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Coronavirus Roundup: Georgia’s On the Mind of Public Access and Broadband Equity Advocates, Libra and Digital Dollar

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Photo of Meredith Rose of Public Knowledge from a Federal Trade Commission tweet in October 2018

On Monday the United States Supreme Court determined that Georgia’s state-codified annotation system of law is not eligible for copyright protection.

Public interest groups criticial of a “copyright maximalist” position applauded the decision, Georgia v. Public Resource.Org.

“Today’s decision is a resounding victory for public access to the law,” said Meredith Rose, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge.

“The Supreme Court has held for over a century that edicts of government cannot be locked away under copyright protection,” said Rose.

“Today the Court held that to be true even when the act of compiling and composing those government works is outsourced to a private party under a work-for-hire agreement, and the legislators cannot be considered ‘authors’ under the Copyright Act when they are performing their official duties. Citizens have a fundamental right to access the law in its entirety; copyright law cannot, and should not, stand in the way.”

Libra drove e-currency talk in Congress, argues author in Forbes

Facebook’s attempt at cryptocurrency called “Poject Libra” drove the idea of the “digital dollar” that is currently circulating in Congress, argues Jason Brett of Forbes.

Two bills, the Banking For All Act and the Automatic BOOST to Communities (ABC) Act have recently been proposed. The benefits of a “digital dollar” in today’s world would be twofold: An easier way for the government to send monthly assistance checks to Americans, and to cut the spread of virus via paper money, which has been shown to harbor the disease for up to four days.

In May 10, 2019, the Senate Banking Committee requested more information from Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook’s cryptocurrency project. One July 15, the committee held a hearing on the project with David Marcus, head of the project at Facebook.

Now two bills have been proposed with very similar features as to Facebook’s Libra, such as providing a free e-Wallet and accompanying currency. However, many in the cryptocurrency industry agree that rushing out a digital platform would be a bad idea despite the great demand for such a tool.

”Realistically, the US will not implement a digital dollar in time to make a difference for the COVID-19 response,” said Kevin Werbach, Professor of Legal Studies and Ethics at Wharton University. “However, the current situation highlights why this country must move forward toward a modern digital currency capitalizing on blockchain technology.”

Stories from the digital divide include gaping holes in the ‘homework gap’

The Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, high-performance broadband, has been collecting unique perspectives about the importance of broadband in their “Digital Beat” column.

As a result of the new coronavirus, more than 300,000 students from Georgia’s university system have returned home to finish their courses online. Hence the homework gap is a real and pressing problem.

“Now more than ever, I have realized the great digital divide in our state, and because of it, high-achieving students, particularly in rural Georgia, are suffering immensely,” writes Briana Hayes, a third-year student at the University of Georgia.

Hayes recounts the story of Landon Clark, a Goldwater Scholar and student at the University of Georgia:

“I had to move back home in southwest Georgia, where my Wi-Fi is extremely bad and only one company offers cellular data services where I live. Because of this, my Internet often cuts in and out. When I try to watch a lecture video, it constantly buffers. To compensate for this, I have to download the videos, but I am finding that each video takes 6-8 hours to download onto my computer.

“I am afraid I will have to withdraw from classes that I am physically not able to complete due to being unable to attend lectures, take quizzes/tests, and watch any sort of online video. I live in Leesburg, Georgia, a town of two stoplights and less than 3,000 people. Adjacent to my city is Albany, Georgia, which currently has the highest deaths per capita in the United States. I am currently triple majoring in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Biology.

“I currently have a 4.0 and was recently named a 2020 Goldwater Scholar, the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering in America. However, I need to opt for the pass-fail system in order to not be overwhelmed or overly stressed.

“The USG is not ‘aiming to a higher standard’ by refusing pass/fail,” concludes Clark. In fact, it is doing the opposite. The USG is disadvantaging students living in rural Georgia who are effectively unable to complete their online classes due to poor Internet, favoring those from urbanized areas who have quality Internet access.”

After analyzing Landon Clark’s perspective and combining it with her own research, Hayes notes that “a system that instructs students to “reach higher” without ensuring all students have sufficient access to the necessary resources is utterly broken. It is analogous to telling students to climb without offering a ladder first.”

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Broadband Roundup

All States Want BEAD Funds, Digicomm Secures Investment, Glo Fiber Expanding in PA

The NTIA announced all states and territories have applied for initial planning money from the $42.5B BEAD program.

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Photo of NTIA head Alan Davidson, left, via Flickr

August 17, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Wednesday that all states and territories have submitted applications for initial planning funds from its $42.5 billion broadband infrastructure program.

The announcement comes two days after the deadline to apply for the funds from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, part of the federal government’s Internet for All initiative. The NTIA said in a press release it will be evaluating the applications and “make awards available as expeditiously as possible.”

