Daily Digest 3/11/2024 (Petra Tollens Mathers)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Broadband Funding

The Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act (H.R. 6929) now has 180 cosponsors  |  House of Representatives
If Congress doesn’t act now many Americans might lose broadband access  |  Read below  |  Editorial Board  |  Editorial  |  Washington Post
ACP funding extension not dead, but odds are 'low' – Blair Levin  |  Read below  |  Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading
End of ACP like a 'promotional roll-off,' Comcast CFO says  |  Read below  |  Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading
‘Pain, poles and permitting’: What’s bugging broadband providers  |  Read below  |  Masha Abarinova  |  Fierce
Fiber vendors feel pain before BEAD  |  Read below  |  Linda Hardesty  |  Fierce
Danger Of Forcing Low Rates  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting
FCC Announces Inflation-Based Caps for E-Rate and Rural Health Care Programs  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

BEAD Broadband Funding Guide  |  Center on Rural Innovation

Consumer Protections

Benton Foundation
How is the FCC Working to Protect Broadband Consumers?  |  Read below  |  Grace Tepper  |  Analysis  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Push to ban bulk billing labeled as misguided by multifamily industry associations  |  Broadband Communities
Op-ed | Undisclosed digital trials can affect workers, users, and society in ways that are ill-understood, academics warn  |  Financial Times


Minnesota made prison phone calls free but telecommunications price-gouging continues  |  Read below  |  Katya Schwenk  |  Minnesota Reformer
Benton Foundation
A Leader for Allegan County's Broadband Journey  |  Read below  |  Pierrette Renée Dagg  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Brightspeed Fiber is Coming to Bell County (TX) with its High-speed Internet  |  Brightspeed


FCC Conducting ‘Thorough’ Investigation Into AT&T Outage  |  Read below  |  Todd Shields  |  BNN Bloomberg

Digital Equity

The Impact of Women Breaking Digital Access Barriers  |  Read below  |  Maci Morin, Mitchell Morton  |  National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Rep Clarke brings ACP recipient to State of the Union address  |  House of Representatives
Rep Meng brings ACP recipient to State of the Union address  |  House of Representatives


Commissioner Starks Letters to Amazon, Sears, Shein, Temu, and Walmart  |  Read below  |  Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission
Microsoft says Kremlin-backed hackers accessed its source and internal systems  |  Ars Technica


Do Americans still have a right to privacy?  |  Vox

Platforms/Social Media/AI

TikTok Crackdown Shifts Into Overdrive, With Sale or Shutdown on Table  |  Wall Street Journal
Is the new push to ban TikTok for real?  |  Vox
Inside Trump's TikTok flip-flop  |  Axios
Why Some 20-Somethings Are Saying No to TikTok  |  Wall Street Journal
The Mystery Social Media Account Schooling Congress on How to Do Its Job  |  Politico
A.I. Frenzy Complicates Efforts to Keep Power-Hungry Data Sites Green  |  New York Times
Silicon Valley is pricing academics out of AI research  |  Washington Post
Whistleblowers call out AI's flaws  |  Axios

Elections & Media

Congressional Candidates Are Big Buyers of Connected TV Ads  |  Broadcasting & Cable


Major Pay-TV Providers Lost About 5,000,000 Subscribers in 2023  |  Leichtman Research Group


Senate Confirms Fara Damelin to be Inspector General of the Federal Communications Commission  |  US Senate
FTC Chair Welcomes Ferguson and Holyoak as FTC Commissioners, Congratulates Commissioner Slaughter on Confirmation to Another Te  |  Federal Trade Commission
‘She’s going to prevail’: FTC Chair Lina Khan is fighting for an anti-monopoly America  |  Guardian, The
The Elite Group of Women Keeping Big Tech in Check  |  Bloomberg
Today's Top Stories

