Daily Digest 12/6/2023 (Denny Laine)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Equity

The ACP Helps Millions Afford Internet. It Could Be Gone by Next Year  |  Read below  |  Joe Supan  |  C|Net
Task Force for Reviewing the Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture in the United States  |  Read below  |  Research  |  Federal Communications Commission
The battle to stop broadband discrimination has only just begun  |  Read below  |  Karl Bode  |  Analysis  |  Vox
Rep Shri Thanedar (D-MI) Introduces The "Digital Literacy and Equity Commission" Bill to Enhance Digital Competence  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  House of Representatives

Broadband Funding

FCC Proposes $22 Million in Fines for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Defaults  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission
How Monopolies and Maps Are Killing ‘Internet for All’  |  Read below  |  Sean Gonsalves  |  Op-Ed  |  American Prospect
Citizens Against Government Waste Reviews First 10 States' Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Proposals  |  Read below  |  Alec Mena  |  Analysis  |  Citizens Against Government Waste
BEAD’s Middle Class Affordability Requirement  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting


Benton Foundation
In a New York State of Digital Equity  |  Read below  |  Kevin Taglang  |  Analysis  |  Benton Institute for Broadband and Society
Vermont Seeks Public Comment on draft Digital Equity Plan  |  Vermont Community Broadband Board


FCC Adopts Final Deadlines for Submission of C-Band Reimbursement Claims  |  Federal Communications Commission

Platforms/Social Media/AI

Facebook and Instagram Steer Predators to Children, New Mexico Attorney General Alleges in Lawsuit  |  Wall Street Journal
How Nations Are Losing a Global Race to Tackle A.I.’s Harms  |  New York Times
Key Congress staffers in AI debate are funded by tech giants like Google and Microsoft  |  Politico
Opinion | Make no mistake- AI is owned by big tech  |  MIT Technology Review


Actors Ratify Deal With Hollywood Studios, With Reservations  |  New York Times


Clandestine online operations now require sign-off by senior officials  |  Washington Post
Effective Date for FCC’s Safe Connections Rules is Jan 14, 2023  |  Federal Register

Government & Communications

FCC, USAC, and Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services enter computer matching program for ACP, Lifeline verification  |  Federal Register
FCC, USAC, and Minnesota Department of Human Services enter computer matching program for ACP, Lifeline verification  |  Federal Register
FCC, USAC, and New Mexico Human Services Department enter computer matching program for ACP, Lifeline verification  |  Federal Register


Vice President Kamala Harris Breaks Record of Tiebreaking Votes in the Senate  |  New York Times
Rep Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who briefly served as acting House speaker, will not seek reelection  |  Washington Post
Today's Top Stories

Digital Equity

The ACP Helps Millions Afford Internet. It Could Be Gone by Next Year

Joe Supan  |  C|Net

According to projections from the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, sometime around the middle of 2024, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) will run out of money. The ACP offers monthly subsidies of $30 to $75 to help low-income households pay for home internet. It was initially born out of a pandemic-era program called the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which was replaced by the longer-term ACP when Congress devoted $14.2 billion to the program as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Today, less than $5 billion in funding remains. More than 22 million households are currently enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program, around half of all eligible households. That means around 19 percent of all broadband subscriptions in the US rely on the subsidy. An analysis by the Benton Institute found that the ACP has had a significant impact on broadband adoption, particularly in cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Baltimore, which have some of the highest poverty rates in the nation. Enrollment has also been higher than expected in areas with larger Black and Hispanic populations, and in places with high unemployment, according to an analysis of ACP data by Benton Institute Senior Fellow John Horrigan. While the White House requested an additional $6 billion to keep the router lights on for the ACP through 2024, this is largely a stopgap measure and a far cry from the permanent funding many advocates would like to see. 

Task Force for Reviewing the Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture in the United States

The Task Force for Reviewing the Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture in the United States finds that access to broadband infrastructure is not readily available in rural America, despite it having become a fundamental necessity. The Task Force seeks to address these gaps with recommendations that advise the federal government on ways it can improve access to reliable, scalable, and low latency broadband access, specifically on rural and agricultural lands. The recommendations fall largely within five primary categories with some additional key considerations: enhancing federal maps on agricultural lands, targeted incentives for a robust technology ecosystem, new technology considerations for agriculture, increasing agency collaborations, and developing specific education and training programs. Additional consideration should also be given to cyber and national security concerns. [Nov 6]

