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Broadband's Impact

The Internet Wonk’s Guide to the Trump Administration’s New American Broadband Initiative

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February 13, 2019 – The Trump Administration on Wednesday highlighted the importance of enhancing broadband internet service for America, particularly in rural areas, as it promoted a variety of existing federal initiatives under a new brand, the “American Broadband Initiative.”

Through the issuance of a new “Milestones Report” by the Agriculture Department and the Commerce Department, the Trump administration emphasized continuity with a range of broadband initiatives begun under President Obama.

The report also highlighted two executive actions taken by President Trump in January 2018,  as well as the president’s words on January 8, 2018, when he appeared at a meeting of the American Farm Bureau, that “Americans Need Access to reliable, affordable broadband internet service to succeed in today’s information-driven, global economy.”

See also:
Broadband Breakfast: Trump Signs Executive Order Expediting Rural Broadband with Federal Lands, Towers and Fiber (January 2018)

Broadband Breakfast: Trump Administration Turns Focus to Rural Broadband and Dark Fiber at American Farm Bureau Meeting (January 2018)

Although the report put the Trump administration’s spin on the “actions that agencies are taking to increase private-sector investment in broadband,” it didn’t repudiate many of the broadband infrastructure-focused actions of the Obama administration’s second term.

It noted that “previous attempts to expand broadband connectivity have made progress and provided valuable lessons that guide this initiative.”

Under the Trump administration, most of the public-facing actions on broadband policy have been centered around ensuring that Rural America is adequately connected.

Indeed, the White House’s blog post on the American Broadband Initiative emphases the rural component front and center:

  • [W]ithout access to reliable high-speed broadband, too many Americans are being left out of those opportunities. This is particularly true in rural America, where nearly 39 percent of Americans lack sufficient broadband access.

But the report can also be read as the Commerce Department re-asserting its leadership role over broadband initiatives.

For example, referring to that agency’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), one of the core points early in the report reads that the American Broadband Initiative “[b]uilds on NTIA’s mission as the agency principally responsible for advising the administration on telecommunications and information policy.”

No new funding for broadband, but ABI coordinates and streamlines many existing programs

The report does not unveil any new funding to be spent on broadband infrastructure or usage, although it does prominently feature details USDA’s ReConnect program. That program was unveiled in December 2018 to implement $600 million in rural broadband grants and loans put in place by the March 2018 omnibus budget bill.

See also:
Broadband Breakfast: ReConnect, a Long-Awaited Agriculture Department Broadband Program, Unveiled by Secretary Sonny Perdue (December 2018)

The PDF report groups together dozens of federal actions within three core categories: (1) streamlining federal permitting processes; (2) leveraging federal assets like land and towers; and (3) maximizing the impact of existing federal funding.

As part of these high-level categories, the program seeks to catalyze private investment in rural broadband, leverage 7,000 towers located on federal lands generally administered by the Interior Department, potentially use other federal assets for such towers, create a one-stop shop at the NTIA for information about getting permits on federal lands for broadband infrastructure, revising the form to make use federal lands for broadband, and more.

This last item highlights Executive Order 13821, “Streamlining and Expediting Requests to Locate Broadband Facilities in Rural America,” the January 2018 Trump action aiming to boost rural broadband.

Additional high-level goals of the ABI including implementing the e-Connectivity “call to action” from the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, and establishing a coordination vehicle for the broadband provisions in the Consolidated Budget Act of 2018.

Broadband infrastructure and access is woefully inadequate in Rural America

The heart of the 62-page report consists of a brief summary of the state of broadband in America — again highlighting the lack of quality broadband in Rural America — and a series of federal “workstreams” under the new name, the American Broadband Initiative.

These workstreams piece together the actions of 25 federal agencies on the broadband front. The language suggests building upon but also “refocus[ing] the work of the Broadband Interagency Working Group.” That group was created in the second Obama administration.

In regards to broadband deployment, the report highlights the fact that only 2 percent of Americans in cities lack access to broadband (as defined by the Federal Communications Commission as 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Megabits per second upload).

