Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
This Week: Broadband Communities Summit 2022
Community Anchor Institutions
Stories From Abroad
Guidance to executive departments and agencies that have responsibilities for implementing programs created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The IIJA provides $550 billion in new federal investment in infrastructure, including $65 billion for broadband programs. The Administration is committed to creating a governance structure that will break down barriers and eliminate silos. To ensure robust governance and management of effective, efficient, and equitable IIJA implementation within and across agencies:
- Agencies must designate a senior accountable official for IIJA implementation.
- Agencies also should designate an implementation coordinator to manage a crossfunctional team and processes to implement IIJA and this guidance, and to interact with the e Infrastructure Implementation Task Force, the White House Infrastructure Implementation Team, and OMB.
- Agencies should ensure equity expertise—including Agency Equity Teams, established to lead agency implementation of Executive Order 13985 on “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities”—is embedded in IIJA implementation.
House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) joined Glen Echo Group CEO Maura Corbett for a conversation at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s 40th Anniversary celebration. In the wake of the unprecedented investment in broadband included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Corbett asked Clyburn where he thinks we’ll be in five years. “Oh, in five years,” Clyburn answered, “I think this is going to be a successful venture.” Representative Clyburn said attention now turns to states, like his home, South Carolina. Clyburn got a call from Governor Henry McMaster (R-SC) who said, “I'm getting ready to do the State of the State address and I'm going to be asking for a significant amount of dollars for your broadband program." “That's the way he said it. And he did. And he had already done a lot. And when we passed the infrastructure bill, he says, ‘Every residence, every business in this state, we are going to have connected in 3 to 4 years.’” Governor McMaster was the very first governor in the country to endorse Donald Trump. And Representative Clyburn is known for his influential endorsement of President Biden during the 2020 primaries. But the two see eye-to-eye on broadband.
To help communities across the country navigate federal grant opportunities for broadband and smart city projects – including new programs created under the $110 billion American Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – US Ignite proudly unveils the new ‘Federal Funding Opportunity Tool.’ Using the tool, community leaders seeking federal funding can now target the grants that best match their needs based on areas of investment interest, funding availability, and funding requirements. US Ignite developed the Federal Funding Opportunity Tool to enhance its existing Federal Funding Opportunities Database. This database originated thanks to funding from the Knight Foundation and now curates listings of federal programs with grants to support various broadband and smart city projects. While users can still browse the full database, those who are less familiar with federal programs will find the funding tool a more efficient way to navigate the opportunities available. Municipal leaders can access the Federal Funding Opportunity Tool for free at US Ignite’s website.
Charter Communications updated investors during its first quarter 2022 earnings call and offered some insight on the impact of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program on the operator. Charter was the largest RDOF auction winner, measured by the number of locations. The cable company won $1.22 billion to bring service to over one million locations in 24 states. Charter sees RDOF activity as one of the main drivers of its broadband strategy. “Our rural construction initiative is also progressing as planned and we’ve started to work in all 24 of the states where we won Rural Digital Opportunity Fund bids,” said Charter CEO Tom Rutledge. “Through RDOF we’ll add over a hundred thousand miles of new network infrastructure to our approximately eight hundred thousand existing miles over the next five or so years.” Rutledge noted that the strategy goes beyond just RDOF funded areas. “Our construction is not limited to RDOF commitments. We continue to build in other rural areas and are pursuing opportunities to receive other broadband stimulus funds,” he said. It’s early in the game for Charter’s RDOF initiative, but the company is beginning to see financial implications. RDOF activity is generating expenses but is not material to rural subscriber growth yet.
Previously, US Ignite provided an overview of funding opportunities and highlighted a sample of current state projects. Here we explain the role of state broadband offices, where to find them, and how to initiate a successful partnership. Here are four suggestions we think will guide you in engaging your state broadband officials:
- Define your project needs. Every journey begins with a step. The first and most important step is to identify the existing challenges in your community and design responsive projects.
- Contact your state office. Take the time to identify and reach out to your state’s broadband officials, learn more about their interests and their work. Use this NTIA resource as a starting point.
- Contribute to the process. Reach out to your state broadband office and find out what opportunities exist for you to participate. Demonstrate your ability to deliver value by leveraging the list of the members of your local group, collaborative, or partnership.
- Find your fit within the overall strategy. To identify project funding from the ecosystem in your state working with the broadband office, present your project as a concept note or summary paper* of around two pages of content.
