Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Headlines Daily Digest
Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel circulated a Report and Order that, if adopted, would establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a $3.2 billion federal initiative to provide qualifying households discounts on their internet service bills and an opportunity to receive a discount on a computer or tablet. The proposed Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Report and Order:
- Opens the program to all types of broadband providers;
- Requires providers to deliver the qualifying broadband service to eligible households to receive reimbursement from the Program; and
- Encourages eligible households to affirmatively indicate their interest in the program.
Households are eligible when a member of the household:
- Qualifies for the FCC’s Lifeline program;
- Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program;
- Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020;
- Received a Federal Pell Grant; or
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program.
The Department of the Treasury provides guidance regarding the requirements of the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. The Act provides that ERA funds may be used for “other expenses related to housing incurred due, directly or indirectly, to” the COVID-19 outbreak, as defined by the Secretary. What are some examples of these “other expenses”? The Act requires that other expenses must be related to housing and be incurred due directly or indirectly due to COVID-19. Such expenses include relocation expenses and rental fees (if a household has been temporarily or permanently displaced due to the COVID-19 outbreak); reasonable accrued late fees (if not included in rental or utility arrears and if incurred due to COVID-19); and Internet service provided to the rental unit. Internet service provided to a residence is related to housing and is in many cases a vital service that allows renters to engage in distance learning, telework, and telemedicine and obtain government services. However, given that coverage of Internet would reduce the amount of funds available for rental assistance, grantees should adopt policies that govern in what circumstances that they will determine that covering this cost would be appropriate. All payments for housing-related expenses must be supported by documentary evidence such as a bill, invoice, or evidence of payment to the provider of the service.
AT&T and Frontier have let their copper phone networks deteriorate through neglect since 2010, resulting in poor service quality and many lengthy outages, a report commissioned by the California state government found. Customers in low-income areas and areas without substantial competition have fared the worst, the report found. AT&T in particular was found to have neglected low-income communities and to have imposed severe price increases adding up to 152.6 percent over a decade. The report was written in April 2019 but kept private because data submitted by the carriers was deemed confidential and proprietary. The report finally became public after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ruled in Dec 2020 that a redacted version had to be released by mid-Jan. Six key findings:
- Service quality has deteriorated
- Demonstrated lack of resiliency — AT&T & Frontier are not maintaining networks to withstand environmental and weather-related conditions.
- Disinvestment in Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS)
- Increased investment in broadband improves POTS service quality
- AT&T is focusing on higher income communities
- Direct relationship between amount of competition and service quality results
We’ve been promised a fourth industrial revolution with fantastical things like remote surgery and driverless cars. Instead, what we have now is widespread 5G that’s more or less the same speed as (or even slower than) 4G and super-fast mmWave 5G in some parts of some major cities with highly limited range. So where is this 5G future we’ve been promised? The truth is that it’s coming along, but it will materialize more slowly and in less obvious ways than what we’ve been led to believe.
To understand the complicated 5G situation in the US right now, you first need to know that there are low-, mid-, and high-band frequencies that carriers can use. Low-band is slower but offers widespread coverage. High-band, often called mmWave, is very fast but extremely limited in range. Mid-band sits in a sweet spot between the two, with good range and better-than-LTE speeds. If you were building a 5G network from scratch, you’d probably want a bunch of mid-band spectrum, right? The trouble is, spectrum is a limited resource. Sascha Segan, lead mobile analyst at PCMag, sums up part of the spectrum problem. “Our government did not make the right channels available to the carriers,” he says. “Verizon and AT&T have basically just been using leftover odds and ends of their 4G spectrum... putting the 5G encoding on these leftover bits and bobs so they can pop a 5G icon on the screen. And the performance is meaningless.”
The networks might not be firing on all cylinders yet, but more and more mobile devices are ready for them. In fact, by the end of the year, it may be harder to find a non-5G phone than one that supports the technology. Michael Thelander, president and founder of wireless industry research firm Signals Research GroupThelander explains: “The first focus of 5G was really a feature called ‘enhanced mobile broadband’ and that’s just getting fast data speeds to the consumer on their smartphone. Things like factory automation and the functionality behind that, that was really developed afterwards, so it lags, from a standardization perspective.”
Facebook will walk back its block on Australian users sharing news on its site after the government there agreed to make amendments to the proposed media bargaining laws that would force major tech giants to pay news outlets for their content. The code is structured so that if Facebook and Google do not sign commercial deals with traditional media outlets the Treasurer can "designate" them, and force them to pay for access to news content. The government promised to make further amendments to the code, including giving Facebook more time to strike those deals.
Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), senior member of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and Rep. Jackie Speier (CA-14), Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, led a letter to White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain in support of Jessica Rosenworcel to be named the permanent Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. The letter is signed by 33 Democratic women. Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel would be the first woman to permanently chair the FCC in its nearly 90-year history.
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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