Daily Digest 9/21/2022

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Digital Inclusion

Benton Foundation
Connecting Low-Income Families Using Broadband Vouchers  |  Read below  |  Erezi Ogbo  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Smartphones and older users remain an uneasy match  |  Read below  |  Peter Clark  |  Analysis  |  Axios

Broadband Data

Speed-Tests: Substitute for, or Complement to, Broadband Maps?  |  Read below  |  George Ford  |  Research  |  Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies

      See also: There's a Sneaky Reason Your Wi-Fi May Suddenly Be Slower  |  C|Net


Changing Our (Virtual) Reality: Telehealth and the US Maternal Health Crisis  |  Read below  |  Brittany-Rae Gregory  |  Research  |  Next Century Cities

Universal Service Fund

Op-ed: What’s Next for the Universal Service Fund?  |  telecompetitor

State/Local Initiatives

California bill would let fixed wireless in on broadband grants  |  LightReading

Platforms/Social Media

Two Republican judges just let Texas seize control of Twitter and Facebook  |  Read below  |  Ian Millhiser  |  Vox
     FCC Commissioner Carr Welcomes Pro-Speech Court Win  |  Federal Communications Commission
Meta Antitrust Suit Should Be Reinstated on Appeal, States Argue  |  Bloomberg
Latino voters are being flooded with even more misinformation in 2022  |  Vox
Gmail launches pilot to keep campaign emails out of spam  |  Axios


Michael O’Rielly: Government Can Improve American Lives by Freeing Up More Wireless Frequencies  |  Real Clear


FCC Expands List of Communications Equipment and Services That Pose a Threat to National Security  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

Emergency Communications

Hurricane Fiona Knocks Out Cable, Wireline Service to 1 Million-Plus Subs  |  Next TV


The Michelson 20MM Foundation and Partners Bring Philanthropy Together to Launch Digital Equity Pooled Fund  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Michelson Philanthropies

Internet Governance

The geopolitics of digital rights activism: Evaluating civil society's role in the promises of multi-stakeholder internet governance  |  Summary at Benton.org  |  Rohan Grover  |  Research  |  Telecommunications Policy


Northeast Mississippi Community College Addresses Need for Fiber Optic Technicians Through Fiber Broadband Association  |  Fiber Broadband Association


How does SpaceX remove old, obsolete satellites from space?  |  Fierce


Why Do All These 20-Somethings Have Closed Captions Turned On?  |  Wall Street Journal


FTC Chair Lina Khan Testifies Before Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights  |  Federal Trade Commission


Biden-⁠Harris Administration Announces CHIPS for America Leadership  |  White House
Estakio Beltran named Washington State Broadband Office Digital Equity Manager  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Washington State Department of Commerce
Joshua Edmonds Departing as Detroit Digital Inclusion Lead  |  Read below  |  Government Technology

Company News

Underline Receives New Investment for Infrastructure To Connect Communities  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Underline
Optimum Launches 5 Gig and 2 Gig Fiber Internet in Connecticut  |  Altice USA
Comcast aims to begin delivering multi-gigabit symmetrical services to customers before the end of 2023  |  Comcast
Comcast promises huge boost to cable upload speeds by end of 2023  |  Ars Technica
Comcast Will Double Network Energy Efficiency by 2030 as Part of Green Internet Effort  |  Next TV
Altice USA trots out multi-gig Optimum fiber in Connecticut  |  Fierce

Stories From Abroad

Elon Musk Proposes Starlink Access in Iran as Protests Spread  |  Wall Street Journal
How Russian Trolls Helped Keep the Women’s March Out of Lock Step  |  New York Times
Today's Top Stories

Digital Inclusion

Connecting Low-Income Families Using Broadband Vouchers

Erezi Ogbo  |  Op-Ed  |  Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Major federal broadband consumer subsidy programs that have been implemented, in the U.S. (the Lifeline, the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), and the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)) are rebates administered through broadband providers. Yet, uptake in these programs among eligible households has been modest. Direct-to-consumer voucher subsidies have been widely applied to non-broadband social benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), yet there is limited implementation for broadband. There has been increased advocacy for direct-to-consumer broadband voucher programs to replace rebates on consumers’ bills because, some argue, they reduce administrative costs, improve program transparency, and increase competition by supporting broader connectivity options and providers. At its conclusion, ABC connected over 200,000 students (in 107,000 households). Ultimately, the success of The Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students program presents evidence of three critical design elements for increasing uptake in broadband affordability programs: (1) Targeted outreach through trusted messengers; (2) Removing barriers to enrollment; and (3) Combine multiple mechanisms/network technologies.

