WASHINGTON, June 12, 2009 – Americans are increasingly supportive of government programs to guarantee universal internet access while remaining wary of regulation, said a Zogby poll released Friday.
Almost half of the 3,030 respondents to the survey – 44 percent – believe universal internet access should be guaranteed by the federal government. Of respondents, 20 percent said they support programs to give Americans personal computers if they lack them.
And more than two-thirds, or 71 percent, say those who lack internet access will be less successful economically than those who regularly go online.
But universal access remains a partisan issue, the survey said. While 78 percent of liberals said the government should make sure the internet is available to all, only 18 percent of conservatives agreed with the statement.
Computer give-aways were less popular on both sides, with only 40 percent of liberals and 7 percent of conservatives supporting the idea.
Americans of all ideologies remain against internet regulation by the government, the survey also noted. Just 17 percent support sales tax on e-commerce, and 78 percent said such a tax woukd “severely hamper online commerce and violate the spirit of the internet as a free exchange.”
Library and Education Technology Groups Pan FCC Proposal for New E-Rate Procurement
Responders fear that updating the E-Rate process will increase complexity for applicants.
WASHINGTON, August 26, 2022 – Responders to the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed rulemaking to force internet service providers to bid for school and library services through a new portal expressed concern that the proposal would needlessly complicate the process.
The FCC’s E-Rate program supplements schools and libraries securing affordable telecommunications and broadband services through the Universal Service Fund. Earlier this year, the FCC released a proposal that would “streamline program requirements for applicants and service providers, strengthen program integrity… and decrease the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse.”
The proposal suggests implementing a central document repository, called a bidding portal, through which internet service providers would submit bids to the program administrator, the Universal Service Administrative Company, instead of directly to applicants at a state and local level. Currently, libraries and schools announce they are seeking services and service providers apply directly to those institutions.
With the adoption of this proposal, applicants would be required to submit competitive bidding documentation that would enable applicants to compare competing bids and the USAC would establish timeframes on when applicants are able to review the bids that providers submit.
The proposal is in response to a September 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office which addressed what the GAO considers the E-Rate program’s key fraud risks. It reported that E-Rate participants could easily misrepresent self-certification statements by violating competitive-bidding rules or processes. These violations could occur without the Commission’s or USAC’s knowledge because they do not have direct access to the bidding information.
The GAO suggested that allowing the USAC direct access to obtain and monitor bidding information would improve security and strengthen program controls.
Proposal widely panned by CoSN and educational technology directors
However, response to the proposal was widely negative, with commenters raising concern that changing the process would needlessly complicate a system that, according to Verizon, is already promoting fair and open bidding on E-Rate contracts.
The Consortium for School Networking, the State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the National School Boards Association claimed that the Commission’s past reliance on state and local procurement requirements has been a success and has not led to an undue amount of fraud and abuse, negating the need to update the process.
Creating a national bidding portal could also interfere with existing state and local bidding requirements and unduly complicate the bidding process, hindering E-Rate participation, said the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors in its comment to the FCC.
“A bidding portal would interfere with existing state and local bidding and procurement processes, which would likely cause significant issues for applicants and may cause some to have to drop out of the E-Rate program,” read NATOA’s report.
The establishment of a national E-rate bidding portal would be “unnecessary, burdensome and will increase the complexity of, rather than simplify the E-rate program,” agreed South Dakota’s Department of Education in its statement.
National level or local level changes
Since the FCC’s announcement in December, the proposed changes have been subject to much debate. John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning, wrote in April that the E-Rate changes would be detrimental, claiming that procurement decisions are best made at the local level, rather than a “one-size-fits-all system.”
Furthermore, John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, said in December that the proposal will burden applicants, despite the potential benefits of eliminating at least some forms of fraud. Windhausen claimed that there is not enough evidence to show that a new portal is needed.
However, the proposal has not been universally dismissed. In a comment filed last week, the United States Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, which is responsible for enforcing antitrust laws, expressed support for the proposal saying that it would “enhance the ability of the FCC’s Office of Inspector General to detect and deter fraud in the E-Rate program.”
The DOJ added that the update would allow for more robust enforcement of laws, including investigation and prosecution of antitrust and related crimes that occur during E-Rate procurements. “All responsive service providers and applicants are in a position to complete the additional step,” said the DOJ in response to critics citing undue burden.
The proposal remains in consideration at the FCC.