Municipal-owned City Utilities of Springfield (MO) is more than halfway done with the construction of a more than 1,000-mile fiber network that will cover the entire city, with work expected to wrap in late 2022 around eight to nine months ahead of schedule. Lumen Technologies, which is pursuing a rapid expansion of its residential fiber footprint, is set to serve as an anchor tenant on the network and will deliver symmetric gigabit internet to Springfield’s 180,000 residents and businesses. Jeff Reiman, president of the Broadband Group (TBG), said Springfield’s fiber buildout is structured by a utility lease model, a framework that serves the city utility’s interests and respects the metrics of the industry. TBG, which provides city and community-wide broadband planning consultation, also oversaw a fiber deployment in Huntsville (AL) where Google Fiber was the city utility's first tenant. Springfield’s utility lease model is similar to what TBG did in Huntsville, Reiman said. Springfield’s City Utilities invested $120 million over a four-year period for the project. Reiman explained this structure attracts qualified anchor tenants like Lumen and Google Fiber – companies with the financial means to pay the long-term lease the utility expects.
There has been a huge shift in broadband subscriptions from early in the pandemic until the end of 2021. Increasingly, customers are signing up for faster broadband speed tiers. It’s obvious that a lot of people have upgraded their broadband subscription during the eighteen months. I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal evidence to support this from my internet service provider (ISP) clients. My consulting firm does a lot of surveys and interviews, and we’ve been seeing this shift everywhere. Unfortunately, for some households, changing to a faster download speed didn’t bring any relief if their real problem was upload speed – but they upgraded and are not likely going to back to the slower speed tiers. Of particular note is the big shift of homes that used to subscribe to speeds under 100 Mbps. In just 18 months, that dropped from 29 percent of all households down to 17 percent. A shift that large sticks a fork into the idea that the public is interested in any broadband product under 100 Mbps. The public is defining the definition of broadband even if the Federal Communications Commission won’t. I think a new ISP needs to dig in and do the market research through surveys to get a better feel for how a given market will act. It’s a new world for anybody that wants to accurately predict how their business will fare – but the good news is that customers seem willing to pay extra for faster speeds.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
Amazon has a plan to deliver internet from space using 3,236 small satellites in low Earth orbit. It’s called Project Kuiper. In April 2022, the company signed a multibillion-dollar contract — the largest rocket deal in the history of the commercial space industry — for launches of its Kuiper satellites with three different entities: Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance (a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin) and Europe’s Arianespace. “In many ways, it’s a response and a competition to Elon Musk and SpaceX with its Starlink network,” said CNBC space reporter Michael Sheetz. Amazon first revealed Project Kuiper in 2019, but the company’s announcement last month gave it new momentum. SpaceX’s Starlink already has about 2,000 satellites in orbit, serving about 250,000 total subscribers. The Federal Communications Commission has approved SpaceX to launch a total of 12,000 satellites. Amazon hasn’t yet launched a single satellite, but it could still be a big player in the game.
President Biden, as part of his executive order on competition, directed the US Department of Treasury to report “on the effects of lack of competition on labor markets.” In March 2022, the Treasury released a report, “The State of Labor Market Competition,” concluding that “a careful review of credible academic studies places the decrease in wages [due to labor market power] at roughly 20 percent relative to the level in a fully competitive market.” Progressives use the report to justify much more aggressive antitrust enforcement, including in merger review, even though it presents virtually no viable evidence for the claim that industry concentration has played any role in this supposed 20 percent decline in wages. The report’s analysis is widely inaccurate, with Treasury analysts using every possible assumption to generate the largest possible estimate. The Treasury report provides some evidence for the presence of market power in labor markets but offers little support for the idea that this market power is due to labor market concentration or that firms are exercising monopsony power. Labor markets are not highly concentrated, nor has labor market concentration been increasing. Labor market frictions are an important source of market power and contribute significantly to a firm’s ability to suppress wages. Policy reform aimed at reducing labor market frictions and improving worker bargaining power is likely to be more effective at improving outcomes for workers than misguided policies aimed at reducing labor market concentration would be.
[Julie Carlson is Associate Director for Antitrust and Innovation Policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.]
Shopping for something online, streaming a video, or scrolling through an article all pose severe risks to personal privacy, as websites, platforms, apps, and tech companies collect massive amounts of data on their users. Just getting online in the first place, however, poses a great risk as well. Internet service providers (ISPs) are uniquely positioned to take advantage of personal data, as they have near-total access to all traffic flowing over their networks. Broadband providers routinely collect data on users’ locations, web browsing, app usage history, and more. In some cases, ISPs also collect data on content their users run across. New advancements in network technology, including private and public mesh networks, introduce new wrinkles to protecting privacy online that make the need for protections all the more urgent. People must be able to access the internet without giving up their privacy.