The comparable number for residents of Rural America is that 30 percent lack access to broadband. The report attributes this disparity to the lower population density, increasing costs of broadband construction, and higher service charges.

Additionally, as the report notes, “The 2017 Computer and Internet Survey of over 123,000 Americans commissioned by NTIA and administered by the Census Bureau found that more than 65 percent of rural Americans use the Internet at home compared to almost 73 percent of urban residents, a gap that has remained fairly constant over the past 20 years.”

On mobile deployment, 90.5 percent of Americans living in urban areas have access to 4G LTE services, whereas only 70 percent of rural Americans enjoy that option.

A series of workstreams making agencies accountable for broadband actions on deadline

The portion of the report outlining the administration’s broadband workstreams lists multiple-step actions items — with the agencies accountable and their deadlines — on these four policy fronts:

  1. Streamline Federal Permitting
  2. Leverage Federal Assets for Broadband Deployment
  3. Maximize the Impact of Federal Funding
  4. Additional Agency Actions in Support of the Initiative

Section three, on maximizing the impact of federal funding, begins by highlighting the NTIA’s BroadbandUSA website and the importance of broadband availability data.

Such data collection began with the FCC with the agency’s Form 477, moved over to the NTIA (through a partnership with state entities) and the FCC under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, bopped back to the FCC after the end of the State Broadband Initiative, and – per legislation recently passed by Congress – will return to the NTIA in September 2019.

The section of the report on federal funding workstreams continued by discussing USDA’s new funding program, accountability measures for federal funding, engaging private sector and state leaders through NTIA’s State Broadband Leaders Network, plus partnerships promoting broadband access for veterans.

Two new broadband developments highlighted in the report include hosting a summit on broadband connectivity on tribal lands, to take place by the Spring of 2019, and a report by the FCC on broadband coverage in Indian Country, also due this spring.

The document also notes the publication of a National Science Foundation/NTIA report on the National Broadband Research Agenda, published in January 2017, and ongoing research into the subject.

It also mentioned broadband eligibility guidance in application materials for the New Markets Tax Credit Program in June 2018, building on initial guidance issued in 2015.

Press releases on the ABI from the departments of Commerce, Agriculture and Interior

Agency press releases issued with the report highlight particular approaches to broadband policy.

“This work fulfills the President’s call to use all possible policy tools to accelerate the deployment and adoption of reliable high-speed broadband connectivity in all parts of America,” read the Commerce Department’s release.

“The American Broadband Initiative will help government and industry target resources in the most efficient manner so all Americans can fully participate in advanced communications technologies,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

“A huge team effort across more than 20 agencies has gone into creating this report, and we look forward to delivering on this commitment to improve broadband deployment,” said David Redl, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and head of the NTIA.

Redl also published a separate blog post in which he noted:

  • “We congratulate the Department of Interior on the launch of the new Joint Overview Established Location Map, which pulls data related to federal lands and assets from multiple agencies into a single map. This map will help the broadband industry more easily identify the location of available assets. It is an important first step in one of the Initiative’s core priorities: making it easier for the private sector to leverage federal assets to promote investment.”

The USDA release highlighted the totemic role of an agency report from October 2017, a task force report on agriculture and rural prosperity.

“Last year, I presented the findings of the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to President Trump at the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention,” read Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s statement from his agency’s press release.

“The American Broadband Initiative Milestones Report reflects that work on behalf of taxpayers and displays the federal government’s commitment as a strong business partner to the private sector in deploying broadband infrastructure. The American Broadband Initiative also reaffirms this Administration’s commitment to reducing regulatory barriers and improving the quality of life for those living in rural America,” Perdue’s statement continued.

Although the Interior Department currently lacks a confirmed head, the agency press release on the subject noted:

“As a native of the small town of Rifle, Colorado, I know firsthand how important it is for rural communities to have to access to reliable and fast broadband services,” said Acting U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. “Interior manages nearly one fifth of the surface acreage in the United States, much of which encompasses rural areas, and therefore has an important role to play in permitting broadband infrastructure.

