Daily Digest 12/15/2023 (George F. McGinnis)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Broadband Funding

Department of the Treasury Announces New Federal Funds to Help Close the Digital Divide in Wisconsin  |  Read below  |  Department of the Treasury
FCC Announces Over $450,000 in Emergency Connectivity Funding  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission
Benton Foundation
Benton Welcomes Circuit Court Decision that Underscores the Importance and the Validity of the Universal Service Fund  |  Read below  |  Andrew Jay Schwartzman  |  Press Release  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Joint Statement on USF Contribution Decision  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  USTelecom
Modifying the Middle Mile Bi-Annual Performance Reports and Final Report  |  National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Editorial | The FCC Ambushes Musk’s Starlink  |  Wall Street Journal

Broadband Speed

Google, ALLO, Ting ask FCC to upgrade speed requirements for broadband  |  Read below  |  Linda Hardesty  |  Fierce

Broadband Ownership

Has the Fiber Roll-up Started?  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting


Benton Foundation
Massachusetts' Unified Vision of Digital Equity  |  Read below  |  Kevin Taglang  |  Analysis  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Ottawa County (MI) Leverages $25 Million for Countywide Internet Coverage  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Ottawa County Michigan

Consumer Protections

Public Knowledge Urges FCC To Reinstate Broadband Authority, Bring Back Net Neutrality Protections  |  Read below  |  Analysis  |  Public Knowledge
Net Neutrality’s New Pennywise  |  Read below  |  Jonathan Spadler  |  Editorial  |  US Telecom
Cable lobby and Republicans fight proposed ban on early termination fees  |  Summary at Benton.org  |  Jon Brodkin  |  Ars Technica
Patron Privacy Protections in Public Libraries  |  Read below  |  Tian Wang, Chieh-Li Chin, Christopher Benner, Carol Hayes, Yang Wang, Masooda Bashir  |  Research  |  Library Quarterly


FCC Proposes to Fine Marketer for Selling Unauthorized Wireless Devices  |  Federal Communications Commission
FCC Clears SpaceX to Test Cellular Starlink on Phones  |  PC Magazine
Opinion | 6G: network operators want profitable returns on 5G first  |  Financial Times


Senator Warren Pushes Meta for Answers on Platform's Suppression of Palestine-related Content  |  US Senate
'Shameless': Reporters Without Borders rebukes X for claiming to support it  |  National Public Radio
TikTok Quietly Changes User Terms Amid Growing Legal Scrutiny  |  New York Times

How are TikTok, Snap and Twitch protecting children from harmful videos?  |  Ofcom

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence: Actions Needed to Improve Department of Defense's Workforce Management  |  Government Accountability Office

Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Voluntary Commitments from Leading Healthcare Companies to Harness the Potenti  |  Department of Health and Human Services
Notice to research community: Use of generative artificial intelligence technology in the NSF merit review process  |  National Science Foundation

Industry News

Fiber Passes Over 50 Percent of U.S. Households  |  Read below  |  Doug Mohney  |  Press Release  |  Fiber Broadband Association
Comcast's Legal Battle With Key ‘10G’ Tech Vendor Gets Even More Interesting  |  Read below  |  Daniel Frankel  |  Next TV


Commissioner Gomez' First Major Speech Describing Priorities at CHCI Celebrating Latina Excellence Series  |  Read below  |  FCC Commissioner Anna Gomez  |  Speech  |  Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commissioner Carr Announces Staff Changes  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Names Six Members to the Board of Directors of the Universal Service Administrative Company  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission

Stories From Abroad

US is leading "AI for good" push at United Nations  |  Read below  |  Ryan Heath  |  Axios
AI chatbot got election info wrong 30 percent of time, European study finds  |  Washington Post
Amazon wins in tax battle with European Commission  |  Financial Times
Today's Top Stories

Broadband Funding

Department of the Treasury Announces New Federal Funds to Help Close the Digital Divide in Wisconsin

Press Release  |  Department of the Treasury

The Department of the Treasury announced the approval of $140 million in federal funds for Wi-Fi and computers and improving multi-purpose community facilities in Wisconsin under the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund (CPF). Wisconsin’s awards include two funding streams: $33 million for digital connectivity technology projects, and $107 million for multi-purpose community facility projects. The first award will fund a competitive grant program administered by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin that allows non-profits and other eligible entities to apply for funding to deploy computers and other devices, install Wi-Fi equipment in targeted multi-dwelling units, and provide digital navigation services to help residents use the devices for work, education, and health monitoring. The second award will fund the state’s Flexible Facilities Program, a competitive grant program to assist communities in funding improvements to facilities such as libraries and community centers. These awards are in addition to $42 million in CPF broadband infrastructure funding that Treasury announced in 2022. 

