Monday, August 29, 2022
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The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration awarded an $18.9 million Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) grant to the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada (ITCN). This grant will fund high-speed internet infrastructure deployment, use, and adoption projects to improve connectivity across Tribal lands. The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, makes funding available for grants to eligible Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian entities for high-speed internet deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning. NTIA has now made over 64 awards totaling more than $620 million in funding through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are community anchors with the influence and expertise that states need as they prepare for unprecedented federal broadband funding to equitably close the digital divide in the United States. That was the crux of the conversation at an August 23 webinar hosted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) where federal officials and community advocates highlighted how HBCUs and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) can advocate for and include their communities in states’ broadband funding plans for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act's (IIJA) programs. Through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program and the Digital Equity Act (DEA), both established by the IIJA, US states, territories, and tribes are now in the process of developing comprehensive initial proposals to achieve internet access for all. Community anchors are a key part of that planning process, including HBCUs.
Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brendan Carr made headlines when he denounced the FCC's decision to deny Starlink $885.5 million in broadband subsidy support from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction. Commissioner Carr believes that Starlink would have had a positive impact on the future of the RDOF, specifically in how it could have helped unify the broadband coverage map to all corners of the country. The RDOF Phase I auction was designed to be the first of two auctions which would allocate a total pot of more than $20 billion to expand broadband in hard-to-reach areas of the country. Phase I focused on completely unserved locations and doled out a total of $9.2 billion, though the FCC rejected winning bids from Starlink and LTD Broadband totaling more than $2.1 billion. That means there is still around $13 billion on the table for a Phase II auction, which would focus on remaining unserved locations as well as underserved areas. Commissioner Carr said the need for a second round is less clear in light of other federal broadband funding efforts, such as the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. Though, if the FCC does decide to push ahead with a Phase II auction, Commissioner Carr said he’s open to making changes to auction rules to avoid a repeat of the Starlink decision. Concerning broadband "overbuilding," Commissioner Carr argued priority number one for federal dollars should be connecting all unserved locations rather than diverting funds to overbuild or update existing service.
Many residents of federally subsidized public and multifamily housing have no access to high-speed internet service. Others may be able to get online only in restricted spaces, such as common areas, or have access in their units that is unreliable or unaffordable. This limited broadband access, meanwhile, can exacerbate long-standing economic and societal inequities. To shrink the gap, federal lawmakers included billions of dollars in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA) to help bring high-speed interest service to more Americans, including those in public and other federally assisted, multifamily housing. Two programs created through the IIJA—Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) and State Digital Equity Planning Grants—establish both infrastructure and adoption funding uses that could benefit residents of federally assisted, multifamily housing. States and territories that have developed plans to bring affordable high-speed broadband service to their unserved and underserved locations also may allocate funding for digital literacy, broadband sign-up assistance and technology support, digital navigators, and subsidies toward broadband subscriptions. As state policymakers begin to develop plans to take advantage of these federal programs, they should consider how to address connectivity challenges in low- and moderate-income housing. Housing stakeholders, meanwhile, should be sure to engage with their state broadband offices to offer input.
[Anna Read is a senior officer and Kelly Wert is an associate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband access initiative.]
I define the digital divide as a technology gap where good broadband is available in some places, but not everywhere. The technology divide can be as large as an entire county that doesn’t have broadband or as small as a pocket of homes or apartment buildings in cities that got bypassed. Until late in the 1990s, the only way for most people to get onto the Internet was by the use of dial-up access through phone lines. At first, dial-up technology was only available to people who lived in places where an ISP had established local dial-up telephone numbers. But the online phenomenon was so popular that broadband providers eventually offered 800 numbers that could be reached from anywhere. There was no residential digital divide at this time, except perhaps in places where telephone quality wasn’t good enough to accommodate dial-up. The digital divide came into being when the faster technologies of the digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable modem were offered to homes. The advent of DSL created the first digital divide – the gulf between urban areas and rural areas. When DSL and cable modem technologies improved, the second digital divide was created. Cable modem technology improved more quickly than DSL, meaning cable companies could charge more for their broadband services. This price difference largely meant that low-income households were stuck with DSL, while folks who care about speeds migrated over the years to the cable companies. The digital divide persists into the fiber age, as large telecommunication companies cherry-pick their locations based on preferable demographics and lowest in cost of deployment—which exacerbates the digital divide between urban and rural areas against more affluent areas.
With more state and local government agencies prioritizing broadband, experts say it is important to make sure the work they are doing is sustainable. In fact, Merit — an independent nonprofit corporation governed by Michigan’s public universities — is hosting an upcoming webinar (State and Local Coordination Make Broadband Programs More Sustainable) on this very topic, offering insights on state and local coordination efforts, working with state broadband offices and other related issues. According to Francella Ochillo, executive director of Next Century Cities, who will present during the webinar, the phrase "sustainable broadband" refers to the long-term plan and execution of providing citizens with a stable and reliable Internet connection. This concept, however, often tends to be mistaken or misunderstood. In the most basic sense, sustainable broadband means high-speed Internet that is built to keep users connected in perpetuity, not for limited windows. This, of course, is not always an easy thing to achieve.
Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) announced $26.6 million in grants to help deliver access to high-speed internet to communities in 10 counties. The grants will help fund the work to make broadband available to almost 15,000 homes, businesses, schools and other public facilities. The expansion will include links to make future expansion more feasible. The grants come from the Broadband Accessibility Fund program administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs through a plan created by the Alabama Legislature to spend $277 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act on broadband expansion over the next few years. See grants awarded and affected areas at the link below
Comcast plans to extend its network to more than 3,400 locations in Spring Hill, Kansas, as it continues efforts to expand its footprint and boost broadband growth. Including the newly announced project, Comcast has publicly disclosed expansions in at least seven states so far in 2022 and won grants for projects in three more. Though Comcast plans to work with the City of Spring Hill on the two-year, $9 million project, city officials noted the build will be solely funded by the operator. No tax dollars or financial investment from the city will go into the project. The project in Spring Hill appears to be the largest of several Comcast is undertaking in its Twin Cities Region, which spans Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Kansas. All told, Comcast could spend more than $15.2 million to connect nearly 6,425 additional locations.
Charter's Spectrum Mobile service only uses geolocation information to optimize its service and does not sell to or share it with third parties, including advertisers, the company told the Federal Communications Commission. Charter assured Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel that the company has been, and will continue to be, completely transparent about its privacy practices, and explicitly requests permission to collect customer geolocation data—which Charter limits to data that will "optimize service."
Facebook corporate parent Meta has reached a tentative settlement in a lawsuit alleging the world’s largest social network service allowed millions of its users’ personal information to be fed to Cambridge Analytica, a firm that supported Donald Trump’s victorious presidential campaign in 2016. Terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed in court documents filed Aug 26. The filing in San Francisco federal court requested a 60-day stay of the action while lawyers finalize the settlement. That timeline suggested further details could be disclosed by late October.
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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