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Getting Older Adults Connected, Nextlink Internet Partnership, Tacoma Convention Center Gains 5G Connectivity

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Photo of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, in June 2019, by Gage Skidmore used with permission

February 1, 2021—“The data is clear: older adults have been falling increasingly behind in digital connectivity, which negatively affects their overall health and well-being,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, in a statement released Wednesday. To combat this, Older Adults Technology Services, Inc. and the Humana Foundation are launching a national campaign called Aging Connected, an unprecedented effort aiming to connect at least one million older Americans to high-speed internet by 2022.

“America’s older population is facing a public health crisis as the digital divide restricts their ability to stay healthy, meaningfully engaged, and financially secure amid the pandemic and beyond,” said Thomas Kamber, executive director of OATS.

The Humana Foundation, in partnership with OATS, released a report on Wednesday finding that nearly 22 million older Americans still lack wireline broadband access at home, representing 42 percent of the nation’s over-65 population.

The report estimates that 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths among older Americans were a result of being unable to access needed online resources from home during the pandemic. Access to broadband not only limits access to essential public health information, social services, and digital healthcare services like telehealth and apps that manage chronic conditions, but it can also lead to risk of social isolation, which has been linked to negative health outcomes, reduced quality of life and premature death.

The report finds that technology is exacerbating social divisions and inequalities, creating “disturbing correlations” between digital disengagement and race, disability, health status, educational attainment, immigration, rural residence, and income.

To address these concerns, OATS and the Humana Foundation will utilize a four-pronged approach: publicize and clearly articulate the value of broadband to seniors, prioritize social equity and inclusion, expand access to low-cost offers, and develop content, communities and experience for older adults to increase utilization of broadband services.

American Tower partners with Nextlink Internet to expand wireline broadband

American Tower, a wireless communications infrastructure company, and Nextlink Internet, an internet service provider, announced a partnership to deploy fixed broadband service to residents and small businesses in rural areas across the Central U.S. on Thursday.

Nextlink Internet, a Connect America Fund II recipient and provisional winner in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Program, is planning to collocate on over 1,000 American Tower sites to facilitate rapid deployment of fixed broadband service to residents. The long-term agreement is designed to bring connectivity to residents across 11 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, and Wisconsin.

“Since our CAFII funding initiated in Summer 2019, our team has put forth tremendous effort in scaling our operational service area into rural markets, and we are continually looking at opportunities to partner with others to accelerate that pace even further,” said Bill Baker, CEO of Nextlink Internet. “American Tower is the ideal partner and our preferred tower provider in helping us meet critical build deadlines and expedite internet access in underserved areas,” he added.

“We look forward to strengthening our partnership with Nextlink Internet through this mutually beneficial agreement,” said Steve Vondran, executive vice president of American Tower. “We’re excited to work with Nextlink Internet and aid in their efforts to help close the digital divide in rural America,” he said.

Tacoma’s Downtown Marriott partners with Mobilitie to ramp up 5G connectivity

A 5G, state-of-the-art wireless network is coming to Marriott’s new Tacoma Downtown hotel in Washington. Marriott is partnering with Mobilitie, the nation’s largest privately-held wireless infrastructure firm, to bring 5G wireless capabilities to the property.

The hotel, opened in November of 2020, has 304 rooms across 22 floors. The Greater Tacoma Convention Center is directly connected to the hotel and has been named one of North America’s top convention centers. In addition to connecting the hotel to 5G, Mobilitie has more than 130 distributed antenna systems and 190 wireless access points installed in both the Convention and Trade Center, as well as in the nearby 23,000 seat Tacoma Dome arena.

“Building a reliable wireless connection is a big part of the amenities we wish to provide, and we’re excited for guests to enjoy high-speed connectivity in our new luxurious hotel,” said Ben Osgood of Marriott Tacoma Downtown. “Mobilitie’s work will help ensure our guests have access to a quality 5G connection during important business meetings, trade shows and even relaxing leisure time,” he added.

“It’s been a pleasure building a relationship with the Marriott Tacoma Downtown team as we prepare to provide one of its newest properties with a reliable and trusted network,” said Rebecca Onaitis, national director of wireless solutions for Mobilitie. “We’re looking forward to expanding our footprint in the great city of Tacoma as we seek to help keep all of Pacific Northwest locals and visitors connected,” she added.

Broadband Roundup

Date Set for Sohn Hearing, Criticism of Tech Legislation, New ILSR Leadership

Sohn and Biden NTIA nominee Alan Davidson will undergo confirmation hearings next Wednesday.

