We are in the middle of being able to present challenges to how the BEAD program is being implemented. I have been in webinars with state broadband offices, who have told me that the only challenge possible is to test download and upload speeds in multiple locations and question the veracity of reports that have been made by the incumbent ISPs. Definitions have been created for distinguishing between unserved and underserved. In these webinars, I have questioned whether we should expand the definition of underserved to include places where only one ISP is available. While programs such as ACP, can temporarily improve the affordability of those Internet connections, it will not be long before such programs expire and an ISP with a monopoly in a geographic area will be free to extract as much as possible from the captive audience. One of our courses includes the book “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age” by Susan Crawford. See videos with Susan at the end of this post.
We put BEAD information into our ChatGPT bot for advice:
The “INTERNET FOR ALL, Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, Initial Proposal Guidance” document does provide opportunities to address the issue of monopoly ISPs and make the internet more affordable for disadvantaged segments of the population. The BEAD Program aims to expand high-speed internet access, focusing on underserved and unserved areas, as well as promoting affordability and adoption of broadband services.
Key points from the document include:
- Funding Availability: The BEAD Program offers substantial funding for projects that expand broadband access, focusing on areas lacking adequate internet service.
- Prioritizing Unserved and Underserved Areas: The program prioritizes funding for areas with no broadband service or areas with service below the minimum speed threshold. This directly targets regions where monopolistic practices of ISPs have left consumers with few or no options.
- Promoting Competition: The program encourages projects that increase competition among broadband service providers. This can help break down monopolies or duopolies in certain regions, potentially leading to better services and lower prices for consumers.
- Affordability Programs: There is an emphasis on affordability programs, ensuring that low-income households have access to affordable internet services. This aligns with the goal of making the internet accessible to all, regardless of economic status.
- Community Engagement and Local Solutions: The program supports community-driven solutions, recognizing that local entities often understand their specific broadband needs better. This approach can empower communities to develop alternatives to monopoly ISPs.
- Digital Equity and Inclusion: The guidance emphasizes digital equity and inclusion, ensuring that the benefits of broadband expansion reach all communities, including those historically marginalized or underserved.
- Accountability and Transparency: There are requirements for transparency and accountability in how the funds are used, which can help ensure that the program’s goals are met effectively.
In conclusion, the BEAD Program’s guidance document does provide a framework that can help change the status quo of ISP monopolies, making internet services more accessible and affordable, especially for disadvantaged communities. It represents a significant step towards more equitable internet access, although the actual impact will depend on the effective implementation of the program.
What are the steps that need to be taken by community stakeholders who wish to take advantage of the framework offered by the BEAD program to change the status quo of ISP monopolies, who control the marketplace, by forming community owned Internet networks? Please name the positions and organization type for community stakeholder changemakers and what is the message to offer them regarding how this would be possible?
To take advantage of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and challenge the status quo of ISP monopolies, community stakeholders need to engage in a strategic, collaborative process. Here are the steps and key positions or organization types for community stakeholder changemakers, along with a message to offer them:
Steps for Community Stakeholders:
- Needs Assessment and Community Engagement:
- Identify unserved and underserved areas within the community.
- Engage with local residents, businesses, and community organizations to understand their broadband needs and challenges.
- Formation of a Task Force or Committee:
- Establish a dedicated group including representatives from various sectors to lead the initiative.
- This group could include local government officials, education leaders, healthcare representatives, and business leaders.
- Develop a Broadband Expansion Plan:
- Collaborate with technical experts to create a feasible plan for broadband expansion in line with BEAD program guidelines.
- The plan should address infrastructure development, service affordability, and digital literacy.
- Securing Funding and Partnerships:
- Explore funding opportunities under the BEAD program.
- Seek partnerships with existing ISPs, non-profit organizations, or form a new entity if necessary.
- Execute the broadband expansion plan, ensuring compliance with BEAD program requirements.
- Monitor and adjust the implementation as needed.
- Sustainability and Growth:
- Develop strategies for the long-term sustainability of the network.
- Consider expansion and continuous improvement based on community feedback.
Key Positions and Organization Types:
- Local Government Officials:
- Mayors, City Council Members, County Commissioners.
- Message: “Leverage BEAD funding to foster digital inclusivity and economic growth in our community.”
- Educational Leaders:
- Superintendents, School Board Members, University Administrators.
- Message: “Support digital equity for students and educators to enhance educational opportunities.”
- Healthcare Representatives:
- Hospital Administrators, Health Department Officials.
- Message: “Improve healthcare access through telemedicine by ensuring reliable broadband access.”