The initial planning funds could be used for activities including research and data collection, outreach and communications, technical assistance to potential subgrantees, training for employees of a broadband program, establishing a broadband office, mapping, surveys identifying underserved areas, and marketing the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband subsidy program, the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Within 270 days of receiving the funds, recipients are required to submit a five-year action plan establishing the goals and priorities for internet service, which will serve as a needs assessment, the NTIA said.

“The Internet for All Initiative will provide states and territories the resources they need for thorough planning, which is essential to ensure funding is used equitably, efficiently, and effectively,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information. “I want to thank every state and territory for meeting our deadline so that we can close the digital divide as quickly and completely as possible.”

The unprecedented amount of money, which spawned from the passing of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act in November, received letters of intent to participate from all 50 states, D.C., and the territories, the NTIA announced last month.

Digicomm gets private equity investment

A private equity firm that has made investments in the likes of Charter Communications announced Tuesday it is making an investment in broadband distributor and reseller Digicomm.

Crestview Partners will make an undisclosed contribution to the Colorado-based company, which specializes in hybrid connections involving both coaxial and fiber lines for broadband.

“We believe that Crestview can support Digicomm’s growth through organic investments and M&A to expand the Company’s breadth of product and service offerings as it continues to serve as a value-added partner to its customers in the evolving broadband and communications industries,” Brian Cassidy, co-president and head of media at Crestview, said in a press release.

The investment will also involve adding John Schanz, former chief network officer at Comcast Cable, along with members of Crestview, including Cassidy, to Digicomm’s board.

Crestview has previous made investments in Congruex, WOW!, Insight Communications, Interoute Communications, and OneLink Communications.

Glo Fiber expanding in Pennsylvania

Glo Fiber announced Tuesday it has reached agreements with municipal officials to deploy direct fiber lines to homes in several areas in York County, Pennsylvania.

The areas include York Township, Dallastown Borough, Red Lion Borough, Yoe Borough, Windsor Borough, Windsor Township, and Spring Garden Township.

The subsidiary of Shenandoah Telecommunications Company said construction in the county began this month and will continue into 2023, bringing fiber and symmetrical download and upload speeds, streaming TV and unlimited local and long-distance phone service to over 24,000 homes and businesses throughout the county.

“We have a long, successful history of offering fiber service to large businesses in York County,” Chris Kyle, vice president of industry and regulatory affairs at Shentel, said in a press release. “It is exciting to continue this work by bringing Glo Fiber to thousands of county residents and businesses. Our network is capable of multi-gig service that will provide the speeds citizens need on a daily basis as well as offering a much-needed competitive choice.”

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Points to Congress on USF, Texas Hires LightBox, Lit Communities Hires Lindsay Miller

The FCC will let Congress make changes to its authority to add contributors to the Universal Service Fund.

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Photo of Lindsay Miller, who was hired by Lit Communities as consulting president

August 16, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is leaving it to Congress to institute legislative reforms to allow it to make changes to the contribution base of a fund that supports basic telecommunications services to Americans, according to its report to Congress released Monday.

The agency has been fielding comments about what it should do about the Universal Service Fund, a nearly $10-billion pot of money that goes to support broadband expansion in low-income and rural areas. The fund has been under scrutiny because it relies largely on declining voice service revenues – often passed down to customers – which has called into question its sustainability. Some have called on the agency to unilaterally expand the base to include broadband internet revenues.

But in its report on the future of the USF, the agency said its authority on making such a change to the base is not that clear.

“On review, there is significant ambiguity in the record regarding the scope of the Commission’s existing authority to broaden the base of contributors,” the report said.

“As such, we recommend Congress provide the Commission with the legislative tools needed to make changes to the contributions methodology and base in order to reduce the financial burden on consumers, to provide additional certainty for entities that will be required to make contributions, and to sustain the Fund and its programs over the long term.”

Experts have previously argued that the commission has the authority to broaden the base without requiring congressional approval. Other recommendations to support the fund include having the entire fund supported by general taxation, while another suggests having big technology companies that rely on the internet to contribute to it.

For the latter to happen, the report notes that there would need to be an examination and application of the definition of “telecommunications” to those big technology companies.

“We recommend that in considering changes to the contributions base, the Commission should closely evaluate this record and take efforts to avoid raising the cost of broadband service and shifting the financial burden from corporations to consumers at a point in time when the federal government is working to address affordability challenges contributing to the digital divide,” the report said.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who raised the idea of a contribution from Big Tech, said he was pleased the report recommends Congress provide the tools necessary for changes, including possibly expanding the base to include those new contributors.

Texas hires LightBox for broadband map

The Texas Comptroller’s Office announced this month that it is contracting LightBox, a location data company, to develop the state’s broadband availability map.

