Wednesday, November 2, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Today: Decade of Digital Inclusion 2022 and How Closing the Digital Divide Benefits Everyone
The stark disparity across internet access in the US
Senator Murphy Requests Review of Foreign Stake in Acquisition of Twitter
Stories From Abroad
Sacramento and Seattle are the best cities in the US when it comes to digital and internet equity, offering more widely available and affordable internet access than other major cities in the US, according to a new analysis by the non-profit United Way of the National Capital Area (NCA). Research by the Federal Communications Commission finds that 19 million Americans – approximately 6% of the country’s population – lack access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds. The average cost of broadband varies widely across the country: in some cities, the average internet package costs less than $60 a month, while in places like Las Vegas and Baltimore, it costs upwards of $80 per month. While cities work to make home internet more affordable, they can also work to increase the availability of free public Wi-Fi, at libraries and at hotspots. New York and Los Angeles are tied for the highest number of public libraries with free Wi-Fi, though Daytona Beach and Bridgeport have the highest number of libraries per capita. There are other efforts cities and states are taking too. The Seattle Public Library, as well as states like California and Colorado, have programs to provide discounts on internet packages to low-income households. Overall, there is a clear correlation between cities actively working to tackle digital inequality and cities with a high proportion of digital access.
More than 30 consumer advocates, broadband-data experts, and digital-rights groups sent a letter calling on the Federal Communications Commission to help consumers avoid “junk fees” by creating a broadband consumer label that is clear and visible on monthly internet bills. The label, which Congress directed the FCC to create as part of the 2021 infrastructure law, has been pending before the FCC since January. The letter was signed by Access Humboldt, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, Common Cause, Common Sense, Consumer Reports, Demand Progress Education Fund, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Future of Music Coalition, Greenlining Institute, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Measurement Lab, MediaJustice, mohuman, National Broadband Mapping Coalition, National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients), National Consumers League, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Next Century Cities, New America’s Open Technology Institute, NTEN, OpenCape Corporation, OpenMedia, Carnegie Mellon University Professor Jon M. Peha (former FCC Chief Technologist), Public Knowledge, Public Utility Law Project of New York, Ranking Digital Rights, United Church of Christ, Media Justice Ministry, and X-Lab
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), a Federal Communications Commission plan to spend over $20 billion to close the digital divide, drew interest from startups and household-name carriers alike. But several upstart winners have dropped off the winner's list because of financial problems or the inability to supply high-speed Internet access. Top 10 bidder Starry said that it is withdrawing from the RDOF program, under which it had been awarded nearly $270 million in funds to cover 108,506 locations in 9 states. Facing financial challenges, the startup fixed wireless access provider also said it will undergo a 50% workforce reduction and a hiring freeze. GeoLinks and Cal.net also defaulted on winning RDOF bids. And SpaceX’s Starlink funding was withdrawn due to concerns over the ability of Elon Musk’s startup satellite operator to supply fast enough services. Operators continue to face challenges in making a business case for delivering broadband service to a limited addressable rural subscriber base. Keeping tabs on their efforts and learning about other broadband programs can help IT managers. However, in the event of an RDOF dropout, the FCC said that these areas could be covered by other state and local funding programs.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to the speed of constructing infrastructure. The White House announced an initiative to address some of these issues to speed up the construction of the $550 billion in infrastructure that was funded with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, along with earlier money from the American Rescue Plan Act. It’s an interesting document that lists a number of steps that have already been taken by the federal government to speed up the infrastructure construction process. Some of the initiatives listed should help to speed up large road and bridge construction projects. But the list doesn’t describe much that is being done to speed up fiber construction.
Virginia’s Connected Future: A guide for funders and philanthropists to address digital divides in the Commonwealth
Virginia has made significant strides to curtail the many facets of the digital divide that exist throughout the Commonwealth. As part of the Virginia Funders Network’s (VFN) efforts to support the Commonwealth’s commitment to achieving universal connectivity by 2024, this memo recommends several steps that funders can perform "now:"
- Identify your community connectivity needs: Before broadband, planning can begin it is vital to understand the connectivity needs of the community. Surveys are also a good way to connect with a large number of residents and businesses.
