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Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced that the items below are tentatively on the agenda for the May Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Thursday, May 19, 2022. The FCC will consider:
- Combatting Illegal Robocalls: A Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration, and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing foreign-originated and other illegal robocalls from multiple angles. (CG Docket No. 17-59; WC Docket No. 17-97)
- Expanding Broadband Service Through the A-CAM Program: A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on a proposal by the ACAM Broadband Coalition to achieve widespread deployment of 100/20 Mbps broadband service throughout the rural areas served by carriers currently receiving Alternative Connect America Model support, and proposing targeted modifications to the Commission’s rules to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the high-cost program. (WC Docket Nos. 10-90, 14-58, 09-197, 16- 271, RM-11868)
- Modernizing Priority Services for National Security and Emergency Response: A Report and Order that would update and streamline its rules providing priority provision and restoration of service for national security and emergency response users. (PS Docket No. 20-187)
- Updating FM Radio Directional Antenna Verification: A Report and Order to allow applicants proposing directional FM antennas the option of verifying the directional antenna pattern through computer modeling. (MB Docket No. 21-422)
- An Enforcement Bureau Action
A political commitment by the United States and 60 partners from around the globe to advance a positive vision for the Internet and digital technologies. It reclaims the promise of the Internet in the face of the global opportunities and challenges presented by the 21st century. It also reaffirms and recommits its partners to a single global Internet—one that is truly open and fosters competition, privacy, and respect for human rights. The Declaration’s principles include commitments to:
Protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people;
Promote a global Internet that advances the free flow of information;
Advance inclusive and affordable connectivity so that all people can benefit from the digital economy;
Promote trust in the global digital ecosystem, including through protection of privacy; and
Protect and strengthen the multistakeholder approach to governance that keeps the Internet running for the benefit of all.
The role of technology and importance of access to high-speed broadband has become glaringly obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic. High-speed Internet is a tool people rely upon to conduct the daily business of their life and interact with each other, the economy, and government. However, millions of people in the USA still have no home access to high-speed Internet. Low-income, people of color, older, Native Americans, and rural residents in particular are on the wrong side of the digital divide. This structural reality perpetuates social, economic, and political disparities. Consistent with a social work human rights approach, the United Nations General Assembly declared access to the Internet a basic human right in 2016. This calls upon social workers to engage in advocacy efforts to advance policy and programs to alleviate the digital divide. In this article, we examine the digital divide in the USA and discuss why it is a social justice and human rights issue. We provide a policy context and recent examples of state or local policy initiatives to reduce the digital divide. Prominent among them is California’s Internet for All Now Act. We also identify and share promising practices and advocacy tools being used in the field that provide guidance to community practitioners as they engage in work at state and local levels aimed at closing the digital divide.
On President Biden's first day in office, he signed the Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. The January 20, 2021 order states that the federal government must pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all. In doing this, the President tasked all executive departments and agencies with recognizing and working to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity. Federal agencies were to pursue more equitable goals and policy reforms. But how would they be held accountable? The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was put in charge of this effort. The executive order dictates that the head of each agency shall, in consultation with the Director of OMB, select certain of the agency’s programs and policies for a review that will assess whether underserved communities and their members face systemic barriers in accessing benefits and opportunities available pursuant to those policies and programs. Then, each agency should produce a plan for addressing those barriers to equity. A year and some months after the President's executive order, federal agencies have submitted their Equity Action Plans. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) have all submitted plans including the advancement of equity in federal broadband programs and policies. Here, we look at how the federal government's chief broadband agencies are working towards equitable broadband for all.
This guide provides state and territory leaders with simple, tactical steps to prepare now for planning and eventual implementation of digital equity strategies. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Digital Equity Act (DEA) funds the creation and implementation of statewide digital equity plans. The opportunity the IIJA provides to states is the chance to step back and thoughtfully design a statewide digital equity strategy to holistically meet the unique needs of each state’s residents, leverage the state’s assets, and identify innovative and creative solutions to achieve digital equity within the state. The Digital Inclusion Guide for States is a timely tool to prepare for the forthcoming planning opportunity the DEA provides. The guide includes digital inclusion essentials, an overview of the DEA, an estimated timeline, tips for preparing for the planning requirements, recommendations for weaving digital equity throughout all state-led broadband activities, and ideas and best practices from other states with digital inclusion activities already underway. There are two main recommendations for states to start on right now: 1) building state digital equity capacity, and 2) creating a plan for constructing the DEA plan.
