Daily Digest 7/26/2021 (Robert Parris Moses)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Divide

President Joe Biden wants to provide millions of Americans with high-speed internet. It won’t be easy.  |  Read below  |  Ledyard King, Erin Mansfield, Matt Wynn, Joey Garrison  |  USA Today
Benton Foundation
Broadband in the Black Rural South  |  Read below  |  Kevin Taglang  |  Analysis  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Gayle Manchin Eyes Convening Appalachia's Governors on Broadband  |  Read below  |  John Hendel  |  Politico


Lawmakers Introduce RECOMPETE Act to Spur Economic Growth  |  Read below  |  Sen Chris Coons (D-DE)  |  Press Release  |  US Senate
Cable Fears Ease as Senators Aim Broadband Subsidies to Unserved  |  Read below  |  Todd Shields  |  BNN Bloomberg

Broadband Service

Broadband Internet Bill Too High? Here’s How You Can Fix That.  |  Read below  |  Nicole Nguyen  |  Wall Street Journal
Letter to the Editor: FCC, please regulate Internet providers  |  Washington Post


FCC Grants C-Band Spectrum Licenses  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission
FCC Identifies Inactive C-Band Satellite Antennas  |  Federal Communications Commission
Judges reject Viasat’s plea to stop SpaceX Starlink satellite launches  |  Read below  |  Jon Brodkin  |  Ars Technica
Verizon remains adamant that its nearly $7 billion acquisition of TracFone will close before the end of the year  |  Fierce


Millions of Students With Home Internet Access Still Can’t Get Online  |  Read below  |  Emily Tate  |  EdSurge
Access to technology is changing the US education system for good  |  Read below  |  Adam Stone  |  USA Today


Telemedicine for treating mental health and substance use disorders: reflections since the pandemic  |  Neuropsychopharmacol


FCC Announces County Conditional Forbearance from Lifeline  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission


Researchers and regulators say Joseph Mercola creates and profits from misleading claims about Covid-19 vaccines  |  New York Times
Disinformation for Hire, a Shadow Industry, Is Quietly Booming  |  New York Times
YouTube Avoids Facebook-Level Criticism From President Biden  |  Bloomberg
President Biden Has to Play Hardball with Internet Platforms  |  Wired
Learn more – and get more – from Google Search  |  Google
Facebook’s Next Target: The Religious Experience  |  New York Times
Mark Jamison: Should Big Tech be taxed to fill the broadband gap?  |  American Enterprise Institute


David Lazarus: This California bill would protect our medical data from Big Tech  |  Los Angeles Times
How smartphone data can be used to learn secrets  |  Washington Post
The Nightmare of Our Snooping Phones  |  New York Times


Minnesota regulators refuse CenturyLink's request to drop landline service quality rules  |  Minneapolis Star Tribune
FCC Seeks Comment on Edison Electric Institute Petition on Pole Attachments  |  Federal Communications Commission


If you had trouble getting products fixed under warranty, the FTC wants to hear your horror story  |  Washington Post


FCC Re-Establishes the Technological Advisory Council and Solicits Nominations for Membership  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission


China’s Huawei Hires Democratic Lobbyist Tony Podesta  |  Wall Street Journal

Stories From Abroad

Fibre to the countryside: A comparison of public and community initiatives tackling the rural digital divide in the UK  |  Read below  |  Paolo Gerlia, Jason Whalley  |  Research  |  Telecommunications Policy
Estimating the impact of co-investment on Fiber to the Home adoption and competition  |  Read below  |  Louise Aimene, Marc Lebourges, Julienne Lianga  |  Research  |  Telecommunications Policy
What role did the internet play in fomenting Cuban protests?  |  Brookings
UK’s Competition and Markets Authority to launch a flurry of new cases against big tech companies  |  Wall Street Journal
Today's Top Stories

Digital Divide

President Joe Biden wants to provide millions of Americans with high-speed internet. It won’t be easy.

Ledyard King, Erin Mansfield, Matt Wynn, Joey Garrison  |  USA Today

Even before the pandemic, which largely confined most Americans to their homes for months, communities that lacked reliable high-speed internet began falling behind those that were well-connected. The pandemic exacerbated the nation’s "digital divide" – and those who suffered most were in low-income areas. Washington and some internet providers are trying to solve the problem by expanding access, but experts and lawmakers haven't settled on what specifically needs to be done, even as President Joe Biden and Republican lawmakers want to invest billions into a broadband-expansion effort.  In America's 100 counties with the highest median income, about 95% of households have broadband access on average – while that number is 63% in the 100 poorest counties, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission, which tracks internet availability nationally. In terms of actual usage, Microsoft data paints an even bleaker picture. About 12% of those poorest counties’ residents use broadband on average, compared with 65% in America's wealthiest counties. A Pew study found 43% of adults in the USA earning less than $30,000 a year lack broadband compared with just 7% for those making $100,000 or more.

