Daily Digest 1/23/2023 (Virginia Mary Redington; Mary Gwen Knapp)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Inclusion

Closing the digital divide in Black America  |  Read below  |  Ayebea Darko, Danielle Hinton, John Horrigan, Blair Levin, Kunal Modi, Todd Winter  |  Analysis  |  McKinsey
Prevention and Elimination of Digital Discrimination: Comments due February 21, 2023  |  Federal Communications Commission
The Many Ingenious Ways People in Prison Use (Forbidden) Cell Phones  |  Marshall Project

Broadband Funding

NCTA Answers Senator Thune's (R-SD) Inquiry on Broadband Programs  |  Read below  |  Shirley Bloomfield  |  Letter  |  NCTA-The Rural Broadband Association
$34 Million Awarded to Expand Broadband Through Connect the Ready Program  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Maine Connectivity Authority
Strategy for Equity in the Awarding of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Broadband Grants for the Lower Rio Grande Valley  |  Read below  |  Jordana Barton-Garcia  |  Letter  |  Connect Humanity
2023 AARP Community Challenge  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  AARP

Data & Mapping

Update: Comparing the New FCC Fabric to the Census  |  Read below  |  Mike Conlow  |  Analysis  |  Substack

Platforms/Social Media

Congress Must Halt Big Tech’s Power Grab  |  Read below  |  William Barr  |  Op-Ed  |  Wall Street Journal
Change the Terms Coalition Calls on Mark Zuckerberg to Heed the Jan. 6 Committee's Warnings and Permanently Ban Donald Trump  |  Free Press
Attacks on U.S. Jews and gays accelerate as hate speech grows on Twitter  |  Washington Post
The third-party apps Twitter just killed made the site what it is today  |  Vox
As states ban TikTok on government devices, evidence of harm is thin  |  Washignton Post
Editorial | Don’t ban TikTok. Make it safer for the country.  |  Washington Post

Media & Democracy

Benton Foundation
Hold The Hallelujahs  |  Read below  |  Michael Copps  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society


Antin Wraps Acquisition of Empire Access, North Penn to Create New FTTH Player  |  Read below  |  Broadband Communities
ImOn Communications Snaps Up FiberComm  |  Read below  |  Broadband Communities Magazine


Challenges in Establishing a Comprehensive Cybersecurity Strategy and Performing Effective Oversight  |  Government Accountability Office

Company News

Lumos to Invest More Than $100 Million to Expand Fiber Access in South Carolina  |  Read below  |  Broadband Communities
AT&T to Light Georgia's Covington Town Center with Fiber-Based Broadband  |  Broadband Communities Magazine


People in the United States Are Paying a Steep Price for Two Years Without a Fully Functional FCC  |  Read below  |  Heather Franklin  |  Press Release  |  Free Press

Stories From Abroad

How the Netherlands Is Taming Big Tech  |  New York Times
Telecommunications price rises – what are your rights?  |  Ofcom

How We Live Now

How Fixing Notifications Changed My Relationship With My Phone  |  Wall Street Journal
Today's Top Stories

Digital Inclusion

Closing the digital divide in Black America

Ayebea Darko, Danielle Hinton, John Horrigan, Blair Levin, Kunal Modi, Todd Winter  |  Analysis  |  McKinsey

The digital divide was first recognized in the mid-1990s. Three decades later, due in part to long-standing economic inequity and the economics of broadband, it remains an impediment to inclusive economic growth, particularly in Black American communities. There are five steps that state and local leaders and broadband stakeholders could take to expand broadband access and promote digital equity and inclusion in Black communities:

  1. Make explicit commitments to digital equity and inclusion: As states, cities, and municipalities develop their aspirations and make broadband plans, leaders can promote change by elevating a public commitment to digital inclusion and equity alongside the commitment to expanding high-speed broadband infrastructure coverage. 
  2.  Conduct a comprehensive survey of unserved and underserved locations, and ensure the funds reach the communities that need them:  A proper count of unserved locations is therefore the first step toward ensuring that Black communities receive their fair share of funding to close broadband infrastructure gaps, and is necessary for contesting any errors or omissions in the maps.
  3. Involve all stakeholders in understanding the underlying barriers to access and digital equity: To gain a deeper understanding of the underlying barriers that cause the digital divide and identify and create solutions to close it, state leaders could get feedback from a range of stakeholders, including impacted residents, local government leaders, not-for-profit leaders, digital-equity and workforce development practitioners, utilities and electric co-ops, ISPs, private-sector companies focused on growing the digital workforce, and multiple others.
  4. Partner with local stakeholders to ensure households can access subsidies for internet subscriptions and devices: Federal, state, and local governments could partner with local broadband stakeholders to ensure eligible households are able to take advantage of the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides subsidies for internet service and devices.
  5. Seek out partnerships among private enterprises, not-for-profit organizations, academia, and government: Corporations, state and local governments, not-for-profit organizations, and stakeholders in academia—particularly HBCUs—could look for opportunities to partner on initiatives to close the digital divide. These partnerships could include workforce development programs that teach digital skills, develop new talent pools, and provide access to higher-wage jobs.

