Daily Digest 1/18/2023 (Challenges)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Inclusion

Bridging the Digital Divide  |  Read below  |  Alan Breznick  |  Research  |  Heavy Reading
The End of ACP  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

Broadband Funding

Grover Norquist Responds to Senator Thune’s Letter With Recommendations for Federal Broadband Policy  |  Americans for Tax Reform
Earmarks are back: how Democrats and Republicans differ  |  Brookings

Broadband Speeds

Q4 2022 Market Reports  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Ookla
Is US Broadband Service Slow?  |  Read below  |  Jessica Dine, Joe Kane  |  Analysis  |  Information Technology & Information Foundation


State/Local Initiatives

2022 Annual Report of Minnesota Governor's Task Force on Broadband  |  Read below  |  Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
FCC Approves Further Revised Alaska Plan Performance Plan for Arctic Slope Telephone Cooperative  |  Federal Communications Commission
Colorado broadband director talks local deployment challenges, funding opportunities  |  Read below  |  Masha Abarinova  |  Fierce
Texas mayors list legislative priorities; Fort Worth’s Parker wants broadband  |  Fort Worth Business Press
Bluebird completes 126-mile fiber route in Illinois connecting Aurora, Dixon, DeKalb, Sterling and Rock Falls  |  Bluebird Network

Data & Mapping

Broadband Offices’ Perspectives on FCC Broadband Map Deadline  |  Read below  |  Katya Maruri  |  Analysis  |  Government Technology
As Stakeholders Rush to File Broadband Availability Challenges, Is It Already Too Late for Location Challenges?  |  Read below  |  Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor
After Friday the 13th, a Failed Broadband Mapping Challenge Process  |  Read below  |  Christopher Mitchell  |  Op-Ed  |  Broadband Breakfast


Dish to raise another $500 Million to pay for 5G network  |  Fierce
UScellular sees no rush to deploy 5G voice  |  Fierce

Elections & Media

Google Didn’t Show Bias in Filtering Campaign-Ad Pitches, FEC Says  |  Read below  |  John McKinnon  |  Wall Street Journal


Tracking tech layoffs: Why companies like Amazon and Meta cut jobs in 2022  |  USA Today
Apple Reaches Deal With Investors to Audit Its Labor Practices  |  New York Times

Platforms/Social Media

Now Twitter is selling one year of blue check privileges at a discounted rate of $84  |  Vox
Dozens of media companies set 2023 content deals with Twitter  |  Axios
The clock is ticking on a TikTok ban: Millions spent on lobbyists, a billion spent on safeguards. Will it be enough to stay in t  |  Vox


Podcast: What to expect for big tech, broadband, anti-trust, and other tech issues under the new Congress  |  Brookings
Tech's next big fights  |  Axios
Today's Top Stories

Digital Inclusion

Bridging the Digital Divide

Alan Breznick  |  Research  |  Heavy Reading

Even as new public funding spouts for broadband deployment are turning on, other major challenges must be overcome before the Digital Divide can be closed—or at least significantly narrowed. Besides getting critical funding support, service providers must assemble the labor, materials, equipment, and contractors to build the new broadband networks. They must secure federal, state, regional, and/or local regulatory approvals to install the new networks and serve customers. And in many cases, they must work out agreements with utilities to share poles or other facilities. Most importantly, service providers must craft solid financial plans that support their goals of connecting unserved and underserved areas and making money. They must develop cost-effective strategies to recruit and retain subscribers on low or fixed budgets who have been tough for operators to attract. In other words, they must find realistic ways to close the Digital Divide without losing their shirts in the process. How much can telcos, cable operators, fiber providers, wireless operators, utilities, municipalities, and other broadband players leverage the wide array of public funding programs to close the Digital Divide? What kinds of networks are operators and vendors looking to build, adapt, and/or expand? What are the biggest challenges they face in wiring rural and other unserved regions, and how can they meet these challenges?

The End of ACP

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

There are almost 15.6 million households using the broadband subsidy from the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The program started with a little over 9 million households at the start of 2022 and added over 500,000 new enrollees per month. Several folks who track funding say that ACP is going to run out of money sometime in the summer of 2024. The obvious solution to keep ACP operating is for Congress to refill the ACP funding bucket. The ACP was not created through a normal budget appropriations bill but was funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), a one-time funding event, and that means specific legislation will be needed to keep the program running. Anybody who understands the implications of having a Congress divided between the two parties knows that this will be a major challenge in 2023 or 2024, which means that it’s time to think about what happens when the ACP fund runs dry. What I find most distressing is the idea of bringing affordable broadband to homes, knowing that the discounts will likely disappear 18 months from now.


