Friday, May 13, 2022
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Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will visit Durham (NC) to launch of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Internet for All initiative
The Biden-Harris Administration is launching the Internet for All initiative, which will invest $45 billion to provide affordable, reliable, high-speed internet for everyone in America by the end of the decade. The initiative will be administered and implemented by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The programs will build internet infrastructure, teach digital skills, and provide necessary technology to ensure that everyone in America – including communities of color, rural communities, and older Americans – have the access and skills they need to fully participate in today’s society. The Internet for All programs launched May 13 with three Notices of Funding Opportunity: 1) Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program ($42.5 billion); 2) Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program ($1 billion); and, 3) State Digital Equity Act programs ($1.5 billion). These programs will:
- Connect All Americans to High-Speed Internet.
- Close the Digital Divide.
- Make the Internet More Affordable.
- Ensure that Children have Access to the Education they Deserve.
- Expand Telehealth and Connect Vital Public Safety Services.
- Create Good-Paying American Jobs.
To ensure the timely and sound delivery of much-needed upgrades to America’s infrastructure, the Biden-Harris Administration released an Action Plan to strengthen and accelerate Federal permitting and environmental reviews, fully leveraging the permitting provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The plan establishes that Federal environmental review and permitting processes will be:
- Effective, efficient, and transparent to accelerate delivery of well-designed infrastructure projects, to ensure predictability and timeliness for project sponsors and stakeholders;
- Guided by the best science, information, and complete environmental effects analysis to promote the best outcomes; and
- Shaped by early and meaningful public input – particularly from disadvantaged communities – and through partnership with State, territorial, and local governments and in consultation with Tribal Nations to deliver results for all Americans.
The plan contains five key elements that build on strengthened Federal approaches to environmental reviews and permitting: (1) accelerating permitting through early cross-agency coordination to appropriately scope reviews, reduce bottlenecks, and use the expertise of sector-specific teams; (2) establishing clear timeline goals and tracking key project information to improve transparency and accountability, providing increased certainty for project sponsors and the public; (3) engaging in early and meaningful outreach and communication with Tribal Nations, States, territories, and local communities; (4) improving agency responsiveness, technical assistance, and support to navigate the environmental review and permitting process effectively and efficiently; and (5) adequately resourcing agencies and using the environmental review process to improve environmental and community outcomes.
The Federal Communications Commission, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the US Department of the Treasury announced an interagency agreement to share information about and collaborate regarding the collection and reporting of certain data and metrics relating to broadband deployment. The respective Cabinet and Agency leaders announced that their agencies will consult with one another and share information on data collected from programs administered by the FCC, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, programs administered or coordinated by NTIA, and Treasury’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund and State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. As part of the signed agreement, each federal agency partner will share information about projects that have received or will receive funding from the previously mentioned federal funding sources. More information on what the interagency Memorandum of Understanding entails can be found here. The agreement is effective at the date of its signing, May 11, 2022. The agreement is the latest development in federal efforts to coordinate high-speed internet spending. In June 2021, the FCC, NTIA and USDA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate the distribution of federal high-speed internet funds. The June 2021 Memorandum of Understanding remains in effect.
On January 7, 2022, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration requested public comment on a wide range of policy and program considerations associated with the new high-speed internet grant programs authorized and funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). NTIA received 557 thoughtful and informative written responses from state and local governments, non-profit and community-based organizations, schools, internet service providers, industry associations and individuals. NTIA also conducted hundreds of stakeholder engagement events, including listening sessions, webinars, panel discussions, and in-person and virtual individual and group meetings. NTIA thanks all the individuals and organizations who shared their views and ideas throughout this process. This input has served an important role in the development and implementation of the new high-speed internet grant programs, informed the drafting of the Notices of Funding Opportunity, and helped shape these programs in ways that will help truly make it a whole-of-nation success.
- Stakeholders believe in and are committed to doing their part to achieve an America where everyone has access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet.
- The IIJA is not the only funding being invested to achieve this goal, and in some cases, may not represent enough funding alone to close the digital divide in each state.
- IIJA-funded networks should be built to stand the test of time and be fast enough to accommodate current and future needs.
- NTIA should take steps, including via the low-cost plan requirement, to promote affordability as part of IIJA implementation.
- NTIA should establish strong local coordination requirements to ensure all voices are incorporated in state plans before they are approved.
- Respondents voiced concern about the inaccuracy of existing broadband maps and indicated a clear need for more reliable and improved map accuracy.
- A highly skilled workforce is critical to meeting infrastructure buildout timelines, the safe deployment of sustainable networks, and ultimately achieving universal access to reliable, affordable, high-speed internet.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau, in conjunction with the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force and the Office of Economics and Analytics, authorizes Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for another 830 winning bids. For each of the winning bids, the FCC has reviewed the long-form application information, including the letter(s) of credit and Bankruptcy Code opinion letter(s) from the long-form applicant’s legal counsel. Winning bidders include Air Link Rural Broadband, Central Telephone Company of Virginia, CenturyLink, CenturyTel, Citizens Telecommunications Company, Co-Mo Comm, Continental Divide Electric Cooperative, Embarq Florida, Frontier, Hawaiian Telcom, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, Lake Region Technology & Communications, Qwest, Tri-County Electric Cooperative, and Venture Vision.
