Wednesday, September 21, 2022
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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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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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