Wednesday, September 30, 2020
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Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) is scheduled to commence on October 29, 2020. The Federal Communications Commission laid out its approach for determining the census blocks eligible for Phase I support and established a limited challenge process for parties to identify, in part, areas that had been awarded funding by a federal or state broadband subsidy to offer broadband service at 25/3 Mbps or better and for which funding has already been paid or a formal commitment has been executed. The Illinois Office of Broadband and the Vermont Department of Public Service sought reconsideration of this aspect of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Order and asked the FCC to reconsider its approach to partnering with states that have broadband funding programs. The Illinois Office of Broadband also asked the FCC to increase the minimum speeds it will support in Auction 904 to 50/5 Mbps. Heartland Telecommunications Company (Premier Communications) sought clarification regarding the eligibility of areas for Phase II of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
But, for the reasons set out in this Public Notice, the FCC finds insufficient grounds to reconsider its decisions regarding the eligibility of certain census blocks or the minimum performance tier for Auction 904. The FCC does, however, clarify certain aspects regarding the eligibility of areas for Phase II of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
"There are fundamental flaws with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund," said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. "Regrettably, this decision does not repair them. It only doubles down."
House Democrats unvieled an updated version of the Heroes Act as a way to revitalize stalled talks over another COVID-19 pandemic relief measure. The $2.2 trillion bill would provide:
- $12 billion to close the homework gap by providing funding for Wi-Fi hotspots and connected devices for students and library patrons, $3 billion for emergency home connectivity, $200 million for telemedicine grants, and $24 million for broadband mapping.
- $500 million to provide health care, including telehealth services to Native Americans, and to purchase medical supplies and personal protective equipment.
- $140 million to expand broadband infrastructure and information technology for telehealth and electronic health records system purposes for Native Americans.
- $175 million to assist public telecommunications entities and maintain programming and services.
- $37 million to support expanded House operations such as tele-town halls, video conferencing, remote hearings, and cybersecurity.
- $6.345 million for Senate teleworking and IT needs as well as funds to supplement daycare operations.
The bill includes an Emergency Benefit for Broadband Service:
- Sec. 301. Benefit for Broadband Service During Emergency Periods Relating to COVID-19. Entitles households in which a member has been laid off or furloughed, among other households that will be eligible, to get a $50 benefit, or a$75 benefit on tribal lands, to put toward the monthly price of internet service during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Internet service providers would be required to provide eligible households service at a price reduced by an amount up to the emergency benefit, and those providers can seek a reimbursement from the FCC for such amount.
- Sec. 302. Enhanced Lifeline Benefits During Emergency Periods. Requires that Lifeline providers make unlimited minutes and unlimited data available to those that rely on the Lifeline program to stay connected to phone or internet service and provides additional support to offset the increase of services, with a minimum subsidy increase to not less than $25 per month.
- Sec. 303. Grants to States to Strengthen National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier. Authorizes funding to help states participate in the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier.
The bill prohibits broadband and telephone providers from terminating service due to a customer’s inability to pay their bill because of financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic or imposing late fees incurred because of hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also prohibits broadband providers from employing data caps or charging customers from going over data caps and requires them to open Wi-Fi hotspots to the public at no cost during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The bill would control the costs for voice and video calls between incarcerated people and their families
You can't fix a problem you don’t understand, and it’s very clear that the Federal Communications Commission under Donald Trump doesn’t want to understand its failure to make affordable broadband available to all Americans. During a pandemic when Americans are forced to work, learn, and get their health care online, the FCC’s refusal to accurately measure US broadband connectivity gaps has quickly shifted from administrative farce to outright tragedy. The FCC’s 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, released last June, claims the number of Americans without access to broadband sits somewhere around 18.3 million. But third-party reports have suggested it’s closer to 42.8 million.
The FCC can’t fix America’s stubborn digital divide if it refuses to accurately measure the chasm in the first place. Accurate data must be the cornerstone of tackling America’s broadband access and affordability problem. Anything less risks basing life-and-death policy decisions on little more than empty promises and wishful thinking.
[Gigi Sohn is a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy and the Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society]
Access to affordable broadband is crucial for a functioning 21st century democracy. As technology advances, many of our basic democratic values depend on robust connectivity. Broadband enhances civic engagement, participation in the democratic process, and a responsive government. Yet, millions in our country lack access to affordable, high-speed broadband and continue to face significant barriers to get online. Affordability remains the most significant barrier to broadband adoption while those on the wrong side of the digital divide are disproportionately low-income, people of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and other marginalized communities. Without broadband, these communities live in a democracy where their voices go unheard and their needs are unmet.
To have your voice count, you must be counted. But without a broadband connection that has become increasingly difficult. With the 2020 Census moving online for the first time, millions of people without broadband are in danger of going uncounted. While a paper option to complete the Census is still available, the transition to using digital tools signals the government’s efforts to increase internet responses and spend less resources doing outreach to get paper responses submitted. Attaining the full promise of our democracy must start with closing the digital divide to ensure that each of us has an equal voice in the future of our country.
[Yosef Getachew serves as the Media & Democracy Program Director for Common Cause].
In its 2020 Broadband Pricing Index (BPI) Report, USTelecom shows decreasing cost and increasing value of broadband service in the United States. USTelecom entered the research into open Federal Communications Commission proceedings refreshing the record on Lifeline and network neutrality in light of the DC Circuit’s Mozilla Decision.
