Friday, April 15, 2022
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The Federal Communications Commission published its Equity Action Plan. This Action Plan focuses on concrete actions that the FCC is taking so that people across the country can count on and obtain access to the modern communications they need for work, learning, healthcare, and access to the information they require to make decisions about their lives, their communities, and their country. Among these actions, the FCC was given the responsibility in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to adopt rules to “facilitate equal access” to broadband, taking into account technical and economic feasibility, including by preventing digital discrimination of access based on income, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin and identifying necessary steps to eliminate such discrimination. Consistent with the Communications Act and as directed by the IIJA, the FCC has established a Task Force to Prevent Digital Discrimination and is working towards a proceeding regarding the prevention of digital discrimination.
The Department of Commerce released its Equity Action Plan for ensuring its programming and policies reach a larger and more diverse audience. In addition to the Department’s Fiscal Year 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, the Equity Action Plan outlines how Commerce will use its programs and tools to:
- Close the digital divide
- Ensure community development dollars advance racial equity and support underserved communities
- Grow Minority Business Enterprises (MBE)
- Strengthen small businesses in underserved communities by helping them be successful exporters
- Increase access to the patent and trademark systems for inventors and entrepreneurs from historically underserved communities
- Make Department of Commerce science and data more findable, accessible, and usable
This study investigates the determinants of Internet access and its effect of it on educational inequality in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic. The findings from the study reveal that despite the increase in Internet access during the Covid-19 period, the response to the pandemic has caused education inequalities. Furthermore, economic development indicators are effective in increasing Internet access and reducing educational inequality. Finally, the study shows that improvements in income levels can increase Internet access, which results in a reduction in educational inequality.
Despite the prevalence of online, hybrid and HyFlex classes in higher education, course accessibility is far from equal across student bodies. Even at larger, wealthier institutions like Indiana University Bloomington and The Ohio State University, a significant number of students lack the technological access necessary to fully participate. With a third of low-income students and 25 percent of all students battling unreliable internet access, evidence of this trend can be seen throughout the country. Access to campus computer labs isn’t always possible, especially for off-campus students. Higher education is home to a substantial and worrisome digital equity gap, a digital divide in desperate need of a bridge. “Our colleagues that are working in rural spaces, our colleagues that are working at tribal colleges, indigenous communities — the divide in broadband access is prohibitive,” says Mordecai Ian Brownlee, president of the Community College of Aurora. “Programs that would truly promote social and economic mobility are hindered and prevented due to the lack of infrastructure in these various communities.” Brownlee goes on to say he believes this digital equity gap represents a lack of focus on national infrastructure. “What are we doing to ensure these communities are receiving the access that they need? The access equates to opportunity.”
The Federal Communications Commission's Broadband Data Task Force, Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), and Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA) announce that fixed broadband service providers may now access a preliminary version of the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (Fabric) to assist them in preparing their broadband availability data for the Broadband Data Collection (BDC). This preliminary version of the Fabric will help fixed service providers with developing processes to prepare their availability data submissions. Broadband availability data can be submitted in the BDC beginning on June 30, 2022 and are due no later than September 1, 2022. The Broadband Data Task Force, WCB, and OEA also provide details on the data sources and elements included in the Fabric, as well as guidance to broadband service providers on how to prepare fixed broadband availability data that conform with the Fabric as part of their biannual BDC filings. Specifically, this Public Notice: (1) provides information for providers of fixed broadband service on how to access the preliminary Fabric; (2) identifies the data sources used in, and elements of, the Fabric; (3) confirms that the Fabric will identify broadband serviceable locations using a unique, FCC-issued identifier (Location ID), a set of latitude/longitude coordinates within the boundaries of each structure, and, where feasible, a street address; and (4) specifies that fixed broadband providers that do not use availability polygons must submit their broadband availability data using the unique Location IDs in the Fabric.
Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, said his agency is taking a customer service approach to overseeing the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) initiative going to the states for broadband buildout. Each state will have a point person at NTIA to make sure stakeholders know how to apply for the money, Davidson said. Davidson signaled that while the Biden administration has emphasized fiber, states will have the flexibility to use the money as they choose, as long as it is put toward the goal of getting broadband to the unserved and underserved. “We expect there will be flexibility,” he said. “Different states are going to run programs in different ways.” The statute gives states that flexibility, he said, so it is not a one-size-fits-all program. Connect Americans Now Executive Director Richard Cullen praised Davidson, stating, “Connect Americans Now commends Administrator Davidson for reaffirming NTIA’s commitment to ensuring states and broadband providers have the flexibility needed to maximize the positive impact, reach and cost-effectiveness of deployments targeted at eliminating the digital divide."
