Monday, September 18, 2023
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Recon Analytics recently conducted the largest survey run to date to assess whether consumers eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) are actually enrolling and if so, what they are using their ACP funds for. We asked 29,141 ACP-eligible Americans if they use ACP, and, if so, for what. The big question inside the Beltway is whether funding the ACP is a good use of taxpayer dollars. The ReconAnalytics survey indicates that if Congress is interested in seeing itself reelected, extending the ACP funding might be a good idea. When we compare ACP enrollment across Red states and Blue states (defined by the party that won the last senatorial election in the state), we observe that the percentage of households that would lose access to the internet is higher in Red states than in Blue. 39% of ACP enrollees live in Red States and 34% live in Blue States. Members of Congress ignore this reality at their peril. But what about the enrollees, what are they using their ACP subsidy for? Consider that the largest proportion of households at risk of losing ACP are ones with school-age children. No surprise then that our survey reveals that these same households use their ACP subsidy for school work online.
In June, the Biden administration allocated $42.45 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding among states—the largest single pot of federal broadband spending in our country’s history. Biden officials at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) made these allocations despite repeated requests from lawmakers and communities across the country to first improve the data underlying NTIA’s funding decisions. Now that NTIA has made BEAD allocations, however, it appears that the program will waste billions of dollars in duplicative subsidies and divert funds away from truly unserved rural areas. This report analyzes the current state of BEAD funding, on a per-beneficiary basis and in the context of three other recent federal programs that already doled out $17 billion for broadband deployment. The report offers three key findings:
- The Biden administration’s BEAD allocations provide ten states and territories more than $10,000 per unserved location—including a galling $547,254 per unserved location in Washington, DC
- Because the BEAD program did not consider whether a location would be served in the near future through funding from a previous federal program, it allocated funding to over five million locations that are already being funded by other federal programs. If funding from other programs had been considered, seven states would have had zero unserved locations. As a result, the billions in taxpayer dollars sent to these states will be diverted to purposes other than connecting unserved Americans.
- The Biden administration’s technology bias against non-fiber broadband will drive up costs by billions of dollars and likely deprive some communities of any broadband access at all. Further, some of the “unserved” locations that will receive taxpayer-subsidized fiber-to-the-home service include mansions, beachfront resort communities, and mountain vacation homes.
California will reverse a decision to scale down the expansion of broadband to internet-deprived low-income areas like East Oakland and South Central Los Angeles. Earlier in 2023, the state cited inflation and rising construction costs as reasons why primary broadband service expansions would be gutted, said Patrick Messac, Director for #OaklandUndivided, an internet advocacy nonprofit. Where the state scaled back—in urban areas including Central Valley communities like Stockton and Wasco—became a source of discontent for digital equity advocates. Additionally, the state did not retract service expansions to wealthier communities, fueling more controversy among advocates. To reintroduce primary networking to underserved areas, Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) will divert funds from the January 2024 budget to universalize broadband services throughout California, said Liana Bailey-Crimmins, Director of the California Department of Technology.
Texas could have nearly $5 billion directed toward expanding broadband availability statewide if voters approve a state constitutional amendment on the ballot in November. Texas will receive more than $3.3 billion in federal money—more than any other state—to help expand broadband access. Texans will vote on whether to create a Broadband Infrastructure Fund allocating $1.5 billion in state money to expand broadband availability. As of 2022, almost 2.8 million Texas households and 7 million people in the state lack broadband access, according to the state comptroller.
Cox Communications was the biggest winner in Florida broadband funding, and will get over $80 million for 11 projects. Fellow cable provider Comcast was the second biggest winner and will take home over $60 million for 34 projects, followed by Conexon, which will receive about $40 million. Other companies winning funding include Charter Communications, AT&T, CenturyLink, Suwanee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC), Consolidated, TDS, IBT, and Myakka. The Florida broadband awards were made through the state’s Broadband Infrastructure Program, in which $247 million was funded through the federal Capital Projects Fund (CPF).
Mobile communications markets are usually characterized by a limited number of operators. Despite being markets exhibiting high concentration, many mobile network operator mergers have been recently proposed and approved subject to remedies (or commitments by the merging parties). The research investigates the merger induced effects on consumer surplus, in which a model has three firms selling horizontally and vertically differentiated products. Findings show: joint management of spectrum enables merging parties to offer higher quality service—for which customers are willing to pay more; mergers may benefit consumers even in the absence of any cost-related efficiencies; and when the merger has a negative impact on consumer surplus, remedies based on reallocation of spectrum are not very likely to change this outcome.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D-CA) resolved a $93 million settlement with Google over allegations that its location-privacy practices violated California consumer protection laws. The settlement follows a multi-year investigation by the California Department of Justice that determined Google was deceiving users by collecting, storing, and using their location data for consumer profiling and advertising purposes without informed consent. In addition to paying $93 million, Google has agreed to accept strong injunctive terms to deter future misconduct including requirements that Google:
- Show additional information to users when enabling location-related account settings.
- Provide more transparency about location tracking.
- Provide users with detailed information about the location data that Google collects and how it is used through a “Location Technologies” webpage.
- Disclose to users that their location information may be used for ads personalization.
