Friday, November 20, 2020
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The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed the Bridging the Tribal Digital Divide Act of 2020. The bill would expedite the deployment of affordable broadband service on Tribal lands by coordinating and improving the effectiveness of federal resources. Specifically, the bill would:
- Establish the Tribal Broadband Interagency Working Group to improve coordination across federal broadband programs and reduce deployment barriers;
- Require that technical assistance be provided to interested, underserved Native communities to develop a broadband deployment plan;
- Streamline the application process for federal grants to support the deployment of broadband services on Tribal lands;
- Establish a Tribal Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee;
- Sets aside FCC and USDA funds for the benefit of broadband deployment on Tribal lands; and
- Establish the Tribal Broadband Right-of-Way Pilot Program.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved:
- S. 1166, Internet Exchange Act of 2019 which directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to make grants to establish or expand internet exchange facilities.
- S. 4472, Ensuring Network Security Act which amends the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program to include eligible telecommunications carriers and providers of educational broadband service.
- S. 4803, Beat China by Harnessing Important, National Airwaves (CHINA) for 5G Act of 2020 which would make the 3450–3550 MHz spectrum band available for non-Federal use.
President-elect Joe Biden and top congressional Democrats are laying the groundwork to seek a massive increase in federal broadband spending in 2021, hoping they can secure billions of dollars in new government aid to improve Internet access and affordability — and help people stay online during the pandemic. Party leaders are mulling a wide array of proposals that would extend the availability of broadband in hard-to-reach rural areas, raise Internet speeds for American households, assist families who are struggling to pay their Internet bills and provide more funding to schools for computers and other equipment. Many Democrats say they are bullish about their prospects, believing they can shepherd a series of record-breaking investments at a time when the resurgent coronavirus is forcing Americans to work and learn from home again. Their first major opportunity could come as part of a new coronavirus stimulus package, a top priority for Biden as he prepares to enter the White House in January. The president-elect previously endorsed a House-passed relief bill that includes $4 billion in emergency funds to help low-income Americans stay online in a pandemic that has left tens of millions out of work and strapped for cash. Biden also reaffirmed his commitment to universal broadband on Tuesday as part of a broader preview of his economic-recovery agenda.
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), a top Biden ally who led a broadband task force, said he “absolutely” expected the president-elect to move aggressively on the issue within his first 100 days in office. He acknowledged this week that lawmakers “still expect to get some opposition from Republicans” on additional spending, but he expressed optimism that the inequalities brought to light by the worsening coronavirus pandemic might spur Congress to act.
Our failure to create inclusive policies that close the digital divide has done serious harm to the Americans who were already struggling to put food on their tables prior to the pandemic. The failures of our past, however, do not have to dictate the future. It is time—in fact, it is past,time—for the tech and telecom sector to take account for issues of equity and fairness.
First, the digital divide and the economic opportunity divide run parallel to one another. Second, there’s no greater reminder of our intersecting fates during this pandemic thanmthat of our dependency on essential workers, who are overwhelmingly Black and Latinx. If we invest in broadband, we will lessen the healthn disparities across our most marginalized communities. Third, during this time of increased social distancing, broadband access allows us to keep in touch with our loved ones, which helps maintain our mental health. This is incredibly important to our seniors who are most at risk of falling victim to this virus. Finally, we must prioritize our youngest learners and future leaders.
We’re not going back to broadband circa 2019. Every aspect of life is going to have a significant virtual component from here on. That’s the lesson we’ve learned in 2020 about the use of broadband networks by people in their homes. Residential broadband access has become crucial to work and learn, to schedule and attend remote visits with a doctor, and to remain connected with family and friends—especially with multiple members of the household online at the same time. And Americans recognize this need: A Pew research study found that 87% of Americans viewed the internet as essential or important during the pandemic. As Mike Lynch, the cable and broadband officer for the City of Boston, said earlier this year, “Everybody discovered over the last six months that connectivity is a must-have, and people who may not have been that interested or didn’t see the immediate need are now pressed into understanding that we have a need for connectivity.” We are living in a world where the pandemic required us to move our lives on the internet. Seemingly overnight, we had to learn how to do activities online that were previously performed overwhelmingly in person. With these new skills and a new environment in which participation in society is ever more reliant on broadband, change will certainly come to all manner of pursuits. This new dynamic translates into greater need, but also greater opportunity. Having been forced to use broadband more than in the past, people have learned how to videoconference and, in general, be better at what they do online. That experience, and the continuing challenges of a post-crisis world, will bend the curve of broadband usage upward. Greater demand for services over broadband networks offers the prospect of better supply of broadband-enabled services, which will, in turn, attract greater demand. That’s what positive feedback loops create: a dynamic system of mutually reinforcing improvement.
