Daily Digest 4/14/2022 (Elon Musk)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Equity

How to Apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program  |  Read below  |  Trey Paul  |  C|Net

Broadband Infrastructure

NTIA's Alan Davidson Sees $1 Billion Middle Mile Program Moving Fast, Encourages State Engagement  |  Read below  |  Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor
Sen Capito Stresses Need for Reforms to Rules Hindering Broadband Deployment  |  Read below  |  Sen Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)  |  Letter  |  US Senate
Are Federal Broadband Grants Taxable?  |  Read below  |  John Bailey  |  Analysis  |  American Enterprise Institute

State/local Initiatives

Golden State Connect Authority and UTOPIA Fiber Partner to Deploy High-Speed Internet in Rural California  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Golden State Connect Authority
Rappahannock County receives contract outlining details of proposed broadband expansion  |  Rappahannock News
Entiat and Leavenworth, Washington, get federal broadband funding boost  |  Wenatchee World

Broadband Service

Why Is My Internet So Slow?  |  Markup, The


Rural operators are encouraged by upcoming 2.5 GHz auction  |  Read below  |  Sue Marek  |  Fierce
T-Mobile Fixed Wireless is Overperforming in Rural Markets  |  Read below  |  Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor


Federal government discovers attempted cyberattack on an undersea cable in Hawaii  |  Read below  |  Peter Boylan  |  Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Platforms/Social Media

Elon Musk launches hostile takeover bid of Twitter  |  Washington Post
Crimefighting in the metaverse  |  Read below  |  Derek Robertson  |  Politico
What’s Missing and Misunderstood in Section 230 Debates  |  Government Technology
TikTok created an alternate universe just for Russia  |  Washington Post


FCC Extends Waiver of Rural Health Care Program's Telecom Program Rural Rates Database for Alaska through Funding Year 2023  |  Federal Communications Commission

Emergency Communications

FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Supports Job Reclassification Of 911 Professionals Due To Expanded Responsibilities  |  Federal Communications Commission
NTIA Celebrates National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week  |  National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Company News

Deutsche Telekom raises stake in T-Mobile  |  Read below  |  Monica Alleven  |  Fierce
Today's Top Stories

Digital Equity

How to Apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program

Trey Paul  |  C|Net

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's the importance of having a reliable internet connection at home. In 2021, the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program was established to help low-income families and those who had lost income during COVID-19. In 2022, the EBB was shuttered and replaced with the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), one of several broadband-focused initiatives in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021. The ACP aims to help households afford the internet connections so desperately needed to keep pace with our rapidly changing world. Those who qualify will receive a discount of $30 a month off their internet bill. That amount goes up to $75 a month for households on Tribal lands. As of early April, more than 11 million households in the US have signed up. Scores of internet service providers have committed to being involved with the ACP. You can reference the Federal Communication Commission's state-by-state list to determine which internet service providers are available in your area. Let's walk through what else you need to know to take advantage of the ACP.


NTIA's Alan Davidson Sees $1 Billion Middle Mile Program Moving Fast, Encourages State Engagement

Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor

As the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) gears up to administer the $42.5 billion Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) rural broadband infrastructure funding program, NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson gave an update at a Washington (DC) event on April 13. Among many broadband infrastructure funding topics discussed, Davidson seemed particularly upbeat about progress with the $1 billion Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, which is a component of the larger $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The $1 billion allocated in the IIJA for middle mile network deployments could be awarded in advance of the $42.5 billion for last-mile networks, Davidson noted. The reason is that unlike the BEAD rural broadband funding program, the middle mile program is not dependent on the completion of the FCC broadband mapping project. NTIA is also adopting a “customer service” mindset toward state broadband agencies that will be responsible for awarding funding to network operators in their states, said Davidson. Asked what states should do to prepare for the program and in a nod to infomercials and telethons, Davidson joked that “operators are standing by” to take calls from the states.

Sen Capito Stresses Need for Reforms to Rules Hindering Broadband Deployment

Sen Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)  |  Letter  |  US Senate

Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) wrote a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel regarding the issue of pole attachments. Specifically, Sen Capito stressed that the high costs and long waits imposed by pole owners when poles need to be replaced are hindering the progress of broadband deployment. "There are many reasons for the stubborn lack of broadband access in rural communities, but with recent congressional action, funding is no longer one of them," said Capito. "I strongly supported the broadband funding in the various pandemic relief bills and the recent bipartisan infrastructure bill that allocated $65 billion specifically for broadband expansion. Yet while Congress and the Commission move to connect every West Virginian to an online future, outdated regulations still stand in the way." Capito continued, "Reforms are needed to ensure better, fairer rules, speed up deployment, and more equitably distribute costs between broadband providers and pole owners when poles need to be replaced. The high costs and long waits imposed by pole owners on broadband providers slow down broadband expansion in rural America. Enacting commonsense reforms that promote fair and timely access to poles will ensure broadband access expands into our country's rural and hard-to-reach areas."

