Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
American Rescue Plan Two Years In
Report to Congress on Electronic Health Information
Campaign Legal Center Calls on FCC to Probe Questionable Stockholdings
Stories From Abroad
The American Rescue Plan has helped to power one of the strongest and most equitable recoveries on record while making investments which position our nation for economic success in the coming decades. Over 30,000 state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments have received State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds and made $24.3 billion in critical infrastructure investments in broadband, water, and sewer. Governments have reported budgeting nearly $7.3 billion in SLFRF funds towards broadband. And the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CPF) is a $10 billion down payment on universal broadband. To date, the CPF has awarded approximately $5 billion to 34 states that will be invested in high-speed internet infrastructure estimated by states to reach more than 1.4 million homes and businesses. To date, CPF has additionally awarded more than $38.5 million to 231 Tribal governments, and maintains an updated list of Tribal projects as they are awarded. CPF is designed to not only connect families to the Internet, but ensure that their connection is affordable. Examples of investments include:
Louisiana was approved for $176.7 million (representing 100% of its available CPF funding) for the state’s new Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO) program, a multiphase, broadband infrastructure competitive grant program. Louisiana estimates that projects receiving funding from this CPF award will close the digital divide for approximately 25% of all locations lacking highspeed internet access in the state and connect nearly 88,500 homes and businesses currently lacking access to internet at speeds of 25/3 Mbps. [more at the link below]
Nextlink is almost 2 years ahead of schedule in its Federal Communications Commission's Connect America Fund II (CAF II) broadband network construction. Nextlink was supposed to be 40% complete with its $281 million CAF II program construction but has in fact built 70% of its required locations across six states. This builds on its 50% completion rate announced in August 2022. Nextlink has also been rolling out 5x the network speeds required of CAF II program participants and has been planning to increase speeds to 10x CAF II program requirements in many CAF areas. However, FCC funding reductions could imperil these advances. “Because there are fewer locations in our rural footprint than the FCC originally projected, we are at risk of facing a funding reduction of over $21 million,” said Claude Aiken, Chief Strategy Officer. “Our build costs have increased beyond original projections due to inflation, and the funding reduction will slow our construction and hamper our goal to offer higher speeds in many CAF areas.” Nextlink has filed a petition with the FCC to allow the carrier to achieve its goals of completing CAF construction quickly and significantly exceeding program speed goals.
In a letter to the leaders of the Congressional Committees on Agriculture, a coalition of partners in rural development, education and communications urged Congress to "aim for levels of connectivity in USDA programs that will meet the needs of rural Americans not just today but well into the future." They wrote, "we encourage you to continue to put the interests of rural communities first by codifying in the Farm Bill a minimum service level commitment of 100 Mbps symmetrical broadband service – the level specified in the oversubscribed third round of ReConnect – for any applicant seeking funding through ReConnect. By contrast, employing a lesser standard would represent an inefficient step backwards, flying in the face of the substantial demand demonstrated in the most recent round of ReConnect and failing the rural communities that need broadband capable of keeping pace with user demand for decades to come. Policies that encourage sustainable networks that meet the needs of consumers now and into the future will be most efficient in responding to consumer demand over the lives of those networks, particularly when compared to short-term solutions that are likely to be quickly outpaced by technological evolution and consumer demands and require substantial re-investment relatively soon thereafter."
Tucows’ Ting Internet has launched fiber service in select neighborhoods across Alexandria (VA), which the company said is now Ting’s largest market to date. Plans to construct the network were announced in spring 2022, with Tucows CEO Elliot Noss then noting Alexandria has over 90,000 serviceable addresses. Ting began construction in September 2022 and has broken down the project into five major areas. The operator has started fiber installations in Alexandria’s North East neighborhood and will build in further parts of the city, eventually finishing installations in Old Town. Ting anticipates full municipal access to the network will be available by 2025. Alexandria residents will be able to sign up for Ting’s symmetrical 1-gig fiber for $89 per month. Additionally, Ting has struck an agreement with the City of Alexandria to provide free internet to 4,000 affordable housing units qualified for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Ting is using micro-trenching to build out the network. Micro-trenching is a technique in which cable is laid inside a narrow trench (roughly 1 to 3 inches wide and 6 to 24 inches deep), located in roadways and other rights-of-way. Ting has claimed that micro-trenching is faster than traditional underground construction and that it’s less disruptive to traffic and access to the property.
