Daily Digest 3/10/2023

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Equity

Broadband equity means access and adoption, not just infrastructure rollouts  |  Read below  |  Chris Teale  |  GCN
Enrollment Hurdles Limit Uptake for FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program  |  Read below  |  Anna Read, Kelly Wert  |  Analysis  |  Pew Charitable Trusts
It is Past Time To End Digital Discrimination—No More Excuses  |  Read below  |  Greg Guice  |  Editorial  |  Public Knowledge

Broadband Funding

President Biden's Budget Proposal Includes $20 Million for Broadband Grant Oversight  |  Department of Commerce

State/Local Initiatives

Benton Foundation
South Carolina's Bipartisan Efforts on the 'Next, Next Greatest Thing'  |  Read below  |  Kevin Taglang  |  Analysis  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Texas eyes creation of $5 Billion Broadband Infrastructure Fund  |  Read below  |  Diana Goovaerts  |  Fierce
Alabama lawmakers begin special session; will consider $260 million from American Rescue Plan Act for broadband  |  Associated Press


Seven Contestants Selected for NTIA, DoD “2023 5G Challenge”  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  National Telecommunications and Information Administration UScellular demos 5G fixed wireless access in Alleman, Iowa — population 423  |  Read below  |  Monica Alleven  |  Fierce
Will Cellular Companies Pursue BEAD Grants?  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting
Your phone’s preloaded programs may surprise you with updated or hidden features  |  New York Times

Platforms/Social Media

China could use TikTok to control users' devices, FBI director says  |  Axios
Twitter and Elon Musk Face Legal Risks in FTC Probe  |  Wall Street Journal
Instagram is the app that Americans want to delete more than any other  |  USA Today
A former TikTok employee is secretly fighting the company on Capitol Hill  |  Washington Post


Department of Veterans Affairs Seeks Help From Congress on Telehealth  |  MeriTalk


Streaming in the Dark: Where Music Listeners’ Money Goes—and Doesn’t  |  Public Knowledge

Industry/Company News

AT&T COO McElfresh: 50 Million homes ‘deserve’ fiber  |  Read below  |  Diana Goovaerts  |  Fierce
Charter Rural Strategy Extends Beyond Government Funded Areas to “Perpetuity Growth”  |  Read below  |  telecompetitor
Cable’s Surging Fiber Majority  |  Read below  |  Doug Mohney  |  Analysis  |  Fiber Broadband Association
Jio advances its FWA goals with $60M purchase of Airspan’s Mimosa Networks  |  Fierce
Ziply trots out fiber upgrades in Washington and Oregon  |  Fierce


Senate Majority Leader Schumer hires Warren antitrust staffer as new chief counsel  |  Politico

Stories From Abroad

Inadvertent Data Destruction After a Cyberattack Can Violate EU Privacy Rules  |  Wall Street Journal
Today's Top Stories

Digital Equity

Broadband equity means access and adoption, not just infrastructure rollouts

Chris Teale  |  GCN

If governments are to truly close the digital divide, they must focus on encouraging community broadband adoption and making sure residents have tools to access high-speed internet, not just on installing infrastructure. While there has been a lot of recent talk about the need to better map broadband availability, panelists at Nextgov and GCN’s Emerging Tech Summit warned that there must also be a similar emphasis on ensuring that people can take advantage of internet access, or else some communities will not feel the benefits. And while investing in new broadband networks is a tangible way for communities to show they are closing the digital divide, adoption among residents remains a major barrier. Next Century Cities Executive Director Francella Ochillo said that challenge stems largely from the way internet buildout has been funded in this country. Most investment is spent on physical infrastructure and very little on encouraging adoption, building digital skills and offering robust subsidies on monthly bills to those who need them. “It's not enough to hope your state has enough tax revenue to be able to carve out money in some state bill that is assigned to helping improve adoption for a very small portion of the population,” Ochillo said. “We know that millions of Americans, even people who are the working poor, who do not qualify for government programs, do not have the tools that they need to actually experience digital citizenship and benefit from technology.”

Enrollment Hurdles Limit Uptake for FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program

Anna Read, Kelly Wert  |  Analysis  |  Pew Charitable Trusts

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides the primary subsidy available to cover broadband subscription costs for low-income households, but only 1 in 4 eligible households have enrolled in the ACP since it launched in 2021. The problem of limited access to broadband can be especially acute in federally subsidized housing, where residents have incomes well below the area median and few resources to get online. Reducing enrollment burdens and improving federal data-sharing agreements would increase program uptake for residents who should be able to qualify automatically, especially older adults and people with disabilities. Implementation of the FCC’s recommendations on data sharing and expanded use of alternative verification processes would help reduce the review burdens associated with ACP enrollment. Federal and state policymakers should continue to evaluate options for facilitating ACP enrollment—not just for households receiving federal housing assistance but also for those qualifying through other federal benefit programs—to ensure that more low-income families can get and stay connected to broadband.