The map is said to help the comptroller’s Broadband Development Office determine which areas are in most need of broadband connectivity and thus where to invest public money. It will feature addresses including homes, businesses, public and charter schools, governmental entities, anchor institutions, military bases, community colleges and tribal areas, an August 8 press release said.

“When this map is complete, the BDO along with community leaders and members of the public will be able to extract information from the map to better understand the needs of their regions and to make better decisions establishing programs related to broadband development,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said in the release.

LightBox, which is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, also has partnerships with Georgia, Alabama and Montana to develop broadband coverage maps. The company’s vice president of government solutions told Broadband Breakfast that states are making their own maps to also challenge any deficiencies in the Federal Communications Commission’s own upcoming maps – which could mean more or less federal dollars.

Lit Communities hires broadband attorney consulting president

Fiber broadband consulting company Lit Communities announced Tuesday it has hired Lindsay Miller, a parnter at Ice Miller LLP, as president of consulting.

The Alabama-based fiber construction and design firm said in a press release it frequently collaborates with Miller’s law firm on “consulting engagements that include community broadband interest assessments, service access mapping, incumbent provider analysis, and financial and network modeling.

“Lindsay Miller is well known in the community broadband space and we’re delighted to have her join our team and devote her energy and knowledge full-time to the broadband industry,” Lit founder and CEO Brian Snider said in the release. “Her passion for the business and deep connections with its many, diverse stakeholders will serve Lit and, most importantly, all of our current and future clients.”

With over 15 years of experience in broadband initiatives, Miller advises municipalities on how to utilize public-private partnerships for fiber and wireless expansion.

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Broadband Roundup

Carr ‘Surprised’ by RDOF Denials, ‘New Normal’ on Supply Chain, $68M for Student Connectivity

Carr said he was notified via press release of the FCC decision to deny RDOF money to Starlink and LTD.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

August 15, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said he was surprised by the commission’s decision to deny Starlink funding from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“I am surprised to find out via a press release – while I am on a work trip to remote parts of Alaska – that the FCC has made this significant decision,” Carr said about Wednesday’s decision.

“I will have more to say because we should be making it easier for unserved communities to get service, not rejecting a proven satellite technology that is delivering robust, high-speed service today,” he said. “To be clear, this is a decision that tells families in states across the country that they should just keep waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide even though we have the technology to improve their lives now.”

Carr is a Republican who was on the Ajit Pai-led commission that awarded funding for the satellite provider and the LTD Broadband, which also saw its winnings revoked by the commission on Wednesday and told this publication that it is looking into next steps.

Gary Bolton, the head of the Fiber Broadband Association, meanwhile celebrated the decision Wednesday, saying it “provides clarity and a path forward for fiber and closing the digital divide, while returning $885.5M of this precious funding back into the RDOF fund for more appropriate broadband projects.”

Bolton noted that the awarding of funding to Starlink in certain areas would have precluded those areas from getting fiber connections from the $42.5-billion broadband infrastructure program run by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The federal government has previously made numerous reference to fiber as its preferred option for the future of broadband in the country.

Telecom head says there’s ‘new normal’ on supply chain

The CEO of Consolidated Communications said he sees a new view on the supply chain following disruptions in product supply over the pandemic, according to reporting Thursday from Fierce Telecom.

The backup in the supply chain on many products overseas has caused delays in shipments for telecom and technology equipment that have pushed back some broadband builds in the country. Some have suggested that telecommunications executives will now need to consider stocking up on inventory well in advance of construction to make sure projects are completed on time.

“I wouldn’t say you can guarantee it’s all behind us now, but we’ve got more visibility than we ever have into how to manage it and more forward information on when people are running into either demand challenge or raw material challenges,” said Bob Udell during a Cowen investor conference, according to Fierce.

“I think we’re in a new normal that will continue to stabilize to something different than what we’ve known in the past,” he’s cited as saying in the story.

The company is currently in the midst of a fiber expansion, which Udell said its diversity of suppliers put it in good shape to continue, the story said.

FCC commits another $68M to student connectivity

The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday it is committing another $68 million from the Emergency Connectivity Program, a fund intended to help students continue school work remotely.

The latest round will go toward funding broadband connections and devices for over 100,000 students across the country, including in California, Florida, North Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, according to the release.

“As we inch closer to the start of another school year, the Homework Gap remains a real concern for far too many students who lack internet access after the school day ends,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We’re working hard to fix this and support students as they prepare to return to the classroom in the coming weeks and this latest round of funding will help us do just that.”

So far the agency has committed over $5.7 billion from the $7.1 billion fund, which has gone toward nearly 12 million devices and seven million broadband connection to roughly 10,000 schools, 900 libraries, and 100 consortia.

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