Thursday, February 16, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
Today's Events: FCC Open Meeting, Digital Equity Spark Grants, What's happening in broadband over the next two years
‘BEAD without equity is just BAD,’ NTIA official says
Missing Pieces: How the FCC’s Broadband Map Misrepresents Public Libraries
Data & Mapping
Justice Department Escalates Apple Probe, Looks to Involve Antitrust Chief | Wall Street Journal
The Federal Communications Commission committed over $24 million in a new funding round through the Emergency Connectivity Program, which provides digital services for students in communities across the country. The funding commitments support applications from the third application window, benefiting approximately 50,000 students, 140 schools, 8 libraries, and 3 consortia across the country, including students in Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, and Wisconsin. The funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework, to ensure students across the country have the necessary support to keep up with their education. To date, the program has provided support to approximately 11,000 schools, 1,000 libraries, and 100 consortia, and providing nearly 13 million connected devices and over 8 million broadband connections. Of the nearly $6.6 billion in funding commitments approved to date, approximately $4.1 billion is supporting applications from Window 1; $833 million from Window 2; and $1.6 billion from Window 3.
Broadband expansion is the goal of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) $42.5 billion Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grant program, but the initiative won’t be successful without a sufficient focus on digital equity and community engagement, said NTIA officials. While the NTIA focused 2022 on kicking off the process with funding notices and building up internal capacity, this year is going to be about every state doing the work in their communities to get through all of the program’s requirements and put their plans on paper. The Biden administration has said it wants every American to have access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet. Counties have a major role to play in ensuring that not only can their constituents access broadband, but they also have the means to adopt it too, said Kevin Gallagher, a senior adviser to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, whose department includes the NTIA. Local governments and counties are ideally placed to reach underserved communities because “you’re on the ground, you know exactly where there is service and where there isn’t, and you talk to the residents who are struggling to get connectivity,” said Gallagher. States are required to consult with county and local governments during the BEAD grant planning stage, but Gallagher urged county representatives to reach out to their state broadband office and the NTIA federal program officer for their states.
CSU and EDA announce a planning grant for enhancing broadband in rural Colorado through CSU’s Extension offices
The US Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration awarded $301,030 to the Colorado State University (CSU) System for a planning grant to promote and enhance economic development in rural Colorado. The CSU System is using the planning grant to catalyze how Extension Services from a land-grant university will support rural communities in new and better ways, more directly and more responsively, providing a new definition of how a land-grant university may serve its state in the 21st century. CSU will add and redirect resources using its Extension offices to deliver new, high-quality content to rural Colorado to promote local economic development, enhance education, promote better health care, and support rural communities in numerous other ways. CSU Extension will work with its Extension offices to define and coordinate content with local constituents to establish a statewide virtual classroom with an instructor/discussion leader at any rural site, enabled by high-quality broadband connectivity. Ensuring rural communities can participate fully in these new initiatives will require improved internet connectivity/broadband in many rural areas. Thus, the grant will be used for two main purposes: 1) to develop and bring content directly into rural communities, and 2) to work with local communities to enhance broadband where needed to access such content. Additionally, the CSU System has hired broadband consultant NEO Connect to address broadband needs in rural communities.
US Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) reintroduced the Rural Broadband Protection Act (S.275), which would require a more thorough vetting and verification process for internet service providers seeking to participate in the Federal Communications Commission's high-cost programs. The bill would provide essential safeguards to the Universal Service Funds' (USF) high-cost programs by ensuring that funding goes to companies with both a proven track record of success and have demonstrated sound judgment in deploying in hard-to-serve areas. The FCC’s high-cost programs provide funding to telecom carriers to provide service in rural areas where the market alone cannot support the substantial cost of deploying network infrastructure and providing connectivity. Historically, it has subsidized voice service to ensure that rates in rural and urban areas are reasonably comparable. But with a series of reform orders that began in 2011, the FCC is modernizing the high-cost program to support broadband to ensure that all people in America – no matter where they live – have access to robust, affordable connectivity to fully participate in today’s society. This modernized program is called the Connect America Fund (CAF), and it consists of a series of new funds that rely on incentive-based models and competitive bidding to award carriers a set amount of support to build out broadband to a defined number of locations in unserved and underserved areas.
I want to take on the phrase ‘technology-neutral’. This phrase is being used to justify building technologies that are clearly not as good as fiber. The phrase was used a lot to justify allowing Starlink into the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction. The phrase has been used a lot to justify allowing fixed wireless technology to win grants, and lately, it’s being used more specifically to allow fixed wireless using unlicensed spectrum into the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grants. The argument justifies allowing technologies like satellite or fixed wireless access (FWA) using unlicensed spectrum to get grants since the technologies are ‘good enough’ when compared to the requirement of grant rules. I have two arguments to counter that justification:
- The only reason the technology-neutral argument can be raised is that politicians set the speed requirements for grants at ridiculously low levels. The 100 Mbps speed requirement is an example of what I’ve recently called underbuilding – it allows for building a technology that is already too slow today. Almost all of the cable companies offer download speeds as fast as a gigabit. Even in older cable systems, the maximum speeds are faster than 100 Mbps. Setting a grant speed requirement of only 100 Mbps download is saying to rural folks that they don’t deserve broadband as good as what is available to the large majority of people in the country.
- The second argument against the technology-neutral argument is that some technologies are clearly not good enough to justify receiving grant dollars. Consider Starlink satellite broadband. It’s a godsend to folks who have no alternatives, and many people rave about how it has solved their broadband problems. But the overall speeds are far slower than what was promised before the technology was launched. I’ve seen a huge number of speed tests for Starlink that don’t come close to the 100/20 Mbps speed required by the BEAD grants. The same can be said for FWA wireless using a cellular spectrum.
