Daily Digest 3/7/2024 (John Wallace Walker)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Equity

There are now 170 co-sponsors of the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act (H.R. 6929)  |  House of Representatives
Federal Communications Commissioner Starks Remarks at INCOMPAS 2024 Policy Summit  |  Read below  |  FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks  |  Speech  |  Federal Communications Commission
Internet service providers not required to list ACP on broadband labels—FCC  |  Read below  |  Nicole Ferraro  |  Light Reading
Broadband Groups Decry Impact of FCC Digital Discrimination Rules on Rural Providers  |  Read below  |  Corey Walker  |  Broadband Breakfast
Benton Foundation
Creating a Culture of Consent for Our Digital Future: A Conversation with Tawana Petty  |  Read below  |  Ever Bussey, Tawana Petty  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
States, feds at odds over low-cost broadband option  |  Read below  |  Kery Murakami  |  Route Fifty

Broadband Funding

Protecting Americans From Hidden FCC Tax Hikes  |  Read below  |  Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX)  |  Editorial  |  Senate Commerce Committee
Avoid Sunk Costs By Funding The Affordable Connectivity Program  |  Read below  |  Kathryn de Wit  |  Analysis  |  Pew Charitable Trusts

Broadband Data

Benton Foundation
Modernizing How We Assess Broadband Affordability  |  Read below  |  Dharma Dailey, Sabrina Roach  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Rural Commenters Claim Flaws in FWA Providers’ Broadband Data; WISPA Responds  |  Read below  |  Randy Sukow  |  telecompetitor

State/Local Initiatives

VC-Backed Fastwyre Investing $65 million in Louisiana  |  Read below  |  Carl Weinschenk  |  telecompetitor
Dakota Carrier Network and Grand Farm partner for connectivity  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Dakota Carrier Network


T-Mobile eyes auction for 800 MHz spectrum that Dish can’t buy  |  Read below  |  Monica Alleven  |  Fierce


Democrats probe Musk’s SpaceX, examining Russia’s alleged Starlink use  |  Read below  |  Cat Zakrzewski  |  Washington Post
Commissioner Simington Addresses Incompas Policy Summit  |  Read below  |  FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington  |  Speech  |  Federal Communications Commission

Platforms/Social Media/AI

Bipartisan Coalition Introduces Legislation to Protect Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications, Including TikTok  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Select Committee on the CCP
Commissioner Carr Applauds Bipartisan Legislation on TikTok  |  Federal Communications Commission
President Biden would ban TikTok. But candidate Biden is using it for his campaign  |  National Public Radio
Apple Terminated Epic’s Developer Account  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Epic Games
How the bots took over Twitter  |  National Public Radio
Producing more but understanding less: The risks of AI for scientific research  |  Ars Technica
Microsoft’s AI Tool Generates Harmful, Violent Images, Engineer Warns  |  Wall Street Journal
Fake Image Factory: How AI image generators threaten election integrity and democracy  |  Center for Countering Digital Hate
Former Google AI engineer charged with trade secret theft for China firm  |  Washington Post

Company News

Once-struggling Frontier may have turned a corner  |  Fierce

Stories From Abroad

Apple Terminated Epic’s Developer Account  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Epic Games
On Digital Markets Act Eve, Google whines, Apple sounds alarms, and TikTok wants out  |  Read below  |  Ashley Belanger  |  Ars Technica
The EU Digital Markets Act is here. Here’s what it means for you.  |  Washington Post
Big Tech howled over EU antitrust law. The White House declined a rescue.  |  Washington Post
Today's Top Stories

Digital Equity

Federal Communications Commissioner Starks Remarks at INCOMPAS 2024 Policy Summit

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks  |  Speech  |  Federal Communications Commission

