Monday, November 20, 2023
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Ousted OpenAI leader Sam Altman joins Microsoft | National Public Radio
Stories From Abroad
November 15, 2023, marks the two-year anniversary of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) becoming law. After decades spent waiting for Congress to pass such a historic infrastructure bill, this is certainly a celebratory moment. So, at the two-year mark, where do we stand? Based on our analysis of published White House data, IIJA implementation is just now hitting its stride. Formula and direct federal spending continue to move at a steady pace, already pumping $229 billion into state coffers and direct investment projects. And like an athlete who grows into a game, competitive grantmaking is steadily increasing, with 75% of all competitive funding still left to be awarded. Just as importantly, the Biden administration has shown no overt political bias in splitting awards among states—certainly welcome news to the bipartisan legislators who authored the bill. Overall, state and local stakeholders should feel motivated to keep pursuing federally-funded projects to rebuild and reimagine their communities.
Released in October 2023, the Digital Access for All Idahoans (DAAI) Plan documents pervasive barriers to digital access and proposes a strategy to end digital access divides that prevent many Idahoans from accessing crucial technology. The DAAI plan aims to increase broadband affordability for Idahoans, as well as improve digital skills, cybersecurity awareness, access to devices, technical support, and access to public services. Idaho’s vision is to support all residents in thriving online through:
- Digital literacy, cybersecurity, and technical support—providing curated tools and resources to Idahoans to increase digital skills and online safety.
- Public services and resources—improving accessibility for Idahoans to connect and engage with local and state services.
- Affordable broadband and devices—ensuring Idahoans have broadband and internet-enabled devices that fulfill their unique work, school, and life needs.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has completed the first phase of a $60 million, 300-mile-plus fiber optic broadband internet project that will ultimately deliver high-speed internet services to over 5,000 homes across the Southern Ute Reservation. Tribal Councilor Stacey Oberly said 52 miles of fiber have been installed, and fiber connecting Durango’s Three Springs neighborhood to the town of Ignacio is undergoing testing. Jeff Engman of Southern Ute Shared Services said through the second phase, which will serve 2,800 households, including homes along Highway 151 to Pagosa Springs, is now underway. The plan is to thread fiber optic broadband across the reservation, from the west side down Wildcat Canyon to Highway 140 toward the New Mexico state line. The project will deliver fiber optic broadband internet to every household in Ignacio, the town of Arboles and most communities in between. Fiber will run all the way to Pagosa Springs, making the Tribe’s network more resilient. The Tribe also looks to improve its cellular infrastructure on the reservation.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted unanimously to suspend a crucial certification for LTD Broadband, dealing a blow to the company and its hopes of unblocking $311 million in federal cash to build infrastructure for high-speed internet across rural Minnesota. In December 2020, LTD won more than $1.32 billion nationally through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to develop blazing-fast internet in rural areas, including more than $311 million in Minnesota. The outcome shocked many in the telecommunications industry because LTD was relatively small and had little experience building the fiber-optic cable infrastructure required under the program. LTD was "unequal to the task of building out the vital infrastructure that the people of greater Minnesota need," wrote Assistant Attorney General Erin Conti in a letter to the PUC. The PUC decision came at an important juncture for LTD Broadband after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revoked a huge RDOF award in August 2022, saying at the time that LTD Broadband was not capable of building the fiber-optic cable networks it had promised.
When the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) suggested Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) grant rules, a lot of industry folks assumed that states would largely follow the NTIA suggestions and that there would be a lot of similarity in the BEAD grant rules between states. It turns out that the opposite is happening, and many State Broadband Offices are taking unique approaches. In this article, I compare the BEAD grant rules for Georgia and Illinois. A high-level comparison of the two shows that the states differ on their overall approaches and important scoring metrics, including the points given for broadband rates and local support. If I didn’t know both were BEAD grants, I would never guess the states were using the same funding source. The scoring emphasizes drastically different priorities. Overall, these two plan demonstrate the wide variance of state philosophies behind BEAD.
The battle for network neutrality (aka the open internet) is back. It’s something that should have been instituted years ago. In fact, it actually was on the books—until then-President Donald Trump’s Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Ajit Pai, ditched the rules, largely at the behest of the big internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. Net neutrality rules were not only on the books, but were also court-approved. That should have been the end of the matter. Instead, today we have no such rules. Without open internet rules, there is nothing to stop the telecom giants from throttling your service, blocking your access to the net, giving priority access to their own subsidiaries or giving preference to wealthy content providers willing to pay high rates for priority carriage. That means fast lanes for the well-to-do and slow lanes for the rest of us. Combining distribution control with content control is the essence of monopoly. It’s time to put the brakes on the ISPs. They should not be free from oversight, free to throttle, free to block, free to deny privacy, free to favor a few at the expense of the many, and free to run roughshod over perhaps the most liberating and opportunity-creating communications tool in all of history. So, get involved. Let the FCC, your elected representatives, your colleagues and friends know this is important to you and your country. Because it is.
