Daily Digest 8/21/2023 (Olga Carmona García)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Broadband Funding

This 26-year-old federal fund evolved to fight the ‘digital divide.’ Now a court might throw it out.  |  Read below  |  John Hendel  |  Politico
Biden-Harris Administration Announces Over $700 Million to Connect People in Rural Areas to High-Speed Internet  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Department of Agriculture
Broadband builders contend with BEAD's letter of credit rule  |  Read below  |  Julia King  |  Fierce
BEAD waiver information coming this summer, NTIA says  |  Read below  |  Lindsay McKenzie  |  StateScoop
Other fiber builders exploring Frontier's fresh funding path  |  Read below  |  Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading
Tribal Broadband Funding in a Time of Opportunity: How to Find Funding and Build Successful Partnerships  |  Read below  |  Analysis  |  Finley Engineering

Digital Divide

No app, no entry: How the digital world is failing the non tech-savvy  |  Read below  |  Andrew Anthony  |  Guardian, The

Broadband Service

Broadband Basics: How it Works, Why It’s Important, and What Comes Next  |  Summary at Benton.org  |  Kathryn de Wit  |  Analysis  |  Pew Charitable Trusts
Could DOCSIS 4.0 rollouts be delayed?  |  Fierce

Consumer Protections

Industry groups raise more issues with broadband nutrition labels  |  Read below  |  Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading
Ad Industry Urges California Lawmakers To Reject New Data Broker Bill  |  MediaPost

Emergency Communications

FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Commits FCC to Supporting Hawaii Wildfire Recovery  |  Read below  |  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission
FCC Waives USF, Broadband Program Rules for Hawaii Wildfires  |  Federal Communications Commission
AT&T’s FirstNet, Verizon Frontline connect first responders in Maui  |  Read below  |  Monica Alleven  |  Fierce
How is Meta’s news ban affecting communications amid Canada wildfires?  |  Read below  |  Hibaq Farah  |  Guadian, The


Dish files for extension to buy 800 MHz spectrum from T-Mobile  |  Read below  |  Monica Alleven  |  Fierce

Platforms/AI/Social Media

Poll Shows Overwhelming Concern About Risks From AI as New Institute Launches to Understand Public Opinion and Advocate for Responsible AI Policies  |  Summary at Benton.org  |  Research  |  Artificial Intelligence Policy Institute
Opinion: I’m co-teaching my college class with ChatGPT. Will it upstage me?  |  Los Angeles Times
How is Meta’s news ban affecting communications amid Canada wildfires?  |  Read below  |  Hibaq Farah  |  Guadian, The
The Battle to Ban TikTok and the Man at the Center of It, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen  |  Wall Street Journal
X glitch wipes out most pictures and links tweeted before December 2014  |  Vox
X will remove block feature, Musk says, setting up possible showdown with Apple and Google  |  MarketWatch


Richard Waters | Google vs the DoJ is a test case for reining in Big Tech  |  Financial Times


White House orders federal agencies to shore up cybersecurity, warns of potential exposure  |  CNN

Elections & Media

Wi-Fi sniffers strapped to drones—Mike Lindell’s odd plan to stop election fraud  |  Ars Technica


Anna Gomez Nomination on Track To Create Democratic FCC Majority  |  Read below  |  John Eggerton  |  Broadcasting&Cable

News From Abroad

As wildfires spread, Canadian leaders ask Meta to reverse its news ban  |  Washington Post
How is Meta’s news ban affecting communications amid Canada wildfires?  |  Read below  |  Hibaq Farah  |  Guadian, The
America’s Tech Giants Rush to Comply With New Curbs in Europe  |  Wall Street Journal
Australia’s internet providers are ditching email, to the disgust of older customers  |  Guardian, The
Today's Top Stories

Broadband Funding

This 26-year-old federal fund evolved to fight the ‘digital divide.’ Now a court might throw it out.

