Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Recommendations and Best Practices to Prevent Digital Discrimination and Promote Digital Equity
Chicago Mobilized Philanthropy to Connect School Kids
Heartland Forward Helps Accelerate Community-Driven Broadband Infrastructure Planning
Chairwoman Rosenworcel Statement On Communications Equity And Diversity Council Report And Recommendations | Federal Communications Commission
Elections & Media
Stories From Abroad
US Department of Commerce Invests $3.1 Million in American Rescue Plan Funds for Chickasaw Nation Business Connectivity
The US Department of Commerce's Department of Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $3.1 million grant to the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma (Ada) to build a fixed wireless high-speed internet network. This grant is funded by the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) Indigenous Communities program. This project will provide expanded, high-speed internet access to the Tribal community, promoting entrepreneurship and workforce development. This project was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Southern Oklahoma Development Association (SODA). EDA funds SODA to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment and create jobs.
Recommendations and Best Practices to Prevent Digital Discrimination and Promote Digital Equity
The findings from the three Communications Equity and Diversity Council working groups offer guidance to states and localities seeking to prohibit “digital discrimination” in broadband deployment, adoption, and use, as well as in the contracting and grants processes for funds related to forthcoming broadband infrastructure. This is a starting point for further deliberations and actions that promote increased deployment, adoption, and use of high-speed broadband that not only make it easier for populations to engage in daily activities of remote work, learning, and health care, but also encourage affordable and widely deployed connectivity. The three combined draft reports and recommendations from each of the Working Groups present a series of critical and distinguishable next steps for the Federal Communications Commission to consider with findings largely extracted from structured interviews with subject matter experts and secondary research.
On November 1, trade association INCOMPAS met with Federal Communications Commission officials to discuss the state of competition in the communications marketplace. INCOMPAS discussed how the FCC should continue to view fixed and mobile broadband internet access service (BIAS) as separate product markets and complementary services when reporting on the state of competition in the communications marketplace. Consumers prefer access to both fixed and mobile BIAS as each service plays a critical and distinct role. Consumers that can afford to buy both services often do so because they use each service differently. Moreover, the services themselves are distinct—for example, fixed BIAS typically delivers faster, more robust connections with set prices for unlimited use, while mobile BIAS provides convenient access but typically at slower speeds, and at higher, often-varied prices depending on data consumption.
Heartland Forward is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “think and do tank” focused on improving economic performance in the center of the United States. Its Connecting the Heartland initiative aims to boost internet availability, speeds, and adoption rates across America’s heartland. With the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration distributing $42.5 billion to states for broadband infrastructure deployment, community engagement and planning are paramount if federal funds are to be used effectively and efficiently. Angie Cooper, chief program officer at Heartland Forward, said, “With unprecedented federal funding to increase access to high-speed internet, it is so important for local communities to have the tools necessary to create a plan to ensure their residents are connected as soon as possible.” Heartland Forward collaborated with the Illinois Office of Broadband and University of Illinois Extension and supported the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society to lead the Accelerate Illinois Broadband Infrastructure Planning Program, helping communities get ready to leverage federal and state funds for community-driven broadband expansion. The 14-week Accelerate program, and this guidebook, focus on engaging community leaders to develop broadband plans to address their unique connectivity needs.
At the height of the pandemic in April 2020, the City of Chicago learned that roughly 1 in 5 K-12-aged students did not have internet access at home. Schools had shifted to remote learning, and Chicago needed to act quickly to ensure that students could continue their education from home. By June 2020, the City of Chicago, in partnership with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Kids First Chicago, successfully galvanized the philanthropic sector to quickly stand up a $50 million public-private partnership, Chicago Connected. Thanks to 10 philanthropic donors and the City’s commitment of CARES Act dollars, Chicago Connected subsidizes at-home broadband costs for CPS families in need, connecting 77,000 students in its first year of operation and an estimated 100,000 students across the first two years of the program. Chicago Connected, the first program of its kind in the country, informed more than 20 cities’ approaches to the digital divide and pandemic learning and was directly replicated in Philadelphia and Miami. Philanthropic contributions allowed the City to respond swiftly to the emergency pandemic situation. Now, two years after the launch of Chicago Connected, the City is building upon the historic public-private partnership to understand and tackle the nuanced barriers to digital equity faced by Chicagoans citywide. Philanthropic dollars can be deployed quickly and nimbly. Chicago Connected partners with United Way of Metro Chicago to serve as the fiscal agent for the program, allowing it to allocate and invest funds efficiently into communities.
As it gears up to meet a goal of full broadband connectivity by 2025, Washtenaw County (MI) has launched a digital map that tracks its progress, thanks to American Rescue Plan Act dollars and general county funds. Lack of broadband is a huge detriment to any county and its residents, particularly in the sectors of education, healthcare, employment, and business development, said Washtenaw County Commissioner Jason Maciejewski. “This goes way beyond simply trying to stream movies and music online — these are really things that impact people’s everyday lives, their ability to get broadband level internet service,” Commissioner Maciejewski said. The county contracted with DCS Technology Design to tackle rural broadband in its gap-filling effort. Chris Scharrer, CEO of DCS, drove to each house in the county’s 15 townships that had been identified as not fully serviced to create an accurate map that determined the scope of what needed to be done for the county and could be updated in real time for its residents.