FCC Announces Over $450,000 in Emergency Connectivity Funding

Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission committed over $450,000 in a new funding round through the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, which provides digital tools and services to support students in communities across the country. This funding commitment supports applications from the third application window, connecting approximately 1,000 students. Launched in 2021, the Emergency Connectivity Program has provided schools and libraries three different “application windows” to apply for support. Approximately $7.09 billion in funding commitments have been approved. To date, the funding has provided support to approximately 18 million students, 11,500 schools, 1,070 libraries, and 130 consortia, and provided nearly 13.5 million connected devices and over 8 million broadband connections.

Benton Welcomes Circuit Court Decision that Underscores the Importance and the Validity of the Universal Service Fund

Andrew Jay Schwartzman  |  Press Release  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

"The USF is a critical tool to provide, among other things, Lifeline internet and voice service to low-income Americans, and reduced-rate internet access to schools, libraries and healthcare providers. Today's opinion underscores the importance—and the validity—of the Congressionally-mandated USF program. In this decision, the 11th Circuit joins the Sixth Circuit and a panel of the Fifth Circuit in upholding FCC policy and practices. The new opinion should be of particular importance to the judges on the Fifth Circuit, who are considering whether to set aside the decision of a three-member panel of that court. The persuasive reasoning of the new opinion should help convince the Fifth Circuit court to leave that panel decision in place."

Joint Statement on USF Contribution Decision

Press Release  |  USTelecom

Today’s decision is a victory for the many rural and urban consumers and anchor institutions across the country who rely on the services supported by the federal Universal Service Fund. The USF has been, and continues to be, a critical tool to narrow the digital divide and help address connectivity gaps. The court’s ruling affirms that Congress’ directive to the FCC—over 25 years ago—to collect contributions in support of this vital Fund is constitutional. Other courts considering similar challenges should reach the same conclusion.


Google, ALLO, Ting ask FCC to upgrade speed requirements for broadband

Linda Hardesty  |  Fierce

The Federal Communications Commission is currently accepting comments in regard to the minimum speed requirements for broadband. The CEOs of Google Fiber, ALLO Fiber and Ting Internet sent a letter to the FCC, urging it to update its definition of broadband to symmetrical upload and download speeds of 100 Mbps. The FCC currently defines broadband as having download speeds of 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps. And most people would agree those are really slow and outdated speed thresholds. Google Fiber, ALLO and Ting said that in today’s world, upload speeds are just as essential as download speeds, with many people working from home, and children doing their homework online, not to mention the demands of video conferencing and telehealth. “An asymmetrical standard implies that entertainment use cases for the internet are more important than productivity uses that consistently require more upload bandwidth,” they wrote. They noted that a video conference for telework, using 1080p video, requires 3.6 Mbps per participant. So, a call with 10 people requires 36 Mbps of upload speed. “Increasing the definition of broadband to 100/100 Mbps will help to close the digital divide by making certain low-income and rural America will not be getting internet that is already antiquated the day it is installed."


Has the Fiber Roll-up Started?

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

Many internet service providers (ISPs) who operate mature fiber networks have been recently approached to sell their businesses to buyers who want to roll up and amass multiple fiber networks into a larger business. I know fiber network owners who are being offered prices for their business that they never expected. I’ve heard of offers at a multiple in the range of twenty times adjusted earnings. High multiples are a sure sign of plans for rolling up many ISPs into a larger business. These high valuations are also a sign that the broadband industry has attracted large equity investors trying to buy into the market. It seems likely that the original impetus that attracted investors to the industry today is the big influx of grant funding that is helping to pay for broadband infrastructure. I have to honestly chuckle if that’s what the equity investors are chasing because they’ve never looked hard at a rural grant-funded ISP. Even with grant funding, the typical rural fiber market is never going to generate significant margins. Every ISP that operates a rural fiber network will tell you that the business will eventually create a modest return and will generate cash over the long haul. All market booms eventually come back to earth, and the characteristics of operating last-mile networks will never sustain permanent high multiples. A lot of these investors will get stuck with assets that will never justify the purchase price paid.


Massachusetts' Unified Vision of Digital Equity

Kevin Taglang  |  Analysis  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Massachusetts is at a pivotal moment to drive transformative change in digital equity. Through a once-in-a-generation federal funding investment, the Commonwealth has an unprecedented opportunity to achieve its strategic goals and unlock meaningful economic potential for all residents. In November 2023, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) shared its Massachusetts State Digital Equity Plan for public comment. Public input is welcome through Friday, December 15, 2023. MBI developed the plan’s unified vision with input from key partners representing different regions, Covered Populations, and organizations across Massachusetts. MBI convened the Massachusetts Broadband and Digital Equity Working Group and hosted regional listening sessions to gather perspectives and ambitions for a unified vision. MBI uses three pillars—Availability, Adoption, Quality of Service—to guide its work to advance digital equity. MBI expects to achieve the Commonwealth's unified vision of digital equity by using the more than $400 million dollars of federal and Commonwealth funds that have been allocated for digital equity in Massachusetts. 

