May 14, 2020 — The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, also called the HEROES Act, contains $5 billion for discounted broadband service designed to increase broadband connectivity.
The HEROES Act, which was introduced by Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., is the next stimulus measure being considered by Congress in response to the coronavirus. It extends upon the CARES Act, passed in March, and provides various benefits such as tax breaks for first responders.
The bill’s so-called Emergency Connectivity Fund works in conjunction with the Federal Communication Commission’s existing LIFELINE program and allocates $5 billion for discounted broadband service.
Rural and low-income connectivity problems have been in the spotlight recently, with some unable to make a proper transition to working from home. A variety of smaller grants have been handed out by agencies like the USDA and the FCC, mostly for broadening existing infrastructure and preparing new networks in underserved areas.
However, the proposed legislation would subsidize broadband companies to allow the unconnected to connect to the $50-or-less broadband option of their choice.
The bill would expedite the approval process for household subsidized broadband, granting discounts to requestees within two days of the applicant’s initial request.
Broadband providers that supply an affected household with a connected device will receive up to $100 if it meets specific guidelines.
In addition to subsidized broadband, the bill specifies that affected persons will receive unlimited calling minutes and unlimited data per month, as well as 4G speeds where available.
The bill also stipulates several restrictions on the broadband providers to safeguard against abuse and corruption of the funds.
For example, if passed, it would be unlawful for broadband providers to terminate or change consumers’ broadband access if they cannot pay. This prohibition would also apply to the imposition of late fees, data limits, or data overage fees on individual persons and small businesses.
The bill allocates $200 million to facilitate the rollout of application methods for the service, such as online portals for municipalities across the country.
Huizenga introduced the bill in the house on April 3rd, and it was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means the same day. Although it has been highly publicized, representatives have not yet voted on the bill, and may not for some time.
This lack of movement is not unusual, as such legislation rarely moves faster than a snail’s pace on the Hill. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., introduced the CARES Act in January, and it went through several evolutions before Congress and the adopted it into law in late March.
Several organizations are already applauding the HEROES Act. Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy and General Counsel for media and internet watchdog Free Press Action, said the bill is necessary.
“Millions of people across the country couldn’t afford to get online before the pandemic hit. Over the last two months, millions have lost their jobs in record numbers and may now be unable to pay for essential services like internet access,” he said.
Wood also said that to preserve the livelihoods of millions, Congress needs to act quickly.
“The need to get and keep everyone connected to the internet isn’t up for debate, but we must act quickly … The HEROES Act is an important step in that direction,” he said.
Dianne Crocker: Recession Fears Have Real Estate Market Forecasters Hitting the Reset Button
Growing fears of recession trigger pullback on previous rosy forecasts.
The lyrics to “Same As It Ever Was” by the Talking Heads certainly don’t apply to how 2022 is playing out in the commercial real estate market. Two quarters of negative economic growth has put a damper on market sentiment and triggered fears that the U.S. economy is heading for a recession. By midyear, market analysts were taking a good, hard look at their rosy forecasts from the start of the New Year and redrawing the lines.
Once upon a time…
At the start of 2022, forecasters were bullishly predicting that commercial real estate investment and lending levels would be nearly as good as 2021. This was significant, considering that 2021 set new records for deal-making and lending volume as the debt and equity capital amassed during the pandemic while looking for a home in U.S. commercial real estate.
What a difference a few quarters have made. Virtually, all the predictions that started the New Year were obsolete by mid-summer. The abrupt shift in market conditions is palpable and surprised just about everyone. Now, markets are reaching an inflection point that is in sharp contrast with the strong rebound of last year.
The two I’s: Inflation and interest rates
At the core of the recent upset in market sentiment is the persistence of high inflation, which seems to be ignoring all attempts by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates and bring prices down. Higher inflation is having a ripple effect throughout the economy, pushing up the costs of construction materials, energy, and consumer goods. Among the notable economic indicators showing stress at mid-year was the GDP, which fell for the second consecutive quarter, and the Consumer Price Index, which jumped 9.1% year-over-year in June – the highest increase in about four decades.
In July, the CPI fell to 8.5%, an encouraging sign that inflation was beginning to stabilize. By the latest August report from LightBox, however, hopes were dashed when the CPI showed little improvement, holding firm at a still high of 8.3%.
The market is responding to a higher cost of capital as lenders tap the brakes. As the cost of capital rises with each interest rate hike and concerns of a recession intensify, many large U.S. financial institutions are pulling back on their loan originations for the rest of 2022 and into 2023. This change in tenor is a significant shift, given that 2021 was a record-breaking year for commercial real estate lending. Many lenders have already shifted to a more defensive underwriting position as they look to mitigate risks.
The Mortgage Bankers Association, which had previously predicted that lending levels in 2022 would break the $1 trillion mark for the first time revised their forecast downward in mid-July. By year-end, the MBA now expects volume to be a significant 18% below 2021 levels—and one-third lower than the bullish forecast made in February. Now, investment activity is cooling as higher borrowing costs drive some buyers from the market.
In the investment world, transactions were down by 29% at midyear due to a thinning buyer pool as higher rates impact access to debt capital. Market volatility is causing investors, lenders, and owners to rethink strategies, reconsider assumptions, and prepare for possible disruption.
