A California judge dismissed a lawsuit that former president Donald Trump filed against Twitter, the latest blow to the former president’s high-profile battles with major tech companies over their decisions to suspend his accounts in the fallout of the Jan 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. The lawsuit, which Trump initially filed in Florida along with suits targeting Google and Facebook, was viewed as part of a broader strategy to appeal to conservatives who have long argued that social media companies unfairly censor their viewpoints. The judge’s dismissal comes after Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced his plans to buy Twitter, taking issue over content moderation decisions he views as limiting free speech — and raising speculation that Trump could return to the platform. In the ruling, US District Judge James Donato rejected Trump’s argument that Twitter was operating as a “state actor” when it suspended his account in January 2021, calling it not plausible. Trump had claimed that Twitter was constrained by the First Amendment’s restrictions on government limitations of free speech because it had acted in cooperation with government officials. The judge also dismissed Trump’s call for a declaratory judgment that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which says Internet platforms generally are not responsible for what their users post, is unconstitutional.
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
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President Biden and Vice President Harris announced that they have secured private sector commitments that will lower high-speed internet costs for millions of American families. As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the President and Vice President worked with Democrats and Republicans to create the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which allows tens of millions of American households to reduce their internet service costs by up to $30/month (or $75/month on Tribal lands). To ensure the most efficient use of those public dollars and to deliver maximum cost savings to families, the Biden-Harris Administration has secured commitments from 20 leading internet providers—covering more than 80 percent of the US population across urban, suburban, and rural areas—to either increase speeds or cut prices, making sure they all offer ACP-eligible households high-speed, high-quality internet plans for no more than $30/month. The commitments will allow tens of millions of ACP-eligible households to receive high-speed internet at no cost. The Biden-Harris Administration is also launching a comprehensive effort to make sure as many ACP-eligible households as possible take advantage of this new program.
Comcast announced it will soon start enabling customers to sign up for its Internet Essentials Plus service at the company’s more than 500 Xfinity stores. The offering includes 100 Mbps speed, a cable modem, access to millions of WiFi hotspots, and unlimited data for $29.95 per month and is free to customers eligible for the low-income Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Comcast is training customer service agents at its call centers to help eligible customers sign up for the Essentials Plus service and educate them about the ACP. Customers eligible for the $30 monthly ACP benefit can apply it to any tier of Xfinity service or Xfinity Mobile service. Comcast is also partnering with its Project UP network of thousands of non-profit organizations in communities across the country to increase awareness of, and participation in the ACP. The company said it has distributed more than $1 million dollars in grants to support dozens of local non-profits affiliated with the Hispanic Federation and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC). Comcast plans to invest millions in these types of programs in 2022.
“As Vice President Harris said today, ‘Everyone in the US should be able to afford broadband access.’" said Benton Institute for Broadband & Society Executive Director Adrianne B Furniss. "Today’s White House announcement will improve affordable access for low-income families. In addition, the work supported by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan that will be done in the States should ensure that affordable, robust broadband networks reach every address in the country. The commitments secured by the White House from 20 leading internet providers covering 80 percent of the US population to either increase speeds or cut prices to make sure that ACP-eligible households get high-quality, affordable internet are small steps to the US realizing full digital equity. We have a long way to go, but it is critical that the Administration continues to lead on ensuring that broadband is truly universal.”
Since the national dialog has suddenly fixated on inflation, the big ISPs decided to jump into the discussion by claiming that broadband prices are falling. The big ISP industry has been trotting out this untruth for the last several years. What underlies this claim is that the cost per megabit of speed has been falling as ISPs increase speeds. By definition, when an ISP upgrades a customer from 100 Mbps to 200 Mbps, the cost per megabit drops. While the cable companies have been unilaterally increasing speeds, consumers have not seen the check they write each month drop. There is no consumer who wouldn’t think that “broadband prices are falling” to mean that monthly bills are dropping.
The Federal Communications Commission will vote in late May 2022 on a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) seeking input on a proposal to establish higher speed goals for small rural providers that receive broadband funding through the Alternative Connect America Model (A-CAM) program. The proposal was made by the A-CAM Broadband Coalition, a group of providers that receive funding through the program. According to the FCC, 447 providers receive a combined $1.1 billion annually in A-CAM support, which runs through 2028 for most participants. The proposal calls for A-CAM providers to deploy service at speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream – an increase from the minimum of 25/3 Mbps, or in some cases less, that is required today. In addition, the amount of funding per location would be increased. Rethinking the A-CAM program would seem to make sense, considering that the $42.5 billion BEAD rural broadband funding program created in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act targets unserved and underserved areas, with unserved areas defined as those lacking 25/3 Mbps service and underserved areas defined as those lacking 100/20 Mbps service.
