Friday, May 20, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
FCC Open Meeting News
FCC Open Meeting News
The Federal Communications Commission voted to seek comment on a proposal to provide additional universal service support to certain rural carriers in exchange for increasing deployment to more locations at higher speeds. The proposal would make changes to the Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) program, with the goal of achieving widespread deployment of faster 100/20 Mbps broadband service throughout the rural areas served by rural carriers currently receiving A-CAM support. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on whether and how the FCC could:
- Offer additional A-CAM support in exchange for increased broadband deployment obligations to additional locations and at higher speeds under an Enhanced A-CAM program.
- Use the new Broadband DATA Act maps to determine any new deployment obligations.
- Calculate support for an Enhanced A-CAM program, including whether the existing A-CAM framework continues to be appropriate.
- Align specific proposals with Congressional intent, as well as programs at other agencies.
- Improve the administration of the high-cost program and better safeguard the Universal Service Fund.
The Federal Communications Commission modernized and streamlined its rules for programs that help first responders and other emergency personnel communicate during disasters. The updated rules will help ensure that these programs meet the needs of emergency personnel now and in the future, as technology advances. In a Report and Order adopted May 19, the FCCupdated its priority services rules to reflect today’s marketplace and governance framework and to authorize explicitly the prioritization of next-generation technology. Specifically, the FCC:
- Clarified service providers’ authorization to prioritize data, video, and IP-based voice services for eligible users on a voluntary basis;
- Removed outdated requirements that may cause confusion or impede the use of IP-based technologies;
- Updated the rules to reflect the current administrative responsibilities for the priority services program; and
- Expanded WPS eligibility to additional users, particularly those with response and restoration roles.
The Centri Tech Foundation launched the Digital Advancement Municipal Index (Muni Index), which uses 16 indicators from four categories – technology, socioeconomics, education, and housing – to capture and compare a city's overall prosperity and digital equity metrics across 308 US cities with populations over 100,000 people. The interactive digital tool offers city leaders seeking to achieve digital advancement a clearer perspective on the greatest opportunities to drive impact in their communities. To measure technological advancement in each city, the Muni Index employs four metrics: average download speeds for households in a zip code or county, share of households with a desktop/laptop computer, share of households with broadband subscriptions, and percent of households with only a cellular plan and no other subscription. But access to technology alone does not automatically have a positive impact on a city's score; the extent to which digital inequities persist also matters. For example, the share of households with "cell only" access has a much greater negative impact on a city's score than greater speeds have a positive impact. The Muni Index is based on the premise that expansion in the availability, affordability, adoption, and quality of digital tools is essential to building a strong foundation for a vibrant and growing city. Yet digital access alone will not lead to better outcomes. The Muni Index demonstrates that how cities invest in technology works jointly alongside other factors that influence quality of life. It is this leverage of technology toward prosperity that defines Digital Advancement.
Heartland Forward and the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society announced the six communities selected to participate in the second cohort of the Accelerate Illinois Broadband Infrastructure Planning Program, which is administered in partnership with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). The newest cohort of participants include: Bond County, Kankakee County/Pembroke CDC, Kaskaskia College area, Livingston County, Ogle County and Peoria/Woodford (IL) Counties. Building on the success of the first cohort, which included the City of Springfield, Jackson County, Knox County, Mercer County, Whiteside County and the Village of Elsah (IL), the second cohort will participate in a 14-week intensive training program to help leaders from participating communities develop broadband plans to address their unique local needs. The training will position them to effectively leverage newly available state and federal broadband infrastructure funding. The Accelerate Illinois program is a collaborative effort between the Illinois Office of Broadband, the Illinois-based Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, and the University of Illinois Extension, as well as funding by Heartland Forward. The training is designed to guide communities through the process of establishing and implementing a full-scale broadband connectivity vision. With more than 30 hours of no-cost expert counsel provided by the Benton Institute, the program provides structured education and engagement for communities to identify broadband goals, gather information, analyze opportunities, understand available funding options, and target capital dollars to support broadband infrastructure implementation.
It’s long been a saying in telecommunications that “all wireless networks end in a wire.” But Charter CEO Tom Rutledge recently emphasized that point. Both Charter and Comcast have been making good headway with their mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) businesses, seeing substantial subscribers adds in recent quarters. And the CEOs of both companies have consistently said that they see their MVNO businesses as a way to offer more choice for their broadband customers. But perhaps their mindset is starting to evolve a bit, where they’re seeing real profit possibilities in wireless. Rutledge talked about the overall household connectivity. He said, there’s a lot of cashflow in the household being spent on mobile. And yet, most traffic in the household comes from the fixed broadband connection. And even the traffic in the home from mobile devices travels on the home Wi-Fi connection. “The bulk of the business is broadband on devices that also are mobile,” said Rutledge. He pointed out that customers only use the mobile capabilities of their devices when they’re out and about. He said most mobile-device usage is for “sedentary activities” and “not mobile activities.” “I think we can make the mobile device work better based on the way our network works and the way our Wi-Fi works and also have a great mobile platform,” said Rutledge.
Sens Mike Lee (R-UT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have introduced the Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act. The bill would restore and protect competition in digital advertising by eliminating conflicts of interest that have allowed the leading platforms in the market to manipulate ad auctions and impose monopoly rents on a broad swath of the US economy. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act would prohibit companies processing more than $20 billion in digital ad transactions annually from participating in more than one part of the digital advertising ecosystem. That would directly impact Google, which is the dominant player at every link in the chain that connects buyers and sellers of online advertising. Google operates tools that help companies sell and purchase ads, as well as the auction houses, or exchanges, where transactions happen in split seconds. Under the legislation, Google wouldn’t be able to stay in all those businesses. Companies would have a year from the enactment of the legislation to comply with the new rules.
