Daily Digest 2/6/2019 (State of the Union)

Benton Foundation
Table of Contents


House Democrats get down to business on tech issues  |  C|Net
President Trump Pledges Investment, But Is Silent on Key Tech Issues  |  Wired


Chairman Pai's Response to Members of Congress Regarding Tribal Broadband  |  Read below  |  FCC Chairman Ajit Pai  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission
Net Neutrality Oral Argument Highlights Problem For Pai: You Can’t Hide The Policy Implications Of Your Actions From Judges.  |  Read below  |  Harold Feld  |  Analysis  |  Tales of the Sausage Factory
Rural Electric Cooperatives: The Digital Divide’s Salvation  |  Read below  |  Alyson Moore  |  Op-Ed  |  Government Technology
Better Maps, Better Connectivity: How Data Can Close the Broadband Gap  |  Read below  |  Anne Stauffer  |  Pew Charitable Trusts
Rural Download Speeds are Worse than Reported, Microsoft Study Says  |  Read below  |  Roberto Gallardo  |  Op-Ed  |  Daily Yonder
Billions for Broadband in Your State and Refunds on Your Communications Bills  |  Bruce Kushnick
Hiding a $5 Billion State Telecommunications Utility that No One Even Knows Exists  |  Bruce Kushnick


Eight More States/Territories Participating in Lifeline National Verifier  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission
FCC and USAC Establishing Computer Matching Program to Verify Lifeline Eligibility  |  Read below  |  Marlene Dortch  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission


FCC Chairman Pai: 5G Future Is a Wired One with Promise for Rural America  |  Read below  |  Bernie Arnason  |  telecompetitor
Keynote Remarks of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr: 5G Jobs in the Year of 5G  |  Read below  |  FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr  |  Speech  |  Medium
Chairman Pai’s Response to Members of Congress Regarding Modernization of Wireless Infrastructure  |  Federal Communications Commission
Chairman Pai Response Regarding Classifying Text Messaging as Info Service  |  Federal Communications Commission
Building inclusion into 5G wireless networks  |  Read below  |  Jack Karsten  |  Analysis  |  Brookings
400 MHz of Mid-band Spectrum for 5G will add $274 Billion to America’s Economy, Create 1.3 Million Jobs  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  CTIA-The Wireless Association
The Broadband Industry Loves Questionable Claims: Unpacking 5G E, 5G TF, and 10G  |  Vox
Tech and utilities clash over proposed FCC rule to allow unlicensed users to access the 6GHz band  |  Read below  |  Sarah Hunt  |  Op-Ed  |  Axios
Senators Reintroduce ZTE Enforcment Review and Oversight Act, seeking to impose ban on US tech exports with ZTE  |  Multichannel News


Justice Dept signs off on $521 million sale of 15 TV stations from Cordillera Communications to Scripps  |  Broadcasting&Cable
Chairman Pai's Response to Members of Congress Regarding Sinclair-Tribune Transaction  |  Federal Communications Commission
Spotify has bought two podcast startups and it wants to buy more  |  Vox
Op-ed: Facebook's plan to combine Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger entrenches its monopoly power, and the FTC should step in  |  New York Times


FCC Seeks Comments on Video Description  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission
Op-Ed: Websites need to be more accessible for disabled people  |  Vox


Reps Pallone, Schakowsky Probe Apple Group FaceTime Bug  |  House Commerce Committee
Apple will limit websites’ access to your iPhone’s motion data  |  Fast Company
26 Tech and Human Rights Organizations Call on Congress Not to Fund Invasive Surveillance Technology at the US Border  |  Fight for the Future

Kids and Media

Teens Don't Use Facebook, But They Can't Escape It, Either  |  Wired


Laundromats Team with Libraries to Fold In Learning For Busy Families  |  National Public Radio


Facebook is taking down 22 more Pages tied to Infowars founder Alex Jones  |  Vox

Communications and Democracy

Freedom in the World 2019: Attacks on Democracy in the United States  |  Read below  |  Mike Abramowitz  |  Analysis  |  Freedom House


MacArthur Foundation granting $5 million to Field Foundation to fund media and leadership initiatives for people of color  |  Crain's Chicago Business


Facebook executives quietly work Congress  |  Axios
T-Mobile steps up lobbying over Sprint merger, promises not to raise rates  |  Vox
Chinese State Media Giant CGTN Registers as Foreign Agent in US  |  Wall Street Journal
Today's Top Stories


Chairman Pai's Response to Members of Congress Regarding Tribal Broadband

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission

On Sept 12, 2018, Reps Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and Tom O'Halleran (D-AZ) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai expressing concern about the Government Accountability Office report that found the FCC overstated broadband access on Tribal lands. On Nov 1, then-House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep Raul Ruiz (D-CA) wrote a similar letter, requesting the FCC to address several questions and outstanding issues with the GAO's findings. 

