Daily Digest 11/28/2023 (Terry Rosalind Taylor)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Equity

Benton Foundation
How to Ensure Community Perspectives are Represented in Digital Equity Program Evaluations  |  Read below  |  Colin Rhinesmith, Sangha Kang-Le, Malana Krongelb  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Digital Divide

We need better data to truly unlock technological neutrality in broadband deployment  |  Read below  |  Mike Conlow  |  Analysis  |  Substack

Broadband Funding

In-kind Contributions for BEAD Grants  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

State Initiatives

States Aligning to Federal Broadband Access Standards, but Barriers Remain  |  Read below  |  Kathryn de Wit  |  Analysis  |  Pew Charitable Trusts

Platforms/Social Media/AI

Guidelines for secure AI system development  |  Department of Homeland Security
How telecommunications is working to influence AI policy  |  Light Reading
AI can strengthen U.S. democracy—and weaken it  |  Brookings
Instagram’s Algorithm Delivers Toxic Video Mix  |  Wall Street Journal
Meta Loses Bid to Push FTC Into Court on Privacy Deal  |  Bloomberg


Secretive White House Surveillance Program Gives Cops Access to Trillions of US Phone Records  |  Wired

Company/Industry News

Frontier leads in customer loyalty among fiber providers  |  Read below  |  Masha Abarinova  |  Fierce
GoNetspeed CEO says accelerated build will bring 140,000 passings this year  |  Read below  |  Julia King  |  Fierce
Arkansas-based Ritter Communications Gets Aggressive on Fiber  |  Read below  |  Annie Lindstrom  |  telecompetitor
Rural Telecommunications Mergers & Acquisitions: One Iowa Provider Buys Another  |  Read below  |  Carl Weinschenk  |  telecompetitor
The Biggest Delivery Business in the U.S. Is No Longer UPS or FedEx  |  Wall Street Journal
Cable, Satellite Providers Risk ‘Fading Into the Background Faster’ Than Expected | Charts  |  Wrap, The


Opinion | How the Biden Administration Took the Pen Away From Meta, Google and Amazon  |  New York Times

Stories From Abroad

Internet use does not appear to harm mental health, study finds  |  Read below  |  Tim Bradshaw  |  Financial Times, Clinical Psychological Science
Israel tells Elon Musk Starlink can only operate in Gaza with its approval  |  Read below  |  Chloe Cornish  |  Financial Times
Online Nation 2023 Report  |  Read below  |  Research  |  Ofcom
American spy agencies have warned about the Emirati firm G42 and its work with large Chinese companies  |  New York Times
X Has Become a ‘Global Sewer,’ Mayor of Paris Says  |  New York Times
European Commission sends Amazon Statement of Objections over proposed acquisition of iRobot  |  European Commission
Slick videos or more 'authentic' content? The Israel-Gaza battles raging on TikTok and X  |  BBC
Today's Top Stories

Digital Equity

How to Ensure Community Perspectives are Represented in Digital Equity Program Evaluations

Colin Rhinesmith, Sangha Kang-Le, Malana Krongelb  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

How can participatory action research be used to develop a theory of change and an evaluation framework to benefit the digital equity field? In Developing a Digital Equity Theory of Change with Tech Goes Home, our research team discovered several findings that we believe can be useful for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and state agencies as they work to create, award, and evaluate funding opportunities for digital equity organizations. In response to insights from our research participants, we offer policymakers the following recommendations to help them understand the outcomes and impacts of federally funded broadband and digital equity programs. We offer additional recommendations to digital equity organizations who will need to gather insights from the community beneficiaries of digital equity grant programs.

[Colin Rhinesmith (he/him) is the Founder and Director of the Digital Equity Research Center at the Metropolitan New York Library Council. Sangha Kang-Le (she/her/hers) is the Advocacy Research Specialist at Tech Goes Home, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit working to advance digital equity. Malana Krongelb (she/her) is a research associate with the Digital Equity Research Center at the Metropolitan New York Library Council.]