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FCC commissioner nominee Gigi Sohn

November 24, 2021 – The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for President Joe Biden’s nominee for commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, Gigi Sohn, during a session next Wednesday.

Sohn, a former senior aide to President Barack Obama’s FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, will have her nomination considered along with Alan Davidson, Biden’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That same day, the Commerce Committee also plans to vote on the nomination of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to another term at the FCC.

Sohn’s nomination has already faced Republican criticism over her liberal policy positions.

Through nine months of the Biden presidency, the FCC has not been able to address key issues due to the vacancy on the commission resulting in a 2-2 split between Democrats and Republicans. Sohn’s confirmation would make for a full slate that prevents tied votes of the commission.

Going forward, net neutrality policy would be a key focus of the FCC, as Rosenworcel told senators during her confirmation hearing that she backed net neutrality rules yet did not offer many details on how she would rollback such rules by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Congress’ regulatory proposals would create even larger tech monopolies than already exist: Opinion

American Enterprise Institute published a blog post Wednesday by nonresident senior fellow Mark Jamison critiquing as unproductive recent government proposals to regulate competition among tech companies.

Jamison states that “dynamic” competition already exists between the companies often cited as the giants of the tech industry and smaller companies, and that proposed government policy could decrease industry competition from its current levels.

In his blog post, Jamison says that the Ending Platform Monopolies Act from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, would force Amazon to stop selling its own products, leading it to lose uniqueness and become almost identical to eBay in a digital market that cannot support two identical services. Jamison contends that should one site go under, small businesses would be left with less competitive options than before the introduction of the bill.

Further, Jamison holds that should Amazon comply with the bill and cease operations with small businesses, market statistics show that eBay would face even less competition as a platform for small businesses than Amazon does now.

Jamison said he believes that the Open App Markets Act – brought forth by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota – would make iPhones less secure by requiring that app stores other than Apple’s be permitted on phones. He says this would decrease users’ willingness to try new apps and diminish competition between Apple and Alphabet (Google) for app developers by removing developer options.

New ILSR community broadband outreach team lead

The Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance announced Tuesday that DeAnne Cuellar will serve as Community Broadband Outreach team lead.

Cuellar, a communications strategist, served as San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s digital inclusion appointee to the city’s Innovation and Technology Committee. In her work for the city, she acted on several policy and funding priorities to close the digital divide.

Additionally, she has worked as a social impact entrepreneur, co-founding several cross-sector nonprofit initiatives to advocating for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in historically underrepresented communities.

The Community Broadband Networks Initiative expects that they will see an increased workload as local, state and federal governments increase their efforts to find broadband solutions and an “unprecedented” amount of funding is made available by the government for broadband infrastructure projects over the next few years.

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Broadband Roundup

TPI New Broadband Map, Justice Dept. Stands for Section 230, Ericsson Looks to Acquire Vonage

TPI released their broadband map, which tracks speeds, availability, and adoption rates across the country.

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President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute Scott Wallsten speaking during the TPI Aspen Forum in August.

November 23, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute announced Monday the beta release of their “TPI Broadband Map,” which tracks bandwidth speeds, the availability of broadband, and adoption rates from across the country.

The map allows users to access published data from several sources, including FCC 477 forms, Emergency Broadband Benefit data, Ookla, Microsoft, and more.

The data can also be viewed on several different levels from the state and country level, all the way down to school districts, tribal tracts, and zip codes.

Three metrics can be viewed through the map: average maximum available download and upload speeds and the percent of households with broadband access. Users can also adjust the minimum upload and download speeds to suit their definition of broadband and are able to view the regional data going back to 2016.

During the TPI Aspen Forum in August, panelists agreed that mapping would play a crucial role in ensuring that marginalized, underserved, and unserved communities would get the coverage and resources they need from infrastructure legislation.

Though the website is still in its beta stage, those interested can request temporary access to view the data online.

Justice Department defends Section 230

In a departure from the previous administration’s agenda and President Joe Biden’s own past statements, Biden’s Justice Dept. made a point to defend Section 230 in a lawsuit brought against Facebook by Donald Trump.

In May, Biden had previously revoked one of Trump’s executive orders aimed at dismantling Section 230. Though his campaign and administration used it to a greater extent than many other politicians, Trump was a longtime critic of social media, often accusing it of censoring conservative voices in American politics.

These criticisms came to a head after Trump was banned from Twitter and several other social media outlets in January of 2021.

