Daily Digest 12/20/2023 (Digital Equity)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Equity

Digital Inclusion Coalitions  |  Read below  |  Analysis  |  National Digital Inclusion Alliance
Digital inaccessibility: Blind and low-vision people have powerful technology but still face barriers to the digital world  |  Read below  |  Michele McDonnall  |  Op-Ed  |  nextgov
Jails are embracing video-only visits, but some experts say screens aren't enough  |  Read below  |  Martin Kaste  |  National Public Radio
I’d Never Owned a Computer. After 17 Years in Prison, I Finally Have One of My Own.  |  Read below  |  Kunlyna Tauch  |  Op-Ed  |  Slate
Jailbreaking in a Broken Jail  |  Read below  |  Ryan Moser  |  Op-Ed  |  Slate

Broadband Funding

House Commerce Committee Republicans to NTIA: By Allowing States to Regulate Broadband Rates, NTIA is Ignoring Congressional Intent  |  Read below  |  Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Chairman Bob Latta (R-OH), Rep Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Rep Tim Walberg (R-MI)  |  Letter  |  House Commerce Committee
Proposed First Quarter 2024 Universal Service Contribution Factor is 34.6 Percent  |  Federal Communications Commission
Reaching Everybody with BEAD  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting


2023 California Statewide Digital Equity Survey  |  Read below  |  François Bar, Hernan Galperin, Thai Le  |  Research  |  University of Southern California
​South Carolina Invests $112.3 Million to Connect 16,000+ Homes  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff
Baltimore (MD) introduces free public Wi-Fi network  |  Read below  |  Amanda Engel  |  WMAR


Hughes’ new Jupiter 3 supports new satellite broadband plans  |  Read below  |  Linda Hardesty  |  Fierce

Artificial Intelligence 

The impact of generative AI on Black communities  |  Read below  |  Jan Shelly Brown, Matthew Finney, Natasha Korgaonkar, Mark McMillan, Chris Perkins  |  Research  |  McKinsey
The chief information officer for the Senate Sergeant at Arms greenlights research use of generative AI  |  nextgov
Generation GPT: What Gen Z really thinks about ‘world-changing’ AI  |  Washington Post
Amazon's AI Product Reviews Seen Exaggerating Negative Feedback  |  Bloomberg

Platforms/Social Media

Google Allows More App Payment Options in Antitrust Deal With States  |  Read below  |  Nico Grant, David McCabe  |  New York Times
How Verified Accounts on X Thrive While Spreading Misinformation About the Israel-Hamas Conflict  |  ProPublica
NetChoice, a trade group representing TikTok, Meta and X sues Utah over strict new limits on app use for minors  |  Associated Press


Why the Apple Watch is being banned — and how Apple can avoid it  |  Vox
A Phone That Lasts a Decade? Sounds Too Good to Be True  |  Wall Street Journal


National Science Foundation invests over $16 Million in six academic institutions for cybersecurity scholarships  |  National Science Foundation

Stories From Abroad

The State of Worldwide Connectivity in 2023  |  Read below  |  Sylwia Kechiche  |  Research  |  Ookla
More than nine in 10 Northern Ireland homes can access full-fibre broadband  |  Ofcom
Full-fibre broadband reaches more than half of Scottish premises  |  Ofcom
Full-fibre broadband availability crosses the halfway mark in Wales  |  Ofcom
Seeking a Big Edge in A.I., South Korean Firms Think Smaller  |  New York Times
Today's Top Stories

Digital Equity

Digital Inclusion Coalitions

Digital Inclusion Coalitions provide the unique service of developing their communities’ digital inclusion ecosystems. Coalitions advance digital equity by providing collective empowerment, alignment, coordination, and amplification of member organizations’ digital inclusion efforts. To maximize the coalition’s ability to support digital equity, coalitions should:

  • Establish organizational leadership and a decision-making structure. 
  • Identify resource needs and how to support them.
  • Build membership and share successes.
  • Join, learn, and share.
  • Connect with other local coalitions.
  • Map community assets and understand the digital ecosystem. 
  • Balance advocacy and services.

