Daily Digest 8/29/2023

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Equity

FCC and HUD Partner to Promote Affordable Internet Access for Low-Income Communities  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission
Benton Foundation
Why are Individuals with Disabilities a "Covered Population"?  |  Read below  |  Analysis  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
FCC, USAC, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announce new computer matching program for ACP, Lifeline verification  |  Federal Communications Commission

Universal Service Fund

Comments on the Current and Future State of the Universal Service Fund  |  Read below  |  Ryan Johnston  |  Analysis  |  Next Century Cities
Free Press Calls on Congress and the FCC to 'Reimagine and Reinvent' Efforts to Bridge the Digital Divide  |  Read below  |  Derek Turner, Matthew Wood  |  Analysis  |  Free Press
Benton Foundation
The Importance and Effectiveness of the E-Rate Program  |  Read below  |  Adrianne Furniss  |  Editorial  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

More Broadband Funding

Biden-Harris Administration Announces More Than $800 Million to Strengthen Rural Infrastructure and Create Jobs  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Department of Agriculture
If BEAD Isn’t Enough  |  Read below  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

State/Local Initiatives

Commonwealth Connect Releases BEAD Initial Proposal Volume 2  |  Read below  |  Research  |  Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development
123NET wins $65 Million Project with Allegan County for County-wide Broadband Internet  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  123Net


Faster Fixed Wireless Comes a Step Closer with Latest FCC Move in 6 GHz Band  |  Read below  |  Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor
Airborne telemedicine  |  Read below  |  Alex Fitzpatrick  |  Axios

Artificial Intelligence

How Schools Can Survive (and Maybe Even Thrive) With A.I. This Fall  |  New York Times
ChatGPT breaks its own rules on political messages  |  Washington Post
Growing public concern about the role of artificial intelligence in daily life  |  Pew Research Center
Most Americans haven’t used ChatGPT; few think it will have a major impact on their job  |  Pew Research Center
OpenAI Launches Business Version of ChatGPT That Competes With Microsoft  |  Wall Street Journal
Generative AI Promises an Economic Revolution. Managing the Disruption Will Be Crucial.  |  Wall Street Journal
AI could choke on its own exhaust as it fills the web  |  Read below  |  Ina Fried  |  Axios
Leana Wen | How artificial intelligence can transform global health care  |  Washington Post
John Bailey | ChatGOV: Harnessing the Power of AI for Better Government Service Delivery  |  American Enterprise Institute

Platforms/Social Media

Gen Z Loves Social Media, Most Likely To Opt In To Tracking, Tinuiti Finds  |  MediaPost


California could make it easier to scrub your personal data from the web. Businesses are pushing back  |  Los Angeles Times
Google, Meta, Microsoft Try But Next Steps In Protecting Online Privacy Won't Work  |  MediaPost


CWA and Frontier Communications Reach Agreement on New Contract  |  Communications Workers of America
Amazon CEO reportedly told remote employees: ‘It’s probably not going to work out’  |  Vox
Remote workers' connection to companies' missions hits record low  |  Axios


CBO Scores the E-BRIDGE Act  |  Read below  |  Research  |  Congressional Budget Office
CBO Scores the PRESS Act  |  Read below  |  Research  |  Congressional Budget Office

Company News

Ubiquity Launches More Open Access Networks, Claims First Scaled Fiber Deployment  |  Read below  |  Carl Weinschenk  |  telecompetitor
Nextlink Expands to Indiana  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Nextlink

Stories From Abroad

UK telecoms groups under fire for adding inflation ‘premium’ to bills  |  Financial Times
2022 Consumer Digital Index: The UK's Largest Study of Digital and Financial Lives  |  Lloyds Bank
Today's Top Stories

Digital Equity

FCC and HUD Partner to Promote Affordable Internet Access for Low-Income Communities