Broadband companies can improve regional economic development, though positive effects vary depending on local and state contexts, said experts during a National Telecommunications and Information Administration webinar. Lauren Mathena, director of economic development and community engagement with the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC), spoke on how MBC allows Internet service providers to connect to its 1,900-mile fiber network in southern Virginia. Mathena said this open access approach is a “proven strategy to reduce costs of broadband expansion,” as ISPs — be they companies or electric cooperatives — only have to worry about last-mile buildouts. An open access network can also help a region or state attract industry. Mathena said MBC was a key reason why Microsoft built an advanced data center in Mecklenburg County (VA).
Indraneel Kumar, principal regional planner for the Purdue Center for Regional Development, described broadband as an economic “catalyst.” Kumar shared a recent study, titled Job Creation From Rural Broadband Companies, that he coauthored with researcher Roberto Gallardo. The study found that in 2017, its sample of rural broadband companies “created and supported 77,000 jobs across different industries” in 44 states. The jobs were in fields as diverse as engineering, accounting, law and retail. The total economic impact was $10 billion.
Hawai‘i has released an updated strategic plan that aims to achieve digital equity across the islands by strengthening broadband infrastructure and programs. The Hawai‘i Broadband Strategic Plan 2020 offers what state officials say is a fresh look at ways to boost broadband connectivity at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is showing how important it is for education, health and economic prosperity. The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, with support from the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and the Office of Planning, published the plan, which is an update to the original Hawai‘i Broadband Strategic Plan released in 2012. The plan calls for a strategy of building carrier- neutral cable landing infrastructure on Oahu and the neighbor islands to lower the cost barrier for trans- Pacific fiberoptic cables to land in Hawaii.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on Montana’s widening digital divide. Working from home, online school and telehealth have all become pandemic necessities, but many Montanans don’t have access to adequate broadband internet. Cooperatives across the state said that the digital divide doesn’t exist solely between urban and rural Montana like many people believe. “Yes, there is a digital divide in Montana,” said Jason Williams, CEO of Blackfoot Communications in Missoula. “But it isn’t a single divide between the haves and have-nots.” Urban areas are typically covered by big players like CenturyLink and Charter, while rural areas are usually covered by cooperatives, such as Blackfoot Communications. “Montana’s cooperatives in the most rural parts of the state probably have the best fiber-based broadband internet in the entire state,” said Williams. There’s another population that some cooperatives argue are the most underserved -- residents in suburban Montana. That includes places like Frenchtown, Lolo and the Bitterroot Valley.
About 95,000 Kansas households have no access to the internet or lack what has been defined as the bare minimum of internet access, said State Rep. Mark Schreiber (R-Emporia ), a member of the Statewide Broadband Expansion Planning Task Force. Fast internet is so crucial to daily life that Kansans are finding creative workarounds, from turning their phones into hotspots to finding someplace nearby where they can access Wi-Fi. Some schools in rural areas allow students to access their Wi-Fi from the parking lot on evenings and weekends. Businesses such as coffee shops that offer open signals also draw users, whether they’re open or not. The coronavirus has raised the heat on the daunting challenge of too many Kansans being without high-speed internet at home. In the midst of lockdowns that forced people to work from home and students to study remotely, a lack of broadband access became a problem that couldn’t be ignored. “The silver lining of the pandemic is that all of a sudden, people went ‘This is really important, and we want it and need to make it happen,’” said Catherine Moyer, CEO of Pioneer Communications in Ulysses. More state and federal funding has been made available to communities, but it won’t be nearly enough to fully remedy the problem. Furthermore, expansion is intertwined with a host of issues. Should everyone have access to the same basic level of service and pay similar rates? Should areas of the state where it’s more cost-effective to provide service subsidize those areas where it’s not? Should broadband remain a private service provided by businesses, or should it be considered more like electricity, a necessity supplied by utilities that usually have no competition and face heavy government regulation? Do policymakers have the political will to invest the resources when state revenues have been gyrating?