Broadband Funding

If Congress doesn’t act now many Americans might lose broadband access

Editorial Board  |  Editorial  |  Washington Post

The United States has lately gotten serious about broadband expansion, with the federal government spending tens of billions of dollars to deploy services all over the country — especially in rural areas, where coverage is sparse. But how widely connectivity is available matters little if consumers can’t afford it. And unless Congress acts fast, many won’t be able to. Funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program will lapse by the end of April because Congress has managed neither to devise a permanent solution nor to provide stopgap funding. The former would, of course, be preferable — but for the moment only the latter appears politically possible. President Biden urged congressional appropriators this fall to fund the program through the rest of 2024; in response, a bipartisan group of legislators devised the $7 billion Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act. While there’s ample support in the Senate, where Sens. J.D. Vance (R-OH) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) are backers, and while it could pass the House, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has refused to bring it to the floor. His hesitation makes little sense. Are there  changes the speaker wants to the program, could tweaks persuade him to bring an extension to the floor? He should say. Millions of people’s access to health care, employment, education and more depends on his answer.

ACP funding extension not dead, but odds are 'low' – Blair Levin

Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading

While there's still a chance that funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) will be extended beyond April, one top policy expert fears that a successful extension faces an "uphill struggle." That was the assessment of New Street Research Policy Analyst Blair Levin, who shared his latest thoughts on the perils of the program in a research note. A pressing issue, he points out, is that ACP was not woven into Congress's latest budget package. "Nor do we see signs that Congress will do so in the next set of packages" that are set to be voted on later this month, added Levin, who is also a former Federal Communications Commission official. "There are a series of other legislative vehicles that will likely move forward in the next few months, in time to extend the program before current ACP customers are faced with the choice of increased payments or losing service," Levin explained. "But it also suggests that the odds of an ACP extension remain low."

End of ACP like a 'promotional roll-off,' Comcast CFO says

Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading

With the end of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) increasingly likely if Congress does not quickly step in with more funding, broadband operators are adjusting their game plans to continue to serve customers who have been benefiting from the program. Comcast, which has about 1.4 million customers on ACP, is no different. But the company intends to play defense and offense if and when the ACP goes away, said Comcast CFO Jason Armstrong. On the defensive side, Comcast intends to offer customers access to Internet Essentials, a program for qualified low-income households that starts at 50 Megabits/second for $9.95 per month. While acknowledging that the end of ACP will no doubt be disruptive to some of Comcast's customers, Armstrong likened the ACP situation to a "promotional roll-off" that Comcast sees each and every quarter as customers come off of various promotions and limited discounted offers. But the possible end of the ACP also presents some opportunities for Comcast to go on offense and win "jump balls" that are triggered as consumers seek options outside of the program.

‘Pain, poles and permitting’: What’s bugging broadband providers

Masha Abarinova  |  Fierce

If you ask broadband providers about the biggest obstacles to network deployments, permitting roadblocks and pole attachments usually make the top of the list. At the ACA Connects Summit, Metronet CEO Dave Heimbach summed it up as “the three Ps: pain, poles and permitting.” Heimbach said that in many cases utilities are “largely ignoring” the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) rules and regulations about the timeframes in which they have to respond to attachment requests. Another challenge, he went on to say, is when municipalities “just have outmoded and outdated” rules and regulations. “Even assuming we can navigate the electric utility issue on the aerial side, we’re finding ourselves in a pickle oftentimes, either with local permitting authorities or perhaps even the state department of transportation,” said Heimbach. To make matters even more complicated, these entities all have their own shot clocks (i.e. timeframes in which they have to respond to requests).