The mission to plug more people into high-speed networks is a question of what strategy is best – not to mention a big federal investment. There's a question over whether to prioritize areas of the country, mostly rural, where the physical infrastructure to support broadband hasn’t been built, or whether to focus first on urban and suburban areas where the larger problem is affordability. Then there's the question of how best to bring down the cost of high-speed internet: continue long-term with federal subsidies for low-income households or push for more competition.

Broadband in the Black Rural South

Kevin Taglang  |  Analysis  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

New research from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Expanding Broadband in the Black Rural South, highlights the importance of addressing the digital divide—and doing it as soon as possible. The Joint Center examined the overlooked and unique plight of Black residents in rural counties with populations that are at least 35 percent Black (152 counties in 10 Southern states), which the Joint Center refers to as the “Black Rural South.” As Dr. Dominique Harrison, the Joint Center's technology policy director, writes, "More than almost any other group, Black communities in the Rural South lack affordable, highspeed, quality broadband—38 percent of African Americans there report they do not have access to home internet. This is driven by both the lack of affordability and availability of broadband services. Expanding broadband could help reduce the deep racial and economic inequalities in education, jobs, and health care in the region."

According to Federal Communications Commission data, which generally overstates broadband's reach, providers have failed to deploy broadband infrastructure offering service at speeds of at least 25/3 megabits per second to a greater share of residents in the Black Rural South than other regions. The deployment of faster, quality broadband infrastructure in concentrated higher-income areas, also known as “digital redlining," facilitates economic and racial disparities. The timing of the Joint Center's research—and its ten recommendations to ensure high-speed, quality broadband for the Black Rural South—should aid the deliberations in Congress about making broadband more available and affordable throughout the US. On July 28, Dr. Harrison will moderate an all-star panel discussing the challenges and solutions to expanding broadband in the Black Rural South.

Gayle Manchin Eyes Convening Appalachia's Governors on Broadband

John Hendel  |  Politico

Gayle Manchin, the wife of Sen Joe Manchin (D-WV) and federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, is planning to make broadband connectivity a central pillar of her remit and is already talking to many of the region’s governors about working as a bloc. “I would like to see the 13 governors that are a part of this region actually come together and work on this as a unit,” said Manchin. “There’s power in numbers.” She suggested these 13 governors would have leverage if they went right to cable providers to ask for better connectivity. Solutions to the region’s digital gap could include establishing cooperatives or having companies join forces, she added, noting she’s “begging” governors to come to an upcoming annual meeting in order to strategize on this. Her commission staff is also looking at holding regional meetings on issues including broadband. The region will need to effectively use the infusion of money from the pandemic relief bills, as well as, potentially, the infrastructure package that Joe Manchin is trying to negotiate, she said. But “the opportunity, I think, has never been better.”


Lawmakers Introduce RECOMPETE Act to Spur Economic Growth

Sen Chris Coons (D-DE)  |  Press Release  |  US Senate

Sen Chris Coons (D-DE), Reps Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), along with Sens Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced the bipartisan Rebuilding Economies and Creating Opportunities for More People Everywhere to Excel Act (RECOMPETE Act). The RECOMPETE Act (S.2464) would establish a new federal grant program at the Economic Development Agency (EDA) that would empower persistently distressed communities to develop, implement, and carry out 10-year economic development strategies and create jobs. The RECOMPETE Act would provide eligible local labor markets, local communities, and Tribal governments with flexible 10-year RECOMPETE Grants from the EDA in an effort to meet a variety of local economic development needs. Grants could be used for infrastructure investments, brownfield redevelopment, workforce development, small business assistance, resources to connect residents to opportunities, and other investments to help communities rebuild. The RECOMPETE Act is endorsed by the National League of Cities, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Third Way, the Progressive Policy Institute, and the Federal Issues Committee of the Washington State Association of Counties.