See the full working paper for a detailed overview of the method, results, and discussion of findings here

[Erezi Ogbo is the winner of the TPRC and the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2022 Early Career Scholar Award]

Smartphones and older users remain an uneasy match

Peter Clark  |  Analysis  |  Axios

More than ever, services and businesses from banks to doctors' offices and restaurants to airlines expect users to have access to smartphones — but many older people still lack digital skills, and products don't always take their needs into account. A December 2021 survey conducted by AARP found that three in four people over the age of 50 say they rely on technology to stay connected, but 42% of them say that technology is not designed for all ages. Many new features introduced in Apple and Google products, such as iOS’ Crash Detection and Android’s Live Translate, aim to save lives or actively improve real-time in-person interactions. But older users still show hesitancy to jump on the smartphone bandwagon. Advocates worry that these older non-users might miss out on ways that health apps paired with phones could improve their lives. For older users to fully embrace the smartphone, they'll have to get more comfortable with the technology and confident that they can find uses for it that will improve their lives.


Speed-Tests: Substitute for, or Complement to, Broadband Maps?

The Federal Communications Commission’s existing broadband availability maps have been heavily criticized as inaccurate, especially for the purpose of distributing billions in subsidy dollars to extend broadband networks to unserved areas. In a rush to distribute the National Telecommunication and Information Administration's (NTIA's) Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) subsidy dollars, a few states have initiated their own mapping efforts and some advocates have proposed alternative mapping means using speed-test data to identify areas that lack adequate broadband. The usefulness of speed-test results to identify unserved or underserved areas has not been evaluated, and there are several reasons to doubt their utility:

  • Speed tests reflect what speed tiers consumers buy rather than what is available;
  • Tests are convenience samples;
  • Testing is often used for troubleshooting, which biases the results downward. 

The results are not encouraging. Speed tests do not appear to be good proxies for actual broadband deployment. In areas where the Ookla data indicate broadband speeds are below the 25/3 Mbps threshold, about 86% of locations have broadband service available above that threshold. At the 100/20 Mbps threshold, about 94% of locations may purchase service meeting or exceeding that threshold. Other peculiarities are found, suggesting that speed-test results are not a suitable substitute for rigorous and careful mapping efforts, such as those the FCC is currently undertaking.


Changing Our (Virtual) Reality: Telehealth and the US Maternal Health Crisis

Brittany-Rae Gregory  |  Research  |  Next Century Cities

As society works to address the systemic barriers that contribute to the maternal health crisis, it is important to recognize the role that telehealth could play in improving the United States’ maternal health outcomes. Policymakers should take the following into consideration: 

  • Telehealth providers must take cultural competency and practices into account when providing telehealth across communities. 
  • Continually assessing the effectiveness and individual experiences with telehealth technology can help address challenges as they arise. 
  • Digital access and literacy are critical for ensuring that telehealth remains a viable option for patients nationwide. 
  • Advocates at all levels should work to eliminate barriers to telehealth. Doing so would increase access to important preventive and routine care to educate birthing persons and their support systems. 
  • Researchers should continually study the evolving and unique needs of prenatal and postpartum populations.

Platforms/Social Media

Two Republican judges just let Texas seize control of Twitter and Facebook

Ian Millhiser  |  Vox

Conflicting lower court rulings about removing controversial material from social media platforms point toward a landmark Supreme Court decision on whether the First Amendment protects Big Tech’s editorial discretion or forbids its censorship of unpopular views. A panel of the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit handed down an opinion, effectively holding that the state of Texas may seize control of content moderation on major social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Governments that say conservative voices are the ones most often eliminated by the decisions of tech companies scored a major victory with the ruling, as the law now bars companies from removing posts based on political ideology. The stakes are rising not just for the government and the companies, but because of the increasingly dominant role platforms such as Twitter and Facebook play in American democracy and elections. Social media posts have the potential to amplify disinformation or hateful speech, but the removal of controversial viewpoints can stifle public discourse about important political issues. However, legal experts closely tracking the case said the 5th Circuit decision is at odds with long-standing court precedent and warned that the Texas law would force the companies to disseminate what they consider misinformation and harmful content on their platforms.


