Thursday, February 18, 2021
Headlines Daily Digest
News From the FCC Meeting
News From the FCC Meeting
The Federal Communications Commission heard presentations from staff on the newly established emergency broadband program for struggling households, the next phase of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, and the Commission’s efforts to collect more precise and granular broadband availability data:
- Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – The Wireline Competition Bureau provided an update on the Commission’s work to set up the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to help those who are struggling to pay for internet service during the pandemic. The Commission will be using the Universal Service Administrative Company to administer the program and will leverage USAC’s operational expertise in managing the Lifeline program to process eligibility verifications and reimbursement processing for the new program. The presentation provided guidance on how providers can participate in the program and details on the specific benefits.
- COVID-19 Telehealth Program – The Wireline Competition Bureau gave a presentation on the Commission’s work on the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, Congress appropriated an additional $249.95 million of support for this program, on top of the $200 million provided by the CARES Act last March. This additional funding will allow the FCC to continue its efforts to expand connected care throughout the country and help more patients receive health care safely. The Bureau provided an update on the status of the initial phase of the program—including the invoicing process and disbursement of funding—and highlighted a number of steps taken over the past months to implement the requirements set forth by the Act. The Bureau stated that the next step will be to issue a Report and Order establishing criteria for awarding the funding appropriated by the Act and providing additional information about the application review process.
- Digital Opportunity Data Collection – The Broadband Data Task Force discussed efforts to date to implement the Broadband DATA Act and how the Commission will use a combination of vital data sources to generate more precise and accurate fixed and mobile broadband coverage data and maps. This will enable the Commission to target Universal Service Funding more precisely and ensure better data for future Commission reports and analyses. It will also ensure that state and local governments, Tribal entities, and consumers will have access to granular nationwide information on the availability and quality of broadband services.
Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the establishment of a Task Force dedicated to implementing long-overdue improvements to the agency’s broadband data and mapping tools. The Acting Chairwoman also named Jean Kiddoo as Chair of the new Broadband Data Task Force and announced other senior staff. The announcement was accompanied by a staff update on the agency’s current broadband data collection efforts. The Broadband Data Task Force will also feature Chelsea Fallon as Senior Implementation Officer and C. Sean Spivey as Senior Counsel. Ms. Fallon currently serves as Chief of the Data Division in the FCC’s Office of Economics and Analytics and has led the agency’s implementation of the Broadband DATA Act. Mr. Spivey currently serves as an Assistant Bureau Chief in the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. The Broadband Data Task Force will closely coordinate the Commission’s broadband mapping and data collection efforts across the various expert agency teams, including the Office of Economics and Analytics, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Wireline Competition Bureau, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, International Bureau, Office of Engineering and Technology, and Office of the Managing Director. Each of these teams is essential to the effort of ensuring the Commission, state and local governments, Tribal entities, and consumers will have access to granular nationwide information on the availability and quality of broadband services.
As Governors continue to deliver their State of the State Addresses, expanding affordable, high-speed internet access has emerged as a key priority for states and territories in 2021. To date, at least 31 Governors have highlighted broadband infrastructure, and the technologies required for remote learning and telemedicine, as critical to closing equity gaps and for responding to both the coronavirus related pandemic and the associated economic crisis. Matching rhetoric with action, many Governors also started 2021 by launching new broadband initiatives and program expansions in their 2021 state budget proposals. Governors have a key role in expanding broadband access, with a unique capacity to set policy priorities, connect multiple agencies, and work across jurisdictions on the inherently intersectional nature of broadband policy.
House Commerce Committee Minority Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Minority Leader Bob Latta (R-OH) sent a letter urging the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to prioritize unserved and rural areas for broadband deployment. As NTIA prepares to announce the requirements and allowed uses of grant funding to implement this program consistent with the law, they want to underscore two related aspects of program administration that are crucial to ensure that infrastructure funding is targeted effectively to the communities and consumers that are most in need of broadband access: 1) funding that will be used for broadband infrastructure deployment must be prioritized to areas with the greatest number of unserved households and 2) ensure that any broadband deployment funding is properly targeted to truly unserved areas.
Aviat Networks announced that LTD Broadband, an internet service provider (ISP) and top recipient in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction with a total of $1.3 billion in funding, will deploy Aviat's WTM 4000 microwave and multi-band platform systems in its network middle mile and for fiber redundancy. The company has already deployed these Aviat systems in its current network, which delivers high-speed connectivity to commercial and residential subscribers in IA, MN, WI, SD, NE, and KS, with other states in planning as part of the company's RDOF expansion.
With many seniors not plugged into today’s digital world, some are getting confused when it comes to making or rescheduling vaccine appointments. One senior was so frustrated, she just gave up. “The whole world can’t think that everybody has a computer and an email to do this stuff,” Pat Cash said. Woodale (IL) senior Pat Cash said she wasn’t notified that her COVID-19 appointment had been changed because she doesn’t have a smartphone. “I was just like livid because I have a set time I was told to be there, early nobody’s there to talk to everything’s locked up,” she said. A young man finally told her vaccines were now being given at the DuPage County Fairgrounds. When she finally made her way over there, she said there were hundreds are cars waiting. “And the kid says ‘well you have to sit there in line,” Cash said. “That’s just not right.” Director of Advocacy and Outreach Mary Anderson said they’ve been hearing stories from their members and volunteers around the state about massive frustration when it comes to getting vaccine appointments.
Public Knowledge joined Access Humboldt, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Consumer Reports, and New America’s Open Technology Institute (collectively PIOs) in filing comments in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s Public Notice on the use of E-Rate funds to enable remote learning. Public Knowledge supports “off-campus” use of E-Rate funds to help students studying at home access the broadband they need to stay connected to classes, student services, and their families during the pandemic. The petitioners seek emergency funding as well as relief from any restrictions on the use of E-Rate-funded services or facilities to support remote learning during this unprecedented public health emergency crisis. The petitions make a compelling case that the FCC must take action now to provide the added funding and flexibility schools need to address the challenges they continue to face— thereby ensuring the connectivity needed to mitigate the harmful impacts on educational opportunities created by the pandemic. The PIOs believe that granting all of the relief requested in the SHLB et al. Petition in particular will help meet that challenge. The PIOs emphasize in the comments below that it is crucial that the Commission provide schools and libraries with maximum flexibility to acquire the services and networking equipment they determine will best address the unique local circumstances, challenges, and opportunities they face. In addition, and consistent with past precedent, the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau should waive any cost allocation rules with respect to remote learning to minimize the financial and administrative burden of extending access to the school’s network for educational purposes to students, staff and patrons at home or other locations. The legal authority of the FCC and of the Bureau, on delegated authority, to take the steps called for in the petitions is well-established.
Verizon's $6.2 billion bid to buy wireless company TracFone has raised concerns that the deal could cut off access to affordable mobile phone service. The deal has flown under the radar, but TracFone is one of the nation's largest providers of subsidized cell phone service for low income people, an especially important program during the coronavirus pandemic — and one that Verizon hasn't traditionally focused on. The Justice Department declined to dig deeper into the deal in November, signaling that it didn't raise competition concerns. But the Federal Communications Commission must also approve the deal. Criticism has emerged from T-Mobile, Public Knowledge, and the Communications Workers of America. Several state attorneys general urged the FCC to thoroughly examine the merger, including its impact on Lifeline, a federal program that subsidizes phone or broadband service for low-income people.
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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