Daily Digest 3/7/2023 (Digital Equity's Moment)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Equity

Digital Equity Is Having a Moment. What Happens When It Ends?  |  Read below  |  Zack Quaintance  |  Government Technology
Fixing ACP's funding gap 'biggest issue' on 2023 horizon, says ACA Connects CEO Spellmeyer  |  Read below  |  Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading
ISLR Affordable Connectivity Program Dashboard v2.0  |  Read below  |  Ry Marcattilio  |  Press Release  |  Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Broadband Funding

NTIA Promises More BEAD Guidance  |  Read below  |  Nicole Ferraro  |  Light Reading
Co-ops Ask NTIA for BEAD Eligibility Flexibility  |  Read below  |  Jim Matheson  |  Letter  |  National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
Influencing the BEAD Rules  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting
Cable Rural Broadband Funding Explosion  |  telecompetitor

State/Local Initiatves

Texas Comptroller’s Office Soliciting Grant Applications for Broadband Infrastructure Projects  |  Read below  |  Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar (R-TX)  |  Press Release  |  Texas Comptroller's Office

Minnesota DEED Announces Grant Awards for Tech Training  |  Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

Platforms/Social Media

Tech platforms struggle to verify their users' age  |  Axios
Utah set to limit minors from using social media without parent's OK  |  Axios

National Labor Relations Board says Google is an employer of YouTube contractors  |  Axios


Hubble Telescope Faces Threat From SpaceX and Other Companies’ Satellites  |  New York Times


Balancing Privacy and Innovation in Smart Cities and Communities  |  Information Technology & Innovation Foundation


The Flawed Analysis Underlying Calls for Antitrust Reform: Revisiting Lina Khan’s “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox”  |  Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

How we Live Now

Sick of spending all your time staring at your devices? Here’s how to strike a healthier balance  |  MIT Technology Review


Gigi Sohn won’t chair FCC if confirmed, White House official says  |  Washington Post
Groups Argue Gigi Sohn’s FCC Nomination Is an Abortion-Rights Issue  |  Next TV

Industry/Company news

Where will net adds come from once there’s Internet for All?  |  Read below  |  Diana Goovaerts  |  Fierce
Calix CEO: Speed not enough to stand out in broadband market  |  Read below  |  Masha Abarinova  |  Fierce
Amazon’s belt-tightening affects towns across the US  |  Washington Post
All West Communications Fiber Optic Network to Expand to Tooele, Utah  |  All West Communications
Apple Approves ChatGPT-Powered App After Assurance of Content Moderation  |  Wall Street Journal
Today's Top Stories

Digital Equity

Digital Equity Is Having a Moment. What Happens When It Ends?

Zack Quaintance  |  Government Technology

Digital equity is having a moment, but what happens when that moment ends? Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), asked, “How do we keep this going?” The answer, Siefer said, is to figure out what the work needs to live on, specifically how practitioners can create “sustained, robust digital inclusion ecosystems in every community.” Digital inclusion ecosystems is a concept that the NDIA has already defined—a digital inclusion ecosystem is “a combination of programs and policies that meet a geographic community’s unique and diverse needs, where coordinating entities work together in an ecosystem to address all aspects of the digital divide, including affordable broadband, devices, and skills.” And the definitions the NDIA creates in the space have a history of becoming official, with their meaning for digital inclusion now codified federally as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The work that comes next for digital inclusion is strengthening them. This includes having programs and policies that address all of the aspects of the digital divide, including affordable and subsidized broadband as well as device ownership. There should also be multilingual digital literacy and skills training available, tech support, and digital navigators to guide residents in all of the above. Finally, there needs to be collaboration on digital inclusion work between policymakers, advocates, social service groups, community leaders, and, really, anyone else in a given community that holds public sway.

Fixing ACP's funding gap 'biggest issue' on 2023 horizon, says ACA Connects CEO Spellmeyer

Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading

The math suggests that Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) funding will be depleted sometime in early 2024. That means the clock is ticking for the US government to move the needle in the coming months. "I think the biggest issue for the second half of this year is how that gets resolved," said Grant Spellmeyer, CEO of ACA Connects. He said the clock is running out when governors will be lavishing more attention on the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. But few have their eye on the ball. "The silence [about the ACP funding issue] has been notable," he said. "Based on my trips around the Hill, a handful of committee councils are aware of the situation and pay attention to it ... Once it runs out of money, it's just going to stop." Spellmeyer warned that there's still no clear answer to the problem, but suggested that the ball needs to get rolling by this fall. A stoppage will impact millions of US consumers who rely on ACP to help fund their connectivity needs. 

