Thursday, November 16, 2023
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News From the FCC Meeting
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News From the FCC Meeting
The Federal Communications Commission has adopted final rules to prevent digital discrimination of access to broadband services based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin. The new rules establish a framework to facilitate equal access to broadband internet services by preventing digital discrimination of access. Under these rules, the FCC can protect consumers by directly addressing companies’ policies and practices if they differentially impact consumers’ access to broadband internet access service or are intended to do so, and by applying these protections to ensure communities see equitable broadband deployment, network upgrades, and maintenance. The rules focus on the very real problem of outcome, such as when decisions untainted by discriminatory intent nevertheless cause different communities to receive different access to broadband services. The rules do not focus solely on the mindsets of industry participants when making decisions that affect access to broadband service. The rules define “digital discrimination of access” as “Policies or practices, not justified by genuine issues of technical or economic feasibility, that (1) differentially impact consumers’ access to broadband internet access service based on their income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion or national origin, or (2) are intended to have such differential impact.” As the law requires, the FCC will consider arguments that legitimate business impediments preclude equal access to broadband service in particular communities.
The Federal Communications Commission took action to help domestic violence survivors access safe and affordable communications. These rules, which build on an inquiry the FCC initiated in 2022, follow the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted earlier in 2023 and will implement key provisions in the Safe Connections Act of 2022 to support survivors of domestic abuse and other related crimes. This action will help survivors by requiring mobile providers to separate phone lines linked to family plans where the abuser is on the account; protect the privacy of survivors by requiring providers to omit records of calls and text messages to domestic violence hotlines from consumer-facing call and text message logs; and provide support for survivors who suffer from financial hardship through the FCC’s Lifeline program. The FCC expects carriers to comply with line separations and emergency support requirements by the third quarter of 2024 and anticipates that carriers will have the necessary tools in place to omit records of calls or text messages to hotlines by late 2024 for most providers.
The Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules to protect consumers against scams that aim to commandeer their cell phone accounts. The rules will help protect consumers from scammers who target data and personal information by covertly swapping SIM cards to a new device or porting phone numbers to a new carrier without ever gaining physical control of a consumer’s phone. These updated rules will help protect consumers from SIM swapping scams and port-out fraud while maintaining their well-established freedom to pick their preferred device and provider. The Report and Order revises the FCC’s Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI) and Local Number Portability rules to require wireless providers to adopt secure methods of authenticating a customer before redirecting a customer’s phone number to a new device or provider. The new rules require wireless providers to immediately notify customers whenever a SIM change or port-out request is made on customers’ accounts, and take additional steps to protect customers from SIM swap and port-out fraud. These new rules set baseline requirements that establish a uniform framework across the mobile wireless industry while giving wireless providers the flexibility to deliver the most advanced and appropriate fraud protection measures available. The FCC is focused on protecting consumers’ data from attacks like these cell phone account scams.
The Federal Communications Commission voted to begin a formal inquiry that will take a closer look at how artificial intelligence technology impacts illegal and unwanted robocalls and robotexts. The agency will assess both AI’s potential to positively and negatively affect consumers. As artificial intelligence technology becomes more prevalent, it presents opportunities to protect consumers but it can also pose privacy and safety challenges. In the case of robocalls and robotexts, AI could improve analytics tools used to block unwanted calls and texts and restore trust in our networks. But AI could also permit bad actors to more easily defraud consumers through calls and text messages, such as by using technology to mimic voices of public officials or other trusted sources. The Notice of Inquiry adopted today seeks to gather information and prepare for changes in calling and texting practices that may result from AI-influenced technology.
Two years after President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and other agencies have distributed billions of dollars to communities to bridge the digital divide and make participation in the digital economy a reality for everyone. At NTIA, we completed funding rounds for multiple programs in the last year and are moving to the implementation phase, all the while preparing states and territories to administer their state grant programs. Here are some of our major accomplishments in Year 2 of Internet for All, from major milestones to stories of how this initiative is impacting people’s lives.
- Moving the BEAD Program from Planning to Execution
- Advancing Digital Equity for All
- Connecting Indian Country
- Supporting Minority-Serving Institutions and Their Communities
- Building the “Big Pipes” That Connect Communities
- Creating Jobs and Readying the Workforce
And here’s what to expect from NTIA and Internet for All in the coming year:
- Approval of state and territory Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program Initial Proposals
- Commencement of state BEAD challenge processes and the selection of subgrantees
- Notices of Funding Opportunity for the Digital Equity Act programs
- The first announcements of Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program awards from the second Notice of Funding Opportunity
- Groundbreakings across all of our Internet for All programs.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been helping to close the digital divide in rural America by building, improving, and acquiring the facilities and equipment needed to deliver high-speed internet through the ReConnect Program. High-speed internet connects rural communities to jobs, telemedicine and distance learning, farmers with new technologies and the real-time information they need to stay competitive, and helps small businesses develop their markets. Since 2021, the Department of Agriculture has announced nearly $2.3 billion for ReConnect projects to expand high-speed internet access to hundreds of thousands of people through broadband loans, grants, and loan/grant combinations in 35 states. Examples include:
- Public Service Telephone Company received a loan of more than $36 million to connect nearly 13,000 people, nearly 300 businesses, 261 farms and 16 educational facilities to high-speed internet in Georgia.
