Wednesday, August 16, 2023
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The Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program has the potential to be a socioeconomic equalizer that helps close the gap between those Americans with access to broadband and those without. So far, the ACP has proven remarkably effective at making that happen. Despite only existing for over a year and a half, the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) calculates that nearly 20 million people have already enrolled in the program at a cost of just $14.2 billion in funding. The ACP also generates important cost savings for the government itself, reducing costs to function ecause online connectivity enables the type of upward mobility that is needed to reduce American reliance on costly social welfare programs. Americans who enroll in the ACP are less likely to need as much federal assistance in the long run because the program itself encourages self-sufficiency by providing more opportunities for career advancement such as through online GED programs and college courses. However, most ACP cost savings can be attributed to the program’s market-friendly framework, which distributes funding directly to families. Unlike many traditional government federal aid programs that provide subsidies to corporations in the hope that they will keep rates low, the ACP provides families a broadband voucher that can be used to select the technology and service provider of their choice. Vouchers give each household a unique degree of flexibility unavailable to them with most other programs and ensure the subsidy is well spent. As such, the ACP serves as a rare example of a government program that is truly technology neutral and provides consumers with genuine freedom of choice.
More than 20 million US households are now receiving discounts on internet service as part of Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program. The program has continued to gain more than half a million new households a month since February 2023. Despite the program’s bipartisan popularity and its rapid uptake by consumers, the new enrollment figures still only represent about 40% of the estimated 50 million households in the United States that may be eligible for assistance through the ACP, according to research by the consumer advocacy group Common Sense Media. And the ACP’s future is uncertain: Once the program runs out of the $14 billion that Congress initially allocated for it, millions of low-income Americans could lose their monthly discounts. The more households that sign up, the faster the program will exhaust its funding. Policy analysts widely anticipate the ACP running out of money in 2024, setting up pressure on Congress to extend the program.
With the end of the fiscal year quickly approaching, the Administration is transmitting a supplemental funding request to the Congress to address three sets of critical needs for emergency funding as part of a potential short-term continuing resolution for the first quarter of FY 2024: assistance for Ukraine and other foreign policy priorities, US disaster assistance, and border security. In addition to the supplemental request, the Administration also believes that the Congress must act quickly to ensure continued funding for programs that lower costs for families, such as expanded access to affordable, high-quality child care and high-speed internet.
On July 24, 2023, the Federal Communications Commission authorized a new subsidy program, Enhanced A-CAM (Alternate Connect America Cost Model). This program will extend subsidies to small, regulated telephone companies at a cost of about $1.27 billion per year for ten years. The subsidy will be paid from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF). According to Mike Conlow, this order will bring broadband to almost 583,000 unserved or underserved locations that are already covered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grant footprint. This means that two US agencies both announced funding to cover the identical half-million locations within a month of each other. There is no way that the FCC didn’t do this deliberately. The FCC could have asked the NTIA to take these locations out of the BEAD process so that the $42.5 billion would have been allocated fairly. I speculate that the FCC did this to reclaim relevance in the discussion of who is helping America solve the rural broadband gap. The FCC has taken a lot of criticism in recent years for botching the RDOF funding process and handing out wasted billions to the big telcos in the CAF II subsidies. The FCC was also largely cut out of the biggest effort ever with BEAD grants to solve the rural broadband gap, and that had to sting. The FCC can now say to the folks living in the A-CAM areas that it provided the funding to bring better broadband instead of the NTIA.
In 2016, representatives from the northern region of Missouri met in Brookfield to talk about the issues they were facing. Stakeholders of all kinds—economic developers, USDA employees, elected officials, county commissioners, and mayors—from every county north of I-70 complained bitterly about everything their communities were going without. As the meeting progressed, five topics were written on a board, five ways to find solutions to these communities’ needs. Broadband was listed as number one. The attendees never got to number two. Louis Riggs was at that meeting, advocating for his community. For 15 years, Riggs has been an educator, an attorney, and an active advocate for economic development in rural Missouri. “Broadband was something that permeated everything we did,” says Riggs. And, Riggs says, eight of the ten worst-served counties in the state were in northeast Missouri. At the same meeting, Janie Dunning, from the USDA, stood up and said, “What the state really needs is a legislative champion—and it doesn’t have one.” “That really stuck with me,” says Riggs.
Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) awarded $7.86 million to continue expanding high-speed internet services in Alabama. The three grants, awarded from funds provided by the Alabama Legislature, will serve areas in Blount, Cullman, Marshall and Morgan counties. The expansion projects will make broadband service accessible for more than 6,700 households, businesses and community anchors. Community anchors include schools, fire and police departments, libraries, and other public buildings. Households and businesses must subscribe to paid service to receive broadband. Broadband providers only supply the access to high-speed internet, but households and businesses must still pay for connecting to the service. The expansion will also provide additional links to make it more feasible to supply future broadband service within those areas.
Grants awarded and project areas are:
- Spectrum Southeast LLC – $3.84 million to provide broadband access for 1,435 households, businesses and community anchors in parts of Marshall and Blount counties including areas in or around the town of Susan Moore and the McClarty community.
