Tuesday, August 15, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Digital Equity Act recognizes eight “covered populations” as disproportionately experiencing digital inequity. One group is individuals living in households with incomes at or below 150 percent of the poverty line. In the United States, people living in poverty tend to be clustered in certain regions, counties, and neighborhoods rather than evenly spread across the nation. Research has shown that living in areas where poverty is prevalent creates impediments beyond people’s individual circumstances. Concentrated poverty contributes to poor housing and health conditions, higher crime and school dropout rates, and unemployment. As a result, economic conditions in very poor areas not only limit opportunities for poor residents but also replicate themselves. An important dimension of poverty is its persistence over time. There are 341 persistently poor counties in the United States (comprising 10.9 percent of all U.S. counties). The geography of persistent-poverty counties is strongly associated with historical patterns of rural settlement going back centuries. Historically, the large majority (approximately 85 percent) of persistent-poverty counties are nonmetro, accounting for about 15 percent of all nonmetro counties.
More than 20 million households have enrolled in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), the nation’s largest broadband affordability program. Thanks to funding support in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, millions of families who previously could not get online or struggled to pay for this modern-day necessity are now connected. “For a long time, closing the digital divide focused on one part of the equation—the lack of physical infrastructure to get online. But we know that for many people, even when there was technically access, the cost to get online was too high. Thanks to investments from Congress, we have new tools to tackle both challenges, including the Affordable Connectivity Program that is helping struggling families to get or stay online to pay for this modern-day necessity," said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
The Federal Communications Commission's Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA) and the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) initiated the urban rate survey for 2024. The information collected in this survey will be used to develop voice and broadband reasonable comparability benchmarks that will be in place in 2024. The FCC will be collecting the rates offered by a random sample of providers of fixed services identified using December 2022 data filed in the FCC Broadband Data Collection (BDC) tool. The FCC will collect separate samples for fixed voice and fixed broadband services, in up to 500 urban census tracts for voice services and up to 2,000 urban census tracts for broadband services. Completed surveys will be due by Sept 5, 2023.
As the federal government, along with states, gets ready to make a once-in-a-lifetime investment in broadband infrastructure, the concept of the digital divide remains somewhat the same as it was back in the mid-1990s, when the term was coined. Namely, who has access to the internet and who does not? Increasingly, being on the “right” side of the divide is moving beyond a yes/no access at home and more toward determining whether a user’s connection satisfies their needs. While there are areas with no connectivity whatsoever, increasingly the question is becoming: Who is using the internet at faster speeds? Are connections symmetrical—where download and upload speeds are similar? Or are most internet users driving down a six-lane paved road (faster download speeds) and driving back on a dirt road (slower upload speeds)? To address these questions, we looked at speed test results from the Speedtest by Ookla Global Fixed Network Performance Maps and the latest American Community Survey (ACS) 2017-2021 from the US Census Bureau. Overall, as the share of a tract’s population is more rural, the average download and upload speeds are slower.
[Roberto Gallardo is vice president for engagement at Purdue University, director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development, and an associate professor in the Agricultural Economics Department.]
In the third decade of the 21st century, getting online is no longer optional, and providing financial assistance to US households that can’t afford broadband should be as much a given as food stamps. More broadly, from a macro perspective, high rates of broadband use benefit society and the economy; and from a micro perspective, those least likely to be online are those who would in many ways benefit most from it. In both cases, broadband policy should prioritize connecting remaining offline households in order to achieve universal connectivity. High broadband connectivity rates are positively linked to factors such as GDP growth and stability. They enable jobs, promote resiliency in the face of disasters, and support the massive and growing digital economy. Huge online marketplaces of every stripe are subject to network effects: They become more valuable to every user the more users there are. For all these reasons, increasing connectivity rates is broadly beneficial. Broadband enables cheaper, more convenient access to critical resources such as health care and government programs, so people with the fewest resources are often the ones who stand to benefit the most from being connected. From every angle, getting offline groups online—and aiming for as close to universal connectivity rates as possible—should be a policy priority. Doing so requires both completing deployment and increasing adoption rates. Congress and the Biden Administration should sustain funding for subsidy programs such as the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), build economic impact analyses into them, and survey households that remain offline.