The Federal Communications Commission’s recent lapse in authority to auction off wireless spectrum has members of the House of Representatives concerned about the US's ability to stay competitive in a global wireless market. It has others concerned that the upgrade to next-generation 911 just lost its primary funding source. The Senate recently declined to vote on the House’s Spectrum Innovation Act, a bill that would have funneled spectrum fees into numerous initiatives, including $10 billion for upgrading aging 911 systems. The Senate’s also failed to take action on any other bill that extended either the FCC’s ability to license wireless spectrum or the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) power to arbitrate spectrum holdings. The recent lapse marks the first time in three decades since the FCC was granted the power to auction off wireless spectrum for commercial uses. A full upgrade to next-generation 911, which the federal government in 2018 estimated could cost as much as $12.7 billion, promises to equip the nation’s thousands of public safety answering points with digital technology, replacing the analog systems widely used today. The ability to send and receive photos, video, text, and location data, while also seamlessly handling call transfers across jurisdictions, are key features promised by the new technology.
For the first time ever, Congress allowed the Federal Communication Commission's spectrum auction authority to lapse—a development that prevents the agency from auctioning more spectrum to 5G network operators. At roughly the same time, President Joe Biden's nominee to the FCC, Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society], abruptly withdrew from contention without any clear replacement. That leaves the agency deadlocked between two Republicans and two Democrats for the foreseeable future. For the wireless industry, the political tumult in Washington likely signals a standstill on spectrum policy. That's noteworthy, considering Biden's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is hoping to release a national spectrum strategy in fall 2023. But, according to some analysts, the gridlock in Washington may not have a huge impact—at least for now. However, the fight over spectrum—including for 5G and eventually 6G networks—isn't over. US wireless providers continue to eye additional spectrum in bands ranging from 3GHz to 13GHz. "We expect that longer-term legislation will emerge in the fall, but the battles over sharing and exclusive use [spectrum licenses] are not close to resolution," wrote New Street analysts.
The Federal Communications Commission has big plans for that future. Because a few months ago, I announced a shake-up at the Federal Communications Commission. I shared my plans to reorganize the agency to create a new Space Bureau. This effort is part of what I believe needs to be a broader rethinking of satellite policy in the United States. There are now new technologies in the space industry, thousands of satellite applications pending before the agency, and so many more innovations on the horizon that I believe we cannot keep doing things the old way and expect to thrive in the new. So with the new Space Bureau we are building a faster, more nimble, and more transparent satellite regulatory process. But that is not all. By bringing focus and resources to our work in this sector, I believe the new Space Bureau is going to support United States leadership in the growing space economy—and that’s important... Beyond just reorganizing the agency for this new world, we have made real policy changes as part of our Space Innovation Agenda. We have kicked off efforts to streamline our rules to expedite the processing of new satellite and earth station applications and to promote new spectrum sharing opportunities. We have updated our approach to orbital debris to care for our skies so that the space economy can support our grandest ambitions. And now looking ahead to the 2023 World Radiocommunication Conference, we are going to promote United States leadership with satellite actions that broadcast to the world how important we believe this sector is to our future.
2022 Report to Congress: Update on the Access, Exchange, and Use of Electronic Health Information
Hundreds of thousands of physician offices, hospitals, and health systems across the US have transitioned from paper-based medical records to health IT that is certified under the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) Health IT Certification Program. This report highlights the impact that the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act) and its implementation contributed to continued progress toward interoperable access, exchange, and use of electronic health information (EHI). Recent updates from HHS and ONC demonstrate the impact that Cures Act implementation has had on our nation’s health IT infrastructure. The report also highlights progress toward implementing the 2020-2025 Federal Health IT Strategic Plan, developed with input from over 25 federal agencies. The report describes the federal government and private sector progress toward building a nationwide infrastructure for the access, exchange, and use of EHI and identifies barriers to such a nationwide infrastructure. Six recommendations to overcome such barriers are as follows:
- Support “health equity by design” to include equitable access to information and communications technology, and improve health outcomes by building equity into the design of health IT;
- Coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other HHS agencies so that federal and state, tribal, local, and territorial (STLT) public health data systems are modernized using health IT standards that enable the collection, access, exchange, use, and reporting of public health data to prevent and mitigate public health threats;
- Promote the appropriate sharing of information by educating patients and the care community about information-blocking policies and regulations, track information-blocking complaints, and coordinate with the coordinating of Inspector General (OIG) and other HHS components on information blocking enforcement;
- Implement TEFCA to create a nationwide policy and technical infrastructure approach to better enable information sharing across health information networks;
- Advance standards to support health information sharing across all care settings, including APIs and the United States Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI), via certified health IT systems;
- Coordinate with federal agencies to ensure ONC-adopted standards support EHI access, exchange, and use across federal programs and health IT systems.
