Friday, September 16, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Digital Equity & Inclusion
Affordable Connectivity Program
Data & Mapping
Stories From Abroad
Digital Equity & Inclusion
Sen Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Rep Doris Matsui (D-CA) led Sens Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to introduce the Digital Equity Foundation Act, legislation to establish a nonprofit foundation to leverage public and private investments to make progress closing the divide on digital equity, digital inclusion, and digital literacy. The Foundation will supplement the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communication Commission’s work to award grants, support research, provide training and education, engage with stakeholders, collect data, and promote policies to improve digital equity outcomes. The Foundation will be run by a Board of experts specializing in the fields of digital equity, technology, and telecommunications, and will represent diverse communities throughout the US. Congressionally-established nonprofit foundations have had great success in supporting the missions of various government agencies, including NIH, FDA, and NPS, and provide a mechanism to leverage public-private partnerships and support innovation. As the NTIA works to implement the broadband programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and connect our country, the Digital Equity Foundation will be vital to ensuring the most vulnerable communities have the knowledge and skills to take full advantage of these new connections.
The educational opportunities that local community anchor institutions have to offer are transformational for students and their families. In Huntsville, Alabama, Drake State Community and Technical College is empowering students to train for and enter science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. The historically black community college recently won a Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program grant to help further its mission: offering student-first, flexible academic programs for all community members. Through bolstering the school's digital infrastructure and extending at-home internet access for previously unconnected students, Drake State is using federal broadband funding to increase its programs' range and potential for current and prospective students.
When broadband fails to reach indigenous tribes, the result is not only a lack of connectivity but also a scarcity of data that essentially masks their needs from the government. The digital divide disproportionately affects underserved populations, and for Tribal communities, it is exacerbated by jurisdictional challenges, geographic coverage limitations, and a lack of affordability, said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute (AIPI). The absence of technology and even staff on Tribal lands restricts the amount of their information that can be gathered about native communities compared with other areas of the country, creating data divides. When American Indians and Native Alaskans are undercounted by the census, for example, their needs are too, according to the Center for Data Innovation’s recent report on the data divide. Despite funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to increase digital access and broadband on indigenous lands, “government officials cannot effectively grasp the scope of the problem,” because of inadequate data according to the report. There have been efforts to improve the situation, Morris said. In Temecula (CA) in the summer of 2021, representatives from various tribes met up to learn about broadband installation for the first tribal wireless boot camp. The session focused on building, maintaining, and troubleshooting wireless networks. Tribal broadband boot camps are slated to continue next year as well. Additionally, the US Department of Commerce announced the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP), which will award nearly $1 billion in funds that would help “deploy broadband infrastructure, establish affordable broadband programs, and support digital inclusion across Indian Country to lessen the digital divide."
Affordable Connectivity Program
As America’s kids get back to school and continue to recover from the challenges of the pandemic, ensuring that all families have access to affordable high-speed internet is more important than ever. That’s why President Biden and Vice President Harris worked with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents to create the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The Biden-Harris Administration’s “Back to School” enrollment drive includes:
- Working with local leaders to help families in their community sign up.
- Providing a “Back to School” toolkit for schools.
- Raising ACP awareness through the Department of Education’s “Back to School” outreach.
- Reaching out to principals at key schools.
- Emailing all Pell Grant awardees to notify them of their eligibility and encourage them to sign up.
- Conducting outreach to Tribal communities.
For more information, visit here.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allocated $65 billion toward addressing disparities in broadband access across the nation. A key component of the legislation, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), subsidizes broadband subscriptions for low-income households. However, participation in the program has been low so far, suggesting that the ACP may not yet be reaching many of the underserved households that the legislation targeted. This article explores the background of the Affordable Connectivity Program and its participation levels across the Fifth District of the Federal Reserve in its first year of operation. The challenges that small internet service providers (ISPs) face in enrolling people in the program and adhering to its regulatory requirements bring to light an opportunity: Reducing the administrative burden and providing additional training and advertising could enable higher participation in the ACP.
Data & Mapping
The Federal Communications Commission announces the release of Data Specifications for Bulk Fixed Availability Challenge and Crowdsource Data, which provides guidance as to the requirements in the FCC's rules and orders for filing bulk challenges, as well as bulk crowdsource information, to the fixed broadband availability data that will be published on the FCC’s Broadband Maps as part of the new Broadband Data Collection (BDC). The Data Specifications for Bulk Fixed Availability Challenge and Crowdsource Data, which also explains how to make the required filings in the BDC system, is available here. The bulk fixed availability challenge and crowdsource processes will open after the FCC’s Broadband Maps are published.
Unlike other advertisements for goods and services, there are no federally set standards for measuring broadband service speeds. This means there is no clear way to tell whether customers are getting what they pay for. To protect consumers, the FCC will need to invest in building a set of broadband speed measures, maps, and public data repositories that enables researchers to access and analyze what the public actually experiences when people purchase broadband connectivity. The FCC’s latest proposal for the creation of a National Broadband Map is already receiving criticism because its measurement process is a “black box,” meaning its methodology and data are not transparent to the public. Lack of transparency about these new maps and the methodologies undergirding them could lead to major headaches in disbursing the $42.5 billion in broadband infrastructure grant funding through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. The FCC’s methodologies have been greatly inaccurate, which has hampered the nation’s ability to address the digital divide. Independent analysis is crowd-sourcing data collection of monthly internet bills from across the country. Efforts like these from consumer groups are crucial to shed more transparency on the problem that official measures differ from consumer experience.