The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency has released data from a survey of broadband subscribers. As Americans continue to work remotely and increasingly depend on high-speed internet for everyday tasks, the significance of its impact has been measured in the survey. According to the UTOPIA survey, consumers equate connectivity with a better quality of life, as seen in the following data:
- Among respondents, 85.44% said that access to UTOPIA Fiber has improved their quality of life with 95.78% saying that internet speed was either “extremely important” (64.94%) or “very important” (27.7%), 43% of respondents choosing 1 Gbps or higher.
- Approximately 2,500 UTOPIA Fiber subscribers, age 19 and older, were polled in 16 Utah cities. Respondents live in cities as small as Woodland Hills, with a population of 1,500 residents to the second largest city in Utah, West Valley City, which has a population of over 136,000.
- According to the “Customer Feedback Survey” results, respondents reported they used the internet in their home for smartphones (97.18%), desktop computers (73.51%), laptops (90.73%), tablets (78.48%, smart TVs (82.38%), along with smart appliances (57.76%), and home security (52.59%).
- About 44% of UTOPIA Fiber customers shared that they invested in at least 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps), with 37.14% using at least 250Mbps.
- The correlation between the need for speed and today’s work-from-home business climate is apparent as the survey reports that 65.47% of people work from home with 69.13% dependent on the internet for video calls, emails (92.73%), and research (61.54%).
- Satellite service fell to 10.19%, from 17.67% in 2021, and cable subscribers accounted for 3.61% of households, down from 3.63% last year while 91.22% of respondents use the Internet for streaming TV or movies.
- Over 90% of respondents also said that the reliability of the UTOPIA Fiber network was either “extremely important” (62.51%) or “very important” (29.19%) to them, and a deciding factor in taking their service over incumbent carriers.
“Numbers don’t lie. Americans who have access to high-speed Internet have vastly better lives than those who lack connectivity,” said Kimberly McKinley, Deputy Director and Chief Marketing Officer of UTOPIA Fiber. McKinley notes that, given the choice, consumers will always opt for faster, more reliable fiber broadband for their daily activities.
In January 2020, under former Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NY), New York City released an ambitious $2.1 billion plan for universal broadband across the city — the first effort of any large US city to strategize delivery of equitable internet access to all its residents. The proposal was to build a “neutral host” infrastructure that could be shared by multiple internet operators rather than a single company, increasing competition to the entrenched private companies that had failed to address New York’s digital divide. In forging this infrastructure, the city would provide opportunities for community-based providers to use the city-owned property for expanded, affordable service. Hearings with the Office of Technology and Innovation — a new agency under current Mayor Eric Adams (D-NY) — in May revealed that the plan was being put on hold and re-evaluated. And then, this September, Mayor Adams announced Big Apple Connect, a partnership with Altice and Charter to bring affordable service to the 300,000 New Yorkers living in public housing. Sources point out that by abandoning the Internet Master Plan the city is likely to lose out on federal funding from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which allocates $65 billion to increase broadband access and will prioritize under-connected communities. It’s an unfortunate end for a plan that positioned itself as the first effort of a big US city to strategize delivery of equitable internet access to all its residents. “Other cities will be looking at us now, and they might think the best way to address digital equity is the Big Apple Connect approach, and that’s not the message we want the country to see,” said co-founder of Silicon Harlem, Clayton Banks. “A plan must be in favor of the people, not the providers,” Banks says.
Broadband costs are always unique to a given community. Population density—the number of homes and businesses per square mile—tells almost nothing about broadband costs. It’s far more important to know where homes are located in relation to roads. Such as how far the homes are from the roads. While the relationship between homes to roads is a major factor, it’s not the only one. There are some counties where the cost to build is higher than expected for other reasons.
An offshore company that is trusted by the major web browsers and other tech companies to vouch for the legitimacy of websites has connections to contractors for US intelligence agencies and law enforcement, according to security researchers, documents, and interviews. Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari, nonprofit Firefox, and others allow the company, TrustCor Systems, to act as what’s known as a root certificate authority, a powerful spot in the internet’s infrastructure that guarantees websites are not fake, guiding users to them seamlessly. The company’s Panamanian registration records show that it has the identical slate of officers, agents, and partners as a spyware maker identified as an affiliate of Arizona-based Packet Forensics, which public contracting records and company documents show has sold communication interception services to US government agencies for more than a decade. TrustCor’s products include an email service that claims to be end-to-end encrypted, though experts said they found evidence to undermine that claim. A test version of the email service also included spyware developed by a Panamanian company related to Packet Forensics, researchers said.
