Daily Digest 3/14/2024 (Gerald Manuel Levin)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents


The Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act (H.R. 6929) now has 191 Cosponsors  |  House of Representatives
House Passes Graves Bill to Expand Internet Access  |  Read below  |  Rep Sam Graves (R-MO)  |  Press Release  |  House of Representatives
House Passes Bill to Ban TikTok or Force Sale as Lobbyists Turn Attention to Senate  |  Read below  |  Natalie Andrews, Kristina Peterson  |  Wall Street Journal
  • What to Know About the TikTok Bill That the House Passed  |  New York Times
  • What to know about TikTok owner ByteDance as US considers possible ban  |  Washington Post
  • TikTok Tells Staff That Strategy Stays the Same After House Vote  |  Bloomberg
  • TikTok’s Security Threats Go Beyond the Scope of House Legislation  |  New York Times
  • TikTok claims its contribution to the economy is huge  |  Washington Post
Artificial Intelligence Act: European Parliament adopts landmark law  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  European Parliament

Digital Equity

Low-Cost Internet Plan Model  |  Read below  |  Analysis  |  National Digital Inclusion Alliance

Broadband Funding

Is There Enough BEAD Funding?  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  CCG Consulting


$22 Million Retrofit Program to Expand High-Speed Internet Access in Affordable Housing Statewide  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Massachusetts Broadband Institute
Podcast | How Vermont is tackling three main barriers to broadband adoption  |  Read below  |  Nicole Ferarro  |  Light Reading
Questions emerge about Mercury Broadband's coverage in Michigan  |  Read below  |  Linda Hardesty  |  Fierce
Consolidated Slated for Broadband Buildout in NH Community with Funding From Novel State Program  |  Read below  |  Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor
Joplin Officials Mull Citywide Broadband Build  |  Joplin Globe

More on Platforms/Social Media/AI

Let’s not make the same mistakes with AI that we made with social media  |  Read below  |  Nathan Sanders, Bruce Schneier  |  Op-Ed  |  MIT Technology Review
Don Lemon Says Elon Musk Canceled His Show on X After Tense Interview  |  Wall Street Journal
Neil Young Will Return to Spotify After Two-Year Boycott Over Joe Rogan  |  Wall Street Journal
Meta to Replace Widely Used Data Tool CrowdTangle—and Largely Cut Off Reporter Access  |  Wall Street Journal
What to Do About the Junkification of the Internet  |  Atlantic, The


Patients mostly use telehealth for prescription renewals, follow-ups  |  mHealth Intelligence

Kids & Media

NTIA joins Stanford University to advance kids’ online safety  |  National Telecommunications and Information Administration
The Terrible Costs of a Phone Based Childhood  |  Atlantic, The
Heritage Foundation: To protect kids online today, let’s rethink the Communications Decency Act  |  Washington Post


Time-Saving Tips for Using Your Phone as a … Telephone  |  New York Times

Industry News

US fiber rollouts reach tipping point but are still far behind hybrid fiber-coaxial  |  Read below  |  Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading
Lumen sees promise in long-term strategy, plans to expand fiber network  |  Lightwave

Stories From Abroad

Video: The Digital Divide  |  Read below  |  Guardian, The
Artificial Intelligence Act: European Parliament adopts landmark law  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  European Parliament
These Workers Are Risking Their Lives to Restore Gaza’s Phone Network  |  New York Times
Sweden’s Open Access Fiber Deployment Offers Lessons for US Strategy  |  Broadband Breakfast


Rep Ken Buck (R-CO) Cuts Short House Term, Leaving Republicans Down Yet Another Member  |  New York Times
Gerald M. ‘Jerry’ Levin, TV Executive Behind Time Warner-AOL Merger  |  Read below  |  Joe Flint  |  Wall Street Journal
Today's Top Stories

House Passes Graves Bill to Expand Internet Access

Rep Sam Graves (R-MO)  |  Press Release  |  House of Representatives

The Eliminating Barriers to Rural Internet Development Grant Eligibility (E-BRIDGE) Act removes hurdles for broadband projects under Economic Development Administration (EDA) grants, including difficult last-mile efforts that often delay rural broadband deployment.  It also ensures that local communities can partner with the private sector in carrying out broadband projects and gives communities more flexibility in complying with their funding match requirements. The House of Representatives passed the bill with strong bipartisan support on March 11. 

