Thursday, November 2, 2023
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The Federal Communications Commission launched an inquiry to kick off the agency’s evaluation of the state of broadband across the country, as required by section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. As part of this inquiry, the FCC will focus on the universal service goals of section 706—universal deployment, affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access to broadband throughout the United States. In light of the increasing uses and demands for broadband and the Congressional directives embodied in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes the largest ever federal investment in broadband deployment, this Notice of Inquiry (NOI) will take a fresh look at the FCC’s standards for evaluating broadband deployment and availability, the quality of the FCC’s available data, and the framework that the agency uses to make a finding under section 706. In addition to focusing on a universal service standard, the NOI proposes to increase the national fixed broadband speed benchmark to 100 megabits per second for download and 20 megabits per second for upload, and discusses a range of evidence supporting this standard. The FCC previously set the benchmark at 25/3 Mbps in 2015 and has not updated it since. The NOI also seeks comment on setting a separate national goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps for the future. This inquiry will be the first to use the new Broadband Data Collection (BDC) data. The FCC will examine how improvements to its data collection may impact the standards and inform the agency’s conclusions about broadband availability.
The Federal Communications Commission established a mechanism by which a participating provider in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) can apply to offer an enhanced monthly discount of up to $75 for broadband services to ACP-enrolled households in a high-cost area, upon the provider’s showing of particularized economic hardship. Now the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau provides additional information on the application process and announces that ACP providers may begin submitting applications on Wednesday, January 17, 2024 seeking approval to offer the high-cost area benefit in a given area. In applying to offer the high-cost area benefit, providers must submit to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) documentation demonstrating particularized economic hardship in the high-cost area(s) where they are seeking to offer the high-cost area benefit. This documentation includes an income statement, a supporting affidavit, and any applicable federal tax filings or returns demonstrating operating loss in the high-cost area. USAC will provide additional information about the application process and required documentation, including training and educational materials, prior to the January 17, 2024, start date for accepting applications.
The Federal Communications Commission committed nearly $5.2 million in a new funding round through the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, which provides digital tools and services to support students in communities across the country. The funding commitment supports applications from the third application window, benefitting approximately 14,000 students nationwide, including students in California, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. The funding commitment will support approximately 23 schools and school districts. The funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework, and summer online learning programs to ensure students across the country have the necessary support to keep up with their education.
President Joe Biden announced over $5 billion in new investments from his Investing in America agenda—including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act—to advance rural prosperity, economic development, competition, and sustainability. $274 Million to Expand Critical Rural High-Speed Internet Infrastructure: the Department of Agriculture announced nearly $274 million across 16 grant and loan awards to expand access to high-speed internet for people living and working across eight states. These investments include $260 million as part of the fourth round of the ReConnect Program funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
I would wager that most of the supposed Affordable Connectivity Program fraud is coming from cellular carriers. My suggestion is that we stop using ACP to subsidize cellular service. The underlying concept of ACP is to get better broadband to folks, and I don’t care how you try to justify it—cell phone data is not a substitute for home broadband. Many people claim that they only use their cellphone as a broadband connection, but if they are more than a casual broadband user, they are probably getting most of their broadband through WiFi connections on somebody else’s broadband connection. ACP should be used to subsidize home broadband.
The Federal Communications Commission plans to adopt both a disparate treatment (intent) and disparate impact (effects) analysis to determine whether there is any discrimination of internet access. As part of its rules, the Draft Order requires “pricing consistency” across protected classes. There is a serious unintended consequence of this requirement—that is, the low-income pricing plans offered by broadband providers—many of which were strongly supported by (if not mandated by) the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the White House, and even state organizations issuing subsidy dollars—are explicitly designed to discriminate by income level (“intent”) and, since income and race are correlated, these income-based discount plans lead to a disparate impact along racial lines. Accordingly, a reasonable reading of the FCC’s forthcoming rules is that these low-income discount plans offered by broadband providers are likely now illegal and thus risky to offer. As a result, an unintended consequence of the FCC’s Digital Discrimination rules may be to cause such discounted plans to disappear, raising the price of broadband to low-income households (to ensure the mean price is equal across income levels and race).
Virginia became the second state in the nation to begin its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program challenge process, kicking off the process one week after approval of its plan by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Virginia’s challenge process is being carried out through a partnership with Virginia Tech Center for Geospatial Information Technology—to provide the challenge process portal—and Ready, which is supporting Virginia’s challenge effort with its public map and speed test portal. Virginia has identified 134,221 unserved and 27,806 underserved locations that are eligible for BEAD funding. Virginia adopted the NTIA’s model challenge process, a template the agency put together for states to expedite the proposal approval process. The process is slated to last 90 days, ending in Virginia on January 30, 2024. The state will be accepting challenges for the first 30 days, until November 30, followed by rebuttal and adjudication phases of the same length.
The Oregon Broadband Office (OBO) released the draft State of Oregon Digital Equity Plan which outlines how Oregon will use federal funds to provide reliable, affordable, high-speed internet, computing devices, and digital skills training to people who need it most. OBO developed the draft Digital Equity Plan after a robust public engagement and planning process to capture the diverse voices and lived experiences of all people and to identify the needs and barriers to digital equity. The draft State of Oregon Digital Equity Plan contains seven key sections. Comments must be received by December 16, 2023, 5:00 pm PST to be considered.