Digital inaccessibility: Blind and low-vision people have powerful technology but still face barriers to the digital world

Michele McDonnall  |  Op-Ed  |  nextgov

There are 8 million people with blindness or low vision in the US. More than 4.23 million of them are working age, but only about half of that working-age population are employed. Employment rates for people with blindness or low vision have historically been much lower than for the general population. An overwhelming majority of jobs across all industries require digital skills. Assistive technologies such as screen readers, screen magnifiers and braille notetakers provide people who are blind or have low vision a chance to succeed in school and the workplace. But despite the abundance of assistive technology, people who don’t rely on it are typically unaware of how it’s being used at work and the challenges users experience with it. Digital content is sometimes technically accessible but unusable by people who use assistive technology. People who are blind or have low vision have been harder to place in jobs than people with other types of disabilities due to inaccessible company software. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act does not mention the digital environment explicitly, the Justice Department has taken the position that Title III of the ADA, which covers public accommodation for people with disabilities, applies to websites and mobile apps. Despite laws requiring and guidelines supporting an accessible digital environment, much if not most digital content is still not fully accessible.

[Michele McDonnall is a Research Professor of Rehabilitation Education and Research at Mississippi State University]

Jails are embracing video-only visits, but some experts say screens aren't enough

Martin Kaste  |  National Public Radio

The holidays are all about trying to spend time with family—a hard thing to do when a family member is behind bars. And it's even harder if that person is held in a local jail, where there's been a growing trend away from in-person visits. "There's no more eye-to-eye, face-to-face visitation," says Maj. David McFadyen, the head of administrative operations for the sheriff's office in North Carolina's Craven County. Since the pandemic, the county jail has switched to a remote video system for family visits. It's not free; families pay the video service contractor $8 per 20 minutes. But Maj. McFadyen says it's easier for everyone involved. Prisons across the U.S. have mostly returned to allowing in-person visits since COVID. But in jails—which house people for shorter periods, usually before trial—there's been less interest in reopening doors to family, according to Wanda Bertram of the Prison Policy Initiative. Jails that have done this say video allows inmates more time to visit with family—even outside traditional jail visiting hours. But is video time the same as in-person time? Nneka Jones Tapia says no.

I’d Never Owned a Computer. After 17 Years in Prison, I Finally Have One of My Own.

Kunlyna Tauch  |  Op-Ed  |  Slate

I’m currently enrolled in one of the first bachelor’s degree programs inside California prisons. The program is offered by California State University, Los Angeles, and the laptop is one of its perks. The students in my cohort—the program’s third, but the first to receive personal laptops—were all incarcerated at very young ages and sentenced to prison terms that reflect football scores. I’ve served 17 years of a 50-year-to-life sentence, and none of us foresaw living past our 18th birthdays, let alone attending university. But here we are, in our senior year of a communication studies degree. Sometimes, I walk out into the day room and sit at an available table to do my assignments. I set up my laptop, my MP3 player in my ears and my textbook in front of me. Sitting next to me is my cup of coffee. It’s a table for productivity. There, I’m the CEO of my education, my work, and my life, and I’m busy changing their course.People walk by and ask me what it’s like to have a laptop; they sit with me and ask about their college credits and talk about their aspirations to get into Cal State LA. It’s a conversation I invite, and in an odd way, it’s a reminder of the possibilities and opportunity that this place has. When I work on this borrowed computer in the day room, I can see a future, one I’ve never seen before, where I’m out there, in a coffee shop, working on a laptop of my own.

[Kunlyna Tauch is a Cambodian American storyteller who writes for Empowerment Avenue. Incarcerated at the age of 18, he has served 17 years and now writes about the more humanistic aspects of being incarcerated.]

Jailbreaking in a Broken Jail

Ryan Moser  |  Op-Ed  |  Slate

Since around 2016, telecommunications companies like ViaPath and Securus (which owns JPay) have issued thousands of tablets in prisons and jails nationwide. These devices are populated with prison-approved content and can’t connect to the internet unless they are hacked and updated with software, a process otherwise known as jailbreaking, or rooting. Jailbreaking a tablet can cost up to $300, and the reasons for doing it vary. Most incarcerated users are more interested in staving off boredom and loneliness and avoiding the high cost of prison communications. Although most people use their tablets for what they are intended—communication, education, and entertainment—prison officials and opponents of tech inside prison have used jailbreaking as an excuse to terminate personal electronic devices altogether. But the dilemma with jailbroken tablets is a challenge that governs a lot of policies in prison. When prison officials use bad behavior from a few as an excuse to take away technology access more broadly, they’re generalizing malicious intent and governing from the lowest common denominator. That’s not an effective way to prepare people for life on the outside, and runs contrary to any rehabilitative end prison might serve.