- Spectrum Southeast LLC– $1.84 million to provide broadband access for 3,610 households, businesses and community anchors in or around the Blount County towns of County Line, Hayden and Locust Fork.
- Brindlee Mountain LLC (GoNetSpeed) – $2.18 million to provide broadband access to 1,708 households and businesses in parts of Blount, Cullman, Marshall and Morgan counties to includes part of the town of Arab and the communities of Hopewell, Union Grove, Joppa and West Point.
Ting Internet's (a division of Tucows) 2-gigabit fiber internet is now available in initial Colorado Springs (CO) neighborhoods. Customers in Colorado Springs will now be able to sign up for Ting's 2-gigabit fiber internet for $89 per month, providing both download and upload speeds of 2,000 megabits per second (Mbps). Ting will also offer 2-gigabit symmetrical internet to all Colorado Springs residents who qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) at no cost to them. While currently only available in select markets, in time, Ting expects to roll out the 2-gigabit ACP offering to its markets across the country, making a tangible difference in bridging the digital divide by providing thousands of residents with access to fast, reliable internet at no cost. Ting's fiber internet is currently available in northeast neighborhoods and is steadily expanding across all of Colorado Springs, with full municipal access expected by the end of 2028.
Working from home became necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a survey done by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research during May of 2020, 42% of all US workers worked from home and accounted for two-thirds of the nation’s gross domestic product. Therefore, work from home has become a feasible economic development strategy at the onset of COVID-19. This study gauges the contribution of workers from home in Indiana in 2021 by using the Regional Economic Modeling, Inc. (REMI) general equilibrium model. Results indicate that the roughly 222,000 workers from home in the state contributed to a little more than 493,000 jobs across more than 10 industries. In addition, these workers added close to $54 million to the state’s GDP that year. To fully maximize the impact of these workers, some strategies may include communities adapting work from home incentives, better and more affordable broadband, adequate facilities for workers from home (like co-working spaces), matching employers with workers from home, and offering work from home-related skills through training and certifications.
X, the social media service formerly known as Twitter, slowed down access from its platform to rival sites such as Substack and Facebook, but has begun reversing an effort to restrict its users from quickly viewing news sites. The slowness, known in tech parlance as “throttling,” initially affected rival social networks including Facebook, Bluesky and Instagram, as well as the newsletter site Substack and news outlets including Reuters and The New York Times. The delay to load links from X was relatively minor — about 4.5 seconds — but still noticeable. Several of the services that were throttled have faced the ire of X’s owner, Elon Musk.
Free Press turns 20 on Aug. 14 — marking two decades of our fight to transform our media system. As this date has approached, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of sharing our history and telling our own story. Over the next six months, leading up to the 20th-anniversary celebration we’re planning in Washington (DC) for next spring, my colleagues and I are going to use this space to revisit some of our biggest accomplishments — many of which are highlighted on this newly updated timeline — and tell the story of how Free Press has grown and changed over the past 20 years. The full Free Press story — the more interesting if longer and nuanced one — is one of transformation. It’s a story of an organization willing to experiment, move and change. Maybe not always as fast as everyone would like, or maybe too fast for others. And, of course, not without mistakes. But with so many, many more successes. At Free Press, we are committed to transforming the media to realize a just society, to building an enduring multiracial democracy in this country, to being an organization that lives up to those values.
In 2023, 167 rural telecommunications companies in 19 states participated in this study which provides benchmark results for the 2022 balance sheet and income statement and more than 37 other key metrics. The study calculates the percentage increase in operating expenses both with and without depreciation expense. Total operating expenses increased 5.1% in 2022 and without including depreciation expense, operating expenses increased 5.2%. The increase in operating expenses is almost double the 2.6% increase in total operating revenues. More than half (51%) of rural telcos received broadband grants in 2022. Of the 167 companies that participated in this study, 85 received grants. The 85 companies accepted about $600 million in grants. In 2021, 69 companies received grants, which totaled $336 million. The median grant size is currently running at $2.7 million.
The largest pay-TV providers in the US – representing about 96% of the market – lost about 1,730,000 net video subscribers in Q2 2023, compared to a net loss of about 1,725,000 in Q2 2022. The top pay-TV providers now account for about 71.9 million subscribers – with the top seven cable companies having 35.9 million video subscribers, other traditional pay-TV services having about 22.7 million subscribers, and the top Internet-delivered (vMVPD) pay-TV services having about 13.4 million subscribers. Key findings for the quarter include:
- Top cable providers had a net loss of about 925,000 video subscribers in Q2 2023 – compared to a loss of about 950,000 subscribers in Q2 2022;
- Other traditional pay-TV services had a net loss of about 690,000 subscribers in Q2 2023 – compared to a loss of about 710,000 subscribers in Q2 2022;
- Top vMVPDs (including an estimate for YouTube TV) had a net loss of about 115,000 subscribers in Q2 2023 – compared to a loss of about 65,000 subscribers in Q2 2022.
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), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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