Monday, February 22, 2021
Headlines Daily Digest
Elections & Media
I believe that it is incredibly important to revisit the conversation we had in 2020 about the intersection of the digital divide and Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) – so that we can understand the work that has been done, what remains, and cross-collaborate on what we can all do to keep pushing forward, even in the face of headwinds. It is past time that we have an equitable and connected country, but where there are gaps, we’re going to be dependent on the folks listening in and participating here today to make investments in our HBCU students, bolster our anchor institutions, including HBCUs, and guide Black STEM professionals over the course of their careers.
Comcast is delaying a plan to enforce its 1.2TB data cap and overage fees in the Northeast US until 2022 after pressure from customers and lawmakers in multiple states. Comcast has enforced the data cap in 27 of the 39 states in which it operates since 2016, but not in the Northeast states where Comcast faces competition from Verizon's un-capped FiOS fiber-to-the-home service. In Nov 2020, Comcast announced it would bring the cap to the other 12 states and DC starting in Jan 2021. But with Feb 18's announcement, no one in those 12 states and DC will be charged overage fees by Comcast in all of 2021. The delay applies to CT, DE, MA, MD, ME, NH, NJ, NC, NY, PA, VT, WV, and DC.
Broadcasters want to get a cut of those billions of dollars in the Federal Communications Commission's Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. The National Association of Broadcasters is telling the FCC that TV and radio advertising is particularly effective both because they are ubiquitous and because over-the-air broadcasting over-indexes for the eligible population--households with incomes below $50,000. NAB also points out that broadcasting scores high as a trusted source of news and information. To those, like pay-TV and digital media, who advocate for their platforms, NAB said they may exclude some eligible households from the outset since both platforms requires some form of payment, while broadcasting can reach all Americans for free.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of broadband Internet connectivity into focus as work, school, healthcare, and more shift online. Internet connectivity is more important than ever in keeping our lives moving. The $1 million Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant program supports broadband initiatives in the southeastern United States, funded by Truist Financial Corporation’s Truist Cares initiative, a $50 million philanthropic pledge to help rebuild communities in the company’s markets affected by COVID-19. As the administrating partner, the Internet Society will support local broadband expansion by funding complementary Internet connectivity solutions to help alleviate disparities in education, employment, and social welfare that are exacerbated by lack of access to broadband. The $1 million Truist EPIC Grant will be distributed starting in April 2021 to as many as seven cooperative broadband projects in funds between $125,000 and $180,000. Applications are due March 5.
Now that the pandemic has made it clear just how essential it is to be connected to high-speed internet, lawmakers are finally putting billions of dollars into funding government programs to expand access to it. Urgency has also increased at the state level: 34 states enacted legislation or resolutions related to broadband development in 2020, per the National Conference of State Legislatures. Such steps to close the digital divide are long overdue, but previous proposals were typically hobbled by partisan bickering or overshadowed by sexier tech-related issues. Now, though, the stark need for better and more affordable access has finally summoned political will from both parties.
The heads of three leading broadband trade associations sent a letter to the White House urging stronger action on universal broadband access. Chip Pickering from INCOMPAS, who represents competitive fiber and fixed wireless builders, Shirley Bloomfield of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association representing rural providers and Jonathan Adelstein from WIA who counts wireless infrastructure companies members signed the letter calling on the Biden Administration to make “Broadband for All” central to its COVID-19 recovery efforts as infrastructure investment will stimulate education, telemedicine and small business growth. The associations call for action that targets underserved areas that need it most, helping low-income Americans stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide purchase broadband services at affordable prices. The letter calls for federal investment in wired, wireless and 5G infrastructure and better state and local coordination to remove barriers to deployment, ensuring that funding from the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and future investments reach families and communities in need faster.