Are Federal Broadband Grants Taxable?

John Bailey  |  Analysis  |  American Enterprise Institute

Casey Lide of Keller & Heckman recently wrote a blog post warning that federal grant funding might be considered taxable income by the IRS. This unexpected tax liability could severely curtail the impact of these programs in expanding affordable broadband connectivity and closing the digital divide. There are two potential ways of addressing this issue. First, the administration may be able to use existing executive authority to provide an exemption. The IRS has already clarified that emergency financial aid grants under the CARES Act are not treated as taxable income. However, other projects supported by federal recovery funds have been deemed taxable. The administration’s hands may be tied if they lack sufficient authority to thread this needle and extend protections to these broadband projects. Second, Congress could pass a technical fix to extend the exemption to broadband projects funded under the ARP and IIJA. This could possibly be attached to the supplemental COVID-19 relief package making its way through Congress or the bipartisan innovation package which is going to conference in the coming weeks. In many respects, this may be the preferred approach as it would provide the legal certainty and clarity needed to encourage participation in the programs. Regardless, there is a sense of urgency in having this clarification given that states are beginning to develop broadband plans for the BEAD program and providers are making strategic decisions with respect to their build-out plans funded by the federal programs.

[John Bailey is a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.]


Golden State Connect Authority and UTOPIA Fiber Partner to Deploy High-Speed Internet in Rural California

Press Release  |  Golden State Connect Authority

Golden State Connect Authority (GSCA) has entered a partnership with Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) Fiber to assist in the development and operation of reliable, affordable high-speed internet infrastructure in rural California. This partnership will bolster the efforts of GSCA to bridge the divide in internet access across its 38 rural member counties through the deployment of an Open-Access, municipal broadband fiber network. GSCA is currently identifying project locations in rural California for the installation of broadband fiber networks, beginning with select initial locations and then expanding to additional project areas. These projects will utilize an Open-Access municipal broadband model, under which multiple internet service providers use the same publicly owned high-speed network to provide a range of services to homes and businesses. This enables increased competition among internet service providers and greater assurance of affordability for consumers. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) initiating the partnership was approved by the GSCA Board of Directors on March 25 and the UTOPIA Fiber Board on April 11. The MOU contemplates that UTOPIA Fiber will provide administrative services for GSCA’s proposed broadband networks utilizing their vast experience building and operating similar Open-Access, municipal networks in other locations in the nation.


Rural operators are encouraged by upcoming 2.5 GHz auction

Sue Marek  |  Fierce

The Federal Communications Commission’s upcoming 2.5 GHz spectrum auction is generating some excitement among smaller rural US operators because of the FCC’s decision to offer flexible-use, county-based overlay licenses. The auction, which will start July 29, will be for licenses in the 2.5 GHz band where no one currently owns the spectrum. Top executives at several smaller operators have said that they were encouraged by the FCC’s format for Auction 108 because it will be amenable to rural operators. “We like this auction because it’s rural focused,” said Brighid Riordan, CEO of Cellcom, a Wisconsin-based operator. “When we look at auctions, and they’re for the large PEAs [partial economic areas], they tend to scoop in some areas that everybody wants,” she added. “That makes the prices go up.” For example, during the C-Band auction, the FCC issued PEA licenses, each covering fairly large areas and often including a larger market that was appealing to the big wireless operators. Appalachian Wireless CEO Allen Gillum agreed with Riordan, adding that during previous spectrum auctions, his company had to invest a lot of money to buy spectrum licenses that included areas outside its footprint. Gillum said that his company is planning to participate in the upcoming auction. “We will participate in it on a county-by-county basis.” T-Mobile's Steve Sharkey was very complimentary of the FCC’s auction rules established for the 2.5 GHz auction. The company is interested in Auction 108 because it already owns or leases much of the 2.5 GHz spectrum in the US and wants to fill in the gaps in its coverage.

