Daily Digest 2/28/2023 (Digital Opportunities Compass)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Broadband Funding

Vice President Harris Announces Progress in Lowering Internet Costs for Families, Funding to Expand High Speed Internet Access  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  White House
Biden-Harris Administration Announces More Than $175 Million in Internet for All Grants to 61 Minority-Serving Colleges and Universities  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Digital Equity

Benton Foundation
Digital Opportunities Compass  |  Read below  |  Colin Rhinesmith, Pierrette Renée Dagg, Johannes Bauer, Greta Byrum, Aaron Schill  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
NDIA and Common Sense Media Highlight Community Perspectives on Digital Discrimination  |  Read below  |  Analysis  |  National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Common Sense Media
NCTA to FCC: Cable Broadband Deployment Is Not Discriminatory  |  Read below  |  John Eggerton  |  Next TV

State and Local initiatives 

Arkansas Department of Commerce awards $53 million for high-speed broadband funds  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Arkansas State Broadband Office
Group Works To Bring Broadband To Coal Country  |  Read below  |  Lawrence Carrel  |  Forbes
Here's how GCI is navigating fiber in Alaska’s most remote communities  |  Read below  |  Masha Abarinova  |  Fierce
Fiber Networks as Community Development  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting


Filling Gaps in US Spectrum Allocation: Reforms for Collaborative Management  |  Read below  |  Joe Kane, Garett Shrode, Jessica Dine, Robert Puentes  |  Research  |  Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

Government & Communications

Weapons of control, shields of impunity: Internet shutdowns in 2022  |  Read below  |  Zack Rosson, Felicia Anthonio, Sage Cheng, Carolyn Tackett, Alexia Skok  |  Research  |  Access Now
Accessibility of Federal Electronic and Information Technology  |  Department of Justice, General Services Administration

Platforms/Social Media

Have the Justices Gotten Cold Feet About ‘Breaking the Internet’?  |  Lawfare
Four ways the Supreme Court could reshape the web  |  MIT Technology Review

Kids and Health

The Phone in the Room: The raging debate about smartphones and teenage mental health  |  New York Times
Affluent kids have better outcomes when it comes to screen time.  |  Wall Street Journal
‘Take It Down’ Tool Helps Young People Remove Explicit Online Images  |  Wall Street Journal


WIA to Partner with Four Pre-Apprenticeship Providers in Ohio for Broadband Occupational Training  |  Wireless Infrastructure Association


Pentagon to Reap Rewards From $53 Billion Chips Act  |  Wall Street Journal
Biden’s Semiconductor Plan Flexes the Power of the Federal Government  |  New York Times


Data governance holds the key to integrity and security  |  Federal Times
Congress to examine operations of US companies in China  |  Financial Times

Industry News

AT&T CFO says its fiber build is pricier than expecte  |  Fierce

Stories From Abroad

Canada Follows U.S., Europe With TikTok Ban on Government Devices  |  Wall Street Journal
European Commission focuses Apple probe on app restrictions  |  Financial Times
‘I want my money back’, says Deutsche Telekom boss about BT stake  |  Financial Times
Today's Top Stories

Broadband Funding

Vice President Harris Announces Progress in Lowering Internet Costs for Families, Funding to Expand High Speed Internet Access

Press Release  |  White House

Vice President Kamala Harris (D-CA) highlighted the impact of American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act investments to date while announcing new milestones in the effort to increase access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet and close the digital divide including:

  • The Affordable Connectivity Program’s (ACP) enrollment is now up 40% since President Biden and Vice President Harris launched GetInternet.gov, and is now reaching over 16 million households, saving Americans over half-a-billion dollars per month,
  • Consumers are now saving over $500M per month as a result of the ACP;
  • The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is announcing more than $175 million to 61 Minority Serving Institutions for internet access, equipment, and training; and,
  • NTIA is committing to an intentional HBCU engagement strategy to ensure these institutions find applicable resources to connect their campuses and communities,
  • To ensure funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is utilized to connect those who need it most, the Biden-Harris Administration recently announced funding for $53 million in state planning funds for digital equity.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces More Than $175 Million in Internet for All Grants to 61 Minority-Serving Colleges and Universities

