Thursday, August 8, 2019
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I will make sure every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford. That means publicly-owned and operated networks — and no giant Internet service providers running away with taxpayer dollars. My plan will:
- Make it clear in federal statute that municipalities have the right to build their own broadband networks.
- Create an Office of Broadband Access in my Department of Economic Development that will manage a new $85 billion federal grant program to massively expand broadband access across the country. Under my plan, only electricity and telephone cooperatives, non-profit organizations, tribes, cities, counties, and other state subdivisions will be eligible for grants from this fund — and all grants will be used to build the fiber infrastructure necessary to bring high-speed broadband to unserved areas, underserved areas, or areas with minimal competition. The federal government will pay 90 cents on the dollar for construction under these grants. In exchange, applicants will be required to offer high-speed public broadband directly to every home in their application area. Applicants will have to offer at least one plan with 100 Mbps/ 100 Mbps speeds and one discount internet plan for low-income customers with a prepaid feature or a low monthly rate. Of these funds, $5 billion will be set aside specifically for 100% federal grants to tribal nations to expand broadband access on Native American lands. In addition to necessary “last mile” infrastructure, tribes will be able to apply for funds to build the missing 8,000 miles of middle mile fiber on tribal lands.
- Appoint FCC Commissioners who will restore net neutrality, regulating internet service providers as “common carriers” and maintaining open access to the Internet. And I will require all telecommunications services to contribute fairly into the Universal Service Fund to shore up essential universal service programs.
- Bolster the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy.
- Improve the accuracy of broadband maps. I will appoint FCC Commissioners who will require ISPs to report service and speeds down to the household level, as well as aggregate pricing data, and work with community stakeholders — including tribal nations — to make sure we get this process right. Then, we will make these data available to the public and conduct regular audits to ensure accurate reporting.
- Prohibit the range of sneaky maneuvers giant private providers use to unfairly squeeze out competition, hold governments hostage, and drive up prices. We will return control of utility poles and conduits to cities, prohibit landlords from making side deals with private ISPs to limit choices in their properties, and ban companies from limiting access to wires inside buildings. We will make sure that all new buildings are fiber-ready so that any network can deliver service there, and we will also enact “Dig Once” policies to require that conduit is laid anytime the ground is opened for a public infrastructure project.
- Ensure every person has the skills to fully participate in our online economy. I will work to pass the Digital Equity Act, which invests $2.5 billion over ten years to help states develop digital equity plans and launch digital inclusion projects.
Caught in the crossfire of continued budget negotiations between North Carolina’s General Assembly and Gov Roy Cooper (D-NC) is the expansion of a program funding last-mile broadband infrastructure in the state. Cooper vetoed the budget passed by the Legislature in June. The grant program is one of many facets in the Broadband Infrastructure Office’s (BIO) mission to facilitate high-speed Internet access statewide by June 2021.
North Carolina's Broadband Infrastructure Office's (BIO) mission is to facilitate high-speed Internet access statewide by June 2021. NC State Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette said the NC broadband task force is working to address is the Dig Once policy outlined by Gov Roy Cooper (D-NC), which aims to reduce the scale and number of excavations related to road projects for installation and maintenance of broadband infrastructure in rights-of-way. Boyette said BIO’s greatest achievement, so far, has been the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant program, which has made $10 million available for less affluent areas of the state. Of the 19 counties deemed Tier 1 by the Dept of Commerce due to the area’s state of economic distress, 11 have penned contracts with companies to expand high-speed broadband. The program, in its current form, will provide Internet access to 9,800 homes and about 600 businesses, which include agricultural operations, libraries, schools and hospitals. “The biggest challenge we’ve had is securing funding. If you look at our state, we have a large amount of our citizens and our residents who live in a rural area, so funding for our Internet service providers [is limited],” Boyette said. “We understand it’s a business. They’re in business for a reason and if they can’t have a return on their investment then it’s very difficult. I think that’s where our grant program is important. We’re glad to see [Tier 1] get funded and be able to hopefully fill that void for that last mile and to help with the adoption rate.” BIO wants to broaden its efforts, but must wait for a budget to be approved first.
Frontier Communications CEO Dan McCarthy was not surprised by -- but is not enthusiastic -- about some aspects of the proposed Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which would essentially replace the Connect America broadband funding program for the nation’s larger price cap carriers. His concerns relate to the proposed reverse auction, which would be used to award program funding. In the Connect America Fund program, price cap carriers had a right of first refusal on Connect America Fund (CAF) support for their local service territories. The Federal Communications Commission proposed a specific level of support per state for every incumbent price cap carrier in that state based on a cost model and on an estimated number of locations lacking minimum-speed broadband. Price cap carriers, including Frontier, accepted most of the money they were offered. But funding that was rejected went into a reverse auction, known as the CAF II auction, with money going to the network operator that offered to deploy broadband for the lowest level of support. Importantly, no one was allowed to request a higher level of funding than what was offered to the incumbent.
The Federal Communications Commission has finally gotten around to denying a network neutrality complaint filed against Verizon in July 2016, two years before the FCC eliminated its net neutrality rules. The complaint by Verizon customer Alex Nguyen was the only formal net neutrality complaint the FCC received during the three years its rules were in place. Nguyen alleged that Verizon took numerous actions that blocked third-party devices and applications from being used on its network. While the FCC received tens of thousands of informal net neutrality complaints, which could be filed for free, Nguyen had to pay a $225 filing fee for his formal complaint and go through a court-like proceeding in which the parties appear before the FCC and file numerous documents to address legal issues. The Ajit Pai FCC moved ahead with a net neutrality repeal vote in Dec 2017 and officially took the rules off the books in June 2018 -- still without having acted on Nguyen's complaint. The FCC's inaction ended Aug 6, when the FCC released an order rejecting Nguyen's complaint.
The White House will host top tech companies to discuss the rise of violent online extremism on Aug 9, marking the Trump administration’s first major engagement on the issue days after a mass shooting in TX left 22 people dead. The gathering will include “senior administration officials along with representatives of a range of companies,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. He did not name which companies would attend. On Aug 5, President Trump took aim at social media broadly, tasking the Justice Department to “work in partnership with local state and federal agencies, as well as social media companies, to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike,” he said in a speech. On Aug 7, President Trump maintained his own rhetoric — including attacks on his political foes, immigrants and other groups — played no role in coarsening conversation online and spawning violence. “I don’t think my rhetoric does at all — I think my rhetoric brings people together,” President Trump said.
We are at an impasse. Legislative and corporate policies are designed to solve a specific problem for a particular stakeholder at a set time and place. In contrast, the online hate ecosystem is volatile, unpredictable, constantly changing, and deliberately confusing. Battling hate and extremism online has much in common with the attack-and-defend world of cybersecurity in which the attacker only has to successfully exploit one crack in the system, while the defender must guard 100% of it. So just like with cybersecurity, solving the problem of extremism online will include significant investment in expertise. As for policymakers, instead of cutting budgets for extremism prevention, why not expand them? Instead of creating distracting side shows and political theater that belie any real understanding of violent extremism and how it spreads, focus on hammering out long-term strategies to tackle an increasingly decentralized, encrypted internet and a rapidly expanding Alt-Tech ecosystem. Expertise and transparency remain critical to combating the spread of hate online.
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 Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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