Author: Elizabeth Hicks

Spectrum Allocation Will Fuel America’s Digital Future

Consumers don’t tend to think of data as a finite resource. Instead, the focus of the average smartphone user or online gamer is on how much they’ve paid their wireless provider per month for 5G and “unlimited data.” 

But data is not actually unlimited. There is only so much available, a function of what is known as spectrum allocation. The economic model of supply and demand might as well not be applied here because the United States is doing very little to meet present or future demand.

The pandemic shift toward remote work, at-home learning and online retail shopping has on its own been a huge driver of strain on spectrum network capacity, with nothing to say of the coming needs of AI, self-driving cars, and low-Earth-orbit satellites providing internet. Wireless networks carried more data in 2021 than in the entire seven-year span from 2010 to 2017. 5G home broadband experienced a growth rate 140 times faster than all other home broadband options combined.

If we want greater capacity for our connected devices, 5G on the fly, or even just marginally faster cellular networks, the government will have to massively expand the availability bands for our devices to broadcast and receive.

Earlier this year, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo iterated that message, unveiling the beginning of a National Spectrum Strategy, which will aim to define the range of spectrum that becomes available for use, and how it will be doled out.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will need to identify 1,500 megahertz of spectrum within the next decade or sooner. It is expected this new radio wave real estate would service autonomous vehicles, smart home devices, and “always-on” internet products powering industry and households alike.

There have been surefire warnings that without additional licensed spectrum, U.S. operators will struggle to meet surging wireless demand, facing a spectrum deficit of 400 MHz within the next five years and 1,400 MHz by 2034.

The 4 GHz (4.4-4.94 GHz) band is pivotal in maximizing 5G potential as this band enables a multitude of advanced 5G use cases, from broadcasting to autonomous vehicles, requiring a mix of coverage and capacity. Moreover, auctioning this band aligns with international harmonization efforts, ensuring that the U.S. remains at the forefront of wireless infrastructure development while delivering lower prices to consumers.

Similarly, the 7/8 GHz band presents an opportunity for further deployment of 5G networks and services. Recent research by NTIA reveals it is nowhere near being fully used by federal incumbents, making it ripe for exploration and auction. In this vein, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel rightly calls for the evaluation of the 7-15 GHz spectrum range to deliver faster speeds and wider coverage. That’s even better.

The higher capacity of the 7 GHz band can enable 5G networks to serve densely populated areas, fostering smart cities and private 5G networks for campuses, manufacturing facilities and other crucial institutions.

Recognizing the early positive benefits of opening up the spectrum will be key to giving entrepreneurs and consumers alike a chance to prosper even further down the road. A National Spectrum Policy should keep all of this in mind while remaining steadfast in empowering consumers and bridging the digital divide.

By prioritizing spectrum allocation for licensed, full-power commercial use, we ensure that consumers have access to reliable, high-speed wireless networks that meet their growing demands. It’s a strategy that fuels economic growth, fosters innovation, and secures America’s position as a global telecommunications leader.

In the age of connectivity, consumers deserve nothing less.

Originally published here

Alabama Ban on Vaping in Cars Worsens Public Health

While the effort to reduce secondhand smoke inhalation from combustible cigarettes is noble, vapor produced from e-cigarettes does not contain the harmful tar and chemicals found in combustible cigarettes. It does not create the same degree of harm.

MONTGOMERY, AL — This spring, Alabama state lawmakers passed a bill (HB3) that is now in effect, prohibiting the use of cigarettes and vaping products in vehicles when a child 14 years of age or younger is present.

Elizabeth Hicks, US Affairs Analyst with the consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Center, said of HB3, “Legislation like this further demonstrates how regulators view vaping and smoking as the same, when in reality, numerous studies have shown vaping to be 95% less harmful. While the effort to reduce secondhand smoke inhalation from combustible cigarettes is noble, vapor produced from e-cigarettes does not contain the harmful tar and chemicals found in combustible cigarettes. It does not create the same degree of harm.

“Treating vaping like cigarettes hampers public health by deterring smokers from adopting a less harmful nicotine option. With 8,600 annual smoking-related deaths in Alabama, regulators should view vaping as a harm reduction tool rather than regulating it as cigarettes,” added Hicks.

