276 million in Rescue Plan funds for broadband development. In September, the state’s Digital Expansion Authority Board announced plans to use $82 million to connect nearly 3,000 miles of existing and new fiber.
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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