Thursday, March 2, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
A Packed Agenda Today includes
The Next Wave of Technology Regulation: The Need for New Authorities in the U.S. and Beyond
Digital Equity Act of 2021 Request for Comments
National Cybersecurity Strategy
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 includes a historic investment of $65 billion to help close the digital divide and ensure that everyone in America has access to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service. The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is responsible for distributing more than $48 billion in funding through several different programs. NTIA is requesting comments on the $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act of 2021 Program, and on the design and implementation of two components of that grant program: the $1.44 billion State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the $1.25 billion Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. NTIA seeks broad input and feedback from all interested stakeholders across the nation, including Tribal entities, and has established multiple avenues for the public to offer input to bolster NTIA’s work and to improve the number and quality of ideas under consideration as the agency develops Notices of Funding Opportunity for each of the Digital Equity Capacity Grant and Digital Equity Competitive Grant Programs to be implemented by NTIA pursuant to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This includes a series of public virtual listening sessions which will be announced at a later date. [Comments are due in Docket No. 230224–0051 on May 1, 2023]
A more equitable, more just society. What an audacious goal. But it is a goal that, I believe, everyone here shares. “It takes a village” is such an understatement. What it takes to reach this ambitious but increasingly necessary goal is all of us pulling in the same direction over many miles and many years. What it takes is commitment, innovation, leadership, and collaboration. Today we get to celebrate some digital equity heroes. These champions demonstrate the commitment, innovation, leadership, and collaboration we all need to embrace in our own work. Gathering to recognize their efforts will hopefully inspire us all when we return to our communities and push towards a more equitable, more just society. First up, our 2023 Charles Benton Digital Equity Emerging Leader, Angie Cooper, Executive Vice President and Chief Program Officer at Heartland Forward, a “think-and-do” tank based in Arkansas focused on advancing economic performance and opportunity in the center of the country. And this year we honor two Charles Benton Digital Equity Champions: 1) Catherine Crago Blanton the Head of Strategic Initiatives at the Housing Authority of the City of Austin Texas & Austin Pathways, a nonprofit that promotes the education and general welfare of low-income Austinites in subsidized housing programs. 2) Burt Lum, the Broadband Strategy Officer at the state’s Broadband & Digital Equity Office. When someone speaks broadband in the State of Hawaii, the first name mentioned is Burt Lum.
Technology and Disability: The Relationship Between Broadband Access and Disability Insurance Awards
This paper examines the association between Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) awards, disability, and technology access. The paper found that:
- There is a negative relationship between DI award rates and computer, internet, and broadband access. Counties with a high proportion of DI beneficiaries have less access to computers, internet, and broadband than those with fewer DI beneficiaries, even after controlling for county-level characteristics such as age, race, housing prices, and rural/non-rural status;
- The technology gap is not limited to rural areas. Although people in non-rural areas have greater access to technology (e.g., computers, internet, and broadband) than those in rural areas, both non-rural and rural counties with high DI award rates are less likely than their counterparts with lower DI award rates to be connected;
- Disability rates, which are four times higher than DI award rates, exhibit a similar negative relationship with technology access.
The policy implications of the findings are:
- Considering the dual challenges facing people with disabilities who have low access to technology is important to providing services and programs to people and communities in need;
- Understanding the relationship between DI awards, disability, and technology access could help the Social Security Administration (SSA) identify specific areas of the country and specific groups with lower-than-expected applications because of limited technology.
Gov. Evers (D-WI) proposes $750M for broadband expansion amid massive federal investment in high-speed internet
Gov. Tony Evers' (D-WI) proposed budget calls for the state to invest $750 million in broadband expansion over the next decade as Wisconsin could receive more than $1 billion from the federal government. Despite the infusion of federal dollars, the head of the Public Service Commission (PSC) said state funding will still be needed to ensure everyone has access to high-speed internet. The money is part of grants available through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. The accuracy of the Federal Communications Commission's broadband maps has already been challenged by multiple states, including Wisconsin. The PSC challenged 7,000 locations in Wisconsin where the FCC believes designations were missing or incorrect. The FCC accepted almost 3,000 of the state’s challenges, according to Alyssa Kenney, state broadband and digital equity director. In addition, the state submitted 269,000 challenges to providers' service claims. The FCC accepted just 20,000. PSC Chair Rebecca Valcq said that’s why it’s imperative to continue providing state funding for broadband expansion to ensure Wisconsin can fill gaps that may not be addressed by the federal government.
