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NTIA Gives $6.1 Million in Grants to North Carolina, Washington

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2010 – The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Thursday announced two American Recovery and Reinvestment Act investments, totaling $6.1 million in grants, to North Carolina and Washington.

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WASHINGTON, September 16, 2010 – The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Thursday announced two American Recovery and Reinvestment Act investments, totaling $6.1 million in grants, to North Carolina and Washington.

“These Recovery Act investments illustrate how broadband technology can not only expand economic and educational opportunities, but it can also make the justice system more accessible to the public,”  NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling said.

North Carolina Central University’s School of Law will receive about $2 million to upgrade broadband service while expanding access to its legal education programs. The project will use videoconferencing to bring low-income residents greater access to legal services and extend classes to four partner historically black colleges and universities and 22 legal assistance sites.

The project also plans to hold legal writing seminars for undergraduates to prepare them for law school and increase minority representation in the legal profession, as well as to provide legal classes geared toward middle and high school students.

The Puget Sound Center Foundation for Teaching, Learning, and Technology will receive a $4.1 million grant to expand or upgrade 39 public computer centers in Washington state. This includes partnering with the Northwest Justice Project, Washington’s publicly funded legal aid program, to establish public computer centers in five rural courts, including the Kalispel tribal court, where the public can access online legal resources and other services. The project also plans enhanced training offerings for economically vulnerable populations, including courses addressing GED test preparation, digital literacy, job searches and financial education.

NTIA will make all Broadband Technology Opportunities Program awards by Sept. 30.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband's Impact

Mississippi Nonprofit is Looking to Fill Gaps in Affordable Connectivity

The nonprofit Connect and Literacy Fund is planning to increase ACP adoption in Mississippi.

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Screenshot of the event on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, September 28, 2023 – A Mississippi nonprofit is setting up a fund to support connectivity and digital literacy in the state.

The Mississippi Broadband Association is looking to raise $10 million to start the fund, which MSBA Executive Director Quinn Jordan said is intended to ensure newly built broadband infrastructure stays affordable in the state.

“We can build these networks,” he said, speaking at a Fiber Broadband Association webinar on Wednesday, “But if we don’t get people connected, if they don’t have the literacy or capability to do so, what have we really done?”

The initiative, called the Connect and Literacy Fund, is planning to increase ACP adoption in Mississippi. Over 18 percent of the state lives below the poverty line, making them eligible for the $30 monthly internet discount, but less than half that number participate. The MSBA is planning to make ACP sign-up part of the registration process to participate in the fund’s programming.

That programming will focus on teaching people how to use internet services like telehealth and streaming and provide large discounts for tables and PCs. The ACP provides a $100 device subsidy, but this is rarely enough for low-income households to make a purchase, Jordan said.

Difficulty accessing affordable devices is contributing to the digital divide in Mississippi, according to Jordan. He pointed to the fact that over 40% of Mississippians do not have access to a tablet or computer.

“That is a huge number. And it’s a barrier to entry,” Jordan said. “The Connect and Literacy Fund is hopefully going to address that.”

Jordan said the $2.75 billion Digital Equity program, part of the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, will be beneficial, but MSBA’s Connect and Literacy Fund will have a role to play in ensuring the state builds on the gains it makes with the federal funds.

“That money is going to run out,” he said. “What we’re doing is ongoing.”

The ACP might also be short-lived. The $14 billion allocation from the Infrastructure Act is set to dry up in April of next year.

MSBA has spent the last two months developing its programing and is looking to start coordinating events with local anchor institutions in the coming months, Jordan said. 

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Broadband's Impact

Tech Trade Group Report Argues for USF Funding from Broadband Companies

Consulting firm Brattle Group said in a report the move would be economically sound.

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Screenshot of Chip Pickering, INCOMPAS CEO

WASHINGTON, September 19, 2023 – Tech company trade group INCOMPAS and consulting firm Brattle Group released on Tuesday a report arguing for adding broadband providers as contributors to the Universal Service Fund.

The USF spends roughly $8 billion each year to support four programs that provide internet subsidies to low-income households, health care providers, schools, and libraries. The money comes from a tax on voice service providers, causing lawmakers to look for alternative sources of funding as more Americans switch from phone lines to broadband services.

The Federal Communications Commission administers the fund through the Universal Service Administration Company, but has left it to Congress to make changes to the contribution pool.

