Wednesday, August 30, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
One of the greatest untold urban stories in America is playing out right now. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) — which launched at the start of 2022 to help struggling families cover the cost of monthly broadband plans — has connected over 20 million households to the internet across the nation, opening countless doors for education, jobs, health care and community connections. After the difficulties of the pandemic, our families, friends and neighbors are coming back stronger than ever before, using high-speed internet to transform their lives. The city of Tacoma (WA), where I serve as mayor, demonstrates the impact of this kind of program. When I took office in 2018, only 67% of households had broadband internet subscriptions at home. Yet, only about 4,000 Tacoma households had enrolled in a discounted internet service program for low-income households from the major internet service provider in our area. Five years later, approximately 82% of Tacoma households subscribe to broadband, and more than 17,000 Tacoma households have come online, and that’s largely due to the ACP. We need our elected leaders — in Congress and the Biden administration — to deepen their efforts to close the digital divide. Will the ACP fully close the digital divide? Sadly, no. We need even more federal investment — and local leadership — to ensure that everyone in America has access to broadband internet. However, the ACP is a critical part of the equation. It’s already closed more of the digital divide than any program in American history.
[Victoria Woodards is the mayor of Tacoma (WA) and the president of the National League of Cities.]
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is greatly concerned with the preservation and advancement of the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program—a vital Universal Service Fund program that must continue to be improved to achieve its goals, broaden its reach, and expand access to those who can benefit the most. Lifeline was created nearly 40 years ago with the aim of providing low-income households with low-cost landline telephony options. Now, nearly all U.S. households have telephone service and the Lifeline program plays an essential role in ensuring affordability. Prior to the pandemic, the Lifeline program provided mainly wireless communication services for low-income households; however, its $9.25/month subsidy resulted in service plans that restricted voice and data usage. As of June 20, 2021, approximately 6.9 million subscribers were enrolled in the Lifeline program—enrollees include low-income consumers, Veterans, people with disabilities, people on tribal lands, and other eligible Americans. Approximately 94 percent of all Lifeline participants subscribe to a mobile offering. Voice calling is the most important part of Lifeline service for 23 percent of subscribers, but two-thirds (68 percent) say voice, text, and data are all equally important to them.
Wall Street is churning out billions of dollars in complex bonds to bankroll construction of broadband fiber-optic networks, part of a nationwide push to widen high-speed internet access. Telecommunications companies have already sold more than triple the number of so-called fiber bonds they borrowed in all of 2022. That has helped pay for expanding high-speed internet into small and midsize cities where residents and businesses previously had only one choice—expensive and spotty service from cable monopolies. Private-equity firms see money to be made: They have stakes in all of the companies issuing the bonds and have the most to gain from the borrowing boom. Leaders in the communities that are affected say the internet upgrade can’t come fast enough. AI and driverless taxis are transforming American cities, but many small towns and rural areas still lack a staple of modern life: reliable high-speed internet. Satellite and cellular phone networks that cover remote areas can’t transmit large amounts of data as reliably as fiber-optic cable, creating a digital divide across the country. The private-equity push into broadband is part of a broad shift by investment firms over the past decade toward renewable energy and technology projects. Private infrastructure investments likely will hit $1.9 trillion by 2026, overtaking real-estate investments, according to research firm Preqin.
In its recently released Draft Digital Opportunity Plan, the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development (OBD) envisions a future where digital equity connects all Minnesota residents to opportunities, options, and each other. The three goals highlighted in the plan—connect people to people, connect people to information, and connect people to resources—are ultimately limited, nodding to the moments where connections happen rather than the real systemic work it takes to sustain connections. To do so, OBD says, it will take people working together across the state with this shared vision. This plan presents an informational starting point. Progress toward digital opportunity in Minnesota has for so long depended on two groups:
- digitally resilient Minnesotans, that is, the people who live the digital divide every day, and
- advocates and educators, the people who share a vision where digital equity connects all Minnesotans to opportunities, options, and each other.
Digital Connection Committees (DCCs) are the heart of Minnesota’s digital opportunity planning process.
