Daily Digest 4/27/2022 (Biden’s tech agenda)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Equity

Digital Literacy and Outreach are as Important as Physical Infrastructure, Panel Hears  |  Read below  |  Benjamin Kahn  |  Broadband Breakfast
Exploring Digital Equity Fact Sheets  |  Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Broadband Funding

House and Senate Republican Commerce Committee Leaders Share Broadband Program Priorities with NTIA  |  Read below  |  Sen Roger Wicker (R-MS), Sen John Thune (R-SD), Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Rep Bob Latta (R-OH)  |  Letter  |  House Commerce Committee, Senate Commerce Committee
Will Partnerships Bring Digital Equity to Rural America?  |  Read below  |  Julia Edinger  |  Government Technology

State/Local Initiatives

Local New Mexico Providers Form Fiber Network with Plans to Span the State  |  Read below  |  Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor
Broadband could take longer and cost more to deploy in Vermont than anticipated  |  Read below  |  Fred Thys  |  VTDigger
Broadband access is lacking in large portions of east central Ohio  |  Read below  |  Jon Baker  |  Times-Reporter
Cuyahoga County, Ohio, rolls out $20 million plan to connect thousands of residents to broadband  |  Read below  |  Lucas Daprile  |  Cleveland.com
Greeneville, Tennessee, Energy Authority Board approved a bond issuance of up to $14 million to help fund broadband internet  |  Greenville Sun
Madeleine Simmons | Universal broadband is a bipartisan responsibility  |  Reporter Newspapers
TDS bringing fiber to nearly 20,000 homes and businesses in Helena, Montana  |  TDS Telecommunications

Broadband Competition  

The History of Broadband Price Competition  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting
Fixed internet service providers lose $10.5 billion in revenue to cord cutters  |  Read below  |  Diana Goovaerts  |  Fierce
Average US Pay TV Customer Is Paying $204 a Month for Broadband and Video Entertainment, says TiVo  |  Read below  |  Daniel Frankel  |  Next TV
Starlink customers are frustrated with price hikes for uplink kits they still haven't received months after paying $100 deposits  |  Read below  |  Kate Duffy  |  Business Insider
The Perfect Internet Plan Doesn't Exist, Or Does It?  |  Read below  |  Eric Griffith  |  PC Magazine

Spectrum/Wireless

NTIA and Department of Defense Select 5G Challenge Contestants from Early-Bird Entries  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Platforms/Social Media

Biden’s tech agenda gets a reality check as Elon Musk buys Twitter  |  Read below  |  Cat Zakrzewski, Craig Timberg  |  Washington Post
Elon Musk paid $44 billion for a media property  |  Read below  |  Scott Rosenberg  |  Axios
Sen Warner Warns Elon Musk Against Twitter 'Backslide'  |  Broadcasting & Cable
EU commissioner for internet market: Twitter must follow rules on moderating illegal and harmful content online  |  Financial Times
The night after Musk takeover, a congressional Twitter shake-up: GOP gains followers, Democrats lose them  |  USA Today
Seven proposals for how Elon Musk should run Twitter  |  Los Angeles Times
Elon Musk plans to buy Twitter. What will that mean for its users? Here's what we know.  |  USA Today
Those Dedicated to Limiting Harmful Posts Worry About Twitter Under Musk  |  New York Times
Elon Musk’s deal for Twitter includes a $1 billion breakup fee.  |  New York Times
James Stewart: Selling Twitter to Elon Musk Is Good for Investors. What About the Public?  |  New York Times
Elon Musk Bets Twitter Users Will Like a More Freewheeling Platform  |  Wall Street Journal
Holman Jenkins | Elon Musk Can Fix Twitter Culture  |  Wall Street Journal
Vivek Ramaswamy and Jed Rubenfeld: How Elon Musk Can Liberate Twitter  |  Wall Street Journal
Could an Elon Musk-owned Twitter thrive with a subscription-only model?  |  USA Today
Will Oremus: Elon Musk and tech’s ‘great man’ fallacy  |  Washington Post
The stakes are high for Elon Musk’s personal finances, his backers and Twitter’s status as the 21st century’s public square  |  Wall Street Journal
Virginia Heffernan: Will Twitter survive Elon Musk? I’m sticking around to find out  |  Los Angeles Times
Elon Musk boosts criticism of Twitter executives, prompting online attacks  |  Washington Post
Trump’s Truth Social Rockets to No. 1 Spot on Apple App Chart After Elon Musk’s Purchase of Twitter  |  Wrap, The
Leaked Document indicates Facebook Doesn’t Know What It Does With Your Data, Or Where It Goes  |  Vice

