Tuesday, June 14, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
We're just a few days from Juneteenth, a holiday that reminds us of the critical connection between communications and equity. June 19 commemorates the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas first learned about the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Cut off from communications, slaves in Texas were deprived news of their freedom for over two and a half years. One hundred and fifty-seven years later, we can still see how lack of access to communications holds back individuals, families, and communities. As Congress found in the new Infrastructure Law, access to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband is essential to full participation in modern life in the United States. Although these benefits should be broadly enjoyed by all, the digital divide disproportionately affects communities of color, lower-income areas, and rural areas. Affordability is a major barrier to broadband adoption. The good news is that Congress has set aside more than $14 billion to address broadband affordability for low-income households.
The United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry teamed up with our civil rights allies in 2021 and successfully persuaded Congress to adopt a new program that helps low-income households pay for high-speed internet. Now that Congress has acted, our biggest challenge is publicizing the program. Families and individuals need to hear from trusted members of their own communities to learn more — people like you! Learn more about the new Affordable Connectivity Program and how you can help. UCC Media Justice is encouraging UCC churches, conferences, associations and individual members — and our friends throughout the faith and humanitarian communities — to help spread the word. Download a copy of the UCC Love Your Neighbors: Get Them Internet toolkit.
Board meetings of the Southern Alleghenies (PA) Planning & Development Commission tended to be straightforward. No one had spoken during the public comment period in years. But in January 2022, the calm was broken when Richard Latker, president of a local civic group, read out a lengthy statement that lambasted officials for a lack of transparency. Latker said the regional commission was spending thousands of dollars to fight the release of basic information and accused officials of misleading state regulators. His allegations took direct aim at one of the commission’s most prized initiatives: a nonprofit launched to spearhead broadband expansion across Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon, and Somerset (PA) Counties. Officials in the Southern Alleghenies region created the organization in part to sidestep an obscure provision in state law that puts roadblocks in the way of local governments trying to build their own broadband networks. But having developed a solution for one problem, those local officials now find themselves accused of creating another.
Millions of dollars are going toward expanding high-speed internet access in Louisiana, driving demand for a workforce without a clear path to entry. But a local solution is in the works. Bridging the digital divide has become a priority for Louisiana since the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the crucial role that high-speed internet plays in the state’s education and economic systems. Using federal funds, the state launched a $180 million program in 2021 to provide underserved areas with high-speed internet. In March 2022, Acadiana (LA) welcomed Vice President Kamala Harris to Ville Platte to announce a $30 million federal grant to build fiber internet across 11 rural towns in the area. Although major federal investments are aiming to bridge that gap, the funds can only go so far without an increase in the number of workers capable of building and installing high-speed internet infrastructure. The deluge of funding, along with private expansion efforts, is driving a major spike in demand for those services and for workers.
After years of planning, the Port of Columbia is in the final stages of bringing broadband internet to households in Dayton and the surrounding areas of Columbia County (WA). Once the network is complete, every household in the Dayton city limits with have access to the paid service by early 2023. “We will be able to extend out about three miles from the city of Dayton to the outer parts of the town,” Port of Columbia Executive Director Jennie Dickinson said. “We are a little bit ahead of the game compared to other counties that are doing the same thing with broadband.” According to Dickinson, 231,000 feet of fiber optic cable is scheduled for delivery in July 2022 that eventually will be strung to power poles across the area bringing broadband access to households. The port came to an agreement with Pacific Corp to use the power poles and hired the company Zero dB to plan construction. The designs should be ready by the end of July 2022, and construction companies will start bidding on the project then. The two internet service providers (ISPs) that have shown interest in taking the lead with broadband internet are Columbia iConnect and Emerge by Inland Cellular, Dickinson said. The Port of Columbia will own the fiber optic network, and the ISPs will provide the actual internet service to the customer.
I’ve been asked three or four times in the last few weeks why anybody would invest in building rural broadband networks with the goal of getting rich. I’ve been hearing the same rumors as everybody else that there are private equity investors ready to jump into the rural grant arena. I have no specific knowledge that this is going to occur, but I’ve run across several internet service providers (ISPs) recently who claim to have access to nearly unlimited equity funding. It’s easy to understand why somebody who doesn’t understand the rural industry might think this is a great time to invest. Just having a $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grant program on the horizon is bound to attract investors who think that free money ought to mean big returns. But I’m afraid that private equity investors are going to find a different business environment in rural broadband markets than what they are expecting. I suspect that part of the lure for new investors to the industry is the high multiples being paid recently for broadband networks. Some of the multiples I’ve seen in the last few years are the highest in my memory. But there is no reason to think that today’s high multiples will somehow accrue to rural fiber networks, especially if those networks aren’t generating much return. To answer the original question that I’ve been asked – why would private equity want to invest in rural broadband? The more I think about it, the more I come up with the same answer – I have no idea.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
As Dish Network prepares to show how it’s meeting its June 14th requirement of offering 5G to 20 percent of the US population, the satellite TV operator is battling new allegations from SpaceX over the 12 GHz band. Dish and SpaceX have been at odds over the 12 GHz band for over a year now. The conflict between the two ratcheted up recently when SpaceX accused Dish of meddling in its attempt to help people in Ukraine. Specifically, “as part of its argument about service to enable mobile platforms in the United States, Dish criticizes SpaceX CEO Elon Musk for responding to the Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister’s request for ideas ‘to keep Starklinks & life-saving services online’ in Ukraine,” SpaceX wrote in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission. “While one can hope that Dish made this condemnation in error, these tactics nonetheless highlight the lengths to which Dish will go so long as the commission inexplicably leaves the 12 GHz proceeding open.” Dish responded June 13 with a filing that cites seven tweets from SpaceX and its CEO Elon Musk, most of which have nothing to do with Ukraine and more to do with how Starlink can be used in traditionally hard-to-reach areas and while moving. Dish asserts that SpaceX has been encouraging Starlink users to operate their terminals when moving on planes, boats and recreational vehicles, which it says is against the law in the US, where SpaceX has not received approval from the FCC for Earth Station in Motion (ESIM) operations. SpaceX ignored Dish’s earlier demands that it stop issuing such statements and retract what it already said about using devices in moving vehicles.
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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