Friday, September 25, 2020
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Sen Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) announced that she’s reintroduced bipartisan legislation with Sens Kennedy (R-LA), Ernst (R-IA), Hirono (D-HI), Risch (R-ID) and Markey (D-MA) that would improve programs operated by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to address problems associated with a lack of broadband internet and other emerging information technology resources, and better assist small businesses in accessing and successfully adopting these tools. Specifically, the Small Business Broadband and Emerging Information Technology Enhancement Act would make the following improvements to the SBA’s approach to broadband:
- Directing the SBA Office of Investment and Innovation to designate a senior employee to serve as the broadband and emerging information technology (BEIT) coordinator;
- Providing SBA employees BEIT training to assist small businesses in the use of such technologies;
- Reporting on a biennial basis regarding the programs and activities of the SBA relating to broadband and other emerging information technologies;
- Requiring the SBA Chief Counsel for Advocacy to evaluate the impact of broadband speed and price on small businesses; and
- Making services such as assistance in accessing and using BEIT an authorized activity of small business development centers (SBDCs).
We've noted repeatedly that despite a lot of breathless pearl clutching from US leaders and regulators about the "digital divide," the US doesn't actually know where broadband is (or isn't) available. Despite repeated complaints (often by FCC Commissioners themselves), the FCC just keeps doubling down on shoddy data to justify its complete and total fealty to telecom giants. The agency's latest notice of inquiry (part of its Congressional duty to report on the state of broadband once a year) even acknowledges the agency's data is bad... then proceeds to use it anyway to claim [accommodating AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast] is justifiable policy: "More Americans than ever before now have access to the benefits of broadband as the Commission’s policies have created a regulatory environment to stimulate broadband investment and deployment." Except, again, that's simply not true. Despite repeated (almost weekly) lies by the Pai FCC that gutting oversight of telecom monopolies resulted in a massive investment boom, numerous studies (not to mention earnings reports, SEC filings, and public statements by executives) have made it clear that simply never happened.
Popular narratives about the digital divide that separates our nation are too often anchored narrowly on the mere availability of broadband in a community. And now, emerging narratives about Census 2020 self-reporting issues routinely fail to look beyond the pandemic disruptions. Physical paper Census forms had been the traditional means of survey and reply, and the expectation for generations of respondents. But the Census Bureau made the calculation this year that 78.2% of households should want to, would be able to — and simply would just jump online to self-report crucial information. (Keep in mind: the final mail response rate was 74% in the 2010 Census.) So nearly 8 in 10 residential addresses were not sent a paper form to complete at the launch of Census 2020 — which could have easily included directions for other options to reply. Instead, they were mailed “invitations to participate” online (or phone) — in envelopes identical in size and external message as those sent to the 21.8% who received a physical form to fill out. And then, when most of them failed to go online (or call), they were mailed reminder after reminder — to go online. We have a long way to go to eliminate the challenges that will enable everyone to more fully embrace and participate in all things digital — including Census 2020.
[Jim Haigh leads education and development efforts at Keep Me Posted, a pro-consumer campaign designed to provide educational and awareness programs so that consumers are empowered to choose the best delivery method for their social and economic needs. ]
We must roll out a Digital Learning Ambassadors corps immediately, staffed by young adults in predominantly immigrant communities. Millions of young people, like my students at Rutgers University, are either completing remote coursework at home or graduated this past spring. They are looking for meaningful, paid work. As tech-savvy, native speakers of languages spoken by the K-12 students who struggled most in remote learning this spring, they are our best untapped resource for supporting better learning experiences this fall.
A Digital Learning Ambassador corps need not be expensive and has precedent in national policy. When the Federal Communications Commission released its National Broadband Plan in 2010, it proposed a Digital Literacy Corps with the same principles outlined here but with a broader mandate of serving all local residents. The intervening decade provides many models that could be rapidly adapted to train Digital Learning Ambassadors.
[Vikki Katz is an associate professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University]
The House approved legislation that would repeal a law requiring the Federal Communications Commission to auction public-safety T-Band spectrum and would seek to prohibit the practice of state and local governments using revenue from 911 fees for purposes other than 911. Language in the “Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act” (HR 451) would abolish a mandate that the FCC auction T-Band airwaves—pockets of spectrum from 470 MHz to 512 MHz used to support public-safety LMR systems in 11 metropolitan markets—in a bidding procedure that would begin early in 2021. In addition to repealing the T-Band auction mandate, HR 451 was amended to include language that is designed to discourage state and local government entities from utilizing 911 fee revenues from phone bills to fund non-911 initiatives. Known as “raiding,” this practice of redirecting revenues from 911 fees has been done in multiple states for years, particularly to help balance budgets during difficult economic times. After the 410-5 vote, the bill moves to the Senate.
We’ve gathered to discuss 5G security, of course, but I think it’s important to say up front that we can’t let these challenges hold back our efforts to unlock the possibilities of 5G itself. Over the past few years, the Federal Communications Commission has aggressively executed what we call our 5G FAST plan. This strategy for promoting 5G innovation and investment features three key parts: freeing up commercial spectrum, promoting the installation of wireless infrastructure, and encouraging fiber deployment.
I look forward to continuing our engagement with all of you on these issues and to advancing the Prague Principles, and now the Prague 5G Repository, around the world as part of that engagement. As so many have mentioned over the course of our discussions here, efforts to secure 5G networks do not stop at our borders. We are in this together.
Local TV broadcast station owner EW Scripps is jumping into the national television business by buying Ion Media for $2.65 billion in a deal backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway is investing $600 million in Scripps to help pay for Ion and make a bet on free over-the-air television. Scripps already had a national presence with Katz Networks, which runs channels like Bounce and Court TV. Ion reaches 96% of US homes with stations in 62 markets and 124 affiliated stations. At this point its signals are carried on cable via must carry and it doesn’t benefit from lucrative retransmission consent fees. The acquisition makes Scripps the largest holder of broadcast spectrum at a time the industry is transitioning to ATSC 3.0, which could create new business models. Scripps will divest 23 Ion stations to bring the company into compliance with Federal Communications Commission ownership regulations. Scripps has agreed to a transaction with a buyer, which has agreed to maintain Ion affiliations for the stations. Those stations will also carry the Katz networks in markets where they are available.
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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