We stand at a crossroad in the landscape of communications and digital equity. As we navigate the complexities of the 21st century, one thing has remained unchanged—our commitment to ensuring that every American, regardless of where you live or how much you make, has access to reliable, affordable, and high-speed Internet. Access to the Internet is not just a matter of convenience—it is a fundamental issue of fairness, and a necessity for participation in modern life. Nearly a year ago today, I stood on this stage to call for us to secure a funding path for the Affordable Connectivity Program. The case has only grown stronger: ACP is a once-in-a-lifetime catalyst to bridge the digital divide. The time has to come to act. Without additional appropriations from Congress, April will be the last fully funded month of the program. Now, I’m an optimist at heart, and there are reasons for hope. There is a bipartisan, bicameral effort to fund ACP—the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act that I am proud to strongly support. I stand ready and willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that these Congressional proposals bear fruit. I’m excited for the future, and for all Americans to continue to have access to highspeed, affordable broadband. ACP is essential to achieve that goal. Let’s keep on pushing. 

Internet service providers not required to list ACP on broadband labels—FCC

Nicole Ferraro  |  Light Reading

Service providers will not be required to list information related to the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) on their broadband labels, according to guidance issued by the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) on Monday. The guidance was issued in tandem with the FCC formally announcing that April will be the final month of full funding for the ACP. The untimely ending of the ACP has created a series of conundrums and unanswered questions. One of those was how broadband providers were supposed to handle a requirement to list whether they participate in the ACP on federally mandated consumer broadband labels. The ACP is set to run out of funds just as those labels debut. Both the ACP—which provides a $30/month broadband subsidy for over 23 million low-income households—and the FCC's required consumer broadband labels were established through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021, which contained $65 billion in broadband funding and related regulations around consumer protection.

Broadband Groups Decry Impact of FCC Digital Discrimination Rules on Rural Providers

Corey Walker  |  Broadband Breakfast

America’s Communications Association (ACA Connects), the Rural Broadband Association (NTCA), and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) issued a joint statement to the Federal Communications Commission urging it to exclude smaller and rural broadband providers from its new digital discrimination rules, citing a lack of evidence they engage in discrimination where they build and calling into question the FCC’s legal authority to impose the rules. The organizations argued that the digital discrimination rules would impose an undue burden on rural providers. They claim that there has been no evidence presented against rural broadband providers suggesting they engage in discriminatory practices. Smaller and rural broadband providers would be forced to undertake new burdens in addition to “the new broadband label and data breach reporting obligations the Commission has recently imposed,” the organizations write, adding the FCC should delay enforcing the rules on rural providers until the agency conducts a “test period” to see whether the rules are effective. 

Creating a Culture of Consent for Our Digital Future: A Conversation with Tawana Petty

Ever Bussey, Tawana Petty  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

I'm interested in shifting the culture around our relationship with online consent because I recognize how pervasive dominant narratives are. In this work, a lot of folks have shifted to a mindset of powerlessness. I've learned that the more you encourage people that we still have a voice in the matter, the more folks tend to push back against systems that are unjust. And it's not a given that your data is going to be extracted and weaponized against you. We still have opportunities to mount a resistance against systems that are harmful. To me, that's the general public. That's anybody who is exposed to any type of system that's extracting our data. However, I do prioritize Black folks, because we're looking at systems that are systemically racist. Our data and information is being leveraged to target us to be consumers of systems, not producers of systems, and how agencies like law enforcement have leveraged our data in the past to create predictive policing systems or to hyper surveil communities.

[Ever Bussey is a social researcher and creative media maker. The nature of their practice brings the intricacies of human social relationships into focus through storytelling and collective world-building. Tawana Petty is a mother, social justice organizer, poet, author, and facilitator. Her work focuses on racial justice, equity, privacy, and consent. She is a 2023-2025 Just Tech Fellow with the Social Science Research Council, a 2024 National LIO Yearlong Fellow with the Rockwood Leadership Institute and she serves on the CS for Detroit Steering Committee.]