Looking ahead to year-end and 2023
The rapid and diverse shifts in the market make for an uncertain forecast and certainly a more cautious investment environment. The battle between inflation and interest rates will continue over the near term. As LightBox’s investor, lender, valuation, and environmental due diligence clients move toward the 4th quarter—typically the busiest quarter of the year–unprecedented volatility is driving them to recalibrate and reforecast given recent market developments.
Continued softness in transaction volume is likely to continue as rates and valuations establish a new equilibrium. If property prices begin to level out, there will be more pressure on buyers to consider how to improve a property to get their return on investment. The next chapter of the commercial real estate market will be defined by how long inflation sticks around, how high interest rates go, and whether the economy slips into a recession (and how deeply). The greatest areas of opportunity will be found in asset classes like office and retail that are evolving away from traditional uses and morphing to meet the needs of today’s market. Until barometers stabilize, it’s important to rethink assumptions, watch developments, and recalibrate as necessary.
Dianne Crocker is the Principal Analyst for LightBox, delivering strategic analytics, best practices in risk management, market intelligence reports, educational seminars, and customized research for stakeholders in commercial real estate deals. She is a highly respected expert on commercial real estate market trends. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to email@example.com. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
White House Presses Outreach Initiatives for Affordable Connectivity Program
White House officials urged schools and other local institutions to engage in text-message and social media campaigns for the ACP.
WASHINGTON, September 15, 2022 – The White House on Monday urged schools and other local institutions to engage in text-message and social media campaigns, PSAs, and other community-outreach initiatives to promote enrollment in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program among of families with school-age children.
The Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes internet service bill for low-income households. Monthly discounts of up to $30 are available for non-tribal enrollees, $75 for applicants on qualifying tribal lands. In addition, the ACP offers enrollees a one-time discount $100 on qualifying device purchases.
To boost ACP enrollment, speakers encouraged schools to reach out directly to families. Bharat Ramanurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council, said text-message campaigns drive up enrollment in government programs. A Massachusetts text-message campaign doubled ACP enrollment rates in subsequent days, said Ramanurti.
Also highlighted was the administration’s “ACP Consumer Outreach Kit,” which provides partners with resources, including fliers, posters, audio PSAs, social-media templates.
In fact, many of these tactics have proved effective in increasing ACP enrollment among telehealth patients. In addition, Microsoft and Communications Workers of America recently announced a circuit of ACP sign-up drives in that will tour several states including Michigan, New York, and North Carolina.
Political considerations as November nears…
As students go back to school and midterm elections loom, new ACP sign-ups could benefit the enrollees as well as the Democrats’ political chances.
Public officials and private experts alike recognize the value of community involvement in extending broadband connectivity and digital literacy nationwide. Marshaling community institutions – like schools – to maximize broadband access could help Biden and other Democrats overcome inflation-driven electoral headwinds in the November midterms. The White House obtained commitments from 20 providers to offer high-speed internet plans for $30 per month or less to ACP-eligible households – this means no out-of-pocket costs for recipients of ACP discounts. Free broadband coverage could bring the administration – and all Democrat candidates, by extension – back into the good graces of low-income families.
Federal Government Must Collect More Granular Data on Minorities to Aid in Initiatives
Discussion on the “data gap” comes as the nation tries to connect the unserved and underserved.
WASHINGTON, August 31, 2022 – In order to serve the needs of all Americans, the federal government must gather and act on more granular data on underrepresented minority groups that have been historically overlooked in the data-gathering process, said Denice Ross, the White House’s chief data scientist.
Ross argued at an online event hosted by the Center for Data Innovation on Tuesday that many minority groups – including African Americans, Native Americans, the disabled, and the LGBT community – are disadvantaged by the “data divide,” a term which refers to disparities in the amount and quality of available data on various groups.
Ross was citing a report issued earlier this year by the Equitable Data Working Group, a task force created by President Joe Biden earlier this year, which said policymakers are often unable to perceive or ameliorate problems facing minority communities if data on those communities are unavailable or insufficiently disaggregated. Disaggregated data, the report says, is “data that can be broken down and analyzed by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status, age, or other key demographic variables.”
The report recommends a federal data collection strategy that safeguards privacy and facilitates analysis of “the interconnectedness of identities and experiences,” or how individuals’ various minority-group identities compound the societal disadvantages they face. The report also advocates the creation of “incentives and pathways” promoting minority representation in the data collection process.
The recommendations come as the broadband industry and federal agencies try to improve knowledge of where there are unserved and underserved areas for broadband connectivity and to take action to improve digital literacy. The Illinois Broadband Lab and other state broadband offices, for example, implement a community-up approach to data gathering. Direct community involvement provides data insights that help states deliver coverage to in-need communities, officials say.
In the panel discussion that followed Ross’s opening remarks, experts and academics agreed that community outreach is a necessary step in closing the data divide. Dominique Harrison, director of bank Citi Ventures’ Racial Equity Design and Data Initiative, said that some in the African American community view data collection with skepticism.
Christopher Wood, executive director of LGBT Tech, argued that the passage of a federal privacy standard is a critical step toward establishing trust in government data collection. The most recent attempt to pass a national privacy regime, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, was approved by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce last month.
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