Friday, February 5, 2021
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
Some of the same internet have-nots who have been at risk of losing access to remote education, telemedicine and social connections throughout the pandemic are now at risk of being left out when it comes to registering for the vaccine. In many states, elderly populations are among the first eligible for the vaccine, but with registration largely taking place online, some are forced to lean on family members and volunteers with high-speed internet and more digital know-how to register. Vaccine distribution is "yet another casualty of the digital divide," said Gigi Sohn, a counselor to the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama administration. The lack of broadband access risks exacerbating the impacts of the pandemic on populations that have been hit disproportionately hard by the coronavirus.
Sen Ed Markey (D-MA), Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Sens Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) led 31 of their colleagues in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, urging the agency’s new leadership to take long overdue action and utilize the E-Rate Program to help close the “homework gap” during the coronavirus pandemic. “We appreciate that you have already recognized the FCC’s ability to act, including by asserting in congressional testimony that ‘the FCC could use E-Rate right now to provide every school library with Wi-Fi hotspots and other connectivity devices to loan out to students who lack reliable internet access at home,’” wrote the Sens in their letter to Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We urge you to now use your new leadership of the FCC to depart from the prior Commission's erroneous position. Specifically, we request that you leverage the E-Rate program to begin providing connectivity and devices for remote learning.”
Some of the winning bids in the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction were for unrealistically low levels of support and the net result could be that those areas do not get service, according to two of the rural electric cooperatives that bid in the auction. Midwest Energy Communications (MEC) won $37 million in the RDOF auction as part of a consortium organized by the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC). The company will use the funding toward the full $165 million cost of a fiber-to-the-premises deployment that will make service available to 40,000 locations in rural Michigan. The company dropped out of bidding for 30-some census block groups when it was underbid by a company bidding to use fixed wireless service in the fastest speed group—1 Gbps. “MEC contends that the blocks were lost to other bidders that cannot and will not be able to deliver service at the level claimed in the tier they bid,” said Bob Hance, MEC CEO. He added that “wireless technology is not capable of providing gigabit service, even in the most ideal circumstances.”
Another RDOF bidding story came from Mike Malandro, president and CEO of Maryland’s Choptank Electric Cooperative. Choptank bid to provide service using fiber broadband in unserved rural areas of the state but dropped out of the auction when it was underbid by a “very small company.” (Malandro subsequently confirmed that the company was Talkie Communications which, according to FCC data, plans to use FTTP for its deployments.) “The money available was not enough to commit to serving the area in a six-year time frame,” said Malandro of Choptank’s decision to drop out. “Prior to the RDOF auction, I had great hope for [closing] the digital divide quicker, but I now feel that the RDOF has done the opposite.”
A new case study report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance delves into the experiences of four Native Nations — the Coeur d’Alene, the Nez Perce, the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, and the St. Regis Mohawk — as they constructed their own Internet service providers. The case studies examine the unique challenges Native Nations confront as they seek to build Internet infrastructure and address the digital divide while also retaining the tribal sovereignty that is essential to their identity and heritage.
Each section of the report contains key takeaways that other tribes could use and learn from. The report also pulls these individual case studies together for comprehensive key lessons that Native Nations, lending institutions, and the federal government can use to improve the process for implementing tribal ISP’s, which include:
- Improving Access to Capital. Native Nations do not have the same access to capital as municipalities or as private Internet service providers. Due to that fact, lending institutions should address their processes for lending to Native Nations to determine how to better support network projects, and the federal government should regularly evaluate funding opportunities for network projects by Native Nations.
- Avoiding Single-Purpose Funding. Federal funding is often limited to a single purpose, such as connecting Indian Health Services facilities or schools & libraries, which tends to create Internet “silos” rather than broad access.
- Recognizing the Preparation Needed to Take Advantage of Opportunities. Native Nations that have already started projects or have plans to start projects can easily jump on new funding opportunities if they have a core team of network professionals ready and waiting for the next funding opportunity.
- Respecting Native Nations’ Right to Spectrum. The Federal Communications Commission should not lease licenses to spectrum over any Native Nations to non-native entities. Spectrum should be treated as a natural resource, and the FCC should recognize Native Nations’ autonomy in determining how to use spectrum for Internet access.
- Recognizing the Important Role of Tribal Employment Rights Offices. The Tribal Employment Rights Offices provide a value often overlooked by lending institutions or the federal government by making sure that training and hiring is done locally and that the community is benefiting from the new job opportunities that a network project brings.
Senate Antitrust Subcommittee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced sweeping new legislation to reinvigorate America’s antitrust laws and restore competition to American markets. The Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act will:
- Increase Enforcement Resources. Increases budget to Dept of Justice's Antitrust Division and Federal Tade Commission.
- Strengthen Prohibitions Against Anticompetitive Mergers. The bill would restore the original intent of Section 7 of the Clayton Act, which was designed to stop anticompetitive mergers in order to address competitive problems in their “incipiency” before they ripened and caused harm. The Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act will:
- Update the legal standard for permissible mergers. The bill amends the Clayton Act to forbid mergers that “create an appreciable risk of materially lessening competition” rather than mergers that “substantially lessen competition,” where “materially” is defined as “more than a de minimus amount.” The bill also clarifies that mergers that create a monopsony (the power to unfairly lower the prices a company it pays or wages it offers because of lack of competition among buyers or employers) violate the statute.
- Shift the burden to the merging parties to prove their merger will not violate the law. These categories include:
- Mergers that significantly increase market concentration
- Acquisitions of competitors or nascent competitors by a dominant firm (defined a 50% market share or possession of significant market power)
- Mega-mergers valued at more than $5 billion
- Prevent Harmful Dominant Firm Conduct.
- The legislation would establish a new, independent FTC division to conduct market studies and merger retrospectives.
- Implement Additional Reforms to Enhance Antitrust Enforcement
The Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act will also implement a series of reforms to seek civil fines for antitrust violations, study the effect of past mergers, strengthen whistleblower protections, and more.
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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