In the coming years, Pennsylvania will receive more than $1 billion in federal funding to bring high-speed internet access to everyone in the state. It’s a historic opportunity and a serious challenge, according to a new plan from the state Broadband Development Authority that outlines how it will accomplish that goal over the next five years. Here are five obstacles Pennsylvania will have to navigate as it spends the money, according to the authority’s plan:
- Workforce Shortages: Pennsylvania will need an estimated 117,000 workers to build new broadband networks. The state’s plan details how low unemployment and a tight labor market could make finding them a challenge.
- Supply Chain Problems: Although the global supply chain is rebounding after the disruptions of the pandemic, problems remain, the state plan notes.
- Permits: The huge broadband buildout will require a vast number of permits from Pennsylvania’s more than 2,600 municipalities and differences in the way they process them could add costs and slow projects down.
- The Cost of an Internet Subscription: Bringing broadband to everyone in the commonwealth won’t improve residents' lives if the service is too expensive, the Broadband Development Authority warns.
- Limited Competition Among Providers: More than half the responses to the state survey said residents had no choice of internet service provider. A lack of competition can result in higher prices, the plan notes.
Illinois farmers and communities need broadband internet to thrive. The Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) and its driven partners intend to make that happen by securing federal dollars earmarked for bridging the digital divide. IIN-funded research will help them make their case. It provides attention-grabbing estimates of how much more farmers could produce with reliable internet. Public university partners said the total economic gain of added production that would accompany increased broadband coverage is 3.6% for corn and 3.8% for soybeans. That amounts to more than $42 million in added revenue per year just in the five-county Broadband Breakthrough pilot, which includes Hancock County where Bryan Stevens farms. “Through Broadband Breakthrough, we’re spotlighting the benefits of broadband. When I share the data, people are shocked,” Stevens said about both the cost of adding access and how much more farmers could earn. Illinois State University researcher John Kostelnick and his team layered data about cropland use and broadband coverage to make their impact projections. That work provides a toolkit for other counties to assess potential broadband value. Broadband Breakthrough uses Kostelnick’s research and other selling points to inform and engage stakeholders, some of which could provide grants and other support necessary to gain federal funding. Powerhouse equity advocate the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society manages Broadband Breakthrough. “What makes the Illinois effort ‘right’ is the breadth of partners working together to deliver and execute the program, plus the Illinois Office of Broadband recognizes how important it is to have community involvement in broadband infrastructure planning,” Benton Institute Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss said.
The Federal Communications Commission largely rejected petitions to reconsider its Broadband Consumer Label rules. Today’s action preserves consumer access to clear, easy-to-understand, and accurate information about the cost and performance of broadband services. Following the adoption of the Broadband Label Order, several petitions were filed asking the FCC to clarify and/or reconsider certain label requirements. This Order on Reconsideration largely affirms the rules adopted in the Report and Order while making some revisions and clarifications such as modifying provider record-keeping requirements when directing consumers to a label on an alternative sales channel and confirming that providers may state “taxes included” when their price already incorporates taxes. The rules will go into effect following the legally required review by the Office of Management and Budget. After this Paperwork Reduction Act analysis is complete, the majority of providers will have to display the label within six months of approval; providers with 100,000 or fewer subscriber lines face a deadline of twelve months after OMB approval
By the end August 2023, adult content will get a lot harder to watch in Texas. Instead of clicking a button or entering a date of birth to access adult sites, users will need to provide photos of their official government-issued ID or use a third-party service to verify their age. It’s the result of a new law passed earlier in summer 2023 intended to prevent kids from seeing adult content online. But it’s also part of a broad — and worrying — attempt to age-gate the internet. In 2023, more than half a dozen states have passed similar legislation and even more are looking to follow suit. While these rules are focused on adult content, another raft of laws is aimed at locking down minors’ access to the internet more generally — including banning teens from social media without parental consent. Republicans and Democrats alike are backing age-gating bills. For some lawmakers, it’s an extension of a yearslong fight against Big Tech — a way to rein in the alleged harmful effects of social networks on youth. For others, it’s part of a much broader culture war. Conservative state houses and school districts have recently altered public school curriculums and banned books predominantly written by and about people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Online child protection bills are a new weapon in the fight. These parallel movements have created an unprecedented appetite for a new kind of internet. It’s one where parents might have far more control over what minors see online and kids are more shielded from the darker spaces on the internet. It’s also one where adults and young people alike could have trouble reading, watching, or otherwise engaging with constitutionally protected speech and where privacy is hard to find.