On Dec 31, 2018, and Jan 2, 2019, FCC Chairman responded to Reps Lujan Grisham and O'Halleran, and Reps Pallone and Ruiz, respectively. Chairman Pai wrote, "The Commission aims to ensure that we collect the best possible data with respect to broadband access on Tribal lands and is working to addresss each of the three recommendations advanced by the GAO." Chairman Pai described the FCC's ongoing rulemaking proceeding in which the agency is exploring revisions to Form 477 collection of broadband deployment data, in order to increase the accuracy and usefulness of the data. Chairman Pai also discussed how the FCC has expanded their ongonig engagement with Tribal stakeholders.

Net Neutrality Oral Argument Highlights Problem For Pai: You Can’t Hide The Policy Implications Of Your Actions From Judges.

Harold Feld  |  Analysis  |  Tales of the Sausage Factory

On Feb 1, we had approximately 4.5 hours of oral argument on the network neutrality case. I want to just highlight one theme: the refusal of the Federal Communications Commission to be honest about the expected policy consequences of its actions. I highlight this for several reasons. First, people need to understand that while the agency can always change its mind, it has to follow the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which includes addressing the factual record, acknowledging the change in policy from the previous FCC, and explaining why it makes a different decision this time around. As I have noted for the last couple of years, there is a lot of confusion around this point. On the one hand, it doesn’t mean you have to show that the old agency decision was wrong. But on the other hand, it doesn’t mean you get to pretend like the old opinion and its old factual record don’t exist. Nor do you get to ignore the factual record established in this case. It was on these points that Judges Millett and Wilkins kept hammering the FCC, and where the FCC is likely in the biggest trouble in terms of the Order. Because FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has pretty much made it his signature style to ignore contrary arguments and make ridiculous claims about his orders, this problem has already chomped the FCC on the rear end pretty hard (ironically, in an opinion released the same day), and will likely continue to do so.

Rural Electric Cooperatives: The Digital Divide’s Salvation

Alyson Moore  |  Op-Ed  |  Government Technology

Rural electric cooperatives (RECs) have some specific characteristics that make them uniquely qualified to undertake significant and meaningful strides in conquering the digital divide. Beyond their community focus, RECs possess important skills and assets that make expansion into broadband very favorable. Those skills and assets include:

  • Network Assets — a utility network possesses many network assets important to the operation of a broadband network, including fiber backbone, poles, rights-of-way, substations, pedestals, buildings and trucks/vehicles.
  • Skills and Knowhow — operating an electric network enables skills and know-how that translate well into building and operating a broadband network.
  • Customer Relationships — established billing relationships with customers provides a captive and engaged audience for broadband services.
  • Government and Community Relationships — building broadband networks often involves partnering with local governments, and RECs can leverage long-standing government and community relationships for that purpose.
  • Location — as RECs typically already serve these rural markets, proximity challenges are nonexistent.

[Alyson Moore is manager of North America marketing for Corning Optical Communications.]

Better Maps, Better Connectivity: How Data Can Close the Broadband Gap

Anne Stauffer  |  Pew Charitable Trusts

As policymakers work with industry and stakeholders to ensure that all Americans have access, they need reliable data to effectively target funding and programs to meet their goals. The primary source of information on connectivity is the Federal Communications Commission, which gathers data from carriers offering broadband service. Since 2011, that data—collected on Form 477—has been displayed on the Fixed Broadband Deployment map (previously called the National Broadband Map), which shows which entities are offering fixed broadband, where they are offering it, and at what speeds. But participants at a December The Pew Charitable Trusts event widely agreed that the Form 477 data is incomplete and sometimes inaccurate, which means that the map should not be treated as definitive about where broadband is available. Although it might indicate that access is available at a certain address, that might not be the case. Form 477 data captures the presence of broadband within a census block—and the size of a census block can vary from a single city block to hundreds of square miles. It does not account for factors such as whether a provider offers service only to a small portion of the census block or is able to access apartment buildings in the neighborhood. Many panelists noted the increasing demand by decisionmakers and the public for address-level data, but said such data is hard to obtain and verify because of concerns about competition, the burden on providers, and consumer privacy. No national address database exists that could be used for this effort, and the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration lack the resources under current programs to conduct in-depth data validation.  

