Tuesday, September 5, 2023
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In 2019, more than 44.9 million immigrants lived in the United States. One-third (14.8 million) were low income, meaning that their family’s income was below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. These immigrants face challenges including language barriers and lack of access to information. In 2019, approximately 46 percent of immigrants ages five and older (approximately 20 million people) were Limited English Proficient (LEP). Immigrants accounted for 81 percent of the country’s 25.5 million LEP individuals. In 2019, 15 percent of low-income immigrants lived in an unbanked household—that is, one in which no household member had a checking or savings account—in which the process of paying for monthly service can be more difficult. According to the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC; also known as the Survey of Adult Skills), as of 2015, 36 percent of native-born, native-language adults reached higher levels of proficiency solving problems in digital environments or using digital tools compared to just 12 percent of U.S. residents who are foreign-born and speak a language other than English. Immigrants who speak a language other than English in the home were also four times as likely as English speakers to have no experience with computers.
Small rural carriers have a big decision to make by September 29, 2023, now that the Federal Communication Commission has released new broadband funding offers. The new offers are contingent on a higher broadband speed, as mandated in the enhanced Alternative Connect America Model (E-ACAM) order. Carriers must advise the FCC by the September 2023 deadline, on a state-by-state basis, whether they want to participate in the E-ACAM program and accept the new offers. The initial program, established several years ago, covers some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved areas based on a cost model. Traditionally, providers were required to deploy speeds of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream, and deployment cost estimates were based on deploying that speed. The FCC E-ACAM program raises the deployment speed required to 100/20 Mbps and gives carriers additional time to deploy service. The offers made are based on a new cost model considering the higher deployment speed requirement. The new offers were made to small rural carriers that serve high-cost areas and receive support through the Universal Service high-cost program. This group includes those carriers that participate in the existing Alternative Connect America Model (ACAM) program, as well as those that receive funding based on embedded costs.
Indiana is diligently working to expand broadband access across the entire state, recognizing its vital role in economic development, education, healthcare, and overall quality of life. The following plan outlines the vision, goals, and objectives supported by an impressive $868,109,929.79 investment in broadband, the largest in Indiana's history. Indiana actively seeks and leverages federal funding opportunities to support broadband expansion, including the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Indiana's areas of focus include the following:
Enabling robust broadband access for Hoosiers is an imperative priority, with a particular focus on addressing the challenges faced in rural areas, where the close ties to agriculture create unique obstacles.
Community participation is crucial and will influence all aspects of broadband deployments. Feedback and preparation will be incorporated at every phase of the BEAD deployment.
Workforce considerations play a pivotal role throughout every stage of broadband deployment, encompassing initial infrastructure development, collaboration with third-party entities that control essential assets, and the ongoing maintenance and operation of the network.
Digital equity and literacy must be addressed comprehensively across Indiana, spanning from promoting equal access to technology and connectivity to empowering individuals with the necessary digital skills for full participation in the digital age.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a $1.78 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) Line Extension Program to South Valley Internet, Inc./LCB Communications. The grant will fund the Southside Road Project in San Benito County which will provide high-speed internet service at speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) for both download and upload to Southside Road Labor Camp, Hollister Migrant Housing Center, and Southside Mobile Park. This initiative will transform connectivity for 194 households, serving a total of 740 residents, among them 130 school-aged children. The Southside Project involves the deployment of approximately 3,500 feet of distribution fiber and 18,000 feet of fiber drop cables. It promises seamless service delivery via wireline connections, utilizing both fiber and wired ethernet technologies to ensure accessibility across all locations.
The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension (UNHCE) was awarded $511,216 by the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs (BEA) to lead the development of a five-year plan to connect residents state-wide with access to high-speed internet, digital devices, training, and a host of services and resources made possible through digital technology (e.g., telehealth, on-line educational resources, mobile banking, assistive technologies, on-line employment resources, etc.). The effort, in partnership with the National Collaborative for Digital Equity (NCDE) and the Digital Equity Research Center (DERC) at the Metropolitan New York Library Council, kicks off September 1, 2023, with the launch of a state-wide survey. In addition to the survey, the plan’s development will involve multiple ways to gather input from individuals, communities, organizations, institutions, employers, and state-wide leaders in 2024. Grant funding for the plan’s development was provided by BEA as part of its funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Charter and Brightspeed have formally announced broadband funding wins in the latest round of funding through the North Carolina Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program. The program targets unserved and underserved areas and requires providers to deploy speeds of at least 100 Mbps symmetrically. Brightspeed said it won approximately $12 million for four counties, bringing the total funding awarded to the company to date in the GREAT program to about $103 million. Brightspeed will service the four counties of Halifax, Nash, Person, and Wake. Charter won awards for eight counties in the July 2023 funding round. Charter's North Carolina counties are Montgomery, Beaufort, Caldwell, Moore, Burke, Caswell, Catawba, and Pitt counties.