Prior to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, adoption of telemedicine was slow and its usage was rare. However, during the pandemic, usage of telemedicine increased dramatically with physicians using a number of telemedicine tools to deliver health services, while limiting patients’ exposure to the virus. Wide use of telemedicine may impact various aspects of health care delivery such as quality, cost, and access to care. Thus, a detailed understanding about the usage of telemedicine is vital to develop better policies associated with health care delivery. In this data brief, we document rates of officebased physicians’ use of telemedicine, the types of telemedicine tools used, the characteristics of physicians using telemedicine, and physicians’ overall satisfaction with telemedicine. Additionally, we report the percent of physicians who plan to continue using telemedicine beyond the pandemic and usage rates by physicians’ EHR technology.
- While only 15 percent of office-based physicians used any form of telemedicine in 2018- 2019, its usage increased six times to 87 percent in 2021.
- Self-employed physicians were less likely to use telemedicine by at least 17 percentage points than larger practices (with more than 3 physicians).
- Physicians participating in payment models (patient centered medical home (PCMD, accountable care organizations (ACOs), or Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS)) were significantly more likely to use telemedicine than non-participants.
- Over 70 percent of physicians reported patients’ difficulty using telemedicine tools as the most common barrier to using telemedicine.
- A majority of physicians (62 percent) were fully or somewhat satisfied with their use of telemedicine.
The Federal Communications Commission has asked for a budget increase of a little more than 5 percent for fiscal 2024 (FY 2024), given inflation and its goal of getting broadband to 100% of the US in an equitable and inclusive way. In its budget request to Congress, the FCC said its top priority is the universal broadband the Biden administration has said should be achievable by the end of the decade. To do that, the agency said, it wants a 5.3 percent increase to $410,743,000, up $20,551,000 from the fiscal year 2023’s $390,192,000. The FCC said the big gaps in deployment are tied to rural deficits, affordability, and the so-called homework gap, or student access to reliable broadband. The FCC’s goal No. 2 is “to gain a deeper understanding of how the agency’s rules, policies, and programs may promote or inhibit advances in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.” Priority No. 3 is to “empower consumers,” the FCC said, including “[tackling] new challenges to consumer rights and opportunities stemming from digital transitions,” it said, without elaboration. The FCC is self-sustaining and pays for its operations via regulatory fees and spectrum auction proceeds.
According to the financial analysts at Evercore, US fiber operators are significantly scaling back their network buildout efforts. Indeed, the analysts warned that the pace of residential fiber construction activity in 2023 "will be consistent with 2022 levels, and perhaps even a little slower." That's a dramatic turnaround from just a few years ago, when analysts were cheering the "historic" fiber buildout plans of US operators like AT&T, Windstream, and Frontier Communications. And throughout 2022, those operators mostly made good on their promises. According to a survey backed by the Fiber Broadband Association, US fiber providers collectively built connections to a total of 7.9 million more homes in the US during 2022—"the highest annual deployment ever." But at the beginning of 2023, many of those same providers lowered their buildout targets for 2023. In total, the Evercore analysts noted that US fiber providers had planned to collectively build 9.4 million new locations during 2023, but now they expect that number to be around 6.5 million. The Evercore analysts pointed to a variety of factors—ranging from inflation to sluggish home sales—as conspiring to cool the US fiber industry during 2023. Indeed, yet another challenge for fiber operators: Upgrading aging utility poles owned by electricity companies. But the most concerning element in Evercore's report is the firm's suggestion that fiber might not provide the return on investment that sparked the fiber frenzy of 2020 and 2021.
The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government-watchdog group, called on the Office of Government Ethics, the federal agency that oversees ethics rules, to investigate whether the Federal Communications Commission complied with financial-conflict rules when it permitted several top officials to own stocks in apparent violation of the agency’s own rules. The Campaign Legal Center said FCC officials owned stocks in cable and telecommunications companies. Federal law bans FCC employees from owning stock in any company that is “significantly regulated” by the agency. The group also sent a letter to the FCC’s Office of Inspector General asking investigators to review why ethics officials allowed seven FCC officials to collectively own thousands of dollars in stock in companies such as AT&T, Comcast and IBM, according to public financial-disclosure forms filed by the employees. An agency isn’t required to begin an investigation upon receipt of the organization’s complaints. An FCC spokeswoman said that the agency’s ethics officials believe that the individuals identified in the complaints “have taken all necessary steps in order to ensure they were and are in full compliance with all relevant ethics conflict of interest rules.”
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.
© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2022. Redistribution of this email publication — both internally and externally — is encouraged if it includes this message. For subscribe/unsubscribe info email: headlines AT benton DOT org
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society All Rights Reserved © 2022