Rural Download Speeds are Worse than Reported, Microsoft Study Says

Roberto Gallardo  |  Op-Ed  |  Daily Yonder

Nearly three-quarters of the downloads hitting Microsoft servers from nonmetropolitan counties are so slow they don’t meet the Federal Communications Commission definition of broadband. Microsoft’s county-level data shows a big gap between what the federal government says is available and what people actually use. The main takeaway from this is that accurate data to measure broadband access and use remains elusive. Without accurate and timely broadband data, different pictures emerge (FCC versus Microsoft, for example) of the issue resulting in ineffective strategies and misplaced scarce dollars to truly reduce the digital divide.  

[Roberto Gallardo is assistant director of the Purdue University Center for Regional Development and a Purdue extension community and regional economics specialist]


Eight More States/Territories Participating in Lifeline National Verifier

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau announces the soft launch date for the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier in Alaska, American Samoa, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, the Northern Mariana Islands, Rhode Island, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Bureau also announces the full launch of the National Verifier in Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Soft Launch – February 6: Alaska, American Samoa, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, the Northern Mariana Islands, Rhode Island, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Full Launch – March 5, 2019: Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. 

FCC and USAC Establishing Computer Matching Program to Verify Lifeline Eligibility

Marlene Dortch  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission and the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) are establishing a computer matching program to verify the eligibility of applicants to and subscribers of the Universal Service Fund (USF) Lifeline program. The categories of records involved in the matching program include, but are not limited to, a Lifeline applicant or subscriber’s full name; physical and mailing addresses; partial Social Security number or Tribal ID number; date of birth; qualifying person’s full name (if qualifying person is different from subscriber); qualifying person’s physical and mailing addresses; qualifying person’s partial Social Security number or Tribal ID number, and qualifying person’s date of birth. The National Verifier will transfer these data elements to the source agencies, which will respond either ‘‘yes’’ or ‘‘no’’ that the individual is enrolled in a Lifeline-qualifying assistance program.

Non-federal agencies participating in the program are: Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, Division of Family Resources; Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Division of Family Support; Michigan Department of Health and Human Services: and Puerto Rico Department of the Family.

Written comments are due on or before March 7, 2019. This computer matching program will commence on March 7, 2019, unless comments are received that require a contrary determination, and will conclude on August 5, 2020.


FCC Chairman Pai: 5G Future Is a Wired One with Promise for Rural America

Bernie Arnason  |  telecompetitor

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai addressed the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association membership, and discussed a 5G future that is very much about wires and not just wireless, and promising for rural markets. “I’ve consistently said that the 5G future isn’t necessarily a wireless one, it’s actually a wired one,” Chairman Pai said. “Part of our 5G fast plan, as I’ve called it at the FCC, that’s facilitating America’s superiority [for] 5G technology, involves modernizing our regulations to encourage much more fiber deployment.” “Contrary to what some people have suggested, I actually think 5G has a very promising future in rural America and part of the reason is, in terms of the possibilities of fixed wireless, given the fiber penetration that some of your members have,” he said. “I think the ability of rural telecom carriers to think broadly about the future of these networks and how to extend this great fiber penetration you’ve got, there’s a huge amount of promise there."

Keynote Remarks of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr: 5G Jobs in the Year of 5G

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr  |  Speech  |  Medium

For America to win the race to 5G, we must invigorate the free market by empowering our tower crews. We need to put you, the builders of wireless infrastructure, in a winning position by freeing you from needless government regulation and red tape. I’m proud that the FCC is executing on just this strategy. In 2019, I am taking another look at the federal rules governing wireless infrastructure deployment. We will look to fully and faithfully implement the decisions Congress has made to streamline the deployment of next-generation technologies. We will push the government to be more pro-infrastructure by eliminating needless restrictions on siting wireless facilities. And, on a topic that I know is close to your hearts, the federal government must be a better partner when it comes to training 5G workers.