Joe Kane: Rural Broadband Infrastructure Should Fund People Wherever They Are
Future broadband funding should target those who need it, even if they live in cities or the suburbs.
Subsidies for rural broadband deployment enjoy unified political support. Endless rhetoric supports federal funding to make up the difference in areas where the upfront cost of broadband infrastructure is prohibitive. But now we’ve allocated hundreds of billions of dollars to rural broadband. To address the digital divide fully, the next focus should be to target broadband funding to those who need it, even if they live in cities or the suburbs.
It’s indeed more expensive to deploy broadband in rural areas than in densely-populated areas, but this reality has warped broadband policy: The Federal Communications Commission’s High-Cost fund spends over $4 billion per year to build out broadband infrastructure in hard-to-reach areas. All told, the Government Accountability Office estimates that the federal government spent $5.9 billion per year on rural broadband infrastructure between 2009 and 2017.
It’s time to face facts. A 2017 FCC study found getting high-speed broadband to 98 percent of homes and businesses would cost $40 billion. Since then, ISPs have increased their yearly capital expenditures by about $3 billion per year and existing subsidies have continued apace. Now, recent infrastructure legislation has added $65 billion more to the pot. It’s safe to say we’ve hit the $40 billion target and then some. If newly allocated funds are not enough to overcome the economic barriers to rural broadband infrastructure deployment, no amount of additional federal funding will likely do so, and it’s time to take the victories we’ve gotten and shift gears.
Money should focus on low-income individuals
The continued focus on rural subsidies is not just an issue for its expense and lack of completion. It necessitates a tradeoff that deprioritizes connectivity barriers non-rural individuals face. A recent federal grant for remote areas, for example, spent over $87,000 per household. That’s 126 percent of median household income and enough for an annuity that would pay $418 per month for life. That money could instead support many more low-income individuals who happen to live elsewhere while letting fast, low-latency service from low-earth-orbit satellites fix the most extreme rural connectivity problems without the need for subsidies.
The tendency to conflate “rural” and “in need” distorts reality: There are individuals of all income brackets in all types of areas. This distortion has perverse effects. The FCC’s High-Cost program is funded by fees levied on individuals’ phone bills. This “contribution factor” has skyrocketed in recent years—now up to one-third of individuals’ monthly bill.
This funding structure means that a relatively low-income urban dweller pays a higher bill to fund Internet service providers’ construction of infrastructure for rural landowners who might be significantly better off financially. With so much cash already committed, policymakers should stop using this blunt instrument that heaps billions of dollars onto certain swaths of land while shortchanging the digital divide that persists among individuals in other parts of the country.
While rural America shouldn’t be left to fend for itself, lower-income individuals in suburban and urban areas are no less deserving of broadband funding than their rural counterparts. Going forward, funding should go to those who need it, regardless of where they live.
The FCC should reduce the new high-cost spending
To start, the FCC should reduce new High-Cost spending by at least 75 percent and transfer some of that funding to programs that fund individual needs. The FCC already administers these types of programs. Lifeline and the Affordable Connectivity Program, for example, discount phone and broadband service for people with low incomes. These programs, combined with ISPs’ existing offerings to low-income Americans, could form the cornerstone of a more equitable broadband funding policy.
Furthermore, these programs should become more flexible. Polling shows that the largest barrier to broadband adoption is not its price, but non-adopters finding it irrelevant. Targeting this barrier to adoption should be the top priority of a policy to close the digital divide. Therefore, funding should be available for digital literacy efforts that demonstrate the value of the Internet to those who don’t think it’s for them. Allowing funds to defray the cost of Internet-connected devices would also advance the goal of closing the digital divide.
This proposed shift should still allow individuals’ benefits to be used for their Internet bill, which will, in turn, continue funding infrastructure because it justifies the cost of ISPs’ broadband buildout. The difference is that consumers would use that option only if ISPs can provide good service at the right price.
Instead of handwringing over who to tax to fund more subsidies to ISPs, policymakers should give consumers control. We continue to make tremendous progress toward closing the digital divide, including spending unprecedented amounts to get rural America up to speed. Adoption is now the key barrier to universal connectivity, and our policies should reflect this shift rather than continuing a lopsided distribution to rural areas.
Joe Kane is director of broadband and spectrum policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to email@example.com. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
FCC Encouraged to Limit Data Collection on Affordable Connectivity Program, Others Want More
One trade group warns about providers leaving the program if data collection too onerous.