[Anna Read is a senior officer and Kelly Wert is an associate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband access initiative.]

It is Past Time To End Digital Discrimination—No More Excuses

Greg Guice  |  Editorial  |  Public Knowledge

Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission to pass rules designed to end digital discrimination. The directive could not be more clear: Enact regulations to “eliminate” existing digital discrimination on the basis of “income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin” and to prevent it from recurring in the future. Contrary to the false assertions of some, this provision was openly discussed, debated and then supported on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis. This provision represents Congressional frustration with the approach the FCC has taken for the last two decades. It is an acknowledgment that in addition to “carrots” in the form of federal funding to support broadband deployment in rural and Tribal areas, the Commission needs to have some “sticks” in the form of clear, enforceable rules that will fulfill its more than 90-year mandate to ensure all Americans—no matter where they live or who they are—have access to communications services.

State Initiatives

South Carolina's Bipartisan Efforts on the 'Next, Next Greatest Thing'

Kevin Taglang  |  Analysis  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

In 2021, the South Carolina General Assembly established the Office of Broadband Coordinator within the Office of Regulatory Staff to serve as the central broadband planning body for the state and to coordinate with federal, state, regional, local, and private entities to encourage the continued development of access to broadband in the Palmetto State. The office was charged with convening a collaborative stakeholder process to identify challenges to expediting broadband access—and so it established the Broadband Advisory Council to help guide broadband planning in South Carolina. The council includes representatives from government, education, health, economic development, nonprofits, and broadband providers. The 2021 law also directed the office to prioritize funding broadband infrastructure projects to rural communities and communities with a lack of access to broadband, making high-speed broadband available to homes, businesses, schools, health care facilities, and other institutions in unserved areas across South Carolina. 

Texas eyes creation of $5 Billion Broadband Infrastructure Fund

Diana Goovaerts  |  Fierce

New legislation introduced in the Texas House of Representatives could give voters in the state a chance to decide whether or not to throw $5 billion behind efforts to improve broadband there. The bill, known as H.B. 9, calls for the creation of a state Broadband Infrastructure Fund and would give the Texas comptroller and Public Utility Commission power to allocate the money for specific uses. Among other things, officials would be allowed to use the money to fuel broadband mapping efforts, update the state’s broadband plan, expand community outreach efforts, bolster the state’s pole replacement fund, provide matching funds for federal money provided by the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, or administer its own loan and grant program. ACA Connects has projected that Texas stands to receive as much as $3.6 billion in funding from the BEAD Program based on its calculation that the state has approximately 398,700 unserved locations and 361,000 underserved locations which would be eligible for support. The bill aims to use $5 billion from Texas’ Economic Stability Fund to create the Broadband Infrastructure Fund. 


Seven Contestants Selected for NTIA, DoD “2023 5G Challenge”

Seven contestants have been selected to participate in a $7 million research competition to promote more secure and interoperable wireless network equipment, the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the US Department of Defense (DoD) announced. The 2023 5G Challenge, a collaboration between DoD and NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) in Boulder (CO) aims to accelerate the adoption of open interfaces, interoperable subsystems, secure networks, and modular multi-vendor solutions toward the development of an open 5G ecosystem. The contestants, selected from 23 white paper applications, will comprise two teams of two pairs. In each pairing, one contestant will provide the central unit and distributed unit (CU+DU) while a second contestant will provide the radio unit (RU).

  • Team 1
    • Pairing 1: Mavenir Systems, Inc. (CU+DU); NewEdge Inc. (RU)
    • Pairing 2: Radisys Corporation (CU+DU); LIONS Technology (RU)
  • Team 2
    • Pairing 1: Capgemini Engineering (CU+DU); Fujitsu Network Communications, Inc. and AT&T (RU)
    • Pairing 2: GXC, Inc. (CU+DU); GXC, Inc. (RU)

UScellular demos 5G fixed wireless access in Alleman, Iowa — population 423

Monica Alleven  |  Fierce

UScellular brought its 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) technology to North Polk High School in Alleman, Iowa, to show state government officials how it can connect homes, businesses, and classrooms – with the added benefit of mobility. The location was selected to represent the typical characteristics of any small town in rural America. Alleman has a population of 423 people. The wireless operator was joined by technology leaders at Ericsson, Qualcomm, and the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA). Attendees included state legislators and Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Task Force members. UScellular combined millimeter wave (mmWave) and low band spectrum to deliver speeds of 850 Mbps downlink and over 100 Mbps uplink. Of course, it’s no secret that UScellular wants a portion of federal grant money to help fund infrastructure investments in its rural territories. So it can’t hurt to show state legislators first-hand how those kinds of dollars can fuel 5G investments in their neighborhoods.

