Daily Digest 3/1/2024 (Martin Brian Mulroney)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Broadband Funding

ACP Consumer Survey  |  Read below  |  Research  |  Federal Communications Commission
The Affordable Connectivity Program: A Need-to-Have for Closing the Digital Divide  |  Read below  |  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission
How You Should Prepare for Digital Equity Grants  |  Read below  |  Paolo Balboa  |  Analysis  |  National Digital Inclusion Alliance
USDA Accepting Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Applications  |  Read below  |  Andrew Berke  |  Public Notice  |  Rural Utilities Service
Merit Network Inc. Receives USDA Grant to expand high-speed internet access for rural Michigan  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Merit Network
Why ReConnect Now?  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting


FCC Grants Auction 108 Licenses  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

Emergency Communications

Update on February 22 Network Outage  |  Read below  |  Joe Wassel  |  Press Release  |  First Net Authority

Artificial Intelligence

A New Age of Enlightenment? A New Threat to Humanity? The Impact of Artificial Intelligence by 2040  |  Read below  |  Research  |  Imagining the Digital Future Center
Elon Musk Sues OpenAI, Sam Altman, Saying They Abandoned Founding Mission  |  Wall Street Journal

Platforms/Social Media

Facebook will remove its News tab, and stop paying publishers for news  |  Facebook


Tech Layoffs Keep Coming. Why Is Head Count Barely Budging?  |  Wall Street Journal

Kids & Media

Passing the Kids Online Safety Act just got more complicated  |  Vox
Today's Top Stories

Broadband Funding

ACP Consumer Survey

In December 2023, the Federal Communications Commission conducted a survey of Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) recipients to enhance its understanding of the program's impact and how the end of the program may impact access to broadband services. Survey respondents were also given the opportunity to submit written responses to questions about how losing ACP support would impact them. Many said they would "take money from other bills" or "cut other basic expenses," like food or gas, if "their monthly internet bill were $30 higher." Many other respondents said they would "go without" internet or that they would have to "drop the service." Highlights of the survey included:

  • More than three-quarters (77 percent) of the survey respondents say losing their ACP benefit would disrupt their service by making them change their plan or drop internet service entirely.
  • About half of survey respondents (47 percent) reported having either no internet service or relying solely on mobile internet service prior to receiving their ACP benefit.
  • Over two-thirds of survey respondents (68 percent) reported they had inconsistent internet service or no internet service at all prior to ACP. The majority of this group cited affordability as the reason for having inconsistent or no service (80 percent).
  • ACP subscribers reported that they use their ACP internet service to: schedule or attend healthcare appointments (72 percent), apply for jobs or complete work (48 percent), do schoolwork (75 percent for ACP subscribers 18-24 years old).

The Affordable Connectivity Program: A Need-to-Have for Closing the Digital Divide

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission

In the final days of 2020, Congress approved a COVID-relief package that included $3.2 billion for the Federal Communications Commission to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to help households that were struggling to afford broadband. The program was up-and-running by spring, and the public’s response was overwhelming. It immediately became clear that demand for this program was going to outlast the pandemic, and Congress responded with a longer-term solution to the broadband affordability challenge. As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, Congress approved over $14 billion to extend the Emergency Broadband Benefit, and changed its name to the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Today, the ACP has more than 23 million subscribers. There’s no denying that demand for ACP support is high. But absent additional funding from Congress, the ACP will run out of funding after April 2024. To help us fully understand what is at stake if the ACP does not receive additional funding, in December 2023, the FCC conducted a survey of ACP subscribers. The survey was designed to provide deeper insights into whether participants would have been online without ACP, the type of connectivity they would have had without ACP, how they are using their ACP-supported service, and how the end of the program would impact them. The topline finding of this survey is that for the overwhelming majority of ACP recipients, the monthly subsidy is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. More than two-thirds of subscribers had inconsistent connectivity or zero connectivity at all before they enrolled in ACP. And more than three-quarters of respondents said losing ACP support would disrupt their service or cause them to drop internet service entirely. 

How You Should Prepare for Digital Equity Grants

Paolo Balboa  |  Analysis  |  National Digital Inclusion Alliance

In 2024, the Digital Equity Act moves past the planning phase and into the grant-making phase to deliver programs and policies to communities on the ground. In 2021, the federal government made the biggest ever investment in digital equity with $2.75 billion in the Digital Equity Act. Later this year, two grant programs will open up: folks will apply directly to their State or territory for the Capacity Grant program for $1.44 billion, and the Competitive Grant where folks will apply directly to NTIA for $1.25 billion. Each state or territory will receive a specific amount of money to implement their digital equity plans. While you’ll be preparing for two very different processes for each type of grant, there are some common things you can do now to prepare for both of them:

  1. Be Data-Informed, and Start with Asset Mapping: As the Digital Equity Act transitions  from the planning phase into implementation, it is up to you now to connect with partner organizations locally and learn about existing programs. If you need help getting started with finding partners locally, we developed an asset mapping toolkit that includes survey and spreadsheet templates. We also have a searchable affiliate directory which you can use to expand your network locally.
  2. Use Your State Digital Equity Plan: Use your state or territory’s  plan as a guiding document, but don’t be afraid to color outside of the lines when designing your proposal. The programs you deliver should reflect the specific gaps and assets of your community, while being informed by your state or territory’s plan.
  3. Build Partnerships & Define Roles: We can’t do this work alone. The key to success will be partners! There’s no doubt that you already have a decent idea of who does what, and what programs already exist around your hometown. But what about organizations that are doing the work but have never heard of the phrase digital equity? The digital equity tent still has a lot of room to expand.
  4. Use Measurable Outcomes: Make sure that your strategies have a plan to collect data and that your impact is measurable. Being able to measure your success is important to understanding the impact you’re having and to improving service delivery. That’s good for your programs and those successes are something that NTIA and your state will want to see when they assess your project. 

