Thursday, September 15, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Digital Equity & Inclusion
Data & Mapping
Digital Equity & Inclusion
Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, launched the “Black Tech Agenda." The agenda sets an affirmative vision for how to create tech policy that centers on racial justice and ensures bias and discrimination are rooted out of the digital lives of Black people and everyone. The agenda has 6 pillars that outline real policy solutions for Congress to advance racial equity in Tech:
- Advancing Robust Antitrust Policy: Create fair markets where Black businesses can compete, Black workers can thrive and Black people have abundant options;
- Protecting Privacy and Ending Surveillance: Limiting monopoly power to create fair markets where Black businesses can compete, Black workers can thrive and Black people have abundant options;
- Preventing Algorithmic Discrimination: Forcing companies to address discrimination in their decision-making through independent audits and repair the harm that has happened;
- Expanding Broadband Access: Ensuring everyone has high-quality, affordable internet;
- Supporting Net Neutrality: Treat all internet traffic equally and designate the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as its regulatory body; and
- Addressing the Disinformation and Misinformation Crisis: Changing the incentives for profiting from harm by regulating optimization algorithms and reducing monopoly power.
You can find more information on the Black Tech Agenda here.
The Building a New Digital Economy (BAND-NC) initiative was announced in February 2020 to address the challenges of broadband adoption across North Carolina, and to spark long-term planning efforts to bridge the digital divide. The ultimate goal of BAND-NC is for all 100 counties in North Carolina to publish digital inclusion plans in order to reduce and close the digital divide. As of August 2022, 15 counties have adopted digital inclusion plans through the BAND-NC program; nine have been published as part of collective plans from their respective councils of government, and six others have been published individually. All BAND-NC supported plans can be found published on the BAND-NC Resources page, along with a map of counties currently engaging in the digital inclusion planning process. This review aims to be a helpful resource for counties and stakeholders who have just started or are hoping to begin the digital inclusion planning process.
One of the biggest questions associated with the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grant program is if that is enough money to solve the national rural digital divide. The funding works out to be around $850 million per state, but will vary significantly by state. However, states like Minnesota, which are estimated to receive about $650 million in BEAD funding, require around $1.3 billion to reach everyone in the state. This raises a lot of questions. Inflation has caused a lot of estimates where the cost to build broadband networks is between 15% to 25% higher than just two years ago. Additionally, I’ve also seen estimates that the rules established by Congress and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for the BEAD grants could add as much as another 15% to the cost of building broadband networks compared to somebody not using grant funding. Other concerns include: how state legislatures decide to allocate American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to broadband; how state broadband offices decide to service areas where a 75% grant is not enough for a broadband provider to make a business case; and whether a particular broadband provider is considered qualified enough to receive BEAD funding from state broadband office. If the Minnesota estimate is even roughly accurate, it’s likely that Minnesota won’t be the only state that doesn’t receive enough BEAD money to get broadband to everybody.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
Until recently, the only source for broadband availability data was the Form 477 data collected (since 2014) by the Federal Communications Commission. These data are collected by the FCC from broadband providers at the census block level (averaging about 20 homes). Under an “all-in” assumption, a census block is deemed to have broadband (at a specified speed threshold) if a provider serves (or could serve in a few months) a single location within the block. This assumption tends, of course, to overstate broadband availability. As a result, the Form 477 data have been heavily criticized for doing so and likened to “fake news.” Importantly, there are at least two sorts of errors in the Form 477 approach of policy relevance. First, there is the issue of overstating the total availability of broadband service at an aggregate level (e.g., state or nation). Second, there is the question of the quality of data to identify the exact location of unserved locations. The latter is more significant since it may affect where subsidy dollars are spent, while the former speaks mostly to a general distrust of the data in general policy debates. When the Form 477 data are analyzed at the state level, the analysis finds that the overstatement is small—less than 4 percentage points. Criticisms of these high-level statistics, therefore, are somewhat overblown. Still, if one wants to know the exact locations without broadband service availability, then the consequences of Form 477’s “all-in” assumption can be severe.
Gov Greg Abbott (R-TX) was recently in Laredo (TX) touting his efforts to get the roughly 7 million Texans without broadband access online, something he deemed an emergency item in the last legislative session. But Abbott’s Democratic challenger, Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), has been hammering him for vetoing a bill that would have shored up state funding used to build and maintain phone lines that carry broadband service in rural areas. O’Rourke blamed the veto for phone bills jumping by as much as $4.61 in August for some rural Texans. The political sparring underscores how tenuous the state of broadband remains in Texas, where some 2.8 million homes do not have access to high-speed internet, according to the comptroller’s office. State officials are gearing up for a massive, federally funded buildout of the service, but have not figured out how to fund it in the long run. Texas is on tap to receive $500 million from the American Rescue Plan and as much as $4 billion through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, though the actual amount has yet to be determined. It’s also unclear how many homes the federal funding will be able to get online. By some estimates, it could cost as much as $15 billion to get every home connected to high-quality fiber networks.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a lawsuit against Amazon alleging that the company stifled competition and caused increased prices across California through anticompetitive contracting practices in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law and Cartwright Act. In order to avoid competing on prices with other online e-commerce sites, Amazon requires merchants to enter into agreements that severely penalize them if their products are offered for a lower price off-Amazon. In the lawsuit, Attorney General Bonta alleges that these agreements thwart the ability of other online retailers to compete, contributing to Amazon's dominance in the online retail marketplace and harming merchants and consumers through inflated fees and higher prices. The Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks an order from the San Francisco Superior Court that stops Amazon's anticompetitive behavior and recovers the damages to California consumers and the California economy.
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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