Monday, November 23, 2020
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The National Lifeline Association and Assist Wireless have asked a federal court to stay the Dec. 1 trigger for the Federal Communications Commission's increase of the mobile broadband minimum service standard in the Lifeline subsidy program from 3 GB to 4.5 GB. The groups first petitioned the FCC for a stay, but that was denied. The petitioners told the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit that absent the emergency stay, they would suffer irreparable harm. The petitioners argue that the stay is warranted because the FCC's decision was arbitrary and capricious, which is a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. They want the FCC to keep the current 3 GB standard, saying that any increase above that "would mandate unaffordable service offerings requiring co-pays and result in less Lifeline access by low-income consumers."
While selecting me as 2020’s recipient of the Savas Award could fairly be called into question, your timing of this celebration could not be more perfect. This award was established to highlight innovative efforts to, quote, “provide public services through partnerships with private organizations.” You could make a strong case that this has been the best two weeks for public-private partnerships ever. For starters, SpaceX just delivered four astronauts to the International Space Station. If a historic space flight weren’t enough, Pfizer and BioNTech just announced that their vaccine candidate has proven to be 95% effective in preventing COVID-19.
Even though our policy agenda [at the Federal Communications Commission] has been broader and deeper and more aggressive than any FCC in recent history, it’s been animated by two objectives above all others: closing the digital divide and promoting U.S. leadership in 5G, the next generation of wireless technology.
So here’s the bottom line. One of my guiding principles as FCC Chairman has been to have faith in free markets and free minds. Time and again, that faith has been rewarded. The Internet economy in the United States is stronger than ever. We’re pushing ahead in 5G. I want to thank the Reason Foundation once again for honoring me, but honestly, the people we should all thank are America’s innovators and entrepreneurs, those who challenge the status quo and create and build.
The real challenge facing President-elect Joe Biden is whether the person he picks as chairman can move the FCC beyond the “regulatory capture” that has long determined its policies. A number of key issues will define Biden’s ability to redress the overtly corporatist agenda promoted by Trump’s commission. One question will be whether broadband is a Title I or Title II form of communications. As defined by the Communications Act of 1934, Title I communications involve enhanced “information services” and are subject to fewer regulations. Title II services are designed for basic or “common carrier” service and are subject to greater regulation. Another key issue for the incoming administration will be net neutrality, the requirement that Internet access providers treat all traffic on equal terms, as a common carrier service. That means, among other things, that they can’t allow faster speeds for one provider over another.
Nov 18th, 2020 marked 3900 days since the Federal Communications Commission launched its heavily-hyped "National Broadband Plan." 400 days ago, I penned an op-ed for the Benton Institute which assessed how the FCC had been unable to achieve any of the benchmarks or meet any of the six stated goals of the plan. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that another year didn’t fix very much of the shortcomings I identified then.
Nominally, the U.S. National Broadband Plan was designed to run for 10 years. The mandates expired, unfulfilled, back in mid-March, just as the Covid-19 Pandemic was beginning. Now, eight months later, concerns over the digital divide have only grown louder, while the FCC commissioners crow about statistics on broadband deployment and hand out additional subsidies for telehealth. As 2020 has unfolded, the agency continues to tout anecdotal successes in broadband “growth” using measurements of the subsidies being handed out to connect homes left behind by the FCC’s economic centric theories of regulatory implementation.
While we can debate metrics when assessing successes and failures of the FCC’s policymaking, the events of the last eight months have put a spotlight on how important the FCC’s failure to achieve its goals has been. As millions of Americans were forced to go virtual for work and school the clear requirement for affordable universal broadband access has never been clearer.
[Christopher Terry spent 15 years as a producer in broadcast radio and six years as a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before becoming an assistant professor of Media Law at the University of Minnesota’s Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication.]
With nearly 1,000 rural Latino communities spread across the country, rural internet access has long been a priority for Latinos. But the past eight months have created a new sense of urgency. Recently, 19 national organizations representing communities of color, many of them Latino, recently petitioned the Federal Communications Commission. While the details are complicated, the outcome is not: expanding high-speed internet would be faster and more affordable, benefitting Latino families in rural communities across America.
Connectivity is absolutely a priority and we stand ready to work with a Biden administration to make progress. At the same time, we will continue to press the FCC to support rural broadband deployment as well as look to a new Congress to take up rural broadband early in the next year. Ultimately, to strengthen our local and national economy, policymakers must step up to ensure rural communities, including the Latino community, have the tools they need to regain lost ground and continue to succeed.
[Sindy Benavides is CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).]