Fiber vendors feel pain before BEAD

Linda Hardesty  |  Fierce

There's this annoying saying from coaches in every sport: "No pain, no gain." But that’s what seems to be going on with the big fiber equipment vendors before they start seeing revenues from Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) funds. “Last year was a very challenging year because we had an inventory work-down year,” said Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. He said that during the Covid years, service providers were “buying up anything they could” and “stockpiling” because of concerns about the supply chain. This meant quiet factories, but fiber vendors didn't want to lay off workers, he said, because of the anticipated demand in 2024. But there’s good news on the horizon. Dell‘Oro is predicting things will pick up for broadband vendors later in 2024. And Bolton agrees, saying analysts are predicting strong fiber demand, starting later this year and continuing even beyond the BEAD years.

Danger Of Forcing Low Rates

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

Some State Broadband Offices are taking a stab at social engineering by trying to force BEAD grant winners to offer low broadband rates. I understand the sentiment behind this because everybody in the industry involved with digital equity issues hears stories about homes that can’t afford broadband even when it is available. I know this feels like a broadband office is doing something good, but there are a number of reasons why this is a terrible idea. The first is simple since Congress specifically prohibited the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and States from regulating rates in the BEAD grants. The more important reason why rate regulation is dangerous with BEAD is that many rural business plans are highly stressed and will have a hard time just breaking even with normal rates. I know that broadband offices want to do social good, and I applaud them for the sentiment. High rates are a problem. But it’s irresponsible to put the full burden on internet service providers to solve the digital divide with low rates. It’s irresponsible to force low rates in rural areas where costs are high while the providers serving metropolitan areas can charge high rates with impunity.

FCC Announces Inflation-Based Caps for E-Rate and Rural Health Care Programs

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) announced the E-Rate and Rural Health Care (RHC) programs’ annual caps for funding year 2024. The adjusted amounts represent a 3.6% inflation-adjusted increase to both programs’ funding year 2023 annual caps. The E-Rate program funding cap for funding year 2024 is $4,940,076,139. The RHC program funding cap for funding year 2024 is $706,926,603.

Consumer Protections

How is the FCC Working to Protect Broadband Consumers?

Grace Tepper  |  Analysis  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

The Biden Administration has launched a new effort to lower costs and promote competition for US consumers. The Strike Force on Unfair and Illegal Pricing––co-chaired by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)––aims to strengthen interagency efforts to root out and stop illegal corporate behavior that hikes prices on consumers through anti-competitive, unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent business practices. The announcement included upcoming actions to be taken by the White House Competition Council to promote competition and lower costs across industries, including for broadband consumers. The White House announcement highlights the Federal Communications Commission's consumer protection role. Here we look at the FCC's efforts to address “bulk billing” arrangements, early termination fees, net neutrality, and digital discrimination.


Minnesota made prison phone calls free but telecommunications price-gouging continues

Katya Schwenk  |  Minnesota Reformer

As part of a growing effort to stop prison telecommunications monopolies from charging exorbitant fees for calls between prisoners and their families, in 2023 Minnesota became one of the first states to make all phone calls free for prisoners. And to eliminate the kickback system perpetuating the scheme, the state barred its agencies from collecting commissions on prison phone services, as well as on video calling and e-messaging. But records obtained by The Lever show Minnesota’s Department of Corrections still collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks in 2023 from commissions on other prison services private telecom companies controlled—including money transfers, music access, and other entertainment behind bars. All in all, the records suggest the telecommunications firms brought in nearly $3 million in revenue from an ever-increasing array of non-phone prison services in the state. Minnesota, which was the fourth state in the country to make the government, not prisoners, pay for phone calls, is a case study in how prison communication companies and their private equity owners have managed to preserve their symbiotic relationship with state corrections agencies despite reforms—at the major expense of incarcerated people and their families.

[Feb 14]

A Leader for Allegan County's Broadband Journey

Pierrette Renée Dagg  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Allegan County’s journey to universal connectivity has overcome a number of obstacles: accurately determining the extent of connectivity gaps, exploring potential strategic solutions, and tackling costs in a manner palatable to the community. Advancing this initiative required a leader with deep industry knowledge and a strong connection to the community. A leader who would refuse to take no for an answer and demand that incumbent internet service providers work with her, rather than against her. Jill Dunham, the Broadband Project Manager for Allegan County, has been instrumental in the county’s journey. Currently, only 472 of over 44,000 households remain without a funded plan for a high-speed internet connection, and Jill continues to drive the efforts to connect these remaining homes, too. 