(Photo from the American Farm Bureau.)

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Digital Inclusion

Doug Lodder: How to Prevent the Economic Climate from Worsening the Digital Divide

There are government programs created to shrink the digital divide, but not many Americans know what’s out there.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Doug Lodder, president of TruConnect

From gas to groceries to rent, prices are rocketing faster than they have in decades. This leaves many American families without the means to pay for essentials, including cellphone and internet services. In fact, the Center on Poverty and Social Policy reports that poverty rates have been steadily climbing since March. We’re talking about millions of people at risk of being left behind in the gulf between those who have access to connectivity and those who don’t.

We must not allow this digital divide to grow in the wake of the current economic climate. There is so much more at stake here than simply access to the internet or owning a smartphone.

What’s at stake if the digital divide worsens

Our reliance on connectivity has been growing steadily for years, and the pandemic only accelerated our dependence. Having a cell phone or internet access are no longer luxuries, they are vital necessities.

When a low-income American doesn’t have access to connectivity, they are put at an even greater disadvantage. They are limited in their ability to seek and apply for a job, they don’t have the option of convenient and cost-effective telehealth, opportunities for education shrink, and accessing social programs becomes more difficult. I haven’t even mentioned the social benefits that connectivity gives us humans—it’s natural to want to call our friends and families, and for many, necessary to share news or updates. The loss or absence of connectivity can easily create a snowball effect, compounding challenges for low-income Americans.

The stakes are certainly high. Thankfully, there are government programs created to shrink the digital divide. The challenge is that not many Americans know what’s out there.

What can be done to improve it

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration created the federal Lifeline program to subsidize phones and bring them into every household. The program has since evolved to include mobile and broadband services.

More than 34 million low-income Americans are eligible for subsidized cell phones and internet access through the Lifeline program. Unfortunately, only 1 in 5 eligible people are taking advantage of the program because most qualified Americans don’t even know the program exists.

The situation is similar with the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, another federal government program aimed at bringing connectivity to low-income Americans. Through ACP, qualifying households can get connected by answering a few simple questions and submitting eligibility documents.

Experts estimate that 48 million households—or nearly 40% of households in the country—qualify for the ACP. But, just like Lifeline, too few Americans are taking advantage of the program.

So, what can be done to increase the use of these programs and close the digital divide?

Our vision of true digital equity is where every American is connected through a diverse network of solutions. This means we can’t rely solely on fixed terrestrial. According to research from Pew, 27% of people earning less than $30,000 a year did not have home broadband and relied on smartphones for connectivity. Another benefit of mobile connectivity—more Americans have access to it. FCC data shows that 99.9% of Americans live in an LTE coverage area, whereas only 94% of the country has access to fixed terrestrial broadband where they live.

Additionally, we need more local communities to get behind these programs and proactively market them. We should see ads plastered across billboards and buses in the most impacted areas. Companies like ours, which provide services subsidized through Lifeline and ACP, market and promote the programs, but we’re limited in our reach. It’s imperative that local communities and their governments invest more resources to promote Lifeline, ACP and other connectivity programs.

While there’s no panacea for the problem at hand, it is imperative that we all do our part, especially as the economic climate threatens to grow the digital divide. The fate of millions of Americans is at stake.

Doug Lodder in President of TruConnect, a mobile provider that offers eligible consumers unlimited talk, text, and data, a free Android smartphone, free shipping, and access to over 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots; free international calling to Mexico, Canada, South Korea, China and Vietnam; plus an option to purchase tablets at $10.01. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband's Impact

Senate Bill Subsidizing U.S. Semiconductor Production Clears House, Going to White House

Bill aims to strengthen American self-reliance in semiconductor chip production and international competition.

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Photo of Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, during Tuesday's press conference

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2022 – A $54 billion bill to subsidize U.S-made semiconductor chips passed the House Thursday on a 243-187, and moves to President Biden for his expected signature.

