Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Data & Mapping
The Federal Communications Commission is committing over $65 million in new funding round through the Emergency Connectivity Program (ECP), which provides digital services for students in communities across the country. The funding commitments support applications from the third application window, benefiting approximately 170,000 students across the country, including students in Alaska, Indiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, and Texas. The funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework, to ensure students across the country have the necessary support to keep up with their education.
The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA has awarded five grants as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (CMC). These grants, totaling over $18.5 million, will expand community technology hubs, upgrade classroom technology, and increase digital literacy skills at five minority-serving institutions in California, Missouri, Louisiana, and Alabama. The CMC grants, directed by NTIA’s Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives, cover costs such as the purchase of high-speed Internet service and eligible equipment, the hiring and training of information technology personnel, and innovation and workforce development efforts. The awards will help expand high-speed Internet access at the following educational institutions:
- California State University, Dominguez Hills (CA);
- California State University, Fresno (CA);
- Lincoln University of Missouri (MO);
- University of West Alabama (AL);
- Southern University and A&M College (LA).
The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that Michigan received its first “Internet for All” grants for deploying high-speed Internet networks and developing digital skills training programs under the Biden-Harris Administration’s Internet for All initiative. Michigan is receiving $6,326,649.52 in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to plan for the deployment and adoption of affordable, equitable, and reliable high-speed Internet service throughout the state. Michigan will receive $4,998,701.52 to fund various activities including:
- Developing Michigan’s “MI Connected Future” project, including a 5-year action plan to close the broadband availability gap;
- Identifying unserved and underserved locations;
- Building capacity of the state broadband office;
- Mapping assets across Michigan to catalog high-speed Internet service adoption, affordability, equity, access and deployment;
- Surveying communities to better understand barriers to Internet service adoption.
Michigan will also receive $1,327,948 for:
- Development of a statewide digital equity plan to close the digital equity gap;
- Identification of barriers to digital equity and an assessment of needs;
- Development of an implementation strategy and establishment of partnerships.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is clear: the $42.5 billion for broadband buildout should prioritize projects for the unserved. Specifically, states should prioritize projects where 80% of the locations served by the project are unserved. It may be impossible to reach all the unserved with projects that are 80% or more unserved without gerrymandering the project areas or changing the rules. Census block groups work well as a proxy for broadband project areas because they’re not too big and not too small. There are 5.9 million populated block groups nationally with an average of 24 housing units per block group. I’m not suggesting that project should follow block group boundaries, only that they work well as a visualization for the concentration of unserved locations. However, nationally, 1 million of the 7.8 million unserved locations are in block groups that are already 80%+ unserved. By contrast, 3.6 million unserved locations are in block groups that are less than 50% unserved. The only solutions I can think of are to allow gerrymandering of the project areas, relax the 80% rule, or include additional locations as unserved for the purpose of defining the project areas.
Hopefully, the word is getting out that individuals can challenge the Federal Communications Commission's new National Broadband Map. Broadband providers often claim coverage and broadband speeds that are not actually available. The challenge process is built directly into the FCC broadband map. Anybody can zero in on the map and see the broadband options that providers say are available at their location. If you challenge any of these items for a given provider, the FCC will forward your challenge to said provider. If that broadband provider doesn’t respond or dispute the challenge, it must change its reporting for that location on the FCC map. For example, if it doesn’t offer service at your location, it must take you off its FCC map. If the provider doesn’t offer the speed claimed to the FCC, it would have to lower the claimed speed it offers. The real benefit of the challenge process will come if enough people in neighborhoods make the complaint to get the area maps corrected.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) launched a Request for Proposals (RFP) to award $67.6 million in broadband grants across the state. It further accelerates the Border-to-Border program in pursuit of Minnesota's 2026 goal that all homes and businesses have access to broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second. Eligible broadband providers can use grant funding to reimburse up to half the cost of broadband infrastructure deployed. Applications must be received by March 2, 2023. Grants will be awarded in early summer, 2023. Additionally, Governor Walz commits $99.6 million in broadband grants for 61 projects in 48 counties, expected to connect to more than 33,000 Minnesota homes and businesses to high-speed broadband. It was the largest single investment in broadband in Minnesota history; before then, DEED had awarded nearly $130 million in Border-to-Border grants to connect more than 57,000 homes and businesses around Minnesota to high-speed broadband since the program's inception in 2014.
A group of vendors has been working on a CBRS private wireless network for a school in an underprivileged area of Sacramento, California, for a couple of years. And as a result of their trial, the Sacramento City Council recently approved $1.4 million in funding to create a permanent private 5G network for the school and two public housing communities in the city. The vendors involved in the project include Athonet, Federated Wireless, Intel, JMA Wireless, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Megh Computing, and Future Technologies Venture. They joined forces to create a model for private CBRS networks, which they hope to scale statewide in California. According to a recent announcement from the Sacramento City Council, at full implementation, 751 residents between two communities — Marina Vista and Alder Grove — as well as Leataata Floyd Elementary School and Health Professional High School will have free broadband access for at least five years. Yet, $1.4 million for full implementation of this project isn’t a lot of money in the world of broadband projects. Federated Wireless and AWS declined to comment.
