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Will Rinehart: Early Reports Show the Emergency Broadband Benefit is Not Reaching Its Intended Audience

A new county-level data and maps will help researchers and leaders understand impacts of the EBB program.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Will Rinehart of the Center for Growth and Opportunity

Late last year, Congress set aside $3.14 billion to help low income households pay for broadband service and connected internet devices. In May, the Federal Communications Commission went live with the Emergency Broadband Benefit  Program, which now includes over 6.4 million enrolled households. But the program is temporary and slated to end either when funds are exhausted or six months after the end of the COVID-19 health emergency.

Since Congress is likely to extend the program through the infrastructure bill, policymakers need to understand the full extent of the program’s impact. To this end, we are releasing a county-level dataset for researchers and leaders alike that will help everyone better understand the EBB program. As many had hoped, our analysis of these enrollments suggests they are going towards low income communities.

Paradoxically, however, the program is not going towards communities where there is little uptake of broadband. Early data analysis shows that areas with low broadband uptake are less likely to enroll in the program. If leaders want to connect the unconnected, in addition to low income groups, other programs will be needed. EBB isn’t targeting these low-adoption communities.

The basics of the the Emergency Broadband Benefit

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program provides households up to $50 per month for broadband service. Those living on tribal lands could receive enhanced support of up to $75 per month toward broadband services. The program also provides a one time device discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer or tablet purchased through a participating provider.

The EBB was funded through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed on December 27, 2020. Two months later, on February 26, the FCC released a report and order, which established the EBB, laid out the rules of the program and then delegated the authority to the Universal Service Administrative Company, which the FCC created to administer the programs. In May, the new program went live and since then, USAC has released data on the number of households in a claims tracker.

Eligibility comes through one of four ways. First and most important, a household might already meet the qualifications for participation in the Lifeline program. The Lifeline program began in 1984 under Ronald Reagan‘s administration to support telecommunication services for low income households. Through the years, the FCC issued a set of orders extending the scope of the Lifeline program from its origins in plain old telephone service to mobile phones and then mobile internet. Wisely, the FCC has extended the National Verification system to accept new households. The vast majority of EBB enrollments have come through this method, at just under 79 percent.

Otherwise, a household can get the support if they have been approved for free or reduced school lunch or breakfast, experienced a substantial loss of income due to the pandemic, or received a Federal Pell Grant.

The expansion of the EBB program

As of October 10, 2021, around 6.4 million households have enrolled to be a part of the EBB. The first few weeks of the program saw the largest growth period, but that has since decreased. In the first full week of the program, nearly 1 million households signed up, and in the second week half a million followed. Since those first weeks in May, the rate of new signups each week has dropped to about 200,000 new non-tribal homes and about 2,000 tribal homes. The graph below charts the number of new enrollments each week, combining both tribal and non-tribal households.

Getting support to 6.4 million households has cost $600 million so far, $546 million of which went to service support and $53.9 million went to devices. But not every household is taking the full amount of support. The current utilization rate is about 75 percent of the maximum allowed. Most people aren’t taking the full $50 support.

Assuming that this growth rate continues, the number of households enrolled might grow to 10 million in January. If the infrastructure bill is not signed, the program might run out as early as April 2022. Less aggressive estimates of growth only push out the termination date just a month longer to May. Finally, assuming that no more people are added to the program, the $3 billion mark will be reached in July. This last assumption provides a baseline for comparison. Congress, however, seems poised to pass the infrastructure bill, which would extend the program with another $14 billion.

The reach of the EBB

To make the data more approachable, October's release has been converted from ZIP code data provided by USAC to county-level data using Housing and Urban Development crosswalks. It is available in the graph below.

Early analysis of the EBB data from Scott Wallsten at the Technology Policy Institute “suggests that areas with higher shares of low income households with broadband are signing up at lower rates than elsewhere.” In the Appendix attached to this post, the results of a new study that I conducted are detailed. It aims to chart the relationship among EBB enrollments, the percent of low income homes in a region, and the number of homes without Internet access. In contrast to Wallsten, it found that enrollments maintain a positive relationship with poverty, which makes sense. More poverty in a region should mean that the area is receiving more assistance through EBB.