- Identify digital champions: Hosting and organizing listening sessions can also assist funders in locating digital champions in their communities. Digital champions can be anyone interested in, and passionate about, community connectivity.
- Train digital navigators: Digital navigators are typically employees of an anchor institution (community center, library, school, health care center) who are specifically trained to help users “navigate” the entirety of the connectivity process, from connectivity to devices to skills.
- Engage in mapping: Communities often lack insightful maps as to which areas are un- or under-connected. These maps need to be as granular as possible to fully capture the extent of the digital divide.
- Engage with elected officials: Funders should identify those elected officials and policymakers interested in broadband and begin conversations about the importance of connectivity. Funders can also help educate elected officials as to the need for broadband.
- Promote the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP): Funders can hold information sessions in conjunction with local providers to increase knowledge and drive participation in the ACP. Innovative practices have proven successful in driving broadband awareness.
As well as steps that should be done "next:"
- Set up partnerships: The future of broadband connectivity, especially in rural areas, will depend on public-private partnerships (P3s). Here, funders can play crucial match-making roles, helping communities identify potential private providers and potential partners.
- Match grants: Funders may consider this a best practice for ensuring that broadband reaches the most unconnected parts of their communities.
- Create a Virginia Five-Year Broadband Plan: Communities and counties must be mobilized to participate in the creation of the plan. Communities need to have their voices heard.
- Make sure local providers participate: As trusted community organizations, funders can also make sure that all providers in their community are participating in the ACP. This can be done simply by contacting each provider in the community.
Senator Murphy (D-CT) Requests Review of Foreign Stake in Acquisition of Twitter, Inc.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) sent a letter to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) requesting an immediate investigation into the potential national security concerns arising from the recent takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk and a number of foreign private investors, including members of the Saudi Arabian royal family and the kingdom of Qatar. Senator Murphy called attention to Saudi Arabia’s repression of free speech and political dissent inside and outside of the Kingdom’s borders, including the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Murphy referenced allegations by federal prosecutors in 2019 that Saudi Arabia recruited Twitter employees to mine Twitter’s internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users, in violation of US law. Twitter also suspended 88,000 accounts tied to a disinformation campaign backed by the Saudi government after an internal investigation. Senator Murphy directed the committee to examine the degree to which Saudi influence over Twitter’s operations or access to user data could be used to silence critics and activists, or further state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.
Civil-Society Groups Call on Twitter’s Top-20 Advertisers to Demand that Elon Musk Fulfill His Promise to Safeguard Their Brands and Protect Users
More than 40 civil-society groups called on Twitter’s top-20 advertisers to inform Elon Musk that they will suspend all advertising on the platform if he follows through on plans to undermine the social network’s community standards and content moderation. The move follows breaking news that Musk has already frozen many employees’ ability to access content-moderation and standards-enforcement tools that they previously used to protect users from the spread of election disinformation and other toxic content. The letter documents the many changes Musk has already made to the company, including firing Twitter's top executive in charge of legal policy, trust, and safety. The letter highlights Musk’s threat to drastically reduce employee headcount, including those responsible for maintaining community standards and protecting user safety. It also cites the sharp increase in hateful posts and misinformation on Twitter since Musk took over — including a homophobic tweet shared (and then deleted) by Musk.
Stories From Abroad
UK regulator Ofcom considers scrapping requirement that BT provides dedicated landlines for the devices at affordable prices
British communications regulator Ofcom said it had started the process to scrap legislation compelling BT, the former state-owned monopoly, to provide dedicated landlines for the devices at affordable prices. The move could sound the death knell of the fax machine, just over 30 years after it revolutionised office life. The facsimile machine, for our GenZ readers, first commercialised by Xerox in 1964, became a ubiquitous feature of offices around the world from the late 1980s but has since been displaced by a combination of email, scanners, cloud, and instant messaging services. Though the fax has been rendered obsolete in most work environments, it is still used in the healthcare sector, which has been slow to digitise. The legislation, known as the universal service obligation (USO), compelling BT to provide dedicated fax services dates back to the privatisation of the former state monopoly in 1984. This required the company to maintain a full national telecoms service including to less-profitable rural areas. It was later updated to include the provision of fax services. The Ofcom consultation comes after the government last month removed fax services from USO.
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 Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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