In early March, just days before cities across the US shut down due to the pandemic, Elon Musk shared the latest details about his plan to build a satellite broadband service called Starlink. Musk described how a constellation of Starlink satellites will “blink” when they enter low-Earth orbit. Combined with improvements to existing technology like DSL, cable, and fiber — not to mention 4G and 5G cellular networks — futuristic satellite broadband stands to bridge the digital divide in the US and elsewhere. And because the pandemic has prompted explosive demand for better, more widely available internet connectivity, fast progress seems more inevitable than ever. Musk’s new satellites went online in early September, giving beta testers download speeds that rival those of terrestrial broadband. SpaceX has now put 700 Starlink satellites into orbit in the past 16 months and has plans to deliver as many as 30,000 more in the next few years. More satellites mean more bandwidth and faster speeds, and eventually, SpaceX says, its low-Earth orbit satellite constellations could deliver high-speed internet to the entire US. Amazon, Facebook, and several startups have made similar promises in recent years.
With its mountainous topography and sparsely populated areas, West Virginia understands this un-ideal reality as well as any state, so it created what some might call a Band-Aid solution: the Kids Connect Initiative, a unified education network with hundreds of Wi-Fi access points. The project started in early Aug, leaving little time for implementation before Sept 8, the first day of school in West Virginia. The concept was to allow any K-12 or college student the ability to use Wi-Fi from any access point within a network spread over the entire state. WV CTO Joshua Spence’s office coordinated with WV Dept of Education and the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) for the initiative, which called for installations at county schools, higher education institutions, libraries and state parks. By Sept. 8, the state managed to set up about 850 locations that were ready for students. Since then, more places, such as some of the state’s national guard armories, have received installations. More access points are in the works at Division of Motor Vehicles offices, county school board offices and other easily accessible sites in every county. “We intend to have over 1,000 [locations] when it’s all said and done,” Spence said.
President Donald Trump’s ongoing assault against Twitter may represent the most egregious violation of the First Amendment by a president since Richard M. Nixon went to war against this newspaper almost half a century ago. Not since the McCarthy era has our country experienced such an effort to neuter the press and evade the government accountability that comes only through meaningful reporting. Consider what could lie ahead.
On May 28 came an executive order that proclaimed: “Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias. As has been reported, Twitter seems never to have placed such a label on another politician’s tweet.” This presidential order brought the federal government’s full power — the Justice Department, the Commerce Department, the FCC and the executive office of the president— to bear against Twitter. Unlike other public attacks by the president, which sometimes recede without subsequent action, there is no doubt about the threat being realized.
No matter what you think of Twitter, social media companies or the applicable regulations, and no matter your political affiliation, everyone with a voice should speak out against the president’s actions. In particular, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and his fellow commissioners should be watched closely. Will they simply do what the president asks?
[Lee C. Bollinger is president of Columbia University and the author of several books on freedom of expression and the First Amendment. Donald E. Graham is a former publisher of The Post.]
The only competitor challenging the growth of Google and Facebook's digital advertising dominance of late is Amazon. A years-long effort by major media companies to take on "the duopoly" has mostly fizzled out -- although media companies and activists have been successful in putting regulatory pressure on Google and Facebook, and that seems to be playing out in their favor, if ever so slightly. Now smaller media companies are trying to collectively offer advertisers an alternative to Google and Facebook, instead of competing with those firms head-on. "We're not going after those platforms," says AJ Frucci, VP of programmatic advertising and head of Vox's Concert. "Our perspective is more options is never a bad thing. We know that scale is paramount in digital advertising. Scale is easy to find within the walled gardens [tech platforms] and on the open web. But to date, that scale has meant advertisers often had to compromise brand safety, creative excellence and contextual relevance."
Democratic lawmakers are expected to call on Congress to blunt the power of big technology companies, possibly through forced separation of online platforms. The House Antitrust Subcommittee is nearing completion of a report wrapping up its 15-month investigation of Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. The report follows the committee’s collection of more than one million documents from the companies and competitors, as well as a July hearing with CEOs of the four tech giants. Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) has indicated the panel is poised to recommend significant measures targeting Big Tech’s power, including requiring owners of huge technology platforms to separate those platforms from other businesses. Republicans say the inquiry left them concerned about the companies’ power in digital markets, but differ on how to address the problem.
The Department of Labor explicitly named 5G wireless network building as a goal when recently designating the Wireless Infrastructure Association as an industry intermediary to help train wireless workers — something that the association has long clamored for amid plans to spend millions of dollars on the effort. “We need to put the 5G job skills effort on steroids, and this is a nice big pill,” said Jonathan Adelstetin, the group’s president and former commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission. Adelstein expects labor demand will remain high and as necessary as ever given the wireless industry's recent interest in complex new network architecture ideas like opening the radio access networks (“open RAN”). “There’s going to be a crunch,” Adelstein maintained, pointing to the wireless carriers “firing a once,” the entry of new 5G player Dish Network, and builds related to the FCC’s recent auction of Citizens Broadband Radio Service airwaves. Adelstein said that if Congress moves on a broadband infrastructure package, lawmakers should include legislation aimed at training more 5G network builders.
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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