Friday, January 27, 2023
Headlines Daily Digest
State, Local and Tribal
The US Department of the Treasury announced the approval of broadband projects in four additional states under the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan: Alabama, Kentucky, Nevada, and Texas. Together, these states will use their funding to connect over 292,000 homes and businesses to affordable, high-speed internet. A key priority of the Capital Projects Fund program is to make funding available for reliable, affordable broadband infrastructure, advancing President Biden’s goal of affordable, reliable, high-speed internet for all Americans. Alabama is approved to receive $191.9 million for broadband infrastructure, which the state estimates will connect 55,000 households and businesses to high-speed internet access. Kentucky is approved to receive $182.8 million for broadband infrastructure, which the state estimates will connect 45,000 households and businesses to high-speed internet access. Nevada is approved to receive $55.2 million for broadband infrastructure, which the state estimates will connect over 40,000 households and businesses to high-speed internet access. Texas is approved to receive $363.8 million for broadband infrastructure, which the state estimates will connect 152,000 households and businesses to high-speed internet access.
In the summer of 2023, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will begin distributing hundreds of millions, and in some cases billions, of funding to states as part of the $42 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. Expectedly, states are busy creating and staffing broadband offices in anticipation of the BEAD and digital equity monies. Blinded by a nationwide broadband fever, however, some broadband leaders have proclaimed that states will entirely close, bridge, or eliminate the digital divide in the coming years. State broadband leaders should approach digital exclusion as a chronic condition that requires dynamic, flexible, long-term responses and planning. Six issues require long-term planning and should be addressed in every state’s NTIA-mandated five-year broadband and digital equity plan:
- Remote Connectivity: State broadband leaders need to plan to serve the most remote of us, and this will mean looking beyond BEAD.
- Operational Expenses: The BEAD program covers capital expenses for the deployment of broadband networks (preferably fiber optics). It does not cover operational expenses.
- Affordability: While the FCC is encouraging eligible households to register for the Affordable Connectivity Program, the money will dry up sometime in 2024. States and Congress must ensure low-income families remain connected post-ACP.
- Mapping: The FCC and states must address digital discrimination, and this can only be done with reliable maps.
- Hardware: To realize digital equity, states need to ensure marginalized communities have access to more than just “good enough” technologies.
- Literacy and Skills: When developing digital equity plans, state broadband leaders must think long-term to ensure their constituents have the training and confidence needed to take advantage of their newfound connectivity.
[Christopher Ali is Professor of Telecommunications in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State University.]
New Federal Communications Commission maps that measure broadband access, and new American Community Survey data that measure adoption, show that only 64.4% of rural American households have access to broadband at 100/20 throughput. Most, 58.8%, subscribe to broadband, a gap of less than 6 percentage points. Even with new FCC maps, 98.5% of urban households have access to broadband, but only 73% subscribe. The number in the suburbs is only slightly better: 97% access and 76% adoption. Before I go any deeper, I strongly recommend reading John Horrigan’s [Senior Fellow at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society] excellent analysis of this ACS data. The former argues convincingly that the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) has succeeded in increasing the adoption of broadband in America’s cities; the latter points out the persistent racial divide among broadband adoption and makes recommendations to close the gap. The high adoption rate relative to access, 59% adoption against 64% access, suggests that the currently unserved and unserved are eager for access and will have a high take rate. On the other side, there is plenty of room to grow in urban areas. At 73% adoption, there are about 10.2 million homes that still don’t have broadband. That’s similar to the 12 million rural homes that don’t have broadband service currently. Another 17.4 million suburban homes don’t have broadband.
For many incarcerated people in the United States, exorbitant phone rates and fees make it consistently difficult to keep in touch with loved ones, lawyers, and others outside of prison. The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022—signed by President Joe Biden on January 5, 2023—will ensure just and reasonable charges for telephone and advanced communications services in correctional and detention facilities across the country. The new law expands the Federal Communications Commission’s jurisdiction over different kinds of prison communications and the rates and fees associated with them. Here, we look at all that was done to make this law a reality and what it means for incarcerated people and their families.
National Skills Coalition (NSC) announced a partnership with Comcast to educate local, state, and national decision-makers about the benefits of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to promote digital equity and opportunity nationwide. The initiative aims to help close the digital skill divide that is currently limiting educational and employment opportunities for nearly 50 million Americans. NSC received a $200,000 grant from Comcast to help state leaders bridge existing workforce development programs with federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD) and Digital Equity Act (DEA) funding. Digital skills are now required across virtually every industry and occupation, yet nearly one in three US workers lack the foundational digital skills necessary to enter and thrive in today’s workforce, with workers of color and those earning lower wages disproportionately affected. These programs represent a once-in-a-generation investment in closing the digital skills gap equitably.
The Federal Communications Commission approved several proposals for the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program to make it easier for healthcare providers to receive support, reduce delays in funding commitments, and improve the program's overall efficiency. Reliable high-speed connectivity is critical for rural healthcare providers to serve patients in rural areas that often have limited resources, fewer doctors, and higher rates for broadband and telecommunications services than urban areas. The Commission’s Rural Health Care Program expands access to telehealth and telemedicine services by providing financial support to eligible healthcare providers for high-speed broadband connections and telecommunications services. The FCC's actions will resolve petitions for reconsideration on issues from the August 2019 Promoting Telehealth Report and Order, and adopt proposals from the February 2022 Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted by the FCC seeks comment on a number of items related to telehealth access.
The Federal Communications Commission proposed rules to help ensure that the public has access to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline if a service outage occurs. The proposed rules would require 988 service providers to report outages that potentially affect 988 services, which would hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline. To address issues of a nationwide service outage that lasted several hours, making the service inaccessible to voice callers, the FCC proposed rules to ensure that HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), the Department of Veterans Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the Commission itself receive timely and actionable information about 988 service outages. The Commission also seeks comment on a number of items related to its proposals.
Public Knowledge has released its newest white paper, “Back to the Spectrum Future: The 20th Anniversary of the Spectrum Policy Task Force,” by Public Knowledge Policy Counsel Kathleen Burke. The paper proposes adopting a backcasting model rooted in core public interest principles to help guide our spectrum policymakers toward a wireless future that serves and includes all Americans. It argues that a value-based spectrum policy framework allows us to envision a future where everyone has access to reliable and affordable telecommunications services – and then provides a path toward it. This paper applies the proposed public interest backcasting model to two key issues that the SPTF addressed: (1) spectrum efficiency and (2) spectrum access models. The paper also addresses two blind spots that the SPTF failed to consider: (1) the stakeholder dynamic and its zero-sum game fallacy and (2) spectrum policy’s impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Policymakers must consider these aspects of spectrum policy if they hope to create a wireless future that benefits everyone.
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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