The top Republican and Democrat on the House Commerce Committee are working to avert a lapse, in March 2023, of the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to auction spectrum as Congress seeks a more lasting plan that could pay for a number of telecommunications priorities. Auctions of the spectrum have been a financial boon for the government. But there are often competing pressures over which frequencies to sell to the private sector and what to do with the money. The FCC auctions to commercial companies have raised more than $258 billion for the US Treasury since 1994. The House passed by voice vote February 27 legislation backed by House Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) that would extend the authority through May 19, 2023. The House's passage leaves the Senate a narrow window to clear the measure for the President’s signature before the FCC’s authority to conduct spectrum auctions expires on March 9.
Fixed wireless access (FWA) generates the least revenue of eight 5G service types studied by professional services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in a 5G revenue analysis. The researchers estimate that FWA service generates just 14 cents of revenue per gigabyte (GB) based on a price of $50 a month. The service type that generates the most revenue per GB, according to the researchers, is internet of things (IoT) connectivity for low-usage plans. The researchers estimate that those services generate $16.89 per gigabyte, based on a price of $60 a month for a service limited to 5 GB per month. The researchers estimated the revenue generated by mobile data services at between $4 and $5.67 per GB, with the highest-capacity plans generating the most revenue. That means those services generate 30 to 40 times the revenue per GB in comparison with FWA, according to the PwC 5G revenue analysis. PwC’s advice to network operators about 5G:
- Get a handle on true network costs for 5G applications and educate the consumer,
- Talk to users and “up-stack” companies, including those involved in the metaverse, to understand which 5G capabilities are most valuable to them,
- Create and market service offerings that go beyond connectivity plans, such as hourly subscriptions for gamers,
- Gain a better understanding of subscribers’ pricing propensity and thresholds based on the type of application,
- Establish profitable revenue-sharing models with cloud service providers.
The United States will reimagine cyberspace as a tool to achieve our goals in a way that reflects our values: economic security and prosperity; respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; trust in our democracy and democratic institutions; and an equitable and diverse society. To realize this vision, we must make fundamental shifts in how the United States allocates roles, responsibilities, and resources in cyberspace.
- We must rebalance the responsibility to defend cyberspace by shifting the burden for cybersecurity away from individuals, small businesses, and local governments, and onto the organizations that are most capable and best-positioned to reduce risks for all of us.
- We must realign incentives to favor long-term investments by striking a careful balance between defending ourselves against urgent threats today and simultaneously strategically planning for and investing in a resilient future.
Sens. Luján (D-NM), Matsui (D-CA), Colleagues Reintroduce Legislation to Close Divide on Digital Equity, Inclusion, and Literacy
US Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and US Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) led US Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) to reintroduce the "Digital Equity Foundation Act," legislation to establish a nonprofit foundation that would channel public and private investments into making progress in closing the divide on digital equity, digital inclusion, and digital literacy. This Foundation will supplement the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communication Commission’s work to award grants, support research, provide training and education, engage with stakeholders, collect data, and promote policies to improve digital equity outcomes. The Foundation will be run by a Board of experts specializing in the fields of digital equity, technology, and telecommunications, and will represent diverse communities throughout the US. As the NTIA works to implement the broadband programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and connect our country, the Digital Equity Foundation will be vital to ensuring the most vulnerable communities have the knowledge and skills to take full advantage of these new connections.
Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) Reintroduces Legislation To Help Communities Expand Broadband Infrastructure
Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) reintroduced the "Broadband Incentives for Communities Act," which creates a grant program to provide local and state governments with the resources to facilitate, modernize, and streamline broadband upgrades and deployment. In order to upgrade and expand broadband infrastructure, local governments work with private wireless companies to build out the necessary technology across communities. This requires these companies to submit zoning and permitting applications, but many wireless technology applications often do not fit the traditional governmental review process, and local governments may lack the personnel, training, and technical resources to efficiently permit these deployments. These are significant factors in providing efficient delivery of broadband in communities. This legislation addresses this barrier by creating a grant program under the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to give communities new resources to train and hire employees in the permitting departments, hire additional human resources, and purchase updated technology and equipment that would facilitate the permitting process. The legislation also requires the NTIA to convene stakeholders to discuss and find solutions to the challenges of efficiently deploying broadband in their local communities. This will help ensure providers can build the networks that are critical to meet the rapidly increasing broadband needs of all communities.
US Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), along with US Representatives Kathy Castor (D-FL) and Mike Levin (D-CA), reintroduced the "Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act" to reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, online harassment, and discrimination on social media platforms. Specifically, the SAFE TECH Act would force online service providers to address misuse on their platforms or face civil liability. The legislation would make clear that Section 230:
- Doesn’t apply to ads or other paid content – ensuring that platforms cannot continue to profit as their services are used to target vulnerable consumers with ads enabling frauds and scams;
- Doesn’t bar injunctive relief – allowing victims to seek court orders where misuse of a provider’s services is likely to cause irreparable harm;
- Doesn’t impair the enforcement of civil rights laws – maintaining the vital and hard-fought protections from discrimination even when activities or services are mediated by internet platforms;
- Doesn’t interfere with laws that address stalking/cyber-stalking or harassment and intimidation on the basis of protected classes – ensuring that victims of abuse and targeted harassment can hold platforms accountable when they directly enable harmful activity;
- Doesn’t bar wrongful death actions – allowing the family of a decedent to bring suit against platforms where they may have directly contributed to a loss of life;
- Doesn’t bar suits under the Alien Tort Claims Act – potentially allowing victims of platform-enabled human rights violations abroad to seek redress in US courts against US-based platforms.
Congress' stall on technology policy is empowering courts to handle important decisions about everything from liability to content moderation. Technology moves faster than Congress can keep up with, and in the absence of new laws, lasting decisions about tech regulation are being determined by judges and courts across the country. Federal agencies, state governments, and attorneys representing different interests and motives for trying to regulate the tech industry are pushing cases forward. A high-profile instance came last week when the Supreme Court heard two major arguments about liability protections for user content that longstanding federal law grants to tech platforms. There's widespread agreement this is not an ideal way of determining tech policy. Lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming and can muddy as much as they clarify. Industry and consumer advocates such as pro-privacy groups would all rather see Congress step in than hope that a court will interpret current law to their preference. Overall, Congress missed a big opportunity to pass comprehensive tech policy legislation last year, before Republicans took control of the House of Representatives. With the Senate still in Democrats' hands, consensus will be even harder to come by — making the courts' role even more consequential.
One of the broadband products that quietly emerged during the pandemic is a suite of products that enable corporate broadband to safely be used at home. IT directors of large companies were aghast when a large percentage of staff were sent home to work and instantly wanted full access to the same systems and functionality that they used in the office. One of the key linchpins of corporate data security has always been to limit access to corporate networks from outside the physical confines of the office. Remote employees were usually given limited access and often didn’t get full access to sensitive databases and systems. This was a nightmare scenario for IT departments that were tasked with protecting proprietary corporate data while somehow opening the portals for large numbers of remote works. Some of the largest broadband providers eventually stepped in to put the IT departments at ease with a suite of products that added the needed access security so that remote users were fully verified to be a real employee and not a hacker.
ACA Connects President and CEO Grant Spellmeye underscored the top-of-mind issues pervading the broadband industry. Unsurprisingly, the allocation of federal funds was front and center. First, ACA wants to make sure broadband funding is going where it’s supposed to be, as Spellmeyer noted the organization is “very concerned” about overbuilding using government support. The biggest pot of broadband money comes from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) plans to dole out BEAD funding to states starting in July, but Spellmeyer expects state leaders won’t begin handing out that money to operators until 2024.
Charter Communications has talked a lot recently about its rural expansion plans. But what it hasn’t drawn attention to is the fact that most - if not all - of its planned rural passings will be delivered with fiber. The operator originally announced its rural build plan in 2021 after the close of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. All told, it said it was planning to spend $5 billion – including $1.2 billion in RDOF subsidy money – to reach 1 million rural locations across 24 states over the coming years. Since that time, it has racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in additional grant money for rural builds in several states. Charter CFO Jessica Fischer said that 120,000 of the 200,000 rural passings Charter added in 2022 were subsidized. Charter plans to step up the pace of its subsidized build to 300,000 locations in 2023. While Charter has been building around 15,000-20,000 new passings per month, Fischer noted it is hoping to end 2023 at a rate of 30,000. While she didn’t outright state what technology Charter is using for its rural builds, an operator representative said that all of its RDOF builds will be fiber-to-the-home. Fischer said the vast majority of its rural builds in 2023 will be RDOF projects. Fischer also noted Charter is achieving significant penetration and average revenue per unit (ARPU) in its rural build territories. Specifically, she said it’s been able to hit around 40% penetration within 6 months after construction, with ARPU coming in over $100 as customers bundle voice, video, and mobile service with their broadband connections.
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.
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