Digital Divide

We need better data to truly unlock technological neutrality in broadband deployment

Mike Conlow  |  Analysis  |  Substack

Every year by law the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has to “determine whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.” If not, the FCC “shall take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.” While broadband data is in better shape, there are still critical gaps that mean we don’t have enough data to fully answer the question. The FCC’s broadband deployment maps ask ISPs to submit their maximum advertised speed, when what we really want to know is the expected speed. When advertised and expected speeds differ, it could have a big impact on whether we consider a location to have adequate broadband. Even small differences between advertised and expected speeds could move a location between served, underserved, and unserved. Some states, conscious of this issue, are proposing in their Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program plans to treat fixed wireless (or portions of fixed wireless) as unserved for the purposes of BEAD. In order to achieve technology neutrality, the idea that state and federal subsidy programs need to set guidelines for the speed that they require of new broadband projects, but they should be agnostic to the technology ISPs use to reach those benchmarks we need to actually know the performance of each technology choice. This is what the FCC can do: give us better data on the real-world performance of DSL and fixed wireless so we can be confidently technology neutral moving forward.

Broadband Funding

In-kind Contributions for BEAD Grants

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

The process of winning Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program grants is expensive, and grant applicants should do everything possible to lower out-of-pocket costs for winning a grant. One of the most interesting ways to lower the cost of accepting a grant is through the use of in-kind matches. In-kind contributions recognize non-cash benefits of property, goods, or services that will benefit a BEAD project. In-kind matches can be used as part of the process of calculating the matching funds being provided by a BEAD grant applicant, and many other grant programs also allow for in-kind matches. To use a simple example, if a grant applicant must provide a 25 percent grant match, then any approved in-kind matches can be used to satisfy a portion of that match requirement. If a grant applicant can justify 5 percent of the cost of the project as in-kind contributions, then the cash matching in this example would be reduced to 20 percent. Calculating in-kind contributions is worth pursuing because almost every BEAD grant project will benefit from some existing assets or services that can be classified as in-kind contributions. Every dollar recognized as an in-kind contribution reduces the cash contribution needed for the grant matching.

States Aligning to Federal Broadband Access Standards, but Barriers Remain

Kathryn de Wit  |  Analysis  |  Pew Charitable Trusts

A Q&A with Cornell University’s Natassia Bravo and Mildred Warner, Ph.D. Americans’ increasing need for high-speed, reliable internet access has sharpened the digital divide between those who have broadband service and those who do not, and it has driven billions of dollars in federal and state investments. Although state broadband programs have successfully narrowed the divide, questions remain about the effects of state-funded programs, particularly about equity in new connections and funding targets. Bravo and Prof Warner, working in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts, examined broadband grants across 17 states from 2014 to 2020 to help policymakers understand the impact of state funding and offer lessons for upcoming federally funded programs. Warner said, "Overall, our analysis suggests that our country needs a broader approach to broadband access and digital equity, which we hope BEAD can work toward addressing."

Company News

Frontier leads in customer loyalty among fiber providers

Masha Abarinova  |  Fierce

Frontier Communications boasts a higher Net Promoter Score (NPS) for its fiber product compared to competitors like AT&T, Verizon and Lumen, according to New Street Research’s broadband trends report. An NPS measures the loyalty of a company’s customer base from a scale of -100 to 100. It comes from asking customers how likely they are to recommend the product or service to others. New Street used data from Recon Analytics to compare NPS among operators. “The improvement in Frontier’s NPS over the last twelve months has been astonishing,” analysts wrote. Frontier in the third quarter racked up 75,000 fiber customers, ending the period with 1.8 million fiber subscribers – representing a 19% year on year increase. Its fiber penetration rate reached 44% in Q3, just shy of its long-term target of 45%. New Street analysts said Frontier’s NPS “provides strong support for Frontier’s target of mid-40s penetration, particularly when you compare the trends with those of Cable competitors.”

GoNetspeed CEO says accelerated build will bring 140,000 passings this year

Julia King  |  Fierce

GoNetspeed is on a fiber deployment spree. The fiber provider accelerated builds in the second half of 2023, with the expectation that by the end of the year it will pass more than 140,000 locations across Maine, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Alabama. In November 2023 alone, GoNetspeed announced new service availability in Portland and Rockland in Maine; Attalla, Alabama; Amherst, Massachusetts and Plymouth, Connecticut. The company also began construction in Thomaston, Connecticut and announced expansions in Connecticut’s Fairfield, Glastonbury, Rockville, Vernon and Watertown. In most markets, GoNetspeed’s competition is typically a cable operator or local incumbent telephone companies. Some competitors have upgraded to fiber, although, CEO Richard Clark noted, “the majority” hasn't. The fiber provider offers 1-gigabit to its residential subscribers today and will be offering 2-gigabit in the first quarter of 2024, according to Clark. Price tiers vary in each GoNetspeed market “to respond to the competitive landscape in which [it’s] operating,” he said.

