Wednesday, November 8, 2023
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On November 11 each year, we are asked to recognize that our military and veteran families answer our Nation’s call to duty—and we recommit to doing right by their service and sacrifice. This year that recommitment must include ensuring that our veterans don't fall onto the wrong side of the digital divide. This year, our recommitment to veterans must include a recommitment to the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Over 800,000 households with veterans participate in the ACP. For these veterans, ACP is a lifeline—a literal lifeline. But the ACP is running out of funding, meaning over 800,000 veterans could soon lose internet service or face higher monthly bills. President Joe Biden has proposed to fully fund ACP through 2024, but Congress has not yet acted. We can't let this happen. For 50 years, the U.S. has relied on our all-volunteer military. For those who raised their hands and said, "I'll go," we owe more than parades and Thank Yous; we need to keep our promises. This Veterans Day, we must recommit to veterans and to the ACP that keeps them connected.
[Adrianne B. Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.]
There are so many exciting things happening in the digital equity space. However, as the title of my talk foreshadows—the road to digital equity is not always straight and it’s often bumpy. Over the past 3 and a half years especially, we have made great gains, only to suffer setbacks. And while I’m optimistic about the future, we are now in a critical moment in the effort to get everyone connected to affordable and robust broadband. I’m referring to the potential and fairly imminent demise of the Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, the $30 a month broadband subsidy for low-income households; $75 for tribal lands and high-cost areas. The ACP subsidy needs a forever home, and I and many others believe that the best home is in the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, or USF, which provides support for connectivity to and inside K-12 schools and libraries; to rural health care facilities; and to providers in places where the cost of providing broadband service is very high. The Fund also supports a $9.25 per month “Lifeline” subsidy for low-income households. Started in the Reagan administration to support landline telephone service, it is now mostly used for mobile phone service. I believe that the FCC must do three things, without delay, to save the ACP.
- First, in the proceeding it just launched to restore FCC authority over broadband Internet access under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, it must not forbear from the section of the Act that would apply USF fees to broadband providers.
- Second, the FCC must immediately start a proceeding to expand the number of entities that are required to contribute to the USF.
- Finally, as part of the same proceeding to expand the USF contribution base, the FCC should make the ACP subsidy part of the USF program.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is proposing to supervise larger nonbank companies that offer services like digital wallets and payment apps. Digital payment apps and wallets continue to grow in popularity, but many of the companies are not subject to CFPB supervisory examinations. Big Tech and other companies operating in consumer finance markets blur the traditional lines that have separated banking and payments from commercial activities. The CFPB has found that this blurring can put consumers at risk, especially when the same traditional banking safeguards, like deposit insurance, may not apply. The proposed rule would subject larger nonbank digital consumer payment companies to the CFPB’s authority to conduct examinations, helping to ensure consistent application of federal consumer financial laws across the marketplace. If finalized, the rule would be one part of the CFPB’s efforts to carefully monitor the entry of large technology firms, including Big Tech giants, into consumer financial markets.
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) is now accepting applications for the 2024 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Awards. Named for Charles Benton, the founder of Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, NDIA created the awards to recognize leadership and dedication in advancing digital equity: from promoting the ideal of accessible and affordable communications technology for all Americans to crafting programs and policies that make it a reality. NDIA presents two awards: the Digital Equity Champion Award recognizes an outstanding individual who has made a difference in the field of digital equity, while the Digital Equity Emerging Leader Champion Award acknowledges an up-and-coming leader. The awards are presented during the annual NDIA Net Inclusion conference on February 13-15, 2024 in Philadelphia (PA). Nominations can be submitted using this form or via email by December 7, 2023 at 6pm Eastern Standard Time (EST).
The Federal Trade Commission recently proposed rules that would stop businesses from charging hidden fees. The agency estimates that junk fees cost consumers tens of billions of dollars per year. The new rules would prohibit companies from jacking up bills with hidden and bogus fees and instead require that businesses clearly disclose their fees to customers. The new rules would also allow the FTC to order full refunds to consumers for any business that continues to bill the prohibited fees. Other federal agencies are joining the fight against these fees, including the Federal Communications Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Transportation. This is something that has been badly needed for a long time. It’s too bad that the FTC is the agency doing this. The FTC typically only brings proceedings against specific companies, so compliance with this rule is going to be hit or miss. Smaller companies might continue to use the practice in the hope that they are small enough to stay under the FTC’s radar. But perhaps the FTC will levy large fines while also ordering full refunds against a few companies that don’t comply and scare most companies into compliance.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission approved an Order (CPF-2) opening a second round of Capital Projects Fund (CPF) grants to bring broadband to unserved and unserved areas of the state.The new grant cycle will be used to award $24.3 million in remaining CPF funds for projects falling within the 3rd Congressional District (which encompasses the state's western three-fourths). Application materials, including the application forms and detailed instructions will be made public on Monday, November 20. The application window will open on Wednesday, December 20. Applications will be due to the Commission on Friday, January 19, 2024, with grant awards issued on Tuesday, June 4,2024.
