Wednesday, January 4, 2023
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On Thursday, December 29, 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (H.R. 2617). Most importantly, the government funding package, which includes all 12 fiscal year 2023 appropriations bills, keeps the federal government running through September 30, 2023. But the legislation also includes some interesting broadband provisions that will impact Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding, rural broadband projects, the device side of the digital divide, telehealth, and researching the effects of media on children.
In one of the provisions of the massive Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Congress articulates the policy of the United State that 1) subscribers should benefit from equal access to broadband internet access service within the service area of a provider of such service, 2) "equal access" means the equal opportunity to subscribe to an offered service that provides comparable speeds, capacities, latency, and other quality of service metrics in a given area, for comparable terms and conditions; and 3) the Federal Communications Commission should take steps to ensure that all people of the United States benefit from equal access to broadband internet access service. Congress gave the FCC two years to adopt rules to facilitate equal access to broadband internet access service including 1) preventing digital discrimination of access based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin and 2) identifying necessary steps to eliminate discrimination. In its new proceeding, the FCC is asking for input on five issues: I) Defining "Digital Discrimination of Access," II) Revising its Informal Consumer Complaint Process, III) Rules Prohibiting Digital Discrimination of Access, IV) State and Local Model Policies and Best Practices, and V) Additional Efforts to Promote Digital Equity and Inclusion. Public comments will be due at the FCC during the first quarter of 2023. By law, the FCC must adopt rules to facilitate equal access to broadband internet access service by November 15, 2023.
On November 23, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released new rules, as required by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, establishing the Affordable Connectivity Program Transparency Data Collection, which will collect information related to the price, subscription rates, and plan characteristics of the internet service offerings of Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) participating providers. The FCC believes that the data collection will offer the commission an opportunity to collect detailed data about the services to which ACP households chose to apply the affordable connectivity benefit. The ACP data collection will leverage information required for the broadband consumer labels, helping to create efficiencies and minimize burdens on providers. The data collection is seen as one way for the FCC to measure the performance of the Affordable Connectivity Program. The goals of ACP are to (1) reduce the digital divide for low-income consumers; (2) promote awareness and participation in the program; and (3) ensure efficient and effective administration of the program. Here we take a look at the FCC's new rules.
Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just created the Affordable Connectivity Program Transparency Data Collection in rules released on November 23, 2022, there is still a great deal of work to be done to collect information related to the price, subscription rates, and plan characteristics of the internet service offerings of Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) participating providers. First, implementation of the rules now falls to FCC staff; many details will be decided in the coming weeks. Second, in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress directs the FCC to revise the rules of the ACP Transparency Data Collection to verify the accuracy of the data submitted no later than 180 days after the final rules were issued and to make data from the annual collection publicly available in a commonly used electronic format while also protecting personally identifiable information and proprietary information. Here we look at what's on the FCC's agenda in efforts aimed at determining the value being provided by the affordable connectivity benefit to households and evaluating progress towards reducing the digital divide.
CenturyLink customers in Seattle and Portland receive wide-ranging levels of service for the same price, with poorer residents and people of color more likely to be burdened by slow speeds. Seattle had the worst disparities among cities examined in the Pacific Northwest. About half of its lower-income areas were offered slow internet, compared with just 19% of upper-income areas. Addresses in neighborhoods with more residents of color were also offered slow internet more frequently: 32.8% of them, compared to 18.7% of areas with more white residents. CenturyLink offerings in Portland were also uneven, as 27% of addresses in lower-income areas were offered speeds below the federal broadband standard of 25 Mbps, compared with 16% of higher-income areas. In both Portland and Seattle, neighborhoods rated “hazardous” to mortgage lenders in mid-20th century “redlining” maps — which were used to discriminate against minority communities — were more likely to see the worst internet deals in both cities today. While advocates and government officials see an opportunity to offer additional input during the allocation of $65 billion in federal funding approved in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the money may not yield much relief for underserved urban neighborhoods.
Nearly 15 years after the first Colorado community opted out of a state law prohibiting local governments from providing or investing in broadband internet service, 121 cities and towns in the state have followed suit, including four more communities in the November 2022 election. The result is the installation of hundreds of miles of new fiber-optic lines throughout the state, from tiny Wray near the Kansas border to even smaller Mountain Village near Telluride — and dozens of communities in between. The big pipes delivering data to homes and businesses mean an increasing number of Coloradans are now receiving gigabit-speed internet service. Internet service from CenturyLink and Comcast, the two biggest players in the state, didn’t always hold up during the pandemic.
Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) announced the completion of New York's first-ever municipal broadband network as a major milestone for the state's ConnectALL program. The network is the first phase of the ConnectALL 21st Century Municipal Infrastructure pilot program, which began in May 2022 using fiber optic infrastructure on the New York Power Authority's existing transmission system and is ahead of schedule due to the NYPA and the Village of Sherburne and Town of Nichols optimizing implementation plans. The $10 million, four-municipality pilot project has completed construction enabling reliable, high-speed internet access to more than 2,000 previously unserved or underserved households and business customers. The pilot program is the largest public investment in broadband in the state's history that aims to transform New York's digital infrastructure and expand broadband access, affordability, and equity statewide using public and private investments. NYPA is managing the broadband deployment in the four locations leveraging its existing fiber optic infrastructure for the "middle mile," as authorized by the state legislature in April 2022.
When it comes to affordable broadband, Vermont has always been a trailblazer. From early adoption of municipal broadband and cooperatives to more recent experimentation with Communications Union District (CUD) fiber deployments, the state’s efforts are inspiring communities nationwide to look for new, creative solutions for the stubborn digital divide. CUDs provide individual communities significantly more power and leverage through cross-community alliances and partnerships, allowing them to accomplish more than they could have by themselves. In the seven years since the state first took action, more than a dozen CUDs have been established or are currently under development. And those CUDs are well positioned to benefit from the estimated $200 to $300 million Vermont is expected to receive in broadband funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). State leaders say a significant portion of Vermont’s $150 million ARPA-based broadband package will go toward assisting CUDs in a state where 85 percent of municipalities and 90 percent of all underserved locations fall under an existing CUD’s jurisdiction. Over time, the improvements could be transformative, and a model for other states to follow.
Things have been looking up for fixed wireless access (FWA) for some time now. Indeed, by the end of 2022, FWA is not only thriving, but it’s also playing a starring role in 5G. It hasn’t always been this way. In earlier iterations, FWA didn’t pan out for mobile operators. But in more recent years and with 5G, the consumer premise equipment (CPE) has seen notable improvements, new spectrum is adding to the available capacity, and demand is going through the roof. According to T-Mobile’s 2022 State of Fixed Wireless report, the company identified one of the big factors driving FWA’s growth: Consumer hatred toward their cable companies. Traditional broadband providers rank dead last in customer satisfaction among all industries, and customers are just plain hungry for alternatives. Of course, cable companies aren’t rolling over, and one can expect them to ramp up the rhetoric against FWA. Comcast recently launched a website and series of ads dedicated to disparaging T-Mobile’s 5G Home Internet service, claiming the service slows down during heavy network daytime usage. For now, the big FWA players are T-Mobile and Verizon, with T-Mobile planning to serve 7 million to 8 million FWA subscribers by the end of 2025, and Verizon expecting to serve about 4 million to 5 million fixed wireless customers within a similar timeframe.
On the first day of the 118th Congress, President Joe Biden nominated Gigi B. Sohn, of the District of Columbia, to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission for a term of five years from July 1, 2021, vice Ajit Varadaraj Pai, term expired.
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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