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) awarded more than $175 million to 61 colleges and universities as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (CMC). These new awards cover colleges and universities in 29 states and four territories. With these grants, all funding from this Internet for All grant program has been awarded to 93 universities. Including 43 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 24 Hispanic Serving Institutions, 21 Minority Serving Institutions, and five Tribal Colleges and Universities. These grants will help expand community technology hubs, upgrade classroom technology, and increase digital literacy skills at their minority-serving colleges and universities. A list of all CMC Pilot Program awardees can be found here

Digital Equity

Digital Opportunities Compass

Colin Rhinesmith, Pierrette Renée Dagg, Johannes Bauer, Greta Byrum, Aaron Schill  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which includes the Digital Equity Act of 2021 (DEA), establishes a broad framework and significant funding to advance broadband connectivity and digital equity. The law recognizes key factors and populations to address when striving for digital equity. To fully realize the full benefits of digital technology for individuals, communities, and society at large additional insights are needed. The Digital Opportunities Compass is an holistic framework for broadband and digital equity planning, implementation and evaluation. The Compass can assist in the development of state plans that meet the reporting and assessment requirements of IIJA but go beyond access and affordability to fully harness the benefits of digital technology. As communities and states develop plans to improve digital equity, it is important to establish a shared framework, goals and priorities, to identify opportunities, and monitor progress toward these goals.

NDIA and Common Sense Media Highlight Community Perspectives on Digital Discrimination

Analysis  |  National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Common Sense Media

In the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Congress recognized that digital discrimination is a real and present problem for many people and charged the Federal Communications Commission with developing rules to prevent and eliminate it. NDIA and Common Sense Media submitted comments in response to the FCC’s recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the forthcoming digital discrimination rules. Examples of discriminatory practices to look out for: Pricing, Performance, Customer service, Network maintenance, Contract terms and conditions, and Marketing. We urged the FCC to develop comprehensive rules to capture all forms of digital discrimination that deny a person equal access to broadband service and to prioritize the following in its rules:

  • Digital Discrimination can be intentional or unintentional. A service provider’s unintentional practices can leave individuals and communities without equal broadband access need to find evidence that a service provider intended to discriminate to take action to stop it. 
  • Consumers and their lived experiences should be what drive the rulemaking process. The FCC should consistently consult with consumers and those who serve them, like digital inclusion practitioners and digital navigators, to fully understand their experiences and how the rules and processes developed can best serve them. 
  • The FCC should revise the consumer complaint system. The FCC should make this process easier for individuals to navigate, and organizations should be able to easily submit complaints on behalf of communities impacted by digital discrimination and should also proactively analyze the data they collect through the complaint system to look for patterns of discrimination. This information should also be available to the public.
  • The FCC should leverage data to uncover patterns of digital discrimination. The FCC should evaluate data from the Broadband Data Collection (BDC), the Broadband Data Act mapping process, along with data from other sources, (e.g., the Census Bureau) to look for patterns of digital discrimination.
  • The FCC should conduct outreach to ensure the public understands their rights. Once the digital discrimination rules are adopted, the Commission should conduct outreach, awareness, and education campaigns across the country to ensure communities, digital inclusion practitioners, advocates, and consumers fully understand the rules, their importance, and how to navigate the complaint process. The FCC Commission should create a “Consumer Bill of Rights,” stating the rules in plain language and launch a “Know Your Rights” campaign complete with marketing and user-friendly educational materials. 

