Thursday, March 4, 2021
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Community Anchor Institutions
The largest cable and wireline phone providers in the US – representing about 96% of the market – acquired about 4,860,000 net additional broadband Internet subscribers in 2020, compared to a pro forma gain of about 2,550,000 subscribers in 2019. These top broadband providers now account for 105.8 million subscribers, with top cable companies having 72.8 million broadband subscribers, and top wireline phone companies having 33 million subscribers. Overall, broadband additions in 2020 were 190% of those in 2019, and more than in any year since 2008. The top cable companies added about 4,820,000 subscribers in 2020 – compared to about 3,145,000 net adds in 2019, and the most in any year since 2006. Charter’s 2,215,000 net broadband additions in 2020 were more than any company had in a year since 2006. The top wireline phone companies added about 40,000 subscribers in 2020 – compared to a loss of about 590,000 subscribers in 2019. Telcos had positive net annual broadband adds for the first year since 2014.
Within the growing literature on broadband development, much research has focused on infrastructure competition and spatial effects driving investment incentives in broadband provision. However, less attention has been paid to the geographical factors explaining very high capacity fibre based network rollout. The purpose of this paper is to examine these geographical effects of rollout of these networks by utilizing basic data mining techniques in conjunction with exploratory spatial data analysis. In explaining the rollout of these networks, the paper derives from the literature a geographical model on broadband provision and examines it empirically by focusing on the spatial and temporal effects driving very high capacity fibre-based network development in the Netherlands. The paper confirms previous research on market uncertainty and the techno-economics of broadband development, but shows, in addition, that more specific factors related to local effects and demand uncertainty are vital in explaining the rollout of very high capacity fibre-based network.
As the world approaches the one-year anniversary of the widespread pandemic stay-at-home shift, 2020 traffic patterns reveal a sharp traffic surge in March and April, followed by a transition into a more typical – although still elevated – growth trend throughout the balance of the year. Traffic patterns remained highly asymmetrical, as downstream traffic volumes were 14x higher than upstream traffic volumes throughout 2020. Peak Internet traffic rose 32 percent over pre-pandemic levels, and over 50 percent in some markets in March. Peak downstream traffic in 2020 increased approximately 38 percent over 2019 levels and peak upstream traffic increased approximately 56 percent over 2019 levels. In the span of 4 months in the wake of pandemic lockdowns, Comcast’s network experienced almost 2 years-worth of traffic growth.
While upload use on Comcast's network quickly grows—driven largely by videoconferencing among people working and learning at home—the nation's largest home-Internet provider with over 30 million customers advertises its speed tiers as if uploading doesn't exist. Comcast's 56 percent increase in upstream traffic made me wonder if the company will increase upload speeds any time soon, so I checked out the Xfinity website to see the current upload speeds. Getting that information was even more difficult than I expected. The Xfinity website advertises cable-Internet plans with download speeds starting at 25Mbps without mentioning that upstream speeds are just a fraction of the downstream ones. I went through Comcast's online ordering system and found no mention of upload speeds anywhere. Even clicking "pricing & other info" and "view plan details" links to read the fine print on various Internet plans didn't reveal upload speeds. Even after adding a plan to the cart and going through most of the checkout process, I could not find any mention of upload speeds. I got to the point where you have to enter credit card information to continue, so I initially stopped there. I later confirmed that Comcast's ordering system will show upload speeds after it checks whether your credit card is valid, in the final page where you submit an order.
Community Anchor Institutions
In the fall and winter of 2020, New America embarked on a snapshot study to gather data on how—or if—people were discovering, accessing, and using their public libraries during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on materials that libraries made available online. Our findings, which include data from a national survey of 2,620 people, highlight the need for more inclusivity, more focus on providing internet access, and more awareness-raising initiatives with local organizations and schools. The stories in this report—of libraries developing mobile Wi-Fi options, creating digital navigator programs to support digital literacy, launching more online programs, and making use of outdoor spaces—show the possibilities of transformation and partnership. The report concludes with eight recommendations for investment in library transformations, expansion of policies such as E-Rate and the Emergency Broadband Benefit to provide better internet access at home, and more collaboration with local schools and organizations. With these changes, libraries can leverage the lessons of the pandemic to help launch more equitable ecosystems of learning across communities, providing access to knowledge, resources, and training, online and off.