Rural broadband providers breathed a sigh of relief after the Federal Communications Commission announced it would waive steep cuts to Universal Service Fund (USF) support which were set to take effect in July 2022. In an order formalizing the waiver, the FCC said it determined “current circumstances pose significant burdens on legacy carriers, which would be exacerbated should there be a significant reduction in support, at a time when they are facing insufficient cash flow and increased expenses.” Commissioner Brendan Carr in a statement pointed specifically to inflation as a key source of pressure for small, rural operators. “The dollars they need to extend their networks and connect Americans are not going nearly as far today as they did a short while ago. So, today’s decision makes eminent sense,” he said. The cuts in question would have reduced the support rural operators receive from two USF programs: Connect America Fund Broadband Loop Support and High Cost Loop Support. Both are subject to a budget control mechanism implemented in 2016 which is designed to systematically lower the monthly per-line subsidy operators receive over the course of several years.
Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) would consider an area “as unserved until [it is] actually served” when determining areas eligible for BEAD program funding, raising the potential for overbuilding unfinished federally-subsidized projects. Not only would this approach undermine the success of this program, it would ignore congressional intent, waste taxpayer dollars, complicate already-strained broadband supply chains and workforce shortages, and leave rural America further behind. Moreover, it could cause NTIA to misallocate money among the states, given that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act requires NTIA to distribute funding based on the number of unserved locations in a state. We ask that you commit to recognizing as served those areas with existing broadband funding commitments for which a project is underway or about to break ground when determining whether an area is eligible for BEAD funding. We ask that you do so before the Notice of Funding Opportunity is released or by May 16, 2022, whichever is later.
Low-income Americans are discerning broadband consumers who are well-attuned to the nuances of service plans, in the midst of dealing with internet service bills that are often a burden on their household budgets. The indispensability of internet access—a need the pandemic has underscored—places service quality next to affordability in the minds of low-income consumers. This message comes through in focus groups of 22 low-income Americans conducted by EveryoneOn (see full report STATE OF DIGITAL EQUITY: Lessons from survey data and focus groups). The focus groups also explored other perspectives on the internet, such as the role of digital skills and trust in the online environment. Rounding out the research was a discussion with digital inclusion practitioners who have had to address the digital divide during the pandemic and now have to prepare for an influx of federal funds to promote digital equity.
Digital food access could be a game-changer for people who struggle with brick-and-mortar food access barriers, including those living in disinvested areas historically defined as “food deserts” and individuals facing mobility challenges or time constraints. Using data on delivery zones from four of the most prominent digital food delivery companies and platforms, we find:
- Digital food services are now available to almost all people. 93 percent of America’s population has access to rapidly delivered fresh groceries or prepared foods through at least one of the four platforms.
- Delivery zones reach most Americans living in traditionally defined “food deserts.” 90 percent of people living in low-income, low-access tracts have at least one digital food access option, yet these service maps still leave nearly 4.5 million food desert residents outside of delivery zones.
- Broadband is a frequent barrier to digital food access. The household broadband adoption rate across the US is 86 percent—lower than digital delivery availability. In some cases, such as rural and isolated neighborhoods, the lack of broadband and delivery service is aligned. In many metropolitan areas, however, broadband adoption gaps are a distinct geographic barrier to digital food access.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin awarded $500,000 in funding from the Nonprofit Access Grant Program. The funds will go to support 16 projects by 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that will provide access to affordable telecommunication services to low-income households, people with disabilities, or customers in areas of the state with relatively high costs of services. Applications for this grant cycle were due on March 1, 2022. The PSC received 22 applications requesting more than $1.4 million in funding. Over the past 6 years, the Nonprofit Access Grant Program has funded 105 projects for more than $3.3 million.
The two public private partnerships that AT&T has announced in Indiana, including one expected with the City of Boonville (IN), could be the first of many, said Jeff Luong, AT&T president for broadband access and adoption initiatives. “We’re having discussions with communities across the country,” said Luong. The announced agreement with Boonville, contingent on funding approval by the city and a final contract, comes just a few months after AT&T inked a private partnership with neighboring Vanderburgh County. The plan is for AT&T to make fiber broadband available to 4,000 locations in Boonville. Luong confirmed that the $4.4 million Boonville project will be funded, in part, by the city and in part by AT&T but declined to specify the percentage of the project cost that will be covered by either party. He did say, though, that the city will not need to issue bonds or tax residents to obtain its portion of the funding. He noted that communities nationwide now have funding that was made available to them through the State and Local Fiscal Recovery program created in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and through other federal funding programs already established or in the planning phase.