But it also found that enrollments were negatively connected to the number of households without broadband in a region. Although there are many possible reasons for this finding, it should give leaders pause that areas with more people offline have fewer EBB enrollments. The relationship should be positive. While none of this is the final word on the EBB program, it is clear that the FCC needs to conduct further analysis.

While they are at it, the FCC should also properly study the effectiveness of the Lifeline program, which the Government Accountability Office has recommended since 2015. As I noted previously, “The lesson from policymakers is clear. Cost might be a barrier for some, but lowering cost doesn’t get a lot of people newly connected.” The EBB has been a lifesaver for many, but getting the unconnected onto the internet will require something more.

Will Rinehart is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Growth and Opportunity, where he specializes in telecommunication, internet and data policy, with a focus on emerging technologies and innovation. He was formerly the Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum and before that a research fellow at TechFreedom and the director of operations at the International Center for Law & Economics. This piece is reprinted from Utah State University with permission.

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

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Expert Opinion

Leo Matysine: The Impact of C-Band on Advancements in Mobile and Fixed Broadband

As technology is more advanced and connected to everything, the need for higher capacity networks will continue to grow exponentially.

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The Author of this Expert Opinion is Leo Matysine, Co-Founder of MatSing

When consumers think of 5G, often their minds automatically think mobile connectivity. The official C-Band launch this past January brought the idea of increased spectrum connectivity into the limelight. While this had been something anticipated by the telecommunications industry for years, finally seeing it come to fruition allowed the mainstream media to become invested in the benefits this 5G spectrum could offer.

When 5G was first introduced five years ago, it caught the attention of many who soon learned the challenge in speedy implementation due to strict infrastructure requirements. The introduction of C-Band provides a solution, enabling 5G upgrades while simultaneously addressing the coverage and capacity needs.

This heightened implementation will allow users to start seeing improvements across the board, but not just in the form of mobile connection. Outside of the benefits for mobile carriers, the advancements C-Band provides will enter in a new era for fixed broadband access especially in rural communities.

The need for fixed broadband was magnified during the pandemic as users need for internet access from home drastically increased. This exposed the digital divide rural communities are facing, causing it to gain traction with the White House. As a result, a new infrastructure bill aimed at improving the underlying network infrastructures was developed as fiber-to-the-home and fiber-to-the-premise in rural settings have proven to be too expensive and impractical for wide implementation.

C-Band provides an alternative option allowing for wireless fixed broadband access through antennas. The mid-band frequency spectrum (1GHz to 6GHz) can provide rural users, both businesses and households, with options in providers and services they’ve been unable to experience previously.

C-Band also allows for higher speed and capacity

On top of the fixed broadband perspective where C-Band frequency spectrums are enabling rural connectivity, it allows for higher speed and capacity. The spectrums being utilized in the past while generating mobile coverage, had disadvantages in capacity and experience.

The mmWave spectrum (24GHz +) can transmit data at hyper speeds but only from limited distances, requiring line-of-site installations, whereas sub-1GHz offers the opposite. The mid-band spectrum C-Band falls under acts as a perfect balance, transmitting data at high speeds and capacities while providing the coverage needed to cover vast areas. Deployed with lens antenna technology, the additional capacity can be enabled with fewer antenna locations as compared to other antenna types, leading to financial advantages.

From a more localized vantage point, C-Band is now being integrated into marquee venues and stadiums. Within these smaller spaces, improved bandwidth and superior performance is essential given the concentrated number of users seeking connection and the inherent need for more content sharing. In order to support the mobile experience fans now expect from these venues, carriers and venue owners have turned to C-Band deployments.

Deployed atop the 4G/LTE foundation, the C-Band antenna builds off this functionality while adding the increased speed and capacity accustomed to the mid-band spectrum. Several venues will see increased results with these implementations allowing fans to experience a more reliable and overall better experience at their game days or concerts in the upcoming months.

Looking ahead, these milestones only mark the beginning of where C-Band implementation will take the telecommunications industry. As technology continues to become more advanced and connected to everyone and everything, the need for higher capacity networks will continue to grow exponentially.

Leo Matysine is the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of company MatSing, the worlds leading manufacturer of large size, light weight RF lenses. MatSing introduces a new age of antenna design for the Telecommunications industry. 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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Expert Opinion

Patrice Williams: Reimagining the Future of Work With Digital Plus Human Efforts

‘Digital workers can help in the end-to-end automation of business processes by mimicking human behavior.’

