Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Headlines Daily Digest
Universal Service Fund
More than 12 million US households have cancelled their home broadband service and use only mobile broadband for their internet needs. There are more than 15 million households in the US that have only a mobile broadband service, which includes more than three million households that have never had a home internet subscription. “High cost is the most prominent issue driving households to cut the cord and go mobile only, although service-related issues, from slow speeds to poor customer experience, also contribute,” said Kristen Hanich, Senior Analyst, Parks Associates. “Service providers can deploy a number of strategies, including increasing speed and delivering a device that improves Wi-Fi coverage, in order to protect their customer base.” Smart Wi-Fi or mesh networking products that would improve Wi-Fi coverage are powerful incentives to staunch churn, as 75% of households likely to switch would stay with their current provider if offered these solutions. Currently 94% of all US broadband households use Wi-Fi networking at home, and more than half report problems with their internet experience. The user experience and the ability to deliver the necessary speeds are more critical now—as of September 2020, 41% of US broadband households were engaged in remote work or remote schooling. The increase in at-home activity has renewed consumers’ focus on their broadband speeds.
A Q&A with Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
Telecommunication companies are spending a lot of money on wireless infrastructure to support their 5G networks. In a Federal Communications Commission auction announced recently, Verizon spent $45 billion on acquiring new spectrum. AT&T spent $23 billion. But wired infrastructure is not seeing the same kind of love. AT&T has stopped connecting new customers to its DSL network, and a report out last fall by NDIA and the Communications Workers of America found that it has deployed high-speed fiber to only about a third of the households in its network. Siefer said, "What we’re seeing is the lack of investment in the lower-income neighborhoods by AT&T. With Verizon, we see skipping of whole cities. So they’re each making their own choices as to where they go with their fiber investments. And for the rest of us who end up in any of these places where those investments aren’t happening, we need to say, are we OK with that? Or do we need to somehow be influencing either their decisions or coming up with our own solutions?
A Q&A with Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement for the Blandin Foundation and member of the Minnesota Governor's Broadband Task Force.
Regarding Minnesota's leadership efforts, Joselyn said, "There are several key elements of what we call the 'Minnesota Model.' First are the legislatively mandated state broadband speed goals. The state also has an Office of Broadband Development (OBD), charged with managing the state’s Border to Border grant-matching program, which provides funding to connect homes in unserved or underserved communities, as well as the state’s broadband mapping program. The OBD is also responsible for coordinating with tribal, state, and federal agencies to help align resources and efforts toward achieving our state’s broadband goals. The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition is another key element."
When asked, "Based on your experience, what advice would you give to other states?" Joselyn said, "Broadband is one of the few issues that receives bipartisan support these days: Everyone recognizes that access denied is opportunity denied, and that increasing broadband access and adoption are absolutely necessary in building a more equitable and prosperous future for all. So conditions are ripe for organizing and planning to get ready for the federal funding opportunities we all anticipate. Having a broadband office and/or task force in place will help states optimize those opportunities. This work requires partners. Work collaboratively—with internet service providers, other state programs, federal agencies, other agencies in your state, and philanthropic organizations. No one entity has the resources to solve the problem on its own. No one knows it all."
As I evaluate the Universal Service Fund for the upcoming congressional session, I am requesting information regarding the full funding capabilities that the Federal Communications Commission has at its disposal. Please provide a detailed "status of funds" report for all USF accounts, including but not limited to the Connect America Fund (CAF), Lifeline Program for Low-Income Consumers, E-Rate - Schools & Libraries Program, and the Rural Health Care Program. This report should clearly identify the amount of funds currently available, committed, or obligated. For obligated funds, please detail all open obligations, including partial obligations, regardless of the fiscal year in which they were appropriated or obligated. I request that this report be made available to my staff no later than March 9, 2021.
SpaceX and Dish Network are fighting at the Federal Communications Commission over Dish's attempt to block a key designation that SpaceX's Starlink division needs in order to get FCC broadband funding. Dish's "baseless attempt" to block funding "would serve only to delay what matters most—connecting unserved Americans," said SpaceX in a filing. While Dish says it has valid concerns about interference in the 12 GHz band, SpaceX described Dish's complaint to the FCC as a "facially spurious filing" that "is only the latest example of Dish's abuse of Commission resources in its misguided effort to expropriate the 12 GHz band." The dispute is related to several FCC proceedings including one on a Starlink petition seeking designation as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) under the Communications Act. SpaceX needs this legal designation in some of the states where it won federal funding to deploy broadband in unserved areas. Dish asked the FCC to deny SpaceX the needed status in the 12 GHz band.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to restore net neutrality rules put in place during the Obama administration. With a shift in political dynamics following the 2020 election, lawmakers are renewing their push to police internet service providers under Title II of the Communications Act, and this time, the pandemic emphasizes a powerful point in the debate. “Once we have three Democrats in place at the [Federal Communications Commission], I'm going to strongly urge the commission to reverse the Trump FCC's wrongheaded decision and restore net neutrality and the FCC's authority over broadband,” Sen Markey said. “And in the coming weeks, I'm also planning on reintroducing legislation to do the same by statute. Here's the bottom line: Whether it's in the halls of the FCC or in the halls of Congress, we will not stop working until net neutrality is the law of the land.” Sen Markey noted that with a recent court ruling allowing California to enforce its own law, and net neutrality champions now holding the reins on Capitol Hill, “a new day has dawned in Washington and around our country.” “We have a whole new era of net neutrality, which is just beginning,” he said.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) signed data privacy legislation into law, making Virginia the second state in the nation to adopt its own data protection rules. The law, known as the Consumer Data Protection Act, had broad support from the tech industry, including Amazon, which is building an Arlington (VA) headquarters. The legislation will allow residents of the commonwealth to opt out of having their data collected and sold, similar to a California law that went into effect in 2020. Under the new law, Virginia residents can also see what data companies have collected about them, and correct or delete it. The Virginia law is widely viewed as more industry friendly than the California provision, however, and privacy advocates have called for Virginia to adopt some of California’s provisions that make it easier for people to opt out of data collection from multiple companies. The Virginia law also does not allow individuals to bring lawsuits against tech companies for violations and will be enforced by the state’s attorney general, not a separate enforcement agency.
Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI) won Senate confirmation as the next US commerce secretary, a post that will thrust her into some of the most contentious economic and security questions confronting the Biden administration. The Senate easily approved her nomination by a vote of 84 to 15. She is expected to be sworn in on March 3. Gov. Raimondo, a former venture capitalist who was reelected to her second term as Rhode Island’s chief executive in 2018, will assume command of a federal agency with sweeping responsibilities and an increasingly important portfolio. Long seen as simply a business-friendly outpost in Washington, the department in recent years emerged as an active player in President Donald Trump’s trade wars, while carrying out the decennial census and managing the nation’s weather-monitoring systems. Once sworn in, Sec Raimondo will take over a department with a roughly $8 billion budget and more than 43,000 employees.
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) and Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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