Arkansas-based Ritter Communications Gets Aggressive on Fiber

Annie Lindstrom  |  telecompetitor

Jonesboro, Arkansas-based Ritter Communications continues to build on its legacy of serving underserved communities by aggressively deploying fiber in its four-state footprint across Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. This rapid deployment has been funded by a variety of sources, including support from private equity partner Grain Management and the Ritter family, bank loans, and American Rescue Plan Act-funded state grants for broadband deployment. CEO Alan Morse said that Ritter Communications has been awarded $70 million in grants to connect un- and under-served communities in Arkansas and Tennessee. In 2021, the company launched a new fiber-to-the-home business unit called RightFiber, which has delivered state-of-the-art broadband to roughly 30 markets across the company’s footprint, with new neighborhoods launching monthly. By the end of 2024, RightFiber will connect to approximately 100,000 homes—from the fast-growing Northwest Arkansas communities of Rogers and Centerton to historically overlooked small towns like Oil Trough and Humphrey—all on a new fiber network, with speeds up to 5 Gigabits per second.

Rural Telecommunications Mergers & Acquisitions: One Iowa Provider Buys Another

Carl Weinschenk  |  telecompetitor

In a deal between two broadband and telecommunications operators in rural southeast Iowa, Kalona Cooperative Technology Company (KCTC) acquired Farmers & Merchants Mutual Telephone Company (Famtel).The transaction was about two years in the making. The companies had shared ideas over the years and, in October 2022, the KCTC board of directors signed a letter of intent to acquire Farmtel. Changes and adjustments followed, with final approval given by the KCTC board in April 2023 and Farmtel’s board in May 2023. KCTC said that the acquisition will offer existing customers faster speeds, better prices, enhanced service quality through the combination of staffs, and expanded package options. KCTC said that existing packages will not be changed “without customer contact,” but that some subscribers will have the opportunity to migrate to new plans in the future. Farmtel staff will become employees of KCTC.

Stories From Abroad

Internet use does not appear to harm mental health, study finds

A study of more than 2 million people’s internet use found no “smoking gun” for widespread harm to mental health from online activities such as browsing social media and gaming, despite widely claimed concerns that mobile apps can cause depression and anxiety. Researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute, who said their study was the largest of its kind, said they found no evidence to support “popular ideas that certain groups are more at risk” from the technology. However, Andrew Przybylski, professor at the institute—part of the University of Oxford—said that the data necessary to establish a causal connection was “absent” without more co-operation from tech companies. If apps do harm mental health, only the companies that build them have the user data that could prove it, he said.

Israel tells Elon Musk Starlink can only operate in Gaza with its approval

Chloe Cornish  |  Financial Times

Israel told Elon Musk his Starlink satellite network will only be allowed to operate in Gaza with Israel's approval, as the entrepreneur met the country’s leaders amid a furore over alleged antisemitism on his social platform X. Musk declared in late October 2023 that his satellite internet service Starlink would “support connectivity to internationally recognised aid organisations in Gaza”, which has suffered lengthy blackouts under Israel’s bombardment. But on November 27, Israeli communications minister Shlomo Karhi posted on X that Musk had “reach[ed] a principle understanding” with the ministry. “Starlink satellite units can only be operated in Israel with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Communications, including the Gaza Strip,” Minister Karhi said. Musk’s initial commitment to enable Starlink in Gaza sparked a spat with the Israeli government, which argued the connectivity would be used by Hamas for “terrorist activities”. 

Online Nation 2023 Report

Research  |  Ofcom

This research examines how people in the UK are spending their time online. It found that teenagers and children are leading the way in getting to grips with emerging technology like generative artificial intelligence, as well as highlighting a range of other trends. UK adult internet users spent on average 3 hours 41 minutes online per day in May 2023. Seven per cent of UK individuals aged 16+ don’t have access to the internet at home, with a quarter of these citing affordability as a reason. Alphabet- and Meta-owned sites and apps remain the most visited. UK adults used an average of 36 apps on smartphone in May 2023. 

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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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