- Pine Belt Telephone Company, Inc. received a loan/grant combination of nearly $50 million to connect nearly 16,000 people, 608 businesses, 52 educational facilities and 407 farms to high-speed internet in Alabama, including socially vulnerable communities.
- Panhandle Telephone Cooperative, Inc. received a loan/grant combination award of more than $43 million to provide high-speed internet to nearly 1,300 people, 36 businesses, 696 farms and three educational facilities in Oklahoma and New Mexico.
- Scott County Telephone Cooperative received a $25 million grant to provide high-speed internet to socially vulnerable communities in Virginia, including more than 17,000 people, 1,018 businesses, 37 farms and 49 educational facilities.
- USDA Rural Development is co-funding a Broadband Technical Assistance Pilot Cooperative Agreement to create one-stop technical assistance, and provide resources and support, to help Oregon communities leverage historic federal broadband investments.
As Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, we write urging you to include $6 billion needed to replenish the highly popular and effective Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) in any government funding package, as requested by President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2024 emergency supplemental funding proposal. Established in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the ACP is a true bipartisan public policy success story. At current enrollment rates, ACP is expected to run out of funds as soon as Spring of 2024, cutting off this critical support for millions of students, rural families, low-income households, elderly citizens, and other users. Given today’s economy with so many jobs, services, resources, and cultural opportunities only available online, that should be unthinkable. The impact of ACP exhaustion would be especially severe in communities of color where internet access and adoption still lag.1 Access to affordable and reliable internet is essential for full participation in today’s 21st century economy. Lack of affordable high-speed internet will put these communities further behind.
The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program will fail if Congress doesn’t renew the Affordable Connectivity Program that states are relying on to connect low-income Americans. National Telecommunications and Information Agency Administrator Alan Davidson explained to Congress that the BEAD Program will be negatively impacted if continued funding for the ACP is not found. He emphasized that for low-income rural Americans, the ACP is the lifeline ensuring they can afford to access the internet. Without it, some providers may hesitate to deploy in rural areas over fear that the investment will be sustainable. Subscribership concerns may prove to be a limiting factor on which rural areas are served. The ACP extends every BEAD dollar further. A study conducted by Common Sense Media found that the ACP could reduce the BEAD subsidy needed to incentivize providers to build in rural areas by up to 25% per year. According to the study, ACP reduces the per-household subsidy required to incentivize ISP investment by $500. Simply put, ACP improves the economic case because it 1) effectively lowers the cost of service, 2) creates a customer base with less churn, and 3) makes subscribers easier to acquire because of the massive public and private investment in raising awareness for the program. But if the ACP is allowed to end, the federal government could end up overspending on every broadband deployment made through BEAD. This ultimately means BEAD networks will fail to connect millions of Americans.
[Ryan Johnson is senior policy counsel at Next Century Cities.]
I met my husband Dan ten years ago, approximately 18 months after he got back from Afghanistan, and about five weeks after he left active duty. It was, in his words, as he was “shakily beginning the transition into civilian life.” That’s when I began learning about the role the internet plays in the lives of Veterans. Over the last decade, I’ve watched Dan navigate the hard journey of building a new identity as a civilian and Veteran. For Dan, the internet was arguably the most valuable and essential tool he had in redefining “esprit de corps” when he left active duty. Social media and independent online news sources like War on the Rocks and Task & Purpose help Dan connect with like-minded peers assessing emerging threats in the national security space. That cohort helped narrow his focus for graduate school, where he eventually used his GI Bill benefits - and the internet - to pursue his masters and a part-time, remote PhD at Kings College London. Like many others, his internet access helps him to stay in contact with friends, mentors and peers around the world, even when they’re deployed. And it allows him to lend a hand to his brothers and sisters, whether through direct contact or organizations like Patrol Base Abbate (PB Abbate), which, among its many services for active and retired service members, offers 24/7 online support. [Nov 10]
FloridaCommerce announced that the 30-day public comment period for the State of Florida’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Initial Proposal Volume I begins Wednesday, November 15, 2023, and ends on Friday, December 15, 2023. Florida’s Initial Proposal Volume I is part of Florida’s plan to operationalize more than $1.6 billion in BEAD funding to facilitate the expansion of broadband Internet and service access across the state. Prior to launching the full program in 2024, Florida must first develop an initial proposal to be submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) by December 27, 2023. Florida’s initial proposal will be submitted through two volumes:
- Volume I addresses four BEAD requirements, including FloridaCommerce’s plan for the challenge process, identifying existing broadband funding, listing unserved and underserved locations throughout the state, and defining and listing Community Anchor Institutions.
