Thursday, November 9, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
The Biden administration is fighting a two-front war in its campaign to re-regulate internet service providers (ISPs), fronts that opponents fear could include price regulation as ammunition. The Federal Communications Commission's Democratic majority voted on October 19, 2023 to propose reclassifying internet access as a Title II telecommunications service subject to some common-carrier regulations and to restore net neutrality rules. While FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has said that decision will not include price regulation, opponents fear the reclassification could open the door to back-door price controls to achieve universal access. The FCC is scheduled to vote on November 15, 2023 on rules implementing a section of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, rules that would create a framework for equal access to broadband service by preventing digital discrimination. It will almost certainly pass with a 3-2 Democratic majority.
Internet service providers and their lobby groups are fighting the Federal Communications Commission's plan to prohibit discrimination in access to broadband services. In particular, ISPs want the FCC to drop the plan's proposal to require that prices charged to consumers be non-discriminatory. The plan is likely to pass in a party-line vote, but aspects of the draft plan could be changed before the vote. Consumer advocates generally support the proposal but say the planned system for handling complaints, ISP responses, and investigations is not transparent enough, reducing the system's potential to act as a deterrent. Consumer advocates also say Internet users who have already been harmed by discrimination may not get any relief because the proposed rules do not apply retroactively.
As Members of the New York delegation, we are writing to urge you to allocate $7 billion for the critical Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) via a manager amendment when the fiscal year 2024 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill is brought to the House floor or through any emergency supplemental appropriations package taken up by Congress. The ACP provides over 1.5 million New York working-class households and over 21 million American households nationwide with financial assistance for broadband access, helping bridge the digital divide. We cannot risk losing a tool that helps close the opportunity divide for students, provides telehealth for vulnerable homebound individuals, and employment connectivity for jobseekers. In New York, almost 50% of eligible households currently take advantage of this federal benefit, with New York being one of the leading states in the nation for ACP enrollment. In addition, the ACP has a significant impact on public housing residents in New York, who often face barriers to accessing affordable and reliable broadband service. Without this funding, tens of millions of households would suddenly see their bills increase significantly and many could be forced to cancel their high-speed broadband service and be disconnected from education, health, and job opportunities. This would be a devastating setback for our efforts to close the digital divide and ensure digital equity for all Americans.
Congress established the Affordable Connectivity Program in November 2021 as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, providing $14.2 billion to expand an emergency broadband program that began in 2021. But those funds are running out. On Oct. 25, President Joe Biden asked Congress for another $6 billion to fund the program through the end of 2024, but despite bipartisan support, it appears that lawmakers may let the funds dry up amid disagreements over the best way to solve the problem of affordable internet access. A spokeswoman for Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said Congress established the ACP as an emergency measure during the pandemic and pointedly declined to voice support for Biden’s request to extend it. While Sen Cantwell “supports the president” and organizations that have called for the program to continue, “who recognize that emergency connectivity is critical in today’s digital age,” spokeswoman Ansley Lacitis said the senator is “committed to finding long-term solutions to internet access and affordability,” suggesting she favors a different strategy. Lacitis said Cantwell supports the government’s Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure program, which aims to connect local networks to regional and national ones, and efforts to improve maps to better inform decisions on federal broadband spending. Those investments, she said, would increase competition and lower costs in the long run. House Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) echoed the idea that other programs could make for more targeted and long-term solutions to improve affordable internet access. “In Congress, we can and must do more to improve access to broadband and make it more affordable, especially for families and businesses in rural Eastern Washington,” she said. “That starts with making sure we are using the most accurate (Federal Communications Commission) maps, targeting resources to truly unserved communities.” Her office said she is apprehensive about supporting additional ACP funding without first changing eligibility requirements to make sure the subsidy goes to those who truly can’t afford broadband access, while protecting against fraud and wasteful spending. As chair of the panel charged with oversight of telecommunications policy, Rep McMorris Rodgers has supported legislation to improve coordination among federal agencies involved in broadband funding. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) supports Biden’s request to extend the ACP “so that families who rely on it today aren’t left in the lurch.” “There is no doubt that broadband access is absolutely essential,” Sen Murray said, “and the federal government has an important role to play in making sure that every family, no matter their income, can get the high-speed internet access they need to do everything from get an education to hold down a job or access vital medical and mental health services.” She voiced support for longer-term solutions, including a bipartisan effort to reform the federal Universal Service Fund, which uses fees on long distance telephone calls to subsidize access for rural and low-income Americans, schools, libraries, and healthcare providers.
The Federal Communications Commission initiated a proceeding to address the ongoing remote learning needs of today’s students, school staff, and library patrons through the E-Rate program and to ensure the millions who have benefitted from the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) do not fall back onto the wrong side of the digital divide once the program ends. Specifically, the FCC proposes to permit eligible schools and libraries to receive E-Rate support for Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless Internet services that can be used off-premises. The FCC proposes to find that the off-premises use of Wi-Fi hotspots and Internet services by students, school staff, and library patrons for remote learning and the provision of virtual library services constitutes an educational purpose as defined by the FCC and enhances access to advanced telecommunications and information services for schools and libraries. The FCC also seeks comment on how to adapt the E-Rate program to reflect the virtual nature of today’s modern educational environment. Additionally, the FCC seeks comment on the applicability of the Children‘s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requirements and the off-premises use of E-Rate-supported hotspots and services. In considering whether to support the off-premises use of Wi-Fi hotspots and Internet access services, the FCC seeks to balance the need to modernize the E-Rate program to support today’s technology-based learning environment with the need to ensure the limited E-Rate funding remains available for its primary purpose of providing connectivity to schools and libraries, and is protected from potential waste, fraud, and abuse.