As Los Angeles County officials work with community coalitions to improve high-speed Internet access in underserved communities across the region, the Digital Equity LA Summit focused on the challenges ahead: urging state officials to fix the broadband priority maps the state will use to target where to invest $2 billion in state broadband grant funds with the state months away from receiving over a billion additional dollars from the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. Representing the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) were Michael Mullaney, President Alice Reynolds, and Michael Minkus. The group acknowledged that the preliminary, iterative maps “are not what many communities want to see” and that some of the poorest communities have not been designated priority areas, adding the CPUC will be updating its data and that “feedback was important.” The California Community Foundation’s (CCF) Digital Equity Initiative Director, Shayna Englin responded saying, "The Priority Areas Map are weighted overwhelmingly toward the wealthiest, most advantaged, best-connected communities in the state, and leaves out the most disadvantaged, least connected Californians." Lastly, Englin testified, the coalition’s suggested remedy: “Ditch the maps.” Given the short timelines and rapidly approaching deadlines to allocate federal dollars for last-mile deployment, Englin said she was not asking for the map to be revised, but recommended, it would be better to address the underlying issues with the model CPUC used to develop the map. And because that would take longer than current funding deadlines would allow, “we respectfully and humbly suggest that the Commission make minor revisions to the decision to rename the priority areas to ‘business opportunity areas’ or similar, revise the application scoring rubric to remove or dramatically reduce the 20 points awarded for proposing to build in one of these areas, and remove the direction to the Communications Division to develop priority areas."
The Federal Communications Commission recently released a “pre-production” draft of its new National Broadband Map in an effort to provide more precise details about where internet service does and does not exist in individual locations across the US. While much attention has been paid to how the map represents broadband service for individual households, there is much less understanding among the general public with regards to how the map represents individual community anchor institutions, such as public schools, libraries, and hospitals. In an effort to address this gap in public understanding, and to help contribute to improving the FCC’s Broadband Map overall, this paper presents findings from a study of 200 public libraries in 20 states across the US to gain a better understanding of the following: (1) whether public libraries are classified as “broadband serviceable” or not; (2) whether public library buildings are classified as “residential” or not; and (3) the level of service that public library buildings receive in individual locations. The findings from this study raise important questions about whether the FCC’s current process allows for public challenges to correct these mis-classifications. Recommendations are provided at the end of this report to help ensure that the map helps to address the broadband needs of community anchor institutions across the country.
WIA and Corning to Launch Pre-apprenticeship Program for Fiber Optic Careers Development, Helping Build the Broadband Workforce of the Future
The Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) and Corning Optical Communications, a subsidiary of Corning Incorporated, announced a new collaboration to promote awareness of careers in the fiber optic field and provide access to industry-recognized training through WIA’s Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP). Through this collaboration, Corning will establish a TIRAP-approved pre-apprenticeship program to help individuals gain access to meaningful, well-paying careers in the telecommunications industry. The program will focus on reaching populations that are currently underrepresented in the workforce. As the national sponsor of TIRAP, WIA is the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) designated industry intermediary tasked with expanding Registered Apprenticeship in the telecommunications industry. Through TIRAP, WIA currently partners with 84 employers to connect apprenticeship programs’ graduates with career opportunities. WIA also coordinates with partner employers to accredit their training programs, allowing them to offer nationally recognized credentials from the DOL. More than 3,800 people have participated in the program to date.
Federal systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks. The GAO has made 236 recommendations in public reports since 2010 with respect to protecting cyber critical infrastructure. Until these are fully implemented, federal agencies will be more limited in their ability to protect private and sensitive data entrusted to them. In September 2022, GAO's review of 24 agencies found that most had generally established policies and procedures for key privacy program activities. These activities included, among other things, developing system-of-records notices that identify types of personal data collected, conducting privacy impact assessments, and documenting privacy program plans. Agencies varied in establishing policies and procedures for coordinating privacy programs with other agency functions. Further, many agencies did not fully incorporate privacy into their risk management strategies, provide for privacy officials’ input into the authorization of systems containing PII (Personal Identifiable Information), or develop a continuous monitoring strategy for privacy. Without fully establishing these elements of their privacy programs, agencies have less assurance that they are consistently implementing privacy protections. The GAO recommended that:
- Congress consider legislation to designate a dedicated, senior-level privacy official at agencies that lacked one;
- The Office of Management and Budget should facilitate information sharing to help agencies address selected challenges and better implement privacy impact assessments;
- The 23 of the 24 agencies we reviewed should fully implement all of the key practices for their privacy programs;
- Federal financial regulators better ensure the privacy of the PII that they collect, use, and share;
- Congress should consider legislation to improve federal efforts to protect privacy and sensitive data, such as reducing the cybersecurity risks in retirement plans;
- Congress should consider legislation to improve the protection of federally collected and maintained personal and sensitive data.
As the 2022 elections essentially came to a close on December 6, 2022, then-Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) promised that the House of Representatives—under a new, Republican majority—would "conduct rigorous oversight of the federal government" in the 118th Congress. "We will leave no stone unturned in order to deliver the accountability the American people deserve," he declared and specifically promised oversight of federal spending created in the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Here we look at some of the oversight undertaken in both the House and the Senate.
AT&T and Frontier have signed a deal that will enable AT&T to deploy wireless infrastructure in Frontier's central offices. The deal also calls for AT&T to purchase fiber connectivity to connect with cell towers that are in Frontier’s network. An AT&T spokesperson said, “We’ll strategically begin to centralize the cell site baseband units (controllers) where it makes sense to do so for operational efficiencies.” Apparently, the Frontier central offices will be available for other network operators to use as well, as Frontier notes that AT&T is the “first tenant to rent space in Frontier’s hyper-local offices.”
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), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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