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Broadband Roundup: Digital Inclusion Often Falls Short, Rumble Over Roomba Spectrum, Deal Over Education SuperHighway

Adrienne Patton



Photo of Burcu Baykurt courtesy the University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Most attempts to close the digital divide through smart city digital inclusion fall short of their overpromising corporate rhetoric, argues Burcu Baykurt for the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society.

Digital inclusion is “the idea that nobody in the city should be deprived of digital technologies.” However, as smart city innovation grows, digital inclusion has been falling by the wayside.

For example, high-tech development in San Jose and Seattle has resulted in relocation and rising housing prices. LinkNYC promised 7,500 Wi-Fi kiosks, but installed kiosks in neighborhoods that already had internet access.

While following smart technologies in Kansas City, Baykurt noticed a difference in the city’s approach to closing the digital divide: Actual inclusion. “After Google Fiber spotlighted the racial-spatial divide of Kansas City, many civic leaders focused on expanding access, and a Digital Inclusion Coalition was established in 2014.”

Indeed, collaboration across interests and groups allowed for the formation of the Digital Equity Strategic Plan. However, there is still a digital divide for low-income homes.

Baykurt suggests three answers to the “persistent failure” in smart city digital inclusion.

First, technology cannot remedy deep-seated division in “educational success, poor transportation, and the lack of trust between public officials and low-income, minoritized populations.”

Second, Baykurt said that blaming a shortage of connectivity on “a lack of interest among low-income residents in smart technologies” is a “grave misunderstanding.” Low-income residents want access to devices, but they cannot pay for home internet access or device maintenance.

And finally, low-income residents are wary of privacy infringement. Baykurt writes; “Digital kiosks or smart streetlights ostensibly promise better connectivity for residents, but they also indiscriminately aggregate and analyze various sources of public and private data without any clear explanation of how it will be used or accessed.”

Spectrum battles bringing utilities and robotic manufacturers into the fray

The ever-present spectrum battle continues as electric and water providers, Boeing, and even Roomba contend over the 6 GigaHertz (GHz) band, reports John Eggerton for Broadcasting and Cable.

Edison Electric Institute serves over 200 million customers, using the midband frequencies for much of its utility member internal communication needs.

Although Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai said current 6 GHz users would be protected if the spectrum were opened up for unlicensed Wi-Fi use, incumbents are concerned.

Roomba worries that spectrum sharing could cause interference and inhibit its robotic vacuums from effectively working. Roomba wants the FCC to split the spectrum, dedicating part of the band to ultra-wideband and the other portion to Wi-Fi.

Boeing suggested the FCC allow their aircrafts access to the 6 GHz band for in-flight Wi-Fi hotspots.

Although the FCC has not finalized its policy on 6 GHz, Pai touted the possibility of unprecedented positive impacts for consumers.

“It will boost WiFi’s massive indoor dominance. And surely — with the help of emboldened entrepreneurs everywhere — it will bring low-cost WiFi (and unlicensed) connectivity to places where it has never been,” said Pai.

Education SuperHighway strikes deal with Connected Nation

Connected Nation  has been selected by Education SuperHighway, a non-profit devoted to internet accessibility in schools, to ensure state and school district leaders have the information they need to improve school broadband connectivity.

The groups are launching a new tool, Connect K-12, that aims to equip school leaders with information and analytics needed to improve school broadband access in their communities.

It is anticipated that the free Connect K-12 tool will launch later this year, and will provide the broadband data and pricing information for school districts and state leaders to upgrade their bandwidth to the FCC’s 1 Megabit per second (Mbps) per student goal.

Founded in 2012, Education SuperHighway said it has reached its goal of connecting 99 percent of schools to internet connections that provide at least 100 Kilobits per second (Kbps) of bandwidth for every student by 2020. Education SuperHighway plans to pass off its work to Connected Nation.

The Connect K-12 tool will also report national and state connectivity trends to ensure that the E-rate program continues to effectively support school broadband access, said Connected Nation.

Funds For Learning, a professional firm specializing in the federal E-rate program, has been selected as the technology partner to manage the data readiness and software elements of the tool.


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