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Coronavirus Roundup: NCTA on Rural Fund, New York Times on Big Tech, New Rural Broadband Bill

David Jelke

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Photo of Kara Swisher at SXSW in March 2019 by NRKbeta used with permission

NCTA, an internet and television association, urged the Federal Communications Commission to choose census blocks as the smallest bidding unit for the upcoming $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction that will provide broadband to most remote of locations, according to John Eggerton of Multichannel News.

The NCTA hinted that opting for larger census tracts may irk cable operator providers and cause them to boycott the auction.

This is because “many [cable providers] will be expanding their current networks and it would not be economical in some cases to have to build out huge tracts of land as it were,” Eggerton wrote.

The first phase of the RDOF auction is scheduled to begin on October 22, 2020 and will target more than six million homes and businesses in census blocks that are entirely unserved by voice and broadband with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps, according to the FCC website.

Anxiety over the rising sway of big tech

Shira Ovide host of The New York Times’ On Tech newsletter, talked with Kara Swisher, a technology journalist and op-ed writer for The Times, over a Twitter video on Monday about the greater importance big tech is playing at a time where connection to the internet and its main services is essential.

“How do you feel about us relying more than ever on services from tech companies?” asked Ovide.

“I’m nervous about it,” replied Swisher. “It doesn’t abrogate the problems they had before. Amazon is doing great things, yet look at what’s going on at their warehouses. Zoom is doing great things. But I have school-age kids, so I’m not too happy about what’s happening there with privacy and security.

Facebook has been better than in the past; it’s not permitting false information about the coronavirus to spread. I’m glad they are doing this, but I’m not going to give them a standing ovation for it.”

Reps. Wittman and Johnson propose broadband bill

Reps. Rob Wittman, R-Va., and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, introduced the Serving Rural America on Monday.

This legislation would create a five-year pilot grant program at the Federal Communications Commission, authorizing $100 million a year for a total of $500 million over five years to expand broadband service to unserved areas of the country. The release asserted that the Serving Rural America would be an effective way to build out “reliable broadband access in every home in America” in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

“In this time of crisis, demand for high speed broadband has never been greater; closing the digital divide is the key to lifting up countless communities and populations in unserved areas,” said Wittman.

“The Serving Rural America Act will help bring access to the approximately 19 million Americans who still lack high speed internet. The grant program created by this legislation encourages coordination between providers to better determine the available service in a proposed service area and prevents overbuilding by limiting federal broadband support to one provider in a rural area. Finally, it is technology neutral to ensure new infrastructure is viable for generations. This is must-pass legislation to ensure we close the digital divide in America.”

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