The US Department of the Treasury approved $162.5 million in federal funds for broadband infrastructure and multi-purpose community facility projects in Ohio under the American Rescue Plan Act's (ARPA) Capital Projects Fund (CPF). The announcement includes two funding plans: $77.5 million for broadband infrastructure, which the state estimates will connect 15,000 homes and businesses; and $85 million for multi-purpose community facilities, which will bring connectivity to Ohio communities for years to come. Ohio is approved to receive $77.5 million for broadband infrastructure projects, which the state estimates will connect 15,000 homes and businesses to affordable, high-speed internet. This funding will go toward the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program (ORBEG), a competitive broadband grant program designed to fund last-mile broadband infrastructure projects in rural areas currently lacking access to reliable, high-speed internet. Ohio will invest an additional $85 million of CPF funding in Ohio’s Appalachian Community Innovation Campuses Program, a competitive grant program that provides funding to eligible counties within the Appalachian region to construct multi-purpose facilities designed to increase access to education, community health services, and workforce development opportunities. Each campus will provide public education to students across a minimum of six grade levels, health services in partnership with a healthcare provider, and a return-to-work site with internet access. Together, these projects represent 61 percent of the state’s total allocation under the CPF program.
Missouri was among the lucky winners of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, receiving the third highest allocation at $1.74 billion. But whether that amount will be more than enough or just right to cover all unserved and underserved locations is “the ultimate question,” said BJ Tanksley, director of Missouri’s Office of Broadband Development. “I think the thing about this is it also is a call to us, there’s just a lot of work to be done across the state.” Tanksley said that while Missouri “always predicted” it would receive a relatively high BEAD allotment, the state found over $300 million was allocated due to “the proportion of extreme high-cost locations.” He estimates roughly 300,000 locations in Missouri are “still lacking quality broadband service” and a “good portion” of those are considered high-cost areas, particularly in the south-central part of the state where the Mark Twain National Forest is located. “You have large areas of public land mixed with lighter populations between those public lands,” said Tanksley. “We don’t have necessarily mountains but it’s got lots of hills and they’re all heavily wooded for the most part. So those areas will be tough to get to.” Other areas that will likely be difficult to reach are the Western and Northern parts of the state, closer to the Iowa border.
Consolidated Communications expects to complete work by November 1, 2023 on a Vermont broadband deployment project funded, in part, by the state. The project is being done through a public-private partnership with the Southern Vermont (SoVT) communications union district (CUD). When completed, that CUD will be the first in the state to achieve universal broadband coverage. The SoVT CUD received a $9 million grant from the Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) in October 2022. When deployment it is completed, multi-gigabit service will be brought to all homes and businesses in the towns of Arlington, Bennington, Dorset, Landgrove, Londonderry, Manchester, Peru, Pownal, Rupert, Sandgate, Shaftsbury, Sunderland, Winhall, and Woodford.
For the city of Albuquerque (NM), providing high-quality and affordable internet is a priority. The majority of households are connected, but that doesn’t mean everybody that needs it has it and it doesn’t mean it’s affordable or reliable. Albuquerque needs more competition, more providers, better infrastructure to fill in the gaps and more affordable options. What the broadband office is dong to fill in those gaps is:
- Collaborate with private companies to bring future-proof infrastructure like fiber-to-the-home;
- Conduct marketing and outreach around the Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP); and
- Made available a broadband survey specific to Albuquerque residents.
In May 2023, the House Commerce Committee marked up nineteen pieces of telecommunications-related legislation. One bill in particular, the American Broadband Deployment Act of 2023 (H.R. 3557), represents what I’m seeing as a new trend of actions taken by big internet service providers (ISP) to preempt the authority of local governments. H.R. 3557 would preempt a host of current rights of local governments to manage public rights-of-way for telecom infrastructure. This applies to both wireless infrastructure like towers, but also to landline infrastructure like fiber, huts, and cabinets. The legislation includes a long list of changes aimed at taking local government out of the business of controlling telecom infrastructure deployment. To me, this bill is part of an ongoing effort of cellular carriers, cable companies, and big telecoms to restrict the ability of local governments to affect the construction of infrastructure.
In June 2023, President Joe Biden announced how more than $42 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding will be allocated across the US and its territories to bring 100% broadband access to nearly 60 million unserved or underserved Americans within five years. Now, the real work begins: determining how 50 states and six territories will put that funding to work. Despite the many funding initiatives aimed to solve the problem in the US, those finances are finite and currently trending in a “fiber-first” direction. Fiber is great where attainable, but this approach overlooks the important realities of providing reliable broadband to underserved areas at scale, which indicate that fiber alone would require far more funding than what is currently available. Thanks to recent technological advancements, there are new tools available that can efficiently and cost-effectively reach those forgotten by “fiber-first” thinking. Next-generation fixed wireless access is a unique technology category that overcomes two long-battled challenges of the wireless broadband industry:
- Non-line-of-sight capabilities — the ability to maintain high performance despite physical obstacles, such as trees or buildings, between tower and home;
- Interference cancellation — a feature that ensures reliable, high-speed service in crowded (even unlicensed) radio frequencies where there are interfering signals from other devices.