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) formalized a partnership to promote awareness of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) among federal housing assistance recipients. The partnership agreement reflects HUD’s commitment to increase outreach activities, alongside the work both agencies are doing to decrease the time it takes for recipients of HUD assistance to sign up for the program. The partnership furthers work the FCC is doing to coordinate with other federal agencies to ensure that low-income households participating in eligible federal assistance programs are provided information about the ACP, including how to enroll in the program. The FCC and HUD will partner on ACP outreach targeted toward recipients of HUD assistance. With the partnership in place, the FCC and HUD will work together to increase awareness of the ACP among HUD-assisted households through:

  • Outreach and enrollment events at public housing, in properties participating in HUD’s multifamily project-based rental assistance programs, and with key partners;
  • Regular coordination meetings to review work on ACP outreach intended to target HUD-assisted households including through a series joint in person enrollment events around the country;
  • Collaboration on ACP outreach and education efforts, including development of messaging and targeting intended audiences.

Why are Individuals with Disabilities a "Covered Population"?

In 20218 more than 40 million people in the United States were living with a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, even as majorities of these Americans report having certain technologies, the digital divide between those who have a disability and those who do not remains:

  • Some 62 percent of adults with a disability say they own a desktop or laptop computer, compared with 81 percent of those without a disability.
  • Just 72 percent of adults with a disability say they own a smartphone, compared with 88 percent of those without a disability.
  • Seventy-two percent of adults with a disability report having high-speed internet at home, compared with 78 percent of adults without a disability.
  • Roughly a quarter of Americans with disabilities (26 percent) say they have high-speed internet at home, a smartphone, a desktop or laptop computer, and a tablet, compared with 44 percent of those who report not having a disability.
  • Americans with disabilities are three times as likely as those without a disability to say they never go online (15 percent versus 5 percent). And while three-quarters of Americans with disabilities report using the internet on a daily basis, this share rises to 87 percent among those who do not have a disability.
  • Older Americans are more likely than younger adults to report having a disability. And these older age groups generally have lower levels of digital adoption than the nation as a whole.

Universal Service Fund

Comments on the Current and Future State of the Universal Service Fund

Ryan Johnston  |  Analysis  |  Next Century Cities

Municipal leaders are on the front lines of the digital divide, responding to the needs and concerns of the communities they serve. As cities, counties, towns, and villages continue to innovate, local leaders are continually searching for ways to connect residents who are locked out of economic, wellness, educational, civic engagement, and other opportunities that are now exclusively online. Currently, at least 42 million Americans have no access to broadband. These Americans are disproportionately low-income and minority households. The Universal Service Fund (USF) helps fill in the gap by providing funding for a myriad of programs addressing some of the largest variables that prolong digital disadvantages for disconnected residents. Without these important funding programs, the burden on local officials working to bring broadband within reach for every household in their communities will only increase. The USF continues to play a significant role in getting and keeping Americans connected. Without USF-funded programs, people most likely to be impacted by digital inequality – low- income populations, people in rural areas, those impacted by natural disasters, and others – will face unnecessary disadvantages. It will also be more expensive to provide them with access to critical government services. Efforts to modernize the USF should include the following actions:

  1. Eliminate the eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) designation, making funds available to more providers that want to serve their communities;
  2. Increase data transparency and allow public audits of USF funding;
  3. Change the definition of classrooms. Congress should update the E-Rate rules to reflect new developments in distance learning;
  4. Recognize that the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) will not eliminate the need for the High-Cost Program;
  5. Note that the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is not designed to be and cannot be a replacement for the Lifeline program.