Read the full text here

Harm reduction, not policing, will boost public health in Alabama

By: Elizabeth Hicks & Stephen Kent

In a landmark move earlier this year, Alabama state lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind legislation effectively outlawing the use of cigarettes and vaping products in vehicles when a child 14 years of age or younger is present. That law is now in effect statewide. While the intent behind this legislation is undoubtedly noble, the treatment of vaping and smoking as equals is going to cause real harm in Alabama. This will not go the way lawmakers think. 

The idea of the new law is simple. Adults should not be subjecting young children to cigarette smoke and adversely impacting their health when the kids have no say in the matter. Smoking, after all, is a choice that adult consumers make for themselves. 

Older folks who grew up in the heyday of cigarette smoking often share some memories of being in smokey cars with the windows rolled up, toughing it out at a time when smokers weren’t widely aware of the hazard posed by second-hand smoke to their passengers. That time is past. 

Acknowledging this fact, we have to all ask ourselves what protection is owed to young passengers in the car with smokers, and also what kind of laws will reduce harm for both children and their parent/guardian in the driver’s seat. Alabama Representative Rolanda Hollis made an effort to address this in HB3, but the law’s failure to make distinctions between cigarettes and vape products which have been shown to be 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes, is not going to be a net benefit to public health. 

Alabama is a state that sees a staggering number of smoking-related fatalities, close to 8,600 deaths annually, along with nearly $309 million in Medicaid costs incurred by the state. Reducing these harms is important, and it should start with incentivizing cigarette smokers to switch. Passing laws that insinuate the two products are equally harmful reads to a smoker as an excuse to keep on with the product they’re accustomed to. Switching can be hard, but the potential for small social benefits like not being kicked to the curb every time you want to smoke is one of those things that makes the switch to vaping easier. The same goes for smokers behind the steering wheel. 

Harm reduction strategies work. There is little evidence, however, to show that punitive measures like $100 fines for smoking in the car whilst parenting is going to be a boon to public health in states like Alabama. 

As is well known, cigarettes contain a harmful cocktail of chemicals and tar, which contribute to respiratory diseases and cancer. These components are not present in the vapor produced by e-cigarettes.  Toxicologist Igor Burstyn of Drexel University noted that the contents of e-cig vapor “justifies surveillance,” but that exhaled vapor contains so little contamination that the risk to bystanders is insignificant. This has been supported by Public Health England’s updated review of evidence in 2018. 

Tacking financial penalties to vaping in the car, even with the windows down and fresh air flowing in, smacks of the early days of COVID-19 alarmism when police were arresting people for being outside at public beaches or doing watersports. When it comes to vaping, the level of risk and the effort that will be required to police the activity, just don’t line up. 

Yes, nicotine fuels both products in question, and there’s no getting away from its addictive qualities for the smoker. If the Heart of Dixie wants to lead the way in protecting public health, it is never too late to embrace harm reduction strategies when it comes to smoking. 

Elizabeth Hicks is the U.S. Affairs Analyst and Stephen Kent is the Media Director for the Consumer Choice Center

Organization warns vaping laws may eventually hurt taxpayers

Illinois now has a law that bans the use of electronic cigarettes in indoor public spaces, but a consumer advocacy group warns such laws could backfire.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a measure that adds electronic smoking devices to the 2008 Smoke-Free Illinois Act, which banned smoking in most public spaces in the state.

“Illinoisans deserve to enjoy public spaces without being exposed unwillingly to secondhand vapor and other electronic cigarette byproducts,” said Pritzker in a statement.

The Illinois Department of Public Health noted that e-cigarettes can cause lung damage and addiction to nicotine.

Illinois also passed a law to raise the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 in 2019, and limited the advertising of e-cigarette products in 2022.

“We have made great progress, but the surge of use of e-cigarettes has threatened that progress and lured more people toward a deadly addiction,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest.

But Elizabeth Hicks with the Consumer Choice Center said vaping should not be compared with smoking regular cigarettes.

“We know that smoking combustible tobacco is harmful to health, however, vaping studies have shown that it is 95% less harmful than smoking,” said Hicks to The Center Square.

Read the full text here

The Real Consequences the Proposed Vaping Flavor Ban in Columbus

Columbus is considering putting an end to the sales of menthol cigarettes and flavored vapes. Although official legislation hasn’t been formally introduced, tobacco-control advocates who are drafting the proposal are claiming a ban would help decrease smoking rates amongst Black people, other groups of color, women, and LGBTQ populations.