House Passes Bill to Ban TikTok or Force Sale as Lobbyists Turn Attention to Senate

Natalie Andrews, Kristina Peterson  |  Wall Street Journal

The House voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill on that would ban TikTok from operating in the US or force a sale, with lawmakers largely shrugging off a last-minute lobbying push by the Chinese-controlled service and setting the stage for a final showdown in the Senate, where lawmakers have been cooler on the legislation. The measure passed the House 352 to 65, with one member voting present, showing broad bipartisan support for cracking down on TikTok over national-security concerns. The popular short-video app has faced scrutiny over the way its algorithm works to select content for users, both on sensitive issues like teen depression as well as on contentious global debates like the Israel-Hamas war. US officials say TikTok’s ownership potentially gives Beijing a way to both collect data on Americans and influence public opinion, driving years of efforts to crack down on the app and culminating in the new legislation. 

Official bill summary: This bill prohibits distributing, maintaining, or providing internet hosting services for a foreign adversary controlled application (e.g., TikTok). However, the prohibition does not apply to a covered application that executes a qualified divestiture as determined by the President. Under the bill, a foreign adversary controlled application is directly or indirectly operated by (1) ByteDance, Ltd. or TikTok (including their subsidiaries or successors); or (2) a social media company that is controlled by a foreign adversary and has been determined by the President to present a significant threat to national security. The prohibition does not apply to an application that is primarily used to post product reviews, business reviews, or travel information and reviews. The bill authorizes the Department of Justice to investigate violations of the bill and enforce the bill's provisions. Entities that violate the bill are subject to civil penalties based on the number of users. The bill requires a covered application to provide a user with all available account data (including posts, photos, and videos) at the user's request before the prohibition takes effect. The bill gives the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia exclusive jurisdiction over any challenge to the bill. Further, a challenge to the bill must be brought within 165 days after the bill's enactment date. A challenge to any action, finding, or determination under the bill must be brought with 90 days of the action, finding, or determination.

Low-Cost Internet Plan Model

In the absence of the Affordable Connectivity Program, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) encourages ISPs to offer a low-cost plan and/or a discount to qualifying households. NDIA is creating a good-better-best rating system to evaluate the affordability and quality of low-cost internet plans. The rating system will be featured on the Free & Low-Cost Internet Plans webpage to help consumers understand their low-cost options. The low-cost plan model outlined below includes criteria for a “better” rating on the webpage. Before the pandemic, some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offered “low-cost plans” for eligible households. However, the plans varied widely in their offerings, administration, and eligibility requirements, and many smaller ISPs didn’t offer one. The ACP has demonstrated the essential role of low-cost internet plans. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), over three-quarters (77%) of the survey respondents say losing their ACP benefit would disrupt their service by making them change their plan or drop internet service entirely, and about half of the survey respondents (47%) reported having no internet service or relying solely on mobile internet service before receiving their ACP benefit. NDIA encourages ISPs to adopt the low-cost plan model and/or discount offer.

Is There Enough BEAD Funding?

Doug Dawson  |  CCG Consulting

There is a tendency to think of high-cost areas—places where it’s expensive to build fiber—as only being in remote places with tough terrain. We’re going to see a lot of other cases of high cost locations that I think are going to surprise State Broadband Grant offices. There are many reasons that drive up the cost of building a landline network. Some places are high-cost by definition. I know of a small town in Arizona that is fifty miles away from the nearest other people. Building fiber to this town means building middle-mile backhaul, which in this case is through tough terrain and faces the extra burden of aging poles. The condition of poles can be a huge cost driver anywhere. I’ve worked with several rural communities where more than 90 percent of poles need major work to add fiber. The issue that is going to blindside a lot of grant offices is housing density, measured by the number of residences per mile of road. Another major issue to consider is the degree to which inflation and BEAD grant rules are driving up the cost of construction. BEAD rules can easily add up to 30% to the cost of building a rural network due to factors like prevailing wages, letters of credit, and environmental studies. Finally, I think broadband offices are relying too heavily on using fixed wireless as the solution for high cost areas. There are places where fixed wireless is a good solution, but plenty of others where it is not. 

$22 Million Retrofit Program to Expand High-Speed Internet Access in Affordable Housing Statewide

Press Release  |  Massachusetts Broadband Institute

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) at MassTech announced the launch of the Residential Internet Retrofit Program, a $22 million statewide initiative to equip public and affordable housing units across the state with high-speed internet for current and future residents. MBI will bring together Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and property owners to upgrade in-building telecommunications wiring, equipment, and infrastructure within older housing developments to provide residents with the necessary network capabilities to fully utilize high-speed internet service essential for daily activities such as communicating with friends and family, remote work, online educational opportunities, and telehealth appointments.  The effort will involve updating the wiring infrastructure of approximately 22,000 units in affordable housing developments across the state. The funding for the Retrofit Program comes from the US Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund (CPF), a program launched as part of the national American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The project is part of $175 million in total CPF funding overseen by the Executive Office for Administration and Finance to address the digital divide in Massachusetts, which includes the ongoing Gap Networks Grant Program launched by the MBI in October 2023.