I believe deeply in the importance of connectivity and the role that counties and cooperatives play in that endeavor. I was asked to talk about a few things today: the importance of broadband in a time of COVID; the important role that cooperatives play in broadband deployment; and the different technologies that deliver broadband to our homes, offices, and schools. Let’s start with the importance of broadband. Broadband is not a luxury it is a necessity. Long story short, and to use a quote from Bernadine Joselyn of the Blandin Foundation in Minnesota, “everything is better with better broadband.” There are about 260 telephone cooperatives and 834 electric cooperatives spread throughout the country. Today, more than 100 electric cooperatives have retail fiber-optic broadband services. Co-ops are laying down the fiber necessary to meet the needs and demands of a digital rural America. So, why do I say that co-ops are the unsung heroes of broadband? First and foremost, they have a history of rural connectivity, second, they are distinctly local, and third, they have the infrastructure in place.
The faulty Federal Communications Commission national broadband map has essentially made millions of Americans without fast internet "invisible," as Microsoft put it, and unless the data improve, they're likely to remain so. But there's reason to be hopeful. Thanks to $65 million in funding from Congress in Dec, the FCC now will require internet service providers to share more detailed data, giving a better picture of what areas are unserved by broadband. It will also have to open the map to public feedback, letting people flag when something is wrong and providing more data points on gaps. On Feb 17 at the FCC's monthly meeting, Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel launched a new task force to fix the data, saying "it's no secret that the FCC's existing broadband maps leave a lot to be desired."
But some experts say the new mapping parameters still aren't granular enough, and the new maps almost certainly will arrive too late to help people during the pandemic. The updated data likely won't be available until at least 2022, acknowledged the Broadband Data Task Force's chair, Jean Kiddoo. The FCC still hasn't "gotten rid of the 'could provide service' versus 'does provide service,'" said Benton Senior Fellow and Public Advocate Gigi Sohn. That hides areas where people may be disconnected for affordability reasons or other factors that contribute to the digital divide. Under the new rules, ISPs can only count an area as covered if it could set up a connection within 10 business days of a customer's request and without requiring resources or construction costs higher than an ordinary service activation fee.
While the maps may be better than what came before, they likely will still not be enough to truly give an accurate picture of where broadband exists, experts say. Unwilling to wait for the federal government, Maine, Pennsylvania, Georgia and other states have set out to build their own maps, drawing on speed test data, specific information from ISPs about what homes they serve, and other resources to find out where their gaps are.
Sustainability when looking at a digital infrastructure plan needs to take cybersecurity and data privacy into account. In the modern world, data is a currency. From the dark web to marketing analytics, data has a financial value. The government needs to address these issues as part of establishing a nationwide internet infrastructure. Relying solely on internet service providers to build the infrastructure and secure it will fail. Regulations do not secure information or cloud services; they serve as deterrents. The federal government needs to take action to fill in security holes. For every innovative, environmentally sustainable, non-fossil fuel research grant it pays, it needs to match funds for innovative, cyber-sustainable, security research. Creating a cyber-sustainable digital infrastructure is as essential as creating an environmentally sustainable physical infrastructure. If the United States wants to remain competitive as a nation, the two need to be considered equally important.
[Karen Walsh is chief executive officer at Allegro Solutions]
A group of K-12 organizations has banded together to urge the Federal Communications Commission to incorporate cybersecurity purchases into the E-rate program. The goal of the 35-page petition is to help school districts protect their networks and data by expanding E-rate in three ways:
- By defining all firewall and related features as "basic" beginning in funding year 2021;
- Increasing E-rate's five-year Category 2 budget cap in future funding years to support additional cybersecurity investments; and
- Updating the agency's definition of "broadband" to include cybersecurity.
The filing was done by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN); the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA); the State E-rate Coordinators' Alliance (SECA); the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed); Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB); and the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS).
Each country has its own car safety regulations and tax codes. But should every country also decide its own bounds for appropriate online expression? We probably don’t want internet companies deciding on the freedoms of billions of people, but we may not want governments to have unquestioned authority, either. Regulating online expression in any single country — let alone in the world — is a messy set of trade offs with no easy solutions. Let us lay out some of the issues:
- The “splinternet” is here
- Internet powers still have to make judgment calls
- The splinternet fear is often presented as a binary choice between one global Facebook or Google, or 200 versions. But there are ideas floating around to set a global baseline of online expression, and a process for adjudicating disputes.
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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