Free Press Calls on Congress and the FCC to 'Reimagine and Reinvent' Efforts to Bridge the Digital Divide

Derek Turner, Matthew Wood  |  Analysis  |  Free Press

The US telecommunications market has significantly evolved since Congress last overhauled the Communications Act more than a quarter century ago. But the Federal Communication Commission’s universal service distribution policies – though periodically tweaked – are still rooted in a framework designed to support incumbent telephone companies. However, the Congress and the FCC now have before them an opportunity to reimagine and reinvent universal service policy for the future. We suggest that the first step for Congress and the FCC is more-specific and targeted analysis: The FCC should perform a stress test, to determine what market rates would be in the absence of any additional High Cost support. If the FCC determines that in the absence of ongoing subsidies, rates will not be reasonably comparable, it must probe why. If it is because rural carriers themselves have few options for affordable backhaul, the solutions to that problem could come in the form of regulation, or Congress appropriating additional middle mile infrastructure funding. If the answer is that rural internet service providers (ISP) remaining cost of capital cannot be recovered from reasonably comparable end-user rates (that account for differences in overall cost of living and wages), then the solution to that problem could come in the form of subsidies paid to end-users to offset their high bills. We urge Congress to make the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) a permanent program, and appropriate the funding needed to ensure that low-income households can afford broadband long after the initial appropriation from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is expended. Finally, we strongly urge Congress and the FCC to reject the cynical call from some of the nation’s largest businesses to massively lower their own Universal Service Fund (USF) contribution burdens by imposing a regressive tax on residential broadband services.

The Importance and Effectiveness of the E-Rate Program

Adrianne Furniss  |  Editorial  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

An important aspect of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s work has focused on schools and libraries. As far back as 1995, Benton published The Learning Connection: Schools in the Information Age, examining how educators were grappling with the difficult interplay of technological change and educational values. We began by reviewing the potential for technology-driven education reform and outlining an agenda for building the human infrastructure of the Information Age by addressing such issues as content, curriculum reform, professional development, assessment, equity, and community involvement. The following year—thanks to the leadership of Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Representative Ed Markey (D-MA)—President Bill Clinton signed into law the bipartisan Telecommunications Act of 1996, which took the bold step of creating the “E-Rate program” to connect schools and libraries to the internet. The goals of this immensely successful program are just as vital today as the day the Act was signed—helping to connect every school and library to high-speed broadband, every classroom to Wi-Fi, and every student to digital learning opportunities. When the E-rate was first conceived, just 4 percent of classrooms had access to the internet. By 1999, 95 percent of U.S. schools were connected to the internet. By 2014, almost all schools had some access to the internet but only 65% of schools had access to adequate broadband. This “connectivity gap” was especially acute in rural schools that may not have been able to afford the cost of broadband connections or may have had no choice at all as to what broadband provider to use.

More Broadband Funding

Biden-Harris Administration Announces More Than $800 Million to Strengthen Rural Infrastructure and Create Jobs

Press Release  |  Department of Agriculture

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $808 million to help rural cooperatives and utilities build and improve electric infrastructure and increase electric grid reliability and security, connecting hundreds of thousands of people in rural areas. In Vermont, a Community Facilities Grant for $60,000 is an investment that will be used to renovate and expand the Jeudevine Memorial Library. In the new space, library patrons can find a quiet nook for themselves, access the internet, and participate in intergenerational programs and community events around this cornerstone of the community.

If BEAD Isn’t Enough

Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting

There are several states already estimating that the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grant funding is not going to be enough money to reach all of their unserved and underserved areas. California, New Mexico, and Minnesota have estimated that BEAD will fall short. By the time the dust settles there will likely be more states. I’m not surprised by this. Just since the BEAD grant program was enacted by the Infrastructure Investment and Job Act (IIJA) in November 2021, there have been some significant cost increases for building broadband networks. Network design engineers are telling me that costs have gone up in most places by 20% to 25% since 2021. Part of this comes from inflation, which has driven up the cost of materials and labor. But a lot of the increase comes from perceived labor shortages in the industry, which has prompted construction contractors to raise prices faster than inflation. The various cost increases mean that BEAD funding won’t cover nearly as many locations as might have been supposed by whoever determined that $42.5 billion was enough money. Where might the money come from to cover these shortages? There are several possibilities.