John Hendel  |  Politico

Over the past 26 years, the Universal Service Fund — a federal subsidy pool collected monthly from American telephone customers — has spent close to $9 billion a year to give Americans better phone and internet connections, wiring rural communities in Arkansas, inner-city neighborhoods in Chicago, and public libraries and schools across the country. Now it faces the biggest crisis of its existence, and Congress appears paralyzed in the effort to fix it. The fund, paid for with a surcharge on phone bills, could be America’s most important tool going forward to fix the so-called digital divide, the huge split in opportunity between Americans who have fast internet access and those who don’t. Such access is a bipartisan issue, benefiting both red-state rural communities and blue-leaning urban neighborhoods. But despite support from both influential Republican and Democratic politicians, the fund now faces significant court challenges, thanks to lawsuits by conservative activists who claim it’s an unconstitutional tax. Many observers think at least one of the cases has a chance of convincing some judges to kill the fund.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Over $700 Million to Connect People in Rural Areas to High-Speed Internet

Press Release  |  Department of Agriculture

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) made $714 million in grants and loans to connect thousands of rural residents, farmers and business owners in 19 states to reliable, affordable high-speed internet. Connecting all communities across the United States to high-speed internet is a central part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to rebuild our economy from the bottom up and middle out by rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, which is driving over $470 billion in private sector manufacturing investments and creating good-paying jobs. The announcement includes $714 million in USDA investments in Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Washington. USDA is connecting more people to high-speed internet in this fourth funding round of the ReConnect Program. Since the beginning of the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA has invested in 142 ReConnect projects that will bring high-speed internet access to 314,000 rural Americans.

Broadband builders contend with BEAD's letter of credit rule

Julia King  |  Fierce

As states prepare to roll out Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program funding they will have to ensure that providers and local stakeholders are educated on the process of being approved to build with that money. Notably, the program’s letter of credit requirement will still be a must-have for those who want to work through BEAD, despite some pushback on that rule. Illinois Office of Broadband Director Matt Schmit said that his office will have to do outreach so that providers understand the letter of credit is an additional requirement that might not have been there for other grant opportunities. “I think awareness is the key there, with letters of credit,” said Schmit.  Under the existing guidelines, potential grant seekers are required to provide the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with a letter of credit from a bank as evidence that they have at least 25% of the grant dollar amount in a liquid cash bank account. The real issue is that the letter of credit applies on top of NTIA's 25 percent match requirement for providers – and that could start to add up. For example, a $20 million broadband construction project would require a $5 million match (25 percent of the total project amount) and a $3.75 million letter of credit (25 percent of the $15 million grant amount), so the company or municipality would need to have about $8.75 million in a cash account at the time the grant was awarded. Aristotle President Elizabeth Bowles said that the letter of credit is "a singularly bad way to go about this." Additionally, Bowles added that the letter of credit will disproportionately affect smaller providers, “the very providers that have been going out in rural America and deploying.”

BEAD waiver information coming this summer, NTIA says

Lindsay McKenzie  |  StateScoop

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced it will release a draft of its requirements for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program spending later in summer 2023, which is expected to include limited exceptions to “Build America, Buy America” rules. The “Buy America” rules require states spend the majority of their federal dollars received through the $42.5 billion BEAD program on American-made materials. However, limited access to domestically produced fiber broadband components has prompted broadband leaders to call on NTIA to make exceptions to the “Buy America” rules, or face extensive delays on BEAD-funded projects. NTIA leaders have promised for several months that a waiver for the “Buy America” rules is coming, but what it will cover is still unclear. The White House released guidance stating that fiber is classified as a construction material, and is therefore subject to the “Buy America” rules. The White House guidance acknowledged concerns that these rules might delay project progress, and said it would leave it to federal agencies to determine whether a waiver to the rules is justified.