Cable Fears Ease as Senators Aim Broadband Subsidies to Unserved

Todd Shields  |  BNN Bloomberg

Negotiators of the Senate infrastructure bill have agreed to focus its broadband subsidies on areas lacking basic internet, easing concerns of cable providers such as Comcast and Charter Communications that they’d face widespread taxpayer-funded competition by faster services. The White House initially sought $100 billion to spread broadband to all US households, a figure that was later pared to $65 billion. Earlier proposals called for subsidies flowing to areas lacking the fastest speeds, a cohort that includes an estimated two-thirds of US households. They include many with cable service that relies on copper lines rather than faster fiber optic. The group of about a dozen senators decided that funding should go first to areas that lack service of 25 megabits per second for downloads, and 3 megabits per second for uploads; those speeds meet the current US benchmark for broadband. Under the draft Senate agreement, subsidies could go to areas where service exceeds the 25/3 benchmark after unserved areas are funded.

Broadband Service

Broadband Internet Bill Too High? Here’s How You Can Fix That.

Nicole Nguyen  |  Wall Street Journal

Broadband billing struggles are a symptom of a larger issue. Policy experts point to a lack of competition among broadband providers, which has led to higher prices, lower quality and unequal access. President Biden issued an executive order that calls for new protections for broadband subscribers. Among the proposals directed at the Federal Communications Commission are a standardized “nutrition label” format for explaining speeds and fees, a limit on early-termination fees and a restriction on carrier-landlord deals that leave tenants with one option. Unfortunately, there is no proposed curb on the popular “promotional pricing” technique that carriers use to lure many of us in. Still, encouraging increased market competition could mean lower prices overall. The companies deny their bills are opaque. One effective solution, says Yosef Getachew, media and democracy director at Common Cause, is municipal networks—publicly owned fiber-optic networks deployed by local governments. Additional tips: Call your broadband provider and ask for a more affordable rate; downgrade your speeds; buy your own modem and router; switch providers, if you can; beware of promotional pricing; file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.


FCC Grants C-Band Spectrum Licenses

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission made additional mid-band spectrum available for 5G service in the United States. Specifically, the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau announced the grant of 5,676 licenses in the 3.7 GHz service (3.7 to 3.98 GHz, also referred to as the C-band) following completion of Auction 107 earlier in 2021. The action keeps the transition of this band to flexible use on track, paving the way for carriers to use this spectrum to provide 5G and other advanced wireless services.

Judges reject Viasat’s plea to stop SpaceX Starlink satellite launches

Jon Brodkin  |  Ars Technica

SpaceX can keep launching broadband satellites despite a lawsuit filed by Viasat, a federal appeals court ruled June 20. Viasat sued the Federal Communications Commission in May 2021 and asked judges for a stay that would halt SpaceX's ongoing launches of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that power Starlink Internet service. To get a stay, Viasat had to show that it is likely to win its lawsuit alleging that the FCC improperly approved the satellite launches. A three-judge panel at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was not persuaded, saying in a short order that "Viasat has not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review." Viasat is worried that its slower Internet service delivered from geostationary satellites will lose customers once Starlink is out of beta and more widely available, and claimed that the "environmentally irresponsible" nature of SpaceX's constellation of satellites was not fully investigated by the FCC. The FCC responded by saying that halting the satellite launches would create harm "to SpaceX and to the public interest in advancing broadband satellite service to remote or underserved areas of the United States." Dish Network is also fighting SpaceX's FCC approval, and Dish's case was consolidated with Viasat's appeal.


Millions of Students With Home Internet Access Still Can’t Get Online

Emily Tate  |  EdSurge

Though about 12 million students in the United States still lack any internet access at all—a problem cast into relief during the pandemic—there is good news: That number is steadily shrinking. Yet, even as the number of unconnected students declines, there is another group that, for years, has made virtually no headway. That is students who are “under-connected.” Students and families who are considered under-connected are those who have internet access and devices in their home, but not at a caliber or quality sufficient for smooth and consistent online learning. “There are still a proportion of families who have no internet access, and that’s massively important,” says Vikki Katz, associate professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University. “But there are many, many, many more kids who, if we’re just focused on ‘access,’ we’re ignoring. We’re going to miss this huge number—millions—of families.” Katz believes the term “digital divide” does a disservice to many under-connected families. “The phrase ‘digital divide’ frames this as binary—there is no access or there’s all access,” says Katz. “This study gives a powerful argument for why we need to reframe the definition of ‘access.’”

