Wednesday, November 15, 2023
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Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is, in part, a $65 billion investment in closing the digital divide. To mark the law's second anniversary of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the White House released state-by-state fact sheets with information about how funding from the law is helping to deploy broadband networks where they haven't reached before while also connecting and keeping connected low-income households around the country.
The Federal Communications Commission is set to implement the first bipartisan broadband access antidiscrimination law of the digital age. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act gave the FCC a clear mandate: to adopt rules within two years to prevent and eliminate digital discrimination of access to broadband services based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, and national origin. While Congress explicitly directed the FCC to “prevent” and “eliminate” digital discrimination of access, the agency will ensure that process is fair and reasonable.
As Governors from across the country, we urge you to work collaboratively with the Biden Administration to ensure that a key tool in our joint efforts to bridge the digital divide—the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)—receives additional funding. It is essential that people do not lose access to the internet that this vital program has allowed them to gain. There is broad agreement across the political spectrum that affordable high-speed internet is a necessity in today’s world, whether it’s for education, work or health care. This is why we urge you to fund this critical program that makes internet access more affordable. The ACP could run out of funding as early as April 2024. Without bipartisan collaboration between Congress and the White House to continue the ACP, nearly 20 million households enrolled nationally could lose connectivity as well as all the essential services that come with it.
As a government shutdown looms over the nation, millions of Americans risk losing internet access. Americans have come to rely on the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) for a $30/month broadband subsidy to stay connected to their communities. Many will be forced to go without, from families who receive Medicaid and SNAP benefits to veterans and Pell Grant recipients. As costs for everything from housing to healthcare continue skyrocketing, families who struggle to make ends meet will have to choose between putting food on the table and having essential broadband access. Congress can easily resolve this by simply funding the program. While the program has bipartisan support, the ACP hangs in the balance because the potential government shutdown is delaying funding progress. If Congress allows the ACP to end, Americans are at risk of losing affordable access to the internet, harming low-income communities, Tribal communities, and communities of color. If Congress fails to act, vulnerable communities across the nation will literally pay the consequences. These communities often suffer from dilapidated broadband infrastructure and unreliable connectivity, and many residents can’t afford the service that is offered in these areas.
[Cedric Watkins is the Government Affairs Policy Advocate at Public Knowledge.]
I’ve spent my entire life fighting to ensure that Americans from any background, of any color or creed, have the opportunity to fight for their very own American Dream. The Biden presidency has furthered that goal and helped provide opportunities for Americans across the country to succeed. Since the invention of the internet, no administration has focused more on ensuring that everyone has access to a technology that opens doors to a brighter future and provides critical educational tools to every community. However, I am concerned that the implementation of the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) may run directly counter to President Biden and Congress’s high hopes for BEAD. For example, NTIA’s “letter of credit” requirement threatens to crowd out all but the best-capitalized incumbent firms. Moreover, the “Build America, Buy America” mandate for many of the physical materials required could raise costs, especially for smaller companies. These burdensome requirements are not meeting the urgent and equitable outcomes President Biden has laid forth in his broadband agenda. In fact, they are paving the road for the intrusion of unscrupulous private equity firms seeking government subsidies to turn a quick profit. For President Biden’s Internet for All dream to become a reality, we must ensure that onerous requirements do not crowd out competition for broadband dollars.
[Rev. Al Sharpton is a civil rights leader and the founder and president of the National Action Network]
Where are we in terms of closing the seven gaps that we think of, or should think of, as the elements of the digital divide? The seven gaps are the rural access gap, the affordability gap, the operating gap of very high-cost rural providers, the adoption gap, the institutional gap, the cable/copper gap, and the utilization gap. We could be using the network to improve outcomes in education, health care, government services, public safety, carbon reduction, civic engagement, and other public purposes. But to do achieve those goals, we need to close all seven broadband gaps.
Experts disagreed on the potential for artificial intelligence to aid broadband mapping efforts at a House Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing. Courtney Lang, a vice president at tech industry trade group ITI, said AI could be used to improve the quality of current broadband maps. A machine learning model could do that by using past data to identify buildings that are likely to be accurately marked as having adequate broadband, according to Lang. But Nicol Turner Lee, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation, urged caution. “We have to be careful that we might not have enough data,” she said. In rural parts of the country, data can be sparse and low-quality. Both factors would make machine learning ill-suited to the task of flagging potential inaccuracies. She urged lawmakers to exercise restraint when using AI for “critical government functions,” like the broadband maps used to determine where federal grant money will go.
How can the Farm Bill help close the digital divide in rural America? There are a few areas that we could start with, and Sascha Meinrath, the Palmer Chair in telecommunications at Penn State University, says the first one won’t cost the government a dime. “The Farm Bill could include a mandate that says anytime a provider reports to a federal agency that they provide service at an address, they must provide that service within 30 days or get fined $10,000 a day until they do,” says Meinrath. In other words, force the ISPs to show verification that they are doing what they claim. “You would spend nothing, and all of your [broadband] maps would get super accurate, super quickly.” Beyond that, we could look to bring back the idea of common carriage. Up until 2005, we had common carriage in the US, just like the universal service with telephones. “If you had a telecommunications infrastructure, you had to carry the traffic of your competitors. For example, we all remember the dial-up modem days and all those CD-ROMs sent by AOL. The reason they could do that is because whoever your local phone provider was, they had to allow you to use their infrastructure,” says Meinrath. But the government got rid of common carriage in 2005, so ISPs started focusing on only the most profitable areas, leaving “nothing in other areas. And if you look, we have spent more on infrastructure than it would cost to provide universal service.” In the face of evidence and data, why have we set up a system that overbuilds in urban areas and nearly ignores rural spots? “The honest answer is because we’re idiots,” Meinrath says facetiously. “The opportunity cost to the country is an order of magnitude greater than the cost of just funding the build… It doesn’t make sense to the populace, not just rural, but the entire populace. And the only reason why we’ve done that is we have allowed ISPs to really dictate our policy, even when it is a vast detriment to society.”
While most people don’t immediately think of artificial intelligence and machine learning when thinking about sustainable agriculture, the industry is brimming with advanced technology thanks to the need to understand vast amounts of information about everything from the microclimate to the soil pH. There’s no question that profit margins have begun to shrink for farmers all over the country thanks to inflation, climate change, higher production and labor costs, and more. As a result, farmers are turning to advanced technology and machine learning to find ways to both improve yields and become more sustainable throughout the entire crop lifecycle. While advocates are quick to talk about the positive sides of AI and sustainable farming, there are some potential drawbacks and risks around the technology. Researchers point out that hackers could poison datasets or shut down sprayers, autonomous drones, and robotic harvesters and wreak havoc on the food supply chain.
Look at funding resources on the webpages for Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA) and you’ll find multiple funding programs, each with its own set of rules.
- Connect the Ready: Maine’s biggest funding program is open to public/private partnerships. In January 2023, MCA awarded $35 million to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved rural areas. An additional $20 million toward project costs will come from private sources.
- Jumpstart Community Initiative: Launched in 2022 this program provided funding for fixed wireless deployments. MCA has learned a great deal from these projects, including where to place towers along the Canadian border, as Canada uses different wireless frequencies than the U.S.
- Reach Me: Designed to enable incumbent service providers to extend high-speed broadband networks to pockets that would likely remain unserved due to a lack of density. In April 2023, MCA awarded $20 million in Reach Me funding to nine incumbent providers.
Brian Allenby, MCA's program operations and communications director said that MCA’s experiences with these programs should help the agency prepare for administering the $272 million in BEAD rural broadband funding that is allotted for the state.
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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