Sadly, over 20,000 Ohioans lose their lives to cigarette smoking-related illnesses every year. Considering that studies have shown vaping to be 95% less harmful than smoking and that adults who used flavored vaping products were 2.3 times more likely to quit smoking cigarettes, ensuring that adult consumers in Columbus have access to the vaping products they prefer will ultimately lead to fewer cigarette smoking-related deaths in Ohio. 

It’s estimated that more than 5% of Ohio’s adult population uses vaping products, accounting for over 634,000 Ohioans who have switched to a healthier alternative to combustible tobacco. Banning flavored vaping products will encourage these former smokers to switch back to smoking cigarettes, and will ultimately lead to increases in smoking-related healthcare costs, which are already costing Ohioan taxpayers $1.85 billion annually.

Advocates for the ban claim that it wouldn’t outlaw flavored vaping products or menthol cigarettes within Columbus, just the sale of said products and that consumers wouldn’t be punished for buying products elsewhere and bringing them into the city. Not only would this plan greatly harm small businesses who sell vaping products, but it would also effectively set up a dangerous illicit market within Columbus where bad actors could easily take advantage of consumers by selling them unregulated faulty products which could cause serious health concerns. 

Additionally, although the flavor ban intends to help minority groups of color, the reality of setting up an illicit market is that it will further exacerbate interactions between law enforcement and consumers of these products. One of the most infamous examples of this is the tragic death of Eric Garner, who was killed by police in New York after being approached on suspicion of selling untaxed individual cigarettes. 

Implementing a ban on flavored vaping products and menthol cigarettes within Columbus will have serious unintended consequences. Instead of a ban, more tobacco harm reduction efforts must first be explored such as increasing educational outreach to specific communities as well as encouraging vapes and smoke-free tobacco products as a tool for cessation. 

Elizabeth Hicks is the U.S. Affairs Analyst and David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center. 

Court battle continues over the legal use of vaping products

As the legal use of vaping products continues to be argued in court, a debate also continues on whether a ban would send vapors back to regular cigarettes.  

Juul can continue to sell its electronic cigarettes after a federal appeals court in June blocked an FDA ban. 

To stay on the market, companies must show that their e-cigarettes benefit public health. Essentially, that means proving that adult smokers who use vapes are likely to quit or reduce their smoking, while teenagers are unlikely to become hooked on them.   

This week for a third time in four decisions, a federal appeals court has denied an Illinois-based vaping manufacturer’s petition for review of an FDA marketing denial order. A three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the FDA, denying the appeal by Gripum LLC, which makes bottled e-liquid under several names. 

In Illinois, there’s talk of placing a ban on all flavored tobacco and vapes in the state, but legislation has yet to move out of committee. 

Elizabeth Hicks, U.S. Affairs analyst with the Consumer Choice Center, warned that enacting a flavor ban for vaping and tobacco products would push consumers to switch back to smoking combustible tobacco.

Read the full text here

Michigan law makes fight for municipal broadband an uphill battle

For more than a decade, municipalities around the United States have been starting their own government-run broadband networks to bring high-speed internet to their residents. 

They might do so for a variety of reasons: to provide residents faster service at a lower cost, to encourage economic development, to provide high-speed internet to areas that private Internet Service Providers aren’t interested in serving, or to bring more economical connections to urban areas where residents can’t afford the service provided by private ISPs.

But due to laws on the books in Michigan, cities can face significant obstacles in starting their own network.

Michigan is one of 18 states that put restrictions on municipal broadband programs. Under the Metropolitan Extension Telecommunications Rights-of-Way Oversight Act of 2002, public entities can provide telecommunications services only if they have first requested bids for the services and received fewer than three qualified bids. They also must subject themselves to the same terms as those specified in their Request for Proposal.

Read the full text here

US: Illinois Bill Would Ban Flavoured Vaping Products

Senate Bill 3854, would include all flavoured products including THC vaping devices, heat-not-burn systems and chewing tobacco products. “(1) “tobacco product” includes products containing tetrahydrocannabinol and products containing a mixture of tetrahydrocannabinol and nicotine, and (2) “tobacco retailer” includes dispensing organizations and dispensing organization agents, as those terms are defined in the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act. Creates a presumption that a tobacco product, related tobacco product, alternative nicotine product, or solution or substance intended for use with electronic cigarettes is a banned product, solution, or substance intended for use with electronic cigarettes if it has or produces a characterizing flavor,” reads the bill proposal.