The report argues that broadband providers should be one of those sources. It cites the fact that USF funds are largely used for broadband rather than voice services and that broadband adoption is increasing as phone line use decreases.

“The USF contribution base needs to change to account for the fact that connectivity implies not just voice telephone services, but predominantly broadband internet access,” the report says.

It also rebuts arguments for adding tech companies like INCOMPAS members Google and Amazon to the contribution pool, saying they represent a less stable source of income for the program and that added fees for services like streaming could affect . 

The report is the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute between tech companies and broadband providers over who should support the USF in the future, with broadband companies arguing big tech should be tapped for funding as they run businesses on the networks supported by the fund.

Sens. Ben Lujan, D-N.M., and John Thune, R-S.D. established in May a senate working group to explore potential reforms to the program. The group heard comments in August  from associations of tech and broadband companies, each outlining arguments for including the other industry in the USF contribution base.

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Florida Broadband Grants, Support for Microsoft-Activision, IQ Fiber Investment

Comcast, Conexon, and Cox received $247 million in Florida broadband grants.

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Photo of fiber-optic installation from 2018 by CTA

September 18, 2023 – Service providers Comcast, Conexon, and Cox are receiving the biggest awards totaling $247 million in Broadband Grants in the state of Florida, Telecompetitor revealed Thursday.

Cox is receiving $80 million for 11 projects, Comcast is getting $60 million for 34 projects, and Conexon is receiving roughly $40 million. Additional companies receiving funding include, Charter Communications, AT&T, CenturyLink, Suwanee Valley Electric Cooperative, Consolidated, TDS, IBT, and Myakka, Telecompetitor noted. 

The state announced the $247 million in broadband grants this July, but did not include the names of the providers who would be providing the services.

The grants were made possible through Florida’s Broadband Infrastructure Program, which received funding through the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund. 

Nine Amicus briefs filed in support of Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard 

Nine amicus briefs were filed Thursday in support of Microsoft’s $68.7 billion purchase of Activision-Blizzard by a group of parties that included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Communications Workers of America among others.

The briefs come in response to the Federal Trade Commission’s attempt to appeal its loss against Microsoft to prevent the sale in the United States, alleging that Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision-Blizzard would allow it to manipulate access to Activision’s products for rival gaming consoles to Microsoft’s Xbox, therefore suppressing competition in the gaming industry.

“This Commission’s hostility to the procompetitive and efficiency-enhancing prospects of mergers is well-known—but the Commission’s position is not supported by merger case law,” said Bilal Sayyed, TechFreedom senior competition counsel, former director of the FTC’s Office of Policy Planning. 

Among the briefs released, five independent publishers and studios that included Curve Digital, Finji, iam8bit, Strange Scaffold, and Studio Wildcard – going under “amici”’ in support of the acquisition – hint the deal will positively benefit the development community.

“Amici are five independent companies, of all shapes and sizes, that publish or develop video games for a range of game-streaming platforms, including Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service on Xbox,” the brief stated. “Thus having first-hand experience with Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription and its effects on the market for independently published and developed games.

“While the FTC argues that the merger will stifle competition, amici have had precisely the opposite experience with Microsoft’s Game Pass service.”

In June 2022, the CWA was able to enforce a Labor Neutrality Agreement with Microsoft if the acquisition were approved. Under the agreement, workers with Activision Blizzard would be able “to freely make a choice about union representation.”

“While the labor neutrality agreement at Activision does not take effect until the merger closes, Microsoft has already proven its commitment to abide by the agreement by extending its provisions to its own employees,” CWA wrote on their website.

IQ Fiber starts construction of fiber-optic network in northwest Gainesville, $40 million invested in phase one of project

IQ Fiber has started its first phase of construction Friday, a $40-million investment to bring a fiber-optic network to the Northwest Gainesville and Alachua County in Florida.

The company, based in Jacksonville, is bringing its services to Florida’s Alachua, Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties, which is its “first major network expansion outside of the Jacksonville region.”

IQ Fiber expects online service to be available for “a few” Northwest Gainesville neighborhoods near the start of 2024. 

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward said in a press release that extending broadband competition in the community was always a priority and is hopeful that IQ Fiber’s presence will provide a plethora of opportunities for the neighboring communities.

Since starting in 2021, the company has developed over 600 miles of fiber-optic cable across North Florida. 

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