Charter Communications announced a nearly $1.25 billion investment in Ohio through its companywide network evolution project and broadband expansion commitments. The investment will enable the delivery of symmetrical gigabit and multi-gigabit speeds across the state, rural broadband expansion programs in Ohio and other customer-benefiting projects. Charter is investing nearly $500 million in a network evolution project in Ohio; the project is expected to be substantially complete across the company’s Ohio service area by the end of 2025. Charter is also expanding its fiber-optic network to bring broadband to previously unserved areas in more than 60 Ohio counties. This nearly $750 million investment, offset by nearly $200 million in federal, state and local grants, will bring gigabit broadband to nearly 140,000 unserved homes and small businesses. Central to the expansion is the company’s participation in the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Charter will bring high-speed internet service to an estimated 110,000 homes and small businesses through Charter’s RDOF buildout in Ohio, 80,000 of which are in Appalachian counties.
More reliable and higher quality internet could be coming to Fort Worth’s (TX) underserved areas. The Fort Worth City Council approved a $7.5 million, 34-year contract with Dallas-based Sprocket Networks for broadband infrastructure. The contract authorizes the installation of an approximately 300-mile network to connect residents and businesses with internet in locations designated as underserved. Around 17 percent of residents in Fort Worth don’t have access to high-speed internet and 8 percent have no internet access at all. Most of those residents live in neighborhoods such as Las Vegas Trail, Como, Marine Creek, Stop Six, Rosemont, and Ash Crescent. Now that the contract is approved, the next hurdle is to get the network constructed. The process will take around three years to complete, according to Kevin Gunn, IT Solutions director for the city. Construction crews will be mobilized over the next six to nine months. While the construction of the network will take three years, service will become available on a rolling basis, Gunn said. The city put out the request for proposals to create a broadband plan for Fort Worth back in February 2022. By adding cabling in community and government facilities such as libraries and fire stations in neighborhoods in need, staff hopes to fill the gaps in the network. American Rescue Plan Act funds and grant funds from the North Central Texas Council of Governments will fund the plan’s implementation.
T-Mobile is now the carrier with the largest number of prepaid customers, surpassing Verizon. Based on its Q3 2023 earnings reports, T-Mobile had 21,595,000 customers and Verizon had 21,420,000. Wave7 Research flagged the change in a report distributed to subscribers. Before the third quarter, Verizon was the biggest US prepaid carrier, but that title was relatively new. The operator bought TracFone Wireless from América Móvil in 2021, instantly giving it more than 20 million prepaid customers, but it’s been steadily losing customers ever since.
Network carriers are exploring nascent technology that would allow them to better and more quickly deliver certain apps and services on their network—but this technology, known as network slicing, could potentially run afoul of net-neutrality regulations. In the current model, all data traffic from phones is typically funneled through the same network. Carriers are able to prioritize the voice calls that they handle on that network, but they rarely have visibility into what else users are doing through other apps. For carriers, network slicing is a path toward increasing returns on the heavy investments made in 5G upgrades, said David Barden, senior telecom analyst at BofA Securities. But several questions remain unanswered, including how exactly carriers will monetize this and whether that business model will come into conflict with evolving net-neutrality regulations.
US District Judge Thomas Durkin in Chicago ruled a lawsuit filed by customers of AT&T and Verizon over T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint may proceed because the plaintiffs “plausibly” argued that higher prices “flowed directly” from the $26 billion merger. The proposed class action was filed in 2022 and seeks a range of penalties, including undoing the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile. The class-action suit was filed by seven AT&T and Verizon subscribers on behalf of millions of customers who were affected. AT&T and Verizon are not directly involved in the suit. In a 41-page ruling, Judge Durkin said the merger eliminated the two “maverick” firms that were responsible for much of the price competition and innovation among the carriers.
In a comment submitted to the US Copyright Office, the Federal Trade Commission identified several issues raised by the development and deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that implicate competition and consumer protection policy, noting the FTC’s role in monitoring the impact of generative AI and vigorously enforcing the law as appropriate to protect competition and consumers. The comment explains that the FTC has an interest in copyright-related issues beyond questions about the scope of rights and the extent of liability under the copyright laws. For instance, not only may creators’ ability to compete be unfairly harmed, but consumers may be deceived when authorship does not align with consumer expectations. A consumer may think a work has been created by a particular musician or other artist when it is an AI-created product.
Americans rank the importance of regulating AI below government shutdowns, health care, gun reform, immigration and the war between Israel and Hamas, according to a new Axios | Morning Consult poll. The public's lack of urgency on this issue suggests that Congress might punt regulatory decisions until after the 2024 election. Among 15 priorities tested in the survey, regulating the use of AI ranked 11th, with 27% of respondents calling it a top priority and 33% calling it "important, but a lower priority." 69% of U.S. adults are concerned about the development of AI, with concerns about "jobs" and "work" and "misinformation" and "privacy," topping answers to an open-ended question about what worried them. Regulating tech companies came in 14th, with 22% calling it a top priority and 35% saying it's "important, but a lower priority." Since the last Axios | Morning Consult Survey, the percentage of people who say "misinformation spread by artificial intelligence" will have an impact on the 2024 presidential election saw an uptick from 53% to 58%.
Nov 14––The Connect20 Summit (Network:On)
Nov 14––Regulating digital industries (Brookings)
Nov 15––U.S. Broadband Summit (Fierce)
Nov 15––Code to Conduct in AI: Open Source, Privacy, and More (Mozilla)
Nov 17––Maternal Health Roundtable (FCC)
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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