The battle to stop broadband discrimination has only just begun

Karl Bode  |  Analysis  |  Vox

For the better part of a generation, low-income and minority US communities have struggled to gain access to affordable broadband. It’s not an accident: numerous studies indicate that major internet service providers have consistently avoided low-income, minority, and tribal neighborhoods when it comes to affordable fiber upgrades, and federal policymakers haven't historically done much about it. The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act tasked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with crafting new rules taking aim at “digital discrimination.” On November 15, 2023 the FCC passed rules banning internet service providers from broadband discrimination based on income, race, and religion. Digital equity advocates have celebrated the FCC's decision to include disparate impacts (inequity in deployment, regardless of intent), but many have also expressed concerns about weaknesses in the rules. “Nothing in these rules would address historical, existing and the ongoing redlining and discrimination against BIPOC and low income communities by large corporate ISPs,” said Brandon Forester, a media and telecommunications reform activist at MediaJustice. Forester also criticized the lack of transparency in the new FCC complaint process. Whether the FCC’s digital discrimination protections can begin to truly repair generations of injustice remains unclear.

Rep Shri Thanedar (D-MI) Introduces The "Digital Literacy and Equity Commission" Bill to Enhance Digital Competence

Press Release  |  House of Representatives

Rep Shri Thanedar (D-MI) introduced a new bill, the "Digital Literacy and Equity Commission," aimed at enhancing digital literacy and addressing digital inequity across the United States. Without internet access, many students are falling behind due to online learning or an inability to complete schoolwork, known as the “homework gap.” Key aspects of the bill include:

  • Establishment of the Commission: A new commission to study and promote digital literacy.

  • Comprehensive Analysis: Examining the state of digital literacy, particularly in low-income and disadvantaged areas.

  • International Comparison: Reviewing digital literacy programs from around the world to identify best practices.

  • Strategic Development: Formulating recommendations to enhance digital literacy in the United States.

Broadband Funding

FCC Proposes $22 Million in Fines for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Defaults

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

In this Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL), the Federal Communications Commission identifies two Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I Auction (Auction 904) applicants that defaulted on their bids for support on August 10, 2022, and May 23, 2023, in apparent violation of the FCC’s rules (see applicants below). In light of the applicants’ defaults spanning 7,482 Census Block Groups (CBGs), this NAL proposes forfeitures for each of the two Auction 904 defaulters. The proposed forfeitures assessed here total $22,446,000. Each of these applicants defaulted on its respective bids for support by its failure to meet deadlines and requirements to which it agreed when it participated in Auction 904. This NAL relates only to those areas, deadlines, and requirements for which the FCC did not determine, in a prior release, that waiver was appropriate. By defaulting on their bids, these applicants hindered the disbursement of funds that could have otherwise been expended for the advancement of broadband access across primarily rural areas in the United States. The objective of Auction 904 was to facilitate the provision of broadband service to Americans in wholly unserved areas. The FCC took steps to protect the integrity, mission, and functionality of Auction 904 by advising auction participants to adhere strictly to all auction requirements and by providing for forfeitures for violations of those procedures.

  • Etheric Communications LLC (Etheric), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Etheric Networks Incorporated, provides custom broadband services through a combination of fixed wireless and fiber technologies to residential and business customers across 10 counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. The FCC finds that Etheric apparently committed 244 violations by defaulting on 244 CBGs subject to forfeiture, which places the company’s base forfeiture at $732,000
  • LTD Broadband LLC's (LTD) application was lacking in a number of ways.  First, LTD failed to provide proof of Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) designation, a requirement to receive universal service funds, in three of the states in which it had winning bids. Second, LTD did not show that it had available funds for all project costs that exceed the amount of support to be received for the first two years of its support term. Third, LTD did not, as required, differentiate between anticipated project costs and related funding for each of the areas for which LTD was seeking support, nor did LTD explain why its apparent assumption that all deployment costs are equal across all of its winning bids states and rural regions within each state might be reasonable. Fourth, a number of the cost assumptions on which LTD based its deployment costs were unrealistic, raising concerns that the overall determination of deployment costs was too low. Fifth, LTD did not provide evidence that it could cover the necessary debt service payments over the life of its loans. Sixth, LTD failed to provide specific and localized project designs; instead, LTD applied an unrealistic one-size-fits-all approach for the vast areas where it would be required to deploy last-mile fiber to every serviceable location and the supporting middle-mile and core infrastructures. The FCC finds that LTD apparently committed 7,238 violations by defaulting on 7,238 CBGs subject to forfeiture, which places the company’s base forfeiture at $21,714,000.