For the first time ever, we have what it takes to achieve 100% coverage with readily available funds, and in timelines measured in months rather than years. Opportunities of this magnitude don’t come around often. It is critical that the US, state governments, and key stakeholders work together to deliver reliable internet to those still impacted by the digital divide.
[Carl Guardino serves as the VP of Government Affairs & Policy at Tarana]
The Biden administration on Monday told the Supreme Court it should overturn the 5th Circuit Court’s decision to uphold a controversial Texas social media law, calling on the high court to take up a pair of cases that could have broad implications for the future of online speech. At stake are two laws passed in Texas and Florida in response to allegations that tech companies censor conservative viewpoints. After two circuit courts made conflicting rulings, a Supreme Court review was needed, Biden’s solicitor general Elizabeth B. Prelogar wrote. She wrote that the Supreme Court should reverse the 5th Circuit decision and affirm the 11th Circuit’s ruling. “The platforms’ content-moderation activities are protected by the First Amendment, and the content-moderation and individualized-explanation requirements impermissibly burden those protected activities.”
How can we protect ourselves from A.I.? That was the question that Mike Masnick found himself fielding this summer in a WhatsApp chat with about 100 directors, actors and screenwriters. The group, including marquee talent, was worried about a grim possible future in which deepfake versions of actors perform screenplays written by ChatGPT. Masnick, a professional tech wonk, told his Hollywood listeners to work with what they had: Publicly shame projects that replace human labor with artificial intelligence, use state publicity laws against any unauthorized deepfakes, and fight hard for contractual protections. (The fight is on: A.I. is one reason for the writers’ and actors’ strikes that have paralyzed the film and television industry.) But he also suggested that they capitalize on the technology. Convinced that “A.I. plus human” is the future, he pointed to the singer Grimes. She invited people to use A.I.-generated versions of her voice, trained on music that she had done in the past, in exchange for half of any royalties. One GrimesAI song is closing in on a million listens on Spotify. “Let people be creative and they’ll do creative things and expand the interest in your own work,” Masnick said. The technological shift is inevitable, he said, so “use it to your advantage.”
The largest cable and wireline phone providers and fixed wireless services in the US—representing about 96% of the market—acquired about 840,000 net additional broadband Internet subscribers in Q2 2023, compared to a pro forma gain of about 700,000 subscribers in Q2 2022. These top broadband providers now account for over 112.9 million subscribers, with top cable companies having about 76.2 million broadband subscribers, top wireline phone companies having about 30.7 million subscribers, and top fixed wireless services having about 5.9 million subscribers. Findings for the quarter include:
- Overall, broadband additions in Q2 2023 were 120% of those in Q2 2022;
- The top cable companies added about 10,000 subscribers in Q2 2023 – compared to a loss of about 60,000 in Q2 2022;
- The top wireline phone companies lost about 60,000 total broadband subscribers in Q2 2023 – similar to about 60,000 net losses in Q2 2022;
- Wireline Telcos had about 450,000 net adds via fiber in Q2 2023, and about 510,000 non-fiber net losses.
- Fixed wireless/5G home Internet services from T-Mobile and Verizon added about 890,000 subscribers in Q2 2023 – compared to 815,000 net adds in Q2 2022.
Policies, regulations and standards governing video and broadband remain vitally important to the "cable" industry. But the cable industry is now keeping close tabs on other critical areas that weave into the broader telecommunications sector as cable operators move rapidly into mobile and wireless and explore ways to fully converge their networks and services. Meanwhile, those same operators must also get engaged with standards and policies focused on new and emerging categories such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI). That's all to say that Dr. Rikin Thakker has more than his fair share of things to monitor and engage with as he gets settled in as the new chief technology officer (CTO) and SVP, technology, at the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association. And Thakker's background in both wireless and wireline makes a good fit for an industry that is moving in both directions and, specifically on the wireless front, more eager than ever to explore the use of spectrum-sharing in additional bands. For cable, convergence is underway as operators, both large and small, add mobile and wireless services to their bundles and keep their eyes on other ways to utilize valuable wireless spectrum. In the near term, Thakker said he's making the rounds in the industry, meeting with member companies and their CTO offices and tech hubs and centers, and with industry organizations such as CableLabs and SCTE. He's also engaging with leadership at related industry organizations such as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and USTelecom. "Another goal I've set for myself is to build the brand for the association by positioning NCTA as a thought leader when it comes to technology. I want to build that and work as the ambassador for the industry," he said. "The key here is fostering collaboration."
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