T-Mobile Fixed Wireless is Overperforming in Rural Markets

Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor

One-third of T-Mobile fixed wireless access (FWA) subscribers are in rural areas, according to an estimate from telecom financial analysts at MoffettNathanson. It’s a surprising finding, considering that the analysts estimate that only 6 percent of locations that can get T-Mobile fixed wireless are in rural areas. Forty-four percent of T-Mobile fixed wireless subscribers are in urban census blocks, which represent 74 percent of locations that can get T-Mobile fixed wireless, according to the estimates. And suburbia comprises the remaining 23 percent of subscribers and 20 percent of passing. MoffettNathanson based its estimates on data from Comlinkdata, a provider of granular telecom network data. It’s an important analysis considering that T-Mobile and Verizon together gained 719,000 FWA subscribers in 2021 and stakeholders want to know where the subscribers are coming from. The analysts looked at Verizon’s FWA availability and subscribership, as well as T-Mobile’s, but declined to draw any conclusions about Verizon because until recently, Verizon had FWA available only in the millimeter-wave band, which has been deployed primarily in urban areas.


Federal government discovers attempted cyberattack on an undersea cable in Hawaii

Peter Boylan  |  Honolulu Star-Advertiser

A cyberattack targeting an underwater cable that could have shut down telephone services, financial transactions, internet and cable connectivity in Hawaii was foiled by federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations. The servers of a private Oahu company responsible for managing a trans-Pacific undersea cable that connects Hawaii and the Pacific region were targeted by an international hacking group, according to HSI, the investigative unit of the US Department of Homeland Security. Acting on a tip from out-of-state colleagues, federal agents identified the cyberattack and took measures to block access, according to HSI. A suspect was arrested in an “international location.” More than 95 percent of international data and voice transfers are routed through fiber-optic cables laid across the seafloor, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What happens when an island loses complete connectivity became apparent in October 2019 when an islandwide outage of phone service, the 911 system and internet and cable TV service occurred on Kauai after a third-party carrier’s network fiber was damaged. “Hawaii is absolutely dependent on the trans-Pacific and undersea cables for our connectivity,” said Burt Lum, broadband strategy officer for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. “If they did a massive cyberattack that potentially hit multiple trans-Pacific lines … and they were able to somehow sever redundant paths, you could put a lot of businesses out of commission as well as affect the ability for the Department of Defense to communicate from Hawaii.”


Crimefighting in the metaverse

Derek Robertson  |  Politico

Crime might seem like a fake issue to the promoters of the metaverse — the kind of thing waved around by skeptics who “don’t get it.” But consumers are already thinking about it, and so is the industry. In a recent Morning Consult poll 70 percent of respondents said virtual abuse was either a “major” or “minor” problem. Reports of sexual harassment have dogged Facebook’s Horizon Worlds platform since its inception. The XR Association, the industry’s leading trade group, raised the question more gingerly in a new report published April 13, suggesting that “existing laws and policies need to be reviewed to see whether they should be modernized and if any policy gaps exist.” The report, written by the Bipartisan Policy Center, also flagged the possible implications for tort law, labor discrimination, worker safety and civil rights as people migrate more of their lives to virtual spaces. Right now, the responsibility of playing cop mostly falls on companies. Meta has already put guardrails in place to prevent harassment incidents in Horizon Worlds, including a virtual bubble that prevents users from coming too near to each other. Roblox, by far the biggest currently-operating virtual space, has been combating inappropriate content on its platform (which is largely populated by children) for years. As for the role of “real” courts and law enforcement in a virtual space? That’s still an open question within our current, two-dimensional internet infrastructure.

Company News

Deutsche Telekom raises stake in T-Mobile

Monica Alleven  |  Fierce

Deutsche Telekom is making good on its promise to become majority owner of T-Mobile US, paying $2.4 billion to SoftBank Group to increase its stake to 48.4 percent in the US company. Deutsche Telekom (DT), based in Bonn, Germany, bought 21.2 million T-Mobile shares at an average price of $113 per share. The move raised its stake in T-Mobile by 5.3 percent. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it was part of a plan announced in 2021. In September, Japan’s SoftBank agreed to exchange about 45 million T-Mobile shares for a 4.5 percent stake in Deutsche Telekom. As Bloomberg explained, the deal allowed SoftBank to borrow against its T-Mobile stake as long as Deutsche Telekom gets to vote the shares pledged as collateral. SoftBank still holds about 39.7 million shares in T-Mobile, now worth about $5.2 billion. DT made clear it wants to have majority ownership of the US operator, which in 2021 cemented its position as the Number 2 wireless provider in the US by subscribers. T-Mobile has become a darling of sorts for US investment analysts, boasting 5G leadership and synergies brought from the Sprint merger. T-Mobile is also shifting more attention to areas where it previously didn’t have much share at all, namely enterprise and rural markets.

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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) and Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.

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