2019 is the Year of 5G. All of the national wireless providers and a number of smaller ones will launch 5G service this year. Americans will buy their first 5G phones this year. 5G will give families another choice for high-speed home broadband this year. And, thanks to your efforts, tens of thousands of cell sites will be built and upgraded this year.

Building inclusion into 5G wireless networks

Jack Karsten  |  Analysis  |  Brookings

The emergence of fifth generation (5G) mobile networks is elevating the need for stakeholders to assess infrastructure and cost inclusivity in order to address this digital divide. Communities of color, who often find themselves on the wrong side of the divide, are poised to benefit from 5G technologies that enable internet of things (IoT) applications in health care, education, transportation, and energy. However, this outcome is contingent on stakeholder buy-in, advocacy, and programming of intentional diversity initiatives.

400 MHz of Mid-band Spectrum for 5G will add $274 Billion to America’s Economy, Create 1.3 Million Jobs

Press Release  |  CTIA-The Wireless Association

Making 400 MHz of mid-band spectrum available for commercial 5G networks will add $274 billion to the U.S. economy and create 1.3 million new jobs, according to new research from Analysis Group. Key findings include:

  • Wireless providers will invest greater than $150 billion in infrastructure to deliver 5G services over mid-band spectrum
  • The wireless industry will create 1.3 million new jobs—on a direct and spillover effect basis—to deploy mid-band infrastructure
  • The economic activity resulting from this investment and job creation will add $274 billion to America’s GDP

Tech and utilities clash over proposed FCC rule to allow unlicensed users to access the 6GHz band

Sarah Hunt  |  Op-Ed  |  Axios

The Federal Communications Commission recently proposed a new rule that will allow unlicensed users to access the 6 GHz band — a frequency on the radio spectrum — for Wi-Fi connectivity, causing a disagreement between broadband companies that would benefit from the rule and utility companies that currently rely on the frequency to communicate. The FCC reserves portions of the 6 GHz band for communications between licensed electric, water and natural gas utilities companies. The FCC says the proposed change to open the band to unlicensed users will solve the country's airwave shortage problem and improve Wi-Fi capabilities for mobile devices and wireless routers. Utility leaders say the FCC focuses more on the needs of the telecommunications sector and does not understand the negative effects their decisions might have on critical infrastructure operations. Tech companies — including Apple, Google, Cisco, Facebook and HP — support the FCC plan, arguing that wireless broadband services will need it to meet growing demand.

[Sarah E. Hunt is the co-founder and CEO of Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy.]


FCC Seeks Comments on Video Description

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission's Media Bureau seeks comment on recent developments in the video description marketplace to inform a report to Congress required by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) on the availability, use, benefits, and costs of video description, which must be completed no later than October 8, 2019. As mandated by Congress, the FCC seeks public comment on specific issues related to video description in television programming:

  • The types of described video programming that are available to consumers;
  • Consumer use of such programming;
  • The costs to program owners, providers, and distributors of creating such programming;
  • The potential costs to program owners, providers, and distributors in designated market areas outside of the top 60 of creating such programming;
  • The benefits to consumers of such programming;
  • The amount of such programming currently available; and
  • The need for additional described programming in designated market areas outside the top 60.

Docket 11-43. Comment: Apr 1, 2019; Reply Comment: May 1, 2019

Communications and Democracy

Freedom in the World 2019: Attacks on Democracy in the United States

Mike Abramowitz  |  Analysis  |  Freedom House

At the midpoint of his term, there remains little question that President Donald Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. President Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. Congress, a coequal branch of government, has too frequently failed to push back against these attacks with meaningful oversight and other defenses. While the United States suffered an unusual three-point drop on Freedom in the World’s 100-point scale for 2017, there was no additional net decline for 2018, and the total score of 86 still places the country firmly in the report’s Free category. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.

Legal protections for reporters are enshrined in America’s founding documents, and press freedom remains strong in practice. An array of independent media organizations have continued to produce vigorous coverage of the administration. Bt the constant vilification of such outlets by President Trump, in an already polarized media environment, is accelerating the breakdown of public confidence in journalism as a legitimate, fact-based check on government power. We have seen in other countries how such practices paved the way to more tangible erosions of press freedom and, in extreme cases, put journalists in physical danger. It would be foolish to assume it could never happen here.

[Mike Abramowitz is the president of Freedom House]

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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) and Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.

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