Friday, July 29, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
The House passed a $280 billion bill aimed at making the US more competitive in the semiconductor industry, despite a late push by Republican leaders to block the legislation over a separate Democratic spending proposal. Twenty-four Republicans joined with Democrats to vote for the bill. One Democrat, Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA), voted present. Her family founded chip developer Qualcomm. The Chips and Science Act of 2022 will spend $52.7 billion on direct financial assistance for the construction and expansion of semiconductor manufacturing facilities, as well as other programs. The bill allocates $39 billion for semiconductor manufacturing, but also includes $11 billion to advance semiconductor manufacturing research and workforce training, and a $2 billion fund to more quickly translate laboratory advances into military and other applications. It adds $24 billion in tax incentives and other provisions. Chunks of that funding are expected to flow to rural states under new formulas for distributing research dollars. The legislation also directs the Commerce Department to create 20 “regional technology hubs” designed to create more tech jobs across the country. The technology R&D investments target fields including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, wireless communications and precision agriculture. The National Science Foundation would oversee a new $20 billion directorate focused on accelerating the development of technologies critical to U.S. security, in addition to an increase to $61 billion for its core activities funding researchers at universities and elsewhere. The Energy Department’s Office of Science’s five-year authorization would increase to about $50 billion to boost a series of programs focused on clean energy, nuclear physics and high-intensity lasers. Proponents said the legislation will help the supply-chain woes that have dogged Americans trying to buy cars and appliances that rely on chips, though it could be years before the true benefits of the bill are seen.
Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) andRon Wyden (D-OR) along with Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA-06) introduced the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act, legislation that would accurately classify broadband internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, giving the Federal Communications Commission the appropriate authority to reinstate net neutrality protections. The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the present need to promote an accessible and just broadband future, with students having spent upwards of two years studying online, entrepreneurs creating new businesses through remote work, and patients receiving the care they need through telemedicine services. In the wake of Congress’ historic investment in broadband deployment, the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act would give the FCC the authority it needs to prohibit discriminatory practice like blocking, throttling and paid prioritization online. It would also provide the FCC with ability to enact effective broadband policies that enhance public safety, increase accessibility, close the digital divide, and protect consumers.
Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-II), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are also original Senate co-sponsors.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $401 million to provide access to high-speed internet for 31,000 rural residents and businesses in 11 states, part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to investing in rural infrastructure and affordable high-speed internet for all. This announcement includes a group of investments from the ReConnect Program, and an award funded through USDA’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee program.
- Uprise LLC is receiving a $27.1 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network in Pershing County, Nevada. It will connect 4,884 people, 130 businesses, 22 farms, and seven public schools to high-speed internet. Uprise LLC will offer subscribers symmetrical service tiers of 200 megabits per second (Mbps) or one gigabit per second. It plans to apply to participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program to enable subscribers to obtain the 200 Mbps symmetrical service for free. This project will serve people in the Lovelock Indian Colony and several socially vulnerable communities in Pershing County.
- The Midvale Telephone Company is receiving a $10.6 million loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-home network. It will connect 455 people, 39 businesses and 69 farms to high-speed internet in Elmore, Blaine, Custer and Boise counties in Idaho, and in Gila, Graham, Pinal, Cochise and Pima counties in Arizona. This loan will serve people in socially vulnerable communities in Pinal County in Arizona and Elmore County in Idaho.
- The Arkansas Telephone Company Inc. is receiving a $12 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 986 people, 10 businesses and 145 farms to high-speed internet in Searcy and Van Buren counties. The company will offer low-cost starter packages with voice and voice/data. Discounts will be available to participants of the FCC’s Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Programs.
Established in 1965 by an act of Congress, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is putting $30 million in grants per year into broadband. The 13-state region, encompassing 423 counties and 25.7 million people, only has high-speed broadband to 21% of homes in the most economically challenged areas, a statistic ARC wants to change. Among ARC’s biggest focuses are prepping communities for putting in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program applications and funding planning grants so communities can figure out exactly what they should be doing with their BEAD applications. It is also working on raising awareness of the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program so communities can incorporate it into their plans and funding.
