Tuesday, January 17, 2023
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In order to meet the urgency of this moment to connect the unconnected, we continue to target June 30, 2023 as the date by which we will allocate each state and territory’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program funding for high-speed Internet service. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communications Commission have worked closely with states to assist them in the process of improving the National Broadband Map to achieve this goal. We’ve held one-on-one sessions with dozens of states and territories throughout this process, as well as hosted twice-weekly office hours with the FCC to answer questions from state broadband offices. We’ve also engaged with more than a dozen grassroots advocacy organizations representing consumers and underrepresented populations to inform them and their members on how to submit challenges. We have heard concerns from some states and other stakeholders, and we have received requests to delay the timeline to give states more time to participate in the FCC’s processes for challenging and improving the National Broadband Map. Unfortunately, a delay in the timeline would mean a delay in providing funding to communities who desperately need it, and it will not address many of the process concerns we have heard.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), in conjunction with the Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), authorized Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for 1,764 winning bids identified. Almost all the winning bids were made by Resound Networks. Resound Networks won bids for the following states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas. Hughes Networks won two bids for the state of Rhode Island.
Despite increased investment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of households in the rural United States still lack adequate access to high-speed internet. In this study, we evaluate a wireless broadband network deployed in Turney, a small, underserved rural community in northwest Missouri. In addition to collecting survey data before and after this internet intervention, we collected pre-treatment and post-treatment survey data from comparison communities to serve as a control group. Due to technical constraints, some of Turney's interested participants could not connect to the network, creating an additional comparison group. These comparisons suggest two primary findings, (1) changes in using the internet for employment, education, and health could not be directly attributed to the internet intervention, and (2) the internet intervention was associated with benefits stemming from the ability to use multiple devices at once. This study has implications for the design of future broadband evaluation studies, particularly those examining underserved rather than unserved communities. Recommendations for identifying appropriate outcome variables, executing recruitment strategies, and selecting the timing of surveys are made.
States have already submitted more than 300,000 location challenges since the Federal Communications Commission opened the door for them to request corrections to its new and improved broadband map. But as a deadline for availability challenges looms, some states said they’ve encountered issues with the submission process. The FCC said that while individual challenges are visible on its broadband map interface, it is not reporting aggregate figures about the challenges it has received. More than 344,000 challenges have been filed between nine states. But given there are dozens of other states unaccounted for, the real number could actually be far, far higher. The representative from Vermont, for instance, said the state’s broadband team suffered a setback in compiling its challenges after the FCC released the second version of its location fabric. “The data is suddenly different as of Dec. 20  than what they have been working with all along, causing them to have to re-work all the challenges at the last minute,” the representative said. “So, we’re having big problems with the bulk challenges we are trying to file before the deadline.”
Telecommunications infrastructure will be built, operated, maintained, and upgraded over time by a well-trained, highly skilled, workforce of broadband industry professionals—tower climbers and technicians, fiber optic technicians and fiber splicers, RF engineers, overhead and underground utility installers, small cell technicians, trencher and heavy equipment operators, and many others. In recognition of the importance of recruiting and retaining workers for the high-quality jobs created in the telecommunications industry, Congress directed Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, in partnership with Secretary of Labor, Martin J. Walsh, to establish the Telecommunications Interagency Working Group to develop recommendations to address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry, including the safety of that workforce. The Working Group recently released its report on how to address the workforce needs of telecommunications employees.
The Realizing Opportunity with Broadband Infrastructure Networks (ROBIN) Grant Program is a high-speed internet last mile and middle mile infrastructure competitive grant program with $238 million in project funds from the US Treasury as part of the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. ROBIN provides funds to internet service providers and public-private partnerships for the expansion of broadband infrastructure to unserved areas. Applications for the ROBIN program will be accepted through an online application system. The application window will close at 4:00PM EDT on Tuesday, March 14, 2023.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a case regarding New York's Affordable Broadband Act, a 2021 law that would have mandated that internet service providers (ISPs) offer a $15 service option for low-income consumers. That law, signed by former Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), was quickly put on ice when industry groups representing ISPs sued the state. But New York appealed that decision, with support from consumer groups and other states, bringing the parties back to court. New Street Research wrote that the main concern of ISPs isn't New York's mandate per se but with the idea "that states can mandate a specific offering to a specific population at a specific price." "The industry fear is that other states might impose requirements far more onerous than what New York requires, such as by further lowering the price, raising the speed requirements, or expanding the eligibility pool to make broadband 'affordable' for middle-class customers." The "real danger" to the industry is the "end of the ACP," the Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program, which currently provides broadband subsidies to roughly 15 million low-income households but may run out of funding by mid-2024.
The House of Representatives' recently announced broadband hearings want to look at two issues. The first is to make sure that the grants are only used for connecting to unserved locations and not used for ‘overbuilding’. This has been a major talking point for the big cable companies for years – they don’t want to see any grant money used to encroach on areas they think of as their service territories. The whole idea of not using grants for overbuilding is ludicrous – there are not many homes in the country where at least one ISP can’t provide service – so every new broadband network that is constructed is overbuilding somebody. The other stated purpose of the hearings is to make sure that the grants don’t have waste, fraud, or abuse. It’s going to be really interesting to see where this leads in hearings. The only big historical cases of grant waste and abuse I know of are the way the big telecom companies often took funding and made no upgrades. These hearings only make sense as a way to appease the large ISPs which contribute heavily to politicians. It’s hard to imagine that these hearings will change anything. Congress can change the BEAD grant rules any time this year, but that will take bipartisan cooperation – something that seems to have disappeared from Washington DC. But the hearings will only allow for the airing of the big ISP grievances, and I guess that is something.
Pew aims to mitigate the effects of increasingly frequent and destructive natural disasters by boosting investment in mitigation, ensuring that infrastructure is flood-ready, and promoting clean energy resilience. Pew also works with state and federal policymakers, researchers, and other partners to accelerate the nation’s progress toward universal and affordable high-speed internet service—which includes building, linking, and maintaining the infrastructure required to provide broadband connections. As unprecedented federal funding for broadband flows to states, high-speed internet access for all Americans has never been more achievable. Pew’s research and technical assistance can help states identify and adopt evidence-based strategies to effectively administer federal funds and accelerate progress toward universal, affordable broadband connectivity.
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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