Friday, May 19, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
FCC Announces its June 2023 Open Meeting Agenda
Benton Fellow Gigi Sohn Receives Louis H. Pollak Award From Penn Carey Law Alumni Society
State and Local
News From the FCC
News From Benton
Stories From Abroad
As the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) prepares to release the first tranche of state allocations of broadband funds in 2023, one of the statutory requirements mandates workforce development as an important program outcome, especially in the rebuilding and expanding of national infrastructure. The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program has also implemented a number of requirements that, according to its Workforce Planning Guide, are intended to support “the development of an equity-driven telecommunications workforce that offers good jobs and opportunities to workers in America, especially for populations who have been historically underserved by public policy initiatives.” These requirements, paired with the federal appropriations, represent steps toward President Joe Biden’s promise to create ‘good jobs’ under his administration. How the US will implement those requirements is still unknown, particularly given a lack of foresight around what needs to be done to identify, train, and place workers from a variety of work experiences and educational backgrounds. Further, even in markets temporarily funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), these good jobs should be maintained because, in the long run, they provide long-term, transferable skills and livable wages. The pathways for labor market inclusion that they potentially create also benefit workers with limited exposure to broadband sector jobs and without college or advanced technical degrees. Taking advantage of this opportunity will require a whole-sector approach, with state governments, employers, and unions working in concert to engage sidelined workers, develop a taxonomy of broadband jobs, and strengthen social infrastructure to reduce barriers to entry for excluded groups. If they manage to make progress here, the program will have left a valuable legacy and improved economic opportunities in America.
Recertification is an annual requirement for Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) subscribers. Service providers with Federal Communications Commission-approved alternative verification processes or that use a school-based eligibility verification process for the national school lunch or breakfast program must conduct recertification for those subscribers. For all other ACP subscribers, the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) conducts recertification to ensure that ACP subscribers are still eligible for the benefit. Subscribers who participate in Lifeline and ACP that pass the USAC-conducted Lifeline recertification process will not need to undergo a separate ACP recertification process. Starting in June 2023, and over the course of the next few months, USAC will initiate automated eligibility database checks to verify the eligibility of ACP subscribers due for recertification in 2023. Subscribers who pass the automated check will complete the 2023 recertification requirement and will not need to take any further action to confirm their continued eligibility now or later this year. Subscribers who fail the automated check will be required to recertify their continued eligibility. USAC will conduct outreach to those subscribers. Each subscriber will have a 60-day window to recertify.
USDA Funds 36 Projects Aimed at Connecting Families to WIC through Partnership with FRAC as part of Investing in America Agenda
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), through a cooperative agreement with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), has awarded $16 million in subgrants funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to 36 projects aimed at testing innovative outreach strategies to increase participation and equity in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC. The WIC Community Innovation and Outreach Project subgrantees include WIC state and local agencies and community-based organizations, including four subgrants led by tribal nations or entities. The full list of grantees and their project details can be found on the hellowic.org project summaries webpage.
The US Treasury just gave California more than half a billion dollars to fund broadband buildout. This money may help reduce the digital divide. It also might not. There’s really no way to know because the only public information about the grant is a press release that more closely resembles a flyer than an explanation of how the government is spending 540 million taxpayer dollars. The money comes from the Capital Projects Fund (CPF), which is $10 billion allocated by the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The Act directs the Treasury to distribute these funds to states, territories, and tribal governments to subsidize new broadband networks. However, the program appears to lack even the most basic transparency. Treasury’s website lists a press release similar to California’s for each state award, and those others also provide almost no additional information. They do list “key state contacts,” but it’s typically an entire state agency. That’s just a hair more helpful than telling people to “call Congress” to learn more about government spending. At a bare minimum, the public should be able to see the plan each state submitted to the Treasury and the final plan the agency approved. That might make it possible for researchers and watchdogs like the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the program — not only to see how well it worked but to inform other broadband grant programs. Unfortunately, these plans do not appear to be available to the public. With the current opaque arrangement, we may never know whether the infrastructure money was well spent because we know little about how the states plan to distribute the money and how their efforts will be evaluated.
[Scott Wallsten is president of the Technology Policy Institute.]
State and Local
Public Service Commission of Wisconsin Awards $16.6 Million in Broadband Expansion Grants for 24 Projects
On May 18, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) awarded funding from the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program. The Commission awarded $16,601,085 for 24 projects that will expand broadband internet to 6,042 residential and 276 business locations that are underserved. The projects receiving awards will impact 19 counties. The grant awards will leverage $25,360,858 of matching funds from recipients. Since Governor Evers took office in 2019, Wisconsin has disbursed or committed over $345 million towards expanding broadband, which have provided or will provide more than 395,000 homes and businesses access to new or improved services. In December 2022, Governor Evers and PSC Chairperson Valcq announced the opening of the new grant round with the remaining state funds available for broadband expansion from the 2021-23 biennial budget period. In February 2023, the PSC received 74 applications requesting a total of $73.7 million. A list of the 2023 grant recipients can be found here. A map of 2023 grant recipients can be found here.