Broadband Funding

NCTA Answers Senator Thune's (R-SD) Inquiry on Broadband Programs

Shirley Bloomfield  |  Letter  |  NCTA-The Rural Broadband Association

In response to Sen. John Thune's (R-SD) oversight letter on issues concerning federal broadband programs, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association writes:

  • On a technology-neutral approach: All technologies are eligible to participate in the BEAD program; there is nothing in the BEAD program Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) to the contrary. Not all technologies are equally capable, however, and it does not violate a principle of “technological neutrality” to take stock of and account for the relative attributes and limitations of different technologies as demonstrated in the marketplace;
  • On using unionized labor: Congress and/or [the National Telecommunication and Information Administration] NTIA should consider how best to remove or otherwise substantially modify this requirement. 
  • On promoting government-owned networks: Despite the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act's (IIJA) purported neutrality regarding the type of provider eligible for a sub-grant, the NOFO promotes government-owned networks by imposing burdensome requirements on eligible entities and pressures states to waive laws that place restrictions on government-owned networks, even if the restrictions predate IIJA enactment;
  • On broadband policy issues for the 118th Congress: NTCA encourages Congress to remain mindful of the potential concerns raised by several currently pending federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality and legality of the congressional delegation of authority to the FCC to collect contributions in support of its critical USF mission. To the extent that any of these challenges were successful, the FCC’s ability to carry out the congressionally mandated purpose of universal service will be at risk – with rural consumers and the community-based providers that serve them, schools, libraries, low-income consumers, and rural health care providers all suffering catastrophic loss of access to support mechanisms that are critical to connectivity. If a court decision undermines these essential mechanisms, Congress will need to act quickly to ensure that services will not fail and that rates will not increase exponentially for rural communities and users of all kinds across the nation.

$34 Million Awarded to Expand Broadband Through Connect the Ready Program

Press Release  |  Maine Connectivity Authority

The Maine Connectivity Authority announced more than $34 million in grant funding to expand access to high-speed, reliable and affordable internet across Maine. The Connect the Ready grants are the single largest investment in Maine’s broadband infrastructure to date, will provide broadband service to more than 16,000 homes and businesses and will leverage over $17 million in private investment from communities and service providers. The 12 funded projects cover 31 communities across nine counties. Connect the Ready is a competitive grant program that encourages public/private partnerships and collaboration to build broadband infrastructure in unserved or underserved areas of the state. The Maine Connectivity Authority received 29 grant applications for this round of funding, with requests of more than $102 million. MCA will announce the next Connect the Ready grant round later in 2023.  [more at the link below]

Strategy for Equity in the Awarding of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Broadband Grants for the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Jordana Barton-Garcia  |  Letter  |  Connect Humanity

I am pleased to provide the following recommendations for the Lower Rio Grande Valley for a regional strategy to gain equitable access to federal broadband funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Congress also directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to: (1) use updated broadband map to be developed by the Federal Communications Commission to help guide the process for awarding state broadband grants; (2) efficiently award grants by minimizing deployment of new infrastructure over existing broadband networks; and (3) target persistent poverty regions for broadband investment in grant programs. The Rio Grande Valley (RGV), which includes the counties of Cameron, Willacy, Hidalgo, and Starr, is part of a persistent poverty region entitled to special consideration by the NTIA in terms of broadband investment under the IIJA. The recommendations include the following:

  • The LRGVDC should file a request with the to NTIA waive reliance on the FCC's maps due to the counties of the RGV and Texas-Mexico Border region persistent poverty status. They should additionally file for a waiver to NTIA’s “no overbuilding” infrastructure rule in considering the award of broadband grants to the entire Rio Grande Valley region to foster competition and secure the necessary speed and capacity of networks to implement the telehealth objectives for the region and other economic benefits. Without granting these waivers, the NTIA will not be able to fulfill the mandate from Congress to give special consideration to persistent poverty regions, such as the Rio Grande Valley/Texas Border region, in terms of broadband investment.
  • The LRGVDC should file a letter with the FCC and NTIA supporting the extension requested by Texas Comptroller Hegar and share local broadband infrastructure access data. It is equally important to share subscriptions, community surveys, and other data on the digital divide directly with the NTIA, which is the federal agency with the legal mandate to establish the rules to administer broadband funds efficiently and equitably under the IIJA, including the targeting of persistent poverty regions for broadband investment.

