Tuesday, August 30, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) and Digital Equity Programs requires a Five Year State Broadband Action Plan in order to tap $100 million of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding. In creating a competent and competitive plan to secure federal broadband funding, states should take into account a number of tips. First, states should designate or form a State Broadband Office to centralize broadband efforts, resources, and goals. Then they can create a statewide Broadband Council to source expertise and experience in broadband and broadband-related policy. States should also facilitate in-person listening sessions and prioritize stakeholder engagement, and engage in statewide, extensive broadband mapping and surveyance. Your State Broadband Plan should include goals, objectives, and related milestone achievements to demonstrate realistic broadband implementation, development, and progress. The bottom line: a good State Broadband Plan should address broadband infrastructure, broadband adoption, and digital equity. The overarching objective of your State Broadband Plan is to tackle and bridge your State's digital divide and allow all your residents the opportunity to engage in 21st-century society.
[Rachelle Chong is a nationally recognized California regulatory lawyer and registered lobbyist who assists innovative business clients before the California Public Utilities Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.]
One of the hurdles faced by communities pursuing broadband grants is that many grant programs allow incumbent broadband providers to challenge the validity of a grant. The most common challenge is for an incumbent provider to claim that a grant incorrectly includes homes and businesses that already have access to fast broadband. It appears that the purpose of many challenges is to delay the process, with the ultimate hope to derail or cancel grant requests. Everyone should be aware of the implications of such challenges on the upcoming $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grant. The fact that challenges to BEAD grants are allowed puts the burden on communities to do the homework to make sure that grant areas fit the grant rules. This means gathering speed tests and also getting testimonials from residents explaining the lack of broadband choices. Grant offices can get overwhelmed if huge numbers of challenges are filed – communities that can prove their story are going to fare the best.
Cable companies Charter Communications and Comcast have each raked in at least $100 million in state broadband grants in 2022, leading the pack of operators scrambling to secure government funding for expansion efforts. However, their standing could very well change with subsequent waves of funding. Public announcements show Charter has won at least $170.8 million so far this year, with Comcast hustling along right behind it, with a total of at least $121.6 million in broadband grant awards so far in 2022. Analysts have previously argued that state-fueled broadband expansions could help cable operators boost flagging subscriber growth. However, competitors such as Verizon, Altice USA, and others remain competitive in the arena of state and federal grant acquisitions, alluding to the potential for a shifting leaderboard in the near future. Competition among these companies is only set to increase, as the $42.5 billion federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grant ramps up for distribution. The federal government has expressed a clear preference for fiber optic projects, which could see further shifts in grant allocation among internet service providers.
The City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (PA), and Computer Reach successfully donated 324 desktop computers, 74 laptop computers, 427 monitors, 243 keyboards, and 170 mice to Computer Reach. This first donation, totaling $92,000 and completed in early August 2022, is the culmination of multiple years of work by the Department of Innovation & Performance (I&P) to give back these devices to the community and avoid paying an e-waste recycler for proper disposal. Computer Reach is a Wilkinsburg, PA-based organization focused on making technology available to people most in need through refurbished equipment, computer literacy, training, and support. In addition to refurbishing devices, Computer Reach works to end the digital divide with its Digital Literacy Classes, Digital Navigator Program, and Computer Lotteries.
Broadband internet access has been slow to reach rural communities, but the Town of Nichols in Tioga County (NY) is addressing this through an open-access fiber network. Called "Nichols Fiber," the network could close the gap and bring the town reliable internet service. Any internet service provider (ISP) will be able to use the fiber to serve customers in Nichols. The pandemic thrust the digital divide into the spotlight and led many to embrace broadband as a vital utility essential to economic development. Large ISPs don’t build into rural areas with low population densities because the customer base isn’t large enough to meet their bottom line. Nichols has a population of under 2,300 people, and under 1,000 households. The first provider to commit to serving Nichols is Fiberspark, a small Ithaca (NY)-based ISP that currently just serves around 700 households. The network in Nichols is a test case — one of four projects happening under New York’s $1 billion ConnectALL initiative, which was launched in early January 2022 to expand broadband access in the state. The Southern Tier Network (STN) is the nonprofit in charge of building the fiber network.
In Beaver and Fayette Counties, Pennsylvania, the "Connect Beaver County Broadband Program" by the Butler, Pennsylvania-based Armstrong company, and Arkansas-based Windstream, was chosen to provide internet services to several locations throughout the two counties. The projects are a part of the counties' larger efforts to bring new broadband and improved services to parts of 24 municipalities within the county by utilizing nearly $20 million in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funding. The counties aim to expand broadband service where service is poor or unavailable. Surveys are currently being conducted by the companies and will be completed by the end of 2022. The surveys will be submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for need-based grant funding to continue expanding broadband service offerings. Ultimately, Beaver and Fayette Counties' goals are to leverage NTIA funding, as well as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Coronavirus Capital Projects Funds, to provide universal broadband access and connect their residents to the 21st century economy.
T-Mobile and Space X announced their “Coverage Above & Beyond” partnership to bring about the “end of mobile dead zones.” It is one of a growing number of announced partnerships, ventures and rumors of similar nature and purpose of expanding the frontier of connectivity where it hasn’t gone before. “Coverage Above & Beyond” promises to provide satellite-based cellular connectivity directly to T-Mobile’s current smartphones thereby providing coverage anywhere in the U.S., its territories, as well as the vast unregulated oceans. However, much of the technical burden seems to rest on the shoulders of SpaceX that will have to develop a new generation of LEO satellites capable of satellite-to-device communications. T-Mobile will be lending a sliver of its mid-band PCS 1900 MHz spectrum for the service. Yet, the fact remains that T-Mobile and SpaceX are not the first to partner or invest in providing satellite-to-handset cellular services. The burning questions are the commercial viability of this partnership in an industry plagued by bankruptcy, and whether this endeavor, which involves the development of a new platform, makes commercial sense for SpaceX. Time will tell.
[Leonard Lee is founder and managing director of neXt Curve, a research advisory firm focused on Information and Communication industry and technology research.]
In most businesses, competition means several rivals are fighting to win a prize — typically, the customer's dollar. Most tech companies still view themselves as engaged in fierce competition. They're just going after a wider and more complex set of prizes. Competition, in this context, refers to companies' efforts to set new technological standards, earn the biggest payouts to shareholders, monopolize a piece of the market, or, overall, set a new precedent in the industry. This different understanding of competition explains the deep mindset mismatch at the heart of today's epic struggle between Silicon Valley and Washington, DC. Silicon Valley sees an industry in a state of constant churn and paranoia, perpetually hungry for new products, and afraid that some newcomer will eat their lunch. However, DC (and many homes and small businesses outside tech) sees a handful of giants with strangleholds over key markets. The question regulators and critics keep asking today is whether these companies are entrenched in an unfair way that blocks new entrants and ideas. The bottom line: if these critics are right, then lawsuits and regulations are needed to restore competition and allow more consumer input.
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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