[Ryan M. Moser is a formerly incarcerated journalist and award-winning author from Philadelphia.]

Broadband Funding

House Commerce Committee Republicans to NTIA: By Allowing States to Regulate Broadband Rates, NTIA is Ignoring Congressional Intent

Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Chairman Bob Latta (R-OH), Rep Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Rep Tim Walberg (R-MI)  |  Letter  |  House Commerce Committee

We write in response to your testimony at the December 5, 2023, hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology titled, “Oversight of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).” Throughout the hearing, you provided troubling answers that suggested that the NTIA would permit rate regulation by states participating in the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. These answers are concerning, as they suggest that the NTIA is administering this program in violation of the law. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which created the BEAD Program, explicitly prohibits the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and the NTIA from “regulat[ing] the rates charged for broadband service.” Based on your testimony, it appears that you are planning to ignore this Congressional direction. Although your testimony reaffirmed that NTIA itself would not engage in rate regulation, you did not foreclose approval of state plans that regulated rates of broadband service. Indeed, when directly asked, “Will NTIA permit a state to rate regulate, yes or no,” you did not provide a yes or no answer and instead stated that NTIA would give states flexibility on how to approach this issue. This “flexibility” to pursue rate regulation is not only concerning, but is strictly prohibited. We ask that you confirm whether NTIA will approve state plans that include rate regulation, as defined in this letter. If NTIA plans to approve these plans, we also ask that you provide an explanation of why you and the Biden Administration are ignoring the IIJA. We look forward to your response no later than January 12, 2024. 

Reaching Everybody with BEAD

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

One of the most interesting rules in the BEAD Program is that broadband needs to be offered to every unserved location in the country—not 98 percent, not 99 percent, but all of them. This sounds like a terrific policy goal, but as I’ve been thinking about it, the goal is going to be incredibly hard to meet in many places. There are homes throughout the West that are far away from everybody else and will be extremely expensive to reach. There might be even more such homes in Alaska. One of the questions not being asked by the people who created the 100 percent coverage requirement is if folks who purposefully built far away from everybody even want a broadband connection. Imagine getting a grant for these locations and the residents don’t want the broadband. Any BEAD winner is going to have to pledge to build to reach every unserved home in a grant footprint. But nobody has defined the consequences if a BEAD winner doesn’t reach everybody. Will states mandate that a provider make the investment to get to the hard-to-reach homes? Will States consider a clawback of funding or big fines for providers that fail to reach everybody?


2023 California Statewide Digital Equity Survey

François Bar, Hernan Galperin, Thai Le  |  Research  |  University of Southern California

This report presents the main findings from the 2023 Statewide Survey on Broadband Adoption Survey. The main goal of the survey is to assess California’s progress towards closing the divide in broadband adoption, with particular focus on variations across different state regions and subpopulations of interest, in particular those defined as Covered Populations in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA). Beyond the assessment of broadband adoption, the study covers a broad range of related topics, including whether residents connect using a computing device or a smartphone, the cost of broadband service, and the level of satisfaction with the contracted service. Further, the study probes into the impact of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a federal subsidy program established by the Digital Equity Act of 2021 (included in the IIJA) to lessen the affordability burden of broadband service for middle and low-income households. Finally, the study examines the patterns of adoption of telehealth services across Covered Populations.

​South Carolina Invests $112.3 Million to Connect 16,000+ Homes

The South Carolina Broadband Office (SCBBO) is pleased to announce 17 newly funded projects through its American Rescue Plan Act’s Capital Projects Fund (CPF 1.0) grant program. For this round of investments, the SCBBO committed $112,303,273 to eight Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that will connect over 16,000 locations statewide. The total investment for this round of broadband expansion, which includes ISP contribution, is estimated to be $162,141,901. All CPF 1.0 grants are required to be complete by December 29, 2025. An interactive map of CPF grant awards may be found here. The eight grantees are:

