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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.)

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

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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Broadband's Impact

New Report Recommends Broadening Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues

A Mattey Consulting report finds broadband revenues can help sustain the fund used to connect rural and low-income Americans.

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Carol Mattey of Mattey Consulting LLC

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2021— Former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission Carol Mattey released a study on Tuesday recommending the agency reform the Universal Service Fund to incorporate a broad range of revenue sources, including from broadband.

According to the report by Mattey’s consulting firm Mattey Consulting LLC, revenues from “broadband internet access services that are increasingly used by Americans today should contribute to the USF programs that support the expansion of such services to all,” it said. “This will better reflect the value of broadband internet access service in today’s marketplace for both consumers and businesses.”

Mattey notes that sources of funding for the USF, which are primarily from voice revenues and supports expanding broadband to low-income Americans and remote regions, has been shrinking, thus putting the fund in jeopardy. The contribution percent reached a historic high at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that, though Mattey suggested it could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years.

“This situation is unsustainable and jeopardizes the universal broadband connectivity mission for our nation without immediate FCC reform,” Mattey states in her report, “To ensure the enduring value of the USF program and America’s connectivity goals, we must have a smart and substantive conversation about the program’s future.”

According to Mattey’s data, the assessed sources (primarily voice) of income will only continue to shrink over the coming years, while unassessed sources will continue to grow. Mattey’s report was conducted in conjunction with INCOMPAS, NTCA: The Rural Broadband Association, and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“It is time for the FCC to take action, and to move away from the worst option of all – the status quo – that is jeopardizing the USF which is critical to connecting our nation,” the report said.

John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB, echoed the sentiments expressed by Mattey in her report, “We simply must put the USF funding mechanism on a more stable and sustainable path,” he said, “[in order to] strengthen our national commitment to broadband equity for all.”

Mattey report uniform with current recommendations

Mattey’s research is generally in line with proponents of change to the USF. Some have recommended that the fund draw from general broadband revenues, while others have said general taxation would provide a longer lasting solution. Even FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested that Big Tech be forced to contribute to the system it benefits from, which the acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said is an “intriguing” idea.

The FCC instituted the USF in 1997 as a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The fund was designed to encourage the development of telecom infrastructure across the U.S.—dispensing billions of dollars every year to advance the goal of universal connectivity. It does so through four programs: the Connect America Fund, Lifeline, the rural health care program, and E-Rate.

These constituent programs address specific areas related for broadband. For example, the E-Rate program is primarily concerned with ensuring that schools and libraries are sufficiently equipped with internet and technology assistance to serve their students and communities. All of these programs derive their funding from the USF.

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Digital Inclusion

Outreach ‘Most Valuable Thing’ for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Rosenworcel

FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said EBB will benefit tremendously from local outreach efforts.

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Internet Innovation Alliance Co-Chair Kim Keenan

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday that a drawback of the legislation that ushered in the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program is that it did not include specific funding for outreach.

“There was no funding to help a lot of these non-profit and local organizations around the country get the word out [about the program],” Jessica Rosenworcel said during an event hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance about the broadband affordability divide. “And I know that it would get the word out faster if we had that opportunity.”

The program, which launched in May and provides broadband subsidies of $50 and $75 to qualifying low-income households, has so-far seen an uptake of roughly 5.5 million households. The program was a product of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“We gotta get those trusted local actors speaking about it because me preaching has its limitations and reaching out to people who are trusted in their communities to get the word out – that is the single most valuable thing we can do,” Rosenworcel said.

She said the FCC has 32,000 partners and has held more than 300 events with members of Congress, tribal leaders, national and local organizations, and educational institutions to that end.

“Anyone who’s interested, we’ll work with you,” she said.

EBB successes found in its mobile friendliness, language inclusion

Rosenworcel also preached the benefits of a mobile application-first approach with the program’s application that is making it accessible to large swaths of the population. “I think, frankly, every application for every program with the government should be mobile-first because we have populations, like the LatinX population, that over index on smartphone use for internet access.

“We gotta make is as easy as possible for people to do this,” she said.

She also noted that the program is has been translated into 13 languages, furthering its accessibility.

“We have work to do,” Rosenworcel added. “We’re not at 100 percent for anyone, and I don’t think we can stop until we get there.”

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