- Disclose to users before using Location History data to build ad targeting profiles for users.
- Obtain review by Google’s internal Privacy Working Group and document approval for all material changes to location-setting and ads personalization disclosures that will have a material impact on privacy.
I’m here to talk about why and how against this backdrop we as a nation need to graduate to a fundamentally new mindset with regard to how our government partners with and approaches technology … leaving behind a mindset rooted in fear and articulated through regulatory fiat … and re-rooting in the modern-day reality of an interconnected planet driven by the tools and technology of broadband. It is time to arrive at a global understanding … with America in the lead…of a new approach…based in collaboration and partnership around unlocking shared possibilities and yes, managing, collective risk. It’s the right moment to have these conversations and pivot to this new paradigm. Fearless is not the absence of fear. It’s the ability to move forward—smartly, effectively, collaboratively and to the broadest possible benefit—despite risks. We need to be fearless in pursuit of all that innovation promises. We need to be relentless in our efforts to ensure the promise and power of broadband can reach every part of our nation efficiently, quickly and affordably. And, together, we need to be fierce in defense of the cybersecurity partnership that will make it possible.
T-Mobile is in discussions with Tilman FiberCo to build out a fiber-optic network, setting the stage for the company to enter the landline broadband business. This would be the biggest bet T-Mobile has made in fiber-optic infrastructure, and put it in competiton with cable providers. A deal would make T-Mobile an anchor tenant in a newly formed infrastructure joint venture between Tillman FiberCo and private equity firm Northleaf Capital Partners. Under the agreement, Tillman—financed by Northleaf—would build out network infrastructure to various neighborhoods and business districts and fill orders to connect homes and companies with fiber. T-Mobile’s role would be to find internet subscribers and provide them with Wi-Fi equipment and customer support and billing for the T-Mobile-branded fiber service.
Black Rock, AT&T, and Gigapower executives shared their vision for the joint venture and how they expect to change attitudes toward open access. Adam Waltz, Managing Director of Black Rock’s Global Infrastructure Fund was excited because the company sees the US as underpenetrated when it comes to fiber broadband. Gigapower CEO Bill Hogg said, “scale will be a differentiator” beacuse the network’s scale will appeal to service providers interested in offering service over the network because “you don’t want to make [them] invest over and over with a lot of small players.” Erin Scarborough, AT&T President of Broadband and Connectivity, said the company still prefers owner’s economics where it makes sense, but added that “building out networks is really onerous – it takes time, and it takes significant capital.” However, she said the open access and joint venture approach will enable the company to expand more rapidly.
Brightspeed will open the "Brightspeed Technology Advancement Center" (BTAC) in Kansas City (MO) to recreate its network infrastructure and generate a test environment. Simulating a real network environment will enable Brightspeed to work with hardware and software for voice, DSL, broadband fiber and Wi-Fi to improve customer experience and network efficiency. BTAC will also bring Brightspeed employees and vendor partners together to develop, test and launch new products that reduce outages, lower repair times, address device and software bugs, and reconfigure network deployments.
Worldwide, there is an ongoing policy and regulatory push to make very high-speed broadband available as widely as possible. Underlying the policy interventions to support higher speeds is an implicit assumption that higher speeds will enable different (and socially valuable) uses. Extensive data on usage published by the UK telecommunications regulator finds that the linkage between broadband speeds and traffic per line—allowing for demographic factors—shows that higher speed has a weak relationship to traffic. This suggests that mid-speed broadband is not a constraint on household usage (as measured by traffic), and thus the benefits of policy interventions to support higher speeds remain somewhat speculative.
The European Commission has recognized early on the disruptive potential of 5G and later 6G. The research considers how 5G and 6G technologies fit within the broader context of the European Union's (EU) industrial policies—specifically “technology-specific” industrial policy. The analysis suggests the EU should pay more attention to: demand-side innovation policies along with standard policies directed at final demand; improving the vertical governance of EU policies so as to fully capture the technological opportunities key technologies open up; and to the explicit consideration of the trade-offs between growth and the pursuit of geopolitical interests behind the concrete implementation of this sort of policies.
Sept 19––Northeast Digital Equity Summit
Sept 19––The Economics of Universal Service Fund Reform (INCOMPAS)
Sept 20––FTC Nominations Hearing (Senate Commerce Committee)
Sept 21––Connecting Every American: The Future of Rural Broadband Funding (House Commerce Committee)
Sept 21––September 2023 Open FCC Meeting (FCC)
Sept 21––Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee Meeting (Department of Commerce)
Sept 21––Florida Broadband Summit (FloridaCommerce)
Sept 27-28––Oregon Infrastructure Summit (Business Oregon)
Sept 28––IP3 Awards 2023 (Public Knowledge)
Oct 2-6––Digital Inclusion Week 2023 (NDIA)
Oct 2––All Together For Digital Inclusion - Stakeholder Summit 2023 (Digital Empowerment Community of Austin)
Oct 12-13––Digital Inclusion Research Forum (Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Kansas City)
Oct 12-13––FCC Tribal Workshop at Indian Island, Maine (FCC)
Oct 24––41st Annual Everett C. Parker Lecture & Awards Breakfast (United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry)
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), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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