Tuesday, July 20, 2021
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Kentucky, Louisiana and Tribal areas have the largest shares of households signing up for the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program subsidy. The Technology Policy Institute's (TPI) Broadband Map uses EBB data from the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to display program usage and overall progress across the country. As of July 11, almost 3.6 million households had participated in EBB. As of July 15, USAC had not updated the amount of subsidy support claimed; the most recent listing includes data only through May, at which time only $34.6 million of $3.2 billion has been claimed. While the share of eligible households that have signed up for EBB by itself provides only limited generalizable information outside of specific areas, a broader question that can be answered statistically is what types of households are generally receiving EBB support. TPI's analysis of the EBB data suggests that areas with higher shares of low-income households with broadband are signing up at lower rates than elsewhere. This correlation suggests—but does not prove—that the households who could benefit the most are not the ones primarily benefiting from the program. It will be some time before we know how the benefits from the EBB were distributed, yet it is worth tracking closely and making public more detailed data so that we can learn what is working and what isn’t, and apply that knowledge towards future programs.
USA Cares and Connected Nation are asking leaders to consider using a portion of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund–which recently allocated $350 billion across states, territories and tribal governments to use for pandemic-related economic recovery activities–to provide immediate relief and long-term support for veterans and military spouses. USA Cares works daily with veterans struggling with financial needs and other challenges that made adapting to life outside the military difficult. Connected Nation, dedicated to helping local communities, states, and federal agencies create and implement solutions to their broadband and digital technology gaps, is setting up veterans and military spouses for long-term success through its Digital Works program. Together, they help veterans and military families with their immediate needs while setting them up for long-term success. The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds provide enough money to address both needs and still tackle other issues. US leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to help veterans and military spouses in their states, counties and cities, but they must act now.
[Trace Chesser is the president and CEO of USA Cares and Tom Ferree is the CEO and chairman of Connected Nation.]
Federal action is making significant new resources available to states and localities for broadband programs. The magnitude of this funding enables cities of all sizes to consider bold investments in broadband infrastructure. Where private internet service providers (ISPs) failed to provide adequate service, cities often turn to municipal fiber to the premises (FTTP) models. With the government becoming both infrastructure owner and service provider, these approaches enable municipalities to design networks that serve their residents and achieve policy objectives. However, analysis by University of Pennsylvania researchers of the financial performance of such networks illustrates the barriers to sustainable operation. Analyzing 20 municipal fiber networks, the study found the majority were cash-flow negative over four years, with only two networks on a path to pay off the debt incurred within a network’s 30–40-year typical useful life. Recognizing these challenges, new public-private partnership (P3) approaches that combine elements of both public and private models are emerging. A proposal from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) [and published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society], “Public Infrastructure/Private Service,” outlines what the authors call “a pragmatic, community-driven, pro-market, pro-business approach to advancing broadband in communities where solutions have not already emerged.”
[David Gilford is a co-founder of the Broadband Equity Partnership, which helps government, nonprofit organizations, and innovative businesses close the digital divide.]
The US faces complex choices in how to fix broadband infrastructure to close the digital divide. Governments, businesses, service providers, telecommunication infrastructure companies, and other players will need to work together to connect users in a scalable, cost-effective way while weighing new technology advancements to build a future-proof network available to and affordable for all. A key factor is dense and quick fiberization; the high cost of building infrastructure that supports both mobile and fixed-network functionality will drive operators to optimize investments to make the case work. In many cases, fiber will provide the necessary backbone to support hyperscale growth and future-proof networks. What’s also clear is that data consumption is growing relentlessly. With data consumption reaching unseen levels during the pandemic, it’s important to build new networks or modernize existing ones. Ultimately, the goal is to deliver on scale, latency and agility requirements that factor in the reality of customer demand and provider infrastructure–whether greenfield or brownfield–and prevent over or underbuilding of assets. Building a sophisticated optimal network that meets the most granular of requirements is a huge, daunting task, but new infrastructure providing internet access for all is more necessary than ever.
[Stephen Szymanski is the general manager for Americas at STL.]