The Federal Communications Commission took a holistic approach to expand the use of over 1 gigahertz of prime mid-band spectrum in the 12 GHz bands by ensuring stable spectrum access for current and next-generation satellite service while also empowering advanced terrestrial wireless services. The FCC adopted rules to preserve spectrum between 12.2-12.7 GHz for current and future satellite services. The FCC also proposed policies that would position the 12.7-13.25 GHz band to support flexible terrestrial wireless use, including 6G wireless services. The approach used currently paves the way for advanced satellite and terrestrial services to access spectrum resources to support consumer needs, helping to connect everyone everywhere to advance wireless services and supercharge the American economy.
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the agenda for its June 2023 Open Commission Meeting. In June 2023, the FCC is:
- Accelerating improvements to 911. Many states and localities are investing aggressively to roll out Next Generation 911, which will support voice, text, data, and video and make the 911 system more resilient. To speed this transition, the FCC will vote on a proposal to ensure that service providers connect to new NG911 networks on a timely and compatible basis.
- Empowering consumers to block robocalls and robotexts. One of the most frustrating things about unwanted robocalls and robotexts is the feeling that there’s little you can do to stop them. The FCC will consider a proposal to strengthen the ability of consumers to decide which robocalls and robocalls they wish to receive.
- Exploring creative ways to put spectrum to its highest value use. With ever-increasing demand for wireless services and a finite supply of airwaves, it’s more than important than ever that we make sure spectrum is being used as efficiently as possible. The FCC will consider a proposal to test several innovative, non-exclusive spectrum access models in 500 megahertz of greenfield spectrum in the 42 GHz band, which is ideal for experimentation due to the lack of incumbent licensees.
- Consider an adjudicatory item from the Media Bureau.
Senators Bennet and Welch Reintroduce Landmark Legislation to Establish Federal Commission to Oversee Digital Platforms
US Sens Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced the Digital Platform Commission Act, the first-ever legislation in Congress to create an expert federal agency to provide comprehensive regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest. Amid calls for regulation of artificial intelligence and social media, the senators propose a new Federal Digital Platform Commission with the mandate, jurisdiction, and tools to develop and enforce rules for a sector that has gone virtually unregulated. The Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) largely oversee digital platforms. Despite their work to enforce existing antitrust and consumer protection laws, they lack the expert staff and resources necessary for robust oversight. Moreover, both bodies are limited by existing statutes to react to case-specific challenges raised by digital platforms, when proactive, long-term rules for the sector are required.
News From Benton
Benton Fellow Gigi Sohn Receives Louis H. Pollak Award From Penn Carey Law Alumni Society
On May 18 in Philadelphia (PA), the Penn Carey Law Alumni Society bestowed its Louis H. Pollak Award on Gigi Sohn, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Senior Fellow and Public Advocate. The Louis H. Pollak Award is presented each year to a member of the Penn Carey Law alumni community who pursues a career advancing justice through service to others. Sohn is being recognized for serving as an inspiration and role model to Penn Carey Law students and alumni aspiring to impactful careers in public service. Sohn is one of the nation’s leading public advocates for open, affordable and democratic communications networks. For nearly thirty-five years, she has worked across the country to defend and preserve the fundamental competition and innovation policies that have made broadband Internet access more ubiquitous, competitive, affordable, open and protective of user privacy. “[Gigi Sohn] has continually sought to raise public awareness, demonstrating, again and again, the ability to communicate what is at stake in ways that ordinary people can understand," stated Benton Institute Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss. "Sohn has long been at the forefront of helping advance pragmatic policies that help improve the lives of everyday Americans, and the Benton Institute is proud to be associated with her.”
Operators sold subscribers on usage-based broadband, now must keep up with that usage
In the first quarter of 2023 subscribers on usage-based broadband (UBB) plans for the first time reached and marginally surpassed consumption parity with flat-rate broadband (FRB) plan consumers, according to an OpenVault Broadband Insights (OVBI) report. Operators have long pushed for this to happen, but now they must face the network health and congestion challenges that come hand-in-hand with UBB consumption growth. The OVBI report said that significantly higher rates of usage growth among UBB subscribers resulted in average (562.7 GB) and median (382.0 GB) monthly consumption — slightly higher than the 555.5 GB average and the 371.1 GB median for consumers on FRB plans. The report noted UBB operators are seeing significant average revenue per user (ARPU) growth compared to their FBB counterparts. But OpenVault attributed this to a higher take rate on the faster speeds consumers are self-selecting in usage-based billing scenarios — not because operators are inundating subscribers with overage fees as some might assume. While ARPU is higher for UBB, the implications of higher UBB consumption for the broadband industry are still “mixed,” the OVBI report said. This means that operators who have incentivized UBB as a tool to reduce strain on the broadband plant and differentiate from their competitors now have to face the consequences of their successful campaign and figure out how to keep up with snowballing network traffic.
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), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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