Journalism

A new study shows what happens when big companies take over local news  |  NiemanLab
National Association of Broadcasters Chief LeGeyt Stresses Local Broadcast’s Role in Difficult Times  |  Broadcasting & Cable

Government & Communications

AT&T to Modernize Army National Guard's GuardNet Network  |  AT&T

Health

FCC Announces Forum on Geolocation for 988  |  Federal Communications Commission
AI could turn your phone into a mobile health lab  |  Digital Trends
Staring at an image of yourself on Zoom has serious consequences for mental health – especially for women  |  Conversation, The

Privacy

Congressional leaders are negotiating in earnest on long-stalled consumer-privacy legislation  |  Wall Street Journal
Online Privacy Protections Gain Traction With Lawmakers, Tech Industry  |  Wall Street Journal

Telecom

FTC Takes Action to Stop Voice over Internet Provider from Facilitating Illegal Telemarketing Robocalls  |  Federal Trade Commission

Company News

Alphabet’s profit drops 8 percent because investments declined in value.  |  New York Times

Microsoft reports rising revenue and profits, despite war and inflation.  |  New York Times

Comcast is serious about smart cities  |  CitiesToday

Lumen Cloud Communications Will Help Business Customers Retire POTS and Move to the Cloud  |  telecompetitor

Policymakers

Benton Foundation
Happy Belated Birthday, Andrew Jay Schwartzman  |  Read below  |  Adrianne Furniss  |  Editorial  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
FirstNet Authority Announces Departure of CEO Edward Parkinson  |  First Responder Network Authority
A Bittersweet “Goodbye” to SHLB’s First Employee, Emily Olson  |  Schools Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition
Today's Top Stories

Digital Equity

Digital Literacy and Outreach are as Important as Physical Infrastructure, Panel Hears

Benjamin Kahn  |  Broadband Breakfast

Broadband advocates argued that outreach and digital literacy are as important as infrastructure and are necessary to close the digital divide. National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer explained during a Protocol event April 21 that the government’s considerations need to extend beyond the deployment of physical broadband infrastructure and should be equally focused on addressing digital literacy and adoption efforts in underserved and unserved communities. Siefer listed several pitfalls that are often overlooked and only broaden the digital divide. Among them, she listed fees tied to digital literacy, such as securing devices to access the internet and the tech support necessary to make them usable. Additionally, she addressed the lack of trust that exists between historically underserved or unserved communities. “We have to understand the reasons that folks would not take free internet,” Siefer said about previous adoption programs. “I think we learned that lesson again and again at the height of the pandemic when lots of folks were trying to solve the affordability issues [by] paying for community members’ internet, and community members were saying ‘no,’ and they just walk away because free internet sounds like a scam.” She said that those running programs designed to help these communities have to consider the unique issues facing each community and then evaluate who the communities trust and how best to get information to them.

Broadband Funding

House and Senate Republican Commerce Committee Leaders Share Broadband Program Priorities with NTIA

Sen Roger Wicker (R-MS), Sen John Thune (R-SD), Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Rep Bob Latta (R-OH)  |  Letter  |  House Commerce Committee, Senate Commerce Committee

House Reps Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Robert Latta (R-OH), along with Sens Roger Wicker (R-MS) and John Thune (R-SD), sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Alan Davidson outlining their priorities for implementation of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA’s) Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA) broadband programs. The legislators call on the NTIA to:

  • Commit to using the FCC’s new broadband maps, once challenges are resolved, for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program and not rely on other data sources to supplement or substitute these maps;
  • Follow the IIJA’s directions on eligible project areas to avoid overbuilding;
  • Provide an equal opportunity for all broadband providers to compete for grants by not prioritizing municipal networks or networks run by nonprofits or cooperatives, and not favoring certain broadband technologies over others;
  • Avoid unnecessary requirements, such as net neutrality, burdensome labor regulations, and rate regulation;
  • Commit to transparency by allowing the public to provide input and review how the agency arrives at its decisions.

Will Partnerships Bring Digital Equity to Rural America?