2023 AARP Community Challenge

Press Release  |  AARP

The AARP Community Challenge provides small grants to fund quick-action projects that can help communities become more livable for people of all ages. In 2023, the AARP Community Challenge is accepting applications across three different grant opportunities, two of which are new this year.  Organizations are eligible to apply for more than one grant opportunity and may submit multiple applications. The available grants are as follows:

  • Flagship Grants: The flagship AARP Community Challenge grants range from several hundred dollars for smaller, short-term activities to tens of thousands for larger projects. Since 2017, AARP has funded projects ranging from $500 to $50,000 with an average grant amount of $11,900 (83 percent of grants have been under $20,000.) Projects can create vibrant public spaces, deliver a range of transportation and mobility options, support housing options, ensure a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, increase digital connections by expanding high-speed internet and enhancing the digital literacy skills of residents, support community resilience, increase civic engagement, and/or improve community health and economic empowerment. 

  • Capacity-Building Microgrants: By combining $2,500 grants with additional resources — such as webinars, AARP Livable Communities publications, cohort learning opportunities and/or up to two hours of one-on-one coaching with leading national organizations — this new grant opportunity will benefit residents (especially those age 50 or older) that provide 1) Walkability, through a walk audit to assess and enhance the safety of a street or neighborhood, and 2) Community Gardens, to start or enhance a community garden using the AARP publication "Creating Community Gardens for People of All Ages."

  • Demonstration Grants: By supporting demonstration efforts that encourage the replication of promising local efforts, this new grant opportunity will benefit residents (especially those age 50 and older) by 1) Advancing solutions that build capacity towards transportation systems change, and 2) Implementing accessory dwelling unity (ADU) design competitions that increase public understanding of this housing option and encourage the implementation of ADU supportive policies. 

Eligible organizations must be 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4), and 501(c)(6) nonprofits, government entities, or another type of organization, which will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The project type may be used to support three projects: 1) Permanent physical improvements, 2) Temporary demonstrations that lead to long-term change, or 3) New, innovative programming pilots or services. AARP will evaluate each project based on its consistency with the AARP mission to serve the needs of people 50-plus.

Data & Mapping

Update: Comparing the New FCC Fabric to the Census

Mike Conlow  |  Analysis  |  Substack

The Federal Communications Commission released a file that contains the number of “units” (usually housing units) in the  Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (Fabric). There are 158 million “units” in the Fabric and 140 million housing units in the 2020 Census. In the least dense 2,143 counties, there are 30 million “units” in the Fabric and 24.5 million Census housing units. As counties get more rural, the Fabric increasingly has more locations than the Census. In the least dense counties, the Fabric routinely has 40% more locations than the Census. We hear a lot about missing locations in the Fabric; we don’t hear as much about over-reported locations.

Platforms/Social Media

Congress Must Halt Big Tech’s Power Grab

William Barr  |  Op-Ed  |  Wall Street Journal

Big Tech has far too much power. Ahey have a chokehold over essential channels of communication and commerce, allowing them to be gatekeepers to the digital world. They vacuum up a trove of personal information about users—what they see, hear, read, think and buy. And they distort the “marketplace of ideas.” Congress must act quickly to prohibit the tech giants from unfairly leveraging their dominance into more markets. This doesn’t mean rewriting the antitrust laws but rather taking these three steps:

  1. Prohibit dominant platforms from giving their own products an unfair advantage by reserving for themselves higher-quality access than they grant competitors.
  2. Prohibit Big Tech from using dominant platforms to extract competitors’ business data and exploiting that data in developing competing products.
  3. Protect consumer privacy. Congress has yet to address the massive amount of personal information these companies already collect.

