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Digital Equity Unwrapped: End of Year Reflections/The New Year Ahead is just a week away, as seats are filling up fast for next Tuesday’s Building for Digital Equity (#B4DE) event.
The popular (and free) virtual gathering – slated for December 12, 2023 from 3 to 4:15 pm ET – will highlight important milestones in broadband over the past year and take a look ahead for what promises to be another busy year for digital inclusion practitioners across the country.
There’s still time to register for the event here.
Co-hosted by the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) Community Broadband Networks Initiative and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), the final #B4DE of the year will serve up practical insights on everything from Digital Equity Act planning to how communities are confronting digital discrimination.
The event will be sparked by lightning round presentations featuring Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Administrator for Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) Nubia Estrada and OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates Policy & Organizing Manager Eric Kim. Each will give a concise overview of their outreach work with “covered populations.”
This is a walk and chew gum moment for broadband-for-all advocates. On the one hand, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) new digital discrimination rules have the potential to reign in egregious examples of digital discrimination. On the other hand, the new rules still fall short of putting forward the kinds of structural solutions necessary to address underinvestment in communities where federal infrastructure dollars may never reach.
Last week, the FCC published its final digital discrimination rules, giving the agency the authority to penalize Internet Service Providers (ISPs) whose policies have a “disparate impact” on historically marginalized communities. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), passed by President Biden in 2021, included a mandate directing the FCC to develop “rules to facilitate equal access to broadband internet access service, taking into account the issues of technical and economic feasibility presented by that objective, including—preventing digital discrimination of access based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.”
After hosting listening sessions and inviting public comment, the final ruling ultimately defined digital discrimination as “policies or practices, not justified by genuine issues of technical or economic feasibility, that (1) differentially impact consumers’ access to broadband internet access service […], or (2) are intended to have such differential impact.” Such an approach authorizes the FCC to penalize providers even if it can’t identify instances of intentional discrimination.
Initial Responses to the Ruling
Join us Friday, December 1st at 2pm ET for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by regular guests Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting) and Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and special guest Mike Dano (Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading) to tackle the future of LTE networks - how did we get here, and where are we going? They'll talk about what happened to the 5G hype train, rural mobile wireless, market dynamics, and more. Go back and watch The Only History of LTE You'll Ever Need to catch up on part one of the discussion.
First, the crew tackles the FCC's digital discrimination proceeding in the context of ILSR Researcher Emma Gautier's recent piece on the subject. Then, they pause for a brief moment on what looks like a new dark money, anti-municipal broadband campaign aimed at UTOPIA Fiber in Utah. Finally, Christopher, Kim, Doug, and Travis are joined by Mike Dano to jump into the main subject of today's show: where we're at now, and where we expect to go, with mobile wireless networks.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback and ideas for the show.
In 2021, California passed Senate Bill 156, an ambitious plan allocating $6 billion to shore up affordable broadband access throughout the state.
Among the most notable of the bill’s proposals was a plan to spend $3.25 billion on an open-access statewide broadband middle-mile network backers say could transform competition in the state.
An additional $2 billion has also been earmarked for last mile deployment. Both components will be heavily funded by Coronavirus relief funds and federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) subsidies as well as California State Government grants – with all projects to be finished by December 2026 as per federal funding rules.
But while California’s proposal has incredible potential, activists and digital equity advocates remain concerned that the historic opportunity could be squandered due to poor broadband mapping, a notable lack of transparency, and the kind of political dysfunction that has long plagued the Golden State.
Massive Scale, Big Money, Endless Moving Parts
Still, California’s prioritization of open access fiber networks could prove transformative.
Data routinely indicates that open access fiber networks lower market entry costs, boost overall competition, and result in better, cheaper, faster Internet access. Unsurprisingly, such networks are often opposed by entrenched regional monopolies that have grown fat and comfortable on the back of muted competition.
With the holiday season upon us, the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) Community Broadband Networks Initiative and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) are gearing up for the final Building for Digital Equity (#B4DE) event of the year and encouraging digital equity practitioners to save the date.
The popular (and free) virtual gathering will be held December 12, 2023 from 3 to 4:15 pm ET and will feature a holiday-inspired theme: Digital Equity Unwrapped: End of Year Reflections/The New Year Ahead.
