Daily Digest 3/21/2024 (5G Fund)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Broadband Funding

Bipartisan Letter Urges House and Senate Leadership to Preserve the Affordable Connectivity Program  |  Read below  |  Rep Yvette Clarke (D-NY)  |  Press Release  |  House of Representatives
The death of the Affordable Connectivity Program could cut $4 billion out of telecom industry  |  Read below  |  Mike Dano  |  Light Reading
Municipalities can apply for BEAD. Will it matter?  |  Read below  |  Julia King  |  Fierce


Over 100 Years After Electrification: Will California Lead the Way to Internet as a Public Utility?  |  Read below  |  Cristal Mojica  |  Analysis  |  Michelson 20MM
The Municipal Broadband Solution  |  Read below  |  Sean Gonsalves  |  The American Prospect
Longmont, Colorado's municipal internet service provider NextLight connects new customers  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  City of Longmont


FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Proposes New 5G Fund Rules  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission


Telecom Regulation: Stuck in the 90's  |  Read below  |  Scott Wallsten  |  Analysis  |  Milken Institute Review


Shifting Signals Create Uncertainty for Rural Broadband Consolidation  |  Read below  |  Jeff Johnston  |  Research  |  CoBank
FTC Chair Lina Khan | America Has a Resilience Problem  |  Foreign Policy
Microsoft and Meta accuse Apple of playing games with App Store rules  |  Vox


House passes bill to prevent the sale of personal data to foreign adversaries  |  Verge, The

Stories From Abroad

A Minimum Digital Living Standard for Households with Children  |  Read below  |  Simeon Yates, Katherine Hill, Chloe Blackwell, Abigail Davis, Matt Padley  |  Research  |  University of Liverpool
Google Fined Roughly $270 Million in France Over Dispute With News Publishers  |  Wall Street Journal
Today's Top Stories

Broadband Funding

Bipartisan Letter Urges House and Senate Leadership to Preserve the Affordable Connectivity Program

Rep Yvette Clarke (D-NY)  |  Press Release  |  House of Representatives

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY) led 158 of her colleagues in a bipartisan letter to Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urging them to work to preserve the Affordable Connectivity Program, which is set to begin running out of funds in April 2024. “We write today regarding the urgent need to preserve the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)," says the letter. "As you know, the Federal Communications Commission has stated that without Congressional action, remaining ACP funds are insufficient to provide the full monthly benefit to enrollees beyond April 2024. We request that Congressional Leadership take action in the immediate future to prevent a lapse in funding that would result in a wind-down of the program. At a time when broadband accessibility is more important than ever, we cannot afford to lose the progress we have made in our efforts to bridge the digital divide. Allowing the ACP to lapse for any length of time will result in a loss of trust in the program and the federal government among consumers who have come to rely on the monthly benefit and must be avoided at all costs. A potential wind-down followed by an attempt to re-enroll customers may prove too costly to providers, disincentivizing future participation in the program. We must prioritize keeping the program alive for the duration of this year to allow Congress the opportunity to reach an agreement without undoing the progress made to close the digital divide.”

Read the full letter here.

The death of the Affordable Connectivity Program could cut $4 billion out of telecom industry

Mike Dano  |  Light Reading

According to a new report from the financial analysts at New Street Research, the US telecommunications industry stands to lose roughly $4 billion in market value–and $1.1 billion in revenues–if the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) ends. New Street said it based its latest calculation on its own survey of over 1,000 ACP recipients as well as data from Recon Analytics, the Federal Communications Commission and the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, plus commentary from companies in the ACP program and historical data obtained during the pandemic. The firm found that 27 percent of ACP beneficiaries said in surveys that they will drop service if their bill increases by $30 (the amount of the ACP subsidy). However, the analysts estimated that around 1.2 million households may actually do so, considering survey responses often do not directly correlate with actual behaviors. The firm also estimated that around 1.6 million households will cut their telecommunications spending by $15 per month if the ACP ends. 

Municipalities can apply for BEAD. Will it matter?