- Volume II will address the remaining initial proposal requirements, including a description of the BEAD application process, non-deployment activities, and workforce initiatives.
The Office of Broadband will host a webinar to provide the opportunity for public input on the BEAD Initial Proposal for Volumes I and II on Wednesday, December 7, 2023, from 2:00-3:00 p.m., Eastern Time.
The Utah Broadband Center (UBC), part of the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, asks for public feedback on Utah’s draft of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Initial Proposal Volume 2. Comments can be submitted online until Dec. 15, 2023. The second volume of the BEAD Initial Proposal outlines Utah’s strategies for allocating BEAD grant funds to broadband deployment projects across the state. It also includes the proposed grant application process and scoring rubric. This volume includes important information about eligibility and compliance requirements for potential BEAD grantees. Following the public comment period, the UBC will review feedback, finalize the document, and submit it to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) as part of the process to receive federal BEAD funds.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) approved nearly $3.5 million in funding for the construction of six cellular towers through the Nebraska Universal Service Fund (NUSF) Dedicated Wireless Fund Program. U.S. Cellular Corporation will receive $3,463,850 in grant funding support to build six tower sites near the communities of Beaver Crossing, Beemer, Memphis, Monroe, Naponee, and Nehawka. U.S. Cellular has committed to completing construction of the towers within 24 months of approval of the funding. The PSC allocated six million dollars in Wireless Fund Program Support for the 2023 funding year. The remaining dedicated support allocated but not awarded will be rolled into the next wireless fund grant cycle.
Center for Rural Development President and CEO Lonnie Lawson announced a $30.7 million project that will expand broadband access to approximately 33,000 households across 16 counties and 196 communities in Southern and Eastern Kentucky. The broadband expansion project will include:
- 33 publicly and commercially available CenterLinks Access Nodes (CANs), used to expand the KY Wired statewide middle-mile to create a local-middle mile infrastructure
- 15 wireless towers within the 16 counties as well as 40 additional towers deployed outside the scope of the grant funding
- Construction of 124 miles of fiber (100 miles for CANs and 24 miles to bring towers on-net)
- Unlimited bandwidth between network nodes, allowing for any subscribed bandwidth out to end-users
We are witnessing a moment of unprecedented funding to expand high-speed internet across the country. This is life-changing for the estimated 42 million Americans lacking access to a reliable internet connection, including as many as 728,000 Oklahomans. Ensuring everyone has access to affordable internet means making our local economies more resilient and increasing our regional competitiveness. Oklahoma is investing about $1.3 billion for broadband infrastructure and accessibility through state and federal funding. Those funds mean high-speed internet access for the people who need it and jobs for workers to build careers in the industry. Administering big sums of funding requires communities to be prepared to access and implement these funds, which could be a barrier for many small, rural communities. To address this need, Heartland Forward partnered with the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society to start the Oklahoma Accelerate program, with support from the Oklahoma Broadband Office and OSU Extension. Oklahoma Accelerate provides 30 hours of no-cost expert counsel for community leaders to help them develop broadband plans addressing their unique local needs for connectivity.
[Angie Cooper is the executive vice president of Heartland Forward]
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) introduced the U.S. Data on U.S. Soil Act (H.R.6410) to protect the data security of Americans from being collected and exploited by our foreign adversaries. Specifically, the U.S. Data on U.S. Soil would protect the data security of the American people by:
- Prohibiting covered entities such as TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, etc. from storing any data of United States’ nationals in a physical data center that is located within a foreign adversary (China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Maduro Regime).
- Prohibiting government officials in foreign adversary countries from accessing the covered data.
- Enforcing a penalty, in the form of a large fine, if these regulations are violated according to Unfair or Deceptive Act under the Federal Trade Commission Act. Any person who violates these regulations would be forced to pay a fine of $50,120 per violation, to account for inflation.
- Not preempting state law, meaning if individual states have stricter data privacy laws, this bill does not override them but raise the national minimum standard.
A small but growing share of U.S. adults say they regularly get news on TikTok. This is in contrast with many other social media sites, where news consumption has either declined or stayed about the same in recent years. In just three years, the share of U.S. adults who say they regularly get news from TikTok has more than quadrupled, from 3 percent in 2020 to 14 percent in 2023. TikTok, primarily known for short-form video sharing, has become especially popular among teens—two-thirds of whom report ever using the platform—as well as young adults. More of TikTok’s U.S. adult users are getting news there as well. Currently, 43 percent of TikTok users say they regularly get news on the site, up from 33 percent who said the same in 2022. TikTok users are now just as likely to get news from TikTok as Facebook users are to get news from Facebook. Still, TikTok users are less likely than users of X, formerly Twitter, to get news on the site.
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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