There is no silver bullet to the complex economic, cultural, technical and policy barriers to bringing more of the world’s citizens online. Advocates of expanding internet use say that being connected is an economic engine and increasingly a necessity of modern life. An internet connection is also a minimum condition for internet companies to reach potential customers. Ana Maria Rodriguez, a research analyst with the advocacy group the Alliance for Affordable Internet, said that official figures of online users might drastically underestimate how many people don’t have regular access to the internet, can’t afford to go online often, have poor service or some combination thereof. She said that the World Bank and UN counted an internet user as anyone who had gone online at least once in the past three months. By their figures, two-thirds of people in Colombia were online as of 2019. But research from the Alliance for Affordable Internet found that only one-quarter of Colombians had “meaningful” access, which included consistent online connections at relatively quick speeds. Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other tech companies and executives have various projects to help expand internet access or tailor their apps for countries where millions of people may be going online for the first time. Rodriguez, whose group receives funding from tech companies, said that doing even more could help billions of people — and corporations’ bottom lines. “It’s in their interest to reach these people,” Rodriguez told me, referring to the global internet companies.
[Shira Ovide writes the On Tech newsletter for the New York Times.]
The Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $1.7 million CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to Northwest Central Indiana Community Partnerships, Inc., West Lafayette, Indiana, to expand broadband access in Central Indiana in support of the region’s manufacturing, agricultural and technology industries. This project will help create and retain jobs by providing the cutting-edge technology necessary for these industries to remain competitive, while making the rural 7-county region more resilient to future economic disruptions. The EDA investment will be matched with $426,000 in local funds and is expected to create 75 jobs, retain 150 jobs and generate $10 million in private investment.
In a meeting with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Rural Wireless Association discussed the important role of fixed and mobile wireless solutions in the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. RWA stressed how factors such as serving difficult terrain, speed of deployment, lower construction costs, and future-proofing networks through network virtualization are all strong reasons to include funding for wireless networks. RWA also highlighted, as it did in its previously filed comments, the need for flexibility to serve unpopulated farm acreage in order to connect precision agriculture applications to broadband. Future-proofing farms, ranches, and waterways will be vital for US food production and sustainability long term. With over 2 million rural family farms in the U.S. that could take advantage of precision agriculture applications, deployment of wireless networks that can connect these applications across farms and ranches is essential to the digital transformation of rural America. As wireless and edge computing infrastructure are built closer to farms and ranches, latency will be reduced and lack of data bandwidth needed to support precision agriculture applications will be a problem of the past. To close the digital divide, RWA strongly encourages NTIA to consider the important role of wireless networks and the emergence of precision agriculture applications that can benefit all Americans. RWA looks forward to continuing its work with NTIA to develop the guidelines that the states will follow to implement the BEAD Program.
Representatives from Ad Hoc Telecom Users Committee, INCOMPAS, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, Public Knowledge, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (“SHLB”) Coalition, and the Voice on the Net Coalition met with State members of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service to discuss the findings in the USForward Report. The Universal Service Fund is under significant duress because revenues subject to assessment have declined from $68.1 billion in 2004 to $29.1 billion in 2021, with no expectation that those trends will reverse; the contribution factor could reach 40% in just four years if action is not taken; and including broadband internet access service (“BIAS”) revenues in the contribution base would decrease the contribution factor to less than 4%. There e is growing support for the FCC to immediately reform the contribution methodology by including BIAS revenues.
The FCC Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC) was asked to build on the CAC’s extensive work in 2015/2016 on consumer broadband disclosures and develop recommendations on how the Federal Communications Commission should define “Point of Sale” for purposes of the label requirement and does the type or form of disclosure vary depending upon the nature of the consumer’s interaction with the service provider, e.g., in-store face-to-face with a sales representative, over the phone, on the web, at kiosks, etc. The CAC was also asked to consider how introductory rates impact a consumer’s decision to purchase broadband service and how should that inform the label’s display of such rates. The CAC recommends:
- The FCC should define Point of Sale as the shopping period beginning at the time the consumer seeks to determine the best broadband product for their needs and including the point at which the consumer makes the purchase. The Point of Sale occurs online and through alternate sales channels (e.g., company retail location, reseller location, or over the phone). The label shall be available at each Point of Sale.
- The required disclosure of the label is satisfied on a provider's website and at the alternate sales channel.