Many people take access to high-speed internet for granted, but the Federal Communications Commission says more than 800,000 Pennsylvanians do not have access to broadband. Broadband coverage has always been spotty in rural areas, but with students forced to stay home, the problem has become critical. Even when there is reliable service, the cost of broadband can be a barrier.
In August 2020, the Federal Communications Commission proposed to retain its current benchmark for broadband internet access service: 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Areas believed to have 25/3 service already do not qualify for most broadband subsidy programs, though most agree that the FCC has poor data on whether that level of service definitively exists in any given region. Most broadband subsidy programs require delivering a new service that is at least that fast, although given the trajectory of increased online usage some experts worry that if a subsidized network is merely offering 25/3 in 2020 or later, it is an example of government subsidies building obsolete technology that will not create the educational, economic, or other benefits that should justify the expense. By way of analogy, Christopher Mitchell, Community Broadband Networks Director for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, draws a comparison between building broadband infrastructure and bridge construction: "When we build bridges, they are not built to handle expected traffic just 10 years from now, but to deal with what can be anticipated for decades after that."
Access to high-performance broadband is a civil rights issue according to Broadband for America Now, a report from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. An initial 2019 report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, was updated to reflect new developments but changed direction as the COVID-19 pandemic made access to broadband essential as work, education and even healthcare moved online, leaving behind low-income and underserved populations. “We know that within this crisis, there’s been what we might think about as a ‘broadband breakthrough,’” said Benton Senior Fellow Jonathan Sallet. “People are using broadband as never before if and when they have access to it. And the fact that so many people don’t, creates not just a digital divide, but a digital chasm.” Sallet spoke about why policy makers, including the new administration, Congress, those at the state, tribal and local level need to devote their time and attention to this issue while they tackle many other large societal issues (COVID-19, income inequality and social justice).
GAO reviewed distance learning plans from a nongeneralizable group of 15 school districts, selected for their high proportion of either English learners or students with disabilities. GAO also interviewed district officials in four of these 15 districts, selected based on the districts’ detailed plans for distance learning for either group of students; interviewed advocates, researchers, and representatives of associations of school administrators and related service providers; reviewed relevant federal laws including IDEA, regulations, and guidance; and interviewed federal officials. Some English learners and their families had difficulty fully participating in distance learning during spring 2020 due to a lack of necessary technology, language barriers, and the demands of meeting basic family needs. English learners lost opportunities to practice their language skills, according to school district officials and representatives of professional associations. Also, limited English comprehension affected the ability of families to assist students with the curriculum, according to representatives of professional associations and a technical assistance center. Stakeholders also told GAO that some school districts addressed aspects of these challenges by, for example, increasing access to the internet and devices and adapting materials and instructional methods. One school district partnered with a Spanish language TV network to broadcast curriculum for an hour every day. However, many of the major challenges with engaging English learners in distance education remained. For example, one district mailed home a workbook in both English and Spanish to help students access online learning, but this did not address the needs of students who speak one of the other approximately 90 languages in the district.
The type of 5G spectrum used by carriers greatly affects the experience that users enjoy. Some of these spectrum bands are more commonly used in cities and so it’s important to look at these urban locations separately from national measures. Looking at five US cities — Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC — we see the average 5G Download Speed using Verizon is very significantly faster than the other US carriers. In every city, the average 5G Download Speed is over three times faster using Verizon than on either AT&T or T-Mobile. However, most of these measurements were taken before Verizon’s launch of 5G using lower frequency bands which Verizon calls “nationwide 5G” and that change in technology will affect future results and likely cause the variation in the 5G experience on different carriers to narrow.
When we look at 5G Upload Speed we see a mixed picture. In two cities — New York and Washington DC — the 5G Upload Speeds we see using T-Mobile and Verizon are statistically tied ahead of AT&T. But in Houston AT&T is tied with T-Mobile with Verizon lagging and in Atlanta and in Los Angeles T-Mobile has a clear lead. However, all the 5G Upload Speeds we see are considerably slower than the 5G Download Speeds.