WASHINGTON, August 9, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is being warned not to overly burden internet service providers with its Congress-mandated order to collect pricing and subscription rates data from participants in the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the FCC is required by November 15 to adopt rules to collect annual data relating to the price and subscription rates of each internet service offering by a provider participating in the broadband subsidy program, which offers up to $30 per month for low-income households (up to $75 per month on tribal lands) and a one-time $100 off a device.
But a number of submissions are warning the FCC against rules that require any additional data collection efforts beyond the scope of the law so as not to unduly burden providers and, at least one other trade group said, push providers away from participating in the program.
Telecommunications company Lumen, for example, recommended the commission limit the scope of the annual reporting to monthly pricing and to exempt “excessively granular” requirements, such as promotional rates, grandfathered plans, or subscriber-level data, which the commission is proposing to collect.
Communications companies and industry groups want to limit data collection
T-Mobile said in its submission that Congress told the FCC to rely on the broadband consumer labels, which are due this November, for pricing. The commission asked for comment on the interpretation of the IIJA requiring a reliance on price information displayed on the consumer labels.
For subscription information, T-Mobile urges the commission to look at data collection from the Universal Service Administrative Company – which administers high-cost broadband programs for the Universal Service Fund – to avoid “adopting a largely redundant collection that would impose additional burdens” on all parties.
“The IIJA leaves the Commission no discretion to collect any additional price information, and the statute does not require collection of data on other service plan and network characteristics,” such as speed and latency and data allowances, the submission said.
“Collection of this additional data would create additional burdens and is unnecessary,” the submission added.
Similar limitations were also proposed by telecom Starry Inc., which pushed for privacy protection by collecting data at a higher level (such as the state) and working with information collected in other transparency efforts, such as the consumer labels.
Industry association IMCOMPAS, which represents internet and competitive communications networks, told the FCC in a submission that data collection should be limited to the state level to protect consumer privacy and proprietary information of the providers; streamline other data collection, including the consumer labels; and provide instruction on how to providers to better understand the data collection rules.
Concurring with this position is the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, which said data collection must be simple and should not go to a level of detail that goes beyond what the IIJA calls for. The trade group, which represents small providers, said such data collection beyond that required in the law could burden companies with small teams.
The included data, WISPA said, should be an annual aggregate of items including broadband plans subscribed to by ACP customers, number of subscribers for each plan, and pricing minus promotional rates, taxes, discounts or pricing breakdowns for bundled services. Any additional onerous collection could see providers leave the program, it added.
Industry groups US Telecom and NCTA – Internet and Television Association similarly urged a simple annual report that captured undiscounted monthly pricing of each broadband service offering and the number of customers subscribed. The Competitive Carriers Association and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association also recommended a limited data collection approach.
ACA Connects, a trade group representing small and medium-sized independent operators, said the FCC should direct providers to report numbers of ACP households “that are applying their benefit to each speed tier along with the standard price of each tier on a state-by-state basis” – rather than the FCC-proposed continuous collection of subscriber-level data via the National Lifeline Accountability Database, it said, adding the commission should be mindful of the time it takes for completion, as smaller providers have limited resources.
Others pushing for subscriber-level, more data
The cities of New York and Seattle, in their submissions, said the FCC should collect subscriber-level information to assess different service adoption rates on different plans over time – publishing categories based on price, plan and performance by the zip code. It added it is not seeking information about the households itself, and said this would not be a privacy concern as others have pointed out.
Similarly, the Connecticut Office of State Broadband said the commission should go beyond the IIJA requirements by mandating information including performance of the plans and whether a device is offered.
For the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, data collection on the ACP should include data beyond what’s included in the consumer labels, and should include other items such as installation, equipment, service, miscellaneous, data and usage fees, and state and local taxes.
In a joint submission, non-profit media group Common Sense and internet advocacy group Public Knowledge recommended data collection that is necessary to monitor the ACP, which include promotional rates, taxes, overage costs and device and equipment costs. This way, they say, the FCC can get a better idea of how much is going toward internet access after applying the subsidy. They are also asking for the commission to collect information on whether the subsidy is being used to upgrade or discount current service, and how customers are becoming aware of the program.
The commission is currently trying to get more Americans on the program, which has over 13 million households signed up. That number, the commission said last week, should be much higher. As such, it ordered the development of an outreach program to market the subsidy.
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