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The Author of this Expert Opinion is Patrice Williams, Business Development Representative at Vuram.

Organizations across geographies are fast-embracing the hybrid and remote working models as they are embracing their digital transformation journeys to navigate the new normal. Adopting a digital workforce is essential to overcome a series of challenges, while it cannot replace humans. The future of work will witness humans operating side-by-side with software robots to pursue business goals and tackle future challenges.

The inclusion of a digital workforce allows organizations to function seamlessly around the clock while addressing labor shortages, learning gaps, upskilling requirements, workforce flexibility, effective crisis management, and profitability.

Who are digital workers?

The digital workforce is a variety of robotic and automated solutions that work in tandem with humans to accomplish tasks that are complex, time-consuming, repetitive, and mundane. They perform complex tasks end to end so that humans can focus on creative, critical, and high-value-added activities. The digital workforce comprises technologies like robotic process automation, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more.

Adopting digital workforce

Globally, when businesses started operating remotely, adopting digital workforce technologies helped organizations to continue operations uninterrupted by functioning seamlessly round the clock and achieving speed and efficiency.

Aided by hyperautomation technologies, the digital workers can help in the end-to-end automation of business processes by mimicking human behavior to perform actions that were previously, typically done only by humans. Following are some of the use cases:

Chatbots are increasingly being used across industries, including healthcare and banking. They can streamline customer support by handling volumes of simple customer queries around the clock, bringing down the costs, and adding efficiency. Interestingly, chatbots are predicted to save $8 billion by 2022 and save 2.5 billion hours by 2023, according to a study by Juniper Research.

Chatbots add efficiency to the new normal set up when people are working in different locations and are reimagining roles focusing on quality and cognitive skills. When integrated with the IT helpdesk, the bots can empower employees to resolve simple issues on their own, thus removing the burden on human employees.

With AI and natural language processing capabilities, these bots can understand the simple language of the users and help them with the right answers. They can help a new joiner complete the onboarding formalities, like filling out forms and helping them with instant answers to common questions about company policies, roles, responsibilities, etc.

The process of onboarding customers is different across industries, be it retail, corporate, banking, or healthcare. Irrespective of the industry, it is one of the most important and complex tasks with compliance checks, stringent regulations, documentation, security, and much more.

For instance, let’s take the bank. It involves several key steps like evaluating the customer’s profiles, recording customer data, performing background checks, fulfilling legal obligations, opening the account, interacting with the customer for any support, and finally, the account becomes operational.

AI can transform business experiences in a post-COVID world

In a post-COVID world where social distancing and other hygienic protocols are at the forefront, AI can transform the banking experience for customers. Digital onboarding can reduce time and costs while addressing the prominent challenges and ensuring compliance. In a digital environment, form fillings can be done automatically with OCR, conversational AI and a virtual assistant can support customers at any time and machine learning can be used to verify customer data across all the documents.

Fighting fraud by detection across stages is a critical part of financial institutions that handle volumes of unstructured data. Manual efforts in identifying, analyzing data, user profiling involves more effort, time, and prone to errors. RPA bot infused with AI and machine learning capabilities can curb financial frauds by monitoring every activity in the process loop and immediately notifying any concerns.

For example, credit scoring can be monitored effectively in the insurance claims process with the bots reviewing customer claims, matching them with the existing data, and monitoring the customer behavior to raise any abnormal behavior patterns. When trained, the bot can prevent money laundering by raising alerts of potentially fraudulent transactions.

Intelligent document processing helps organizations that process or handles several types of documents daily to reap the benefits of intelligent document processing. The process automatically reads, extracts, and analyzes from structured and unstructured data like online forms, resumes, email messages, invoices, text files, audio files, video files, and a lot more.

Functions like opening emails, downloading and reading attachments, filling forms, copying/pasting documents, extracting data from social media channels or other forums, reading/writing databases, and collecting and recording data, can be carried out with the help of intelligent document processing. Organizations can effortlessly search, extract, and analyze data for decision-making.

As the future of work is exploring ways to support the human workforce to perform at their highest potential while creating a happy working environment, the digital workforce can benefit the process in numerous ways.