In line with arguments by tobacco harm reduction experts, Elizabeth Hicks from the U.S. Affairs analyst with the Consumer Choice Center, said that enacting a flavour ban for vaping products, will just lead former smokers back to smoking.

Read the full article here

mpulsan legislación que prohibiría el Tabaco con sabor y los Vaporizadores en Illinois

Un grupo de defensa del consumidor dice que una medida que prohibiría los productos de tabaco con sabor en Illinois, incluidos los vaporizadores, podría hacer más daño que bien.

La senadora estatal Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, ha sido una firme partidaria de prohibir los productos de tabaco con sabor, que dijo que están dirigidos intencionalmente a los niños con nombres parecidos a dulces. Ha presentado el Proyecto de Ley del Senado 3854, que prohibiría la venta de todos los productos de tabaco con sabor, incluidos cigarrillos, cigarrillos electrónicos y tabaco de mascar. La medida permanece en una comisión del Senado.

Elizabeth Hicks, analista de Asuntos de EE. UU. del Consumer Choice Center, dijo que la promulgación de una prohibición de sabor para los productos de vapeo impulsará a los consumidores adultos a volver a fumar tabaco combustible en un momento en que fumar cigarrillos ha tenido una tendencia a la baja en Illinois.

Read the full article here

Avoid government-run broadband when connecting Michigan residents

Soon, Michigan will be awash with cash to boost broadband coverage.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021, allocates at least $100 million to expand broadband and internet coverage in Michigan. In addition, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office recently announced the state will spend $5.2 million from the federal CARES Act to conduct an audit identifying gaps in high-speed internet access throughout the state.

It is apparent that Michigan residents deserve access to reliable high-speed internet. However, as the state decides how and where to bolster broadband infrastructure, it is critical that they prioritize providing quality broadband service to consumers without wasting taxpayer money through municipal or government-run broadband.

The pandemic has showcased that access to high-speed internet is continuing to become increasingly important as many continue to rely on broadband to stay connected to work, school, telehealth or other crucial facets of daily life.

It’s estimated that 8.9% of Michigan residents live in an area that does not provide acceptable internet speed due to a lack of broadband infrastructure, leaving over $2.5 billion in projected potential economic benefit that is lost among those disconnected from the internet within the state.

To be fair, many small cities across the country are getting the same pitch from biased municipal broadband consultants: If you want faster or more reliable internet, then you should build and operate the network yourself. It might sound promising, but the reality is that these networks have been proven to be expensive and ineffective.

According to a report from the University of Pennsylvania, of the 20 municipal broadband projects in the U.S. they studied, only two earned enough to cover their project costs during the useful life of the networks, with the other 18 being absolute failures.

Existing municipal broadband networks within Michigan are suffering a similar fate. Marshall, for example, launched its own municipal fiber broadband network called FiberNet, which cost $3.1 million in loans from other city accounts. Concerns have been raised about Marshall’s municipal broadband network as the city continuously missed payments on their broadband loans, sparking fear that the network will not be financially viable enough to offset the operating costs, potentially leaving taxpayers on the hook.

For perspective, broadband services from private providers are also available in Marshall. Companies like WOW and AT&T both offer the same speeds as FiberNet, but at lower prices for consumers.

A better solution to close the digital divide in Michigan and help broadband consumers would be to bolster competition. Many private broadband service providers are able to expand or upgrade their services where there is demand, without burdening taxpayers like municipal broadband networks do.

According to a Phoenix Center study, prices in markets with a municipal provider are higher than those in markets without one; therefore having private broadband providers available in an area is even more beneficial for consumers as competition will help keep prices low.

In rural areas or places where demand for broadband services are limited, local regulators could consider issuing vouchers to subsidize service to those who qualify.

Additionally, innovative solutions like Starlink, which aims to provide low-cost satellite broadband internet access across the globe, should be encouraged. This would ensure that all Michigan residents could get connected to reliable internet, without the need for a costly or unreliable municipal broadband network.

As more funding is being allocated to broadband infrastructure, state and local regulators must recognize that municipal broadband networks are generally ineffective and financially irresponsible.

In order to close the digital divide in Michigan and help broadband consumers throughout all parts of the state, we must embrace private competition and only subsidize networks in unserved areas through competitive bidding.

Originally published here

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