  1. WC Fiber
  2. Carolina Connect Cooperative
  3. Comporium
  4. Farmers Telephone Cooperative
  5. Home Telephone Company
  6. Horry Telephone Cooperative
  7. Palmetto Telephone Communications
  8. Sandhill Telephone Cooperative

Baltimore (MD) introduces free public Wi-Fi network

Amanda Engel  |  WMAR

Mayor Brandon Scott (D-Baltimore) announced FreeBmoreWiFi, a free, public WiFi network in the City of Baltimore, which will be implemented by the Office of Broadband and Digital Equity and funded by American Rescue Plan Act funds. The first locations that will be getting this free WiFi are Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness and the Solo Gibbs Recreation Center. The City aims to have the network up at all of Baltimore City's recreation centers by the end of 2024, with future expansion expected. "FreeBmoreWiFi is about more than internet access," says Baltimore City IT Director Todd Carter. "It's about inclusivity and helps residents leverage the power of technology for their benefit."


Hughes’ new Jupiter 3 supports new satellite broadband plans

Linda Hardesty  |  Fierce

Hughes Network Systems, an EchoStar company, launched its third geosynchronous satellite — Jupiter 3 — in July 2023. The company recently announced new satellite internet plans for the lower 48 US states, leveraging the higher capacity of Jupiter 3. Hughes claims Jupiter 3 is the world’s largest commercial communications satellite, and it enables Hughes to deliver download speeds up to 100 Megabits per second. The company is now offering Select, The Hughesnet Fusion plan is based on a hybrid of GEO satellite connectivity combined with terrestrial wireless, which improves latency compared to the satellite-only plans.


The impact of generative AI on Black communities

Jan Shelly Brown, Matthew Finney, Natasha Korgaonkar, Mark McMillan, Chris Perkins  |  Research  |  McKinsey

Generative Artificial Intelligence (gen AI) has already initiated a seismic shift in work and value creation. A recent McKinsey report identified up to $4.4 trillion in potential global economic impact from gen AI across functions and industries. With gen AI in its infancy, organizations are just beginning to understand the potential of applying it to their own goals. As often happens, the advent of a new technology can create or exacerbate divides, including the racial wealth gap. This article explores how gen AI may affect Black communities and Black workers. While the technology has the potential to widen the racial gap, it’s also possible to shepherd this new technology in an inclusive way that not only yields equitable benefits for Black and other marginalized communities, but also accelerates the closure of the racial gap.


Google Allows More App Payment Options in Antitrust Deal With States

Nico Grant, David McCabe  |  New York Times

Google will allow developers on its Play app store to offer direct payment options to users in the company’s latest move to navigate increased regulatory scrutiny of its power. Google will allow apps to charge consumers directly rather than having to charge through Google. To highlight the choice that users have in how they download apps, Google reaffirmed that phone makers that use the Android mobile operating system can continue installing multiple app stores on their devices in addition to Google’s Play Store. Google hopes that the settlement will act as a template for resolutions with other critics of its Play Store policies, including Epic Games.

Stories From Abroad

The State of Worldwide Connectivity in 2023

Sylwia Kechiche  |  Research  |  Ookla

To gain insight into the current performance of networks, we analyzed Speedtest® data in Q3 2023. Our analysis compares changes in 5G performance to the previous year, identifies the top 10 countries with the best performance, and discusses customer satisfaction with 5G. We also ranked countries based on the performance of their fixed networks and investigated the connectivity gap across the world. Key takeways:

  • Global 5G download speed improved. The median global 5G download speed experienced a substantial 20% increase in Q3 2023, reaching 203.04 Mbps, compared to 168.27 Mbps in Q3 2022.
  • Top 5G performers have shifted. The top 10 countries for 5G performance witnessed notable changes, with the United Arab Emirates claiming the top spot, surpassing South Korea.
  • Speedtest user ratings indicate room for 5G improvement. Despite advancements in 5G technology, there has been a decline in the Net Promoter Score (NPS) among 5G users.
  • Fixed Networks Advancements. On a global scale, fixed networks demonstrated significant performance improvement, with a 19% increase in median download speed (83.95 Mbps) and a 28% increase in upload speed (38.32 Mbps) in Q3 2023 compared to the previous year. 
  • The imperative of closing the connectivity gaps. Despite improvements in global connectivity, there are still areas that fall outside of network coverage.

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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.

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