Podcast | How Vermont is tackling three main barriers to broadband adoption

Nicole Ferarro  |  Light Reading

Like all states and territories, Vermont has been hard at work developing plans for the NTIA's Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) grant program; and the companion Digital Equity program. Vermont is scheduled to receive nearly $229 million for BEAD, to close its broadband deployment gaps, and over half a million to implement its Digital Equity Plan, designed to help everyone gain access. Unlike every other state and territory, however, Vermont has been working toward solving its broadband access problem in a unique way over the last decade: by establishing ten Communications Union Districts (CUDs), or groups of towns that form municipal entities to build out communications infrastructure. Currently, Vermont has broadband construction underway for six of its ten CUDs, and the state is taking registrations for a new broadband installer apprenticeship program to get ahead of workforce issues as BEAD dollars start to roll out. In this podcast, we discuss the remaining digital divide in Vermont, including what digital equity officer Britaney Watson says are still the "three major barriers" to broadband adoption in the state. 

Questions emerge about Mercury Broadband's coverage in Michigan

Linda Hardesty  |  Fierce

Chris Scharrer, founder and CEO of DCS Technology Design, claims that Mercury Broadband has overstated its ability to provide fixed wireless access (FWA) in 12 Michigan counties on the FCC’s broadband map. And he says this is deterring other providers from competing for Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grants. Scharrer has mapping data that shows Mercury has claimed it provides practically ubiquitous coverage across 12 counties in Southern Michigan. Scharrer said this is a misrepresentation that is preventing new competitors from entering the counties. DCS Technology Design works with the counties to provide them with validated data for all served and unserved locations. Scharrer said the FWA coverage Mercury is claiming has reduced the BEAD eligibility in those counties by about 61,000 houses. There’s a big hurdle in challenging Mercury—if county governments want to submit a challenge, they must find Mercury customers who can attest that they aren’t receiving the necessary speeds. But it’s difficult to find any FWA customers of Mercury in those counties, at all.

Consolidated Slated for Broadband Buildout in NH Community with Funding From Novel State Program

Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor

Consolidated Communications’ latest public-private broadband partnership news is a bit different from some of the other public-private partnerships we’ve seen since federal legislators began making funding available for broadband buildouts during the COVID pandemic. The deal, pending completion of a challenge process, involves the town of Francestown, New Hampshire and funding from the state’s Broadband Matching Grant Initiative (BMGI). That program provides matching funds for projects that otherwise would be too costly for the network operator to undertake. The BMGI program was funded through the federal Capital Projects Fund, which was established in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). New Hampshire is using $26 million, representing 21 percent of its CPF allocation, for the BMGI program. Consolidated expects to provide approximately 39 percent of the funding to support the fiber buildout in Francestown. In addition to creating the CPF, the American Rescue Plan Act provided funding to individual towns and counties that could be used for a range of infrastructure projects, including broadband. Some towns and counties have used that money to cover some of the costs of broadband deployments.

Let’s not make the same mistakes with AI that we made with social media

Nathan Sanders, Bruce Schneier  |  Op-Ed  |  MIT Technology Review

Artificial intelligence, like social media, it has the potential to change the world in many ways, some favorable to democracy. But at the same time, it has the potential to do incredible damage to society. There is a lot we can learn about social media’s unregulated evolution over the past decade that directly applies to AI companies and technologies. These lessons can help us avoid making the same mistakes with AI that we did with social media. In particular, five fundamental attributes of social media have harmed society. AI also has those attributes:

  1. Advertising: Just as Google and Meta embed ads in your search results and feeds, AI companies will be pressured to embed ads in conversations. And because those conversations will be relational and human-like, they could be more damaging. 
  2. Surveillance: AI-powered platforms that are supported by advertisers will face all the same perverse and powerful market incentives that social platforms do. It’s easy to imagine that a chatbot operator could charge a premium if it were able to claim that its chatbot could target users on the basis of their location, preference data, or past chat history and persuade them to buy products.
  3. Virality: Generative AI tools can fabricate unending numbers of falsehoods about any individual or theme, some of which go viral. And those lies could be propelled by social accounts controlled by AI bots, which can share and launder the original misinformation at any scale.
  4. Lock-in: Companies creating AI-powered personal digital assistants will make it hard for users to transfer that personalization to another AI. If AI personal assistants succeed in becoming massively useful time-savers, it will be because they know the ins and outs of your life as well as a good human assistant; would you want to give that up to make a fresh start on another company’s service? The less likely you are to switch to a competitor, the more poorly a company can treat you.
  5. Monopolization: Social platforms often start off as great products, truly useful and revelatory for their consumers, before they eventually start monetizing and exploiting those users for the benefit of their business customers. Then the platforms claw back the value for themselves, turning their products into truly miserable experiences for everyone. This cycle is clearly starting to repeat itself in AI. OpenAI once seemed like an “open” alternative to the megacorps—a common carrier for AI services with a socially oriented nonprofit mission. In January 2024, OpenAI took a big step toward monetization of this user base by introducing its GPT Store, wherein one OpenAI customer can charge another for the use of its custom versions of OpenAI software; OpenAI, of course, collects revenue from both parties.


