Friday, September 18, 2020
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Stories From Abroad
Total Internet connections increased by about 4.9% between December 2017 and December 2018 to 441 million. Mobile Internet connections increased 5.7% year-over-year to 331 million in December 2018, while fixed connections grew to 111 million – up about 2.5% from December 2017. Over 54% of connections were at 100 Mbps or more (downstream). Nearly 75% of connections were 25 Mbps or more. The median downstream speed of all reported fixed connections was 100 Mbps. The percentage of fixed connections with a downstream speed of at least 25 Mbps has grown from 54% (or 55 million connections) in December 2015 to 76% (or 85 million connections) in December 2018. Over the same period, the percentage of fixed connections with downstream speeds of less than 3 Mbps has decreased from 6% (or 6 million connections) in December 2015 to 2% (or about 2.4 million connections) in December 2018. More than 57% of upstream connections were at least 6 Mbps and nearly 78% of upstream connections were 3 Mpbs or more. The median upstream speed was 10 Mbps.
Total Internet connections increased by about 4.9% between June 2017 and June 2018 to 429 million. Mobile Internet connections increased 5.7% year-over-year to 320 million in June 2018, while fixed connections grew to 109 million – up about 2.8% from June 2017. Nearly 48% of connections were at 100 Mbps or more (downstream). Over 73% of connections were 25 Mbps or more. The percentage of fixed connections with a downstream speed of at least 25 Mbps has grown from 50% (or 50 million connections) in June 2015 to 74% (or 80 million connections) in June 2018. Over the same period, the percentage of fixed connections with downstream speeds of less than 3 Mbps has decreased from 7% (or 7 million connections) in June 2015 to 2.4% (or about 2.6 million connections) in June 2018. More than 52% of upstream connections were at least 6 Mbps and nearly 76% of upstream connections were 3 Mpbs or more. The median downstream speed of all reported fixed connections was 75 Mbps and the median upstream speed was 10 Mbps. For residential fixed connections, the median downstream speed was 90 Mbps and the median upstream speed was 10 Mbps.
Prior to the advent of the COVID-19 crisis, Greenlining asked residents of two California communities, Fresno and Oakland, to share their struggles with internet access and found these common themes, all of which have been made more urgent by the pandemic: 1) Internet access is not a luxury, 2) Lack of access creates significant hurdles for everyday life, 3) Smartphone access is insufficient, 4) Internet plans designed for low-income families are inadequate, 5) Lack of access is a barrier to academic success.
The Greenlining Institute mapped out Internet accessibility throughout California and found that areas that were redlined by banks in the past are digitally redlined today. Internet service providers in California invest millions deploying next generation high-speed internet networks in wealthy neighborhoods while ignoring low-income communities of color.
[This research was initially published on June 2, 2020]
California filed a brief in the lawsuit by the United States and Internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast that seeks to overturn California’s net neutrality law. SB 822, which was signed into law in September 2018, is the only state law that comprehensively restores all the net neutrality protections from the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 Open Internet Order. At issue is whether any state can protect its residents from misbehavior by the companies they pay to get online, and thanks to the United States' and the ISPs’ sweeping arguments, even whether states can regulate any online services, including enacting online privacy laws. There are 3 main issues in the ISPs’ and US’s request for an injunction:
- Is there a conflict between the FCC’s decision to eliminate its net neutrality protections and the state’s decision to bring it back for Californians? The answer is no.
- Does the Communications Act ban states from regulating any online service at all? This is a sweeping argument that the FCC didn’t even make in its repeal of net neutrality. It is contrary to the case law, and the Communications Act wasn’t written to do so.
- ISPs have to prove two big points: one, that they are likely to win the lawsuit, and two, that without an injunction, they would suffer irreparable harm.
Kenergy, an electric cooperative looking to provide broadband internet to unserved areas in west Kentucky, is waiting for the state to approve a waiver that would allow the project to move forward. Kenergy provides electricity to members in 14 counties. The nonprofit cooperative is hoping to eventually provide high-speed internet services to more than 44,000 unserved home and business members as well. But there is a hurdle. Under Kentucky law, regulated cooperatives, like Kenergy, can only borrow money to provide electricity — not for other services, like broadband. This summer, Kenergy sent a waiver application to the Public Service Commission. If the waiver is approved, it will allow Kenergy to borrow money to create a subsidiary, tentatively called Kenect, that would provide broadband services to its members in unserved areas.
Comcast announced a multiyear program to launch more than 1,000 Wi-Fi-connected “Lift Zones” in community centers nationwide. Working with its network of thousands of nonprofit partners and city leaders, Comcast will provide Wi-Fi in facilities they have identified to help students get online, participate in distance learning, and do their schoolwork. The initiative will provide not only free Internet connectivity, but also access to hundreds of hours of educational and digital skills content to help families and site coordinators navigate online learning. Lift Zones complement Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which, since 2011, has helped connect more than 8 million low-income people to the Internet at home. The first 200 Lift Zones have already been identified. Several are open and others will open this year in more than a dozen cities.