AT&T CFO John Stephens said that adding more fiber was about more than just passing additional homes. "I think about the fiber being part of my core transport network, and serving business customers and connecting to large business customers and small business customers, and then I think of it as an opportunity to connect the homes," he said. "So I have a three-for-one in this integrated carrier environment that really gives me a different opportunity than others. When I say three-for-one, that's three revenue opportunities, as well as a really efficient cost structure. That's how we think about our fiber. That's why we continue to invest in fiber and I expect we'll do more." CEO John Stankey said that every trench foot of fiber that the company digs needed to support various access technologies, such as cell towers, millimeter wave sites, or a strip mall that needs wireless access for businesses to run credit card approvals on. Stephens said the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted connectivity demand from cities into suburban and rural areas. With more remote workers and online learning due to Covid-19, fiber is also shouldering the shift for more capacity demand from homes instead of office environments.
For years, Verizon appeared to bend over backwards to avoid the prepaid wireless segment, where service plans traditionally targeted the cheaper end of the market and customer turnover runs higher. But with the nearly $7 billion agreement to buy prepaid leader Tracfone from América Móvil, Verizon is jumping in with both feet. It’s a big change in strategy that certainly drew the attention of Wall Street analysts. Executives like to point out that of Tracfone’s 21 million customers, about 13 million of them already use the Verizon network today under the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) agreement. “But there's 8 or 9 million that ride on competitor networks and we have the opportunity to migrate those across to be on to Verizon,” said Ronan Dunne, CEO of the Consumer Group at Verizon. “So enhance the owner's economics and with the tools as I say, the CRM and base management and distribution tools, which we believe will allow us to be highly cost-effective in that segment.”
In the summer of 2020, the Hamilton County (TN) public school system – which encompasses the city of Chattanooga – announced it would be providing high-speed internet access to families with students on free or reduced lunch plans through a program called EdConnect. The service is funded through the next ten years, the school board says, meaning the free high-speed internet should well outlast the pandemic. Jill Levine, Chief of Innovation and Choice at Hamilton County Schools, says there had been conversations about providing high-speed internet access to students prior to the pandemic, but the need had never been so urgent. The fact that many students did not have high-speed internet — or any internet access at all — became clear to the district when online learning began. Despite the praise the school board has received from parents, there have been challenges connecting people with the service, Levine says. Some families don’t have a fixed permanent residence where wifi can be installed. Others are outside EPB’s service area. And some students are being dropped off with a grand-parent or other family member during the day while a parent goes to work. To help get them connected, the school board also raised money for 4G wireless hotspots that can reach them where they are. And other families have been slow to opt-in to the service or are non-responsive. To help with outreach, the Hamilton County school board and EPB recruited community partners, including The Enterprise Center. Geoff Milliner, with The Enterprise Center, says that the organization put together a panel of community leaders, elected officials and religious leaders to help spread word about EdConnect.
The World Economic Forum announced that 36 global cities will pioneer a smart technology policy roadmap as part of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance. The announcement of this roadmap came amid the global broadcast of the Smart City Expo World Congress. The alliance intends to analyze and identify model policies regarding equity, inclusivity and social impact; openness and interoperability; security and resiliency; privacy and transparency; and operational and financial sustainability. The "pioneer cities" are expected to trial policies detailed in the roadmap and work with alliance partners to address gaps and improvements. Only two US cities — San Jose (CA) and Chattanooga (TN) — were selected to pilot adoption of the roadmap. The mid-sized city of Chattanooga offers "much in the areas of collaboration, entrepreneurship, and innovation," its Smart City Director Kevin Comstock said, but also has "much we can learn from the global perspective."
All of us — and the media, in particular — need some clear-eyed, humble self-reflection as the dust settles on the 2020 election results. The media remains fairly clueless about the America that exists outside of the big cities, where most political writers and editors live. The media (and many Democrats) are fairly clueless about the needs, wants and trends of Hispanic voters. The polls too often sucked. The media filter bubble is getting worse, not better. Twitter is a mass-reality-distortion field for liberals and reporters. Facebook is a mass-reality-distortion field for conservatives. YouTube is a mass-reality-distortion field for people of all stripes.
The bottom line: We are losing the war for truth. There is no bigger crisis for media, politics and society than the growing number of people who do not believe facts and verifiable figures. If we do not collectively solve this, we are all screwed.
The chief executive over the Voice of America and its sister networks has acted unconstitutionally in investigating what he claimed was a deep-seated bias against President Trump by his own journalists, Chief US District Judge for the District of Columbia Beryl Howell has ruled. Citing the journalists' First Amendment protections, Judge Howell ordered US Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack to stop interfering in the news service's news coverage and editorial personnel matters. She struck a deep blow at Pack's authority to continue to force the news agency to cover the president more sympathetically. Actions by Pack and his aides have likely "violated and continue to violate [journalists'] First Amendment rights because, among other unconstitutional effects, they result in self-censorship and the chilling of First Amendment expression," Judge Howell wrote in her opinion. "These current and unanticipated harms are sufficient to demonstrate irreparable harm."
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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