Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Data & Mapping
Stories From Abroad
The Federal Communications Commission is partnering with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA) to raise awareness of the Lifeline program and the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) during Lifeline Awareness Week, September 12-16, 2022. Lifeline is an FCC program designed to help make communications services more affordable for low-income consumers, and provides up to a $9.25 monthly discount on qualifying voice and broadband services for eligible low-income subscribers and up to $34.25 per month for subscribers on qualifying Tribal lands. The ACP provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. More information about Lifeline, ACP, and Lifeline Awareness Week can be found here.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau seeks comment on two petitions for relinquishment of Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) Designation filed by T-Mobile. T-Mobile seeks to relinquish its ETC designation for which it is eligible to receive high cost and Lifeline support in Florida and its Lifeline-only ETC designation in Virginia. Interested parties may file comments on or before September 27, 2022; reply comments are due October 12, 2022. [WC Docket No. 09-197]
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), in conjunction with the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force (RBATF) and the Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), authorizes Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) support for 49 winning bids including Cyber Broadband in Alabama and E Fiber San Juan in Utah.
Data & Mapping
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel recently responded to a letter from Sens Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) regarding the FCC's Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric mapping progress in Alaska. In their letter, the senators expressed concerns over CostQuest's methodology and the availability of foundational data in the state. The lawmakers requested that the FCC accept supplemental data, work with state stakeholders to procure more accurate data, and ameliorate "deficiencies" in the FCC production maps released in June 2022. On September 2, 2022, Chairwoman Rosenworcel responded to these concerns. In her response, Rosenworcel highlighted the FCC's efforts to work with stakeholders in developing the Broadband Data Collection system, as well as the increasingly specific data required in the agency's latest mapping effort. She said that the FCC is working to improve the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric as required by the Broadband DATA Act and that stakeholders can get involved by participating in the bulk Fabric challenge process beginning in September 2022. Also, Rosenworcel added that CostQuest is specifically working in Alaska to incorporate more data sources reflecting the state's broadband landscape.
The Federal Communications Commission estimates it will take between $397 billion and $478 billion to reach all underserved locations. It’s worth remembering there are only two numbers at play: the number of locations that don’t have access to 100/20 broadband service, and the average cost to bring fiber-to-the-home service to those locations. I estimated 23.1 million un- and underserved locations. The FCC study estimated 45.5 million, or 32% of all United States housing units. The second part of the equation is the cost to serve the average unserved or underserved location. The existing studies range from $1,818 per location to $5,714 per location. My model used an average cost of about $6,500 per location. The total capital required in my model was about $151 billion. I believe the FCC's estimate of the number of underserved is off by a factor of 2. I also believe the cost to serve each location is high, though given supply chains, inflation, labor costs, and other externalities there’s significant uncertainty at the cost to serve a location with broadband. For this reason, it remains critical that National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) equip states (and the public) with a cost model, and encourage state rules that bring competition to the grant process. Once Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and private capital matches are considered, it’s likely there’s enough money in the BEAD program to reach all the unserved and make a significant dent in the underserved, particularly in states with lower cost of deployment.
With US cable broadband subscriber growth remaining flat or going negative, operators are hard-pressed to find a remedy that will rekindle growth in a service category now considered central to the overall business. Analysts at MoffettNathanson are attributing cable's recent broadband subscriber woes to market saturation and market share loss to fiber and fixed wireless access (FWA). To remedy the broadband subscriber issue, analysts expect US cable operators to accelerate buildout through voluntary edge-outs and participation in programs that subsidize network expansions into underserved or unserved areas, which are largely rural. While Charter was already a big winner in phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), analysts point out that both Charter and Comcast are now securing a "steady stream of state-level grants for network expansion with state-level subsidies." Cable's more aggressive involvement in state-level broadband subsidy programs signals a major change, as telcos have tended to be the largest participants in such programs. Though the reported state-level amounts won by cable have been relatively small or modest, they are "just a warm-up" for the much larger subsidies on tap for next year and beyond that will be appropriated under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) signed a first-of-its-kind social media transparency measure to protect Californians from hate and disinformation spread online. AB 587, sponsored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino), will require social media companies to publicly post their policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, harassment, and extremism on their platforms, and report data on their enforcement of the policies.
This paper explores the role of counties in the deployment of high-speed internet networks in the United States. Counties play crucial roles in local governance but have been absent from discussions of broadband policy, planning and deployment by both lawmakers and scholars. Rectifying this, this paper reports the results of a survey of counties in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Using thematic coding analysis, themes from our survey include (1) mapping and the ongoing issue of identifying un- and under-connected areas; (2) funding and the use of public money; (3) strategic partnerships with electric cooperatives, investor-owned broadband providers, and other counties and (4) urban bias. Based on these themes, we argue that countries play three crucial, but heretofore neglected, roles in broadband deployment: funder, partner, and mobilizer. Moreover, we argue that counties are eager for greater responsibility and authority over deployment. This paper concludes with recommendations for how Virginia can amplify the roles and responsibilities of counties in broadband deployment.
[Also see Counties: The Missing Pieces in the Broadband Puzzle published by Benton Institute in June 2021]
Tennessee is awarding $446,770,282 in grants for the expansion of internet access across the state. The broadband infrastructure grants will provide broadband access to more than 150,000 unserved homes and businesses across 58 counties. Funding for these grants comes through the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund – American Rescue Plan Act (TEBF-ARPA), which utilizes a portion of the state’s ARPA funds to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and work toward a strong recovery. Tennessee’s Fiscal Stimulus Accountability Group (FSAG) dedicated $500 million to broadband funding from this program, with more than $446 million going to infrastructure and nearly $50 million going to broadband adoption and digital literacy efforts. The final grants will be distributed across 75 applications submitted by 36 grantees, all of whom will provide broadband to various unserved regions of Tennessee. These grantees are a range of internet service providers, including electrical and telephone cooperatives, local municipalities, private providers, and cable companies. These grant recipients were chosen through a rigorous criterion, which included the need of the grant area, the ability to complete the project, and strong community support.
The recent update of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) memorializes a shared commitment between the two agencies to renew a partnership critical to jointly managing the nation’s spectrum resources. Now the work begins to translate this agreement into consistent, meaningful practice. Given the scope of the document, there is quite a lot for the FCC and NTIA to do to fulfill the potential of the MOU. The MOU promotes:
- Evidence-based policy-making;
- More frequent and more effective communication;
- Long-range planning and sharing of information to coordinate proposals well in advance; and
- Development of a common approach for assessment and technical analysis of potential radio frequency interference issues.
More information on this agency partnership can be found here.
Google lost most of its appeal to overturn the largest antitrust fine it has so far faced globally, a boost to the European Union’s campaign to rein in alleged anticompetitive conduct by big tech companies. The EU’s General Court in Luxembourg largely upheld a 2018 decision by the EU competition regulator that fined Google $4.33 billion for allegedly abusing the market dominance of its Android operating system for mobile phones to promote and entrench its Google search engine and Chrome browser on mobile devices. The ruling means Google will very likely continue applying some of the changes it has made since to comply with the EU’s 2018 decision, including offering users in the EU a choice screen of different search engines. The Android case was the biggest of three antitrust fines totaling more than $8 billion that the EU has levied against Google since 2017—and it focused on mobile phones, one of the company’s fastest growth areas.
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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