Broadband Funding

States, feds at odds over low-cost broadband option

Kery Murakami  |  Route Fifty

States and the federal government may agree that the expansion of broadband service around the country funded with $42.5 billion from the infrastructure act should be affordable for low-income people. But at least one state doesn’t agree that it should be dictating what’s affordable. After reviewing Virginia’s plan for its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment funding, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration told the state it needed to be more specific. In order to be approved to receive the first batch of its $1.4 billion in BEAD funding, NTIA said Virginia—which only calls for companies to provide an “affordable” option—has to set an “exact" limit on how much companies can charge low-income households. The idea of the government dictating how much a company receiving grants through the program can charge has been criticized by some House Republicans and internet service providers as “rate regulation.” Virginia agrees. In its response, the state told NTIA that it does not believe it would be legal for states to tell companies how much they can charge, or for the agency to tell states to do so.

Protecting Americans From Hidden FCC Tax Hikes

Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX)  |  Editorial  |  Senate Commerce Committee

The Federal Communications Commission is poised to raise taxes through its Universal Service Fund—a regressive, hidden tax on consumers' phone bills that funds a series of unaccountable, bloated internet subsidy programs. Rather than giving the FCC carte blanche to expand its balance sheet, Congress must reform the USF's structural problems, reevaluate its component programs, and get the FCC's spending under control. Here is my plan to do that. 

  • To get spending under control, Congress—not the FCC—must take charge of defining universal service and deciding where USF funds may go. Moving some or all USP programs into direct congressional appropriations would help restore political accountability over the FCC's spending decisions. 
  • Stop subsidizing networks that face unsubsidized competition.
  • Do not subsidize Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act-funded networks' ongoing operational costs.
  • Lifeline and the Affordable Connectivity Program are duplicative and should, at the very least, be combined. If low-income broadband subsidies are to continue, limit enrollment and develop clear performance metrics.
  • The E-rate program should be evaluated so policymakers can make sure it is truly benefiting pedagogical objectives; these subsidies should serve children, not the interests of tech and telecommunications lobbyists.

Avoid Sunk Costs By Funding The Affordable Connectivity Program

Kathryn de Wit  |  Analysis  |  Pew Charitable Trusts

With the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) on the brink of exhausting its funding and congressional action to secure its future still uncertain, it’s time we have the hard conversation about sunk costs. For ACP, that includes:

  • $14.2 billion to help 23 million low-income Americans afford broadband connections each month.
  • $66 million in outreach grants to nonprofits, state, and local government, and other entities to establish trust in the program and encourage signups.
  • Marketing and outreach campaigns from for-profit companies and community partners.
  • $42.5 billion to fund the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, which requires states to reach 100% availability of broadband—a daunting prospect without ACP.
  • $10 billion for the Capital Projects Fund (CPF), which requires recipients to participate in ACP.

Those investments are working. We are at a troubling crossroads. Proof of concept is clear. Demand for action—from the suppliers and the customers—is high. Yet Congress fails to act. ACP is one of our most useful tools to address affordability issues. To avoid sunk costs and continue our investments in these vital, hardworking communities, we need immediate action from Congress to safeguard affordable access to broadband services for all Americans.


Modernizing How We Assess Broadband Affordability

Dharma Dailey, Sabrina Roach  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Best practice methods for assessing affordability developed and endorsed by academic and government affordability experts can provide much greater precision in assessing need thereby enabling more informed and more targeted digital equity interventions. However, recent experience in Washington state has revealed that few of us in the digital equity realm are yet comfortable applying these methods, or, indeed, are even aware of them. To clarify the problem with current methods and the possibility for improvement, we focus on one key component of digital equity—affordable broadband. Millions of Americans fall between the somewhat arbitrary and inconsistent guidelines for prevailing digital equity interventions. For example, the Affordable Connectivity Program has provided subsidized internet service to households at 200 percent of the Official Poverty Measure (OPM). However, affordability experts looking at Washington state in 2023 found 225,677 Washington state households were making more than 200 percent of the OPM, yet were not making enough to cover basic necessities such as food and housing. The same analysis applied across the US has similar results, with millions of households found to be falling between current program guidelines and actual self-sufficiency. 