This summer, the mountains moved in Hoopa Valley (CA). As a wildfire burned through trees and vegetation, a thunderstorm dropped two inches of rain in one day. Meanwhile, online, residents were clamoring to Facebook to learn what had happened. Others started to email Frank, who serves as a youth coordinator with Save California Salmon and Miss Na:tini-we’, a cultural and political ambassador for the Hoopa Valley Tribe. She didn’t have any answers at first. Together with her coworkers, she tried to assess the damage, but there was no cell service, no cellular data, or internet near the river. It took three days before she could gather the information and find a connection to publish it online. But the demand for the internet has outstripped the region’s limited infrastructure. However, fall of 2022, the Hoopa Valley Utilities District received more than $65 million in funding from the federal government to improve its internet infrastructure. The new grant will expand the current wireless network and introduce underground cables that connect directly to homes. The expansion plans to connect 1,000 households in the tribe, 64 businesses, and 19 community institutions like schools and hospitals. The wires are just a start, though as many residents, especially older ones, need support learning how to use or trust technology.
The Enforcement Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission has entered into a Consent Decree to resolve its investigation into whether Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless (Verizon Wireless) constructed wireless facilities without complying with the Commission’s environmental and historic preservation rules, including rules implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The FCC's rules also direct these entities to coordinate with relevant state governments and tribal nations. To settle this matter, Verizon Wireless (i) admits that it violated the FC’s environmental and historic preservation rules by prematurely constructing wireless facilities prior to completing the required environmental or historical reviews and by constructing wireless facilities without onsite monitoring as requested by the affected tribes, (ii) will implement a robust compliance plan to ensure that it does not violate these rules in the future, and (iii) will pay a $950,000 civil penalty.
Cellphone carriers facing roughly $200 million in fines for sharing their customers’ locations are for now shielded from paying by the Federal Communications Commission’s partisan deadlock. The FCC has four commissioners—two Democrats and two Republicans—and needs at least three votes to move forward with fines it proposed years ago on the biggest wireless-service providers. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, in August circulated four forfeiture orders penalizing AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile US, and Verizon Communications for allegedly mishandling access to the real-time whereabouts of their subscribers, the people said. The commission hasn’t yet published the forfeiture orders. The FCC can’t issue the orders without approval from at least three commissioners. The two Democrats on the commission have voted to approve the fines, while their Republican counterparts have yet to vote.
Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will have plenty of telecommunications issues on their plate as the country heads into 2023. Tax breaks for grant funding; ReConnect reform; Pole attachment problems; and perhaps even net neutrality – again. But New Street Research’s Blair Levin said a handful of truly pressing policy issues appear poised to be decided by the states and courts. According to Levin, a recent ruling by the Supreme Court in the West Virginia v. EPA case opened the door for anyone to “question anything the FCC does and provides new grounds for challenging” rules they don’t like. With this in mind, Levin said there are two court cases he’s got his eye on going into 2023: one in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit (Consumers’ Research v. FCC) weighing the constitutionality of the Universal Service Fund (USF) and another in New York looking at whether the state has the authority to require broadband providers to offer broadband plans at a certain price point. Levin said unlike other attempts to challenge the FCC’s authority, the 5th Circuit case is not frivolous as it could force the FCC and Congress to act to address the continued viability of the current USF system and weigh the related issue of what happens when money from the $14.2 billion Affordably Connectivity Program (ACP) runs out.
Top cable industry analyst Craig Moffett issued a report with a provocative title, asking, “Is cable a good business?” Clearly, MoffettNathanson’s principal and senior analyst believes Wall Street doesn’t think so. The future of the cable business lies in how much it will cost to upgrade broadband service, whether that expands the customer base, and how much revenue each customer generates. Moffett points out that when Charter Communications announced its capital spending plans, all of the major publicly traded cable stocks fell, even though Charter’s news was that its spending would be less than Wall Street had expected. Investors are also concerned about the threat that fixed wireless presents to cable broadband, Moffett said. Longer term, the bigger threat to cable broadband is likely fiber rather than fixed wireless. But even with that, the analyst seems to be less concerned that cable operators will overspend on fiber or that overbuilders will present more competition.
Color Of Change, Free Press Action and MediaJustice urged the Senate to confirm Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society] to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during the final days of the 117th Congress. "We are deeply concerned that antisemitic, homophobic, and racist smears against Sohn have contributed to the inaction of the Senate on her confirmation. These attacks, which reflect a nationwide rise in antisemitism and backlash against progress made by Black people, women, and LGBTQIA+ people, provide an ugly backdrop for industry efforts to maintain a 2-2 tie at the Commission. Telecommunications firms, cable companies, and licensed broadcasters regulated by the FCC are invested in stopping the agency from carrying out its mission to serve the public interest. The senseless delay in confirming Ms. Sohn only benefits large broadcasters and internet service providers and harms millions of people, especially working families trying to pay their rising monthly bills. The failure to confirm Sohn has slowed the agency’s ability to adopt policies to close the digital divide, which disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people’s internet adoption, enforces our nation’s communications law, promotes diversity and localism in broadcast ownership, and more."
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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