Other fiber builders exploring Frontier's fresh funding path

Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading

Frontier Communications' move to bridge a funding gap by securitizing fiber assets in the Dallas (TX) area to the tune of $2.1 billion of additional committed capital could prompt other fiber network builders to do the same, reckons an industry analyst. Frontier's stock popped in the wake of the transaction, which centers on about 600,000 fiber locations in the Dallas area. Alongside debt and other financing, Frontier has about $4 billion of liquidity – considered enough for the telecom to polish off its plan to build fiber out to 10 million locations inside its own footprint by 2025. Other fiber network builders are sure to be taking notice, MoffettNathanson analyst Nick Del Deo surmised in a new report (registration required) that explores the implications of Frontier's transaction. "We suspect we'll see more fiber operators move in this direction for financing," Del Deo explained, noting that Frontier's move "should just about take funding risk off the table for the foreseeable future. A key bearish argument [pertaining to Frontier's plan] has thus been largely resolved." Del Deo said his discussions with others in the industry lead him to believe that the level of interest in fiber securitizations "has risen substantially over the past year." He continued: "With the model now having been fairly well established for FTTH [fiber-to-the-home] operators and with borrowing rates up sharply in general, it wouldn't surprise us to see other high yield issuers, both public and private, with mature fiber clusters turn to this option to help manage their funding costs and pursue their builds."

Tribal Broadband Funding in a Time of Opportunity: How to Find Funding and Build Successful Partnerships

Analysis  |  Finley Engineering

There has never been a better moment for Tribal Nations to bring broadband to their members. The federal and state funds earmarked for broadband expansion are at truly historic levels, as the US government seeks to make access to broadband a reality for even the most remote rural communities (as it did for electricity in the 20th century). For Tribal Nations to take advantage of this time of opportunity, it’s important to be aware of the available funding options, consider whether you have the resources to be an autonomous broadband provider, and think through potential partnerships that may bring more resources and expertise to the table than you can access on your own. Tribal Nations and their members deserve equitable access to broadband that communities throughout the US have. This is the time to seize the available opportunities and bring this necessary, life-changing technology to your community.

Digital Divide

No app, no entry: How the digital world is failing the non tech-savvy

Andrew Anthony  |  Guardian, The

The Good Things Foundation is the UK’s largest digital inclusion charity, seeking to help a million people to get across a tech divide that has deepened during the cost of living crisis. Natasha Bright-Wray, the foundation’s associate director of communications, says that “digitally excluded people are largely forgotten” by a government that boasts of making the UK a digital superpower but is apathetic about those left behind and lacks any meaningful digital inclusion strategy. The effects are conspicuous in the National Health Service, where improved digitalisation can bring greater efficiencies but often leaves those failing to benefit from the services. After all, as Bright-Wray says, one in 20 UK households have no home internet access. And in the case of the elderly, even if they do have access, they frequently have limited ability to use it. In much the same way, the notion that everyone has a bank account and a card or phone with money on it does not withstand a visit to your local supermarket, where it’s noticeable how many people avoid the checkouts that are “card only.” The cashless society is effectively already a reality for most of us, but there remains a minority for whom it represents a continuing headache.

Consumer Protections

Industry groups raise more issues with broadband nutrition labels

Jeff Baumgartner  |  Light Reading

A handful of cable and telecommunications industry organizations reasserted arguments that certain requirements linked to the Federal Communications Commission's new nutrition-style broadband labeling order are "wholly unwarranted." A specific quibble centers on directing customers to the labels, which provide data on elements such as broadband speeds and pricing, via "alternative" sales channels, such as by phone or in-store sales. "Requiring that providers collect identifying information and document every customer interaction would be highly disruptive to consumers seeking information through alternative sales channels and would impose significant burdens on providers of all sizes," the organizations claimed in an August 9 2023 meeting with FCC officials. According to an ex parte filing (PDF) describing the meeting, representatives for the following organizations attended the meeting as a unified front: CTIA, ACA Connects; NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association; USTelecom; and NCTA – The Internet & Television Association. The industry groups urged the FCC to clarify whether a broadband service provider satisfies the new labeling rules by "developing appropriate business practices" to promote the distribution of the labels through those alternative sales channels and to retain documentation of those practices for a period of two years. They also argued that requiring broadband service providers to display pass-through fees imposed by federal, state or local government agencies on the labels "is an unwarranted departure" and would add "unnecessary complexity and burdens" that could result in some providers having to create many labels for any given plan. Some broadband providers, they argued, might have to create "tens of thousands of labels" to comply with the requirement.