Congress has appropriated tens of billions of dollars for a variety of programs to help fill the digital gap exposed by the pandemic when millions of people were locked down in their homes with no way to study, work or get online medical care. The first of those funds are reaching municipalities, businesses and other groups involved in the effort, but some say supply chain issues, labor shortages and geographic constraints will slow the rollout. The demand for fiber optic cable goes beyond wired broadband to homes and businesses. The cable will help provide the 5G technology now being rolled out by wireless communications providers. Currently, some working to expand broadband say delays in getting the fiber optic cable they need can exceed a year. Meanwhile, there’s a labor shortage for installing the cable. Many in the industry are setting up educational programs to train people to work with the fiber, said Jim Hayes, of the Santa Monica, California-based Fiber Optic Association.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill appears to transform how the federal government subsidizes broadband infrastructure. But evidence suggests that big companies may not allow the status quo to change without a fight. In a break from the past, the majority of new broadband infrastructure money won’t be distributed by the Federal Communications Commission, which tended to award grants to the biggest companies. This time, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will distribute the funds through the states as part of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. Peggy Schaffer, executive director of the ConnectMaine Authority, said BEAD shifts the broadband conversation toward the consumer and state economic development, which has caused “a lot of angst on part of the industry who have never worked with the states before, who have maintained a monopolistic view of their network and controlled their network.” “This is the first time Congress has stopped and said, ‘You know, what we had been doing through the FCC and others — giving money to big companies who can get their stuff together and bid — is not working. It is time to have a new strategy,’” Schaffer remarked. Schaffer also shared a strictly pragmatic view when it comes to BEAD applications. As much as anyone may or may not like the new status quo with federal broadband dollars, it’s up to each organization to adapt.
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA)'s Chairman of the Board Todd Harpest sent a letter to 17 Members of the US House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology reiterating support for a technologically neutral approach to the Infrastructure Investment and Job Act's (IIJA) broadband deployment, affordability and digital equity support programs. The letter was in response to a March 21, 2022 letter the lawmakers sent to the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator, Alan Davidson, which outlined their priorities for the implementation and outlay of IIJA's $65 billion in funding. "“A core aspect of the IIJA is its tech-neutral framework for broadband deployment," Harpest said. "Congress wisely rejected prioritizing any given technology over others, realizing that such a choice would undermine the broad goals to connect all Americans to reliable internet access. This all-of-the-above approach invites a diversity of broadband solutions to the table because it recognizes America is not a one-size-fits-all nation."
On April 12, Dish Network sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Secretary Marlene Dortch urging the Commission to reconsider its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) award to SpaceX's Starlink. Dish said, "SpaceX cannot credibly claim that it will be able to fulfill its obligations under the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction rules." The company included four studies in the letter that it states show SpaceX would violate the conditions for using the 12 GHz band for RDOF. The letter concludes, "SpaceX can have no confidence that it can use the 12 GHz band to fulfill its RDOF obligations, and the Commission should deny its petition for designation as an eligible telecommunications carrier to the extent it is based on the 12 GHz band."
The pandemic brought all kinds of innovative approaches to stubborn challenges: Small towns in Grafton County (NH) saw opportunities for business development, innovative school programs, and upgrading the way the local government functioned. But political will didn’t prevent the county from making these changes; poor internet service did. A lot of hard work, political capital and local and federal funding has been committed to improving Grafton County’s connectivity, resulting in the launch of broadband service in the Town of Bristol (NH) in September 2021. The group that launched that initiative now works with communities throughout the county to expand broadband. This service is long overdue and much needed if the region is to remain healthy, safe and positioned to reap the benefits of the digital economy. Unfortunately, local efforts have been challenged by the same internet service providers (ISPs) that refused to provide adequate service to local communities in the first place. I urge federal reform to level the playing field, end anti-competitive tactics, and lift the burden of proving internet speeds from grant applicants such as Grafton County.
[Nicholas Coates is the town administrator of Bristol, New Hampshire, and Grafton County Broadband Committee chair.]
The last two years or so have seen a slew of broadband providers rename either themselves or their services. Some are even using a brand name as though it was a company, issuing press releases that scarcely reference the official corporate identity, instead using only the brand name as the protagonist. In the latter category is Windstream, which routinely issues press releases under the Kinetic name. Charter, which announced the Spectrum brand back in 2014, more recently has adopted the same approach in its press releases. Why all the new brands and corporate identities? “Some brands are switching away from being a geographically parochial brand like Cincinnati Bell to become something broader like Altafiber,” said Lorenzo Coruzzi, associate director at Brand Finance. That logic also could explain why Atlantic Broadband became Breezeline. Never was the saying “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard” more pertinent in the broadband business. With that in mind, telecompetitor created just such a scorecard.
The Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda for its upcoming Open Commission Meeting on April 21, 2022. The following items are on the agenda; the FCC will consider:
- A Notice of Inquiry to promote more efficient use of spectrum through improved receiver interference immunity performance, thereby facilitating the introduction of new and innovative services.
- A Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on proposals to strengthen the effectiveness of Wireless Emergency Alerts, including through public reporting on the reliability, speed, and accuracy of these alerts.
- Two restricted adjudicatory matters.
- An enforcement action.
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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