Tuesday, May 9, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
What the Benton Institute Learned about Affordable Connectivity Plan Enrollment and Digital Equity Planning
How the FCC National Broadband Map Impacts the BEAD Program & Part II
Kansas Commits $30 Million to Increase High-Speed Internet Availability
Data & Mapping
What the Benton Institute Learned about Affordable Connectivity Plan Enrollment and Digital Equity Planning
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society recently launched an ACP Enrollment Performance Tool to compare expected Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) enrollment to actual enrollment. The difference is a measure of performance. The tool displays actual ACP enrollment, predicted enrollment, as well as metrics that help users understand the drivers of good (or not-so-good) performance, such as housing costs or severe poverty. In the event ACP sunsets in 2024, the tool can also help identify places most at risk for disconnection—and help guide policymakers as they consider how to fill the ACP void should the program end. The ACP puts more low-income Americans on the same footing as everyone else regarding communications tools in the United States. Over 80% of households with incomes over $50,000 annually have both wireline and wireless internet service plans. Low-income households often must choose between a cellular data plan or a wireline one for service. Many opt for cellular data plans because it is a flexible communications tool (mobility, voice, and internet service). The ACP subsidy allows low-income households to add a service, whether it is a wireless or wireline service. One could argue that the ACP is the single most important policy intervention to advance universal service policy goals in the past quarter century.
Data & Mapping
How the FCC National Broadband Map Impacts the BEAD Program, Part 1 of 3: Allocation of Funds
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to use the Federal Communication Commission's National Broadband Map to determine how much money each state, territory, and the District of Columbia (which we refer to as “Eligible Entities” for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program) will be allocated in the BEAD program. The allocation formula set in the law includes three components: 1) a baseline of $100 million for each state and $25 million for each territory, 2) a calculation of the number of unserved locations in each state divided by the nationwide total of unserved locations, and 3) the number of “high cost” unserved locations in each state divided by the nationwide total of high-cost unserved locations. The current version of the FCC map reflects 113 million broadband serviceable locations, eight million of which are represented as unserved (roughly 7% of the total). Due to the size of the data set, it would take an outsized increase or decrease in the number of unserved locations within an Eligible Entity relative to the national total to have a significant impact on the final BEAD allocations. To ensure that the map we use for allocations includes the most high-quality data possible, NTIA, in conjunction with the FCC, has worked closely with states, territories, and other stakeholders to help them provide input to the FCC’s National Broadband Map.
How the FCC National Broadband Map Impacts the BEAD Program, Part 2 of 3: The Role of States and Territories in Selecting Locations Eligible for BEAD Funding
One of the primary uses of the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Map for the purposes of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program is the allocation process – the process of determining the amount of BEAD funds between the states, territories, and the District of Columbia (“Eligible Entities”). The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) requires each Eligible Entity to determine the locations and community anchor institutions within its jurisdiction that are eligible for BEAD funding and conduct a process to validate and finalize those eligibility determinations. This process is designed to give each Eligible Entity the flexibility to enable infrastructure projects that will have the most impact on the ground. The FCC National Broadband Map is the foundation of this effort, but Eligible Entities are not restricted to using the FCC National Broadband Map alone. Step one in this process is for Eligible Entities to develop a state map, using the FCC National Broadband Map as a foundation. Step two is the challenge process. Eligible Entities must initially allow local and tribal governments, nonprofits, and Internet service providers to challenge whether service is available at a given location. This process has two major benefits:
- Stakeholders will have another opportunity to challenge the availability of service at a given broadband serviceable location so that all unserved and underserved locations are connected.
- BEAD program funding will be directed to locations that are not receiving other funding to provide qualifying broadband, thereby maximizing the federal investment.
In short, the National Broadband Map provides the foundation for determining where Eligible Entities will deploy BEAD funding, but each Eligible Entity will be able to tailor its own BEAD challenge process to ensure that the final list of eligible locations is accurate and appropriate. The NTIA strongly recommends that interested parties participate in these processes to ensure their views are taken into account.
A recent story in the Texas Tribune discussed how Texas’s broadband map shows service in some areas that residents say doesn’t exist. Discrepancies like those push state and local policymakers to engage in their own expensive mapping efforts to try to address such errors before distributing the tens of billions of dollars in broadband subsidies coming down the pike. Paradoxically, to improve availability maps, a state’s (or county’s, city’s, or town’s) first step should not be to gather more availability data. Instead, states should first turn to data—often available for free—on metrics other than availability to systematically evaluate the quality of the Federal Communications Commission's availability data. The results of that analysis can then allow the state to focus data-gathering resources specifically on areas the evaluations suggest information on availability may be suspect rather than replicating the FCC’s efforts across the entire state. One method is to use adoption and speed data to infer where availability data may have errors. Availability, speed, and adoption are distinctly different measures, but they are correlated with each other. This positive correlation means that we should generally expect them to be broadly similar: high availability, high adoption, and high speeds go together. We can be most certain that the availability data is correct in regions where all the variables intersect.
Governor Laura Kelly (D-KS) highlighted a new program aimed at helping Kansas communities that lack high-speed internet. The Lasting Infrastructure and Network Connectivity (LINC) program will provide $30 million in competitive funding opportunities to build the infrastructure needed for more homes and businesses to access broadband. The goal of the LINC program is to reduce the cost of internet service, increase its availability, and improve its performance for users. LINC will provide opportunities for increased adoption of the internet by focusing on funding for:
- Broadband infrastructure enabling end-user locations with a minimum of 100/20 Mbps speeds.