Contrary to the popular myth that robots will replace human roles, the technologies will complement human efforts by adding quality, efficiency, and job satisfaction to perform better in the new digital workplace. Further, technology will enable businesses to overcome human limitations to maximize human potential nurturing a supportive working environment with more inclusive work culture.

Patrice Williams is the Business Development Representative at Vuram, a hyperautomation services company. Vuram has received several prominent recognitions, including the Inc 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in the United States, HFS hot vendor in 2020, and Rising Star- Product Challenger in Australia by ISG in ISG Provider Lens 2021 report. Williams has more than 20 years of experience as an operational manager and working in a multinational working environment, and has led Vuram’s hiring activities and people management. 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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Digital Inclusion

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk: Three Keys to Building Transformative Broadband Plans

‘While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.’

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Samantha Schartman-Cycyk, President of the Marconi Society

This week, I am thrilled to join state, local and tribal leaders from across the U.S. as we convene in Cleveland, Ohio, for the Broadband Access Summit. As a local and long-time advocate for digital inclusion, I am proud that the Pew Charitable Trusts and Next Century Cities selected Cleveland, one of the least connected cities in the country, as the site for a timely conversation about how we can effectively spend the unprecedented levels of federal funding for broadband infrastructure.

While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.

The good news is that digital equity is finally front and center—where it belongs—and it has taken nearly twenty years of advocacy and practice to get us to this point.

Following are three key lessons I have learned to ensure efforts to expand connectivity are community oriented and sustainable.

1. Bring in local leadership—now

Across the country, areas that have a dedicated local leadership responsible solely for digital equity and inclusion are outpacing their counterparts. Someone, or ideally a team, needs to wake up every day thinking about what digital equity means in their community, how to make a reality in a way that supports key priorities, and where the true needs are. We have seen benefits in cities such as Detroit and Seattle, who have taken this approach.

We must support these leaders with accurate data. At the Marconi Society, a nonprofit that champions digital equity, I helped launch the National Broadband Mapping Coalition to help leaders from rural communities and urban ‘digital deserts’ identify broadband gaps. The NBMC has developed a no-cost mapping toolkit to help educate and guide communities.

2. Plan for sustainability while you have strong funding

We need to anchor digital inclusion efforts to long-term state programs to solidify funding and reinforce the intersectional impact of digital inclusion. Typically, digital inclusion programs blossom within the period of investment but falter when funding runs out, only to peak again when new grants or federal money become available.

This process wastes resources, relationships, and time, resulting in stop-and-start programs that aren’t able to address residents’ needs nor build momentum.

For example, a state like Maine with an older rural population is likely to prioritize services that allow for aging in place and telemedicine care for seniors. States like Utah or Texas, with relatively young populations, might place a higher priority on education and K–12 STEM pipelines. This alignment will allow state leaders to prioritize and bake sustainability into their broadband plans, create digital equity programs that support their priorities, and incorporate data collection into their work.

3. Create the workforce your state will need

In order to implement strong broadband plans that create true digital equity, state and local governments need a pipeline of people who understand the unique intersection of technology, policy, and grassroots digital inclusion work needed to bridge the digital divide. As of last year, nearly 20 states did not even have a dedicated broadband office to begin this work. With funding already being dispersed to states, we are at a critical moment.

To help create this workforce, the Marconi Society conceptualized and is developing the first-ever “Digital Inclusion Leadership” professional certificate with Arizona State University. The program will launch in Fall 2022 and will include top-ranked professors and leading industry experts as teachers and advisors.

I believe that this interdisciplinary workforce will continue to be in high demand as states integrate digital equity into their long-term priorities.

After years of helping to lay the groundwork for the current burst of funding and activity around digital equity, I can say that our work has only just begun. We have the gift of beginning with knowledge and funding that can be truly transformative. The digitally equitable future we are fighting for is closer than it has ever been before—let’s make sure we get this right.

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk is President of the Marconi Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing digitally equitable communities by empowering change agents across sectors. Over her 20-year career, she has built forward-thinking programs and tools to drive impact on digital inclusion at the local and national levels, through projects with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), community training, and data collecting efforts. The Marconi Society celebrates and supports visionaries building tomorrow’s technologies upon the foundation of a connected world we helped create. 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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