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What’s New in Civic Tech: FCC May Vote on Broadband Labels

Plus, Iowa awards more than $200 million in federal broadband grant funding to rural communities; New York City puts out the call for Open Data Week civic tech programming proposals; and more.

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may soon vote on establishing easy-to-read labels for broadband that would require Internet service providers to include accurate information about prices, introductory rates, data allowances and broadband speeds.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel recently announced the possibility within the group’s January meeting agenda, noting that part of the recently passed infrastructure act as it relates to broadband directs the commission to consider this proposal.

“It also called for new transparency in the broadband marketplace to make sure consumers know what they’re paying for and to increase incentives for carriers to compete on price and service,” Rosenworcel wrote in the agenda posting.

The FCC’s next meeting — where consideration of the proposal would occur — is slated for Jan. 27. This all comes after President Biden also urged the FCC to work on this label within an executive order in July related to the FCC’s potential reinstatement of net neutrality. The FCC also rolled out broadband labeling made to look like the nutrition labels that go on food back in 2016, but that system was voluntary for service providers. It was later nixed altogether.

This move to require greater transparency from providers comes at a time when interest in higher rates of Internet connection is soaring. Advocates and government officials have reported a massive uptick in society-wide understanding of broadband as a necessity after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Essentially, the pandemic forced everyone to rely in much greater ways on digitized society from within their homes, which meant some folks who didn’t have a device or a reliable connection were completely left out, while others who had only used Internet in the home sporadically were newly aware of speed and infrastructure limitations.

These labels would address concerns in the digital inclusion space that provider info can be difficult — if not at times impossible — to find. (Zack Quaintance)

IOWA AWARDS $210M IN RURAL BROADBAND GRANTS


Iowa has awarded $210 million in broadband grants through the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant program.

The money is going to a group of 160 recipients, which were announced Tuesday. They will receive funding to deploy new broadband infrastructure through a grant opportunity that was initially announced in October 2021. The state says that the investment will help serve more than 39,000 homes, schools and businesses.

Iowa officials also noted in the announcement that the high number of applicants and funding requests demonstrates the need for broadband expansion in the state. The Iowa Office of the CIO will be expediting an additional grant opportunity in the first half of 2022 to continue expanding access.

The program was created to enable communications service providers — from private companies to local governments — to receive financial support amounting to up to 60 percent of the project cost in their efforts to install broadband infrastructure in underserved and unserved areas. The program was launched following the passage of the Empower Rural Iowa Act in 2019, and has since supported 197 projects and awarded over $307 million in grants. (Julia Edinger)

NEW YORK CITY CALLS FOR OPEN DATA WEEK PROGRAMMING PROPOSALS


New York has posted this year’s call for civic tech projects around Open Data Week.

The deadline is Wednesday, Jan. 12, and organizers are looking for anyone who can speak to the value of public interest technology, from teachers to data scientists to artists to government employees.

New York’s 6th Annual Open Data Week Festival is slated to take place March 5 through March 13. (Zack Quaintance)
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.