[Nathan E. Sanders is a data scientist and an affiliate with the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University. Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and a fellow and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School.]

US fiber rollouts reach tipping point but are still far behind hybrid fiber-coaxial

Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading

Fiber network deployments have reached a milestone as they now pass more than 50% of US households, according to recent data from the Fiber Broadband Association and RVA Market Research and Consulting. Almost 69 million of those locations are "unique" fiber homes, meaning that about 9 million are passed by more than one fiber provider. The share of broadband technology is also evolving. While hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) remains the primary way of delivering broadband, fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) and fixed wireless access (FWA) will continue to make their presence felt in the coming years. Research companyy Omdia expects cable's share of that mix to drop over the next four years, hitting about 55% by 2028, while fiber's share is expected to rise to 30% by that time. For the cable industry, fiber and FWA are not solely about competition. Many operators are also using FTTP extensively in greenfields and subsidized rural buildouts. They are deploying it on a targeted basis via a new generation of nodes that can support multiple access technologies, including HFC and wireless. Additionally, CableLabs has put fiber-to-the-premises on the front burner via a pair of new working groups. A recent survey from Omdia shows that more than one-third of cable operators have already deployed passive optical networking (PON) in some form. That number will "undoubtedly keep rising" thanks to initiatives such as the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, according to Heavy Reading analyst Alan Breznick

Video: The Digital Divide

  |  Guardian, The

Doctors' appointments, job applications, personal banking, key services and more are today mostly managed online. While the UK government details its plans for a digital future to transform public services, one in seven Britons are forced to live without the internet. This film is voiced by three individuals experiencing digital exclusion, revealing how varied and complex the repercussions can be. Through enacted scenes from their lives, it makes visible the expanding digital divide—an issue too often unseen or ignored by policy makers, businesses and society at large.

Artificial Intelligence Act: European Parliament adopts landmark law

Press Release  |  European Parliament

The European Parliament approved the Artificial Intelligence Act that ensures safety and compliance with fundamental rights, while boosting innovation. The law aims to protect fundamental rights, democracy, the rule of law and environmental sustainability from high-risk AI, while boosting innovation and establishing Europe as a leader in the field. The regulation establishes obligations for AI based on its potential risks and level of impact. The new rules ban certain AI applications that threaten citizens’ rights, including biometric categorisation systems based on sensitive characteristics and untargeted scraping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage to create facial recognition databases. Emotion recognition in the workplace and schools, social scoring, predictive policing (when it is based solely on profiling a person or assessing their characteristics), and AI that manipulates human behaviour or exploits people’s vulnerabilities will also be forbidden. The regulation is still subject to a final lawyer-linguist check and is expected to be finally adopted before the end of the legislature (through the so-called corrigendum procedure). The law also needs to be formally endorsed by the European Council.

Gerald M. ‘Jerry’ Levin, TV Executive Behind Time Warner-AOL Merger

Joe Flint  |  Wall Street Journal

Gerald M. “Jerry” Levin, a television executive who rose to the top of Time Warner and orchestrated its ill-fated merger with America Online, which defined his legacy, died at the age of 84 in Long Beach (CA). Levin played a key role in the creation of HBO, helped spearhead the merger of Time Inc. and Warner Media, and led the subsequent acquisition of Ted Turner’s media holdings—including CNN—to create the largest news and entertainment company in the world. The combination of television and movie production with popular cable channels, a pay-TV distribution system, a record label and a magazine-publishing behemoth made Levin one of the most powerful media executives of the 20th century. But Levin will be most remembered for the disastrous $165 billion merger with America Online, announced in January 2000. Coming at the top of the first internet bubble, the deal was described by the two companies as a “strategic merger of equals to create the world’s first fully integrated media and communications company for the Internet Century.”

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Upcoming Events

Mar 14––March 2024 Open Federal Communications Commission Meeting (FCC)

Mar 20––The Way Forward for U.S. Spectrum Policy (Information Technology & Innovation Foundation)

Mar 20––Life After ACP (Institute for Local Self-Reliance)

Mar 25––The Right Connection (CENIC)

Apr 9––Broadband Equity is Local (Community Broadband Action Network)

Apr 17––2024 Bipartisan Tech Policy Conference (Next Century Cities)

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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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