This paper seeks to address a gap in mobile communication scholarship by contributing insights from a qualitative study of library patrons who checked out mobile hotspots from the Boston Public Library in Massachusetts. The findings show that although mobile hotspots provided many benefits for public library patrons in general, these devices facilitated mobile communication with a different sense of urgency for six people experiencing homelessness who also happened to be in romantic relationships. The findings have implications for those working to address homelessness, including community-based organizations, government agencies, and policymakers who seek further insights into the positive role that mobile hotspot devices can play in supporting positive health outcomes for individuals and couples experiencing homelessness.
Burlington Telecom has launched the Internet Assistance Program (IAP), a new program aimed at helping the community connect. The program was created to provide affordable dynamic broadband and internet services to qualifying participants. The IAP will offer two broadband choices to eligible customers. The Basic tier includes a 50MB/50MB internet connection at $9.95 a month. and the Enhanced tier includes a 150MB/150MB internet connection for $24.95 a month. Both packages include smart WiFi and free installation for a single outlet.
We got some pretty good wins in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. One of those wins was the mandate for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement broadband consumer labels, also known as “broadband nutrition labels.” These labels will empower consumers with clear, accessible, and accurate information about broadband services. Clear information should enable consumers to make informed choices that align with their needs and budgets without shocking charges or service quality surprises that fall short of their expectations. The broadband consumer labels will include information on pricing, introductory rates, data allowances, performance metrics, and Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) participation. Some providers may start displaying the labels before the deadline, but we expect to see all providers in compliance by October 10, 2024.
Despite increased reliance on access to high-capacity and reliable broadband Internet for everyday activities, disparities in fixed broadband availability persist. States’ broadband programs are part of the effort to close the infrastructure gap, which has been linked to geographic, demographic, socio-economic, market, and policy factors. However, the pandemic is prompting a shift in broadband policy—with the concept of “access” being expanded to address both disparities in coverage and digital equity concerns. Our report, “Closing the Broadband Infrastructure Gap: State Grant Funds and the Digital Divide,” examines pre-pandemic data of state broadband grants in 17 states, collected by The Pew Charitable Trusts. While state broadband programs each have their own priorities and strategies when distributing funds, we explore the overall trends in how funds were distributed, and discuss the implications of our results for digital equity and states’ role in closing the digital divide. What can we learn from how states have allocated funds in the past years?
[Natassia Bravo is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. Her research focuses on the role of local government and the impact of state regulation on rural broadband deployment in the US. Mildred E. Warner is a Professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning and the Department of Global Development at Cornell. They were awarded a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts in 2022, and received the Charles Benton Broadband & Society Prize in September 2023 at TPRC51.]
Texas voters approved Proposition Eight, which will create a broadband infrastructure fund in the state. About 80 percent of voters favored passage of the state constitutional amendment. With the passage of this resolution, $1.5 billion will be allocated to expand internet availability in Texas, where some 7 million people currently lack access. These dollars will help pay to develop and finance broadband and telecommunications services as well as 911 services. The fund will also provide matching funds with federal money from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program.
The Washington State Public Works Board opened applications for broadband funding, offering $15.8 million in grants and low-interest loans for broadband construction projects. Projects in distressed counties are eligible for 30% grant and 70% loan funding, until funds are exhausted. Local governments, tribes, nonprofit organizations, cooperative associations, multiparty entities, limited liability corporations (LLCs), and incorporated businesses or partnerships are eligible to apply. The Board may award funds to projects passing threshold ratings based on a competitive ranking process.
The biggest cable companies have been successful in recent years in bundling cellular service with broadband and cable TV. The cable companies launched their cellular products by operating as an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator). That’s an industry acronym that means that the cable companies purchase and resell cellular minutes, texts, and data from one of the big cellular carriers. The biggest cable companies have also selectively started to install their own cell sites in their busiest neighborhoods to totally bypass the cellular carriers. Over time, they will probably move a lot of cellular traffic directly to their own network—although they will always need the MVNO service to cover customers who make connections outside the reach of a cable company cell tower. Smaller ISPs are now being offered the same bundling opportunity. Small ISPs share the same primary advantage as cable companies in that they can handle a lot of cellular traffic through the landline network. However, smaller ISPs who buy this service are not likely to ever be able to find the spectrum needed to directly get into the cellular business with their own towers. This article is to warn small ISPs about the risks of this business plan. I am not recommending that ISPs should avoid the cellular opportunity. If it makes money and helps to sell broadband then give it a hard look. My caution is that a small ISP in an arbitrage arrangement has zero market power, and that the arbitrage opportunity can stop abruptly at any time.
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.
© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2023. Redistribution of this email publication — both internally and externally — is encouraged if it includes this message. For subscribe/unsubscribe info email: headlines AT benton DOT org
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society All Rights Reserved © 2023