Thursday, February 23, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
Today: Meeting of the Communications Equity and Diversity Council
FCC March 2023 Open Meeting Agenda
Steps to Lower State Prison Phone Rates & Charges
Supreme Court Wrestles With Suit Claiming Twitter Aided Terrorists
Stories From Abroad
We are a little under three weeks away from revealing the winners of this year’s Academy Awards, but you don’t have to wait to find out what the Federal Communication Commission has lined up for our Open Meeting just days after the Oscars. Here’s what to expect at our March meeting:
- We’re harnessing the power of satellites to enhance mobile phone operations: Wireless carriers have increasingly begun collaborating with satellite operators to make sure smartphone users stay connected even in areas where there is no terrestrial mobile service;
- We’re bringing common sense and fairness to prison phone rates The Commission’s long-running efforts to provide relief for families of incarcerated people forced to pay exorbitant and unreasonable telephone rates got a major boost last month when the President signed the bipartisan Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act;
- We’re tightening the vise on illegal robocalls: Combatting illegal robocalls requires constant vigilance and consistently reviewing our protections to identify and close gaps in our defenses;
- We’re protecting consumers from text messaging scams: Unwanted robo-texts from invalid phone numbers have become a persistent, growing threat to consumers;
- We’re updating our equipment testing standards: The Commission’s equipment authorization program ensures that the communications equipment we all rely on operates effectively without causing harmful interference and complies with the Commission’s rules;
- We’re making video programming more accessible: Audio description makes video programming more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired by inserting narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements during natural pauses in the program’s dialogue;
- We will also consider two items from our Enforcement Bureau.
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel shared with her colleagues a proposal to begin a rulemaking to implement the FCC’s expanded authority over rates charged for incarcerated people’s audio and video communications services. The recently adopted Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 directs the FCC to adopt just and reasonable rates no later than 24 months after enactment. The proposal includes a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order that, if adopted by a vote at the March 2023 Open Meeting, would begin the process of implementing the law. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking circulated, if adopted, would invite comment on how the Commission should interpret and implement the Martha Wright-Reed Act, including seeking comment on:
- The expansion of the FCC’s authority over incarcerated people’s communications services to include advanced communications services (including audio and video services) and intrastate services;
- The meaning of “just and reasonable” in the context of the Martha Wright-Reed Act’s other provisions;
- The appropriate rate-making approach given the Commission’s authority to compute just and reasonable rates;
- The safety and security costs necessary for incarcerated people’s communications services; and
- The FCC’s ability to ensure that incarcerated people’s communications services are accessible to and usable by people with communication disabilities.
As state broadband offices enter the planning phase of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, industry leaders say that community engagement is key to ensuring affordability and long-term sustainability. Experts discussed the current surge of broadband funding opportunities and noted the many challenges facing state broadband offices, particularly those that are still young and understaffed. Now that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded initial BEAD planning funds, the next step for state broadband offices is to develop a five-year action plan.
- Jake Varn, associate manager at The Pew Charitable Trusts, says that state officials must make an effort to meet and engage with local communities;
- Peggy Schaffer, a board member of the American Association for Public Broadband and the former director of Maine’s broadband office, also stated that one of the most important topics for community discussion is that of realistic affordability;
- Another critical aspect of community engagement is identifying underserved areas, in addition to the more easily defined unserved areas;
- Alex Kelley, head of broadband consulting for the Center on Rural Innovation said as the planning process moves further, communities and state broadband offices will need to find ways of preventing internet service providers from “cherry-picking the most desirable un- and underserved areas." Kelly also recommended incorporating a variety of mechanisms for assessing the efficiency of grant requests. Only relying on the per-passing cost, he said, can incentivize providers to “pick out or gerrymander… the densest of the un- and underserved areas, and that can lead to perpetuating this phenomenon of kicking the can down the road for the hardest-to-serve areas.”
Ookla has data from Q3 and Q4 2022 for SpaceX’s Starlink and Sky Logic in Europe and Oceania, as well as new Starlink markets Ookla hadn't yet featured in its ongoing series on satellite internet. With the Federal Communication Commission greenlighting Amazon’s Project Kuiper and many other exciting satellite developments launching in 2023, all eyes will be on the sky in 2023 as new orbital connectivity options become available for consumers. Several developments from the analysis include:
- Starlink is mostly speeding up again from Q3 to Q4 2022, but is still slower than a year ago: Q4 2022 data shows many countries are experiencing a modest rise in median download speeds when compared to Q3 2022.
