Friday, February 12, 2021
Headlines Daily Digest
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) said that he plans to reintroduce the Internet Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. The bill would invest $100 billion to close the digital divide. Rep. Clyburn, who created the Rural Broadband Task Force, said he had lined up support in the House and Senate for his bill, which would be re-introduced in the House in the next couple of weeks. He said he had talked to everybody he needed to, including the White House, to make that investment in "accessible and affordable broadband for all" an integral part of any infrastructure bill.
Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced that the FCC is seeking outreach partners to help share important consumer information about the Emergency Broadband Benefit – an FCC program being developed to provide relief to households that are struggling to pay for internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the effort to inform consumers about the upcoming Emergency Broadband Benefit, the FCC has established a new website where stakeholders can sign up to help promote this new program. The website can be found at fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit. As the program is developed, the website will also be a resource for consumers and stakeholders to get the latest information on the Emergency Broadband Benefit. “We all have a part to play in this effort,” said Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “I hope every one of you will join us as we seek to raise awareness about this opportunity to get more of us connected.”
I believe we should prioritize diversity and expanded opportunity not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do. We are establishing a website where stakeholders can go to register their interest in helping to promote the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. Sign up—at www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit. Because we all have a part to play in this effort, and I hope every one of you will join us as we seek to raise awareness about this opportunity to get more of us connected.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the digital divide on policymakers’ agenda like never before. It is challenging them to find solutions that meet the urgency of the crisis while building a foundation for sustainable progress over time. This means that policymakers will want to build on lessons learned and explore new approaches. In contemplating these and other ideas, policymakers may want to look at analysis of broadband adoption barriers – the more reliable the better. Unfortunately, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) recently published a study entitled “Broadband Myths: Are High Broadband Prices Holding Back Adoption?” that falls short of the mark. ITIF’s argument on the role of the affordability of service in broadband adoption boils down to the following: 1) Policymakers risk “tunnel vision” if they pay too much attention to affordability of broadband service, and; 2) Broadband prices in the United States are competitive with other nations’, implying that concerns about costs in the US being too high are overblown. ITIF notes, correctly, that there are multiple reasons why many US households do not subscribe to broadband. But affordability of service plays an outsized role. By suggesting it does not, the ITIF research risks constraining policymakers and other stakeholders as they seek to bridge digital adoption gaps. Moreover, in support of its argument downplaying the role of affordability, ITIF may confuse readers by citing research without the proper context.
The digital divide and internet equity is more about consumer adoption than it is about network deployment. This paper addresses the adoption problem, how it has been exacerbated by the Trump Federal Communications Commission, and how the Biden FCC will be called upon to think anew and reprioritize in order to connect more Americans. Trump FCC systematically and stealthily worked to weaken the Lifeline program. The Biden FCC’s Build Back Better opportunity for broadband access for low-income Americans has multiple opportunities to reverse that neglect.
- Reform Lifeline: The Lifeline program should revert to what it was designed to be: support for low-cost telephone service. A new program should be created for broadband support that is built on 21st century internet realities—and that program should provide meaningful broadband service, not just meet the outdated FCC minimum definition.
- Increase Lifeline Enrollment: Biden FCC can begin with an aggressive outreach program, including coordination with other government programs such as SNAP.
- Support Online Education Everywhere: E-Rate funds that are available for connecting classrooms should be made available to help low-income students pay for access to their new classroom.
- Encourage Internet Usage and Digital Literacy
As the Biden FCC Builds Back Better and tackles the digital divide as something more than a slogan, a wholistic solution will be required. Deployment of networks in unserved areas; subsidization of subscriptions and equipment; together with education efforts to promote internet literacy will all be necessary to make the promise of the internet manifest to all Americans.
Cox's "Ultimate" Internet plan with 300Mbps download and 30Mbps upload speeds was changed to a 500Mbps download, 10Mbps upload package early in 2020. At first, Cox let customers on the 300Mbps/30Mbps version keep it, without any nudges to change their plans or upgrade their modems. But that changed with the email Cox sent to other customers recently. Cox said customers can keep their 30Mbps upload speeds if they upgrade to a newer modem. But that option wasn't included in the email to customers, which created the impression that the upload-speed cut is mandatory unless they pay for a more expensive Internet plan. While the boost from 300Mbps to 500Mbps download speeds is nice, it pales in comparison to a 67 percent cut in upload speeds during a pandemic that has demonstrated the importance of upstream bandwidth to families with people working and taking classes at home.
In the third quarter of 2020, more than 50% of US broadband households reported that their broadband usage has increased since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. While consumers report broadband performance is keeping pace with the increased demand, in Q3 2020, 24% of fixed broadband households reported plans to upgrade their speed in the next six months, compared to 18% in 2Q 2020. “Broadband upgrade plans indicate many households see some COVID-19-related changes as permanent,” said Steve Nason, Research Director, Parks Associates. 45% of US broadband households subscribing to three or more streaming services and many consumers are planning to add new services.
While Lumen, CenturyLink's enterprise business, reaped the financial rewards from the Federal Communications Commission's Connect America Fund (CAF) II, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is taking a back seat to Lumen's fiber builds. Lumen CEO Jeff Storey and CFO Neel Dev said they see better returns from its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) investments than in the FCC's RDOF project for rural broadband. In the RDOF reverse auction results that were announced in December, Lumen was awarded just over $262 million to deploy broadband in 77,257 locations across 20 states. With the quiet period for RDOF ending, Lumen execs provided some color on RDOF. "We took a very disciplined and ROI-based approach to RDOF," Dev said. "In fact, even after factoring in the subsidy, we see better returns from the fiber-to-the-home investments we are making with our micro-targeting strategy. Even when you net out the subsidy, our returns that we see on fiber-to-the-home is significantly higher." Dev added, "[O]ne of the largest winners of RDOF just announced that it's a $5 billion price tag to build out to about one million homes. If you compare that to the 400,000 homes that we just enabled last year, we certainly didn't spend a couple of billion. And so we have a different profile in terms of where we're investing fiber-to-the-home, and we'll be success-based on that front."
February 12 is the last day for you to nominate digital equity leaders for the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion awards!
Named for Charles Benton, the founder of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance created the awards to recognize leadership and dedication in advancing digital equity: from promoting the ideal of accessible and affordable communications technology for all Americans to crafting programs and policies that make it a reality. NDIA will present two awards: the Digital Equity Champion Award will recognize an outstanding individual who has made a difference in the field of digital equity, while the Emerging Leader Award will acknowledge an up-and-coming digital inclusion practitioner. Awards will be presented during NDIA’s 2021 Net Inclusion webinar.
To be successful, nominees should exhibit:
- Sustained commitment to digital inclusion programs, practices, and/or policy work,
- Applied innovative approaches to addressing and solving problems,
- Extensive use of data and evaluation to shape digital inclusion programs and share best practices,
- Demonstrated leadership in his/her community, and/or
- Collaboration that can be scaled and replicated.
Questions? Email: [email protected]
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 Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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