Friday, July 9, 2021
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President Joe Biden will encourage the Federal Communications Commission to reinstate net neutrality rules and make it easier for consumers to comparison shop for internet service as part of a wide-ranging executive order expected to be signed July 9. The White House wants internet service providers to offer a "broadband nutrition label" detailing their internet packages to give consumers more transparency when they're buying service. The executive order will also encourage the FCC to reinstate net neutrality rules prohibiting the blocking, throttling or paid prioritization of web traffic that were repealed by President Trump's FCC.
Now with a major congressional negotiation on infrastructure underway and a new presidential administration in place, federal leaders have a historic opportunity to revisit past policies to better support today’s metropolitan leaders and their contemporary ambitions. That process, though, must start with a clear understanding of what regional leaders need—and not just infrastructure agencies, but also the business leadership and community groups that all collaborate to build competitive, inclusive, and resilient economies. Respondents of Brookings' regional leaders survey were intimately aware of the nuanced infrastructure needs in their region: declines in transit ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic, energy grid upgrades, expanding broadband, and more. Concerns around transit and economic equity coalesced around infrastructure maintenance and interrelated disparities within transportation, water, and broadband access. Federal programs which work to ameliorate these inequities are seen by respondents as insufficient, and do not reflect modern realities. Additionally, planning guidelines either do not require projects to form around a common vision (such as long-range transportation plans) or there is no long-range planning requirement at all (such as within the broadband sector).
This report examines (1) small business access to broadband and how federal broadband funding programs may serve small businesses, and (2) the extent to which the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband speed benchmark meets the needs of small businesses. Much of the literature GAO reviewed suggests that FCC’s current broadband minimum benchmark speeds—25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloading and 3 Mbps for uploading—are likely too slow to meet many small business speed needs. GAO is making one recommendation to FCC to solicit stakeholder input and analyze small business broadband speed needs and incorporate the results of this analysis into the benchmark for broadband. FCC agreed with this recommendation
As the US recovers from one of the worst economic crises in our history, we will be looking to small businesses to revitalize our local communities and hire displaced workers. But these enterprises will need high-performance broadband to innovate and adapt to our new, post-COVID reality. Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission's standards are not running apace. The FCC has not updated its speed benchmark for 6 years. 2015's definition of 'high-speed' is antiquated—and it is holding us back. It is well past time for the FCC to set new benchmark speeds that reflect what true broadband is in 2021—and allow us to build back better.
Sen Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging the Department of the Treasury to provide crucial flexibility to state and local governments in the use of American Rescue Plan funds in order to help close the digital divide and ensure families can afford broadband. Under the American Rescue Plan, state and local governments are able to use funding from the Local Fiscal Recovery Fund and the $10 billion Capital Projects Fund to expand broadband infrastructure. However, interim guidance released by the Department would have limited broadband expansion efforts. While the Treasury has since provided some clarity, Sen Van Hollen urges the Treasury to provide maximum flexibility in the final rule so that state and local governments can use funds to ensure affordability of broadband in addition to access. "The funding provided in the [American Rescue Plan] provides an opportunity for our country to build back better and close the digital divide," says Van Hollen. "I encourage the Department to issue a final rule that is not overly prescriptive but rather empowers local governments and allows them to determine their needs as they work to guarantee that their residents are connected and full participants in our digital world."
As President Biden and Congress debate a $1.2 [tr]illion infrastructure bill that includes a historic investment in broadband, it’s an important moment to question what we mean by digital equity and what it will take to achieve it. Pandemic disruptions to school and work made the quest for affordable “broadband for all” a more urgent matter, and recognition that digital infrastructure is essential has never been more bipartisan. All this means that achieving digital equity may be more possible right now than ever before. But to achieve that goal, we have to retire old ways of defining the problem. Too many families struggle when they have to rely on malfunctioning devices or their internet is cut off because they have more pressing bills to pay. If we do not account for whether families’ digital access actually meets their needs, we cannot fully assess their virtual learning experiences or develop adequate support for students as they return to in-person school this fall. School leaders and policymakers need to reckon with the realities of being under-connected, but so do content creators. Many parents relied on educational TV, videos and games during the pandemic to keep their children learning and growing, and the lowest-income families and families of color relied on these media most of all. Designing with the dynamic needs of under-connected students and families in mind will require content creators to think about accessibility in more nuanced and creative ways. There are three steps that policymakers, local school districts and content creators can take right now to resolve the challenges of being under-connected:
- Policymakers must prioritize under-connected families to better support them.