- Internet Exchange Point facilities to improve the overall internet access service quality for all Kansans.
- Middle Mile infrastructure to reduce overall costs in delivering broadband to end-users.
Entities eligible to apply for the LINC program include internet service providers, political subdivisions, tribal governments, cooperatives, and non-profit organizations. Projects in higher-cost, rural areas are eligible for greater public matches to encourage providers to build out otherwise financially unviable areas. Projects submitted to the Capital Projects Funds program can be considered for these awards.
The South Carolina Broadband Office (SCBBO) created a $100 million grant program based upon the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Capital Projects Fund (CPF). Designated as ARPA CPF 1.0, this new program is the fourth major tranche of South Carolina broadband investments. It maintains priority focus on unserved census blocks 1) with large numbers of K-12 students or 2) that are in difficult development areas or 3) that are without an internet service provider (ISP). In addition, ARPA CPF 1.0 introduces a priority focus on remaining unserved Main Street communities. The ARPA CPF 1.0 Project Plan, which was recently approved by the US Treasury, requires the highest federal construction standards at 100 Mbps symmetric service (100 Mbps download / 100 Mbps upload) throughout all funded areas. The SCBBO will take applications for ARPA CPF 1.0 from May 15 to July 15, 2023, and final awards are planned for announcement in November 2023. A preliminary Eligibility Map that reflects all known unserved Broadband Serviceable Locations (BSLs) was made available to eligible ISPs on May 1, 2023, so that they may challenge designations.
Satellite internet competition is heating up and Ookla has fresh data from Q4 2022 and Q1 2023 for HughesNet, SpaceX’s Starlink, and Viasat in North America, South America, and the Caribbean, as well as new Starlink markets. One finding is that Starlink users in metro and nonmetro areas love Starlink, while fixed broadband users dislike their internet service providers. Starlink speeds increased in Canada and the US over the past two quarters, but are mixed year-over-year. Starlink in Canada, Chile, and Jamaica, blazed ahead as the fastest satellite provider in mainland North America, South America, and the Caribbean, respectively. [more at the URL below]
The cellular coverage in rural areas is drastically different than the national coverage maps that cellular carriers have been advertising for years. The Federal Communications Commission announced a process to address this issue in October 2020 when it announced the creation of a 5G Fund for Rural America. This will be a $9 billion fund that comes from the Universal Service Fund and that will provide subsidies for wireless carriers to build and equip new rural cell towers. The FCC tried this a few years earlier and abandoned the process when it became obvious that the cellular coverage maps created by the big cellular companies had little to do with reality. There is a map challenge process for the public to provide feedback to try to fix the cellular maps by taking speed tests from rural locations – but the process is cumbersome, and it’s likely that few people know about it or are providing the speed tests in the specified way. The speed tests must be logged through an FCC app. There is no question that something like this funding is badly needed. Poor cell coverage is devastating to an area. There are huge swaths of the country where folks can’t reach 911 by cellphone. We can’t get serious about smart agriculture without the bare minimum network to provide connectivity. No cell coverage makes it hard to do tasks that the rest of us take for granted.
Studies exploring the relationship between technology in the classroom and students’ outcomes have yielded mixed results. We contribute to the debate by examining the effects of broadband subsidies to schools on school performance measures in Florida. Specifically, using a nearly universal panel of Florida schools in the period 2016-2019, we assess the effect of federal broadband subsidies to schools via the E-Rate program on school grades. We build on previous studies by separating subsidies into support for internet access and support for internal connections as well as examining performance across subject matter and school levels. Our initial results suggest that the relationship between broadband subsidies and school performance is minuscule at best.
Comcast and Verizon urged Maryland's highest court to strike down a 2021 law that imposes a tax on some digital ads, arguing both that the statute violates the Constitution, and that it conflicts with a 1998 federal law. The hearing centered on a 2021 Maryland law that imposes taxes on some online companies with more than $100 million in digital ad revenue. Rates vary from 2.5% to 10% of revenue attributable to Maryland, with the percentage tied to global revenue. The bill, aimed at large tech companies including Google and Facebook, was enacted over the veto of former Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD). After lawmakers overrode the veto, they amended the bill to add a provision exempting from the tax “news media entities” that sell digital ads. The measure defines news media entities as entities “engaged primarily in the business of newsgathering, reporting, or publishing articles or commentary about news, current events, culture, or other matters of public interest.” Comcast and Verizon challenged that law in state court.
A torpedoed Biden FCC nominee shows the power of dark money campaigns and a ‘perfect storm’ of industry interests
When President Joe Biden nominated Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society] to serve on the Federal Communications Commission, the longtime consumer advocate expected to face criticism over her desire to expand free internet access and improve competition among broadband providers. Instead, Sohn found herself the target of an aggressive campaign funded by a conservative group that doesn’t have to disclose its donors. The American Accountability Foundation called Sohn too partisan, anti-police, and soft on sex trafficking. The attacks landed — to the point that even some Democrats abandoned her. Sohn withdrew her nomination, ditching her fight for a term as an FCC commissioner. The battle over the nomination is the latest example of how organizations with political and financial agendas have been able to sway public opinion by deploying donations that are impossible to trace. It is also emblematic of how nominees’ missteps — even on matters wholly unrelated to their prospective jobs — can become fodder for attacks. In Sohn’s case, the stakes were high. Her confirmation would’ve ended a 2-2 split on the commission, enabling Biden’s administration to pursue its agenda of making communication networks more equitable. Sohn has been a vocal advocate of such regulations, which have been aggressively opposed by the telecom industry.
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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