Rural Commenters Claim Flaws in FWA Providers’ Broadband Data; WISPA Responds

Randy Sukow  |  telecompetitor

The broadband availability data that mobile and fixed wireless providers report to the Federal Communications Commission is flawed, according to several rural broadband organizations. The organizations offered this view in comments filed with the FCC about the commission’s broadband data collection (BDC) challenge process. It’s an important issue because eligibility for broadband funding in many rural areas depends on the accuracy of the FCC data, which is used to produce the National Broadband Map. According to NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, “factors critical to assessing fixed wireless providers’ ability to meet claimed service levels are often not available for Commission or challenger review under current BDC filing specifications.” NTCA suggests that the Commission standardize the data reporting specifications to all fixed wireless submissions, whether made via shapefiles or via lists of broadband serviceable locations. NRECA, in its comments, noted that it has assisted its members in filing challenges to more than 266,000 locations. Like NTCA, it sees inaccuracies in coverage data creeping in because of flaws in wireless ISP reporting. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) offered a rebuttal to the suggestion that the commission require propagation models for FWA coverage submitted in address form.


VC-Backed Fastwyre Investing $65 million in Louisiana

Carl Weinschenk  |  telecompetitor

Regional provider Fastwyre Broadband is investing more than $65 million in new and existing markets in southwest and south central Louisiana. A Fastwyre spokesperson said that “the vast majority of the $65 million investment is self-funded with small federal and state grant funding in more remote areas.” Fastwyre is a portfolio company of Madison Dearborn Partners, LLC and Catania ABC Partners. The company says that it will build or expand fiber broadband networks to support symmetrical services that eventually will reach 10 Gbps. Initially the company will offer symmetrical speeds of 2 Gbps. Monthly pricing is $44.99 per month for speeds to 100 Mbps to $69.99 for speeds as fast as 1 Gbps. Services that can be supported include e-commerce, virtual learning, agricultural technology, telehealth and entertainment, Fastwyre noted.

Dakota Carrier Network and Grand Farm partner for connectivity

Press Release  |  Dakota Carrier Network

North Dakota is leading the way in precision agriculture, in large part thanks to the work and research being done at the Grand Farm Innovation Campus just outside of Casselton. Precision ag, like almost anything these days, requires reliable, secure, high-speed internet connectivity and that’s where Dakota Carrier Network (DCN) is offering expertise. DCN and Grand Farm have partnered for the wireless infrastructure at the farm, an investment of $200,000. There are four primary components to the connectivity DCN is providing on the Grand Farm Innovation Campus:

  • Gigabit fiber optic connection—providing the Innovation Campus with connectivity and supporting the wireless needs throughout the Grand Farm Innovation Campus
  • Radio Access Network—similar to the technology used by cell phone companies, multiple private 5G networks will allow connectivity to every square foot of the campus
  • CBRS spectrum—a radio frequency to securely carry data with predictable performance
  • Connection to a core—a secure off-site core to manage and run the system


T-Mobile eyes auction for 800 MHz spectrum that Dish can’t buy

Monica Alleven  |  Fierce

Now that Dish Network has said it will not be buying the 13.5 MHz chunk of nationwide 800 MHz spectrum from T-Mobile that it was entitled to for $3.59 billion, all eyes are on the upcoming auction. Technically, Dish has until April 1 to exercise its option to buy the 800 MHz spectrum. Should April 1 come and go without Dish exercising its option, T-Mobile is obligated to take the spectrum to auction with a floor price of just under $3.6 billion. “We haven't commenced that auction yet, but should they choose not to exercise it, that'll be the next step for us,” he said. The deadline for the auction is this fall, and any restrictions on who is eligible to bid on the spectrum will be up to the Federal Communications Commission. Other parties have expressed interest in the spectrum, including Burns & McDonnell Engineering Company, which could use it to deploy wireless broadband networks for electric utilities.


Democrats probe Musk’s SpaceX, examining Russia’s alleged Starlink use

Cat Zakrzewski  |  Washington Post

Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Robert Garcia (D-CA) opened an investigation of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, examining whether the company implemented adequate safeguards to prevent Russia from deploying its Starlink satellite internet service in its war against Ukraine. The lawmakers sent a letter demanding that the company report complaints about potential illegal acquisitions of Starlink terminals, including in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine. The lawmakers said they were alarmed by Ukrainian intelligence officials’ allegations that Russian forces deployed the company’s terminals in eastern Ukraine, potentially running afoul of US sanctions. The lawmakers warned SpaceX’s president, Gwynne Shotwell, that Russia’s alleged use of Starlink “poses a serious threat to Ukraine’s security, Ukrainian lives, and US national security.” 

