Tuesday, July 12, 2022
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In November 2021, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, Black Brilliance Research Project (BBR), and Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University launched the six-city Digital Equity Action Research (DEAR) Fellowship. The DEAR Fellowship helped young adults, ages 19–24, learn participatory action research skills to examine and address the root causes of digital inequities in their communities. Participatory Action Research (PAR) is different from traditional research paradigms. PAR should be used to both investigate and change—shaping the design of new initiatives, informing the execution of campaigns, and increasing the understanding of issues. As part of this initiative, one organization in each of the six participating cities—Baltimore; Boston; Cleveland; Long Beach, California; San Antonio; and Seattle—took part in the fellowship and hosted one DEAR Fellow. The fellows and their host organizations received a stipend for their work on the project for a two-month period from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Marjorie & Charles Benton Opportunity Fund. The Robert W. Deutsch Foundation partnered on the project to underwrite the participation of Baltimore's Village Learning Place and its DEAR Fellow. The end goal of the fellowship was to increase the skills and capacity of the DEAR Fellows and their communities and to identify and address the root causes of digital inequities while learning from peers around the United States. The fellows learned new participatory action research skills, an approach that brings together advocacy and research methods to create change with those closest to the problems in community settings.
[Shaun Glaze is Research Lead and Director at the Black Brilliance Research Project and one of the designers and facilitators of the curriculum for this inaugural DEAR Fellowship. Benton Senior Fellow Colin Rhinesmith (he/him) is the Founder and Director of the Digital Equity Research Center at the Metropolitan New York Library Council. Chris Webb is the Internet Access and Digital Equity Research Team Leader at Black Brilliance Research Project. Sabrina Roach is a Digital Equity Advisor and the former Director of Strategic Partnerships, Inclusive Data in support of the Black Brilliance Research Project.]
The $65 billion included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is intended to finally close a technology gap identified more than three decades ago, giving “every American” access to affordable, high-speed Internet.Almost two-thirds of the Infrastructure Act's broadband dollars will go to the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). States have until July 18 to send NTIA a letter of intent to participate in the program. The BEAD timeline overlaps with another NTIA program, the Digital Equity Act (DEA). The DEA is intended to spur the achievement of digital equity. It includes $60 million in grants to help states create five-year digital equity plans. The deadline for application is July 12. Funds will be available in September 2022, and states have 12 months to make plans. There’s an important reason to take a hard look at these programs and timelines: The BEAD five-year plan must incorporate the DEA five-year plan. Along the way, states need to figure out how to make their programs sustainable once the federal dollars stop flowing, so citizens can rely on broadband indefinitely into the future. With billions of broadband infrastructure dollars at stake, states have to ensure that digital equity programs are sustainable long after federal money has been spent.
There are new predictions of a possible recession, and it’s fair to ask if internet service providers (ISPs) should be worried about it. The question of whether broadband is recession-proof is really asking if people will willingly give up the many things that they do online. Is there a point in people’s lives where broadband becomes a necessity that they will fight to keep when times get tough? I suspect most of the people who read this blog think that broadband is essential for daily life. But the big question that will have to be answered is how many others find broadband to be indispensable. It’s easy for those of us live and breathe broadband to suppose that more people each year are finding broadband to be a necessity – but that still doesn’t mean that enough people feel that way that we can declare broadband to be recession-proof.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
The USForward group, consisting of Mattey Consulting—the Ad Hoc Telecom Users Committee, INCOMPAS, NTCA, Public Knowledge, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, and the Voice on the Net Coalition—filed a letter on July 8, 2022, in response to AT&T’s letter claiming the USForward Report and its recommendation to assess broadband internet access service revenues is based on a number of flawed assumptions. USForward said, among other things, that the report uses the Federal Communications Commission’s own projections for Universal Service Fund (USF) demand for existing USF programs to provide a consistent baseline for analysis and to avoid making any predictions about what changes the commission might make regarding USF distribution programs at some future date. "The USForward group agrees with AT&T that '[n]ow is the time for the FCC to act using its existing authority," the letter states. "Given we agree on the importance of immediate FCC reform and that the FCC has the authority to assess [broadband internet access services] revenues now, there is no need for the FCC to wait for additional authority from Congress to start reforming USF."