Should higher-than-market rates be allowed on a broadband network that is being subsidized with public funding? Should an agency that awards grants or other broadband subsidies somehow insist that broadband rates are somehow tied to market rates? That’s a lot harder question to answer than you might think because the question implies that these agencies have the power to regulate or cap broadband prices in grant areas. The Ajit Pai Federal Communications Commission voluntarily gave away the right for the FCC to regulate broadband rates when it gave up Title II authority. It’s not clear if that decision has any bearing on other federal agencies that award grants like the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Economic Development Administration (also in the US Department of Commerce), and US Department of Agriculture. Can these federal agencies insist on affordable rates for broadband providers that take federal funding? If not, can the agencies at least consider rates when deciding who gets grant funding—can these agencies assign fewer qualifying grant points to somebody with a $100 basic rate compared to somebody with a $50 rate? It’s an even fuzzier question if a State has the right to set rates.
When it comes to finding a job, a phone may be enough to fill out an application at McDonald’s or Home Depot if you have a reliable internet connection. But if a job application is more complicated, say, requiring a résumé or a CV, the process of applying by phone can range from exasperating to impossible, especially if your internet connection is sketchy. Some 2.3 million Californians may have some kind of digital access but lack the high-speed capacity needed to navigate the employment landscape. Day-to-day familiarity that comes with routine computer use helps people pick up the basic skills needed to negotiate the internet, says Steven Simon. Without that experience, it can be hard for a job seeker to know how or where to begin.
This paper presents a history of the digital divide, major steps in closing it, and how we can continue expanding access to transform lives for communities of color. To close the digital divide, policymakers should focus on: 1) further expanding access, 2) increasing adoption, and 3) encouraging skill development.
- Continue to encourage technology neutrality as the federal government and states stand up programs to disburse the massive broadband funding in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, as both wired and wireless solutions will be needed to reach all populations.
- Continue to protect and promote pro-investment policies, such as siting reforms, at all levels of government.
- Ensure Universal Service Fund programs are technology-neutral.
- Promote competition to provide choice for consumers.
- Help connect low-income households and families through properly funded connectivity programs.
- Ensure the Affordable Connectivity Program has a permanent funding source, and with Congress appropriating the money to do so.
- Ensure connectivity programs provide families the flexibility to select the broadband solutions that work best for them.
- Collaborate with community partners to build inclusive programs that address barriers to connectivity.
- Develop best practices and programs to create awareness and adoption of broadband services and devices
Comcast failed to gain broadband subscribers for the first time in its history. Comcast had 32.16 million subscribers at the end of the second quarter, the exact same number it had at the end of the first. The company lost about 10,000 net broadband residential subscribers compared with the first quarter, while it added about 10,000 business-services broadband customers. Despite the broadband-subscriber slowdown, company executives said there have been few broadband customers leaving Comcast. In past quarters, the company has attributed the slowdown to fewer people changing homes. A review of the company’s quarterly filings shows that Comcast added at least 100,000 net new broadband subscribers every quarter over the past 20 years, with the exception of a single instance during the 2008-09 financial crisis, when the company gained 65,000 broadband subscribers in the second quarter of 2009. The cornerstone of Comcast’s operations, the broadband business has been a longstanding driver of growth. During the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, the company added more than a million broadband subscribers every year, often setting records. But like its peers, Comcast warned late in 2021 that broadband-subscriber growth was waning.
Overall, the company said net profit declined 9.2% to $3.4 billion from $3.74 billion in the year-earlier quarter. Revenue rose 5.1% to $30.02 billion. Comcast said the number of paying subscribers to its Peacock streaming service remained stable at around 13 million. During the first quarter of this year, Peacock’s paying subscriber base had jumped by more than 40%, largely thanks to top sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Beijing Winter Olympics, as well as new original content, including “Bel-Air.” NBCUniversal had $467 million in losses stemming from Peacock, and expect that to increase in the second half of the year. Comcast’s cable unit—which includes the Xfinity-branded broadband, cable-TV, and mobile businesses—saw revenue increase 3.7% to $16.6 billion, and continued to make up the bulk of Comcast’s overall revenue.
Commnet Broadband plans to acquire Sacred Wind Enterprises, a move that would unite two broadband providers focused on serving tribal areas. Commnet Broadband, a subsidiary of ATN International, traditionally has focused on the wholesale market in tribal and other rural areas, but more recently has begun expanding its network to serve consumers and businesses directly. Sacred Wind, founded in 2006, provides fixed wireless and fiber broadband to the Navajo Nation and neighboring areas of New Mexico. The company won funding through the Connect America Fund (CAF II) auction and is a partner with Microsoft in Microsoft’s Airband initiative, which is focused on bringing connectivity, relying in large part on TV white spaces spectrum, to unserved rural areas. The Commnet Sacred Wind acquisition requires Federal Communications Commission and other approvals.
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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