A federal appeals court has reinstated a Texas state law that bans "censorship" on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, allowing Texas to enforce the law while litigation continues. A US District Court judge had granted a preliminary injunction blocking the law in December 2021, ruling that it violates the social networks' First Amendment right to moderate user-submitted content. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the injunction to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and a panel of three judges issued a ruling May 11 that stayed the preliminary injunction. The ruling did not explain the judges' reasoning. "It is ordered that appellant's opposed motion to stay preliminary injunction pending appeal is granted," the ruling said. The panel ruling was not unanimous, but it didn't say how each judge voted. Tech industry groups Netchoice and CCIA, which sued Texas to block the law, could seek an en banc hearing with all the court's judges or eventually go to the Supreme Court. They could also wait for the trial to play out in US District Court for the Western District of Texas, where Judge Robert Pitman issued the preliminary injunction. Pitman found that the Texas law "compels social media platforms to disseminate objectionable content and impermissibly restricts their editorial discretion" and that the law's "prohibitions on 'censorship' and constraints on how social media platforms disseminate content violate the First Amendment."
Sen Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced the Digital Platform Commission Act, the first-ever legislation in Congress to create an expert federal body empowered to provide comprehensive, sector-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest. The new Federal Digital Platform Commission would have the mandate, jurisdiction, and broad set of tools to develop and enforce thoughtful guardrails for a sector that has been left for too long to write its own rules, with serious consequences for everything from teen mental health to disinformation to anticompetitve practices that have hurt small businesses. The new Federal Digital Platform Commission would have five commissioners appointed by the president and confirmed by the US Senate. It would be staffed by experts with a background in areas such as computer science, software development, and technology policy. The Commission would have a broad mandate to promote the public interest, with specific directives to protect consumers, promote competition, and assure the fairness and safety of algorithms on digital platforms, among other areas. To fulfill its mandate, the Commission would have the authority to promulgate rules, impose civil penalties, hold hearings, conduct investigations, and support research. It could also designate “systemically important digital platforms” subject to additional oversight, regulation, and merger review.
TPRC and the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society announce the fourth year of the Charles Benton Early Career Scholar Award recognizing scholarship in the area of digital inclusion and broadband adoption. Early Career scholars (those currently enrolled in a degree program or no more than five years from receipt of most recent degree) are invited to submit as per the guidelines below. The winner of this special honor will be presented with a $1,500 cash prize at lunch during the TPRC 2022 conference and the TPRC Conference fee will be waived. The winner will be required to contribute a blog article based on the winning submission for publication on the Benton Institute website. A runner-up may be named but does not receive a Conference fee waiver and is not obligated to do a blog. Applicants are invited to submit any/all of the following for consideration: (1) an original empirically-based research paper pertaining to the area of digital inclusion and/or broadband adoption, (2) a policy proposal for digital inclusion and broadband adoption with a discussion of the justification, and/or (3) an essay on a topic dealing with digital inclusion and/or broadband adoption. Submissions must be less than 25 double-spaced, typewritten pages, inclusive of notes and bibliography and will not have been formally published in a peer review outlet prior to TPRC 2022. Submissions must be received by May 27. The recipient will be chosen by a TPRC Board Committee. The winner will be informed by July 18 and the winner will be required to attend the conference and agree to work with Benton Institute’s Executive Editor, Kevin Taglang, to produce the blog article for benton.org by December 31, 2022. For questions concerning this Award, please contact Prof. Robin Mansell at [email protected]
Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina M. Khan announced that an open meeting of the Commission will be held virtually on Thursday, May 19, 2022. The following items will be on the tentative agenda:
- Policy Statement on Education Technology and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act: The Commission will vote on a policy statement that announces the agency’s prioritization of the enforcement of COPPA as it applies to the use of education technology. Particularly as the use of education technology has expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, the statement makes clear that parents and schools must not be required to sign up for surveillance as a condition of access to tools needed to learn.
- Request for Public Comment on Amendments to the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising: FTC staff will provide a presentation and the Commission will vote on a request for public comment on proposed amendments to the Endorsement Guides. These proposed revisions will address fake reviews and the suppression of negative reviews, among other things, and also update the guidance generally to reflect current advertising realities concerning endorsements.
Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan has a chance to work her way down her Big Tech to-do list, nearly a year into her tenure, now that she has a Democratic majority in hand. The Senate voted 51-50 — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie — to confirm privacy expert Alvaro Bedoya to the FTC. The Democrats' majority at the five-person agency now opens the door for Khan's agenda, expected to include:
- New privacy and competition rules. Biden called on the FTC to craft rules on data and surveillance, as well as rules barring unfair methods of competition on internet marketplaces, as part of a wide-ranging executive order on competition last summer.
- Aggressive enforcement on deals. The same executive order said the FTC has the power to to challenge prior mergers, something the FTC itself highlighted when Amazon closed its deal with MGM after running out the clock on the agency's review.
- More stringent guidelines on mergers. The administration called on the FTC to scrutinize mergers and acquisitions by dominant internet platforms, especially when buying smaller rivals, and Khan will be able to scrutinize and challenge mergers more successfully with Bedoya's vote.
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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