- The required disclosure must be effectively communicated in a manner that complies with applicable accessibility requirements, including Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, 2.1, Level AA, when conveyed electronically.
- The FCC should consider allowing smaller providers additional time to comply with the requirements.
- The FCC require that the month-to-month rate for stand-alone broadband service be displayed on the Consumer Broadband Label. If applicable, available promotional or discounted rates and their duration shall be provided via a link or noted on the label, so long as the month-to-month rate is listed conspicuously as the price of the service.
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the opening of a third application filing window to award at least $1 billion in Emergency Connectivity Fund support to help close the Homework Gap. From April 28, 2022 until May 13, 2022, eligible schools and libraries can submit requests for funding to purchase eligible equipment and services between July 1, 2022, and December 31, 2023. Given past demand, the third application filing window will likely be the last opportunity for schools and libraries to request funding before available funds in the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund program are exhausted. Total commitments to date include over $4.79 billion for over 11,000 schools, 900 libraries, and 130 consortia. More details about the third window and which schools and libraries have received funding commitments can be found here.
In comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition encouraged the FCC not to move forward with its proposed changes to the competitive bidding process for the E-rate program. As stated in the comments, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on E-rate would unreasonably burden applicants, conflict with existing local and state laws, and ultimately hinder competition. “While the SHLB Coalition generally supports streamlining the E-rate program, we’re hearing from both applicants and service providers that the Commission’s most recent proposal to nationalize the competitive bidding process would usurp local decision-making, and would discourage many schools and libraries from participating in E-rate altogether," said SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen. "The proposal wouldn’t prevent fraud – it is unnecessary, unwieldy, and unwise. Considering that the need for such drastic action is unproven, we urge the FCC to first pursue a fraud risk assessment plan to pinpoint where, if any, waste exists in the program. E-rate is too important for keeping students and library patrons connected to risk needless changes that would put extra burden on schools and libraries.”
T-Mobile has a secret sauce for selling T-Mobile Home fixed wireless service in rural areas that involves a granular competitive analysis of 775 sub-markets, said CEO Mike Sievert. The company is seeing strong growth for the fixed wireless offering, having reached 1 million subscribers in less than a year. And the product is particularly strong in what the company calls “rural and small” markets that T-Mobile identifies as 40 percent of the US population. The rural and small market segment, in turn, is comprised of the 775 sub-markets and for each sub-market, “we study our relative competition,” said Sievert. “Where is our network? Is it everywhere we need?” This analysis informs the playbook on how to grow penetration in these markets. Based on this analysis, he said, “we believe we’re competitive across about 30 percent of POPs represented by [these rural and small markets].” “POPs” is a wireless industry term meaning essentially wireless covered population. Each sub-segment is assigned to a different level of competitiveness – and Sievert referred to the markets where they are competitive (currently the 30 percent benchmark) as “right to win” markets.
The biggest story in tech this week is without a doubt Elon Musk’s deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion and to take the company private. And while that deal doesn’t touch directly on wireless or wired telecom networks, there are some connections related to the Federal Communications Commission, spectrum and telecom policy. First, no one is suggesting that the deal won’t happen. New Street Research policy analyst Blair Levin said there aren’t any big antitrust issues. It would be different if a social media competitor, such as Meta, were trying to buy Twitter. But Musk’s portfolio of companies, including Tesla and SpaceX, doesn’t include anything directly competitive. The FCC will have to approve the deal, but Levin said, “It is unlikely in my opinion that there will be an FCC problem.” However, Musk may run into entanglements with the FCC, related to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, after he acquires Twitter. Section 230 became an issue for a time toward the end of the Trump Administration. “Both Democrats and Republicans tended to favor a reform of Section 230 for different reasons,” said Levin. Musk could find himself in the middle of all that and working with the FCC on Section 230 reforms. Levin said that Musk’s businesses all have considerable interactions with the government. “The most vulnerable is SpaceX. It would not be difficult for an FCC to decide spectrum disputes in ways that cannot be tied to Musk’s handling of Twitter but can shift the competitive environment in the space industry.”
Comcast added 262,000 high-speed internet customers in the first quarter 0f 2022. Revenue increased 4.7% to $16.5 billion in the first quarter of 2022, driven by increases in broadband, business services, wireless, advertising, and other revenue, partially offset by decreases in video and voice revenue. Broadband revenue increased 8.0% due to an increase in the number of residential broadband customers and an increase in average rates. Wireless revenue increased 32.0%, primarily due to an increase in the number of customer lines.
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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