- Starlink in Denmark and Switzerland had the fastest satellite internet in Europe during Q4 2022: Speedtest Intelligence reveals there was no fastest satellite provider in Europe during Q4 2022, though Starlink in Denmark (147.52 Mbps) and Switzerland (136.03 Mbps) led the pack for fastest median download speed. In all, Starlink download speeds were faster than 100 Mbps in 10 out of 15 European countries during Q4 2022 — a rise from just 5 out 15 in Q3 2022.
- Starlink in New Zealand was the fastest satellite provider in Oceania: During Q4 2022, Starlink in New Zealand had the fastest median download speed among satellite providers in Oceania at 124.72 Mbps, followed by Starlink in Australia (106.43 Mbps), and Starlink in Tonga (35.15 Mbps). However, New Zealand fixed broadband outperformed Starlink, while Starlink in Australia outperformed fixed broadband providers. In Tonga, speeds were too close to call.
- New Q4 2022 Starlink countries show very promising results: Speedtest Intelligence shows the six new countries where we found new Starlink data are off to a roaring start in Q4 2022, which include Bulgaria, Finland, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, and Malta.
Rep. Balderson (R-OH) Introduces Legislation to Expand Telehealth Access, Empower Rural Americans with Options
Representatives Troy Balderson (R-OH), Susie Lee (D-NV), Ashley Hinson (R-IA), and Joe Neguse (D-CO) introduced bipartisan legislation to expand and improve access to telehealth services for all Americans. The "Knowing the Efficiency and Efficacy of Permanent (KEEP) Telehealth Options Act" requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), and Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) to each conduct a report and issue recommendations on telehealth. These reports will include the expansion of telehealth services during the COVID-19 outbreak, the uptake of those services by patients across the country, and recommendations for enhancing the quality of and access to these services. The bill also asks each entity to make recommendations for potential improvement and expansion, as well as approaches to address and prevent fraudulent activity. This data is crucial in order for Congress to legislate a permanent expansion of telehealth.
The Supreme Court heard arguments over whether internet platforms may be sued for aiding and abetting international terrorism by failing to remove videos supporting the Islamic State. The case, which concerns a federal law allowing suits for “knowingly providing substantial assistance” to terrorists, was linked to one argued that considered the separate question of whether platforms are immune from lawsuits under a 1996 law that shields them from liability for what their users post. As a practical matter, the court’s ruling in Twitter v. Taamneh, No. 21-1496, could effectively resolve both cases and allow the justices to duck difficult questions about the scope of the 1996 law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The argument was technical. The justices teased apart elements of the law before them, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, parsing its provisions and posing hypothetical questions about what sort of conduct it covered. Chief Justice John Roberts said that “the discussion this morning has really taken on a very academic tone.” The case concerned Nawras Alassaf, who was killed in a terrorist attack at a nightclub in Istanbul in 2017 for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility. His family sued Twitter and other tech companies, saying they had allowed ISIS to use their platforms to recruit and train terrorists.
Data from industry analyst Cowen that shows that some of the largest fiber builders in the country have already trimmed back their construction plans for 2023. Do these cuts mean that fiber competition won’t materialize as planned? There have been big external changes affecting the entire industry. Fiber material costs are up, as evidenced by the recent price hike announced by Corning. Prices of fiber components are up across the board for everything from conduit, handholes, drop wires, etc. A bigger cost impact is the cost of labor, with technician's labor rates rising across the industry. Fiber construction is also not immune from interest rate increases. All of this adds up to a lower return for fiber builders. Any level of cutbacks is good news for cable companies since the above cutbacks mean several million fewer fiber passings to compete with by the end of 2023.
In parts of Oklahoma’s 3rd Congressional District, more than half of the state’s rural residents don’t have access to a broadband connection, said House Science Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), who represents the district in Congress. Oklahoma is not alone. Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), echoed that view at a House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing: “It’s clear traveling in my district [that] too many Americans still lack access to the internet." Even as House Republicans call for more internet access in rural areas, their counterparts in the Senate are holding up the confirmation of a Federal Communications Commission nominee that some say is needed to close the gap in connectivity. Senate Republicans again indicated opposition to Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society] for a seat on the FCC, a confirmation that would give the agency its fifth commissioner and give the Democrats a 3-2 majority. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Sohn “is no more qualified to be installed on the FCC than she was back in 2021 or 2022." Sohn didn’t receive a floor vote in the last Congress after the Senate Commerce Committee deadlocked on her confirmation. President Joe Biden has resubmitted her nomination. Democrats say the FCC needs all five members to complete the broadband maps that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will use to allocate about $42.5 billion. The money is part of the $65 billion that Congress appropriated in a 2021 law to address the internet access gap and expand high-speed broadband.
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.
© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2022. Redistribution of this email publication — both internally and externally — is encouraged if it includes this message. For subscribe/unsubscribe info email: headlines AT benton DOT org
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society All Rights Reserved © 2022