- We need local solutions to end the struggle of being under-connected.
- Media and tech companies must ensure that families can fully participate in digital learning, even at times when they are under-connected.
[Vikki S. Katz, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University. Michael H. Levine, Ph.D., is senior vice president of Nickelodeon’s early learning service, Noggin, which creates educational media for children and families.]
House Judiciary Republicans released their agenda to hold Big Tech accountable. This agenda presents specific proposals that will speed up and strengthen antitrust enforcement, hold Big Tech accountable for its censorship, and increase transparency around Big Tech’s decisions through:
- Expedited trial court consideration
- Direct appeal to the Supreme Court
- Empower state attorneys general
- A cause of action to empower Americans
- Overhauling Big Tech’s liability shield
- Consolidated antitrust enforcement authority
- Content moderation transparency
Social media has become as central to free speech as town meeting halls, newspapers and television networks were in prior generations. The internet is the new public square. In recent years, however, Big Tech platforms have become increasingly brazen and shameless in censoring and discriminating against ideas, information and people on social media—banning users, deplatforming organizations, and aggressively blocking the free flow of information on which our democracy depends. This flagrant attack on free speech is doing terrible damage to our country. That is why in conjunction with the America First Policy Institute, I filed class-action lawsuits to force Big Tech to stop censoring the American people. The suits seek damages to deter such behavior in the future and injunctions restoring my accounts. I intend to restore free speech for all Americans—Democrats, Republicans and independents.
[Trump was the 45th president of the United States]
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) urged Congress to incorporate worker protections in a proposed infrastructure deal that includes billions in broadband funding, aiming to ensure its members aren’t cut out of buildout efforts. Specifically, CWA’s newly launched Build Broadband Better campaign calls for the legislation to include enforceable provisions which protect workers’ right to organize and prohibit companies that receive federal broadband funding from subcontracting construction work to circumvent union workers. While the infrastructure package is expected to be the primary source of broadband funding in the coming years, CWA's Communications Director Beth Allen said “these protections should be attached to any federal funding for broadband deployment moving forward.” She added there is “widespread support on the Democratic side of the aisle” for such provisions.
Cable operators are poised to report another strong year of broadband subscriber growth in 2021 on the heels of last year’s record-breaking increases, but growth could slow substantially in 2022. The momentum from 2020—where cable operators added 4 million broadband customers— should continue into 2021 as the impact from stimulus programs to boost household income and government broadband subsidy efforts should keep churn low. However, those programs also could have masked underlying problems that could resurface as some of the projects disappear. Cable operators have warned investors not to expect the same levels of growth experienced during the height of the pandemic, and other factors like bundling broadband with wireless service could help boost subscriber levels. In addition, operators are continuously expanding their footprints into more rural markets through edge-outs and other programs, which could also mitigate any slowdown.
Sherwin Siy, former Vice President of Legal Affairs at Public Knowledge, has passed away at the age of 40. Sherwin championed the public interest throughout his career, serving as a member of the Public Knowledge staff from 2006 to 2015. His technology policy work spanned many subjects, including copyright, privacy, telecommunications, and free expression. “We are heartbroken to have lost a beloved member of the Public Knowledge family, former Vice President of Legal Affairs, Sherwin Siy," said CEO Chris Lewis in a statement on behalf of Public Knowledge. "Sherwin was a pillar of our organization for nearly 10 years and a passionate advocate for the openness of information in the digital era. His intellect and expertise in the law made him a leader and mentor inside Public Knowledge at a relatively young age, but it was his humor and wit that endeared him to his colleagues. His openness and enthusiasm as a mentor to young advocates left a lasting mark across the entire field. Our hearts go out to Sherwin’s family with the loss of their wonderful son and brother.”
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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