Emergency Communications

FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Commits FCC to Supporting Hawaii Wildfire Recovery

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission

Having worked for Senator Inouye, I experienced firsthand the kindness and collective spirit of Aloha that guides the people who call Hawai’i home. The agency has staff on the ground in Maui assessing the impact on communications services and infrastructure to help local, state, and federal authorities to identify how to best support restoration and emergency response. We have been issuing daily public communications status reports that track the restoration progress, with 17 out of 21 cell sites now restored, the Maui 911 call center now functional, and broadcasters continuing to operate and share important community updates and news. Also, over 10,000 cable and wireline subscribers have had service restored, but more work remains. We will continue to work closely with local, state, and federal partners as families and residents all over the island begin to rebuild and recover from these devastating wildfires.

The agency is supporting communities impacted by the Maui wildfires in a variety of ways,

  • Deploying FCC staff to Hawaii to determine the impact to public safety and emergency alerting communications capabilities.
  • Enabling wireless providers to deploy temporary microwave stations to the affected area to support wireless service.
  • Monitoring the operational status of communications services and infrastructure on Maui and coordinating with government partners, industry, and public safety to support their restoration efforts.
  • Enabling the County of Maui to use additional frequencies to support public safety communications.
  • Activating a tailored version of its Disaster Information Reporting System to obtain targeted, granular communications status information to aid emergency responder decision-making.
  • Posting updates—including reports on the operational status of communications—on a dedicated webpage (www.fcc.gov/HawaiiWildfires), which also includes tips for the public when communicating during an emergency.
  • Supporting FEMA and Hawaii disaster operations through spectrum coordination activities.
  • Performing remote High Frequency Direction Finding (HFDF) scans to determine and share operational status of AM stations that support public safety communications.
  • Assisting carriers with transportation logistics and state processes to expedite communications restoration activities.
  • Supporting Urban Search and Rescue Operations by issuing Special Temporary Authority (STA) to operate equipment required by search personnel.
  • Engaging federal, state, and local officials on the ground to determine priority needs, provide situational awareness, and share expertise to inform decision-making and the implementation of communications services.
  • Extending filing and regulatory deadlines for licensees and applicants in Hawaii so they can focus on the response.
  • Engaging with FirstNet to assist with movement and placement of assets to support public safety officials’ field engagements.
  • Lastly, the FCC’s Operations Center is available 24/7 to assist public safety and industry with communications needs related the response and restoration on Maui

AT&T’s FirstNet, Verizon Frontline connect first responders in Maui (HI)

Monica Alleven  |  Fierce

Network restoration crews employed by wireless operators are accustomed to responding to emergencies caused by hurricanes, but the wildfires that devastated western Maui (HI) are a completely different animal. “We’re working around the clock. We have dozens of people on the ground and we’ve deployed dozens of assets,” said Scott Agnew, head of FirstNet operations at AT&T, noting that it’s a company-wide effort involving public safety, network, retail and other teams. When the fires ignited, AT&T FirstNet had a SatCOLT, or Satellite Cell on Light Truck, in Lahaina, but as they learned more about the event, they realized they needed to transfer a lot more equipment. By that time, a lot of different organizations were trying to get to the island, which meant barges and cargo planes going to Maui quickly filled up. AT&T deployed a cell tower on wheels in Lahaina and set up two additional SatCOLTs. The company is using drones to assess damage to cell sites, as well as indoor coverage solutions and a host of other assets. Some wondered why it took so long to get equipment to the island. Why not permanently stage it there? Agnew said that’s not practical and makes it more difficult to transfer gear to another location when it’s needed somewhere else. “We designed this program to be able to go anywhere within 14 hours,” he said, adding that FirstNet public safety agencies have full visibility as to what’s going on, meaning they can see every site that’s impacted or has a connectivity issue. Practically and financially speaking, “you can’t design … for every possible scenario,” he said.


