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Kentucky Press News Service
High-speed Internet access will become available to 62,000 more Kentucky residents thanks to funds from the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC fund called Connect America will pay $21 million a year to Windstream Communictions to make broadband available in locations where it would otherwise be too expensive to extend service. Monthly fees should run about what people in other parts of the U.S. pay for the service, an FCC spokesman said.
About a third of rural Americans lack access to high-speed Internet, the FCC said in a news release. In all, Windstream is receiving almost $175 million in annual, ongoing support from the Connect America fund to provide broadband service to 800,000 rural residents of 17 states, including Kentucky.
By Grace Schneider
The University of Louisville has signed a joint development agreement with a South Carolina company to create a coal-like product made from fallen timber and biomass.
In an announcement Thursday, U of L officials said that deal involves Greenville, S.C.-based Integro Earth Fuels Inc., the developer of a product made from wood waste that can be burned with or in place of coal by heat and power generators.
Work on developing the densified wood, called NuCoal, and piloting production facilities will be performed at the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research, part of the university’s Speed School of Engineering.
“Conn Center’s expertise is crucial in making this technology work at any scale,” said Conn director Mahendra Sunkara.
“The use of this product as a substitute for coal can help extend the life of Kentucky’s coal-fired power plants while significantly reducing pollutant and carbon emissions,” Sunkara said.
The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities has agreed to provide a $256,890 grant over two years to the Conn Center through its Consortium for Advanced Wood to Energy Solutions — a joint venture between the endowment and the U.S. Forest Service.
U of L officials said that Conn Center would invest about $135,000. Researchers Jagannadh Satyavolu and Thad Druffel will lead the research and develop pilot models of production facilities, officials said in a release.
Integro agreed to provide funding to the research center for a series of test projects. That includes $80,000 worth of equipment to support research and development of the process called “torrefaction,” which roasts wood and biomass to strip out moisture and volatile compounds to create a bio-coal product.
“We are looking at markets for NuCoal plants in Kentucky and other parts of the U.S., Europe and South America,” Integro founder Walt Dickinson said in the announcement. “This partnership is critical to making that happen.”
Forestry endowment President and CEO Carlton Owen called the partnership “foundational to our commitment to keep forests as forests, keep them healthy and add family-wage jobs in rural forest-rich communities.”
Conn Center, which focuses on innovation in advanced materials, including catalysts, recently had two startup businesses spun from its labs. NuCoal is envisioned to create another, potentially more visible Kentucky-based company.
“This one is a really big deal,” businessman Hank Conn, whose donations have funded and will sustain the center created in 2009, said in an email.
“Not only is the market potential for NuCoal huge, expected to be $200 billion by 2040, but the product also helps address the problem of forest fires in the U.S. by removing dying or dead trees and turning them into this coal-like product, one that is carbon-neutral and significantly reduces air pollutants,” Conn said.
The digital divide, the disparity in adoption of broadband between rural and urban households, has increased, especially for the elderly and the poor. High broadband adoption rates bring about economic growth in rural areas, and federal policies to address the problem usually involve funding initiatives to provide more broadband access. "In fact, of the $7.2 billion made available for broadband funding during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, over 90 percent was focused on providing infrastructure," Brian Whitacre reports for The Daily Yonder.
However, according to recent research, the problem needs to be addressed through encouraging broadband adoption, not just increasing availability. A Current Population Survey asked why people don't use broadband. "No need" was the top response for rural households, and "not available" accounted for fewer than 5 percent of the responses in 2011. "The 'no need' response has increased over time while the 'not available' response has decreased," Whitacre writes. Lack of demand—not supply—of broadband is the chief reason behind the gap.
The Daily Yonder chart showing respondents' reasons for not using broadband.
To further examine the divide, "we used a technique that allows us to predict hypothetical broadband adoption rates," Whiteacre writes. "If we gave rural characteristics (such as education, income, age, etc.) to urban households—what would happen to the urban adoption rate? . . . Similarly, if we replaced urban levels of broadband availability (which are typically very good) with those found in rural areas (which are typically not as good), what would happen to the urban adoption rates?"
The results of the study predict that if rural households had socioeconomic characteristics typical of urban ones, 52 percent of the percentage point gap in the digital divide would vanish, and if urban households had broadband infrastructures typical of rural areas, 38 percent of the gap would vanish. (Read more)
Written by Melissa Landon
Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.
WASHINGTON—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing a draft assessment today on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources in the United States. The assessment, done at the request of Congress, shows that while hydraulic fracturing activities in the U.S. are carried out in a way that have not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources, there are potential vulnerabilities in the water lifecycle that could impact drinking water. The assessment follows the water used for hydraulic fracturing from water acquisition, chemical mixing at the well pad site, well injection of fracking fluids, the collection of hydraulic fracturing wastewater (including flowback and produced water), and wastewater treatment and disposal [http://www2.epa.gov/hfstudy/hydraulic-fracturing-water-cycle].
“EPA’s draft assessment will give state regulators, tribes and local communities and industry around the country a critical resource to identify how best to protect public health and their drinking water resources,” said Dr. Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “It is the most complete compilation of scientific data to date, including over 950 sources of information, published papers, numerous technical reports, information from stakeholders and peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports.”