How Monopolies and Maps Are Killing ‘Internet for All’

Sean Gonsalves  |  Op-Ed  |  American Prospect

The Biden administration’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law devotes $65 billion to a moon shot mission, involving all 50 states and U.S. territories, to bridge the digital divide once and for all. It includes funding to build new modern networks, programs to address barriers to broadband adoption, initiatives that offer digital skills training, and a mandate for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt rules “to prevent and eliminate digital discrimination.” Similar to when the federal government set out to bring electricity to every household in America a century ago, the Biden administration intends to do the same with broadband, labeling this historic investment the “Internet for All” initiative. But the trajectory we are on will not lead to "Internet for All", but something more like "Internet for Some." Inadequate mapping by the FCC, based on self-reported data from internet service providers, labels areas as mostly served when, in reality, they are “served” by a monopoly provider that offers a patchwork of unreliable, high-cost service. These maps were used to determine how much federal broadband infrastructure money will be allocated to each state, and they will guide states in determining where to target the investments. #OaklandUndivided Director Patrick Messac says that the broadband maps used to plan public investment “systematically benefit wealthy communities at the expense of underserved neighborhoods.” President Biden’s initial vision of beefing up America’s internet infrastructure, while prioritizing ways to bring in more competition and thereby lower the cost of internet service for subscribers everywhere, has become a historical footnote. 

[Sean Gonsalves is the associate director for communications and senior reporter at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative.]

Citizens Against Government Waste Reviews First 10 States' Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Proposals

Alec Mena  |  Analysis  |  Citizens Against Government Waste

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) included $42.45 billion for broadband funding across the country, made available through the National Technology and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) sent comments to the NTIA prior to the release of the agency’s guidance for the BEAD program, urging the agency to “take a vendor and technology neutral approach to issuing grant funding,” and avoid supporting government owned networks, among other recommendations. After these recommendations were not followed, CAGW has been critical of NTIA's guidance, noting that the rules encourage states to engage in rate setting by prioritizing funding for providers that meet prescribed rates for low- and middle-income households at symmetrical 100/100 Megabits per second or higher speed thresholds. This leads to the use of a particular technology rather than allowing states and localities to determine the technology best suited to their local conditions. As states begin to receive funding and set up the process by which the money will be disbursed, CAGW is keeping track of how the states formulate and implement their proposals for BEAD funding. CAGW reviews the BEAD plans for Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Wyoming, and Michigan.

BEAD’s Middle Class Affordability Requirement

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

One of the most perplexing requirements for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grant program is that state broadband plans must include a middle-class affordability plan to make sure that all consumers have access to affordable broadband. I don’t know anybody who fully understands what this means. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Notice of Funding Opportunity for the BEAD grant program makes a variety of suggestions for how State Broadband Offices might achieve this, ranging from consumer subsidies to assigning a high weight to affordability criteria when selecting sub-grantees. The idea of having to push down the rates to win the grants is scary for most internet service providers because most of the customers who aren’t low-income are probably considered to be middle-class. That is the category of broadband that drives the majority of the revenue in a broadband business plan. If providers are pressured to have low rates for everybody, it’s that much harder to build a business plan that doesn’t lose money. I’m sure it’s really tempting for a State Broadband Office to mandate affordable rates; it’s a chance through the grant process to try to establish public policy. But I find it really troubling that policy-driven folks who have never operated an internet service provider try to micromanage how one should operate.


In a New York State of Digital Equity

Kevin Taglang  |  Analysis  |  Benton Institute for Broadband and Society

In November 2023, the Empire State Development’s ConnectALL Office released the draft New York State Digital Equity Plan and sought public comment on how New York will bridge the digital divide in the state. The draft presents the findings from an statewide assessment of the assets and barriers to the adoption and use of internet service and the strategies the ConnectALL Office will use for federal digital equity funding when that is made available to New York in 2024.  Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) established the ConnectALL Office (CAO) in 2022 to transform New York State’s digital infrastructure so all residents and businesses have access to high-speed, reliable, and affordable broadband for education, economic growth, and full participation in civic life. This vision is pursuant to the principles also articulated by the New York State Legislature in the 2022 Working to Implement Reliable and Equitable Deployment of Broadband Act (WIRED Broadband Act). The WIRED Broadband Act mandates CAO to take actions to “assist in ending the digital divide, supporting a more robust and competitive internet marketplace, and carrying out other actions to ensure universal access to high-speed, reliable and affordable broadband.” The public comment window for the New York State Digital Equity Plan closes on December 6.

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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 David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.

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Benton Institute
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