Dish and EchoStar to Combine, Over Half of Rural Telcos Grants in 2022, FEC Considering New Rules for AI in Campaigns

The deal is expected to “amplify” 5G private networks.

Dish and EchoStar to Combine, Over Half of Rural Telcos Grants in 2022, FEC Considering New Rules for AI in Campaigns
Photo of Hamid Akhavan

August 14, 2023 – Dish Network and EchoStar Corporation announced last week that they have entered into an agreement for the companies to combine operations following unanimous approval by both boards of directors.

“By integrating Dish spectrum with EchoStar’s technological capabilities, we will have the ability to amplify 5G private networks,” said Charlie Ergen, founder of both companies and new executive chairman. “What we’re able to do is combine satellite communication and terrestrial communications, all within a 5G cloud native platform.”

EchoStar CEO Hamid Akhavan will serve as president and CEO of the combined company, headquartered in Colorado. The company has a number of customer brands with 18 million total combined subscribers.

“Bringing together Dish’s enormously valuable portfolio of nationwide a spectrum built for private networks and EchoStar’s decades of network experience… we will be able to provide a more attractive and higher quality offering to capitalize on the significant 5G private network opportunity,” Akhavan said in a statement.

Akhavan added that while it is difficult to combine satellite and telecom together, the company “was designed to put a satellite component into it.”

“As a combined company, we will offer a broad suite of robust connectivity services, using a superior portfolio of technology, spectrum, engineering, manufacturing and network management expertise. DISH shares our customer-first culture.”

Ergen founded EchoStar in 1980 as a satellite TV distributor which then developed the Dish Network brand, which was spun out in 2008. EchoStar sold its satellite broadcast business to Dish in 2019. “This is a strategically and financially compelling combination that is all about growth and building a long-term sustainable business,” he added.

Over half of rural telecoms received broadband grants last year

Accounting firm Forvis, which specializes in rural telecom, published a Rural Telecommunications Benchmark Study Friday that reported over half of rural telecoms in the United States received broadband grants in 2022.

Of the 167 rural internet providers that participated in the study, 85 received broadband grants totaling about $600 million. In comparison, the study found that 69 companies received grants totaling $336 million in 2021.

“There was a 23 percent increase in companies and a 79 percent increase in broadband grant awards over amounts awarded during 2021,” read the report. “These grant programs include state-administered broadband grant programs utilizing state funds, state-apportioned federal CARES Act funds, and American Rescue Plan Act funds, along with federal broadband grant programs administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Rural Utilities Service.”

The study found that the median grant size is $2.7 million with 19 companies reporting total grants of more than $10 million each, an increase from the 11 companies the year prior that reported the same metric. It also found that companies that received grants had higher operating income as a percentage of revenue compared to those companies that did not receive grants.

Operating expenses in comparison with operating revenue increased between 2021 and 2022 by 5.1 percent. This is almost double the increase in total operating revenue in 2022, read the report, and signals that operating expenses are on the rise for broadband projects.

FEC Considering New Rules for AI in Campaigns

The Federal Election Commission unanimously voted Thursday to seek comments about a potential rule clarification that would address the use of artificial intelligence in political campaigns.

The petitions, brought by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, request that the FEC clarify that its law against “fraudulent misrepresentation” applies to deceptive AI campaign communications. Already, 2024 campaign content has been made with generative AI, a tool that can create new content. The presidential campaigns for former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have produced high-profile videos with AI.

This is “obviously a topic that is very timely and very important. I don’t pretend that the FEC can solve all of the problems people are concerned about in the field of AI, but it is possible we can solve some of them,” said Democrat Commissioner Ellen Weintraub in the Thursday meeting.

The vote comes only months after three Republicans on the six-member commission blocked the petition in a first attempt in June. Republican Commissioner Allen Dickerson still expressed concerns about the FEC’s authority to address the use of AI in campaigns.

Dickerson said there is “nothing special” about the “buzzwords” of generative AI and deepfakes concerning the FEC’s authority to regulate fraud in campaigns.

Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president at Public Citizen, said the FEC’s vote sets a timeline that could lead to a possible rule change in time for the 2024 presidential election. “Certainly, there is enough time to put guidance in place from the FEC such that it would impact this election cycle.”

“Without them [the FEC] doing so, we’re just going to see AI ballooning, and candidates really having to undergo this accelerated level of lies and misinformation that all these deep fakes are going to bring,” said Gilbert, referring to convincing video of people in which their face or body has been digitally altered to appear like someone else.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Ben Lujan, D-N.M., issued statements in support of the FEC’s move.

“The deceptive use of AI technology, like deep fakes, poses a new threat to our elections,” Schiff posted on X, formerly Twitter, calling the move a “step in the right direction.”

Lujan added that “safeguards are needed as AI capabilities advance.”

Klobuchar said she plans to “introduce bipartisan legislation to make the FEC’s authority to deal with this clear, whether they already have the authority or not.”

Popular Tags