Tuesday, November 1, 2022
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Elections and Media
America’s libraries have deep experience in meeting digital equity needs for people of all ages and backgrounds with unparalleled reach and trust across the nation. Libraries are actively involved in a larger digital equity ecosystem, and often have long-established partnerships and relationships with local and regional groups that can be leveraged to achieve community broadband equity goals for vulnerable populations. Considering libraries' successful history in advancing digital equity, policymakers should leverage libraries’ expertise, experience, services, and existing connections at the state and local levels to avoid costly program duplication and accelerate planning, development, implementation, and operational efficiency. To create a future where everyone is fully connected and engaged online, each community needs to leverage all its assets—including non-profits, internet service providers, businesses, government agencies, schools, state libraries, etc.—to work together to understand the problems and implement appropriate solutions. Community-based digital equity coalitions are growing in number and sophistication throughout the nation. They combine the unique experiences and expertise of diverse organizations, as well as the lived experiences of unconnected and marginalized communities that may include people with disabilities, people of color, and low-income and/or rural residents to create a connected future. Libraries often lead and/or contribute to these coalitions.
[Larra Clark is the Deputy Director of the ALA Public Policy & Advocacy Office and the Public Library Association. Michelle Frisque is a broadband consultant for the American Library Association.]
There’s a story Republicans tell about the politics of rural America, one aimed at both rural people and the rest of us. It goes like this: 'Those coastal urban elitist Democrats look down their noses at you, but the GOP has got your back. They hate you; we love you. They ignore you; we’re working for you. Whatever you do, don’t even think about voting for a Democrat.' That story pervades our discussion of the rural-urban divide in US politics. But it’s fundamentally false. The reality is complex. Let’s talk about just one area that has been of particular interest to Democrats, and to rural people themselves: high-speed internet access, a problem that’s addressed by hundreds of millions of dollars in funding coming from the Biden administration. The problem is straightforward: The less dense an area is, the harder it is for private companies to make a profit providing internet service. Laying a mile of fiber-optic cable to reach a hundred apartment buildings is a lot more efficient than laying a mile of cable to reach one family farm. So you need the government to fill the gaps. That’s because the lack of high-speed service makes it harder to start and sustain many kinds of businesses, and have schools access the information students need. The Biden administration has now rolled out $759 million in new grants and loans for building rural broadband. This money comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but the other big spending bills President Biden signed, the American Rescue Plan Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, also had a wealth of money and programs specifically targeted to rural areas. And, of course, when that federal money provided by Democrats over the objection of Republicans comes to red states, Republican officials rush to take credit for it. So if nothing else, we ought to give Democrats credit for working to improve the lives of rural Americans. Even if the people who benefit probably won’t.
Comcast is introducing a new product in the Northeast that offers faster upload speeds – for a price. The company knows that its biggest weakness is upload speeds. The current upload speeds for products with download speeds up to 300 are only at 10 Mbps. The upload speeds for the current 600 Mbps and 800 Mbps products are at 20 Mbps. Comcast is increasing download speeds across the board for no extra charge – this will catch the Northeast up to much of the rest of the country where speeds have already been increased. But rather than highlight the deficiency of the technology, Comcast has created a new ‘premium’ product labeled as xFi to bring faster upload speeds. Comcast will charge $25 per month to upgrade the upload speeds to as fast as 100 Mbps. To make it even more expensive, the xFi upgrade will only be available to customers who are also leasing a Comcast Wi-Fi 6E modem that costs $14 per month. The faster upload speeds won’t work on customer-owned modems. That brings the total cost to get faster upload speeds to $39 extra per month. This is just speculation, but I’m guessing that Comcast can’t give everybody faster upload speeds due to network limitations. Rather than admit a network deficiency, the Comcast marketing folks have prettied this up as a premium product. Doling this out only for those willing to spend more will extract the highest new revenues possible without bogging down the network. One thing that is not being mentioned is that giving some customers faster upload speeds probably means a little slower uploads for everybody else – which will drive even more folks to pony up the extra money.
The broadband landscape across Northeastern Minnesota, and the state in general, has changed significantly since 2014, as gains made in providing access to high-speed connectivity populate communities like the Iron Range. It comes at a time when such internet connections have become critical in business, education, and often in day-to-day life. The Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) in Mountain Iron, Minnesota is one of nine Minnesota service cooperatives and has designed and built a fiber-optic backbone for underserved and unserved areas. NESC initially built an 865-mile fiber optic network across St. Louis, Lake, Cook, Koochiching, Carlton, Pine, Itasca, and Aitkin counties. The Northeast Fiber Network originally tapped a $43.5 million federally funded grant/loan project in 2010 through the US Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities. Such fiber optic infrastructure is often called the “middle mile” – the physical portion that enables internet connectivity with a network capable of handling future needs and technological advances. Coupled with the high quality of life on the Iron Range, high-speed internet access looks to attract more residents – especially those who can work anywhere – and more jobs.
The Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) will match town Local Fiscal Recovery American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fund contributions dedicated to broadband in an expanded town match program as part of the VCBB’s Act 71 Broadband Construction Grant Program. To be matched, the funds must be pledged to the Communications Union District (CUD) serving the town or to an eligible provider committing to build out to all underserved locations in a community if the town is not a member of a CUD. The goal of the program is to accelerate the build-out of 100/100 Mbps broadband while decreasing its cost and providing affordable service for town residents. Most pledges will flow through the Communications Union Districts. The CUDs plan to use the funds to overcome obstacles unique to each town, cover the cost of drops to low-income residents, accelerate the build-out in the town, or support build-out to areas with existing services not meeting the needs of the community. The funds may also allow a CUD to pursue innovative financing to save residents money over the long term. This could include using the town funds to leverage other federal programs, buying down interest rates, and letters of credit, or creating revolving loan funds for the purpose of expanding broadband. So far, 40 towns from across the state have pledged a total of $2.49 million to their CUDs or providers that will be matched.
Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) said the state’s Office of Statewide Broadband will spend up to $30 million on laptops for about 150,000 households. The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, which contains the broadband office, plans to partner with local governments and community groups to distribute the devices to “underserved” households, according to Gov. Hogan. Jurisdictions will be able to apply for the laptops starting in November. In addition to distributing laptops, the state also operates an Emergency Broadband Benefits Program (EBB), which provides subsidies to low-income households to help pay their internet bills. That program has dispensed $4.6 million this year, according to the state broadband office.
The Ending Platform Monopolies Act (H.R. 3825) would restrict some business activities for large online platforms. Specifically, the bill would prohibit large online platforms from using their platforms to sell goods and services from other lines of business that the platform owns and operates; requires business users to purchase products or services from the platform to obtain access to or preferred placement on the platform, or operating lines of business that create of interest. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the following effects:
- Implementing H.R. 3825 would cost $54 million over the 2023-2027 period, assuming appropriation of the estimated amounts.
- Designating and updating the status of covered platforms would cost the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) about $8 million over the 2023-2027 period.
- In addition, CBO estimates that it would cost the agencies about $46 million to supervise and enforce violations of H.R. 3825, mainly for employee salaries and overhead. Using information from the agencies about current salaries and overhead costs for antitrust staff, CBO estimates each new employee would cost about $200,000 annually, on average.
- Covered platforms found to violate the provisions of H.R. 3825 would be subject to civil monetary penalties, which are generally remitted to the Treasury and recorded as revenues.
- The collection of most civil fines would depend on the level of appropriations provided in future appropriation acts.
- The increases in revenues that are subject to those pay-as-you-go procedures would not be significant in each year and over the 2023-2032 period.
- There would be no increase in long-term deficits. H.R. 3825 would impose private-sector mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA).
- CBO estimates that the aggregate cost of the mandates would exceed the threshold for private-sector mandates established in UMRA ($184 million in 2022, adjusted annually for inflation).
Cable operator Charter Communications is now offering customers across its 41-state footprint access to its $49.99 per month Spectrum One broadband and mobile service bundle. But in the background, the operator also moved to hike its standard pricing, which Spectrum One customers can expect to pay once their 12-month promotion wears off. Executives mentioned plans to hike broadband prices on Charter’s Q3 2022 earnings call, stating the move was a response to inflationary pressure. However, they didn’t provide specifics. It’s worth noting that Charter is battling increased competition from fixed wireless access players. Notably, two key opponents in this space – Verizon and T-Mobile – have offered broadband customers long-term pricing guarantees.
BT networking division Openreach is looking to reduce its broadband prices to attract new customers and lock in big wholesale clients like Vodafone, TalkTalk, and Sky as rivals lay full-fiber cables across the UK. The incumbent network operator, part of BT Group, has met some of its biggest corporate customers to suggest a number of changes to its pricing structure that would make its offer more attractive and help them move customers from copper to full fiber. Openreach makes money by wholesaling its broadband to internet service providers, including its parent group BT. For many years its only rival was Virgin, which also had its own network, but more recently almost a hundred smaller alternative networks — or “altnets” — have emerged with the goal of laying fiber as quickly as possible to attract customers frustrated by their existing service. “BT is facing the biggest competitive threat in its history, so a plan to once again cut wholesale prices may well be a sign of desperation from the incumbent to flex its fiber muscles and lock in internet service providers looking elsewhere,” said a competitor who has seen the outline of the new pricing proposals. The latest proposed pricing changes include reducing the amount Openreach charges companies like Sky on an ongoing basis for use of the network, decreasing the share of revenue per customer that goes to Openreach, and cutting the amount it charges for migrating customers from copper lines to fiber lines by between £30 ($34.46) and £37 ($42.51).
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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