Additionally, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Comcast announced in June that it will continue to offer, through the end of 2020, all new Internet Essentials customers two months of free Internet service and it will waive the requirement that customers not have back debt due so more families can apply. Comcast also continues to extend free access to its 1.5 million public Xfinity WiFi hotspots to anyone who needs them, including non-customers, through the end of 2020. These hotspots are located in public places like small businesses, parks, and transportation hubs and are in addition to the Lift Zones, which will be new, additional locations where low-income individuals and students can get online for free.
Six tribal libraries and two schools in north-central New Mexico aggregated their demand for broadband and built two tribally-owned and -operated, 60-mile fiber-optic networks. The first tribal projects of their kind since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched the E-rate modernization in 2014, and the largest E-rate award in the state of New Mexico in 2016—the highspeed broadband networks deliver superior speeds at significantly lower costs, with an ability to scale their usage to meet future broadband demand.
Drawing on the challenges and lessons learned from the network projects, three sets of recommendations are offered to enhance support for tribal libraries and their participation in the E-rate program. First, and foremost, the FCC must revise the definition of tribal libraries to be in keeping with the language in the 2018 reauthorization of the Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA) amending the definition of a library, so as to increase the number of tribal libraries that are eligible to participate in the E-rate program. Second, the FCC should improve training opportunities for tribal libraries to increase awareness of and participation in the E-rate program. Third, to maximize broadband opportunities at the federal and state levels, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is urged to convene workshops and increase support for tribal libraries to learn from and share experiences of the benefits of increased broadband connectivity. Finally, states are encouraged to support tribal libraries by explicitly including tribal libraries in state level initiatives and funding opportunities, as well as by lending technical and administrative assistance to tribal library E-rate application processes and procedures.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, California estimated that 1 million of its 6.2 million school kids didn't have the equipment they needed for virtual learning, prompting leaders from across the tech industry to immediately open their wallets to help. But six months later, with school back in session, only a fraction of the devices those contributions were supposed to purchase are actually in students' hands. Amassing these donations, it turns out, was the easy part. Thanks to supply chain issues, inequity in existing infrastructure and even President Trump's geopolitics, actually procuring, distributing and putting the devices to use has been far more complicated. Equally challenging: Tracking what progress has been made at all. That's true in California and even more true across the US as a whole. Once students do receive devices, issues still arise. Advocates say students are receiving hot spots only to find that they live in a dead zone or that the devices don't have the bandwidth to support Zoom.
As fall semester gets into full swing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, schools are noticing a concerning trend: Low-income students are the most likely to drop out or not enroll at all, raising fears that they might never get a college degree. Some 100,000 fewer high school seniors completed financial aid applications to attend college this year, according to a National College Attainment Network analysis of Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data through August. The lower enrollment figures are the latest sign of how the economic devastation unleashed by the coronavirus crisis has weighed more heavily on lower-income Americans and minorities, who have suffered higher levels of unemployment and a higher incidence of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Students from families with incomes under $75,000 are nearly twice as likely to say they “canceled all plans” to take classes this fall as students from families with incomes over $100,000. Students who have dropped out of college this fall overwhelmingly told The Washington Post that it was because of virtual classes. They preferred the supportive environment of attending in-person classes and being able to speak with teachers, fellow students, and support staff. They struggled to find a quiet place at home to study and many lacked reliable Internet.
Leveraging high-speed broadband access, I present several ideas for ensuring all K-12 students can learn during a time of in-person schooling shutdowns and other uncertainties: transform vacant local establishments into classrooms and provide technology access through unused business equipment; enable Wi-Fi in federally assisted housing or in parked school buses; reconfigure digital parking lots into digital parks; and utilize local organizations to help solve local digital access challenges. Adoption of all or some these actions would help all students stay connected to learning, while ensuring that those from underserved communities do not fall further behind their more advantaged peers.
Powerful technology companies are expected to face increased scrutiny no matter who wins the Nov. 3 election, but President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden differ on some of the problems posed by Big Tech and how to solve them. President Trump and his appointees likely would maintain—and possibly accelerate—the broad-scale regulatory scrutiny of technology companies that marked his first term. That effort has included allegations of anticonservative bias online, antitrust investigations of internet giants, and actions against Chinese-owned apps such as TikTok and WeChat. Biden, the Democratic nominee, has also been critical of Big Tech’s market power. He and running mate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) say they would support stricter antitrust oversight and online privacy rules. But the Biden camp has emphasized forcing social-media companies to better police their sites against false information, and taking government action to help workers under threat from innovations such as self-driving cars.
New America's Open Technology Institute sent a letter to the House of Representatives in advance of a hearing on oversight of the Federal Communications Commission, highlighting many failures and lost opportunities over the past four years at the agency, including:
- The FCC’s anemic response to the COVID-19 pandemic
- The FCC’s failure to help students access remote learning during the pandemic
- The FCC’s persistent neglect of its public safety duties and of first responders
- The FCC’s disrespect toward Tribal communities
- The FCC’s lack of transparency to the American people
- The FCC’s indulgence of President Trump’s dangerous agenda on Section 230
Frontier Communications received a judge's stamp of approval for its bankruptcy exit financing. In the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, Judge Robert Drain approved Frontier's bankruptcy exit financing after the motion was unopposed by other stakeholders.
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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