Thursday, January 26, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
FCC Asks Consumers to Share Their Broadband Access Experiences
Members of Congress to NTIA and FCC: Don't Delay BEAD for Better Broadband Maps
State of Digital Inequity: Civil Society Perspectives on Barriers to Progress in our Digitizing World
News From the FCC
News From the FCC
Here’s what the Federal Communications Commission will consider at our February open meeting.
- We’re helping domestic violence survivors access safe and affordable connectivity: Private phone or internet service can help survivors break away from their abusers and find safe support networks. This past December, Congress passed the Safe Connections Act of 2022 to support the connectivity needs of survivors. The FCC will take up proposed rules to implement key provisions in the new law, drawing on work we have already done in an earlier proceeding. In particular, we will consider rules that would help survivors separate service lines from accounts that include their abusers, protect the privacy of calls made by survivors to domestic abuse hotlines, and support survivors who suffer from financial hardship access our Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Programs (ACP).
- We’re connecting Tribal communities: Libraries are a vital source of internet access across Indian country. The FCC recently adopted changes to our E-Rate program rules to make it easier for Tribal libraries to take advantage of this support, in addition to launching a pilot program to make sure all Tribal Libraries are connected. We will vote to seek comment on ways to further improve program rules and encourage greater Tribal participation in the program, in addition to exploring whether similar reforms may be needed to encourage greater participation by non-Tribal applicants.
- We will also consider an adjudicatory matter from our Media Bureau.
The Federal Communication Commission's Task Force to Prevent Digital Discrimination is offering consumers an opportunity to share their stories and experiences in obtaining broadband internet access. In furtherance of the goals to create a framework for addressing digital discrimination and the FCC’s ongoing efforts to identify and address harms experienced by historically excluded and marginalized communities, this new form provides a way for consumers to share their broadband access experiences. Stories shared by consumers will help to inform the work of the Task Force.
The Federal Communications Commission's Broadband Data Task Force (Task Force) announces recommended best practices for submitting bulk challenges to the most recent version of the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (Fabric) data. The Task Force also provides notice that bulk Fabric challenges submitted as much in advance of March 15, 2023, as possible are most likely to be reviewed and adjudicated in time to be accounted for in the next iteration of the Fabric (version three) to be released in conjunction with the Broadband Data Collection (BDC) filing window for data as of June 30, 2023 that is due no later than September 1, 2023. Preparing a bulk Fabric challenge is fundamentally a geospatial process. Entities therefore should not attempt to upload as a bulk Fabric challenge a list of addresses they have compiled for another purpose (e.g., a list of addresses from a billing system or from an E911 database), though these datasets can serve as a helpful starting point for producing a valid bulk Fabric challenge. As an initial step, challengers can attempt to join this type of address-based data to the address information included in the Fabric in order to associate unique Fabric location IDs with the locations in the prospective challenger’s data. But the challenger should not simply upload as a challenge all of the data it is unable to match to an existing location ID using an address matching join. In other words, the fact that an address is missing from the Fabric does not necessarily indicate that the location is missing from the Fabric. Rather than simply filing a Type 1 challenge consisting of a list of addresses, the challenger should next proceed to a geospatial analysis of both its address data and the data included in the Fabric.
We write with great appreciation of your efforts to implement the historic provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to make high-speed internet accessible and affordable for all Americans. Your agencies have been working tirelessly to implement the law's Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment ("BEAD") Program so that the nation's stubborn and unacceptable digital divide can be narrowed as soon as possible. We were pleased to see the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's ("NTIA") January 13 blog post that appropriately recognizes, "Every day we delay is another day that communities are not connected." For this reason, we do not support an extension of the January 13 target date to submit service area mapping challenges because such an extension would result in the delay of NTIA's June 30 target date for the allocation of BEAD Program funds. While accurate maps are undeniably important, the benefit of any marginal improvement to the maps from a delay is outweighed by the harm to unserved and underserved communities.
NTIA ended 2022 by awarding $304 million in funding to every state, along with Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, for planning how to best deploy networks to connect everyone in America to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service. Each state has different needs and unique challenges in bridging the digital divide, and our planning grants recognize the importance of flexibility. Still, there are broad trends driving the ways states are putting this money to use:
- Understanding the digital divide – States are using the funding to identify unserved and underserved locations within their borders. That means finding areas that don’t have access to the Internet at speeds of 25/3 Mbps (unserved) or 100/20 Mbps (underserved).
- Beefing up broadband offices – All 50 states have a broadband office or program now, but many are using federal funding to add staff and capacity. State broadband offices will often be the key decision-makers in how each state will design its funding programs.