In “Digital and Equity and Justice in Maryland: Challenges and Opportunities” recently published by Economic Action Maryland, I present findings from a qualitative study that sought to answer the following research question: What is the landscape of issues related to universal broadband access, digital equity, and related community standards in Baltimore City and across the state of Maryland? My hope was that the findings would be useful for residents, policymakers, and other stakeholders interested in advancing broadband access and digital equity across Maryland. The findings in the report are drawn from the analysis of qualitative data gathered during five focus group sessions with a total of 61 participants in Baltimore City and across the state. In addition, interviews were conducted with 24 experts in Maryland and across the nation to gain their insights for the research. Based on this analysis of the conversations with the 85 total participants in this project between January and June 2023, the following key findings emerged as significant digital equity challenges and opportunities for Maryland.
[Colin Rhinesmith (he/him) is the Founder and Director of the Digital Equity Research Center at the Metropolitan New York Library Council. He is also a Research Fellow with the Quello Center for Media and Information Policy at Michigan State University and Co-Editor-In-Chief of The Journal of Community Informatics.]
More than one-fifth of Arkansans don't have access to broadband, making the Natural State the third worst in the nation for internet access, according to BroadbandNow. Even in Saline County, home to many residents who commute to jobs in the Little Rock metropolitan area, officials and homeowners say some remain stuck with internet speeds that recall the dial-up era. County officials, though, recently formed a broadband committee to determine what steps are needed to get faster internet to residents in even the farthest-flung parts of the area. It's not alone: a state agency has urged all of Arkansas' 75 counties to do so. The Saline County Broadband Committee held its first meeting July 18. The committee is led by Trevor Villines, who also serves as the county's spokesman. They held their fourth meeting on Oct 31 and are "inching toward launching" a survey for residents, he said. They hope to have the survey ready for residents' input within the next month and a half.
Ting Internet, a division of Tucows, has been selected to provide fiber internet service to Memphis residents, businesses, and institutions in partnership with Blue Suede Networks. Ting and Blue Suede Networks created a partnership with financially sustainable goals for both parties. The expansion into Memphis enables Ting to bring its expertise to a largely under-served fiber market. Ting expects service to be available to the first wave of Memphians by Q3 2024. Memphians will be able to subscribe to Ting’s 2-gigabit symmetrical internet plan for $89 per month, and qualifying low-income residents will be offered the same service at no cost once ACP is applied. Ting is proud to provide the fastest ACP offering in the country, rooted in Ting’s belief that all Americans should have access to the best internet possible. Working with Blue Suede Networks and the City of Memphis, Ting plans to establish a digital equity program that encourages broadband adoption, connects residents to affordable devices, and offers digital skills training. Blue Suede Networks is a Memphis-based Fiber-To-The-Premises network developer that aspires to serve every Memphis resident, business, and institution with a high-speed fiber broadband network. The company’s fiber network will pass at least 85% of Memphis premises including 85% of the City’s low-income premises. Blue Suede Networks is partnering with The City of Memphis, Ting, United Way of the Mid-South, The Works, Tech 901 and ER2 to maximize eligible low-income households in federal broadband benefits; create access to tablets and laptops; deliver computer and digital literacy training; and offer specialized technical support.
At a New America Open Technology Institute event, Jonathan Campbell, legal advisor for Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, talked about spectrum sharing. In terms of the lower 3 GHz, he said, “We are ready to fulfill our obligation of moving forward with an auction for any of the spectrum that is identified through the Department of Commerce report and continuing to collaborate with our federal partners.” Of course, the FCC doesn’t even have auction authority right now. And the Department of Defense’s report could have something to do with that. Campbell went on to talk about spectrum sharing more generally. “There’s a limited amount of greenfield spectrum out there and ever increasing demands for spectrum,” he said. “So, it’s important to look at any way spectrum can be shared effectively.”
Lumen Technologies reported results for the third quarter ended September 30, 2023. The company reported a loss of $78 million on $578 million of net income. The company is laying off four percent of its employees. Lumen also struck a deal with a group of creditors holding more than $7 billion of company debt that will extend debt securities and commit $1.2 billion of financing through new long-term debt. Lumen also dialed back the pace of the ongoing fiber buildout at its Mass Markets unit. The new plan is to build fiber to another 500,000 locations in 2024, matching what it expects to complete in 2023. That's down from an earlier plan to bump the buildout pace to 800,000 locations annually. That whole project ties into an original plan to build fiber to an additional 5 million to 7 million locations in the coming years and expand Lumen's overall fiber footprint. Lumen added 141,000 fiber "enablements" in Q3 2023, extending its total to 3.5 million locations. The company added 19,000 fiber subscribers in Q3, below the +27,000 expected by MoffettNathanson. Paired with a loss of -92,000 non-fiber subscriptions, Lumen shed 73,000 broadband customers in the quarter.
Frontier Communications Parent reported third-quarter 2023 results. The company passed 332,000 new fiber locations and added 79,000 fiber broadband customers, resulting in fiber broadband customer growth of 19% year-over-year.
Nov 2-3––Michigan Broadband Summit (Merit Network)
Nov 5-7––Telecom Executive Policy Summit (NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association)
Nov 14––The Connect20 Summit (Network:On)
Nov 14––Regulating digital industries (Brookings)
Nov 15––U.S. Broadband Summit (Fierce)
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