Friday, September 2, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Headlines will return Tuesday, September 6. Enjoy the long weekend.
Stories From Abroad
Supporting digital skills building is a complicated aspect of digital inclusion work. Luckily, there is no need to build an entire curriculum or even lessons entirely from scratch. Seasoned digital inclusion practitioners have constructed hundreds of shared lessons, lesson plans, and digital skills frameworks. When planning a digital skills program, work with your community of learners to determine what they would like to focus on, and ensure these are prioritized within your framework. Planning your curriculum can be as simple as building or adapting a framework, identifying gaps in available resources, and finding ways to fill them, whether that is seeking out a specific resource, or developing it yourself. Resources that can be leveraged to create your curriculum are as follows, or can be found here:
- Digital Resilience in the American Workforce - a series of briefs to help navigate many digital skills frameworks created by local governments and organizations.
- Using Data To Advance Digital Skills: A State Playbook - a guidebook to assist in guiding your approach to building a digital skills framework and digital literacy strategy.
- Digital Skills Library - aggregate library of digital skills serves as an excellent example of how to align lessons and methods from a variety of resources to create a comprehensive digital skills curriculum
- Northstar Digital Literacy - a set of digital literacy skills assessments complete with certificates of achievement
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) has created a new dashboard that pulls together a host of information from the Universal Service Administrative Company on where and how the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) money is being spent. Located at ACPdashboard.com, this new resource from ILSR includes information local broadband advocates, nonprofits, state legislators, and policymakers need to know about where enrollment efforts and expended funds stand. It includes a breakdown by state for how enrollment numbers stand (as well as an estimate for the amount spent in each state so far), the current national eligible enrollment rate, information for 30 metropolitan areas, how much is being spent on service support versus devices, how many households are using the ACP for mobile versus wireline service, and the total left in the ACP fund. ILSR's new prediction model shows that a little more than $410 million is leaving the bank account every month. There are other useful data as well. For instance, about 181,000 of 822,000 eligible Tribal households are making use of the ACP out of a total of 13.4 million households total. Additionally, 60 percent of households that are taking the benefit are using it for mobile service (a number that looks like it’s dropping slowly each month), and just 39 percent for wireline connections. About 80,000 households, or less than one percent, are using it for fixed wireless or satellite service.
AT&T is planning to deploy its fiber service in Mesa, Arizona, making it the sixth operator to target the Phoenix suburb. Such overlap is becoming more commonplace across the country as incumbent operators and new entrants alike disclose their fiber plans. This trend raises an interesting question: how many fiber players are too many for one market, especially when you consider many cities will also have an incumbent cable provider? In short, the limit does not exist. According to Chip Pickering, CEO of INCOMPAS, the broadband market today broadly lacks the characteristics of healthy competition. In markets with less than three competitors, consumers are saddled with higher prices, slower speeds, and worse service overall. Thus, the more fiber providers there are in a market, the better. Even as overbuilding concerns arise around space constraints, return on investment, and other topics, Pickering predicts that markets with a large number of competitors would eventually begin regulating themselves towards some form of "equilibrium" within the space.
Nebraska adopted a state broadband plan in 2014 setting goals of extending broadband service and adoption to 90 percent of Nebraska households by 2020. Still short of its connectivity goals, the state ramped up efforts toward universal broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts fueled with federal support. The US Department of Treasury approved Nebraska's latest plans to connect everyone in the state. In May 2021, the state enacted the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act, a law aimed at bringing fast, reliable broadband connectivity to an estimated 30,000 households. The law created the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Program to facilitate and fund the deployment of broadband networks in unserved and underserved areas of Nebraska. The state appropriated $20 million to this program annually beginning in fiscal year 2021-2022. The Broadband Bridge Program was designed to assist with costly deployment projects that might not otherwise occur without public assistance. The law gave the Nebraska Public Service Commission the authority to grant awards to assist applicants with eligible infrastructure installation costs for qualifying projects. Qualifying projects must provide broadband Internet service scalable to one hundred megabits per second for downloading and one hundred megabits per second for uploading, or greater (100Mbps/100Mbps).