- Investing in inclusion – It's not enough to simply build the networks. States are making sure those networks are inclusive by investing in digital equity. That work includes surveying communities to better understand the barriers underrepresented groups face to Internet adoption, making draft plans available for public input, creating a challenge process for communities that feel they’ve been improperly excluded, and maintaining auditable records of engagement with local communities and key stakeholders.
The NTIA expects to announce how much states will receive in funding for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program by June 30, 2023.
Missouri awards $261 million through the ARPA Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program to fund 60 broadband expansion projects
The Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) awarded a total of $261 million through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program to 60 recipients for projects that will expand and improve internet access statewide. Projects receiving funds are expected to create more than 55,000 connections in locations that previously lacked adequate internet access. The ARPA Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program, administered by DED’s Office of Broadband Development, was launched in August 2022 to invest in broadband expansion. The program awarded competitive grants to a wide range of applicants, including traditional internet providers as well as electric and telephone cooperatives. The program prioritized unserved and underserved areas. Funds will be used to build new connections that will deliver symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps upload / 100 Mbps download or greater. Details on recipients of the Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program are available here.
AT&T expects to see Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding flow from the federal government to the states and expects the “more aggressive” states to award some of that funding to broadband projects before the end of 2023, said AT&T CEO John Stankey. Citing the 80/20 rule, Stankey said, “The bigger states that are going to have the bulk of the funding are pretty zoned in on this and are moving pretty aggressively to get the process underway." Smaller states, he said, may “take a little bit longer to get their act together” and may be waiting to see what the more aggressive states do. He cautioned that we “won’t see substantial shovels in the ground or customers served this year, but I do think that you’re going to see projects and monies awarded before we exit this year.”
Jonathan Chambers wrote another great article where he addresses the issue of federal grants having waste, fraud, and abuse. He goes on to say that real waste, fraud, and abuse came in the past when the Federal Communication Commission awarded federal grants and subsidies to the large telephone companies to build networks that were obsolete by the time they were constructed. He uses the term "underbuilding" to describe funding networks that are not forward-looking and is in direct contrast to the large companies that constantly use the term overbuilding to mean they don’t want any grant funding to be used to build any place where they have existing customers. The FCC has been guilty of funding underbuilding over and over again. But the blame doesn’t just lie with the FCC – it lies with all of the broadband advocates in the country. When the broadband providers started to talk non-stop about not allowing overbuilding, we should have been lobbying pro-broadband politicians to say that the FCC should never fund underbuilding. Every broadband network that is constructed is overbuilding somebody, except in those exceptionally rare cases where folks have zero broadband options. If we accept the argument that overbuilding is a bad policy, then it’s easy to justify giving the money to incumbents to do better – something that has failed over and over again.
State of Digital Inequity: Civil Society Perspectives on Barriers to Progress in our Digitizing World
A digital equity framework with five broad elements: Infrastructure, Affordability, Digital Skills, Policy, and Content. A global research study of over 7,500 civil society organizations (CSO), highlights include:
- Infrastructure and Access: Inadequate or unavailable internet access affects everyone, but the people CSOs serve are more likely to be impacted by a lack of connectivity due to poor infrastructure and issues with their internet providers.
- Affordability: The high cost of both devices and internet access remains a significant barrier for both CSOs and the people they serve and prevents them from participating meaningful digital world.
- Digital Skills: Though CSOs agree that digital skills are important, a lack of training on how to use the internet and digital devices is a major issue for both CSOs and the people they serve. Few feel their employees are well-trained on the devices and software they use.
- Policy: While CSOs view access to both information and the internet as basic rights, many CSOs feel their governments do not have policies that support this.
- Content: When it comes to the resources that motivate people to use the internet, email and chat services are by far the most important to CSOs and the people they serve. It is important that these services are available in local languages, which, the survey shows, they mostly are.
The data is clear: across the world, many of the communities we serve do not have access to affordable and reliable internet or the digital tools they need to fully participate in this digital age. The promising news is that the knowledge, capital, and solutions to advance digital equity are out there — we must mobilize, harness, and distribute them.
The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs told T-Mobile to stop claiming its T-Mobile Home Internet service is “fast” and “reliable.” Of course, that didn’t go over well at T-Mobile, which is appealing parts of the NAD decision that came after a complaint was lodged by rival Comcast. NAD told T-Mobile to discontinue claims that its home internet service is “fast” or “high speed” or modify its advertising to avoid conveying a message that the service will be “fast” or “high speed” for all fixed wireless access (FWA) customers. T-Mobile Home Internet (T-HINT) customers experience “a range of speeds,” NAD said, concluding that T-Mobile did not provide sufficient evidence to conclude that all T-HINT customers receive speeds above the Federal Communication Commission's standards for high-speed broadband internet and thus did not provide a reasonable basis of support for its “fast” or “high-speed” claims. As for the reliability claims, NAD found that, in context, T-Mobile’s claims that T-HINT is “reliable” may convey the messages that T-HINT customers will maintain a dependable internet connection and that T-HINT “consistently delivers fast speeds and service without disruption.”