Commonwealth Connect Releases BEAD Initial Proposal Volume 2

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has released the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Initial Proposal Volume 2 for a public comment window. Volume 2 of the Initial Proposal includes critical components to effectively implement BEAD funding, including the application process, scoring criteria, and federal requirements for recipients of BEAD funds. The public comment window opened on August 16, 2023, and will close on September 19, 2023. Upon receipt and consideration of comments to the document, the Commonwealth of Virginia will submit Volume 2 for consideration to the National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA).

123NET wins $65 Million Project with Allegan County for County-wide Broadband Internet

Press Release  |  123Net

123NET and Allegan County (MI) have been awarded a $65 million project to construct an open-access, carrier-neutral fiber network. This county-wide broadband project will begin construction in mid-August 2023. The Allegan County Board of Commissioners and 123NET established a public-private partnership earlier in 2023 and applied for the Realizing Opportunity with Broadband Infrastructure Networks (ROBIN) grant together. Now that the project has been awarded, 123NET will construct an extensive 1,100 miles of high-capacity fiber and provide world-class connectivity to over 10,000 unserved and underserved homes across the county. 123NET will provide fiber internet with speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second, which is 100 times faster than the grant’s requirement. This project will establish Allegan County as the best-connected county in the state and one of the fastest in the nation. The new network will enable other broadband providers to utilize the fiber infrastructure to offer their services.


Faster Fixed Wireless Comes a Step Closer with Latest FCC Move in 6 GHz Band

Joan Engebretson  |  telecompetitor

Faster fixed wireless came a step closer because the Federal Communications Commission has approved testing of automated frequency coordination (AFC) systems for the 6 GHz band. That band will be available for commercial full-power outdoor use when one or more AFC systems have been approved for use. The systems are designed to enable spectrum in the band to be shared with existing radio astronomy and point-to-point microwave users by protecting those users from interference. The latest FCC action is good news for fixed wireless equipment makers and the wireless internet service providers (WISPs) who use that equipment and who are hoping to support speeds as high as 1 Gbps using the spectrum. The band includes a wide 1200 MHz swath of spectrum with 160 MHz channels between 5.925-7.125 GHz. When the AFC systems are approved, manufacturers will be able to sell standard-power equipment for outdoor use. Providers that have used the 6 GHz band on an experimental basis for fixed wireless say they have achieved speeds of 1 Gbps.

Airborne telemedicine

Alex Fitzpatrick  |  Axios

As airlines upgrade their in-flight Wi-Fi systems, they often tout the passenger experience benefits, like faster internet browsing or better entertainment options. But some see another advantage: Easier communication with medical experts on the ground when a passenger is sick or injured — and potentially one day, true airborne telemedicine service. About 11 of every 100,000 flights are diverted because of in-flight medical emergencies, per one 2021 study, costing airlines anywhere from $15,000-$893,000 per incident. While flight crews have first-aid training and aircraft carry some basic medical equipment and medications, easier access to fully-trained experts could save lives — and maybe reduce the need for diversions that are both expensive for airlines and a headache for travelers. Delta Air Lines and others have partnered with MedAire, which provides on-demand medical advice to flight crews, among other services. Delta flight attendants can connect with MedAire's medical experts via voice or text directly on their company-issued mobile device, using on-board Wi-Fi. That simplifies and quickens the process compared to the old days of using satellite phones and passing messages back and forth with pilots, who are ultimately responsible for passengers' safety and make the call on whether to divert.