High-speed internet access is coming to more than 500 homes and small businesses in Livingston Parish, Louisiana. The state's Office of Broadband Development & Connectivity, ConnectLA, awarded Spectrum a $1.73 million grant to help fund the Livingston Parish broadband infrastructure expansion through the Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO). Spectrum committed to invest another $1.25 million so the total investment in the Livingston project will be close to $3 million. Spectrum's $1.73 million grant is part of a $10 million GUMBO award to help connect 2,167 homes and small businesses in three Louisiana parishes: Livingston, St. Landry and St. Tammany.
The Office of the Attorney General for Connecticut announced a settlement with Frontier Communications worth over $60 million to dramatically expand access to high-speed internet for Frontier customers in economically distressed communities, end a hidden monthly $6.99 internet surcharge, and force significant improvements in Frontier’s marketing and customer service. The settlement resolves a joint investigation by the Office of the Attorney General and Department of Consumer Protection into whether Frontier deceived or misled consumers in the marketing and sales of internet services. In this investigation, the offices jointly reviewed over 1,400 consumer complaints regarding Frontier. These complaints concerned charges for equipment already returned, poor internet quality, unsatisfactory customer service, charges that exceeded promised rates, and charges that continued after services had been cancelled. The settlement requires Frontier to invest $42.5 million over the next 3.5 years to upgrade existing, outdated DSL internet service to fiber internet. The agreement requires that at least half of those upgrades be made in economically distressed communities, urban and rural, bringing high-speed, more reliable internet to as many as 40,000 families in need. The agreement provides protections for consumers offered the upgrade, including a 45-day period to decide whether to transition to fiber internet, protections against early termination or disconnection fees if they elect to cancel Frontier service, access to new customer promotional rates, and information about internet subsidies through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The agreement also forces Frontier to stop collecting a hidden $6.99 monthly “Internet Infrastructure Surcharge” which cost those customers levied the surcharge about $84 per year and an estimated $16 million statewide last year. The agreement further requires Frontier to make a $1 million payment to the state and put up $200,000 for credits and refunds to consumers who filed complaints starting in 2019. The agreement imposes a comprehensive list of accountability measures for the next six years, including new price and billing disclosures, advertisement disclosures that address the company’s DSL representations, requirements that the company deliver promised speeds or provide options for consumers who do not receive promised speeds, assurances that the company will implement transparent and fair cancellation and equipment return processes, and more. Should the company fail to adhere to its high-speed internet upgrade commitments, the Office of the Attorney General has the right to seek $6 million in penalties.
As high-speed internet becomes increasingly important as a resource for cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention and management services, gaps in digital infrastructure may have a detrimental impact on health outcomes. Using national census and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from 2018, researchers evaluated state-level rates of household internet access and age-adjusted cardiac mortality. After adjusting for state-level demographic variables, and rates of education, income, and health insurance, internet access rates were inversely associated with age-adjusted CVD mortality, showing that the potential for internet access to affect CVD management deserves further study. If equitably expanded, tele- and mobile health services could augment receipt of appropriate cardiac care. Policies like the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program, designed to help families and households struggling to afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic, could serve as an example of strategies to promote internet access and, thus, provide telehealth services to millions of Americans.
The Federal Communications Commission announced winning bidders in the 2.5 GHz band auction (Auction 108). In total, 7,872 of the 8,017 offered county-based licenses, or 98 percent of the total inventory, have been sold. With most of the available spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band located in rural areas, this auction provides vital spectrum resources to support wireless services in rural communities. There are 63 winning bidders, 77 percent of which qualified as small businesses or as entities serving rural communities, which will support the introduction of innovative new wireless services in their local communities. In addition, Auction 108 raised gross proceeds exceeding $427 million. Auction 108 started on July 29 and utilized a novel “clock-1” format of the FCC's ascending clock auction. The successful auction of new flexible-use geographic overlay licenses ensures that this important mid-band spectrum will be used to its fullest potential by a wide-array of service providers to bring service to all Americans, especially those in rural areas, according to the FCC.
President Joe Biden announced his intent to appoint highly qualified and diverse industry and government leaders as members of the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC), which advises the White House on how to reduce physical and cyber risks and improve the security and resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructure sectors. Learn more about some of the appointees at the link below.
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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