The internet—and, more specifically, the ubiquitously connected society driven largely by next-generation wireless broadband—will be a crucial domain for both autocracies and market democracies in the twenty-first century. Remote and mobile connectivity is an increasingly essential component of a functioning modern society; if leveraged for dynamism and innovation rather than authoritarian command and control, fifth-generation (5G) wireless connectivity provides the foundation for solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. Telecommunications regulatory governance is therefore a powerful strategic security lever that the United States and its allies should wield to advance free-market democracy. To this end, this paper recommends the following policy solutions:
- First, the US should foster rapid 5G deployment by continuing to make low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum—particularly licensed spectrum designated for flexible, exclusive use suitable for cutting-edge mobile networks—available to the commercial wireless market; reducing barriers to deployment such as European-style patchwork siting and licensing regulations; and maximizing the impact of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) by funding fixed-wireless services where fiber to the premises is not the most effective solution.
- Second, the US should pave the way for future innovation by clarifying and reestablishing the Federal Communication Commission as the federal government’s primary authority for commercial spectrum allocation to head off interagency spectrum disputes early and thoughtfully; and advance the efficient use of spectrum through exclusive-use licenses, flexible-use rights, reliance on market forces to ensure spectrum is put to its highest and best use, the development of a new pipeline for auctionable spectrum, and investment-friendly technical rules.
- Third, the United States should work with its allies to prove that competitive free-market democracies best foster trusted, innovative communications technologies by promoting trust in communications networks and supply chains, leveraging partnerships with like-minded nations to counter predatory practices and promote global economies of scale for network operators and vendors serving these markets; and safeguarding international standards-setting processes for private sector technological innovation and protecting intellectual property rights.
Apple is taking steps to separate its mobile operating system from features offered by Google, making advances around maps, search and advertising that have created a collision course between the Big Tech companies. The two Silicon Valley giants have been rivals in the smartphone market since Google acquired and popularized the Android operating system in the 2000s. Apple is still engaged in a “silent war” against its arch-rival by developing features that could allow the iPhone maker to further separate its products from services offered by Google. The first front of this battle is mapping, which started in 2012 when Apple released Maps, displacing its Google rival as a pre-downloaded app. The second front in the battle is the search feature. While Apple rarely discusses products while in development, the company has long worked on a feature known internally as “Apple Search," a tool that facilitates “billions of searches” per day. The third front in Apple’s battle could prove the most devastating: its ambitions in online advertising, where Google makes more than 80 percent of its revenues. Ultimately, Apple’s move on three fronts has left Google's position within iOS looking “more vulnerable than it ever has been before."
Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) Advocates a Transparency-Based Approach to Social Media Moderation
Social media companies need to further enhance transparency around the content moderation requests that they receive from governments to better safeguard users’ speech online, according to Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), who has focused on tech-related policy issues during her time in office. Sen. Lummis—who serves on the influential Senate Commerce Committee—said that it is “an unprecedented time in history” for freedom of speech and the manner in which governments regulate public discourse, particularly “the real-time failures of government when it comes to interacting with companies that provide platforms for speech on the internet.” Sen Lummis cited the PRESERVE Online Speech Act—legislation that she co-sponsored in 2021—as one way of enhancing the transparency of moderation requests. The bill would require social media platforms “to issue a public disclosure containing specified information related to a request or recommendation by a government entity that the service moderate content on its platform.”
Affordable Broadband: FCC Could Improve Performance Goals and Measures, Consumer Outreach, and Fraud Risk Management
Access to broadband—high-speed internet—has become critical for everyday life. But its cost may keep some people from having access to it. The Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) offers eligible low-income households discounts on the cost of their broadband service and certain devices. FCC reimburses participating internet service providers for providing these discounts. To make it more affordable for low-income Americans, the FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program offers monthly discounts on broadband service to eligible households. FCC could strengthen the program's goals and measures, consumer outreach, and fraud-risk management to better ensure the program is meeting goals and protecting its funds from potential fraud. Ultimately, the recommendations include:
- Establishing Performance Goals and Measures: The FCC established some performance goals and measures for the program. However, the goals and measures do not fully align with key attributes of effective performance management. FCC's goals and measures lack specificity and clearly defined targets, raising questions about how effective these goals and measures will be at helping FCC gauge the program's achievements and identify improvements.