Cable broadband operators want the Federal Communications Commission to confine its emergency E-rate Universal Service Fund broadband subsidies, where possible, to existing providers rather than spending on new infrastructure deployments, and to provide a streamlined application process. The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau sought comment on allowing E-Rate schools and libraries funds to be used for home broadband service and devices as the nation faces a continued pandemic and many schools are in online learning mode. NCTA-the Internet & Television Association told the FCC that "the fastest and most cost-effective manner to fund remote learning is by prioritizing E-rate support to fund currently available broadband service."
AT&T announced it would be spinning off its TV business — including DirecTV, AT&T TV, and U-verse — in a deal it claimed would greatly benefit the company’s customers, employees, and shareholders. The deal provides AT&T with a $7.8 billion cash infusion to pay down debt and recent wireless spectrum purchases, and a 70 percent stake in the “new” DirecTV. But it also values the entire operation at around $16.25 billion, a massive loss from the $67 billion AT&T paid just a few years earlier for just DirecTV alone. It’s the latest chapter in AT&T’s long journey to transform from a boring old telecommunication company into a dominant player in new media. Six years, 54,858 layoffs, two mergers, and nearly $175 billion later, AT&T is only marginally closer to streaming TV dominance. Instead, customers and employees are footing the bill for their bad decisions in the form of TV rate hikes and layoffs that show no sign of slowing down. Wall Street telecom analyst Craig Moffett surveyed the wreckage in a research note to investors, in which he noted the deal does little to tackle $157 billion in remaining AT&T debt. “AT&T’s DirecTV is inarguably one of the worst acquisitions of all time,” Moffett said. “They bought it for $67 billion in 2013. Even at the overly-generous valuation reported last night, they are exiting at a price 76% below what they paid for it just seven years ago.”
Google plans to stop selling ads based on individuals’ browsing across multiple websites, a change that could hasten upheaval in the digital advertising industry. In 2022 Google plans to stop using or investing in tracking technologies that uniquely identify web users as they move from site to site across the internet. The decision, coming from the world’s biggest digital-advertising company, could help push the industry away from the use of such individualized tracking, which has come under increasing criticism from privacy advocates and faces scrutiny from regulators. Google’s heft means that its move is also likely to stoke a backlash from some competitors in the digital ad business, where many companies rely on tracking individuals to target their ads, measure their effectiveness and stop fraud. Google accounted for 52% of 2020’s global digital ad spending of $292 billion, according to Jounce Media, a digital-ad consultancy.
We’ve set the foreign policy priorities for the Biden administration by asking a few simple questions: What will our foreign policy mean for American workers and their families? What do we need to do around the world to make us stronger here at home? And what do we need to do at home to make us stronger in the world? The answers to these questions aren’t the same as they were in 2017 or 2009.... we will secure our leadership in technology. A global technology revolution is now underway. The world’s leading powers are racing to develop and deploy new technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing that could shape everything about our lives – from where get energy, to how we do our jobs, to how wars are fought. We want America to maintain our scientific and technological edge, because it’s critical to us thriving in the 21st century economy. But we know that new technologies aren’t automatically beneficial. And those who use them don’t always have good intentions. We need to make sure technologies protect your privacy, make the world safer and healthier, and make democracies more resilient. That’s where American diplomacy comes in. We’re going to bring our friends and partners together to shape behavior around emerging technologies and establish guardrails against misuse. At the same time, we must strengthen our tech defenses and deterrents. We need only look at SolarWinds, the major hack of U.S. Government networks last year, to see how determined our adversaries are to use technology to undermine us. Today, safeguarding our national security means investing in our technological capabilities and elevating this issue in our diplomacy and our defense. We will do both.
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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