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At FTC, Experts Address The Troubled State Of Journalism and the Internet

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2009 – Experts from the private sector, nonprofit groups and the government gathered Tuesday at the Federal Trade Commission for the start of a two-day workshop focused on the troubled state of the media industry and how the business models will change going forward.

“Since the beginning of our Republic, journalism has been essential to making democracy work,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said (PDF) in opening remarks. His point is largely agreed upon by many involved in discussions centered around the media. But there is not a consensus on how media business models will evolve down the road or on whether the government should become more involved in the industry.

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WASHINGTON, December 1, 2009 – Experts from the private sector, nonprofit groups and the government gathered Tuesday at the Federal Trade Commission for the start of a two-day workshop focused on the troubled state of the media industry and how the business models will change going forward.

“Since the beginning of our Republic, journalism has been essential to making democracy work,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said (PDF) in opening remarks. His point is largely agreed upon by many involved in discussions centered around the media. But there is not a consensus on how media business models will evolve down the road or on whether the government should become more involved in the industry.

“We will have additional workshops in the spring to delve into various policy proposals—whether involving special tax or antitrust treatment for news gathering organizations, changes in copyright law or cross-ownership restrictions, or government subsidies (as exist for public radio and public broadcasting)—to assess the degree to which any policy response appears appropriate,” he said.

“We are also going to work closely with the Federal Communications Commission, which under Julius Genachowski has begun a major effort to look closely at the full range of issues relating to news media and an open Internet,” said Leibowitz.

Steven Brill, co-founder of Journalism Online, said “I don’t think the government should be involved much in this” except maybe in regards to privacy issues. He noted that no newspaper thus far can really sustain itself based on advertising alone. Brill questioned the logic of The New York Times charging for a good product, its paper newspaper, but not charging for its best product, the news it offers online.

Brill said he believes professional people, or journalists, doing something important in democracy need to get paid for it. But Lauren Rich Fine said the public isn’t used to paying for journalism though some publication loyalists will play for news online.

Media Access Project President Andrew Jay Schwartzman said in prepared remarks he plans to deliver Wednesday that he supports “experimentation with most of the proposed new mechanisms for supporting journalism, including content-neutral, platform-neutral subsidies and funds for public media, but I am against changes in antitrust and copyright laws to prop up incumbents.”

Schwartzman said he is calling on “Congress, federal agencies and the courts to embrace an aggressive approach towards creating and supporting new mechanisms for funding journalism, especially local journalism.”

Google Senior Business Product Manager Josh Cohen, who spoke at the event Tuesday, wrote in a blog entry on the workshop that his company believes “journalism will not only survive, but thrive on the Internet.” Cohen said the newspaper industry has been facing multiple challenges and the Internet enables entities to get content in front of more people in more ways.

Len Downie, vice president at large for The Washington Post, said at the conference that he is seeing a rapid increase in the numbers of small news Web sites across the country. He said more laid off journalists are now teaching the craft at universities and nonprofit investigate nonprofits are cropping up staffed by former journalists.

Downie is also seeing bloggers hiring news staff, more diversified news and newspaper looking to partner with investigative outfits for news content. Downie said he expects newspapers to survive but in much smaller forms. He emphasized that competition is good for news. Lem Lloyd, a vice president for Channel Sales at Yahoo!, noted that the sales force for media outlets has left much to be desired.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Health

FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.

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Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

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Health

FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’

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WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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