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Connecting America, Chapter 2: ‘Goals for a High-Performance America’

THE MISSION OF THE PLAN is to create a high-performance America—a more productive, creative, efficient America in which affordable broadband is available everywhere and everyone has the means and skills to use valuable broadband applications.

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Editor’s Note: As BroadbandBreakfast.com begins publishing summaries of the national broadband plan, and commentaries on it, we also here reproduce the actual text of Chapter 2 of “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan,” as produced by the Federal Communications Communications Commission. Chapter 2 is available here; the plan is available in PDF form at http://broadband.gov/download-plan

THE MISSION OF THE PLAN is to create a high-performance America—a more productive, creative, efficient America in which affordable broadband is available everywhere and everyone has the means and skills to use valuable broadband applications.

The importance of broadband continues to grow around the world. High-performing companies, countries and citizens are using broadband in new, more effective ways. Some countries have recognized this already and are trying to get ahead of the curve. South Korea, Japan, Australia, Sweden, Finland and Germany, among others, have already developed broadband plans.

A high-performance America cannot stand by as other countries charge into the digital era. In the country where the Internet was born, we cannot watch passively while other nations lead the world in its utilization. We should be the leading exporter of broadband technology—high-value goods and services that drive enduring economic growth and job creation. And we should be the leading user of broadband-enabled technologies that help businesses increase their productivity, help government improve its openness and efficiency, and give consumers new ways to communicate, work and entertain themselves.

To ensure we lead the world, this plan addresses the troubling gaps and unrealized opportunities in broadband in America by recommending ways federal, state and local governments can unleash private investment, innovation, lower prices and better options for consumers. Its recommendations fall into four general categories:

  • Design policies to ensure robust competition and, as a result, maximize consumer welfare, innovation and investment.
  • Ensure efficient allocation and management of assets government controls or influences, such as spectrum, poles, and rights-of-way, to encourage network upgrades and competitive entry.
  • Reform current universal service mechanisms to support deployment of broadband and voice in high-cost areas; and ensure that low-income Americans can afford broadband; and in addition, support efforts to boost adoption and utilization.
  • Reform laws, policies, standards and incentives to maximize the benefits of broadband in sectors government influences significantly, such as public education, health care and government operations.

Across these categories, this plan offers recommendations for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Executive Branch, Congress, states and other parties. But to ensure we are on the right path, the country should set longterm goals and benchmarks to chart our progress. The plan recommends that the country set the following six goals for 2020 to serve as a compass over the next decade.

GOAL No. 1: At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second.

The United States must lead the world in the number of homes and people with access to affordable, world-class broadband connections. As such, 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and actual upload speeds of at least 50 Mbps by 2020. This will create the world’s most attractive market for broadband applications, devices and infrastructure.

The plan has recommendations to foster competition, drive demand for increased network performance and lower the cost of deploying infrastructure. These recommendations include providing consumers with information about the actual performance of broadband services, reviewing wholesale access policies and conducting more thorough data collection to monitor and benchmark competitive behavior. Reforming access to rights-of-way can lower the cost of upgrades and entry for all firms. Increased spectrum availability and use for backhaul can enable more capable wireless networks that will drive wired providers to improve network performance and ensure service is affordable.

Government can also help create demand for more broadband by enabling new applications across our most important national priorities, including health care, education and energy, and by ensuring consumers have full control of their personal data.

As a milestone, by 2015, 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of 50 Mbps and actual upload speeds of 20 Mbps.

GOAL No. 2: The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.

Mobile broadband is growing at unprecedented rates. From smartphones to app stores to e-book readers to remote patient monitoring to tracking goods in transit and more, mobile services and technologies are driving innovation and playing an increasingly important role in our lives and our economy. Mobile broadband is the next great challenge and opportunity for the United States. It is a nascent market in which the United States should lead.

Spectrum policy is the most important lever government has to help ensure wireless and mobile broadband thrive. Efficient allocation of spectrum consistent with the public interest will maximize its value to society. It will lower network deployment costs, making it easier for new companies to compete and enabling lower prices, more investment and better performance.

Today, the FCC has only 50 megahertz of spectrum in the pipeline that it can assign for broadband use, just a fraction of the amount that will be necessary to match growing demand. As a result, companies representing 5% of the U.S. economy asked the FCC to make more spectrum available for mobile broadband, saying that “without more spectrum, America’s global leadership in innovation and technology is threatened.”1

To achieve this goal of leading the world in mobile broadband, the plan recommends making 500 megahertz of spectrum newly available for broadband by 2020, with a benchmark of making 300 megahertz available by 2015. In addition, we should ensure greater transparency in spectrum allocation and utilization, reserve spectrum for unlicensed use and make more spectrum available for opportunistic and secondary uses.

GOAL No. 3: Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.

Not having access to broadband applications limits an individual’s ability to participate in 21st century American life. Health care, education and other important aspects of American life are moving online. What’s more, government services and democratic participation are shifting to digital platforms. This plan recommends government use the Internet to increase its own transparency and make more of its data available online. Getting everyone online will improve civic engagement—a topic this plan also addresses by recommending a more robust digital public ecosystem.