Julia Edinger  |  Government Technology

More partnerships are being launched to combat the digital divide, and experts believe these collaborative efforts will continue to be an important part of the solution in rural America. Partnerships like Tucson Connected and The Town Link program in Oakland (CA) have demonstrated how local governments can partner with community organizations to offer individuals access to broadband and devices — as well as the necessary skills to make the most of these tools. For rural Americans, a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2021 found only 72 percent say they have access to a broadband Internet connection at home. So while stakeholders look optimistically — or skeptically — to the money coming to states and localities from the federal level through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), there is work to be done to ensure that this money is distributed in an equitable way. While some connectivity challenges are unique to rural communities, partnerships can help support adoption within communities through skills training, awareness campaigns and more.

State/Local

Local New Mexico Providers Form Fiber Network with Plans to Span the State

Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor

Eleven New Mexico telecom and broadband providers are planning a statewide fiber network to be known as NM Fiber Network LLC. The network is a “multi-year, multi-million dollar” undertaking, NM Fiber Network said. Between them, the 11 providers already have thousands of miles of fiber across the state. The project is expected to augment those assets by increasing capacity and improving reliability. The genesis of the NM Fiber Network was in the New Mexico Broadband Initiative Consortium formed by the governor’s office to develop a state broadband roadmap. The formation of NM Fiber Network “comes at a crucial time for the State of New Mexico as federal and state agencies are gearing up to distribute billions of dollars in broadband grant monies under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program established in the infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” the network stated.

Broadband could take longer and cost more to deploy in Vermont than anticipated

Fred Thys  |  VTDigger

Many Vermonters who live in rural towns have the least access to high-speed internet. And they could be waiting for a while before getting faster service. Vermont is counting on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for an ambitious plan to bring fiber-optic service to every home on the electric grid within five years. But Christine Hallquist, whom Gov Phil Scott (R-VT) appointed in 2021 to oversee the delivery of that service, said that inflation and supply-chain problems could slow the project. Hallquist, the executive director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board, said it would probably cost the state more than $1 billion to connect every home to fiber, so the state is counting on private telecommunications providers to take care of all the homes that already have cable. For the largely rural regions of the state without access to high-speed internet, Vermont is relying on a strategy of allowing municipalities to band together into communications union districts, or CUDs, to build fiber-optic service. Hallquist said that, last August, she estimated it would cost $550 million to connect every Vermont home without a reliable high-speed connection to fiber optic service. She said the board wanted to provide the communications union districts with 60 percent of the total cost of building out fiber networks, or $345 million in grants — if that estimate held. The districts could then go to the bond markets to borrow the rest. But Hallquist expects that number to continue to rise due to nationwide competition for labor and materials. 

Broadband access is lacking in large portions of east central Ohio

Jon Baker  |  Times-Reporter

A new broadband study has found that 38 percent of households in a 10-county area of east central Ohio — including Tuscarawas County — do not have access to FCC minimum internet speeds. While the need for reliable, affordable high-speed broadband for students, workers and businesses has existed for years, the COVID-19 pandemic made the situation worse as the shutdown shifted learning and work online. However, steps are being taken to address that need. For instance, Uhrichsville (OH)-based Smart Way Communications is working to expand the area it serves. Over the past year, the company has built wireless internet towers in Mineral City, Sherrodsville and Bowerston (OH), working in cooperation with Sandy Township (OH) trustees and the Conotton Valley (OH) school district. "Thanks to the board of education and Smart Way, I think we're providing some opportunities for our students and future opportunities soon for the community that they didn't have before," Conotton Valley Superintendent Todd Herman said.

Cuyahoga County, Ohio, rolls out $20 million plan to connect thousands of residents to broadband

Lucas Daprile  |  Cleveland.com

Up to 25,000 households in Cuyahoga County suburbs may be getting high-speed internet, under a plan announced April 22 by County Executive Armond Budish. Budish will introduce legislation to Cuyahoga County Council to use $20 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to connect some of the county’s least-connected residents. The service would come through a contract with local non-profit PCs for People. “Access to the internet and a home computer has become an essential tool in today’s world,” PCs for People Chief Innovation Officer Bryan Mauk said. “Without it, these residents are cut off from employment opportunities, education, healthcare, social connection, and so much more.” Residents who are eligible for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program subsidy would not have to pay for the internet service. Those who do not qualify for the federal program would be charged $15 per month. The county press release did not say what locations would receive high-speed internet, but described it as an area “across 77 census tracts where more than 20 percent of the population is unconnected and the average income is below the County’s Area Median Income.” Of the 25,000 households, up to 20,000 of them -- located in low-income suburbs -- would receive wireless internet. The remaining 5,000 or so households, in apartment buildings or housing authority complexes, would receive wired connections.