- Conducting Outreach: FCC has also engaged in various outreach efforts to raise ACP's awareness and translated its outreach materials into non-English languages to reach eligible households with limited-English proficiency. However, GAO reviewed a selection of these materials and the process to translate them and found that they did not fully align with leading practices for consumer content or for developing translated language products.
- Managing Fraud Risks: FCC has taken steps to manage fraud risks in the program, but FCC's efforts do not fully align with selected leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. For example, FCC has conducted a fraud risk assessment but has not developed an antifraud strategy to address the identified risks. It also has not developed a process to conduct such risk assessments regularly.
As Chair of the committee tasked with overseeing the historic $65 billion investment in broadband under the Infrastructure and Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Sen. Cantwell (D-WA) is working to ensure funding goes to communities that need it most. Through a broad array of broadband initiatives, our Committee Democrats believe we can expand economic opportunity and access to education, healthcare, telehealth, and e-commerce, regardless of where people live. Sen. Luján (D-NM), Chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, in December 2022, highlighting Congress’ ongoing efforts to best deliver IIJA funding and resources to make affordable, resilient, and secure broadband access to every American household. These highlights include:
Connecting Rural America: Sen. Tester (D-MT), Sen. Rosen (D-NV), Sen. Hickenlooper (D-CO), and Sen. Warnock (D-GA), worked across the aisle to champion a $42.5 billion investment - the single largest broadband investment in US history - to connect rural America through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.
Closing the Digital Divide: Sen. Warnock ensured that funding secured through the $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act could be used for devices to ensure everyone has access to the education, jobs and opportunities available online, no matter where they live or their socioeconomic background.
Connecting Tribes: Sen. Rosen, Sen. Hickenlooper, Sen. Tester, and Sen. Warnock secured $2 billion for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) to help Tribal governments with broadband deployment, telehealth, distance learning, affordability, and digital inclusion.
Building Resilient and Redundant Networks: Sen. Rosen secured $1 billion in grants through the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program to link homes and businesses to the internet and reduce the cost of high-speed internet to unserved and underserved communities.
Creating Affordable Options: Sen. Blumenthal secured $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides low-income households up to $30 per month toward internet service and up to $75 a month for households on Tribal lands.
It is beginning to look like the 2-2 deadlock that has marked the Federal Communications Commission for the past two years is not about to come to an end in the near-term, even though Democrats now have an extra vote in the Senate to confirm Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society]. As the Senate returns from a two-week recess, there is a growing expectation that Sohn’s nomination will need to go through a full confirmation process once again – including a third hearing in front of the Senate Commerce Committee. Washington insiders say Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is expected to go along with Republican lawmakers for a new hearing. It would be an unprecedented third time before the Committee for an FCC nominee, and it reinforces the GOP’s firm opposition against Sohn’s nomination. Her agreement to recuse herself from any decisions regarding retransmission consent for local television stations for three years was enough to secure the backing of the National Association of Broadcasters, but several Senate Republicans think her previous work for the now-closed Locast streaming TV service would continue to cause an appearance of a conflict of interest. They also note that the agreement is voluntary, meaning Sohn could rescind her decision to remain on the sidelines at any time. If a hearing is held it may not be until mid-February to early March after the Commerce Committee holds its organizational meeting.
AT&T reported fourth-quarter results that showed sustained momentum in customer additions across 5G and fiber and solid growth in wireless service and broadband revenues. Revenues from continuing operations for the fourth quarter totaled $31.3 billion versus $31.1 billion in the year-ago quarter, up 0.8%. This increase primarily reflects higher Mobility, Mexico and Consumer Wireline revenues, partly offset by lower Business Wireline revenues. Revenues from continuing operations for the full year totaled $120.7 billion versus $134.0 billion in 2021, down 9.9% reflecting the impact of the U.S. Video separation in July 2021. Excluding the impact of U.S. Video, operating revenues for standalone AT&T* were up 2.1%, from $118.2 billion, primarily driven by higher revenues from Mobility, and, to a lesser extent, Mexico and Consumer Wireline, partially offset by lower Business Wireline revenues. Revenues were $3.2 billion, up 2.2% year over year due to gains in broadband more than offsetting declines in legacy voice and data and other services. Broadband revenues increased 7.2% due to fiber growth of more than 31%, partly offset by non-fiber revenue declines of 12.6%. Total broadband losses, excluding DSL, were 43,000, reflecting AT&T Fiber net adds of 280,000, more than offset by losses in non-fiber services. AT&T Fiber now has the ability to serve more than 19 million customer locations and offers symmetrical, multi-gig speeds across parts of its entire footprint of more than 100 metro areas.
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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