Sports leagues are urging the US to require "instantaneous" takedowns of pirated livestreams and new requirements for Internet service providers to block pirated websites. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 requires websites to "expeditiously" remove infringing material upon being notified of its existence. But pirated livestreams of sports events often aren't taken down while the events are ongoing, said comments submitted by Ultimate Fighting Championship, the National Basketball Association, and the National Football League. The "DMCA does not define 'expeditiously,' and OSPs [online service providers] have exploited this ambiguity in the statutory language to delay removing content in response to takedown requests," the leagues told the US Patent and Trademark Office in response to a request for comments on addressing counterfeiting and piracy. The leagues urged the US "to establish that, in the case of live content, the requirement to 'expeditiously' remove infringing content means that content must be removed 'instantaneously or near-instantaneously in response to a takedown request." The leagues claimed the change "would be a relatively modest and non-controversial update to the DMCA that could be included in the broader reforms being considered by Congress or could be addressed separately." They also want stricter "verification measures before a user is permitted to live stream."
UScellular announced that it has received full access to the 5G C-Band spectrum it was awarded from Auction 107 in March 2021, allowing the company to expand its 5G network faster than anticipated. UScellular upgraded more than 440 cell sites in preparation for this spectrum access, and the company will turn on this enhanced 5G service in the coming weeks – three months ahead of schedule. C-Band spectrum technology brings faster data speeds and more capacity and enhances the network performance for customers. This 5G network expansion builds on UScellular’s recent 5G mid-band network launch that kicked off in 10 states earlier in 2023.
Large language model (LLM)–-based artificial intelligence chatbots direct the power of large training data sets toward successive, related tasks as opposed to single-ask tasks, for which artificial intelligence already achieves impressive performance. The capacity of LLMs to assist in the full scope of iterative clinical reasoning via successive prompting, in effect acting as artificial physicians, has not yet been evaluated. The objective of the study was to evaluate ChatGPT’s capacity for ongoing clinical decision support via its performance on standardized clinical vignettes. The results show that ChatGPT achieved an overall accuracy of 71.7% across all 36 clinical vignettes. The LLM demonstrated the highest performance in making a final diagnosis with an accuracy of 76.9% and the lowest performance in generating an initial differential diagnosis with an accuracy of 60.3%. Compared to answering questions about general medical knowledge, ChatGPT demonstrated inferior performance on differential diagnosis and clinical management question types. Overall, ChatGPT achieves impressive accuracy in clinical decision-making, with increasing strength as it gains more clinical information at its disposal. In particular, ChatGPT demonstrates the greatest accuracy in tasks of final diagnosis as compared to initial diagnosis. Limitations include possible model hallucinations and the unclear composition of ChatGPT’s training data set.
Regional provider United Communications says it will invest $85 million to reach 77,000 members of the Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE) electric cooperative in Murfreesboro (TN). [United Communications is the broadband unit of MTE.] The multi-year project will add 1,400 route miles of fiber and be capable of providing multi-gigabit service to residential and business customers. The initiative is expected to add about 150 jobs in the area. An additional office will open in the city by the end of 2023. United Communications also will partner with the Murfreesboro Housing Authority to provide free Internet service to qualifying households.
There is a huge disparity in regulating two distinct but highly intertwined industries – broadband and voice. Voice regulation includes the cellular business, and, in terms of revenue, the voice market is larger than broadband. JD Powers reported in April 2023 that the average household is spending $144 for cellular per month. I call these industries intertwined because the players at the top of both industries are the same. The big internet service providers (ISP) are Comcast, Charter, AT&T, and Verizon. The biggest voice players are AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. Comcast and Charter are making aggressive moves to develop a wireless business, and T-Mobile is aggressively selling broadband. The two markets are intertwined in a household. Yet we’ve decided to regulate the two business lines completely differently. A regulatory expert from another country would look at the US regulatory environment with incredulity. The easiest way to explain the difference in regulation is that we don’t regulate according to common sense but base regulation on the original legislation that established regulations for each industry. Voice is still regulated because, in the past, various pieces of federal legislation, like the Telecommunications Act of 1996, specifically mention voice. There has never been a definitive legislative declaration that broadband must be regulated.
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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