Ottawa County (MI) Leverages $25 Million for Countywide Internet Coverage

Press Release  |  Ottawa County Michigan

In a strong step forward for Ottawa County's Broadband Strategy, the County Board of Commissioners voted to finalize Public-Private Partnerships with 123Net and Tilson Infrastructure. The vote allows 123NET to accept an award of nearly $14 million in Realizing Opportunities with Broadband Infrastructure Networks (ROBIN) grant funding, which was prioritized for Ottawa County by the State of Michigan when the second round of funding was announced. In conjunction with $7.5 million in funding from Ottawa County's American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and $3.5 million in 123NET's private capital, the upcoming project will allow the construction of nearly 400 miles of new fiber in the county, further providing internet access to nearly 10,000 residents and businesses. The partnership with Tilson allows the company to start assessing opportunities for enhanced fixed-wireless coverage countywide and ultimately to construct new towers in critical locations which will be supported with new fiber infrastructure deployed by 123Net. Both partnership agreements include provisions for revenue share direct to Ottawa County. 

Consumer Protections

Public Knowledge Urges FCC To Reinstate Broadband Authority, Bring Back Net Neutrality Protections

Analysis  |  Public Knowledge

In comments filed at the Federal Communications Commission, Public Knowledge commended the FCC for acting to restore net neutrality as well as creating the proper authority allowing for commonsense consumer protections for broadband users. The FCC previously classified broadband as “telecommunications” in 2015 as part of the agency’s Open Internet Order, which enacted net neutrality rules barring broadband providers from throttling connection speeds, blocking websites, and accepting payment for prioritizing traffic. Millions of Americans expressed support for these rules by submitting comments with the FCC, but the agency, under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai, changed course in its unpopular 2017 repeal, which abdicated FCC authority over broadband completely – an unprecedented move that left consumers vulnerable to deteriorating broadband lines that have not been maintained or upgraded, network traffic being blocked or throttled, and rising prices due to lessened broadband and online competition.

Net Neutrality’s New Pennywise

Jonathan Spadler  |  Editorial  |  US Telecom

For 20 years, proponents of so-called Title II net neutrality have argued the only way to ‘save the internet’ is to impose 1930s-era Ma Bell telephone regulations on today’s broadband networks. Yet five years since that approach was last rejected, even the most jaded have to admit the sky hasn’t fallen. Rather than ending the connected world as we know it, the repeal of Title II offered a powerful, years-long demonstration of just how much progress can be made when government and industry work together to get the big jobs done for consumers and our connected economy. Take, for example, the Covid-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, the U.S. stood head and shoulders above other countries. Meanwhile, European networks – after decades of hyperregulation and lackluster investment – performed a staggering 83% slower. While leaders there are now rethinking aspects of their regulatory approach, the FCC is proposing—yet again—to emulate it. We can, we must, do a whole lot better. Rather than becoming bogged down in yet another pointless Title II saga, we should be focused together—government working with industry—on issues that actually matter.

Patron Privacy Protections in Public Libraries

Tian Wang, Chieh-Li Chin, Christopher Benner, Carol Hayes, Yang Wang, Masooda Bashir  |  Research  |  Library Quarterly

Public libraries are an invaluable institution in the United States, and the digital revolution has posed many challenges for them. With the American Library Association’s updated “Library Bill of Rights” and public library services increasingly moving online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the protection of patron privacy in public libraries is an important and timely topic of study. However, there is a lack of empirical data regarding privacy practices and the challenges that public libraries face. To fill this gap, we conducted an online survey that was sent to more than 12,500 public librarians across the country to study the state of patron privacy practices and challenges in public libraries. Our results show that patron privacy protections vary drastically depending on the library’s size and service area. This study provides essential knowledge for administrators and policy makers in public libraries.

Industry News

Fiber Passes Over 50 Percent of U.S. Households

Doug Mohney  |  Press Release  |  Fiber Broadband Association

In 2023, fiber broadband hit all new records, with 9 million newly passed U.S. homes added by network operators in 2023, with 6 million of those newly passed homes that previously did not have fiber, according to the latest annual research conducted by RVA Market Research & Consulting for the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA). “Cumulatively we’re now at about 78 million homes passed, including second and third passings,” said Michael Render, CEO and Principal Analyst, RVA LLC Market Research and Consulting. “We’re about 69 million unique homes passed. We’re now passing 51.5% of U.S. households, unique primary homes.” There are now 30.9 U.S. million homes connected by fiber, with take rate on the increase. “We’ve dipped a bit in the past, but we’re on the rise again to about 45.4% in average passings,” said Render. 