[Michael Copps is a former FCC commissioner and chairman. He is special advisor on Media & Democracy Reform at Common Cause.]
Access to an equal educational experience is a legal right in the U.S. With the overwhelming dependence of technology in today’s educational system, internet access should also be the legal right of every student. This report outlines the reliance on technology in the public school system; why internet access for children is essential to creating a flourishing society; the disparities that exist related to broadband access and device management; and recommendations for local officials to effectively change policies and champion federal programs that truly allow for equitable educational opportunities. Technology will continue to be vital to the educational experiences of students today and in the future. If steps are not taken to protect students’ abilities to effectively participate in their education, it will have devastating effects on innovation, workforce development, and more. Legally, every child deserves a quality education. In 2023, that cannot happen without reliable broadband, access, computing devices, and digital skills.
The White House denounced Elon Musk for “abhorrent promotion of antisemitic and racist hate,” for his endorsement of what an administration spokesman called a “hideous lie” about Jews. All of which might make one think the Biden administration was going to try to pull back from doing business with the world’s richest person. Except that, in recent weeks, the U.S. government has become more dependent on him than ever, agreeing to as much as $1.2 billion worth of SpaceX launches next year to put crucial Pentagon assets, including spy and command-and-control satellites, into space. And in September 2023, the Pentagon agreed to pay tens of millions of dollars for “Starshield,” a new, secure communications system his company has set up for the nation’s defense and intelligence systems, relying on the same clusters of Starlink satellites that have proved vital to Ukraine’s military during the war with Russia. In private, administration officials say the Starlink satellites are critical to deterring China because they are far more resistant to Chinese efforts to disable them than the Pentagon’s own communications satellites.
Private equity companies have steadily become a mainstay in the broadband industry, as they seek a piece of the fiber pie. Jonathan Adelstein, managing director and head of global policy and public investment at DigitalBridge, discussed how firms like his pick a fiber provider to invest in. It’s not just about cost per passing and making sure “that’s under control,” he says, cost per subscriber is a key factor as well. DigitalBridge also looks at a provider’s contract relationships, “making sure that they’re strong, that they can control the supply chain.” That way, DigitalBridge is able to see if a company “can control costs.” In terms of competition, Adelstein said private equity firms are looking for a “sweet spot” in markets where there isn’t a “strong fiber competitor.” Ideally, they’re seeking markets with no fiber presence. Commenting on the general fiber landscape, Adelstein said it’s “sort of a fight for who gets in first”—who becomes the first fiber provider in a territory.
Telecommunications and cable companies are emerging as some of the biggest losers of the high interest rate era. Buoyed by a sudden increase in demand, many firms took on vast amounts of credit to boost spending on increasing download speeds through expensive fiber rollouts. Now, changing consumer behaviors are causing turmoil and pushing companies in the US and Europe to invest in new infrastructure. Business customers have shifted to cloud-based services that aren’t linked to their broadband provider, exposing workplace-focused telecommunications companies such as Lumen to competitive pressures that forced them to make pricey upgrades to expand their offerings. Home networks required overhauls too as people increasingly sought more bandwidth and faster connections for remote work. That’s led to a costly race for labor and components to build out fiber networks. Cable companies and mobile wireless carriers have rolled out their own home Internet solutions to compete.
This paper introduces the innovative concept of platform literacy, specifically within the context of digital platforms. In today's digital economy, where digital platforms are essential tools in people's lives and form the core of the digital ecosystem, the ability to effectively utilize these platforms is becoming crucial. This study systematically examines the existing literature on digital platforms and digital literacy to establish a conceptual foundation for assessing an individual's platform literacy. Drawing upon insights from the digital literacy framework, this paper proposes a platform literacy framework that can be applied in practical settings. This paper contributes to the growing body of knowledge on digital literacy by offering a comprehensive framework for understanding platform literacy within the digital platform landscape.
The decline of local newspapers accelerated so rapidly in 2023 that analysts now believe the U.S. will have lost one-third of the newspapers it had as of 2005 by the end of next year — rather than in 2025, as originally predicted. Most communities that lose a local newspaper do not get a replacement, even online. Over the past two years, newspapers continued to vanish at an average rate of more than two per week, leaving 204 U.S. counties, or 6.4%, without any local news outlet. Minorities and poorer people without access to high-speed broadband are far more likely to live in areas that are news deserts or at risk of becoming one. The counties at risk of becoming news deserts are primarily located in high poverty areas in the South or the Midwest, often ones with significant Black, Hispanic and Native American populations.
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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