Competition

The History of Broadband Price Competition

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the broadband business is just over twenty-five years old. Cable companies have adopted another interesting way to compete through what is called hidden fees, which are fees that are not clearly identified when new customers sign for service. Hidden fees have been around a long time, but in recent years have become gigantic. The motivation for having hidden fees is clear – it lets a cable company advertise a low price for basic service by not mentioning the hidden fees. It’s an odd tactic since customers find out about all of the hidden fees when they get the first bill. The Federal Communications Commission has proposed to make it harder to use hidden fees by using a report card that will require internet service providers (ISP)s to report all of their charges. It’s going to be interesting to see how the report card changes the pricing strategies of the big ISPs. I have no doubt that it will force some changes, but as they’ve always done in the past, the big cable companies will find new ways to look like they have low rates while extracting as much money out of customers as possible.

[Doug Dawson is President of CCG Consulting.]

Fixed internet service providers lose $10.5 billion in revenue to cord cutters

Diana Goovaerts  |  Fierce

New research from Parks Associates found the number of broadband cord cutters in the US has risen over the past year, with operators missing out on billions in revenue as a result. The firm’s latest figures show there are now 13.9 million home internet cord cutters in the country, up from just over 12 million in March 2021. Last year, consumers cited high cost as the primary reason for dropping their fixed service. Parks Associates noted the average monthly cost of home internet, including both standalone and bundled service, is now $116. That compares to a standalone service cost of $64 and a fixed-mobile bundled cost of $128 per month as of June 2021. Beyond cost, around 50 percent of consumers said they prefer using the mobile internet or their mobile devices for broadband access as their reason for cutting the cord. Other reasons for cancellation included issues with a former service provider, failure to sign up for service following a recent move, a lack of access to home internet services and low internet usage. All told, Parks Associates estimated cord cutters represent a $10.5 billion missed revenue opportunity for US providers.

Average US Pay TV Customer Is Paying $204 a Month for Broadband and Video Entertainment, says TiVo

Daniel Frankel  |  Next TV

Americans are paying almost as much for connected living room services as they are for electricity, natural gas and water, according to TiVo's Q4 Video Trends Report. TiVo's latest survey said that US consumers who still take traditional bundled video are spending, on average, $124.40 a month for pay TV and broadband, up 11 percent in the six months from when TiVo conducted its Q2 report in 2021. Add to that a bill Netflix and other subscription streaming services, and pay TV consumers are forking out an average of $203.60 a month for internet and video entertainment. TiVo headlined its latest Q4 survey, "The Great Rebundling Possibly Reaching Point of Saturation." And yes, there are other indicators that consumers simply can't afford to buy anymore Peak TV. Within the next six months, a quarter of respondents said they are likely to cancel one or more SVOD services.  The average number of total video services used by US consumers reached 8.8 in the second quarter of 2021, up over 6.9 at the end of 2020. But indicating a post-pandemic deceleration, the average grew to just 8.9 services in the fourth quarter of last year.

Starlink customers are frustrated with price hikes for uplink kits they still haven't received months after paying $100 deposits

Kate Duffy  |  Business Insider

In March 2022, SpaceX told its customers it was raising prices because of inflation, among other things. The price of a Starlink uplink kit rose from $500 to $550 for customers that had already paid a $100 deposit for the service, and from $500 to $600 for new customers. The monthly Starlink subscription cost climbed from $99 to $110 for all users, and many are frustrated with Starlink's delays, price hikes and apparent lack of customer service. "I feel I was scammed by Starlink," said Alan Sbi, a Starlink customer who hasn't received his uplink kit after a year of waiting and has not been able to contact the company for a refund. "This is not fair business practices. The company had my money for over a year, I need that money back, there shouldn't be any conditions on how to receive my money back." Rich Kecher, in south Virginia, said he'd had trouble getting his Starlink deposit refunded after about a year. He spoke of an "outrageous lack of communication" from Starlink, which had pushed back its expected start date for service in his area from November 2021 to late-2022. Lluc Palerm, an analyst at Northern Sky Research, said Starlink was "not putting resources into customer services so it's natural that you get those kind of complaints." Palerm added, "They are a startup, and their main focus now is on the constellation and development, so it's not surprising that their customers have received very little support."

The Perfect Internet Plan Doesn't Exist, Or Does It?

