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FCC Provides Details for Puerto Rican E-Rate Funding as Chairman Pai Visits Island

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WASHINGTON, November 4, 2017 — More than a month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s communications infrastructure, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Friday announced that he will travel to the island territory on Sunday to observe the recovery process and assess the pace of efforts to restore communications on the hurricane-ravaged United States territory.

The Chairman’s announcement came following Tuesday’s release of an order promulgating new temporary rules to allow hurricane-damaged schools and libraries the use of Universal Service Fund E-Rate funding to rebuild their communications infrastructure.

The order specifying these new temporary rules — which had been announced before the agency October 24 open meeting — was delayed while commissioners considered its approval in a format outside of an official meeting.

“This order would provide targeted financial support to these institutions through the FCC’s E-rate program and give them maximum flexibility as they try to restore connectivity,” Pai said in an October 26 statement, announcing that the item would be considered through a process known as “circulation.”

The FCC is specifying their process to obtain E-Rate funding

To be eligible for E-Rate rebuilding funds under the temporary rules, applicants must certify that they are located in one of the counties affected by the hurricanes, that there has been “substantial damage” to the infrastructure used to provide E-Rate eligible services, and that the damage to their communications infrastructure is hurricane-related.

Even if those criteria are met, however, applicants will only receive funding under the temporary rules if no other funding is available from any other source, such as insurance payments, Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance funds, or any manner of funding from community organizations.

While the rules governing the E-Rate program normally require that any service substitutions paid for with USF funding (such as switching to a fixed wireless connection to serve a location once served by a wireline connection) must provide the same functionality, the temporary rules specified by the order waive this requirement, allowing funds that would normally be restricted to use for restoring Internet access to be used to purchase equipment to restore internal connectivity within a facility as well.

But for any broadband advocates who might have hope that the effort to rebuild Puerto Rico’s communications infrastructure could present an opportunity to improve the island’s high-speed networks, those hopes will likely remain unfulfilled. A provision in the temporary rules specifying that “any additional E-rate funding received pursuant to this Order will be used solely to restore E-rate eligible services to the level of functionality that immediately preceded the Hurricanes.”

An FCC spokesperson confirmed to BroadbandBreakfast.com that the FCC’s decision to make use of E-Rate funds for rebuilding should not be considered an indicator of any desire to improve communications capacity. The sole purpose of the program will be to restore services to the status quo as it existed before the hurricane, the spokesperson said.

O’Rielly raised concerns that the E-Rate order is not enough, and urged action by Congress

But even while applauding the release of these limited USF funds, Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly — who voted to approve the order along with the rest of his colleagues — voiced concerns that they may not be sufficient given the sheer magnitude of the devastation wrought by the 2017 hurricane season, and suggested in a statement that Congress should get involved.

“Because of our budget limitations, providing additional funding from universal service generally comes at the expense of other recipients,” O’Rielly said.

“Targeted funding from Congress would ensure that qualifying providers and beneficiaries receive the relief needed to rebuild and restore service without impeding the important work of other universal service program participants to connect unserved communities.”

During a Wednesday press conference, Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn expressed satisfaction in the response to the Puerto Rico situation by her colleagues “both individually and collectively,” and told reporters that she had heard no complaints from any of the stakeholders she has met with.

“We are right there answering the call and will continue to do so,” she said. “We are in it for the long haul.”

(Photo from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group, augmented by troops from the active-duty Air Force and Air National Guard units in multiple states, dowload relief supplies from aircraft around the clock at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the wake of Hurricane Maria Oct. 6, 2017. Photo by U.S. Air National Guard Lt. Col. Dale Greer used with permission.)

 

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Digital Inclusion

Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates

Panelists argued that lack of equitable digital access is deadly and driven by lack of competition.

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September 24, 2021- Affordability, language and lack of competition are among the factors that continue to perpetuate the digital divide and related inequities, according to panelists at a Thursday event on race and broadband.

One of the panelists faulted the lack of public broadband pricing information as a root cause.

In poorer communities there’s “fewer ISPs. There’s less competition. There’s less investment in fiber,” said Herman Galperin, associate professor at the University of Southern California. “It is about income. It is about race, but what really matters is the combination of poverty and communities of color. That’s where we find the largest deficits of broadband infrastructure.”

While acknowledging that “there is an ongoing effort at the [Federal Communications Commission] to significantly improve the type of data and the granularity of the data that the ISPs will be required to report,” Galperin said that the lack of a push to make ISP pricing public will doom that effort to fail.

He also questioned why ISPs do not or are not required to report their maps of service coverage revealing areas of no or low service. “Affordability is perhaps the biggest factor in preventing low-income folks from connecting,” Galperin said.

“It’s plain bang for their buck,” said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, referring to broadband providers reluctance to serve rural and remote areas. “It costs more money to go to [tribal lands].”

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that digital divide clearer and more deadly. “There was no access to information for telehealth,” said Morris. “No access to information on how the virus spread.”

Galperin also raised the impact of digital gaps in access upon homeless and low-income populations. As people come in and out of homelessness, they have trouble connecting to the internet at crucial times, because – for example – a library might be closed.

Low-income populations also have “systemic” digital access issues struggling at times with paying their bills having to shut their internet off for months at a time.

Another issue facing the digital divide is linguistic. Rebecca Kauma, economic and digital inclusion program manager for the city of Long Beach, California, said that residents often speak a language other than English. But ISPs may not offer interpretation services for them to be able to communicate in their language.

Funding, though not a quick fix-all, often brings about positive change in the right hands. Long Beach received more than $1 million from the U.S. CARES Act, passed in the wake of the early pandemic last year. “One of the programs that we designed was to administer free hotspots and computing devices to those that qualify,” she said.

Some “band-aid solutions” to “systemic problems” exist but aren’t receiving the attention or initiative they deserve, said Galperin. “What advocacy organizations are doing but we need a lot more effort is helping people sign up for existing low-cost offers.” The problem, he says, is that “ISPs are not particularly eager to promote” low-cost offers.

The event “Race and Digital Inequity: The Impact on Poor Communities of Color,” was hosted by the Michelson 20MM Foundation and its partners the California Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Southern California Grantmakers.

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Broadband's Impact

USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability

Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.

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Hernan Galperin of USC's Annenberg School

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.

In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”

Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.

“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.

“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”

The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.

The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.

The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.

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Broadband's Impact

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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