Elon Musk waded into uncharted political waters when he urged “independent-minded voters” to cast their ballots for Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections, making the kind of explicit endorsement his fellow tech CEOs have avoided in the past. “To independent-minded voters: Shared power curbs the worst excesses of both parties, therefore I recommend voting for a Republican Congress, given that the Presidency is Democratic,” Musk wrote on Twitter. The tweet garnered over 43,000 retweets and over 279,000 likes after it was posted. With Musk promising a more hands-off approach to content moderation on Twitter and then placing himself in the middle of the debate, progressives worry he’ll usher in an era of misinformation even as Republicans remain wary of the apparent endorsement. “Usually tech CEOs try to play both sides,” said Yosef Getachew, the media and democracy program director at the progressive advocacy group Common Cause. “It’s not clear where his motives are with this.” Some progressive groups said the move raised red flags, given how much power Musk has as the sole owner of Washington’s favorite platform. Ultimately, Eric Wilson, managing partner at Republican campaign investment fund Startup Caucus, said he didn’t think the tweets would have much impact on the election, given that many voters have already made up their minds based on other issues long debated in the public sphere.
Northleaf Capital Partners acquired a controlling interest in Mercury Broadband and will invest up to $230 million over the next several years to support the provider’s expansion plans. Mercury Broadband, also known as Mercury Wireless, won Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) money to cover some of the costs of deploying a combination of fixed wireless and fiber broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas of Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska. Northleaf, a “global private markets investment firm,” raised $21 billion in private equity, private credit and infrastructure commitments from public, corporate and multi-employer pension plans, endowments, foundations, financial institutions and family offices. The company currently has 500 active investments.
SpaceX quietly revealed the plan to cap residential Starlink service by publishing a “Fair Use Policy” for the popular satellite internet service. The document says residential Starlink subscribers in the US will receive 1TB worth of “Priority Access” per month. The company has also uploaded the same fair use policy for subscribers in Canada. Once the cap is exceeded, the subscriber will be relegated to “Basic Access,” meaning SpaceX can begin throttling speeds if necessary, to reduce network congestion. “For Residential Service Plans, your data usage will only count toward the Priority Access data limits described in the chart below from 7 AM to 11 PM (Peak Hours),” the document adds. The change will most affect data-hungry customers living in congested areas already full of existing Starlink subscribers. SpaceX didn't reveal expected speeds for Basic Access. But the document warns: “In times of network congestion, users with Basic Access may experience slower speeds and reduced performance compared to Priority Access, which may result in degradation or unavailability of certain third-party services or applications. Bandwidth-intensive applications, such as streaming videos, are most likely to be impacted.” Still, residential subscribers can receive more Priority Access — if they pay. SpaceX is going to charge customers $0.25 for each additional GB downloaded over the higher speed tier. To track their monthly data usage and opt-in for the additional Priority Access, customers will be able to tap the Starlink app and the company's customer portal page.
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel hopes the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections will help break the longstanding 2-2 tie on the regulatory commission, but she also defended the body’s deadlocked body’s record during her leadership. “We’ve turned the noise down, and turned up the number of things we’re getting done,” she said, alluding to the commission’s profile under her predecessor as chair, Ajit Pai. At the behest of former President Trump, Pai spearheaded a series of dramatic rollbacks of longstanding media rules when the five-member commission tilted 3-2 in favor of the Republicans. With Joe Biden’s defeat of Trump, Pai then stepped down. But the Democrats’ nominee, Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society], has seen her prospects stymied by the Senate. The former FCC staffer and progressive activist has yet to receive a full vote in the Senate despite the usual dynamic of the commission leaning toward the party of the president. The Senate’s current 50-50 tie leans toward the Democrats because Vice President Kamala Harris can step in to break ties, but many centrists have raised concerns about Sohn. Chairwoman Rosenworcel said she is rooting for Election Day to provide more clear direction for the FCC. Despite the gridlock, Chairwoman Rosenworcel said, “We’ve done a lot.” She listed accomplishments in areas like affordable broadband, national security, network security. spectrum auctions, and responding to climate change. Chairwoman Rosenworcel noted that her tenure as the first woman chair in the 87-year history of the FCC began during the deadlock, so that’s the only operating environment she has known from her leadership seat.
The future-of-tech conversations at Web Summit in Lisbon could have played on a split screen. In one frame, fraught forecasts of ill-used technology leaving real-world damage; in another, glowing predictions of a digitally-enhanced future. “Russia puts technology at the service of terror,” said Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska before showing photos of the destruction left across Ukraine by Russian attacks with Iranian-made drones. “For 150 years, what we have seen is technology increasingly put civilians in harm’s way,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said after announcing that the company would continue all of its digital aid to Ukraine through 2023, adding $100 million to its $300 million in help so far. Sitting beside him, Ukraine Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov thanked Microsoft for its assistance in thwarting cyberattacks against civilian infrastructure, a weaponization of networking technology Smith decried in previous Summit talks. Social media, often a punching bag, took more hits this year. In a panel on the state of journalism, speakers lamented how many younger would-be readers instead rely on TikTok for news but had no good answers about how to get them back. “This is what happens when you abandon audiences,” said James Ball, global editor at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
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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