Friday, June 10, 2022
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The Senate's Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband convened an oversight hearing on the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and its implementation of the broadband programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson was the sole witness.
The hearing was chaired by Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM). In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Luján urged Administrator Davidson to consider three points:
- NTIA must stay focused on closing the digital divide for all Americans. Broadband access relies on both availability and adoption. For some communities, affordability has been – and will remain – the most pressing obstacle for ensuring adoption. For others, ensuring availability through high-quality future-proof fiber is the solution. And for others, deployment of wireless technology capable across challenging terrain must be prioritized. No single solution is going to work for all Americans, and I am glad that Administrator Davidson recognizes that.
- NTIA must work closely with the FCC, USDA, OMB, and other agencies to accomplish its mission. BEAD is the newest, but there are 133 federal programs administered across 15 agencies that support broadband access.
- NTIA must ensure investments in connectivity are made efficiently and in the best interests of the communities they serve. NTIA’s mission is to support secure, private, free, and open communications is critical for protecting consumers. Industry has made significant private investment to close the digital divide. Despite the federal government’s many programs to provide broadband access, we continue to fall short. Digital equity is essential. We must do more in rural areas, Tribal nations, and in urban areas with a history of digital redlining. In a report released just last week, GAO recommended NTIA identify key statutory provisions that limit the reach of broadband programs. NTIA should offer legislative proposals to address those limitations.
[much more at the link below]
The Federal Communications Commission is committing over $244 million in Emergency Connectivity Fund program support, helping to close the Homework Gap. The funding supports applications from the program’s third filing window which ran from April 28, 2022 until May 13, 2022, and will provide support in the upcoming 2022-2023 school year for 259 schools, 24 libraries, and 1 consortium across the country, including for students in California, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, New York, and Virginia. The FCC also announced $18 million in funding from two previous application windows, bringing the total funding committed to date to $5.1 billion. Of the $5.1 billion funding commitments approved to date, $4.1 billion is supporting applications from Window 1, $818 million from Window 2; and $244 million from Window 3. To date, the program has helped over 12.7 million students, supporting approximately 10,000 schools, 900 libraries, and 100 consortia, and providing over 11 million connected devices and 5 million broadband connections.
According to U.S. News & World Report, New Hampshire is 10th overall in access to broadband, But the state ranks 35th for data speed. BroadbandNow estimates that only 30 percent of the state has access to fiber-optic service and only about 7 percent has access to 1-gig service. On June 7, 2022, the U.S. Department of Treasury approved New Hampshire's plan to invest $50 million of the state's Capital Projects Fund allotment for broadband deployment. Although the Capital Projects Fund can support a number of uses that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Hampshire is concentrating over 40% of its allocation at this time on deploying reliable, affordable broadband infrastructure. The state has created the Broadband Contract Program, overseen by the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs, to offer broadband service providers with a financial incentive to bring service to unserved and underserved addresses in the state—areas/addresses where it may be financially detrimental for providers to attempt to expand. Applications will be scored using criteria that encourage the maximum number of properties to be served at the lowest cost and prioritize broadband networks that will be owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives. New Hampshire estimates that investments made using the Capital Projects Fund will serve 50 percent of locations still lacking high-speed internet access in the state.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is still in the process of authorizing bids from its $9.2 billion auction conducted in December 2020. Areas for which winning bids are authorized will have a much harder time going after Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program funding. And after the auction closed there was an array of bids by a variety of broadband providers which looked problematic—either because they were for technologies that don’t represent equitable, pragmatic solutions in the long run, or because they were won by providers ill-prepared to scale to the level they would need to to fulfill obligations. ISLR had developed a new resource to keep tabs on which providers have gotten money, how much has been authorized, and in which states.
Brightspeed will pass 130,000 addresses in the Commonwealth of Virginia during the next several years, with the first 60,000 of those passings to be completed by the end of 2023. The first phase of the Virginia rollout will include portions of Charlottesville and parts of Albemarle, Campbell, Henry, Page, Rockbridge and Smyth counties.
There are around 157,000 households in Butler County, Ohio, and it is estimated about 45% are lacking adequate internet access so the Butler County commissioners approved seeking proposals to rectify the situation. The commissioners have agreed to spend $10 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and officially voted to issue a request for proposals and qualifications to handle the new program. County Administrator Judi Boyko has been working on the project for months and plans to issue the formal request June 13. The deadline is July 29 and she plans to convene a committee to evaluate the submissions and believes they could have a contract by the end of 2022.
The United States, European Union and other NATO countries have donated billions of dollars in military equipment to Ukraine since the war began in late February. But Elon Musk’s Starlink—based on a cluster of table-sized satellites flying as low as 130 miles above Ukraine and beaming down high-speed internet access—has become an unexpected lifeline to the country: both on the battlefield and in the war for public opinion. Ukrainian drones have relied on Starlink to drop bombs on Russian forward positions. People in besieged cities near the Russian border have stayed in touch with loved ones via the encrypted satellites. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the country’s president, has regularly updated his millions of social media followers on the back of Musk’s network, as well as holding Zoom calls with global politicians from President Joe Biden to French leader Emmanuel Macron. All told, Starlink—and Ukraine’s use of the satellite network, both for its military and civilians—has thwarted Russia’s efforts to cut the Eastern European country off from the outside world, giving Kyiv a much-needed victory against Moscow in a conflict that shows no sign of ending.
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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