EPA’s review of data sources available to the agency found specific instances where well integrity and waste water management related to hydraulic fracturing activities impacted drinking water resources, but they were small compared to the large number of hydraulically fractured wells across the country. The report provides valuable information about potential vulnerabilities, some of which are not unique to hydraulic fracturing, to drinking water resources, but was not designed to be a list of documented impacts.
These vulnerabilities to drinking water resources include:
water withdrawals in areas with low water availability;
hydraulic fracturing conducted directly into formations containing drinking water resources;
inadequately cased or cemented wells resulting in below ground migration of gases and liquids;
inadequately treated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources;
and spills of hydraulic fluids and hydraulic fracturing wastewater, including flowback and produced water.
Also released today were nine peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports (www.epa.gov/hfstudy). These reports were a part of EPA’s overall hydraulic fracturing drinking water study and contributed to the findings outlined in the draft assessment. Over 20 peer-reviewed articles or reports were published as part of this study [http://www2.epa.gov/hfstudy/published-scientific-papers].
States play a primary role in regulating most natural gas and oil development. EPA’s authority is limited by statutory or regulatory exemptions under the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Where EPA’s exemptions exist, states may have authority to regulate unconventional oil and gas extraction activities under their own state laws.
EPA’s draft assessment benefited from extensive stakeholder engagement conducted across the country with states, tribes, industry, non-governmental organizations, the scientific community and the public to ensure that the draft assessment reflects current practices in hydraulic fracturing and utilizes all data and information available to the agency.
The study will be finalized after review by the Science Advisory Board and public review and comment. The Federal Register Notice with information on the SAB review and how to comment on the draft assessment will be published on Friday June 5, 2015.
For a copy of the study, visit www.epa.gov/hfstudy.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (May 12, 2015) - Attorney General Jack Conway announced today that his Office of Consumer Protection Division — along with the Attorneys General of the other 49 States and the District of Columbia, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Federal Communications Commission — reached settlements with Sprint Corporation (Sprint) and Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless (Verizon), that include $158 million in payments and resolve allegations that Sprint and Verizon placed charges for third-party services on consumers’ mobile telephone bills that were not authorized by the consumers, a practice known as “mobile cramming.”
Consumers who have been “crammed” often have charges, typically $9.99 per month, for “premium” text message subscription services (also known as PSMS subscriptions) such as horoscopes, trivia, and sports scores that the consumers have never heard of or requested. The Attorneys General allege that cramming occurs when carriers place charges on consumers’ mobile telephone bills or deduct them from consumers’ prepaid accounts for third-party products without consumers’ knowledge and/or authorization.
Sprint and Verizon are the third and fourth mobile telephone providers to enter into nation-wide settlements to resolve allegations regarding cramming. Attorney General Conway announced similar settlements with AT&T in October of 2014 ($105 million), and T-Mobile in December of 2014 ($90 million). All four mobile carriers announced they would cease billing customers for commercial PSMS in the fall of 2013.
“These settlements will help protect Kentucky consumers from unauthorized third-party charges on their mobile telephone bills,” said Attorney General Conway said. “I encourage anyone who was affected by mobile cramming through Sprint or Verizon to submit a claim through the consumer redress programs required by these settlements.”
Under the terms of the settlements, Sprint will pay $68 million and Verizon will pay $90 million. Of these amounts, Sprint and Verizon are required to provide $50 million and $70 million, respectively, to consumers who were victims of cramming. Sprint and Verizon will each distribute refunds to harmed consumers through redress programs under the supervision of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Sprint will also pay $12 million to the Attorneys General and $6 million to the Federal Communications Commission, and Verizon will pay $16 million to the Attorneys General and $4 million to the Federal Communications Commission. Kentucky will receive $395,009.69 for its participation in the Sprint and Verizon settlements.
Consumers may submit claims under the redress programs by visiting www.SprintRefundPSMS.com (Sprint) or www.CFPBSettlementVerizon.com (Verizon). On those websites, consumers may submit claims, find information about refund eligibility and how to obtain a refund, and can request a free account summary that details PSMS purchases on their accounts. Consumers who have questions about the redress programs may visit the program websites or call the settlement administrators at: (877) 389-8787 (Sprint) or (888) 726-7063 (Verizon).
The settlements, like the settlements entered into by AT&T and T-Mobile in late 2014, require Sprint and Verizon to stay out of the commercial PSMS business—the platform to which law enforcement agencies attribute a large share of the mobile cramming problem. Under each of the four settlements, the carriers must also take a number of steps designed to ensure that they only bill consumers for third-party charges that have been authorized, including the following:
- The carriers must obtain consumers’ express consent before billing for third-party charges, and must ensure that consumers are only charged for services if the they have been informed of all material terms and conditions of their payment.
- The carriers must give consumers an opportunity to obtain a full refund or credit when they are billed for unauthorized third-party charges.
- The carriers must inform their customers when they sign up for services that their mobile phone can be used to pay for third-party charges, and must inform consumers of how those third-party charges can be blocked if the consumers do not want to use their phone to pay for third-party products.
- The carriers must present third-party charges in a dedicated section of consumers’ mobile phone bills, must clearly distinguish them from the carriers’ own charges, and must include information in that same section about the consumers’ ability to block third-party charges.
Considering these two settlements and the previously announced settlements with AT&T and T-Mobile, the national mobile cramming settlements with the four mobile carriers have called for refunds of about $290 million to consumers nationwide.