USDA Accepting Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Applications

Andrew Berke  |  Public Notice  |  Rural Utilities Service

The US Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service is accepting applications under the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program for fiscal year (FY) 2024, subject to the availability of funding. Based on FY 2023 appropriated funding, RUS estimates that approximately $60 million will be available for FY 2024. Successful applications will be selected for funding and subsequently awarded to the extent that funding may ultimately be made available through appropriations. All applicants are responsible for any expenses incurred in developing their applications. Applications must be submitted through www.grants.gov/ and received no later than April 29, 2024 to be eligible for funding under this grant opportunity. RUS  encourages applicants to consider projects that will advance the following key priorities:

  • Assisting rural communities recover economically through more and better market opportunities and through improved infrastructure.
  • Ensuring all rural residents have equitable access to USDA programs and benefits from USDA-funded projects; and
  • Reducing climate pollution and increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change through economic support to rural communities. 

Merit Network Inc. Receives USDA Grant to expand high-speed internet access for rural Michigan

Press Release  |  Merit Network

Merit Network is the recipient of a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant for $997,000 to develop a connectivity and digital equity strategy to promote the expansion of high-speed internet in underserved rural Michigan communities. According to the USDA website, “Under the Broadband Technical Assistance Program, USDA is providing $9.7 million to help 24 organizations deliver or receive technical assistance to expand high-speed internet access for people in rural and Tribal communities across 17 states. This funding will also develop and expand broadband cooperatives in rural areas.” Merit Network is proud to be a recipient and to be able to serve more rural communities in need in Michigan. This project leverages the Digital Opportunities Compass framework to develop a community driven digital equity plan inclusive of infrastructure planning.  It includes several communities across eight rural communities of Michigan. Merit targeted communities that aligned with the funding opportunity best and also represented a need for additional resources targeted towards broadband expansion and digital equity planning. 

Why ReConnect Now?

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

The US Department of Agriculture just announced a new round of ReConnect grants. These are grants that can only be used to serve the most rural places in the country, and one of the qualifications is the distance between the grant market and the nearest towns. The homes served by the grants must not have any broadband available at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps. A grantee must serve every home in a grant area. It’s not going to be easy to find a grant area that is rural and that has no homes where internet service providers claim the capability to deliver speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps. A few other consultants I’ve talked to are wondering if there will be enough markets that can meet the ReConnect grant parameters. But the oddest thing about these grants is the timing. This grant program was announced just as states are gearing up to award the much larger BEAD grants. Having both grant programs running concurrently is going to cause all sorts of problems for both ISPs and State Broadband Offices. In 2022 the Biden administration directed the Federal Communications Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the USDA to coordinate everything associated with federal funding for broadband. It’s clear that the FCC and USDA ignored that directive to coordinate grants and have done the opposite..


FCC Grants Auction 108 Licenses

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) announced the grant of two long-form applications and issuance of nine licenses for Auction 108. WTB finds the applications for the licenses to be complete and in conformance with the FCC's rules. Granting the applications for the licenses serves the public interest, convenience, and necessity.  Furthermore, the FCC has received full payment for the licenses. The licenses were won by Quick Current, a partnership between The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska (OTON) and Evolve Cellular. 

Emergency Communications

Update on February 22 Network Outage

Joe Wassel  |  Press Release  |  First Net Authority

On February 22, 2024, our network partner, AT&T, experienced a broad outage that impacted public safety users of FirstNet. Based on initial reviews, the network outage occurred in the early hours of the morning on Thursday. The FirstNet network was restored by around 5:00 a.m. CST — about 3 hours since service was initially affected for some FirstNet subscribers across the country. AT&T says the outage was due to the application and execution of an incorrect process used while expanding its network; AT&T stated it was not the result of a cyberattack. As the network operator for FirstNet, AT&T took immediate action to prioritize the restoration of public safety services. The FirstNet Authority recognizes that AT&T put public safety first during the outage. Resilience is crucial in the face of adversity, and AT&T stepped up and prioritized the restoration of FirstNet. We are committed to identifying the circumstances that led to the outage and working with AT&T to implement strategies and corrective actions to help prevent FirstNet from experiencing an outage like this in the future. I am meeting with AT&T leaders to discuss this outage in depth. Further, I have established a FirstNet Authority After-Action Task Force comprised of public safety, technical, and emergency management experts from our team. The task force will help us strengthen our preparedness and emergency communications processes, so that in the event of any future outages the FirstNet Authority, together with AT&T, can understand the impact faster and surge to communicate with the public safety community.

Artificial Intelligence

A New Age of Enlightenment? A New Threat to Humanity? The Impact of Artificial Intelligence by 2040

Elon University’s Imagining the Digital Future Center conducted a two-pronged study in late 2023 to develop an outlook for the impact of artificial intelligence on individuals and societal systems by 2040. Research findings were gathered using two methodologies: a national public opinion survey and a canvassing of hundreds of global technology experts. A large share of both the public and the experts expressed concerns about how disruptive AI will be to essential dimensions of life: the future of privacy, wealth inequalities, politics and elections, employment opportunities, the level of civility in society and personal relationships with others. At the same time, they expressed hopes about AI applications making life easier, more efficient and safer in many important respects. There was wide agreement that now is a pivotal moment for AI and humans. The following themes reflect the most-often expressed insights found among the experts’ responses:

  1.  We will have to reimagine what it means to be human
  2. Societies must restructure, reinvent or replace entrenched systems
  3. Humanity could be greatly enfeebled by AI
  4. Don’t fear the tech; people are the problem and the solution
  5. Key benefits from AI will arise

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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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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
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