Q4 2022 Market Reports

Press Release  |  Ookla

In the United States during the fourth quarter of 2022, T-Mobile was the fastest mobile operator with a median download speed of 151.37 Mbps. XFINITY overtook Spectrum as the fastest fixed broadband provider at 226.18 Mbps. In Mexico, Telcel had the fastest median download speed over mobile at 43.04 Mbps. Totalplay was fastest for fixed broadband (80.36 Mbps). In Canada. Rogers was fastest for fixed broadband (249.08 Mbps). Telekom was the fastest mobile operator in Germany with a median download speed of 90.33 Mbps. Vodafone was fastest for fixed broadband at 116.19 Mbps. In China, China Mobile was the fastest mobile operator with a median download speed of 147.45 Mbps. China Unicom was fastest for fixed broadband at 214.17 Mbps.

Is US Broadband Service Slow?

Jessica Dine, Joe Kane  |  Analysis  |  Information Technology & Information Foundation

Opponents of the current private-sector-provided broadband system have long engaged in a campaign to convince people that US broadband is deficient. Critics malign the quality of US broadband networks by claiming the speeds are too slow. But the question of speed is deceptively complex since there is general confusion over what constitutes “fast” broadband. On the contrary, high-speed services are widely available in the US—and high-speed network deployment outpaces adoption rates, suggesting consumers are happy with lower speeds than those available. Additionally, broadband services in the US generally meet or exceed the speeds they advertise. US services rank among the top few countries globally in speed tests. The speeds are many times higher than the Federal Communication Commission's definition of “broadband” and higher than the amount of bandwidth average households likely use. As is generally the case, expending resources to strengthen areas that are already strong detracts from efforts to close the digital divide. From every angle, US broadband speeds are strong and in no way support the narrative advanced by those seeking to establish a government-owned broadband system.


2022 Annual Report of Minnesota Governor's Task Force on Broadband

Improvements in our state broadband mapping data and related resources has revealed that we have more households and businesses without access to broadband than understood in 2021 (>198,000 with no service or insufficient service @ 25/3 and >291,000 @ 100/20). As the new Federal Communications Commission "fabric map" updates coverage through a challenge process, it is expected this number will reveal further deficits in coverage. With over 80% of the unserved and underserved areas being in outside the seven counties of the Twin Cities region, reaching all Minnesotans in some of the hardest areas to serve will be more costly. We must budget accordingly, knowing that the cost per household will require greater investment. Clearly the billions of dollars of federal money being allocated to close broadband coverage gaps will dramatically improve Minnesota's ability to serve every Minnesotan, however our estimates indicate that the legislature will still need to dedicate resources from reserves to fully meet the need. The recommendations in this report will outline what is needed from legislative leadership & agencies.

Colorado broadband director talks local deployment challenges, funding opportunities

Masha Abarinova  |  Fierce

Brandy Reitter, executive director of the Colorado Broadband Office (CBO), discussed what the state’s broadband coverage looks like, local challenges with deployment, and progress on the funding front. In terms of coverage gaps, Reitter estimates there are about 166,000 households and 360,000 locations across Colorado without access to high-speed broadband, with over half of those households (around 93,000) having cited a lack of physical infrastructure as the main obstacle to broadband access. In terms of funding, Colorado is taking advantage of several different funding programs, as the Colorado Department of Local Affairs invests $5 million annually in rural broadband and other broadband projects across the state. To date, it has invested around $40 million in broadband deployment. In terms of regional success, Reitter highlighted some public-private broadband efforts that have done well over the past couple of years, where, in smaller markets, there are mainly consortiums that “don’t have the economies of scale to just go off and do a one-off broadband project.” 

Data & Mapping

Broadband Offices’ Perspectives on FCC Broadband Map Deadline

Katya Maruri  |  Analysis  |  Government Technology

State governments were asked to submit challenges to the accuracy of the Federal Communications Commission's new National Broadband Map ahead of a Jan. 13, 2023 deadline. So, how have states navigated this process, and what are they working on next until these funds are allocated? 