ISLR Affordable Connectivity Program Dashboard v2.0

Ry Marcattilio  |  Press Release  |  Institute for Local Self-Reliance

In August 2022,  we launched the first version of our Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) dashboard. The goal was to take the confusing and inaccessible federal data on program penetration, signups, and use, and create a tool useful for local governments, policymakers, and broadband advocates working to bring the benefit to as many households as possible. Now, we're back with a 2.0 version of the dashboard. It still tracks everything it did before (state- and county-level enrollment, wireline versus mobile use, a predictive model, and more), with one important revision and one new addition. We've reworked the methodology we use to calculate how many households are eligible and taking advantage of the benefit. Because families can qualify in several ways (and families who qualify one way often, but not always, qualify in one or more other ways), we've used microdata from the American Community Survey (ACS) (5 yr, 2017 - 2021) to calculate eligibility. Additionally, we've added an adjustment factor to account for the ratio of the income-only eligible enrollment rate to the income + program eligible enrollment rate. By incorporating the ACS microdata and the adjustment factor, we can much more faithfully account for the total number of households who are eligible; by matching it against our existing zip-code level dataset, we have what we believe is the most nuanced and comprehensive picture of ACP enrollment in the nation. Also, in response to many requests, we've added a mobile version of the dashboard as well as a Congressional District-level map. Visit acpdashboard.com, or click here to see the dashboard

Broadband Funding

NTIA Promises More BEAD Guidance

Nicole Ferraro  |  Light Reading

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is still working to provide additional guidance on the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, which is expected to kick off in earnest when the NTIA issues funding allocations for each state and territory on June 30. Among the unresolved questions include what flexibility there will be around the "Buy America" requirement on the BEAD program, which the NTIA recently recommitted to after President Joe Biden raised the topic in his State of the Union speech. Other remaining concerns amongst service providers include whether federal dollars will allow for overbuilding in areas where providers have already invested private capital, an issue that may get more complex as states gather their own data on their unserved and underserved areas and present challenges to the NTIA in response to their estimated BEAD amounts, prior to getting their official allocations.

Co-ops Ask NTIA for BEAD Eligibility Flexibility

Jim Matheson  |  Letter  |  National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

In a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) expressed concerns about the Federal Communications Commission's new National Broadband Map and urged the NTIA to provide states with flexibility in determining locations and areas eligible for funding in the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. It is imperative that NTIA does not hamstring states and territories by mandating they use the FCC broadband maps as the sole source for identifying eligible funding locations as unserved or underserved in their Initial Proposals, their challenge processes, and the scope of deployment projects proposed in subgrant applications. States should be given as much flexibility as allowed under the statute to use their own data, local knowledge, and a robust challenge process to ensure that the most accurate information is used to allocate vital BEAD funds. Failure to provide states with adequate flexibility to target funding where they know it is needed would squander this once-in-a-generation opportunity to bridge the digital divide.

Influencing the BEAD Rules

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

One of the most interesting aspects of the upcoming Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grants is that the Infrastructure Ivestment and Jobs Acy requires states to solicit feedback from the public. I can’t recall that ever happening with any grants in the past—normally the rules are handed down from on-high, and that’s that. States have to solicit feedback on two grant programs. First will be each state’s share of the $42.5 billion of BEAD broadband infrastructure grants. Second is the state’s portion of $1.44 billion in digital equity grants. Most states are soliciting feedback on the two grant programs at the same time, although this can be done separately. The listening sessions can be virtual, or the state can send folks out to talk to you live. The federal rules that created the grants say that the states have to reach out to ‘all corners’ of the state to solicit feedback. I interpret that to mean the state must reach out to local government, non-profits, local broadband committees, and any other stakeholder groups that want to talk to them. Most states are either in the process of these listening sessions or will be soon. I strongly recommend that anybody that sponsors a listening session take the time first to organize the issues to be sure to make all of the needed points. States are required to respond to questions asked in these listening sessions and to forward the questions and responses to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. But that means that a community or organization needs to ask specific questions if you want a response.