In future, all carriers will deploy multiple types of 5G spectrum which will work in tandem to offer the best possible mobile experience for users. But today, each US carrier has had to work with the spectrum they have currently available, until further 5G spectrum auctions happen and the mid-band 5G assets auctioned by the Federal Communications Commission in mid-2020 become available for use.
With the Federal Trade Commission expected to unveil long-awaited antitrust action against Facebook in the near future, the agency's mixed record on regulating tech has experts viewing the case as a "put up or shut up" moment. Most of the tech cases the FTC has tackled involve consumer protection rather than restraining monopolistic behavior. Past antitrust investigations of tech mergers or companies, like a review of Google that ended in 2013, led critics to paint the FTC as toothless.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the items below are tentatively on the agenda for the December Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Thursday, December 10, 2020:
- Securing the Communications Supply Chain – The FCC will consider a Report and Order that would require Eligible Telecommunications Carriers to remove equipment and services that pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of its people, would establish the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, and would establish the procedures and criteria for publishing a list of covered communications equipment and services that must be removed. (WC Docket No. 18-89)
- National Security Matter – The FCC will consider a national security matter.
- National Security Matter – The FCC will consider a national security matter.
- Allowing Earlier Equipment Marketing and Importation Opportunities – The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose updates to its marketing and importation rules to permit, prior to equipment authorization, conditional sales of radiofrequency devices to consumers under certain circumstances and importation of a limited number of radiofrequency devices for certain pre-sale activities. (ET Docket No. 20- 382)
- Promoting Broadcast Internet Innovation Through ATSC 3.0 – The FCC will consider a Report and Order that would modify and clarify existing rules to promote the deployment of Broadcast Internet services as part of the transition to ATSC 3.0. (MB Docket No. 20-145)
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society welcomed David Dodson to its Board of Directors. Dodson is the former president and a current Senior Fellow at MDC, a North Carolina-based nonprofit “think tank with muddy boots,” focused on helping the South become a place where all people can thrive. "For nearly forty years David has worked to advance economic opportunity and social mobility for people and communities struggling to realize the American Dream," said Benton Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss. "His experience makes him an invaluable asset at the Benton Institute as we strive to bring open, affordable, high-capacity broadband to all people in the U.S. to ensure a thriving democracy."
"It is obvious that in the 21st century, broadband is the infrastructure of opportunity," Dodson said. "As such, it is imperative that everyone in America have affordable access and the skills needed to make use of the networks we need to end the pandemic, rebuild our economy, address racial inequity, and combat climate change. The Benton Institute is well-placed to help the nation realize fast, fair, and open broadband for all."
Prior to joining MDC, David served as executive director of the Cummins Engine Foundation and director of corporate responsibility for Cummins Engine Company in Columbus, Indiana, a corporate innovator in creating workplace democracy and corporate responsibility. Dodson is a graduate of Yale College and holds masters degrees from Yale Divinity School and the Yale School of Management. He is a board member of the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, DC.
The Internet Society presented the prestigious Jonathan B. Postel Service Award to Onno W. Purbo for his sustained and substantial technical contributions, leadership, and service to the global Internet community. Known as “Indonesia’s Internet Liberator,” Purbo is a prolific and well-published Internet advocate who has played a key role in democratizing Internet access, making it more affordable especially in Indonesia’s rural areas. Purbo is best known for pioneering the Internet in Indonesia through sophisticated use of wireless and Voice over Internet Protocol technologies. He led the first Internet connection at the Institute of Technology in Bandung and used it to build the first Indonesian educational network. He also championed the deregulation of WiFi frequencies and introduced cyber cafes, neighborhood networks, and community cellular networks to Indonesia. Mr. Purbo organized the first community telephony network over Internet and led the re-introduction of ICT into the Indonesian high school curriculum. Currently, he is involved in largest Indonesian FREE e-Learning service, which has brought more than 700 courses to nearly 40,000 participants and trained more than 8,000 teachers on e-learning operations.
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 Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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