  • For Georgia, submitting challenges to the FCC’s map has been somewhat easier thanks to the state creating its own broadband availability map in 2020, according to Joshua Hildebrandt, director of broadband initiatives for the Georgia Technology Authority.
  • For Texas, Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently stated the release of the state’s broadband map showcasing which areas might be eligible to receive funding for broadband expansion projects. The map uses data from Internet service providers (ISPs) to show the types of high-speed Internet access used across the state. As for how releasing Texas’ map ties into the FCC’s Jan. 13 deadline, it doesn’t, at least not directly, according to Greg Conte, director of the state’s broadband development office.
  • For Nebraska, one of the biggest challenges leading up to the Jan. 13 deadline has been trying to prove if the information shared in the FCC’s map is correct within a short amount of time. For example, Cullen Robbins, director of the Nebraska Universal Services Fund/Telecommunications for the state’s public service commission, said, “we identified pretty quickly that there was an overstatement of availability in Nebraska, so we worked pretty hard to figure out right away what was going on there and it seemed to us that it really comes down to licensed fixed wireless providers that claim 25/3 Mbps coverage in a lot of areas of the state.”

As Stakeholders Rush to File Broadband Availability Challenges, Is It Already Too Late for Location Challenges?

Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor

January 13, 2023 was the date set by National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for challenges to be made to the National Broadband Map, which will be used to determine how much money goes to each state in the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) rural broadband funding program. But the deadline only applies to one of two types of challenges that can be made to the map. The two types of challenges are broadband availability challenges (whether a location can get broadband) and broadband serviceable location challenges (whether an address or geocoordinates for an address are correct, whether addresses are missing, etc.). Where does that leave location challenges? The current version of the broadband serviceable location database is the one that will be used in determining BEAD allocations by state, said Charles Meisch, NTIA public affairs director. He said the location database won’t be updated until the next time the FCC collects broadband availability data, though service providers are required to submit broadband data twice yearly based on service availability as of June 30 and December 31 of each year. The data currently being submitted is for December 31, 2022 and is due March 1, and the next time data will be collected will be for availability as of June 30, 2023.

After Friday the 13th, a Failed Broadband Mapping Challenge Process

Christopher Mitchell  |  Op-Ed  |  Broadband Breakfast

January 13, 2023 was a major milestone in the process of moving $42.5 billion from the federal government to states to distribute mostly to rural areas to build new, modern internet access networks. January 13th marked the deadline for error corrections (called challenges) to the official national broadband map that will be used to determine how much each state will get. As an organization that has worked in nearly all 50 states over the past 20 years on policies to improve internet access, we spent the last few weeks struggling to understand what was actually at stake and wondering if we were alone in being confused about the process. Despite the stakes, almost no expert we talked to actually understood which challenges – if any – would fix errors in the map data before it was used to allocate the largest single federal broadband investment in history. This article explores what is going wrong with the distribution of that $42.5 billion, the mapping process, and continued failure of the Federal Communications Commission to show competence in the broadband arena. And it offers ways to fix these important problems as every jurisdiction from Puerto Rico to Hawaii feels overwhelmed by the challenge.

[Christopher Mitchell is the director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative.]

Elections & Media

Google Didn’t Show Bias in Filtering Campaign-Ad Pitches, FEC Says

John McKinnon  |  Wall Street Journal

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has dismissed a complaint from Republicans that Google’s Gmail app aided Democratic candidates by sending GOP fundraising emails to spam at a far higher rate than Democratic solicitations. The Republican National Committee and others contended that the alleged benefit amounted to unreported campaign contributions to Democrats. The Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee complained to the FEC in 2022, citing an academic study by North Carolina State University that showed that nearly 70% of emails from Republican candidates were sent to spam compared with fewer than 1 in 10 from Democrat candidates from 2019 to 2020.  But in a letter to Google, the FEC said it “found no reason to believe” that Google made prohibited in-kind corporate contributions, and that any skewed results from its spam filter algorithms were inadvertent. “Google has credibly supported its claim that its spam filter is in place for commercial reasons and thus did not constitute a contribution” within the meaning of federal campaign laws, according to an FEC analysis.

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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) and Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.

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