Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Headlines Daily Digest
President Joe Biden's presence in the Oval Office over the next four years will have a major influence on the tech sector, including infrastructure policy on broadband deployment and national security issues involving Chinese tech companies. The president and his team will also play a role in how to handle the growth and influence of social media giants. Facebook, Twitter and other companies are already feeling the heat from politicians on both sides of the political aisles. Here's a look at where Biden stands on antitrust, Section 230 reform, net neutrality, rural broadband, and online privacy.
At the early days of my doctoral study and fellowship at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California (USC) over two years ago, I conducted a 10-month field research to understand the dynamics of digital access and use among people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. It was the first time I witnessed a massive number of houseless individuals and families residing on the street and struggling to sustain their lives on minimal sustenance and digital means. Many of them battled every day to protect their phones from being stolen, lost, or broken due to their precarious living conditions. People living on the street and in transitional housing walked a long distance to find a public charging outlet or else had to rent it in a nearly mobile phone shop. Technology, to them, is more of a luxury than a necessity. Without a doubt, the instability of digital access is an issue for this population. Similarly, solving access problems, providing underserved populations digital devices and infrastructure, is oftentimes the first step in many digital inclusion efforts. However, do people in the community – men and women – all have access to the technology equally? Is having access alone enough to help improve the livelihoods, connectivity, and well-being among all? Once having access, how do people, especially more vulnerable individuals like women, use technology to empower themselves? How can technology be relevant to women’s needs? As my project progressed, I realized that social exclusion is an issue facing homeless women, and that positive digital uses can help them improve their lives.
[Hoan (Sarah) Nguyen is a doctoral researcher and Graduate Fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California (USC). This research garnered her the Charles Benton Early Career Scholar Award (2020) from the Benton Institute and TPRC.]
In a recent article, I spotlight 50 US and 10 Canadian cities based on data from Ookla Speedtest, BroadbandNow, BestPlaces, the US Census, and StatCan. The list is quirky, on purpose. We carefully tried to mix large cities, smaller cities, and small towns, with a focus on affordability and high-speed internet access. Fiber broadband became the overwhelming benchmark; though we included some cities with primarily cable ISPs, fiber has the most capacity and most symmetrical connections, and new technologies such as 5G and low-Earth-orbit satellite aren't going to change that. Along the way, we found that several of the cities have come up with a crucial solution to the North American internet access and cost crisis: local fiber ISPs. Our top-ranked city, Chattanooga, lands at the top because the city made a conscious decision in 2010 to roll out fiber citywide through its electric company, EPB. Shallotte, NC, also on our list, was wired by the nonprofit ATMC.
The State of Illinois will contribute $7 million toward a $22 million Shawnee Communications broadband expansion project in unserved and underserved areas in the southern part of the state. The funding comes through the Connect Illinois program. More than 2,550 residents in Mitchellsville, Rudement, Buncombe, Vienna, Pulleys Mill, and Goreville (Saline, Johnson and Williamson counties) will get broadband via a fiber to the home network. Some residents will get service in 2021, with project completion slated for 2023.
Comporium won a grant to increase broadband speeds in some areas of Transylvania County (NC) via a $2.8 million grant from North Carolina’s Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Program. The improvements will require a total of more than $7 million to complete. The grant will help bring 1 Gbps service to more than 800 customers. It will feature construction of 105 miles of fiber in partnership with the Haywood Electric Membership Corp. The project is expected to take two years from the start date, which has not yet been established.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of broadband connections and the ways that not being connected can worsen inequality. While policymakers struggle to find effective methods of increasing adoption, the pandemic itself appears to have helped make some strides in closing the divide. Specifically, based on data from the largest ISPs’ quarterly 10Q SEC filings, the upward trend in the number of fixed line connections accelerated once the pandemic began, as the figure below shows. From Q3 2011 through Q3 2019, the number of fixed connections from these companies increased at approximately a three percent annual compound growth rate. During the pandemic, from Q3 2019 through Q3 2020 (the most recent data available), the number of connections increased by about five percent.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced closure of most US university campuses in March 2020, obliging millions of students to finish their semesters via remote learning. This study examines whether and how students’ prior and current experiences of digital inequality—defined as constrained access to the internet and internet-connecting devices—were associated with their remote learning experiences. Findings revealed that students’ challenges with internet connectivity and digital devices during remote learning were associated with lower remote learning proficiency (RLP). Difficulty communicating with professors and teaching assistants was also associated with lower RLP. Prior experience with online coursework was associated with higher RLP, and digital inequality challenges during the year prior to the pandemic with lower RLP. Moreover, students who reported greater financial hardship since the start of the pandemic experienced significantly more connectivity, device, and faculty communication challenges during remote learning, and had significantly lower RLP. Many students will continue to learn remotely in some form until the pandemic recedes. We identify key factors associated with students’ remote learning proficiency: (1) consistent, high-speed internet connectivity and functioning devices to connect to it, and (2) the ability to relate to and communicate easily with professors and teaching assistants. This study identifies potential barriers to effective remote learning, as well as possible opportunities to improve students’ experiences.
Early-career opportunities offer people a pathway to build careers in technology policy. Public Knowledge conducted research into the challenges tech policy organizations face in reaching people of color interested in the field. The research explores racial and ethnic diversity in early-career roles in technology policy, offers ideas for increasing diversity in such roles, and outlines the impacts of technology policy on people of color. A survey of technology policy organizations and found that:
- Job opportunities are circulated primarily within the tech policy groups and their networks, therefore making access to these networks crucial for entering the field.
- Job description content can influence the applicant pool, decreasing or increasing the pool of diverse applicants.
- There is a lack of data on early-career hiring in technology policy nonprofits; encouraging data collection could increase diversity.
Cable One has entered into a definitive agreement to purchase the 85% of Hargray Acquisition Holdings that it doesn’t already own. The deal, which implies a $2.2 billion total enterprise value for Hargray, is expected to close in the second quarter. Hargray offers gigabit-capable services to approximately 99% of its customers in 14 markets in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Cable One, which offers service in 21 states, now focuses primarily on broadband, despite the word “cable” in its name. Like Hargray, the company has grown through acquisition. Cable One has had a minority interest in Hargray since2020, when it swapped assets to gain 15% of the company – a move that allowed Hargray to expand into Alabama. Hargray isn’t the only company in which Cable One has gained part ownership. In recent months, the company also purchased 45% of Mega Broadband Investments Holdings (MBI), which owns Vyve Broadband and other assets, 40% of Wisper ISP and 10% of Nextlink.
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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