Commissioner Simington Addresses Incompas Policy Summit

FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington  |  Speech  |  Federal Communications Commission

I focus my remarks on the satellite service sector—both what I see for its future and what the Federal Communications Commission can do today to ensure its success. Starting with direct-to-cell—I am pleased to see that the FCC is crafting a flexible framework that allows the US to take the lead on policymaking for this new service, while also ensuring that we do not constrict innovation and fledgling business models. A strong but flexible regulatory framework is the best approach for bolstering both America’s leadership and industry’s success. Turning to streamlining of application processing, I think that the most important thing the FCC can do is to ensure swift and efficient action on its part. Finally, I’d like to touch on orbital debris. I have said throughout the ongoing FCC proceeding and in several speeches before industry that we should apply the same orbital debris rules to both U.S-licensed providers and market access licensees—which are foreign licensed entities who provide service in the US. The FCC must move in this direction as a high-priority policy goal. 


Bipartisan Coalition Introduces Legislation to Protect Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications, Including TikTok

Press Release  |  Select Committee on the CCP

Rep Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Rep Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) introduced the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. The bill prevents app store availability or web hosting services in the US for ByteDance-controlled applications, including TikTok, unless the application severs ties to entities like ByteDance that are subject to the control of a foreign adversary, as defined by Congress in Title 10. The bill would:

  • Incentivize Divestment of TikTok: Unless TikTok is fully divested such that it is no longer controlled by a PRC-based entity, the application will face a prohibition in the US from app store availability and web hosting services until such time as a divestment occurs.
  • Address the National Security Risks Posed by Other Applications Controlled by Foreign Adversary Companies: Establishes a process for the President to designate other foreign adversary controlled social media applications—as defined by statute—that shall face a prohibition on app store availability and access to web hosting services in the United States unless they sever ties to the foreign adversary-controlled company. The President may exercise this authority if an application presents a national security threat, has over one million annual active users, and is under the control of a foreign adversary entity, as defined by statute.
  • Empower Users to Switch Platforms: Designated applications must provide users with a copy of their data in a format that can be imported into an alternative social media application. All users would be able to download their data and content and transition to another platform.

Apple Terminated Epic’s Developer Account

Press Release  |  Epic Games

We recently announced that Apple approved our Epic Games Sweden AB developer account. We intended to use that account to bring the Epic Games Store and Fortnite to iOS devices in Europe thanks to the Digital Markets Act (DMA). To our surprise, Apple has terminated that account and now we cannot develop the Epic Games Store for iOS. This is a serious violation of the DMA and shows Apple has no intention of allowing true competition on iOS devices. The DMA requires Apple to allow third-party app stores, like the Epic Games Store. In terminating Epic’s developer account, Apple is taking out one of the largest potential competitors to the Apple App Store. They are undermining our ability to be a viable competitor and they are showing other developers what happens when you try to compete with Apple or are critical of their unfair practices.

Stories From Abroad

On Digital Markets Act Eve, Google whines, Apple sounds alarms, and TikTok wants out

Ashley Belanger  |  Ars Technica

For months, some of the biggest tech companies have been wrapped up in discussions with the European Commission (EC), seeking feedback and tweaking their plans to ensure their core platform services comply with the Digital Markets Act (DMA) ahead of that law taking force in the European Union on March 7. Under the DMA, companies designated as gatekeepers—Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Apple, ByteDance, Meta, and Microsoft—must follow strict rules to ensure that they don't engage in unfair business practices that could limit consumer choice in core platform services. Although the EC has said that the DMA is intended to protect fair and open markets—theoretically offering users more choices to enhance transparency, privacy, security, and competition online—some tech companies have warned that some of the changes coming under the DMA may increase risks or decrease choices for their users. 

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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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