This study investigates the impacts of the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP), established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, on growth in broadband adoption and use of home telework. We find robust positive impacts across multiple econometric models and methods using census tract-level data in first differences. Across models and methods, the estimated average impact of BIP is in the range of 1.1–3.0 percentage point increase in the share of households adopting broadband and 0.2 to 0.4 percentage point increase in the share of workers using home telework. The estimated impacts of BIP represent roughly one-fourth to two-thirds of the average increase in broadband adoption and one-third to two-thirds of the average increase in home telework in the study tracts during the study period. The impacts of BIP vary across geographic contexts. Broadband and home telework adoption are also affected by prior levels of broadband availability, adoption, and telework, and by demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the population and the industrial structure of the economy.
Public Knowledge released the paper “A Lesson From the Landmark AT&T Breakup: Both a Sector-specific Regulator and Antitrust Enforcers Were Needed” by Senior Fellow Al Kramer. This paper discusses how the work of regulators and antitrust enforcers, working independently and with separate mandates, nevertheless complemented each other, to lead to the breakup of the AT&T Bell phone monopoly in 1984—marking a win for consumers and telephone competitors alike. The paper offers a deeper understanding of the history of the breakup and proposes that regulation can lay the groundwork for both more effective antitrust enforcement and the advancement of other public interest benefits. Just as antitrust and regulation should work in tandem, legislative ideas to strengthen antitrust and give agencies sector-specific tools should do the same. That means creating a new digital regulator. In the immediate term, it means passing bipartisan bills like the American Innovation and Choice Online Act and the Open App Markets Act.
The Biden administration has charged the Federal Communications Commission with prohibiting digital discrimination — but without a third Democratic commissioner to break the agency's partisan deadlock, those plans are in trouble. One of President Biden's key domestic priorities, improving internet access and affordability, can't advance unless the Senate confirms his FCC nominee. The FCC has been deadlocked at 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans since Biden took office, and his nominee for the third seat, Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society], has been awaiting a Senate vote for months amid Republican opposition. The agency is required by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to craft rules preventing digital discrimination on broadband access. The rules would prohibit internet service providers such as Comcast or Verizon from deployment discrimination based on the income level or predominant race or ethnicity of the people living in an area. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel launched an inquiry in March, with support from the agency's Republicans, on how to create rules preventing digital discrimination and facilitating equal access to high-speed internet. A major question is how the agency will interpret a part of the law that says the rules should take into account issues of "technical and economic feasibility." Advocates fear Republicans at the agency will use that exception to render new rules meaningless and say Rosenworcel will need Democratic support to craft aggressive rules.
AT&T and DISH have entered into a distribution agreement that will allow DISH to offer AT&T Internet services, including AT&T Fiber with Hyper-Gig speeds, to prospective, new and existing DISH customers starting May 18, 2022. Telecompetitor reports that the DISH deal is for AT&T home internet services, including AT&T Fiber. It does not include AT&T wireless services. The two companies already have a network services agreement for wireless, with AT&T providing wireless network service to DISH’s growing wireless business. AT&T recently shed off all of its TV business and is now back to concentrating on communications services. Fiber broadband is key to the company’s future, so having a reseller relationship like DISH with a national reach could be helpful with its fiber business goals. DISH already resells internet from other providers and markets a TV and internet bundle. This AT&T agreement should expand that reach.
Frontier Communications expects to surpass one million new fiber passings by the end of 2022 – hitting 100,000 to 200,000 additional locations – according to CFO Scott Beasley. The accelerated buildout is mainly due to Frontier’s recent move to boost its liquidity to a total of $4 billion, meaning the company has plenty of cash on hand until mid-2024. “First, it sends a strong signal to overbuilders to build somewhere else if they thought we weren’t going to build [fiber]. Secondly, it sends a strong vote of confidence to our supply chain partners in what is largely an allocation environment. Third, it allows us to accelerate on our already ambitious plan we laid out,” Beasley said. Further intending to expand fiber buildout, Beasley said Frontier has a “steep acceleration” built in for next year – a goal of 1.6 million homes passed. Given the capital raise, he said Frontier will “definitely” take the opportunity to reach that number. Despite persisting supply-chain issues, Beasley noted Frontier has a “huge advantage” with suppliers, as the operator touts the second largest fiber build in the country. He said Frontier performed “better than expected” on passing costs so far, as construction efficiency savings have helped offset costs in a challenging macro environment.
Between inflation, rising interest rates and turmoil in the stock market, it’s no wonder fears are rising that another recession might be around the corner. But broadband providers don’t seem all that concerned about how such a turn might impact the sector. Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei stated “we believe that this product, the broadband product, is pretty recession-proof…You’d probably give up your hot water, your electricity before giving up your broadband.” He added that while a recession might slow down step ups to higher service tiers, it likely wouldn’t slow down overall activity in the market. Fixed wireless access service provider Starry seems to hold a similar view. CEO Chet Kanojia argued broadband is now just as essential as food and shelter. There is some data to back up the idea that customers are increasingly giving broadband precedence among their other spending priorities. According to Recon Analytics’ Mobile Intender Service (RAMIS) and Home Broadband Service (RAHBIS) survey, internet ranks fifth overall in terms of bill importance. It trails only housing payments, utilities like power and gas, credit cards and health insurance. Broadband service was ranked even higher among households with annual income ranging from $10,000 to $24,999, coming in third behind housing and utilities.
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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