Three requirements must be satisfied to ensure every American can take advantage of broadband. First, every American home must have access to network services. Second, every household should be able to afford that service. Third, every American should have the opportunity to develop digital skills.

The plan recommends reforming existing support mechanisms to foster deployment of broadband in high-cost areas: specifically, the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation. The plan outlines a 10-year, three-stage course of action to transform these programs to connect those who do not have access to adequate broadband infrastructure.2 Rather than add new burdens to the already strained contribution base, we must make the tough choice to shift existing support that is not advancing public policy goals in order to directly focus those resources on communities unserved by broadband.

To promote affordability, this plan also proposes extending the Lifeline and Link-Up programs to support broadband. To promote digital skills, we need to ensure every American has access to relevant, age-appropriate digital literacy education, for free, in whatever language they speak, and we neeed to create a Digital Literacy Corps.

Achieving this goal will likely lead to an adoption rate higher than 90% by 2020 and reduced differences in broadband adoption among demographic groups.

To the end, government can make broadband more accessible to people with disabilities. It can also work with Tribal governments to finally improve broadband deployment and adoption on Tribal lands.3 And it can ensure small businesses— many of which are owned by women and minorities—have the opportunity to purchase broadband service at reasonable rates.

GOAL No. 4: Every American community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and government buildings.

Schools, libraries and health care facilities must all have the connectivity they need to achieve their purposes. This connectivity can unleash innovation that improves the way we learn, stay healthy and interact with government.

If this plan succeeds, every American community will have affordable access to far better broadband performance than they enjoy today. To do so, the plan makes recommendations about reforming the E-rate and the Rural Health Care support programs. Second, non-profit and public institutions should be able to find efficient alternatives for greater connectivity through aggregated efforts.

What’s more, unleashing the power of new broadband applications to solve previously intractable problems will drive new connectivity demands. The plan makes numerous recommendations, including reforming incentive structures, licensing and data interoperability, to ensure public priorities take advantage of the benefits broadband networks, applications and devices offer. If they are implemented, demand for connectivity in hospitals, schools, libraries and government buildings will soar.

In some communities, gigabit connectivity may not be limited to anchor institutions. Certain applications could also require ultra-high-speed connectivity at home. And once community anchors are connected to gigabit speeds, it would presumably become less expensive and more practical to get the same speeds to homes.

GOAL No. 5: To ensure the safety of the American people, every first responder should have access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network.

In June 2004, the 9/11 Commission released its final report about events of September 11, 2001. The report found that “the inability to communicate was a critical element” at each of the“crash sites, where multiple agencies and multiple jurisdictions responded.” They concluded: “Compatible and adequate communications among public safety organizations at the local, state, and federal levels remains an important problem.”4

It remains a problem more than five years later. Often, first responders from different jurisdictions cannot communicate at the scene of an emergency. Federal officials can rarely communicate with state and local officials. Officials from different towns and cities have difficulties communicating with each other. What’s more, with few exceptions, current networks do not take advantage of broadband capability, limiting their capacity to transmit data and hindering potential innovations in public safety that could save lives.

The country should create a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network by 2020. The network should be robust enough to maintain performance in the aftermath of a disaster, and should allow every first responder, regardless of jurisdiction or agency, to communicate with each other and share real-time data over high-speed connections. Chapter 16 outlines recommendations to make this goal a reality.

GOAL No. 6: To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.

America can no longer rely on fossil fuels and imported oil. To improve national security, reduce pollution and increase national competitiveness, the United States must lead, not follow, in the clean energy economy. Encouraging renewable power, grid storage and vehicle electrification are important steps to improve American energy independence and energy efficiency; to enable these technologies at scale, the country will need to modernize the electric grid with broadband and advanced communications.

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that when people get feedback on their electricity usage, they make simple behavioral changes that save energy.5 Real-time data can also inform automated thermostats and appliances, allowing consumers to save energy and money while helping the country reduce the need for expensive new power plants.

Chapter 12 outlines specific recommendations to ensure that consumers can use broadband to gain access to and improve their control of their real-time energy information. With strong cybersecurity and privacy protections, consumers and their authorized third parties should be able to get access to real-time usage information from smart meters and historical billing information over the Internet.

CONCLUSION

To achieve these goals, it is not enough to simply state where we wish to be.* America needs a plan that creates a process to meet these targets and look beyond them. The chapters that follow offer specific recommendations to launch that process.

Part I of this plan makes recommendations to ensure that America has a world-leading broadband ecosystem for both fixed and mobile service. It discusses recommendations to maximize innovation, investment and consumer welfare, primarily through competition. It then recommends more efficient allocation and management of assets government controls or influences, such as spectrum, poles and rights-of-way, to maximize private sector investment and facilitate competition.

Part II makes recommendations to promote inclusion—to ensure that all Americans have access to the opportunities broadband can provide. These include reforming the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation. It also makes recommendations to promote broadband affordability, adoption and digital literacy.

Part III makes recommendations to maximize the use of broadband to address national priorities. This includes reforming laws, policies and incentives to maximize the benefits of broadband in areas where government plays a significant role. This part makes recommendations to unleash innovation in health care, energy, education, government performance, civic engagement, job training, economic development and public safety.