Will Cellular Companies Pursue BEAD Grants?

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

Several people have asked me recently if cellular companies will be pursuing Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grants. Until recently, cellular companies didn’t have a product that would have qualified for broadband grants. BEAD and other grants are awarded to internet service providers (ISP) that serve homes and businesses, not cell phones. But the introduction of the fixed wireless access (FWA) product line has created a broadband product that might qualify for grants. Cellular companies must convince state grant offices that they can deliver broadband speeds greater than 100/20 Mbps. Another issue to consider is that cellular carriers are currently providing priority to cell phones over FWA customers. If the network gets busy, cell phone customers get the requested broadband, and FWA customers get throttled. Yet another issue is the ability of a grant winner to serve everybody in the footprint. Unless a grant area has extremely low density, it’s likely that the cell site doesn’t have the capacity to give everybody unlimited home broadband. Another interesting issue to consider is how mapping plays into this. I’ve heard a lot of comments from folks who are claiming that T-Mobile and Verizon are already claiming fast speeds in a lot of places. Folks are saying the coverage areas claimed in the FCC maps seem a lot larger than the reality. Claiming high speeds and coverage areas that are larger than reality are counterproductive to seeking grants. Will broadband offices not award grants in places the cellular companies claim to already offer fast broadband? The emergence of the FWA technology is so new that I suspect most state broadband offices haven’t come to grips with that question.

Company/Industry News

AT&T COO McElfresh: 50 Million homes ‘deserve’ fiber

Diana Goovaerts  |  Fierce

AT&T is on a quest to deploy fiber broadband to 30 million locations by the end of 2025. But if comments from COO Jeff McElfresh are any indication, its ultimate goal could be much, much higher. McElfresh said that despite a choppy economic environment, demand for fiber remains high and its rollout is still delivering the right level of returns. With that in mind, he added, the 30 million target AT&T set in May 2021 is “not the entirety of what I think the market opportunity is there.” “We're going to be on this journey for a while. I mean we think there's 50 million homes, urban, suburban in America that deserve fiber,” McElfresh stated. “We're playing a long game. We're not sitting here looking at just this year or next year.” It’s not entirely clear how AT&T plans to reach those extra 20 million homes, but there are a few likely possibilities. First, the operator recently announced plans to bring fiber to an additional 1.5 million locations outside its footprint through a joint venture with private equity firm BlackRock Alternatives. AT&T CEO John Stankey has indicated that the passings figure could grow if it is able to successfully prove out the joint venture’s business model. McElfresh also pointed to the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program as another avenue for expansion beyond its target, reiterating the operator’s previously expressed interest in grant funding. AT&T is also pursuing state and local grant opportunities. The operator had already identified well over $1 billion in prime grant opportunities but said there was no limit to how much funding it might chase.

Charter Rural Strategy Extends Beyond Government Funded Areas to “Perpetuity Growth”

  |  telecompetitor

The government funding that Charter has received for rural broadband deployments generates revenue opportunities for the company beyond the funded areas, said Charter CEO Chris Winfrey. He noted that while the company has cited rural internal rates of return (IRR) in the mid- to high teens, “what’s not included in that return is a bunch of other opportunities.” He added that “Now you have the option to extend your footprint even further with new passings” and referred to this phenomenon as “a machine of continuous return.” He noted, for example, that Charter made service available to 145,000 locations in New York state through a funded program, but eventually brought service to close to 180,000 locations, including neighboring areas. Of rural builds in general, he said, “These are [faster-growing] systems by definition with lower operating costs and higher penetration.” From a company perspective, he said, “you now have a higher perpetuity growth rate,” adding that “I don’t think anybody has thought about the fact that you have a higher perpetuity growth rate and what that means from an overall valuation perspective.” Winfrey also noted that rural buildouts offer “a rare opportunity for cable to look good.”

Cable’s Surging Fiber Majority

Doug Mohney  |  Analysis  |  Fiber Broadband Association

Many cable companies boast about having more fiber than coax in their outside plant, and according to recent research from Omdia, those numbers are expected to dramatically increase over the next decade. “Forty-three percent of MSOs have already deployed PON in their networks,” said Jaimie Lenderman, Principal Analyst and Research Manager at Omdia covering the Broadband Access Intelligence Service. “It’s split between the largest and smallest providers. Middle-sized organizations are expected to deploy PON in the next 12 to 24 months or longer.” 

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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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