Dish files for extension to buy 800 MHz spectrum from T-Mobile

Monica Alleven  |  Fierce

Dish Network wants to buy 800 MHz licenses from T-Mobile, but it doesn’t have $3.5 billion on hand to finance the purchase, so it’s asking the US government to give it 10 more months to come up with the capital. In a filing with the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Dish argues that turmoil in global capital markets in the past few years have made Dish’s ability to buy the licenses more onerous than anticipated. Dish figures that 10 months is enough time to raise additional capital and obtain financing, in part because its just-announced merger with EchoStar will put it on more solid financial footing. The 800 MHz spectrum transaction is part of a deal hammered out with the government to allow T-Mobile to merge with Sprint. Dish was a party to the transaction because it was set up to be a No. 4 facilities-based carrier to replace Sprint and conditions were set forth to make that happen. One of those was the ability for Dish to acquire the 800 MHz licenses, which would be advantageous to Dish because of its great low-band spectrum coverage propagation characteristics. Recognizing the importance of the spectrum for its greenfield 5G network deployment, Dish already spent more than $1 billion to support 800 MHz on its network. Specifically, Dish said radios compatible with 800 MHz are now on more than 16,000 towers where it has deployed 5G, meaning 800 MHz can be made available to customers immediately upon acquisition of the licenses.


Anna Gomez Nomination on Track To Create Democratic FCC Majority

John Eggerton  |  Broadcasting&Cable

It has been more than one month since the Senate Commerce Committee favorably reported the nomination of Anna Gomez to fill the fifth, and vacant, seat on the Federal Communications Commission. And apparently the Senate has teed up the nomination for a vote likely in September 2023. In July, the Senate unanimously invoked cloture on debate over the nomination, which means both that the nomination can be placed on the Senate calendar for a vote and also signals she will almost certainly be approved. With a majority, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel will be able to tackle controversial issues including restoring network neutrality rules, reforming the FCC's Universal Service Fund (USF) subsidies, and potentially re-regulating broadcasting and applying regulations to streamers for the first time. That last item is likely a nonstarter unless Congress weighs in to make it explicit that the FCC has authority over over-the-top video. Gomez has been a senior adviser on communications policy in the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy at the State Department and has a wealth of experience in that policy. She served as deputy administrator (acting chief) of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees and advises the president on government spectrum policy, from 2009 to 2013. The FCC has been without a full complement of commissioners and the political (in this case Democratic) majority that should have been the consequence of the last presidential election since the beginning of 2021, the longest such stretch in the FCC's history.

Stories From Abroad

How is Meta’s news ban affecting communications amid Canada wildfires?

Hibaq Farah  |  Guadian, The

Meta began blocking news from appearing across its platforms in Canada in August 2023 after prolonged negotiations with the government over Canada’s new Online News Act. As Canada grapples with its worst ever wildfire season, thousands of Canadians could now be affected by a shortage of news content across Meta’s platforms. Meta started banning links to news articles on Facebook and Instagram in Canada in response to the new federal law requiring tech companies in the country to pay news publishers for using their content. The act was passed in June 2023 in an effort to ensure that technology companies negotiate commercial deals with news publishers for their content. Meta has described the legislation as “unworkable” and argued that the only way to comply with the law was to “end news availability for people in Canada”. With more than 200 fires burning across the Northwest Territories, officials have ordered 20,000 residents of the city of Yellowknife to evacuate, the first time such an order has been made for a Canadian capital. But residents of the city have said the lack of news links on Facebook and Instagram means accurate information about the wildfires and evacuation is hard to access on social media. Officials have said misinformation about the fires is rife on Facebook. They have encouraged people to tune into radio or local media live blogs for accurate updates.

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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), 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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