As you might expect, the lobbying is becoming hot and heavy to position internet service providers (ISPs) to win the $42.5 billion of Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grants that will likely start being awarded in 2023. This is one of the most interesting lobbying challenges I’ve ever seen because there is no one central place that will be awarding these grants. Congress gave the responsibility for these grants to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), but the money is going to flow from them to the states. There seems to be a lot of lobbying happening with state legislators, but even that might not be very effective. States must file broadband grant plans that largely follow the rules established by Congress as interpreted by the NTIA. States will have some leeway on how to award grants, but states will still have to follow the basic NTIA rules. I fully expect many states will have bias. This could mean favoring grants for the large incumbents or favoring grants for cooperatives or municipalities. But even states with a bias will have a hard time turning down solid grant applications that includes a significant amount of matching funding from a local government. This raises the big question of who should be lobbied – the NTIA, state legislators, or individual communities? From what I’m seeing, the answer seems to be all of the above.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will put $42.45 billion into broadband buildout, to be distributed by the states. Less than a year earlier, the FCC’s high-cost Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) committed $9 billion for rural buildout and subsidies in some of the same areas. Here, I explore which RDOF areas are likely to get funded, what that means for the remaining unserved locations, and the amount of funding each state will have for each remaining unserved location. From the vantage point of the states: If your unserved areas were funded by an established operator promising fiber to the premises, it doesn’t seem logical to use IIJA money to fund those locations. Also, you can imagine the RDOF winner would not be happy about another subsidized competitor in a high-cost area. After all, their take-rates and revenue projections are based on being the only provider of true high-speed broadband. It’s my impression we’re still in the goldilocks phase of this process—it’s pouring money for broadband. That’s a good thing. But there will be some bumps.
[Mike Conlow writes about technology, policy, politics, and economics in various combinations in 'Mike's Newsletter'.]
Gov Greg Abbott (R-TX) and other top elected officials in Texas have plenty of evidence before them of the social, educational and economic consequences for hundreds of thousands of families around the state without broadband internet service at home. Once Congress finally passes enabling legislation, Texas is expected to receive $53 billion from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) signed into law by President Joe Biden in November 2021. Only $100 million of those funds are earmarked for the expansion of broadband service in Texas, enough to deliver service to an estimated 1 million Texas households without service now. The state already has $500 million in American Recovery Plan Act funds intended to improve broadband service in rural communities. Abbott, however, has consistently expressed reservations about accepting federal funding that includes requirements for additional state funding, or funding that could prove to be short-lived. His predecessor, Gov. Rick Perry, believed the same, and as a result, Texas has forgone billions of dollars annually in badly needed Medicaid funding since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. A crisis creates opportunity, yet accepting or rejecting federal funds likely will be an issue in statewide and legislative races this year. As learned in the pandemic, there are serious consequences when partisan politics trump the public interest. Texas should take the money and invest it wisely.
[Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.]
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act's $65 billion in broadband funding is fueling a nationwide rush by state and local governments to connect residents to the internet. Los Angeles County (CA) is at the forefront among municipalities with a public-private partnership to offer free broadband internet to its poorest residents in Watts, Boyle Heights, Sun Valley and four other California communities as soon as the end of 2022. These are neighborhoods that are heavily Latino and Black. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles County Business Federation were among dozens of groups and individuals that contended a county-run system would deliver inferior service, and argued for subsidizing low income people, not building new networks to connect them. “By elevating the county as head operator, we place our most vulnerable students, workers, and other community members in the slow lane of connectivity with inferior and unreliable service,” said LA County Business Federation spokesman Chris Wilson. The Board of Supervisors, however, were not swayed by the argument, and voted unanimously in November 2021 to move forward with plans both to back subsidies for lower income people and build their own system. Now, county officials seek private partners to design, build and manage high speed wireless networks. Companies have until May 13 to submit their qualifications.
A new analysis by the University of Chicago has revealed vast differences in internet connectivity across Chicago (IL), with some neighborhoods reporting more than one-third of households offline. Researchers are now working to collect their own data to determine how the internet performs across neighborhoods, with the hope of influencing how $65 billion in federal funds to expand broadband access is distributed. Across the city about 80 percent of households have internet access, but researchers with the university’s Internet Equity Initiative found a nearly 40 percentage-point difference in connectivity levels between certain neighborhoods. In the most connected area, the Loop, more than 97 percent of households have internet access. That’s followed by Lake View and the Near North and South sides at 94 percent. But in Burnside that number is under 58 percent, and in West Englewood, less than 62 percent. Now that researchers have determined access is not uniform across the city, they can dig deeper into discrepancies in speed, performance and infrastructure, said Nick Feamster, faculty director of research at the Data Science Institute and a principal investigator of the Internet Equity Initiative. “Given better answers to all of those sub-questions we can then start to think about solutions and investment, … really trying to go hyper-local,” Feamster said. “Because the problem, although it’s popular to talk about as a national problem, is really a local problem. It varies so much across the city, and there is no data on that until now.” For the next step of the study, researchers will work with volunteers in 75 households and across 30 community areas, with a particular focus on Logan Square and South Shore.