[Sascha Meinrath is the Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Penn State and director of X-Lab, an innovative think tank focusing on the intersection of vanguard technologies and public policy.]
The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), a division of the MassTech Collaborative, and the Baker-Polito Administration are proud to announce the launch of two new programs focused on bridging digital equity gaps in the Commonwealth: the Digital Equity Partnerships Program and the Municipal Digital Equity Planning Program. These programs are supported by the Commonwealth’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) COVID recovery legislation, a $50 million fund to bridge the digital divide. The Digital Equity Partnerships Program will designate qualified organizations as Partners to implement digital equity projects that meet the goals outlined in the Commonwealth’s ARPA COVID recovery legislation. Partners will work with local and regional entities to implement digital equity projects through 1) WiFi access initiatives, 2) public space internet modernization initiatives, 3) connectivity initiatives for economic hardship, 4) digital literacy initiatives, 5) device distribution and refurbishment programs, and 6) education, outreach and adoption. The Municipal Digital Equity Planning Program will offer two options to pursue digital equity planning activities with the support of a pre-qualified planning consultant: a short-term planning charrette - OR - a more extensive Digital Equity Plan process.
American government civic leaders continue to prioritize digital inclusion and digital equity. In Boston (MA), elected officials, and tech leaders are collaborating to expand the scope of digital equity by making sure all residents have high-speed Internet, devices, and digital skills training. Additionally, Boston has a new focus; specifically, the City has broadened the scope of the work to also include looking at how technology can ease barriers toward equity for different groups. For example, looking at city programs that help older adults who have transportation issues receive coupons to use taxis or considering things like language barriers in that work, ultimately resulting in ensuring digital products are available in more languages. In Mesa (AZ), city leaders continue to use the tools available to local government to make high-speed Internet more affordable, doing so in ways specific to the needs of their community. Particularly, Mesa has looked to broadband affordability in rural communities, and, increasingly, awareness has grown in urban communities, especially as large-school kids in big cities were unable to participate in digital learning at the start of the pandemic. Oakland (CA) has focused on increasing access to a device and high-speed Internet at home; where 98 percent of low-income students have access, up from 12 percent at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Oakland was able to do this through a joint effort between the city government, the local schools, and other community partners, forging a very effective set of public-private partnerships.
A big piece of what the Federal Communications Commission does is to weigh competing claims to use spectrum. One of the latest fights, which is the continuation of a fight going on since 2018, is for the use of the 12 GHz spectrum. The big wrestling match is between Starlink’s desire to use the spectrum to communicate with its low-orbit satellites and cellular carriers and wireless internet service providers (WISPs) who want to use the spectrum for rural broadband. Starlink uses this spectrum to connect its ground-based terminals to satellites. Wireless carriers argue that the spectrum should also be shared to enhance rural broadband networks. In the current fight, Starlink wants exclusive use of the spectrum, while wireless carriers say that both sides can share the spectrum without much interference. These are always the hardest fights for the FCC to figure out because most of the facts presented by both sides are largely theoretical. The only true way to find out about interference is in real-world situations – something that is hard to simulate any other way. It seems every spectrum fight has two totally different stories defending why each side should be the one to win use of the spectrum.
On September 15, 2022, President Biden hosted the United We Stand Summit to counter the corrosive effects of hate-fueled violence on our democracy and public safety. Announcements from the tech sector at the summit took a step towards recognizing the important role companies play in designing their products and platforms to curb the spread of hate-fueled violence both online and off:
- YouTube is expanding its policies to combat violent extremism by removing content glorifying violent acts for the purpose of inspiring others to commit harm, fundraise, or recruit. YouTube will also launch an educational media literacy campaign across its platform.
- Twitch will release a new tool that empowers its streamers to help counter hate and harassment. Twitch will also launch new community education initiatives on topics including identifying harmful misinformation and deterring hateful violence.
- Microsoft is expanding its application of violence detection and prevention artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) tools and using gaming to build empathy in young people.
- Meta is forging a new research partnership with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism. Meta will also partner with Search For Common Ground to equip community-based partners working locally to counter hate-fueled violence.
Outgoing Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei revealed the operator has already secured tens of millions in broadband grant awards this year, as it pursues as much as $1 billion in government funding to boost its fiber expansion plan. Goei indicated it has received around $50 million so far this year to help it reach between 40,000 and 45,000 locations. He added it continues to apply for grants “every week” and is hoping to score additional funding over the next 12 to 24 months to help it cover “a couple hundred thousand more” locations. The operator’s wins thus far include a $6 million Arizona Broadband Development Grant to cover 7,000 locations in La Paz and Coconino (AZ) counties; a $6 million grant from the state of West Virginia to cover more than 9,000 locations there; and a $4 million award to cover around 1,500 locations in North Carolina. It also scored $15 million from Louisiana’s Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO) program to serve more than 9,000 locations and $12.6 million from Arizona’s Yavapai County to reach around 8,000 locations. Ultimately, Altice USA continues to ramp up its ongoing fiber overbuild of its cable footprint until 2024 to reach 1.6 to 1.8 million new passings.
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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