Eric Griffith  |  PC Magazine

What is the perfect home-internet plan? A new survey from HighSpeedInternet.com figured it out based on the opinions of 1,002 US adults who have made at least one internet-plan switch in the past three years. Most customers covet a fiber-to-the-home connection running a minimum of 650 megabits per second, costing about $50 a month, preferable a little less. Why is that the sweet spot? Because the plans most people have now are far too expensive. The pandemic, of course, played a part. A third of the respondents want faster and cheaper connections, probably because they're working from home. The other key takeaway: Plans are utterly baffling to the average consumer. More than half of survey respondents think they've been taken advantage of by an ISP. Imagine any other business where that would be tolerated; it's the very definition of monopoly privilege.

Spectrum

NTIA and Department of Defense Select 5G Challenge Contestants from Early-Bird Entries

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS), in Boulder (CO) in collaboration with the Department of Defense (DoD), announced 5G Challenge contestants selected from Early-Bird entries. This prize competition aims to accelerate the adoption of open interfaces, interoperable components, and multi-vendor solutions toward the development of an open 5G ecosystem. After evaluating Early-Bird white papers, the 5G Challenge selected Rakuten Mobile USA’s Central Unit (CU) and Distributed Unit (DU) for interoperability testing with the 5G Challenge host lab, CableLabs. The 5G Challenge Preliminary Event: RAN Subsystem Interoperability remains open for applications through May 5, 2022. The 5G Challenge will accept up to 8 additional subsystems. In this 2022 first-year 5G Challenge Preliminary Event, ITS will award part of the total $3 million prize purse to contestants who submit winning hardware and/or software solutions for one or more of these 5G network subsystems: DU; CU; and Radio Unit (RU).

Platforms/Social Media

Biden’s tech agenda gets a reality check as Elon Musk buys Twitter

Cat Zakrzewski, Craig Timberg  |  Washington Post

The Biden administration arrived in Washington with an ambitious agenda for taming Big Tech, which it portrayed as concentrating too much power in the hands of a few billionaires — the moguls of a new, digital Gilded Age. Elon Musk’s $44 billion deal to buy Twitter has put that critique into sharp relief, underscoring how badly Biden’s tech agenda has stalled in the 15 months since taking the White House. The world’s richest person has bought one of its most influential social media platforms — and Washington’s hands are largely tied. Musk, notorious for flouting regulators and running afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission, will wield enormous discretion over thorny decisions about what content stays on and off the social network, and how the company handles the data privacy of its millions of users. By taking the company private, Musk will be subject to even less scrutiny than powerful executives of other publicly traded companies, such as Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Lawmakers now find themselves stymied, after failing for years to implement guardrails on social media companies that might force greater accountability of Musk. The deal does not present obvious antitrust conflicts, exposing the limits of Congress’s recent focus on regulating the largest tech platforms.

Elon Musk paid $44 billion for a media property

Scott Rosenberg  |  Axios

Twitter's most precious asset isn't its technology, its business, its data, or its employees. What makes Twitter unique is the attention it has won from the media profession — and that is what Elon Musk bought for $44 billion. Journalists fell in love with Twitter because it's a fast, open medium for sharing news. Then their presence on the platform transformed what was once just a buzzy, ephemeral social network into a conduit for world leaders, public institutions and social debates. In announcing that his offer to buy the company had been accepted, Musk called Twitter "the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated." Town squares are generally run by town governments. When private companies own them, we call them "malls." By the numbers, in the Big Tech wars Twitter is only a bit player. Musk's purchase of Twitter, then, is less a big move in the tech industry's platform wars than the latest instance of a digital billionaire buying up a media institution.

Policymakers

Happy Belated Birthday, Andrew Jay Schwartzman

Adrianne Furniss  |  Editorial  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

At our 40th Anniversary celebration on April 6, we were delighted to honor Andrew Jay Schwartzman and celebrate his 75th birthday. If you are not familiar with Andy's work, he is known to his friends, colleagues, and mentees as the “dean” of the public interest communications bar—someone who has devoted his professional life to making the communications landscape better for us all. Andy is the recent winner of the James Wilson Award, the highest honor the University of Pennsylvania Law Alumni Society bestows on its graduates—which, by coincidence, was timed perfectly to his 50th law school reunion. The James Wilson Award is presented each year to a member of the alumni community in honor of a lifetime of service in the profession. Andy's career has been long and impactful. Happy birthday, Andy. We are so thankful for all you have done to advance public interest communications policy—and so excited that we can continue to work together to achieve broadband’s full promise and potential. 

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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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Kevin Taglang

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Benton Institute
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