You can register for the event now here.
Coming on the heels of our last B4DE event in October, which is still reverberating through digital inclusion circles across the nation, we are excited to follow up with a jolly and informative agenda that will cover:
- The latest on the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
- Lightning Rounds on digital inclusion work with covered populations.
- Setting the table on forthcoming Digital Equity Act funding and how communities are preparing.
- Unpacking digital discrimination and its practical implications.
U.S. News & World Report Finds Nearly 2 in 5 Internet Subscribers Compromise Personal Expenses to Afford Internet
With the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) poised to run out of funding in early Q2 next year, and no funding source lined up to keep the program alive, a recent U.S. News & World Report survey underscores the significance of the program in the face of rising prices from the nation’s major Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
The ACP offers a monthly benefit of $30 dollars for qualifying households and $75 for qualifying households on Tribal lands (as well as in some remote areas). Over 20 million Americans to date have enrolled in the program to help pay their Internet service bills, but with the $14.2 billion ACP program on track to run dry as soon as May of next year – even amid a historic national effort to establish “Internet For All” – the affordability crisis has become more worrisome for a growing number of Americans.
U.S. News & World Report’s survey found that Internet prices are going up and that families are compromising other expenses to pay for connectivity, affirming the urgency among digital equity advocates to identify a source of continued funding for ACP, as well as push for more structural solutions that address the root causes of why Americans pay among the highest prices for broadband service in the developed world.
California digital equity advocates say that recent cuts to the state’s ambitious broadband deployment plan unfairly harm low-income and minority communities. And despite promises from state leaders that the cuts will be reversed, local equity advocates say the process used to determine which neighborhoods should be prioritized remains rotten to the core.
In 2021, California state leaders announced a $7 billion, multi-armed plan to bring affordable, next-generation fiber to every state resident. A key part of the plan involved building a $4 billion statewide middle-mile open access fiber network designed to drive down the costs of market entry, improve competition, and reduce broadband prices.
At the time, California officials said “the statewide network will incentivize providers to expand service to unserved and underserved areas.” Groups like the EFF lauded the “historic” investment, likening it to bold, early efforts to ensure rural electrification.
But last May, California officials quietly announced they’d be making some notable cuts to the state’s affordable broadband expansion plan. Blaming inflation and rising construction costs, the state’s renewed budget called for a 17 percent reduction in planned broadband investment, on average, across the state.
Bill Callahan on Digital Equity History and NE Ohio Challenges - Building for Digital Equity Podcast
Bill Callahan, Executive Director of Connect Your Community, joins Christopher Mitchell to talk about some of the history of digital equity and the before-times that led to the formation of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. We also discuss Cleveland and later NE Ohio more specifically after exploring how Internet access has changed in the area since their landmark report, "AT&T’s digital redlining of Cleveland."
This show is 19 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or see other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
City officials in Syracuse, New York have formally approved a new project to provide heavily discounted wireless broadband to low-income city residents. The plan is being made possible courtesy of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), $123 million of which has been doled out to Syracuse city leaders for various urban improvement efforts.
After issuing a request for proposals (RFP) last year, Syracuse officials say they’ve selected Community Broadband Networks FLX to help build the fledgling, city-owned network. City officials say the finished project, which is estimated to be completed by the end of the summer, should cover 10 Census tracts in the south, southwest and west sides of the city for a total project cost of somewhere around $3.5 million.
Once completed, the network should provide wireless broadband service at speeds up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps) to roughly 2,500 Syracuse residents currently living below the poverty line in a city of 146,000.
On Monday, March 27 the Syracuse Common Council voted to formally approve the project, which will utilize fixed wireless technology in a bid to reduce overall project costs. Participating users will be given a free router and modem, which in turn will connect to city transmitters affixed to local city-owned buildings and utility poles.
While many of us were in the midst of celebrating the holiday season, a number of significant broadband developments were being unwrapped in the nation’s capital.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that all 50 states and territories have received critical broadband infrastructure planning funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA); the opportunity to make sure you're represented on the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) national broadband maps is closing in a week; and the FCC is kicking off a major initiative to combat digital discrimination which will have far-reaching consequences for the lowest-income households that only have access to low-speed or high-cost connections.