[Dr. Pierrette Renee Dagg, Ph.D is a Benton Institute Digital Opportunity Fund Fellow, the Director of Technology Impact Research at Merit Network. The aim of her work is to bridge the gap between academic scholarship and practical application to advance issues of technology understanding and information equity.]


FCC Conducting ‘Thorough’ Investigation Into AT&T Outage

Todd Shields  |  BNN Bloomberg

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it’s conducting a “thorough” investigation of the February 22 wireless network outage at AT&T Inc. that interrupted mobile service for hundreds of thousands of subscribers in cities around the US. The agency has requested “more in-depth information from AT&T concerning the cause, effect, and the company’s response to the incident.” The FCC had previously said it was looking into the issue. “The industry routinely cooperates with our key regulators in the aftermath of serious outages to evaluate how network resiliency and reliability can be improved,” AT&T said in a statement. AT&T noted it was “already working with the FCC on its review.” AT&T has blamed the outage on what it called “an incorrect process” while expanding its network, which serves about 87 million subscribers. The incident began before dawn and AT&T didn’t announce the network’s restoration until mid-afternoon. Customers filed more than 1.5 million outage reports on service-tracking website Downdetector.

Digital Equity

The Impact of Women Breaking Digital Access Barriers

In today's digital world, access to technology and the Internet enables boundless opportunities.  Now more than ever, women and girls are seizing these opportunities to smash barriers and soar to new heights. For women and girls, achieving digital equity is more than gaining access to the devices and connectivity that empower them—it is also about safeguarding their journey. As we celebrate International Women's Day, here are three reasons why digital equity is a game-changer for women and girls’ empowerment.  

  1. Empowering through Education and Workforce Opportunities Digital equity ensures equitable access to education and workforce opportunities. By providing women and girls with access to online learning platforms, educational resources, and digital skills training programs, they get the tools they need to thrive in a technology-driven society.
  2. Building Support Networks and Amplifying Voices Online spaces provide women and girls with platforms to connect, collaborate, and amplify their voices on issues that matter to them. Digital equity ensures that women and girls have a seat at the table and a voice in online discussions, allowing them to advocate for their rights, share their experiences, and mobilize support for social change.  
  3. Safeguarding Women's Online Journey Unfortunately, digital technologies can also be used as tools of coercion, control, and violence against women and girls. Digital equity initiatives address this challenge by providing resources, support, and legal protections to survivors of gender-based violence and technology-enabled abuse. From online counseling services to digital evidence collection tools, women and girls have access to a range of resources to seek help and navigate the legal system. 


Commissioner Starks Letters to Amazon, Sears, Shein, Temu, and Walmart

Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission

Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks sent letters to five online marketplaces to identify ways to stop the unlawful sale of insecure IoT devices that violate Federal Communications Commission (FCC) equipment authorization requirements. The letters raise concerns about recent reports indicating that these websites sold and continue to sell easily hacked video doorbells. “Consumers have embraced the internet of things to make their lives better to the point that a large majority of American homes now have at least one or two IoT devices. With that reach and that penetration, these devices ought to be secure. That’s why I was angered to read recent reports showing that many video doorbells sold on some of the largest online marketplaces in the world lack even basic security measures and leave buyers exposed to chilling privacy invasions and network intrusions. Just as concerning were reports suggesting that some of these products violated the FCC’s equipment authorization rules, which protect the public from risky products entering our wireless supply chain. Working together, we must find better ways to stop risky and unlawful products from entering the commerce stream – and from seeing their sales irresponsibly boosted when they are listed online.”

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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 Zoe Walker (zwalker AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.

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Benton Institute
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