CBO Scores the E-BRIDGE Act

Research  |  Congressional Budget Office

H.R. 1752, the "E-BRIDGE Act," would authorize the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to award grants for high-speed broadband projects to public-private partnerships and consortiums, and would allow grant recipients to use in-kind donations, such as real property, to meet cost-sharing requirements. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects that those changes would increase the number of broadband projects eligible for EDA funding and accelerate their approval by the agency. Using information from the EDA, CBO estimates that about six additional broadband projects would be eligible in 2024 under the bill, at an average cost of about $1.5 million per project, with the number of projects growing to 15 in 2028. After accounting for anticipated inflation in project costs and the historical lag between the approval of a project and the grants being disbursed, CBO estimates that implementing the bill would cost $43 million over the 2023-2028 period for newly qualifying projects, assuming appropriation of the estimated amounts. (In 2022, the EDA approved $65 million in broadband projects.)

CBO Scores the PRESS Act

Research  |  Congressional Budget Office

H.R. 4250, the "PRESS Act," would exempt journalists and third-party service providers, such as telecommunications carriers and Internet service providers (ISP), from being compelled to identify a source or disclose other information that was gathered or created as part of news gathering activities unless such information is necessary to prevent an act of terrorism or a threat of imminent violence. Federal courts would make that determination based on the preponderance of the evidence after the journalist or service provider has had notice and an opportunity to respond. For matters related to federal cases, the Department of Justice (DOJ) typically files subpoena requests that seek information from journalists. Under existing regulations, federal prosecutors may request a subpoena of a journalist or a third-party service provider only in limited circumstances after an internal review. According to DOJ, only a small number of subpoenas seeking information from journalists are approved each year. Based on information from DOJ, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects that H.R. 4250 would apply to more people than the existing regulations. However, CBO estimates that the increase in the number of subpoenas subject to the bill’s requirements would be small. In addition, CBO expects that the bill’s preponderance of evidence standard would increase the amount of work required by federal prosecutors to obtain those subpoenas. In total, CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 4250 would cost less than $500,000 over the 2024-2028 period. Such spending would be subject to the availability of appropriated funds.


AI could choke on its own exhaust as it fills the web

Ina Fried  |  Axios

The internet is beginning to fill up with more and more content generated by artificial intelligence rather than human beings, posing weird new dangers both to human society and to the AI programs themselves. Experts estimate that AI-generated content could account for as much as 90% of information on the internet in a few years' time, as ChatGPT, Dall-E and similar programs spill torrents of verbiage and images into online spaces. That's happening in a world that hasn't yet figured out how to reliably label AI-generated output and differentiate it from human-created content. The danger to human society is the now-familiar problem of information overload and degradation. AI turbocharges the ability to create mountains of new content while it undermines the ability to check that material for reliability and recycles biases and errors in the data that was used to train it. The danger to AI itself is newer and stranger. A raft of recent research papers have introduced a novel lexicon of potential AI disorders that are just coming into view as the technology is more widely deployed and used.

Company News

Ubiquity Launches More Open Access Networks, Claims First Scaled Fiber Deployment

Carl Weinschenk  |  telecompetitor

Ubiquity has launched open access networks in Carlsbad (CA) and Mesa (AZ). The company said the Mesa deployment is the nation’s first scaled fiber deployment, in which service provider tenants will use both lit and dark fiber to service business and residential customers. At the same time, the company announced new fiber “footprints” in Omaha (NE) and Council Bluffs (IA). The four new networks will serve hundreds of thousands of addresses in those four cities. According to the company, service provider tenants served by the Mesa project will use a fully managed network connection to customer addresses. The dark fiber will allow tenants to serve end users with their own equipment. 

Nextlink Expands to Indiana

Press Release  |  Nextlink

Nextlink Internet has acquired Echo Wireless, marking an expansion into Indiana. Echo Wireless has been providing Internet connections to rural communities in Knox, Davies, and Lawrence Counties (IN) since 2007. Echo employees will continue their employment with Nextlink, in Vincennes, and they will now help support other Nextlink customers across twelve states.

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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.

© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2023. Redistribution of this email publication — both internally and externally — is encouraged if it includes this message. For subscribe/unsubscribe info email: headlines AT benton DOT org

Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
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