While on the campaign trail, Biden himself called for the revocation of Section 230.

Notwithstanding Biden’s and Trump’s dissatisfaction with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the Justice Department intervened to defend the section during litigation surrounding Trump’s Facebook lawsuit – one of three class action lawsuits Trump filed in July against Facebook, Twitter, and Google, along with their CEOs.

Ericsson eyes Vonage

Ericsson, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of 5G technology and hardware, is poised to purchase Vonage, a cloud communications provider, in a deal valued at approximately $6.2 billion.

“Ericsson and Vonage have a shared ambition to accelerate our long-term growth strategy,” said Vonage CEO Rory Read, ““We believe joining Ericsson is in the best interests of our shareholders and is a testament to Vonage’s leadership position in business cloud communications, our innovative product portfolio, and outstanding team.”

Ericsson said it intends to leverage Vonage’s presence in the communication platform as a service, or CPaaS, market to “democratize network access by offering [Application Programming Interface] enabled communications services.” Additionally, Ericsson stated that it expects the CPaaS market to reach $22 billion by 2025, growing 30 percent annually.

Should the deal pass successfully, Vonage will “become a wholly owned subsidiary of Ericsson and will continue to operate under its existing name.”

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband in Build Back Better, ISPs Customers Exposed to Hackers, Rural ISP Funding in Louisiana

Another $1 billion in broadband expansion funds could be available in the Build Back Better Act, which passed the House on Friday.

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President Joe Biden

November 22, 2021 — A total of about $1 billion could be made available for broadband under the Build Back Better Act.

Approved by the House on Friday, the $1.7 trillion legislation heads to the Senate for revision this week.

Out of the $1 billion allocated for broadband, the majority of the funds – $475 million – would be used to fund grants for devices like laptops and tablets administered through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency of the Commerce Department. Another $300 million would provide additional funds to the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund, which addresses distance learning needs at schools and libraries, while $100 million would fund the FCC’s outreach and education about its broadband affordability programs.

In its current form, the NTIA would also receive an additional $280 million in grants for public-private pilot projects to increase access to affordable broadband in urban communities.

Meanwhile, $12 million would be used to establish councils for further broadband expansion, including $7 million to create a Future of Telecommunications Council under the Commerce Department that would show how 6G wireless can serve low-income communities, and $5 million to create an Urban and Suburban Broadband Advisory Committee.

The final broadband provisions of the bill may be revised or removed once Senate negotiations begin. To pass the Senate, the bill needs the support of all 50 Democratic Senators and avoid partisan disruption.

Millions of broadband users exposed to hackers

Millions of Sky Broadband customers were vulnerable to hackers for over a year.

A software bug affected about six million of the U.K. company’s routers that allowed hackers to infiltrate home networks, Yahoo reported Friday.

The bug, which has since been fixed, took 18 months to address. A hacker would have been able to “reconfigure a home router” by directing the user to malicious website with a phishing email. According to Pen Test Partners, the security firm that found the bug, hackers could have “taken over someone’s online life” by stealing passwords for banking, investing, and social media.

“We take the safety and security of our customers very seriously,” Sky said.” After being alerted to the risk, we began work on finding a remedy for the problem and we can confirm that a fix has been delivered to all Sky-manufactured products.”

Pen Test Partners Ken Munro said he’s baffled by Sky’s delay in fixing the bug. “While the coronavirus pandemic put many internet service providers under pressure, as people moved to working from home, taking well over a year to fix an easily exploited security flaw simply isn’t acceptable,” he said. Munro recommends that anyone with a router should change the password from the default one.

Rural ISP owner aims to provide internet to rural Louisiana

The owner of a rural Louisiana internet service provider aims to bring broadband to St. Mary county.

Chris Fisher, owner of Cajun Broadband, detailed a grant submission he will submit to the Granting Underserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities program. The program, funded by the Louisiana Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity, oversees spending of $180 million in federal funds to supply broadband to 400,000 households in the state.

Fisher’s grant requests $800,000 to provide internet service to nearly 600 residents in St. Mary county. He says he has been the only ISP to address the county’s council on the opportunity since May.

“I didn’t realize the need for rural broadband until I started my company, which began initially because my kids couldn’t get internet,” Fisher said. Fisher estimates it will cost $10 to $15 million to connect the rural areas of the parish with internet.

A councilmember said that the plan is long overdue. “We’ve talked about this for years, and we all agree that we need to do something to increase access for all of the citizens of our parish, and not just the affluent ones. This is a do or die, once in lifetime opportunity.”

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