Julia King  |  Fierce

In spite of all the public broadband haters, municipalities will be allowed to vie for money from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. Whether they'll win BEAD grants or even bother trying, however, is still anyone's guess. Public networks have seen opposition from incumbent providers and political adversaries. According to Broadband Now, 16 states have legislation that either restricts municipal broadband or bars it entirely. While the BEAD program requires states to allow local governments and utilities to apply for grants, that doesn’t mean they will actually win any BEAD money, American Association for Public Broadband (AAPB) Executive Director Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society] told Fierce Telecom. Although state officials have encouraged municipalities to apply for BEAD funds, restrictions could still get in the way. Sohn said even though municipalities may be welcome to apply, there likely won’t be a lot winning BEAD grants. That's in part because many public networks are in in suburbs or small cities that are already considered served with internet, and the BEAD program is targeted at underserved and unserved locations.


Over 100 Years After Electrification: Will California Lead the Way to Internet as a Public Utility?

Cristal Mojica  |  Analysis  |  Michelson 20MM

The Affordable Connectivity Program is ending and California has a monumental, once-in-a-generation opportunity to lead our communities into a new era of equitable affordable connectivity, not unlike the electrification of the United States in the early-to-mid 1900s. Internet affordability in California, like much of the country, relies on the goodwill of profit-driven Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and family enrollment in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a subsidy program whose funds are set to run out in the coming months, which was never designed to be a long-term affordability solution. Despite not having a public utility designation, broadband infrastructure projects in California are overseen by both the California Department of Technology and the California Public Utilities Commission, similar to other utilities but without the protections for communities that a utility classification could provide. When ACP enrollment is no longer an option, the state will be faced with a challenge: How will we ensure that communities continue to have access to a resource upon which our basic needs depend?  How do we avoid placing the most vulnerable California households in the position of having to decide between paying their internet bill or their water and gas? Our hope is that broadband internet as a public utility will be seen as both an option and an opportunity for California to once again pave the way for the rest of the country.

The Municipal Broadband Solution

Sean Gonsalves  |  The American Prospect

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) has proven to be a digital lifeline for its 23 million beneficiaries. However, although lawmakers have known for over a year that the fund would be bankrupt by this spring, GOP congressional leaders have not budged on even bipartisan attempts to save the ACP, prompting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to announce in January the wind down the popular program. It’s a major setback for the “Internet for All” effort, especially in light of a recent FCC survey that found 29 percent of ACP beneficiaries would be left without any home internet service whatsoever without the benefit. One city that’s well prepared to deal with the demise of the ACP is Chattanooga (TN). Thanks to the foresight of the city’s electric utility, EPB, Chattanooga built a citywide fiber-to-the-home network over a decade ago. The municipally financed project came with a $220 million price tag, but has reaped a $2.7 billion return on investment for the city over its first ten years of operation. When the COVID pandemic hit and students needed internet in order to learn, the city started the HCS EdConnect program, which provides free fiber service to all households with students on free and reduced lunch. The bottom-up, community-centered approach taken Chattanooga and other cities with municipal broadband allows cities and towns to do something the private monopoly providers won’t: treat high-speed internet access more like a utility that seeds transformative economic development, rather than a profit-maximizing business venture primarily concerned with lining shareholder pockets.

Longmont, Colorado's municipal internet service provider NextLight connects new customers

Press Release  |  City of Longmont

Longmont’s (CO) award-winning fiber-optic internet service NextLight has now crossed north of Colorado Highway 66, expanding to serve customers beyond the Longmont city limits. NextLight announced that it has begun to connect residents of the Anhawa and Strawberry Circle (CO) neighborhoods. The area contains about 125 homes, which currently receive Longmont utility service but have not had access to NextLight until now. When Longmont residents first voted in 2011 to let Longmont provide municipal internet service, the ballot issue allowed it to be built anywhere in the Longmont Power & Communications electric service area, which included some outlying neighborhoods like Anhawa and Strawberry Circle. However, the bond issue that funded the initial build from 2014-2017 could only be used for construction within Longmont city limits. Colorado widened the potential options for growth in 2023 when it repealed the state’s restrictions on municipal broadband, allowing communities to explore all their choices and permitting municipal networks like NextLight to grow without being limited to a particular service footprint.


FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Proposes New 5G Fund Rules

Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called on the FCC to move ahead with plans to make targeted investments in the deployment of wireless broadband services in rural communities. The proposed rules shared with her fellow Commissioners would, if adopted by a vote of the full Commission, relaunch the 5G Fund for Rural America. The FCC’s new and improved broadband coverage map, which the 5G Fund will use, shows that over 14 million homes and businesses lack mobile 5G coverage. The 5G Fund Phase I multi-round reverse auction would distribute up to $9 billion to bring voice and 5G mobile broadband service to rural areas of the country unlikely to otherwise see unsubsidized deployment of 5G-capable networks. Additionally, to promote the deployment of Open Radio Access Network technology (Open RAN) and its benefits for competition, national security, and supply chain reliability, the 5G Fund would include up to $900 million in incentives for incorporating Open RAN in 5G Fund-supported networks. The auctions will be based on the mobile coverage data obtained in the Broadband Data Collection and reflected on the FCC’s National Broadband Map. To ensure that the Phase I auction reflects the most accurate data possible regarding areas in need of 5G service, parties are encouraged to promptly file challenges through the Broadband Data Collection mechanism where appropriate.


Telecom Regulation: Stuck in the 90's

Scott Wallsten  |  Analysis  |  Milken Institute Review

Elon Musk recently blasted the federal government’s decision to deny a nearly billion-dollar subsidy for rural connectivity that had been previously awarded to his satellite broadband company, Starlink. No matter what you think about him, Musk’s outburst points to an uncomfortable reality: new technologies are rendering America’s policy for promoting and subsidizing broadband telecommunications outdated and counterproductive. Both 5G fixed-wireless and low-earth orbit (LEO) telecom satellite technologies are widening access to broadband, upending debates over whether the broadband market is sufficiently competitive. Most notably, LEO satellite broadband service is available pretty much everywhere, challenging the conventional wisdom that some geographic areas are inherently expensive to serve and eliminating the primary justification for nearly all government broadband infrastructure subsidies. These technological achievements represent a victory for champions of “facilities-based” competition — a market structure in which competition arises from providers each operating their own infrastructure. Yet rather than celebrating this milestone, Washington is not merely working to preserve the status quo, but expanding market interventions designed for the telecom industry of the 1990s. To ensure connectivity to all Americans while promoting innovation, it is time to truly reshape broadband policy.

[Scott Wallsten is a senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, as well as TPI’s president.]


Shifting Signals Create Uncertainty for Rural Broadband Consolidation

Jeff Johnston  |  Research  |  CoBank

CoBank's report reviews why the wireless and cable industries consolidated, and assesses what could happen in the rural broadband market. Findings include:

  • The cable and wireless industries have consolidated over the last 20-30 years to create scale and gain access to valuable nationwide spectrum. Observers are watching to see if history will repeat itself in a similar tech provider industry: the rural broadband market.
  • While scale will be important for the future of rural broadband delivery, the industry’s unique aspects may prevent massive consolidation.
  • The industry is fragmented, which typically leads to consolidation when growth begins to slow. However, not all operators will be merger and acquisition (M&A) targets, especially cooperatively owned companies committed to their deep-rooted mission to serve their local communities.
  • Infrastructure funds and private equity sponsors will continue to play an important role in industry M&As, but recent headwinds from inflation, higher interest rates and labor shortages could cast a cloud over near-term activity.
  • Some level of consolidation is expected over the next 5-10 years, but it’s a question of when and how much.

Stories From Abroad

A Minimum Digital Living Standard for Households with Children

Simeon Yates, Katherine Hill, Chloe Blackwell, Abigail Davis, Matt Padley  |  Research  |  University of Liverpool

In a household-based assessment of digital needs conducted by the University of Liverpool, parents and young people defined what is ‘enough’ for a household with children to feel digitally included. Respondents considered devices and internet services, basic functional skills, and critical skills. This Minimal Digital Living Standard (MLDS) includes:

  • Digital Goods and Services: Reliable broadband; a smartphone per parent; a laptop, PC, or tablet per household; a set of headphones per school-aged child; a smart TV and entry-level TV subscription service.
  • Functional and Practical Skills: Parents should be able to use device functions; download and use apps and programs; save and recover documents; connect to the internet or hot spots; change settings; use Zoom/Google Meet; create an email account and send emails; delete files; monitor data usage; fill out online forms.
  • Critical Skills for Understanding and Managing Digital Risk: Parents should be able to use secure passwords; understand in-app purchases; use phone safety features; monitor banking activity online; identify risks and scams; manage social pressures and time online; evaluate quality of information.

For the full report and list of authors, visit: The Minimum Digital Living Survey for Households with Children

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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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