Fairfax (OK) will be the first town to be connected to the internet by Cox Communications on a fiber network leased from a local power provider. Indian Electric Cooperative (IEC) CEO Todd Schroeder said service should be available by the end of 2023. In addition to multi-gigabit, symmetrical broadband, Cox will offer its Contour TV product, as well as mobile phone service through Cox Mobile. IEC members will pay the same prices customers pay for the equivalent Cox services in Tulsa and other parts of Oklahoma. Schroeder said each time Cox signs up a new customer in IEC territory, IEC will get a share of the revenue. In addition, Cox is paying IEC to maintain the IEC fiber. IEC is the first co-op from which Cox has leased a fiber network, but the broadband provider hopes it will not be the last.
Great Plains Communications is undertaking significant network rollouts across the Midwest, announcing earlier in August 2023 that it will build fiber in 16 new urban and rural communities in Nebraska. CEO Todd Foje said these markets are all areas where Great Plains will upgrade its broadband services with fiber, with construction slated to start by late fall 2023. Some of the expansion markets are in the Omaha metro area, such as Gretna, La Vista, Papillion, and Ralston, while others are considered “smaller, more rural communities.” Great Plains’ total subscriber count is currently “in the mid 50,000 range,” with Foje noting the subscriber base is “predominantly fiber.” All told, Great Plains boasts more than 18,000 miles of fiber reaching 13 states. In the past few years, it acquired some providers to boost its footprint, like USA Communications in 2021 and Wood River Network in January 2022. Foje said Great Plains is using both public and private funding to support its buildouts. Its private equity partner is Grain Management, a firm that’s invested in a range of telecom companies.
Kwikom--a broadband provider based in Kansas that also serves some markets in Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma--has begun work on fiber deployments in several Kansas markets. Deployments in some of these markets were funded, in part, through a state broadband program and, in part, by funding provided by local governments. The total investment will be $12 million. Over 7,000 homes and businesses will be reached. The markets that will be partially grant-funded include Pomona, Quenemo (KS), and over 20 square miles of rural area between Ottawa and Quenemo. A Kwikom said that $787,000 in funding for those projects came from the Kansas Capital Projects Fund (CPF). In addition, Franklin county and the cities of Pomona and Quenemo contributed a total of $16,000 to project costs.
The future for rural areas without internet access could be bleak, said Simone of GrantWorks. If an area lacks the internet connectivity businesses and employees need for work and life, they won’t stay there. Communities that do invest in broadband, however, could grow. That's why the East Texas Council of Governments is planning for broadband expansion in the region. The organization will work with internet service providers and county governments to secure funding for those projects, which will connect businesses and residences to a regional fiber-optic network. The Council hopes to take advantage of the billions in state and federal dollars Texas could receive for broadband expansion. The state has been allotted roughly $3.3 billion in federal funding, and voters will decide in November 2023 whether to spend another $1.5 billion in state funds for that work.
A wireless tower at Iowa State University’s Agriculture Engineering/Agronomy Farm west of Ames (IA) is loaded with hardware sending radio waves across the countryside, creating wireless internet connections for rural users. There are more poles, antennas, and cabinets full of electronics on the roof of the Economic Development Core Facility at the Iowa State University Research Park. There are also electronics and lower-to-the-ground antennas next to research fields and in a sheep barn. There’s equipment going through the roof of a dairy barn. There are even hardware cabinets on the roof of a CyRide bus. Deploying all this infrastructure in and around Ames means the $16 million ARA Wireless Living Lab for Smart and Connected Rural Communities is moving to a public testing phase. (ARA stands for Agriculture and Rural Communities and has a logo featuring the Ara constellation of stars.) A major goal for the ARA project is to address the broadband gap between rural and urban regions and to advance the frontiers of 5G and 6G technologies, said Hongwei Zhang, an Iowa State professor of electrical and computer engineering and the project leader. ARA is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a consortium of 30 wireless companies and associations. While a project goal is to eventually improve wireless service to rural residents and communities, project researchers are now building a wireless platform using the latest technology and testing its performance in a variety of applications, including precision agriculture and rural education.
Courts have started blocking some US states' earliest attempts to age-gate the Internet. Courts ordered preliminary injunctions blocking a Texas law requiring ID to access websites featuring adult entertainment, as well as an Arkansas law requiring ID to access some social media platforms. Both laws otherwise would've taken effect on September 1, 2023. While the Texas law was more narrowly aimed at restricting minors from accessing specific content that's not age-appropriate, Arkansas' law—the Social Media Safety Act—was much broader, stopping minors from creating accounts without parental permission on social media platforms that generate more than $100 million annually. It was also, according to the court, poorly researched, vaguely defined, and likely unconstitutional.
The Federal Communications Commission currently relies simultaneously on two online case management solutions: FOIA.gov available at https://www.foia.gov and FOIAonline.gov, available at https://foiaonline.gov/foiaonline/action/public/home. With the planned retirement of FOIAonline.gov by its host agency, the FCC will transition from FOIAonline to a new online case management solution beginning October 1, 2023. "Although there will be a new look, we expect the transition to be seamless," said every government agency ever just before a complete meltdown. For further information, please contact Stephanie Kost, FOIA Public Liaison, at FOIA-Public-Liaison@fcc.gov or 202-418-0440.
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), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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