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel reaffirmed the FCC’s commitment to increasing competition within the communications sector following the one-year anniversary of President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy. “Our economy thrives on competition," said Rosenworcel. "Over history, it has inspired innovation, increased choice, and improved our resourcefulness and efficiency. That’s why over the last 18 months, the FCC has helped reinvigorate competition in the communications sector. We’ve taken action to give families living in apartment buildings more choices for their broadband service, assisted with expanding the reach of next generation 5G networks to more parts of the country, and we are developing more opportunities for companies to build communications equipment here at home. There’s more work to do, and we’re rolling up our sleeves to make sure it continues.”
A debate has been raging between cable and fiber players over whether symmetrical speeds are a must-have or merely a marketing campaign. But the question of whether consumers need symmetrical speeds is very different from asking whether they want such capabilities. Fresh data from Recon Analytics indicates that for a significant portion of consumers the answer to the latter is a resounding “yes.” Charter CEO Tom Rutledge has notably argued the position that the answer to the first question – do customers need symmetrical speeds – is no, and that all the hype around such capabilities is just marketing buzz. And usage data appears to back him up. OpenVault’s most recent report showed that while uplink usage is growing, it remains a fraction of downstream consumption. AT&T, meanwhile, has been one of the most vocal proponents of symmetrical speeds, particularly in the multi-gig realm. Shortly after the rollout of its 2-gig and 5-gig plans, AT&T VP of Broadband Technology Management Josh Goodell noted uplink usage had jumped 3x among multi-gig subscribers.
There's a plan to make sure everyone in Colorado has access to high-speed internet. The state just received $500 million from the American Rescue Plan to make it happen. The reality is so many of our neighbors in rural counties and even in parts of Colorado Springs can not get access to broadband internet. For those who can, it may be expensive or unreliable; the Advance Colorado Broadband Grant Program will help put an end to that. Executive Director of the Colorado Broadband Office Brandy Reitter says, "It is very cost-prohibitive for [internet service providers] to make some of the investments necessary in our state to expand access." But the program is going to help internet providers pay for the infrastructure to give everyone affordable internet. "You know, it's like we're building the bridge, and the [internet service providers] are building local roads that connect to that bridge. So that's probably the easiest way to explain it", says Reitter.
Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston announced that Glen Howie has been named the state’s new Director of Broadband. Howie comes to the Commerce Department from Louisiana’s Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity. As broadband director, Howie will advise the governor and the secretary of commerce on key issues related to the deployment of broadband throughout Arkansas. He will lead the agency’s efforts for broadband and oversee a three-year plan to provide broadband access to 110,000 underserved households throughout all areas of the state. As senior policy analyst for the Louisiana Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity, Howie worked under Executive Director Veneeth Iyengar to form and implement Louisiana’s broadband policy in regard to access, affordability, digital literacy, and inclusion, as well as the development of regulatory rules regarding Louisiana’s first $177 million broadband infrastructure grant program. As a result, Louisiana was one of the first four states in the country to have its fund plans approved by the US Treasury Department. The state also ranked first in the country in enrollment in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, relative to eligible households, and was recognized for its groundbreaking stakeholder engagement efforts by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
Regional cable operator Breezeline, formerly Atlantic Broadband, has entered into two public-private partnerships in Maryland. The larger of the two partnerships will extend broadband to 524 homes and businesses in Cecil, St Mary’s and Queen Anne’s (MD) counties. Breezeline is contributing $347,000 to that project. Other contributors are the state, which is providing $3.68 million and the counties, which will contribute $309,000. The total cost of the project is expected to be $4.3 million. Applications for grants to support the deployment were submitted to the Maryland Network Infrastructure Grant Program and the Neighborhood Connect Broadband Funding Program. Both programs are aimed at extending broadband to unserved areas. The programs are administered through the state’s Office of Statewide Broadband. The other announcement was a $339,000 grant to Breezeline and the St Mary’s County Board of Education from the Maryland Emergency Education Relief (MEER) grant program. The funding will bring broadband to 23 student households. The grant program is administered by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) through the Office of Statewide Broadband (OSB).