Finally, the plan outlines an implementation strategy to ensure the country executes these recommendations, creates a dynamic process and meets each of the goals outlined here.

Before exploring any of these recommendations further, though, it is important to understand the current state of broadband in the United States, which is described in Chapter 3.

* In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Welsh rebel Glendower tells his co-conspirator Hotspur: “I can call spirits from the vasty deep.” Hotspur responds, “Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?” William Shakespeare, Henry IV, pt. I, act 3, sc. 1, 52–58.

1 Letter from 21st Century Telecommunications et al., Members of the Consumer Electronic Association et al., to Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioners, FCC, GN Docket No. 09-51 (Dec. 2, 2009) at 1 (filed by Consumer Electronics Association on behalf of 115 parties).

2 Omnibus Broadband Initiative, The Broadband Availability Gap (forthcoming).

3 For the purposes of the plan, “Tribal lands” is defined as any federally recognized Tribe’s reservation, pueblo, and colony, including former reservations in Oklahoma, Alaska Native regions established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Pub. L. No. 92-203, 85 Stat. 688 (1971), and Indian allotments. The term “Tribe” means any American Indian or Alaska Native Tribe, Band, Nation, Pueblo, Village, or Community, which is acknowledged by the Federal government to have a government-to-government relationship with the United States and is eligible for the programs and services established by the United States. See Statement of Policy on Establishing a Government-to-Government Relationship with Indian Tribes, Policy Statement, 16 FCC Rcd 4078, 4080 (2000). Thus, “Tribal lands” includes American Indian Reservations and Trust Lands, Tribal Jurisdiction Statistical Areas, Tribal Designated Statistical Areas, and Alaska Native Village Statistical Areas, as well as the communities situated on such lands. This would also include the lands of Native entities receiving Federal acknowledgement or recognition in the future.

4 9/11 Comm’n, The 9/11 Commission Report 39 (2004), available at http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf.

5 Google Comments in re NBP PN #2 (Comment Sought on the Implementation of Smart Grid Technology—NBP Public Notice #2, GN Docket Nos. 09-47, 09-51, 09-137, Public Notice, 24 FCC Rcd 11747 (WCB 2009) (NBP PN #2)), filed Oct. 2, 2009, at 4.

FCC

Broadband Labels Should Include Practical Applications of Internet Packages: MIT Researchers

The FCC’s broadband label might include the number of movies one can watch at a time with a certain plan.

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Photo of MIT's David Clark used with permission

WASHINGTON, September 19, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s upcoming broadband transparency labels should include “interpretive” information that helps consumers understand the practical implications of their internet performance, such as the number of movies they can watch at a time, according to researchers Friday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As directed by Congress in the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the FCC is currently working on a “label” service providers will be required to fulfill that features details of broadband service plans, including monthly price, typical download and upload speeds, latency, packet loss, and other relevant information. The labels, which must be finalized by November, are meant to help consumers make a more informed decision when choosing an internet plan.

Because consumers are often unaware of how aspects of network performance affect the user experience, David Clark and Sara Wedeman of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory said Friday at the TPRC 2022 conference that simply displaying technical metrics – e.g., an average upload speed of 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) – is unlikely to facilitate better user decision making.

The pair recommends the FCC adopt and require of service providers the equivalent of a nutritional label’s daily value field: a “Satisfactory Service Label.” Just as the daily value field makes complicated nutritional information actionable for the average consumer, the SSL will clarify how the technical metrics of an internet package affect performance, Clark said.

“One can propose a somewhat simple SSL for download speed by noting that for each simultaneous HD stream, no more than…about 9 mb/s is necessary. One could probably watch 3 HD streams at once over a 25 mb/s service,” said the paper on which Clark and Wedeman’s TPRC presentation was based.  

Difficulties in the labeling process

Paroma Sanyal and Divya Goel of the consulting firm Brattle Group also presented a paper on broadband labeling at TPRC. They argued that mandatory labeling will likely lead to lower prices and higher quality internet plans but also presents economic and legal risks if implemented incorrectly. Sanyal said that the standardized labeling regimes often introduce compliance costs and harm innovation, recommending instead a simple, clear system to minimize the emergence of unintended consequences.

Sanyal’s and Goel’s paper – coauthored with the Brattle Goup’s Coleman Bazelon – argues that the FCC’s current guidance doesn’t provide a specific definition of “typical” network performance, leaving much interpretation to broadband providers.

The paper also notes a multitude of technical factors outside the provider’s control that could affect performance. “For fixed broadband factors such as the vintage of equipment on the consumer premises…for mobile broadband, the vintage and type of handsets, weather, and location of the consumer are important,” the paper reads.

“As an illustration, typical speeds in a DC neighborhood may not be the typical speeds in a Baltimore neighborhood, which begs the question of how geographically targeted such labels should be, and, of course, the associated costs,” the paper adds.

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FCC

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.

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Photo of John Windhausen of Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

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.

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FCC

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.

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Photo of Jonathan Spalter, CEO of US Telecom, from ISE

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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