FCC Expands List of Communications Equipment and Services That Pose a Threat to National Security

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission lists Pacific Network Corp. and its wholly-owned subsidiary ComNet (USA) LLC and China Unicom (Americas) Operations Limited on its list of communications equipment and services that have been deemed a threat to national security. The actions implement recommendations in letters filed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)  on behalf of Executive Branch interagency bodies. These letters explain how PacNet/ComNet and China Unicom are subject to the exploitation, influence, and control of the Chinese government, and the national security risks associated with such exploitation, influence, and control.


The Michelson 20MM Foundation and Partners Bring Philanthropy Together to Launch Digital Equity Pooled Fund

Press Release  |  Michelson Philanthropies

Housed at the Michelson 20MM Foundation, the Digital Equity Pooled Fund is a new collaboration between 20MM, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF), and California Community Foundation (CCF) that is focused on advancing digital equity in California. The Utility Reform Network (TURN) and The Center for Accessible Technology (CforAT) will comprise the Fund’s inaugural cohort of funded partners. "By pooling our funds to support ongoing, hands-on technical support for community-based organizations and local governments to participate in the state's critical regulatory processes, we are making a shared investment in leveling the playing field for the people and communities most affected by the digital divide,” said Shayna Englin, Director of California Community Foundation's Digital Equity Initiative. TURN’s work centers on advocating for affordable and dependable utility services and standing up for consumers across the state as an independent and unbiased voice. TURN’s Voice for Broadband Equity Project, directly supported by the fund, will provide training and technical assistance to BIPOC-led and BIPOC- and low-income-serving organizations who want to participate in proceedings at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Concurrently, CforAT represents people with disabilities before the CPUC for both telecommunications policy and energy policy.


Estakio Beltran named Washington State Broadband Office Digital Equity Manager

The Washington State Broadband Office in the Department of Commerce has hired Estakio Beltran to serve as Digital Equity Manager. Beltran comes to the job with significant experience working on equity policy, program development, and community-driven solutions to inequity. During more than a decade working in Washington DC, Beltran advised senior members of Congress and high-ranking officials as public policy professionals. Beltran stated that improving connectivity across the state can address digital inequities and ensure that everyone in Washington has full access to opportunities, power, and resources to flourish and achieve their full potential. Working in collaboration with the Washington Public Works Board and Community Economic Revitalization Board, the state broadband office recently was awarded $30 million from the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for last-mile fiber and wireless projects aimed at overcoming barriers to broadband access and connectivity in five rural Washington counties (Ferry, Jefferson, Kittitas, Okanogan and Stevens). In addition, the 2022 state supplemental budget provides over $100 million in operating, capital, and federal broadband funding.

Joshua Edmonds Departing as Detroit Digital Inclusion Lead

Detroit Digital Inclusion Director Joshua Edmonds is departing the city to head up a nonprofit organization that also works in the digital equity space. Edmonds has taken a position as CEO of DigitalC, a Cleveland-based nonprofit focused on getting people connected to high-speed, affordable Internet. He started with the city in December 2018 and was named Detroit’s director of digital inclusion in January 2019, making him one of the first people in the country to head up digital equity work within a municipal government. He departs as one of the most experienced and longest-tenured full-time digital inclusion staffers in any American city hall. The city is launching a nationwide search for Edmonds’ replacement. Edmonds said, “[Detroit has] an effective community engagement strategy with Connect 313, a plan for infrastructure, and three years of committed ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] funding that will begin flowing to communities this fall and early next year."  

Company News

Underline Receives New Investment for Infrastructure To Connect Communities

Press Release  |  Underline

Underline, the nation’s intelligent community infrastructure platform, is connecting American communities on a foundation of open access fiber. To support existing projects and drive continued US expansion, a fund managed by Ares Management’s Infrastructure Opportunities strategy joins Underline as a strategic investor—adding a scaled global investment manager to the existing investor group. Underline is the first digital infrastructure investment Ares will make through its Infrastructure Opportunities strategy—a leading infrastructure investor with approximately $4.3 billion in assets under management, as of June 30, 2022. Through this investment, Underline can offer service to residential customers on full fiber connections with symmetric gigabit speeds for $65/month—no installation or equipment fees, no contracts, no data caps, and no forced bundles. In addition, Underline members can select their broadband provider from a choice of three on the online Marketplace and can switch between them at ease. Transforming community connectivity must also include a plan to address the growing digital divide that presents a barrier to upward mobility for individuals and families. Underline’s Opportunity Program provides the standard tier of service—500/500 Mbps— at no cost, for households that qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), and symmetric gigabit service for $35/month. 

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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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Benton Institute
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