Wednesday, September 7, 2022
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
Which rural minority communities are growing? What are the strategies behind these growth-oriented communities? Answers to these questions are central to this report; we illuminate inspiring leadership regimes and strategic policy models that are drawing in people and jobs to rural minority communities. We capitalize on a wealth of publicly available administrative data to outline these economies and deconstruct trends in employment, business creation, broadband adoption, and the labor force. We found that fast internet facilitated by broadband technology is vital to fostering the internet’s roles in commerce and economic development. Additionally, rural counties exhibited distinct differences in their aggregate labor market dynamics before and after the COVID-19 pandemic and in broadband access. Ultimately, broadband can enable critical economic forces if used appropriately, but other critical factors must be present for this tool to function optimally. The economic challenges facing some of the assessed counties were a result of multiple systemic obstacles.
The Federal Communications Commission is working to release new, better broadband coverage maps later in 2022. But in the interim, it released a fresh batch of data based on Form 477 submissions from operators. Fierce sifted through the data to find the states with the best and worst internet coverage, as measured by the percentage of the population without access to any ADSL, cable, or fiber providers offering speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps up. In Mississippi, nearly 21% of the overall population lacked access to fixed broadband providers. It was followed by Idaho (17.99%), Wyoming (17.57%), Montana (16.58%), and West Virginia (14.69%). Rounding out the top ten with the worst fixed coverage were Alaska (14.26%), Oklahoma (14.08%), New Mexico (13.19%), Arkansas (12.49%), and Alabama (10.77%). States in the Northeast dominated the list of those with the best internet coverage. Only 0.15% of Rhode Island’s population lacked access to a fixed internet service. Connecticut was close behind with just 0.58% of the population without a fixed provider. Rounding out the top five were New York (0.75%), New Jersey (1.15%), and Massachusetts (1.89%). However, the states with the lowest percentage of unconnected residents weren’t necessarily those with the most fixed competition. Though the FCC’s data indicated that 97.69% of the country’s population had access to three or more broadband providers when services like fixed wireless access and satellite were included, only 10.55% had their choice of three or more wireline providers. None of the 50 states offered three or more cable options to more than 1% of their population.
One can assess the population that is unserved by broadband, the residential housing units unserved by broadband, or with the new Federal Communication Commission maps, “broadband serviceable locations.” My analyses are based on census block-level housing unit projections for 2019 (based on the 2010 Census), published by the FCC. In April 2021, the Census published the 2020 decennial block-level housing unit counts, which updates the “ground truth,” and it’s worth examining how these numbers change the “Digital Divide”. However, when we looked at housing units unserved by broadband according to the June 2021 FCC Form 477 data, there are 19% fewer unserved housing units. To be clear, nothing changed because of inefficient mapping techniques from the FCC. The reason is that the datasets used by the FCC between the 2010 Census and the 2020 Census were not interchangeable. What’s likely happening is the same problem that beset Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF): in an effort to update projections for county-level population growth since 2010, somehow Census blocks that shouldn’t have population were given population. The 2020 Census corrects that back to zero. Considering how different the new FCC “broadband serviceable locations” maps will be from the existing Form 477 block-level data, and the grumbling about the maps which has already begun, the FCC and CostQuest need “ground truth” to compare against. It won’t work if there’s nothing to compare a “broadband serviceable location” against, and it won’t work if the comparison is apples-to-oranges. What will work, in my view, is a comparison of residential broadband serviceable locations as identified by the FCC and CostQuest against the 2020 Census housing unit counts.
The Communications Workers of America District 9, in partnership with Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, has been awarded a $5.8 million grant to expand its apprenticeship training programs for fiber technicians at its existing training center in San Jose and three additional sites across California. Large-scale public investment in broadband will require a statewide workforce of well-trained fiber technicians, which CWA aims to expand by offering high-quality training and financial support for apprentices. These programs will increase awareness and adoption of the apprenticeship model as a viable pathway for training skilled workers in the fiber optics field while expanding the number of diverse applicants entering the programs by exceeding a threshold of at least 20% young people, people of color, women, and veterans in each of the programs over the four-year period.
Given the excess of $11 billion that the Federal Communications Commission currently has in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), interested parties--particularly major broadband providers--have inquired whether the FCC will offer another round of award funding. However, for this to be feasible, the FCC would have to engage in a lot of internal review and restructuring of its reverse auction mechanism if it seeks to revitalize the RDOF. Specifically, the FCC would have to address several issues: who the funds are being allocated and why; how to engage state and local officials in the process; overcoming federal mapping and coverage incompetence; and how to properly utilize funds to support applicants based on demonstrated need and a viable business plan. To address these concerns, the simplest solution would be for the FCC to relinquish its efforts to coordinate and facilitate broadband planning, and to diffuse that responsibility to state broadband offices--who are becoming better-equipped thanks to Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program funding. Doing so would mitigate awards going to "cost-effective" but not "future-proof" broadband providers; overcome the disconnect between the FCC and local needs and accurate mapping, and ultimately allow broadband offices to leverage their own expertise to properly bridge their digital divides.
The US broadband effort is massive and complex. Much of this confusing intricacy is unavoidable given the Federal structure, size and complexity of the United States and the fact that almost everything in education, health care, farming, transportation, defense, employment, shopping, entertainment, civic affairs, the arts, regulation, banking and much more may now involve broadband. In the end, the greatest beneficiaries of our $100+ billion universal broadband commitment are not just the eventual recipients of broadband service but the providers of internet-based services, including internet platforms, merchants, banks, streaming services, messaging services and many more. Entirely new markets will be opened for those who use the “Information Superhighway” for their business; their direct contributions to expanding universal affordable broadband remain less clear.
[Roger Cochetti provides consulting and advisory services in Washington (DC).]
Spectrum policy takes engineering and technical realities as inputs to a decision-making process that is driven by normative principles. While many competing principles have had their heyday, these five are enduring guides to making spectrum work in the public interest:
- Spectrum’s value comes from how people use it, so spectrum policy should maximize productivity rather than maximizing auction revenue or minimizing interference.
- Markets are the best way to drive spectrum to its most productive use, so spectrum policy should enable well-functioning markets for flexible licenses.
- There are important federal missions that require spectrum, but policymakers should account for its value in the appropriations process.
- Public and private research into new radio technologies is key to increasing the availability of spectrum through developments such as sharing systems and uses for higher frequencies.
- Unlicensed spectrum contributes to productivity when combined with proper technical rules and limited propagation, but calls for more unlicensed spectrum deserve close scrutiny.
[Joe Kane is director of broadband and spectrum policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.]
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel added Brad Barry as Senior Advisor to the FCC for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Deena Shetler, as Deputy Chief of Staff for Administration. Barry will coordinate the agency’s anti-digital discrimination efforts, working in partnership with the Task Force to Prevent Digital Discrimination, which is led by D’wana Terry and Sanford Williams, Special Advisors to the Chairwoman, and Alejandro Roark, Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, who oversees engagement with stakeholders to ensure that task force recommendations reflect the needs of historically unserved and underserved communities. Barry brings to the FCC broad-ranging legal and executive-level managerial experience in the federal government and the nonprofit sector, and as a partner in nationally recognized law firms. Shetler will focus on administrative matters for the FCC. She was most recently Deputy Chief of the Office of Economics and Analytics and before that was Deputy Managing Director and previously held several leadership roles in the Wireline Competition Bureau, including Associate Bureau Chief and Deputy Chief of the Pricing Policy Division and before that served as a Legal Advisor to FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani.
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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