- Business Community:
- Chamber of Commerce, Local Business Owners.
- Message: “Boost local businesses and attract new industries with high-speed internet.”
- Non-Profit Organizations and Advocacy Groups:
- Digital Equity Advocates, Community Organizations.
- Message: “Collaborate to bridge the digital divide and empower our community.”
- Technical and IT Experts:
- IT Professionals, Telecommunications Specialists.
- Message: “Utilize your expertise to build a community-focused, resilient broadband network.”
- Community Members:
- Residents, especially those in underserved areas.
- Message: “Your voice matters. Help shape a broadband solution that meets your needs.”
By engaging these stakeholders in a collaborative and strategic manner, communities can utilize the BEAD Program to develop broadband networks that serve the public interest, challenge ISP monopolies, and promote digital equity and economic development.
An anonymous colleague was less optimistic
“Most states have made the same (fairly egregious) errors:
- Putting their eggs into the ACP basket. ACP was a necessary kludge, but has utterly failed as a digital equity program. The time was supposed to be spent figuring out an actual solution to the concomitant problems of digital redlining & discriminatory and exorbitant pricing. Instead, ACP has become a direct subsidy to ISPs, and for every ACP recipient, there are 2-3 families that aren’t taking advantage of the program (and everyone else in the country is likewise paying exorbitant rates for often-substandard service). In essence, the public interest sector has been solely focused on extending ACP instead of addressing the underlying problem (exorbitant pricing). And today, nearly every state digital equity plan is almost entirely focused on ACP as their digital equity strategy.
- Public input is pro forma and often ignored. While state broadband authorities are happy to leverage public input that supports their already-planned interventions (e.g., ACP), pretty much all public input talking about more meaningful intervention (e.g., rate regulation, common carriage, eminent domain, open access, competition policy) gets routinely marginalized (if not entirely ignored). As such, the public interest/public comment portions ofthese processes are a fairly grave disservice — presenting an opportunity for input that is not meaningful in many cases.
- No measurable/meaningful metrics of success. Almost zero states have created meaningful metrics of success for their interventions. We know that broadband “access” is a remarkably poor metric for actual “adoption” rates — so measuring the before and after of how many households actually have broadband service would seem an obvious intervention (yet no state is actually doing that). Meanwhile, the #1 barrier to adoption (after “does broadband exist”) is price — and yet, zero states are conducting state-wide surveys of what residents are actually paying for broadband service. Basically, without a “before and after” assessment, we will have no meaningful way to measure the actual impact of these broadband implementations and digital equity interventions. The universality of the lack of any scientific/objective evaluation plan is remarkably telling, to say the least.
Long story short — our major tactic (ACP) is myopic; our public input/feedback/peer review is marginalized whenever it’s politicallyinexpedient; and we’re not using any sort of concrete scientific methodology toevaluate the efficacy of our overarching intervention. Which is to say, we’re making the exact same mistakes for BEAD as we made during the BTOP program of a dozen years ago (and for the TOP program back in the 1990s). As such, I anticipate that we’ll have much the same result — lots of back-slapping and dropping of the “Mission Accomplished” banner in the immediacy, followed by a slow acknowledgement (over many years) that we didn’t actually solve the problem and/or meaningfully move the needle on digital equity.
The reason for my hard-hitting critique is that we are living through the third era of digital equity interventions that have been utterly mismanaged. Watching the same failures being reinstituted each team is mindboggling — however, today, the collateral damage caused by delayed digital equity (from the collapse of local economies, to the alienation from social and civic arenas, and the resulting detriments to family wealth [for example, the market value of a house without broadband today is crushing many rural families’ retirement dreams]), are all leading us toward myriad crisis points for those on the wrong side of the digital divide. I see very few individuals (and almost zero leaders) who are treating this issue as the crisis it very much is.”
Evidence that the problem is not new, rather it is systemic
On February 13, 2019, the Harvard Law School Library hosted Susan Crawford for a book talk and discussion. In the Q&A, learn about “the illusion of the government versus private industry debate.” For those who can’t wait jump to Susan’s answer to the question “What is the most doable policy?”
How the US Fell Behind in Internet Access
The video below is now old (2013), but it addresses the essential problems with how we have approached Internet access. It features Susan Crawford, former special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation, and author of “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.” I had the privilege of meeting Susan Crawford in 2007 when she was teaching at the University of Michigan Law School and I was the elected Ann Arbor City Council member on the Cable Commission. At that time she told me how law professors argued with her about why we should need faster Internet.