Comcast's Legal Battle With Key ‘10G’ Tech Vendor Gets Even More Interesting

Daniel Frankel  |  Next TV

Comcast's complex legal battle with one of the technology vendors behind its current “10G” network upgrade has heated up, with California-based chipmaker MaxLinear countersuing the cable operator. MaxLinear claims in a December 1 New York federal court filing that Comcast stole trade secrets associated with Full Duplex DOCSIS 4.0 technology. MaxLinear said in its suit that it “developed and shared” new technologies related to FDX DOCSIS 4.0 gateways “with the hope that Comcast would purchase and deploy them in service of the more than 14 million Comcast households that already use MaxLinear chips (and beyond). But Comcast had a different plan. While Comcast simultaneously lauded MaxLinear’s new technology as part of its future plans, Comcast scaled back its existing purchase orders of MaxLinear products and ultimately ceased the purchase of any new MaxLinear products altogether.” Untangling the key throughlines of this complex legal battle is challenging, but there seems to be a lot more to this case than a client taking a vendor's tech and then eighty-sixing the relationship.


Commissioner Gomez' First Major Speech Describing Priorities at CHCI Celebrating Latina Excellence Series

FCC Commissioner Anna Gomez  |  Speech  |  Federal Communications Commission

One thing my experience has taught me is that companies hate regulation…that is until they want it.  Yes, it is funny, but it is also true and not surprising.  I am a firm believer in the power of competition to drive innovation that improves services and lowers prices for consumers.  I believe that a vibrant, strong, and competitive telecommunications and media marketplace that promotes U.S. prosperity can also meet the needs of all consumers.  But competition only works when the market works.  And when the market fails, there are public policy goals to be considered and prioritized that require government action.  This convergence of public and private action is necessary to ensure innovations benefit consumers and is why the majority of what we do can be viewed as public-private partnerships.... Over the past two months, I have thought a lot and talked about the impact of FCC action on consumers. The key principles I think about here are intentionality, trust, and empowering consumers through engagement. 

  • Intentionality is important.  By that I mean delineating clearly the problem we are trying to solve, approaching it with an open mind to all solutions and acting with purpose. 
  • Consumer trust is so important.  Building trust between government and businesses and historically underserved communities is challenging.  As we take actions with the goal of benefitting consumers, we need to be aware that actions that undermine trust can prevent us from reaching our goals.  
  • I don’t expect consumers to keep up with the decisions of the FCC and why we are relevant to their lives.  Most consumers are too busy unless there is something wrong.  And they are trusting us to do our job.

Federal Communications Commissioner Carr Announces Staff Changes

Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr announced changes to his staff. Ben Arden, who has been on detail to the Carr office for over four years and has been serving as Chief of Staff, is returning to the FCC’s Media Bureau. Greg Watson, who has been Carr’s Policy Advisor since January 2021, has been promoted to Chief of Staff.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Names Six Members to the Board of Directors of the Universal Service Administrative Company

Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel appointed six members to the Board of Directors of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). Each appointee was nominated in response to two Public Notices soliciting nominations for the Board position listed below, including a Public Notice seeking nominations for the newly created Tribal board member position. The three-year term for these positions begins on January 1, 2024. 

  • Mona L. Thompson, General Manager of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority as the Representative for Tribal communities;
  • Sheba Chacko, Chief Regulatory Counsel, British Telecoms in the Americas as the Representative for competitive local exchange carriers;
  • Kara Semmler, General Counsel and Executive Director, South Dakota Telecommunications Association as the Representative for incumbent local exchange carriers (non-Bell Operating Companies) with $40 million or less in annual revenue;
  • Angela Siefer, Executive Director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance as the Representative for low-income consumers;
  • Joan H. Wade, Ed.D., Executive Director, Association of Educational Service Agencies as the Representative for schools that are eligible to receive E-rate discounts; and
  • Katherine Hsu Wibberly, Ph.D., Director, Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center as the Representative for rural health care providers that are eligible to receive supported services.

Stories From Abroad

US is leading "AI for good" push at United Nations

Ryan Heath  |  Axios

The United States is leading a new diplomatic push at the United Nations to mobilize all governments to support "AI for good and for all," according to US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Despite the need for new tools to tackle urgent problems like climate change, the richest and most powerful governments that back international responsible-AI initiatives have steered away from the deeply divided UN as an AI forum—until now. The US wants the UN to explicitly affirm that AI will be deployed consistently with the UN's founding documents—the UN Charter, which aims to rid the world of war, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The US circulated a draft General Assembly resolution December 13, with the "crazily ambitious" goal of winning the support of all the UN's 193 member countries. US diplomats say they chose to take the proposal to the full UN General Assembly, rather than the more selective Security Council, in order to involve nations beyond the major powers

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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), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and Zoe Walker (zwalker 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

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Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
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