Central Virginia counties could see nearly all of their residents receive access to fiber-optic broadband service over the next few years. Nine counties have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that could lead to a partnership to bring high-speed internet to residents who don’t have access, and four additional counties have projects in the works. The MOU is between Firefly Fiber Broadband, which is a subsidiary of the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative; Dominion Energy Virginia; the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative; and the participating localities. It kicks off the possibility of bringing fiber broadband to unserved areas of Albemarle, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Goochland, Greene, Louisa and Powhatan counties. Once the counties sign on and commit to local funding, Firefly plans to submit an application to the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative with a regional plan for broadband service and Dominion will have to take its proposal to the State Corporation Commission for regulatory approvals. Firefly will work with localities to identify the unserved areas and come back with final proposals in late August and early September 2021. As part of this effort, the company set up a web page for Virginians to put in their address and do a speed test if they do have slow service.
AT&T struck a deal to carry Dish Network’s existing cellphone customers over its wireless network, bringing two erstwhile rivals closer as they each pursue more advanced 5G technology. The nonexclusive deal would pay AT&T at least $5 billion over 10 years to support Dish’s consumer cellphone brands, which include Boost Mobile, Ting, and Republic Wireless. The agreement also provides an avenue for AT&T to use some Dish wireless spectrum licenses to support both companies’ customers. The partnership will likely attract scrutiny from the Justice Department, which helped Dish’s entry into the wireless market through a complex deal that cleared the way for cellphone carrier T-Mobile US to buy Sprint. The government allowed the asset swaps to proceed under the assurance that Dish would build a new fifth-generation network over several years. Dish’s nearly 9 million wireless customers currently use T-Mobile’s network. The two companies have tussled over various issues, including T-Mobile’s plan to shut down its 3G network by Jan. 1, 2022. Dish has said the early sunset could cut off many of its customers who need more time to upgrade their cellphones to 4G and 5G smartphones. AT&T has said it would wind down its 3G service in early 2022.
With the ability to be deployed more quickly than fiber at a possible lower cost–especially in rural, hard-to-reach areas–fixed wireless access (FWA) offers service providers another tool to give more people access to internet connectivity. A digital divide exists because provision of broadband is uneconomical. Both the terms of broadband subsidies and the desires of users require relatively rapid deployment, and FWA can be deployed much more quickly than fiber. It can also cost less, especially in the areas where a digital divide is more likely to persist. For homes outside urban areas, the cost of delivering high-speed broadband may be higher than the amount operators can afford to pay; FWA can deliver gigabit connectivity while having the advantage of being less expensive than fiber outside of urban areas, where buildings are spaced further apart and the distances over which the fiber needs to be “dug” are greater. Intuitively, FWA is increasingly advantageous compared with fiber when homes are more widely spaced and the subscription rate is lower. When looking at ways to bridge the digital divide, FWA has a low up-front cost–which is minimally affected by how rural deployments are–and low risk if fewer homes take the service.
[William Webb is the CTO of Cambridge Broadband Networks Group.]
At the start of the pandemic, a group of data scientists at Facebook held a meeting with executives to ask for resources to help measure the prevalence of misinformation about Covid-19 on the social network. The data scientists said figuring out how many Facebook users saw false or misleading information would be complex, perhaps taking a year a more, according to two people who participated in the meeting. But they added that by putting some new hires on the project and reassigning some existing employees to it, the company could better understand how incorrect facts about the virus spread on the platform. The executives never approved the resources, and the team was never told why. Now, more than a year later, Facebook has been caught in a firestorm about the very type of information that the data scientists were hoping to track.
Major broadband providers, both telecom and cable, have chosen not to build their networks to areas they deem less profitable and not to upgrade many existing customers left behind by outdated technology. These choices entrench the far too wide digital divide and mean Americans pay some of the highest prices for service. At the same time, the largest ISPs have used their outsized influence in Congress to block any legislation that would undermine their stranglehold over the broadband marketplace. In the 116th Congress alone, these corporations spent an astounding $234 million on lobbying and federal elections, as detailed next. This report examines the political spending and lobbying of the largest ISPs and their trade associations and how these activities have shaped the digital divide. The report connects the dots on how ISPs and their trade associations use political spending and lobbying to block or derail legislation that would bridge the gaps in connectivity we face today. Specifically, the report provides a snapshot of ISP political spending and lobbying during the 116th Congress on broadband-related legislation. The report highlights the real-world impact of ISP political spending and lobbying on broadband access and affordability.
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 Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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