Access to technology is changing the US education system for good

Adam Stone  |  USA Today

In schools with 1-to-1 device programs, students have access to a wider and deeper range of learning resources. Around the nation, virtual learning needs spurred rapid adoption of 1-to-1 policies across K-12 education. While the final numbers on device adoption aren’t in yet, “There’s clearly been a huge effort to secure more devices,” says Keith Krueger, CEO of the nonprofit Consortium for School Networking. Going forward, educators say, this broad availability of computers will change the way teachers interact with students, and it will change how kids learn.


FCC Announces County Conditional Forbearance from Lifeline

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau announces the counties in which conditional forbearance from the obligation to offer Lifeline-supported voice service applies, pursuant to the Commission’s 2016 Lifeline Order. This forbearance applies only to the Lifeline voice obligation of eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) that are designated for purposes of receiving both high-cost and Lifeline support, and not to Lifeline-only ETCs. The Bureau identifies the counties in which certain competitive conditions are met. In particular, the FCC grants forbearance from high-cost/Lifeline ETCs’ obligation to offer and advertise Lifeline voice service in counties where 51 percent of Lifeline subscribers in the county are obtaining broadband Internet access service, there are at least three other providers of Lifeline broadband Internet access service that each serve at least five percent of Lifeline subscribers in that county, and the ETC does not receive federal high-cost universal service support. The FCC's conditional forbearance from high-cost/Lifeline ETCs’ Lifeline voice obligation will be effective on September 21, 2021.


FCC Re-Establishes the Technological Advisory Council and Solicits Nominations for Membership

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission is re-establishing the Technological Advisory Council on or before August 20, 2021 for a period of two years, with an expected first meeting in October of 2021.The FCC seeks nominations for membership and a chairperson. The TAC provides technical advice to the Commission and makes recommendations on the issues and questions presented to it. Among other issues, Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel will ask the TAC to start looking beyond 5G and conceptualize 6G, to help set the stage for U.S. leadership. In addition, she will ask TAC to study advanced spectrum sharing techniques, implementation of artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the utilization and administration of spectrum, and other emerging technologies. In seeking nominations for the TAC, Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel will seek to diversify the group’s membership. Nominations for membership must be submitted to the FCC no later than August 20, 2021.

Stories From Abroad

Fibre to the countryside: A comparison of public and community initiatives tackling the rural digital divide in the UK

Paolo Gerlia, Jason Whalley  |  Research  |  Telecommunications Policy

Although digitisation offers numerous opportunities for rural areas, they still lag behind cities in terms of access and adoption of Internet-based services. This divide is the result of multiple market failures in both the demand and supply of broadband access, which have been addressed through public, private and community-led initiatives. Based on interviews and ethnographic analysis, this paper explores how community networks and public-private partnerships have contributed to promoting the delivery and adoption of superfast broadband across the rural UK. The case study analysis compares the outcomes of each model, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. Although expanding the coverage of superfast broadband across the county, the public-private partnership did not solve the access divide afflicting the hardest-to-reach areas. Some of the latter were served by the community network, which relied on volunteers and demand aggregation to reduce the cost of fibre rollout. The scalability of this approach, however, has yet to be demonstrated. On the demand side, both initiatives achieved a high take-up proving that the rural ‘adoption’ divide has decreased over the years. Nevertheless, more needs to be done to ensure that rural communities and businesses are able to leverage the benefits deriving from superfast broadband.

Estimating the impact of co-investment on Fiber to the Home adoption and competition

Louise Aimene, Marc Lebourges, Julienne Lianga  |  Research  |  Telecommunications Policy

The demand for faster broadband access is a key driver of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) adoption and fixed broadband competition, and therefore of co-investment. This paper assesses the effects on FTTH adoption and competition of FTTH co-investment. Co-investment had indeed been endorsed in the European Electronic Communication Code as a relevant option for conciliating investment and competition. This paper contributes to evaluating this policy option by providing detailed empirical estimates of the influence of co-investment on FTTH adoption and competition in the French fixed broadband market. We combine several French municipality level datasets and use a two-stage control-function approach to correct for the endogeneity of investor entry. We show that the presence of co-investment leads to an increase of 7.9% in FTTH adoption in 2018. Co-investment offers also enhance competition. Co-investment by competitors causes a decrease in Orange, French incumbent operator, total retail broadband market penetration by 5.9% whereas no co-investment by competitors lets Orange’s total retail broadband market penetration unchanged. Our findings confirm that co-investment supports the policy objectives of adoption and competition and should be supported by regulation.

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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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