Tuesday, February 14, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
Gigi Sohn and Gonzalez v. Google on Today's Agenda
Meet Your House Communications Subcommittee
Doug Dawson on Digital Discrimination
FCC Chairwoman Responds to Congress Regarding Broadband Data Collection
Data & Mapping
Stories From Abroad
The Federal Communications Commission recently opened a docket, at the prompting of federal legislation, that asks for examples of digital discrimination. The big cable companies and telecoms are all going to swear they don’t discriminate against anybody for any reason, and every argument they make will be pure bosh. If people decide to respond to this FCC docket, we’ll see more evidence of discrimination based on income. We might even get some smoking gun evidence that some of the discrimination comes from corporate bias based on race and other factors. But discrimination based on income levels is so baked into the ways that corporations act that I can’t imagine that anybody thinks this docket is going to uncover anything we don’t already know. I can’t imagine that this investigation is going to change anything. The FCC is not going to make big ISPs spend billions to clean up broadband networks in low-income neighborhoods. While Congress is throwing billions at trying to close the rural broadband gap, I think we all understand that anywhere that the big corporations take the rural grant funding that the infrastructure is not going to be maintained properly and that in twenty years we’ll be having this same conversation all over again. We know what is needed to fix this – which is regulation that forces ISPs to do the right thing. But I doubt we’ll ever have the political or regulatory will to force the big ISPs to act responsibly.
Data & Mapping
FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Responds to Members of Congress Regarding Broadband Data Collection
On February 3, 2023, Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel responded to members of Congress regarding the broadband data collection process. In December 2022, the lawmakers wrote to Rosenworcel with complaints from "constituents, state and local governments, and service providers alike of continuing concerns about the accuracy of the FCC's preliminary national broadband map. The lawmakers included recommendations for accountability measures moving forward. In Rosenworcel's February 2023 response, the chairwoman provided a status update on the FCC's progress on the broadband data collection. Rosenworcel stated that significant improvements have been made to the FCC's mapping process since the release of the preliminary maps, and highlighted the challenge process. Rosenworcel encouraged everyone to view the second version of the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric and included some accountability measures taken by the FCC.
Cell network coverage maps have always been dubiously accurate in the US, and even the ones released by the Federal Communication Commission in 2021 come with a ton of asterisks. A company called Ranlytics is hoping to make a much more accurate picture by attaching equipment to some of the mail trucks that are already driving to many locations in the US to deliver parcels and letters. The data it collects will provide info on coverage quality “in a given town, on a given road, even at a given address” says the company’s CEO Keith Sheridan. Ranlytics says it’s working with the US Postal Service to measure AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon’s 4G and 5G networks in Seattle and that it’s already producing “the most detailed available” coverage maps for select areas in the city. The company also says that USPS vehicles repeating routes several days of the week lets it track coverage changes over time, finding both places where coverage doesn’t exist and where there is coverage but a lackluster user experience. According to Sheridan, the detailed data Ranlytics collects could help carriers diagnose and optimize their networks, in ways even their own data couldn’t. (He says the company’s equipment captures 800 metrics across all in-use radio bands, 50 times a second.) However, there are potential limits to Ranlytics’ approach. For one, equipment attached to USPS vehicles will obviously only gather data on roads and where mail is delivered — that could exclude large swaths of land like national parks or rural homes where the mail may not be delivered directly to the home.
The Idaho Broadband Advisory Board (IBAB) has awarded $26.3 million in funding from the Idaho Broadband Fund for two middle-mile broadband infrastructure projects in Idaho. After opening the request for proposals on December 22, 2022, the board moved efficiently to award eligible broadband projects, prioritizing projects focusing on expanding or extending middle-mile. The board awarded $20 million to the Idaho Regional Optical Network (IRON) and the Intermountain Infrastructure Group (IIG) for a 198-mile public/private partnership project from Grangeville to Star. This project establishes a long-awaited north-south Idaho broadband backbone. The project will provide broadband access for commercial use, non-profits, local communities, and rural internet service providers. The board also awarded $6.3 million to the Port of Lewiston to connect with the IRON and IIG project. This middle-mile project will support commerce, non-profits, and economic development and stretch from Grangeville to Moscow (ID). These projects are widely supported by local jurisdictions, small businesses, state public universities, and community colleges.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of broadband internet connectivity became glaringly obvious for many people. As offices, schools, and businesses closed and stayed shuttered for weeks and in some cases months, many people worked or learned remotely – and continue to do so. Now is a critical time to address the issue of community broadband deployment in New York – and at the same time, enable the transition to clean energy. In fall 2022, the National Grid partnered with the Development Authority of the North Country (DANC) and Southern Tier Network (STN) to submit two proposals to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for middle-mile infrastructure funds to expand broadband access and affordability in parts of New York, while building an improved, digital network across the state’s electrical grid. The proposals, if chosen by NTIA, would be funded by money set aside by a bipartisan bill passed in late 2021, the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The partnerships between DANC, STN, and National Grid bring together two different sets of expertise: DANC and STN bring years of experience delivering critical, open-access, middle-mile broadband services to homes and businesses across their region, and National Grid owns and operates hundreds of miles of utility pole infrastructure that help deliver those critical services and provides electricity for thousands of residents of upstate New York. The two projects would bring connectivity to nearly 21,000 unserved households in upstate and western New York and benefit another 2,500 underserved households. Combined, the projects will deploy more than 650 miles of fiber optic cable, using existing National Grid distribution infrastructure, across underserved regions of New York. In addition, these projects will provide resilience for tribal-owned broadband entities and National Defense facilities in these areas.
[Mark Thompson is the director of grid modernization at National Grid and Jeff Gasper is the CEO of Southern Tier Network.]
The House Communications and Technology Subcommittee in the 118th Congress has new leadership and members. Below we offer a brief look at the broadband priorities for this key panel. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over “electronic communications, both interstate and foreign, including voice, video, audio and data, whether transmitted by wire or wirelessly, and whether transmitted by telecommunications, commercial or private mobile service, broadcast, cable, satellite, microwave, or other modes; technology generally; emergency and public safety communications; cybersecurity, privacy, and data security; the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)." Although a good deal of work is done at the subcommittee level, legislation must be approved by the full Commerce Committee which is led by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-5) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6), the chair and ranking member respectively. Rep. McMorris Rodgers has served on the Commerce Committee since 2010 and has been part of House Republican Leadership for 10 years as Vice Chair and Chair of the House Republican Conference. She believes broadband is "basic infrastructure in today’s 21st Century economy." Her main focus has been on collecting accurate data about the areas that have access and where we need to improve. She was a co-sponsor of the Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2019. In 2021, then-Chairman Pallone championed the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act. LIFT proposed nearly $100 billion to ensure broadband networks reached everyone in the U.S. and people had the skills and means to adopt the technology.
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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