Monday, November 13, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
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Internet speeds have come a long way since the days of the dial-up modem, but sometimes you can’t beat the millennia-old method of carrier pigeon. At certain data volumes and distances, the pigeon is a quicker option for large swaths of rural America, where internet speeds can lag far behind the national average. Whether a pigeon can best the internet depends on three things: internet speed (check your own here), distance and data. It doesn’t make a difference online whether you’re sending a file across town to your neighbor or best friend across the country. It’s the size of data being sent that slows the internet down. The longer the journey, the bigger the data needs to be for the bird to out-fly broadband. Although many Americans have high-speed internet, in rural areas the internet can be spotty and slow. In 2020, nearly 1 in 5 rural residents lacked access to download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (or Mbps) and upload speeds above 3Mbps, the definition for high-speed broadband set by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015.
The Federal Communication Commission’s new Democratic majority is up and running and firing in all directions. The FCC plans to vote on a proposed “digital discrimination” rule. In the name of equity, Democratic Commissioners will make internet service worse. The agency will hold broadband providers liable for actions or “omissions” that result in a disparate impact on an identity group. That means providers could be dunned if regulators or third-party groups (read: progressive lobbies) identify statistical disparities in a long list of “covered service elements” even if they don’t intentionally discriminate. The rule would give the FCC power to micromanage the industry. Twenty-eight Senate Republicans on Friday sent a letter to Chair Jessica Rosenworcel explaining that the Supreme Court has consistently held that the infrastructure law’s phrasing of “based on” indicates legislative intent to condition liability on a showing of disparate treatment, not disparate impact. That’s true, but Senate Republicans are playing catchup because they let the identity language into the infrastructure bill. Industry made a Faustian bargain by supporting the bill because it included some $65 billion in subsidies for broadband. The FCC is now seeking Faust’s payment.
Recognizing that access to the internet, digital devices, and digital literacy are key to bridging the digital divide and opening doors to economic prosperity, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association released a new toolkit to help its small broadband provider members increase broadband adoption and engagement throughout their communities. SMART Tools for Digital Inclusion assists rural broadband providers and state broadband offices in promoting broadband adoption in rural communities by assessing local needs and developing Digital Equity Plans in coordination with new funding opportunities under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. It includes examples of needs assessments, asset inventories and community action plans as well as successful initiatives NTCA members have undertaken to make broadband accessible to their communities.
Three local providers were the big winners in the latest round of Minnesota’s Line Extension Connection broadband funding program. Two larger companies—Mediacom and Midco—also won funding in this round of the program, which awarded a total of almost $4.4 million. Mediacom won $190,501 to extend service to 37 locations and Midco won $166,800 to extend service to 21 locations. The three local providers that won the most funding were Hiawatha Broadband, which won over $1.3 million to extend service to 205 locations; Consolidated Telephone Company (not to be confused with Consolidated Communications), which won over $1 million to extend service to 282 locations; and Arvig, which won over $842,500 to bring service to 118 locations. Arvig’s awards were made to six different entities that the company owns. IArvig noted that it will contribute a total of $217,419 toward project costs. Other companies winning funding were Bevcomm, Farmers Mutual Telephone, Federated REA Cooperative, Federated Telephone Cooperative, Johnson Telephone, Otter Tail Telecom, Paul Bunyan Telephone, Sytek Communication, and Wiktel. The awardees will contribute a total of over $2.2 million toward total project costs of over $6.6 million.
Governor Roy Cooper (D-NC) launched North Carolina’s Digital Champion Grant program, which will help North Carolinians afford high-speed internet, obtain digital devices, and access digital literacy resources. The North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s Office of Digital Equity and Literacy will administer the program with $14 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds with the goal of expanding digital equity programming and advancing digital inclusion. Through this grant program, the Office of Digital Equity and Literacy will establish partnerships with organizations across the state to implement digital equity solutions that positively impact target populations identified in the Digital Equity Act, including low-income households; individuals who primarily reside in a rural area; older Americans/aging residents; incarcerated or justice involved; veterans; individuals with disabilities; individuals with a language barrier; and individuals who are members of a racial or ethnic minority group. To qualify for funding, applicants must be one of the following types of entities: community services (including local governments, county libraries and K-12 school systems); nonprofit organizations; higher education institutions (including individual schools, colleges or centers within the system); or regional entities (including councils of governments). All projects must develop or expand digital equity programming and address at least one of the following elements of digital inclusion:
- Affordability of reliable high-speed internet
- Provision of internet-enabled devices (computer, laptops, etc.) that meet users' needs
- Access to digital literacy and skills training
- Quality technical support
- Applications and online content designed to increase accessibility and inclusivity
Applications will be accepted online through Jan. 9, 2024
Healthcare providers (HCPs) and patients are increasingly relying on telehealth services (healthcare provision over the internet) to provide and seek care. It turns internet access disparities into a health equity concern, i.e., poor internet access can contribute to poor health. In response, two Federal Communications Commission programs in the United States—Healthcare Connect Fund and the Telecom Program—subsidize internet access for HCPs in rural or remote areas. I use a two-part pricing approach to examine the evolution of internet speed and price for HCPs that received internet subsidies during 2014–2020. I find that HCP internet is annually getting 30.77 percent faster and 5.23 percent cheaper. During the same period, the cost to subscribe to an internet service and the cost to raise bandwidth have annually fallen by 5.02% and 7.83%, respectively. A comparison of the trends between rural and urban HCPs suggests that the rural/urban divide in internet access has shrunk during the study years. It indicates that the subsidy programs likely have achieved their stated goal of improving rural internet.
Nov 14––The Connect20 Summit (Network:On)
Nov 14––Leveraging AI to Enhance American Communications (House Commerce Committee)
Nov 14––Regulating digital industries (Brookings)
Nov 15––U.S. Broadband Summit (Fierce)
Nov 15––Code to Conduct in AI: Open Source, Privacy, and More (Mozilla)
Nov 16––Addressing the Broadband Labor Shortage (telecompetitor)
Nov 17––Maternal Health Roundtable (FCC)
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), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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