[Claire Park is a policy analyst with New America’s Open Technology Institute.]
Federal Communications Commissioner Nathan Simington released a statement regarding Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter. "Some have recently called on the FCC to stop Elon Musk from acquiring Twitter," he said. "But nothing in the United States Code or our regulations gives us the right to interfere with this transaction. Our competition review authority does not and has never extended to internet platforms like Twitter. But even if this deal were within our purview, it would be inappropriate and contrary to the public interest to block it. Mr. Musk’s acquisition does not raise any concerns about vertical or
horizontal concentration in the social media market, and there is no reason to think it would otherwise limit competition or harm consumer welfare." The commissioner stated, regarding Starlink, "Concerns about Mr. Musk controlling both Twitter and Starlink—a broadband provider currently serving less than one percent of Americans—cannot be taken seriously. The FCC cannot, and should not, block this sale. We should instead applaud Mr. Musk for doing something about a serious problem that government has so far failed to address." "Finally," he concluded, "I am particularly troubled by arguments that the federal government must act with the purpose of stopping Mr. Musk from enshrining free expression on Twitter. The only merit in such proposals is their candor in proposing something so blatantly illegal. The law in this country does not recognize a government interest in restricting the open exchange of ideas. Labeling content as “fake news” or “disinformation” does not change that. It would be not only unconstitutional, but plainly un-American, for any arm of the government to act against Twitter or Mr. Musk for such a purpose."
ACA Connects Chairman Patricia Jo Boyers, Vice Chair Mike Bowker and President and CEO Matthew Polka announced their plan initiated by Polka to make a leadership change in July 2022. The collective’s goal is to prepare and position the organization for success amid rapid technology developments and expansive legislative and policy challenges. “I have been blessed every day to lead ACA Connects, but after 25 years I believe it is time to pass on the privilege of leadership for the healthy growth and future success of the organization,” Polka said. “I know that new vision and energy will take ACA Connects to even greater accomplishments, built upon our solid foundation of doing things the right way and never backing down or giving up.” Boyers, Bowker, and Polka began discussions in fall 2021 to develop a plan to bring new leadership to ACA Connects in 2022 while keeping the trade association focused on its key priorities. The search for a new ACAC President and CEO is near completion, and Boyers plans to announce the association’s search committee’s selection during the ACA Connects Board meeting in mid-May 2022. An official introduction and celebration are scheduled to take place during the 17th Annual Independent Show in Orlando (FL) July 24-27.
The European Union should make big tech and video streaming companies pay at least some of the estimated €28 billion they cost European telecom groups for their outsized use of network infrastructure, according to a new industry report. A small number of video, social media and tech companies — including Facebook owner Meta, Netflix and Amazon — account for more than 55 percent of all traffic on mobile and broadband networks, according to research commissioned by the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association and conducted by the consultancy firm Axon. This costs European telecommunications companies between €15 and €28 billion each year, they said. If some of these data-guzzling tech groups handed over €20 billion to telecoms companies to cover and increase network investment, it could create 840,000 new jobs by 2025 and significantly reduce energy consumption in the sector, the report claims, because it would spur new spending on 5G and fibre. Telecom companies have been embroiled in a multiyear debate with regulators about whether Big Tech companies, which use up a significant portion of network data, should be made to pay for some of the costly upgrades to infrastructure being undertaken by mobile and broadband carriers, including the billions being spent on 5G and full fibre rollout.
The Biden Administration’s newly launched Declaration for the Future of the Internet is too ambitious. There is no need to focus on what are mostly domestic Internet policy issues, where nations are likely to have differing approaches. This includes data privacy—an issue that is best dealt with the national government level, lest the stronger regulator (the European Union) succeed in imposing its innovation-limiting privacy regime on the rest of the free world. Likewise, the declaration’s signatories should not seek to develop consensus on antitrust policy, as there is a very real risk that the EU’s brand of “precautionary antitrust” will spread to other nations, with negative consequences for US technology companies, jobs, and competitiveness. The same holds true with attempting to come to full agreement on disinformation and misinformation, where various democracies have different laws and traditions that cannot be expected to align, which would open the door for the EU’s export of its flawed and discriminatory Digital Markets Act proposal.
[Ashley Johnson is a senior policy analyst and Robert Atkinson is founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.]
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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