NCTA to FCC: Cable Broadband Deployment Is Not Discriminatory

John Eggerton  |  Next TV

Cable broadband providers told the Federal Communications Commission that preventing digital discrimination in the provision of broadband services is a laudable goal but that they already offer equal access to high-speed service, and the proof is in the data. The FCC asked how it could “prevent internet providers from engaging in digital discrimination,” which suggests there is a problem that needs fixing. NCTA-the Internet & Television Association said that both FCC and census data make it clear that “cable broadband networks are available across providers’ service areas to homes and businesses, regardless of income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion or national origin.” The association cited FCC and US Census data showing 99.8% of homes with median incomes above $100,000 have access to cable broadband at 1 Gigabit per second, but so do virtually the same percentage (98.2%) for those with incomes below $35,000 per year. The NCTA signaled the problem would be if the FCC were to overregulate in an effort to achieve broadband adoption or affordability goals aren’t germane to what should be the inquiry’s focus. The things NCTA wants the FCC to steer clear of include conflating adoption with deployment. NCTA said the FCC’s definition of availability should rely only on studies that “distinguish availability from adoption and do not rely on third-party speed tests.”


Arkansas Department of Commerce awards $53 million for high-speed broadband funds

Press Release  |  Arkansas State Broadband Office

The Arkansas Department of Commerce announced on Feb. 22 that more than $53 million will be awarded to 10 internet service providers in Arkansas to extend high-speed internet in eight underserved counties throughout the state. The $53 million investment, combined with $18.8 million in provider matching funds, will result in nearly 5,800 homes and businesses being connected to fast, reliable internet in Ashley, Baxter, Chicot, Clark, Columbia, Hot Spring, Logan, and Lonoke counties. The Arkansas Rural Connect grant program has awarded nearly $550 million to connect more than 129,000 unserved and underserved locations throughout Arkansas; the latest awards complete the sixth award phase for the program. Awardees and counties that will benefit from this phase of the program include:

  • CableSouth Media LLC (Ashley County) – $7.921 million
  • NEXT, Powered by NAEC (Baxter County) – $2.151 million
  • Ashley-Chicot Electric Cooperative Inc (Chicot County) – $6.621 million
  • South Central Connect LLC (Clark County) – $1.677 million
  • Four States Fiber (Columbia County) – $5.207 million
  • South Central Connect LLC/Central Arkansas Telephone Cooperative Inc. (Hot Spring County) – $4.579 million
  • Wave Rural Connect LLC/Cox Communications LLC (Logan County) – $14.252 million
  • Connect2First Internet (Lonoke County) – $10.947 million

Group Works To Bring Broadband To Coal Country

Lawrence Carrel  |  Forbes

One of the biggest speed bumps on the road to solving climate change is reducing the mining and burning of coal. And one of the biggest roadblocks to closing coal companies is finding jobs for all the people who will be put out of work. One organization working to help communities in coal country grow their economies amidst the industry's downturn is the Just Transition Fund (JTF) which helps rural communities access federal funds allocated for the building of broadband networks. Despite large amounts of federal funding for broadband, significant barriers exist, such as local community organizations and governments needing grant writers, and high matching funds requirements. JTF will announce a new initiative focused on supporting eight essential broadband projects in six states representing coal communities: West Virginia, Illinois, Colorado, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming, as well as the Navajo Nation in Arizona. It seeks to leverage about $700,000 in combined philanthropic investments to convert $59 million in federal funding and subsidies into broadband infrastructure, which it expects will connect more than 52,000 households in affected communities. The JFT was founded in 2015 by the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Appalachia Funders Network to help communities access federal funds.