Texas Comptroller’s Office Soliciting Grant Applications for Broadband Infrastructure Projects

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar (R-TX)  |  Press Release  |  Texas Comptroller's Office

The Texas Comptroller's Office intent to solicit an initial round of grant applications totaling $120 million for broadband infrastructure projects as part of the Bringing Online Opportunities to Texas (BOOT) program. The BOOT program will support broadband infrastructure projects in eligible areas that bring reliable, affordable internet service to communities in need. The Comptroller’s office posted a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) and applicants have until March 17 to submit questions on the NOFA and allow the agency to make any necessary corrections to the solicitation through the addendum process. Applicants for the BOOT program can begin submitting their proposals on April 3. Eligible broadband infrastructure projects must be designed to deliver, upon completion, broadband service that reliably meets or exceeds symmetrical speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps). Awarded applicants must also provide a universally available low-cost option for locations being served by the project and participate in a federal broadband subsidy program. Through the Broadband Development Office (BDO), the state of Texas has been allocated $363.8 million through the federal Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund to carry out critical infrastructure projects related to expanding access to high-speed internet. BDO will distribute funds allocated to Texas through a multi-round competitive grant process, with the first round of funds totaling $120 million.

Industry News

Where will net adds come from once there’s Internet for All?

Diana Goovaerts  |  Fierce

President Joe Biden’s administration has set an ambitious goal to deliver Internet for All using $42.5 billion in funding from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. It’s not entirely clear how realistic that goal is. But in an environment where operators have turned to expansions in un- and underserved areas to drive net additions due to low move activity, it’s worth asking what will happen to the market once every household in the country is connected. MoffettNathanson's Craig Moffett said that the growth rate in broadband has already slowed dramatically. And in a post-BEAD world, “the growth rate should slow to something close to the rate of new household formation in the [US], which has historically been less than 1% per year.” Beyond that, “everything else will be a battle for market share gains,” he said. Moffett added a look at mature broadband markets which are already fully penetrated offers a “pretty good preview for what the whole country will look like.” While cable and fiber players have tried to paint fixed wireless as a term-limited solution due to spectrum capacity constraints, Recon Analytics founder Roger Entner said operators like Verizon and T-Mobile which have millimeter wave assets will remain competitive even in urban areas. Moffett flagged satellite TV as a potential loser, because "The DBS [direct broadcast satellite] operators have increasingly focused on rural customers for whom cord-cutting isn’t an option. When wired broadband comes to rural America, the satellite operators won’t just have to compete against cable, they’ll also have to compete against Netflix and Hulu, as well,” he explained. Ultimately, Moffett concludes that “There’s no reason to think that growth will reaccelerate [post-Covid] given that [the U.S. broadband market] is that much closer to full saturation.”

Calix CEO: Speed not enough to stand out in broadband market

Masha Abarinova  |  Fierce

Competition in the broadband industry continues to pick up, which means providers can’t solely rely on high speeds to stand out in the market, according to Calix CEO Michael Weening. Weening explained that due to the emergence of fiber, the difference between a cable company and a telephone company is really “no longer relevant.” “Everybody’s starting to think differently,” he said. “Because if we’re using this similar infrastructure which doesn’t differentiate and we’re all driving these incredible speeds that consumers may or may not need, then how do I really differentiate in the marketplace?” Weening went on to say that historically, a company was identified as a cable operator if they used DOCSIS, while telephone companies have focused on telephony, IP, and copper-based technology. The “radical shift” away from those technologies to fiber has “profound implications to our industry as a whole.” Furthermore, Weening said “homes passed” is no longer a sufficient metric to gauge broadband customers, and that providers should be more geared towards the number of subscribers connected and average revenue per user (ARPU). Providers are rolling out multi-gig services, some with speeds of up to 10 Gbps. But Weening argued most consumers aren’t craving those high speeds. He pointed to a recent study where Calix looked across 100 fiber providers who offered multiple service tiers, each ISP having “tens of thousands” of subscribers. The vendor found roughly 17% of consumers chose to take a 1-gig or higher service. “If speed actually meant something to the end-consumer, it would be 100% of consumers taking whatever you offer,” Weening said, whether that service is 1-gig or 10-gig.

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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 David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.

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