Dubbed the CHIPS Act for Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors Act for America Fund, the measure is expected to incentivize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and also provide grants for the design and deploying of wireless 5G networks. It also includes a $24 billion fund to create a 25 percent tax credit for new semiconductor manufacturing facilities.

Advocates of the measure say that it will also improve U.S. supply chain, grow U.S. domestic workforce, and enable the U.S. to compete internationally to combat national security emergencies.

The measure passed the Senate Wednesday on a 64-33 vote.

Congressional supporters tout benefits

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., voiced his support on the House floor, calling it “a win for our global competitiveness.”

The CHIPS Act of 2022 provides a five-year investment in public research and development, and establishes new technology hubs across the country.

Of the funds, $14 billion goes to upgrade national labs, and $9 billion goes to the National Institute of Standards and Technology research, of which $2 billion goes to support manufacturing partnerships, and with $200 million going to train the domestic workforce.

In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett said that America’s semiconductor industry has lost ground to foreign competitors. “Today, only 12% of chips are manufactured in the United States, down from 37% in the 1990s.”

He said relying on cheaper products produced in China and overseas for so long, it has caught up with the United States.

Bennet suggested to move manufacturing labs to Colorado, where it can support it due to the plenty of jobs in aerospace and facility and infrastructure space.

“We don’t want the Chinese setting the standard for telecommunications. America needs to lead that. This bill puts us in the position to be a world leader,” said Bennet. “We are at a huge national security disadvantage if we don’t do this.”

Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, joined his Rocky Mountain state colleague in support: “There is a real sense of urgency here to compete not only to re-establish the U.S. to make their own chips, but to compete internationally.”

He said that semiconductor chips are vital to almost every business and product, including phones, watches, refrigerators, cars, and laptops. “I’m not sure if I can think of a business that isn’t dependent on chips at this point.”\

“This is a space race,” he said. “We cannot afford to fall behind.”

Industry supporters say measure is necessary

The U.S. has lost ground to foreign competitors in scientific R&D and in supply chain industry during a recent semiconductor crisis, said France Córdova, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event on July 19. The U.S. only ranks sixth best among other prominent countries in the world for research and development, she said.

“The CHIPS Act of 2022 and FABS Act are critical investments to even the global playing field for U.S. companies, and strategically important for our economic and national national security,” said Ganesh Moorthy, president and CEO of Microchip Technology Inc.

Bide expected to sign measure

With the Biden’s Administration’s focus to tackle the semiconductor shortage and supply chain crisis through the Executive Order made in February, the Biden administration has been bullish on the passage of the CHIPS Act, in a Wednesday statement:

“It will accelerate the manufacturing of semiconductors in America, lowering prices on everything from cars to dishwashers.  It also will create jobs – good-paying jobs right here in the United States.  It will mean more resilient American supply chains, so we are never so reliant on foreign countries for the critical technologies that we need for American consumers and national security,” said Biden.

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Health

Providers Call for More FCC Telehealth Funding as Demand Grows

‘I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2022 – Health care providers in parts of America say they are struggling to deliver telehealth due to a lack of broadband connectivity in underserved communities, and recommended there be more funding from the Federal Communications Commission.

While the FCC has a $200-million COVID-19 Telehealth program, which emerged from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, some providers say more money is needed as demand for telehealth services increases.

“The need for broadband connectivity in underserved communities exceeds current availability,” said Jennifer Stoll from the Oregon Community Health Information Network.

The OCHIN was one of the largest recipients of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot program in 2009. Stoll advocated for the need for more funding with the non-profit SHLB Coalition during the event last week. Panelists didn’t specify how much more funding is needed.

Stoll noted that moving forward, states need sustainable funding in this sector. “I am hoping Congress will be mindful of telehealth,” said Stoll.

“The need for telehealth and other virtual modalities will continue to grow in rural and underserved communities,” she added.

Brian Scarpelli, senior global policy counsel at ACT, the App Association, echoed the call for FCC funding from the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes basic telecommunications services to rural areas and low-income Americans. “I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.”

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