Here's how GCI is navigating fiber in Alaska’s most remote communities

Masha Abarinova  |  Fierce

The Alaskan landscape is rife with broadband accessibility and deployment challenges, which GCI is all too familiar with. The operator recently reached a milestone with its AU-Aleutians fiber project, turning up 2-gig service in the city of Unalaska in December 2022. Billy Wailand, SVP of GCI Corporate Development, and GCI Chief Communications Officer Heather Handyside delved into the geographical and logistical constraints that came with undertaking the roughly $60 million project. Though Unalaska is an active fishing port, it’s also one of the most remote communities in the US, said Handyside. Flights to the region are unreliable and it’s inaccessible by road from the Alaskan mainland. GCI kicked off the AU-Aleutians project back in 2020, aiming to bring high-speed internet to a dozen Aleutian, Alaska Peninsula, and Kodiak Island communities. These communities vary in size, with Wailand noting some have fewer than 100 year-round residents, though the Aleutian areas will typically receive an influx of people during the fishing season. The AU-Aleutians project is partially funded by a $25 million US Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect grant, with GCI covering the rest of the cost with its own capital. For the project in Port Lions, the operator obtained nearly $30 million from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity program (TBCP). Federal funding – particularly from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) – really got the ball rolling for building out to remote communities, as Wailand noted it’s generally difficult to make a business case for investing millions of dollars to service 500 and 600-person villages. Another project GCI is undertaking is with Bethel Native Corporation to bring 2-gig fiber to 10 communities in Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The operator is leveraging a $42 million grant from the NTIA and $31 million from ReConnect to construct the 405-mile Airraq fiber network.

Fiber Networks as Community Development

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

Why don't local governments view an internet service provider (ISP) that is going to build a fiber network in the same way that they view other economic development opportunities? Local governments roll out the red carpet for a business that is considering building a factory that will bring jobs, and sometimes offer a cash incentive to coax a new employer to build in the community. These kinds of incentives come from the traditional economic development playbook: new jobs bring prosperity. To be fair, local governments sometimes make concessions to an ISP that is going to build fiber – but not with the same zeal and fervor associated with bringing a new factory. A city might give a break to a new fiber builder by relaxing right-of-way rules or by providing expedited permitting. But generally, the concessions to bring a fiber network are not of the same magnitude as the concessions given to other potential new businesses. A new fiber network brings huge benefits to a community with inadequate broadband or that is suffering from a lack of competition due to a cable company controlling the market. Part of the reason that bringing fiber isn’t considered as economic development is that ISPs are not telling a good story about the economic benefits of bringing fiber.


Filling Gaps in US Spectrum Allocation: Reforms for Collaborative Management

Joe Kane, Garett Shrode, Jessica Dine, Robert Puentes  |  Research  |  Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

With the rapid rise of wireless technology, the demand for access to the spectrum has increased in recent years. However, there are critical and interrelated gaps and failures in the process and policies used for efficiently allocating the spectrum in the US. Key takeaways from an analysis on this issue include the following:

  • Spectrum allocation takes place within an established process defined by international standards, legislation, regulations, and norms. 
  • There are gaps in this process, such as insufficient information gathering and sharing early in the process, lack of rigorous technical standards and analysis, and inadequate adherence to the process. 
  • To prevent future breakdowns, spectrum users and regulators should improve their understanding of spectrum-using devices’ performance and take steps to enhance it with assistance from auction revenues.
  • US government personnel should establish strong working relationships between agencies to better understand and resolve potential interference disputes collaboratively and at a technical, rather than political, level.
  • Congress should ensure agencies have sufficient resources to conduct necessary technical analysis, and regulators should apply that analysis to impartially balance competing interests.
  • All participants in the spectrum allocation process should adhere to the established interagency process, and the White House should vigorously support jurisdictional boundaries.

Government & Communictions

Weapons of control, shields of impunity: Internet shutdowns in 2022

Zack Rosson, Felicia Anthonio, Sage Cheng, Carolyn Tackett, Alexia Skok  |  Research  |  Access Now

From Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, authorities are imposing internet shutdowns at staggering rates. In 2022 alone, governments and other actors disrupted the internet at least 187 times across 35 countries — breaking our #KeepItOn record for the number of countries to hit the kill switch in a single year. Not only are shutdowns resurging after a decrease at the height of the pandemic, they’re lasting longer, targeting specific populations, and are being wielded when people need a connection the most — including during humanitarian crises, mass protests, and active conflict and war.

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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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