Media & Democracy

Hold The Hallelujahs

Michael Copps  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

I no longer believe, and haven’t for years, that our current commercialized and consolidated media is capable of curing its own ills. I applaud what remains of community and independent media. These folks struggle mightily to maintain sufficient resources needed to do their jobs, but it becomes more difficult each year as newspapers are bought up by huge non-community chains, local stations go off the air, newsrooms are shuttered, reporters are fired en masse, and local, regional, and statehouse coverage diminishes. It’s not working; something else is needed. There is no silver bullet solution to repair our media ecosystem. But part of the answer must be significantly increased support for public media, non-profits, and start-ups. Compared to other advanced nations, the United States spent only a pittance on public broadcasting. We need to catch up and, given our size and population, go beyond what even those nations are spending. And we need to provide significantly more support for not just national news and information like PBS and NPR, but on local and community news and information. Then we need to repair commercial media like radio and TV, bringing back Federal Communications Commission regulatory oversight that was built up over the years but eliminated by recent GOP-majority FCCs. Rules and regulations limiting mergers and acquisitions, requiring diversity of viewpoint and diversity of ownership, coverage of local news like mayors’ offices, courts, school boards, environmental challenges, limits on advertising, some semblance of balance in the presentation of viewpoints, and programs for children. While cable has been treated differently from radio and television, it is time to bring some public interest oversight here, too. Yes, the main focus these days seems to be on what to do about the internet. Yet as former President Barack Obama and many others have observed, much of the mis- and dis-information on social media originates on traditional media platforms.


Antin Wraps Acquisition of Empire Access, North Penn to Create New FTTH Player

Antin Infrastructure Partners has completed its acquisitions of Empire Access and North Penn Telephone, giving birth to a new fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) player serving Western New York and Northern Pennsylvania. Empire’s network consists of 1,280 fiber route miles servicing over 96,000 addresses and 29,000 customers in Western New York and Northern Pennsylvania. Antin plans to expand its high-speed fiber broadband footprint across the region.

ImOn Communications Snaps Up FiberComm

ImOn Communications, an Eastern Iowa-based fiber broadband services provider, has agreed to acquire FiberComm, reflecting an ongoing consolidation trend of regional fiber operators. ImOn was founded in 2007 as a single-market cable provider and has transformed into a regional fiber-to-the-premise platform that owns and operates a 2,000+ mile network that reaches over 77,000 households and businesses. ImOn said that it remains committed to completing its network expansion to all homes and businesses in Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha, Iowa City, Coralville and Dubuque. After meeting pending regulatory approvals, the transaction is expected to close in 2023 and is subject to obtaining customary regulatory approvals.

Company News

Lumos to Invest More Than $100 Million to Expand Fiber Access in South Carolina

Lumos will make a large investment in South Carolina’s Richland and Lexington Counties, bringing fiber-based internet service across the greater Columbia area. The expansion will blanket the region with nearly 1,200 miles of the latest fiber optic technology, with a capital investment of more than $100 million and the first investment from the company in the South Carolina region. This new expansion will help provide fiber internet to underserved areas, creating economic advantages that will serve the Columbia communities for decades. With this new expansion, Lumos will reach underserved portions of Columbia, Forest Acres, and Arcadia Lakes in Richland County, as well as West Columbia, Lexington, Cayce, Irmo, and Springdale in Lexington County. Engineering work by Lumos will begin in mid-2023, with construction starting shortly after.


People in the United States Are Paying a Steep Price for Two Years Without a Fully Functional FCC

Heather Franklin  |  Press Release  |  Free Press

We’re now marking two years without a fully functional Federal Communications Commission. Never before has the American public had to wait so long for an FCC confirmation. This senseless delay has been driven by a bigoted, vicious and fact-free smear campaign coordinated by telephone, cable and broadcast industry lobbyists and right-wing operatives. The Senate must end this senseless charade and confirm Sohn. She’s an incredibly well-qualified candidate with a proven track record supported by civil-rights groups, competitive businesses, and public-interest organizations around the country and across the political spectrum.  Senators must reject these corrupt and dishonest attacks and fulfill their commitment to seat Sohn as soon as possible. The ongoing delay at the FCC is undermining the Biden administration’s ambitious agenda, and it’s rewarding the corporations trying to derail the president’s priorities. But it’s hurting everyday people the most. Not having a fully functional FCC prevents the agency from adopting policies that would ensure that broadband access is affordable, open and reliable for all. It prevents the agency from fulfilling its commitment to diverse and local media ownership at a time of runaway consolidation across the industry. The lack of a fully functioning FCC also means that consumers are subject to the whims of big corporations that care only about maximizing their profits. 

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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) and Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.

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