The Federal Communications Commission is poised to implement a comprehensive overhaul of its existing broadband data mapping and collection process with a new Broadband Data Collection (BDC) program. Under the BDC, all facilities-based providers of fixed and mobile broadband Internet access services will be required to submit broadband data on a biannual basis. As discussed below, the initial filing window is between June 30, 2022, and September 1, 2022. Ensuring nationwide access to affordable high-speed broadband service is a national priority. A critical but elusive step in this effort is accurate broadband availability data. This challenge is even more pressing in light of the unprecedented federal broadband funding being made available under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This entry is the first in a series of posts on the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection program and will provide background and an introduction to the program, as well as an overview of key requirements. Subsequent posts will delve more deeply into specific requirements as well as corresponding data collection provisions of the IIJA.
Imagine Idaho Foundation will conduct a state-wide internet speed-testing campaign. Data from the campaign will be mapped by GEO Map. The campaign aims to collect data on underserved and unserved Idahoans that can be utilized to challenge Federal Communications Commission 477 reporting and help Idaho counties apply for grant funding for broadband infrastructure projects. All costs associated with the speed-testing campaign are grant-funded by Imagine Idaho Foundation. “Relying on data from FCC 477 reporting will potentially leave millions of dollars in funding for broadband on the table,” said Imagine Idaho Foundation Co-Founder Christina Culver. “That’s why it is important for counties to conduct their own speed-testing campaigns that will produce granular data - giving them an advantage when grant portals open,” she added. The collection of this data will be down to the household level - providing an accurate depiction of how many underserved and unserved Idahoans there are.” “This course of action is exactly what Idaho needs to get its fair share of funding,” said Culver.
Cable One saw an uptick in customer growth and revenue in first quarter 2022, driven by business acquisitions, and is seeking rapid fiber expansion with its Clearwave Fiber investment. CEO Julie Laulis thinks the latter especially puts the operator in a vital position against competitors. Clearwave Fiber is a joint venture formed by Cable One and a handful of private equity firms in January 2022, which aims to to deploy fiber-to-the-premises for underserved markets. Cable One invested about $440 million into Clearwave at the transaction’s close on January 1, with certain fiber assets from Hargray Communications – one of the companies acquired by Cable One last year – making up a portion of the joint venture. “We’re not seeing anything out of AT&T or CenturyLink, quite honestly,” Laulis said. “We have seen Frontier doing builds and they seem to be the biggest mover out of those three.” Half of Cable One’s fiber footprint is covered by AT&T, Laulis pointed out, and the other half by CenturyLink (now Lumen Technologies). Frontier, the third operator in Cable One’s footprint, spans a significantly smaller coverage area. Frontier recently reported a gain of 20,000 broadband customers, many of them new to fiber.
Because the cost of producing information technology (IT) products is lower overseas, applying Buy America provisions to IT components of projects underwritten by the infrastructure bill will raise costs, reduce infrastructure build, and delay project completion—all without creating any net new jobs. Congress included in the recent infrastructure bill stronger applications of Buy America provisions, which govern the extent to which federal government purchases must be of products substantially made in the United States. The US share of global computer and electronics output had already fallen 8.2 percentage points between 1999 and 2009 when the Obama administration provide a blanket waiver for IT products in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Since then, US domestic IT capabilities have weakened even more, dropping another 2.3 percentage points of global market share. Because of this, applying Buy America provisions to IT components of federal infrastructure investment would raise IT costs by approximately 25 percent, on average. Boosting US manufacturing output is critical but applying Buy America provisions to information technology will do little to reshore IT production. It will, however, reduce the amount of US infrastructure that is built.
We strongly urge you to take concerted action to promote the nomination of Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society] to be a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. Sohn has been a long-time advocate for internet freedom, consumer protection, and digital inclusivity. The FCC cannot move forward on several significant public interest issues until Ms. Sohn is confirmed by the full US Senate. Reform of the federal Universal Service Fund, the success of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and impactful rulemaking on digital discrimination. In short, the Biden Administration’s stated goal of ensuring affordable broadband for all and solving the digital divide is in jeopardy unless Ms. Sohn is confirmed in the near future. While the vote to confirm her nomination must be made in the US Senate, many US Senators look to the White House for leadership on Ms. Sohn’s nomination.
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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