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced an addition to her staff and adjustments to policy portfolios for select legal advisors. Effective July 11, Carmen Scurato will serve as the Chairwoman’s Legal Advisor for Consumer and Public Safety issues. David Strickland will now serve as Legal Advisor, Media. Ethan Lucarelli will serve as Legal Advisor for Wireless and International issues. Ramesh Nagarajan will serve as Legal Advisor for Wireline and Enforcement related issues. Carmen Scurato joins Rosenworcel's office from Free Press where she served as Associate Legal Director and Senior Counsel covering telecommunications, privacy, and technology issues. Prior to David Strickland’s role in Rosenworcel's office, he served as Assistant Bureau Chief in the Enforcement Bureau, managing consumer protection, privacy, and media enforcement matters. Ethan Lucarelli previously worked as the legal and policy advisor to the Bureau Chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. Ramesh Nagarajan was the Deputy Division Chief of the Competition Policy Division within the Wireline Competition Bureau before joining Rosenworcel's office.
It’s time to look anew at individual rights and to broaden our discussion of them to include where we have sometimes gone wrong in safeguarding those rights. This demands more than just questioning court nominees about stare decisis, important as that may be. This is a discussion for we, the people to be involved in. As we ponder the inroads the current high court is making into areas where it really has little writ to intervene, let’s wake up to the fact that its actions are tossing real Constitutionalism out the door, on both policy and process. I say this not to disparage. There is no place on earth I’d rather live. But we have to remove our blinders, ideological and otherwise. We must learn the facts from a more responsible media, insist upon a judiciary that preserves human rights, demand results from Congress, and realize that each of us is responsible for doing our part. Preserving our democracy is not a spectator sport. Being a part of preserving and enhancing it is everyone’s solemn obligation.
[Michael Copps leads the Media Democracy and Reform Initiative at Common Cause and served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011.]
Through the “huge” growth of internet traffic, Big Tech is “forcing” phone companies to invest heavily in improving networks while not helping to meet the cost, said Orange SA CEO Christel Heydemann. “We are condemned to invest in infrastructure,” Heydemann said. She added that network traffic is expected to “multiply by three or five” times in the next six years. That huge growth is “essentially captured by a few players, the big content providers, five players that force us to invest,” she added. Without naming specific companies, Heydemann said a future challenge would be work with large tech companies that she said are “forcing certain behaviors” on their users. Orange CFO Ramon Fernandez added that technology giants “hardly participate in the deployment of infrastructure” when, in the next four years, some “15 billion euros ($15.3 billion) of added investment will be required to absorb traffic growth” in Europe.
Comparisons between US and European broadband prices abound, but their respective markets are built on such entirely different cost structures as to make any comparison between the two meaningless without accounting for the differences in necessary expenditures. A longstanding narrative that US broadband prices are exorbitantly higher than their European peers’ buttresses claims of European superiority and calls for similar unbundling requirements and regulated competition in the U.S telecom industry. However, US broadband providers bear 53 percent higher costs than European providers pay for equivalent labor, capital investments in network infrastructure, spectrum licenses, advertising, and taxes minus subsidies. US telecom workers’ wages are higher than those in Europe, while US capital expenditures surpass EU infrastructure investments both overall and per household. Critics would be hard-pressed to argue for cost-cutting in these areas. On the other hand, European telecom companies are taxed at a lower rate than U.S. providers and receive more government subsidies. In every regard, US providers must pour proportionately higher amounts into essential expenditures. Finally, in response to allegations that US providers artificially raise prices and pocket the difference: an analysis of operating profits shows that European broadband companies have an average profit higher than their US peers. Comparisons between US and European broadband prices are meaningless at best and misleading at worst when they fail to account for the difference in deployment and operating costs that must necessarily be assumed, at least in part, by consumers.
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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