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The Year in Broadband, 2012: BroadbandBreakfast’s Guide to the Top 10 Events

in Broadband Data/Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/NTIA/Rural Utilities Service/Wireless by

December 18, 2012 – The year 2012 has provided significant progress in broadband within the United States. Whether through policy developments, or through technologies advancing the rate of internet speeds, the business case for making use of those higher speeds is also progressing in a meaningful way.

It’s almost as if the presidential and other federal elections – dominated as they were by issues other than broadband and technology – allowed the breathing room for practitioners, in Washington and outside of Washington, to make progress on bringing the nation better broadband.

Here’s the list of the 10 most significant events for broadband. We’ll soon follow up with 10 broadband developments to watch for in 2013.

1. Revisions to the Universal Service Fund.
At the end of 2011, the Federal Communications Commission began a major overhaul of the decades-old Universal Service Fund. Through an order of more than 700 pages, the agency created three major new funds: the Connect America Fund, the Mobility Fund, and a much smaller Remote Areas Fund, for extremely rural areas, particularly in Alaska. Throughout 2012, the FCC undertook Phase I of both the Connect America Fund and the Mobility Fund. The Mobility Fund has been particularly successful. In September, the FCC held its first “reverse auction” for $300 million in subsidies for mobile broadband: awards went to the mobile providers willing to serve the most unserved census blocks at the lowest prices. By contrast, the Connect America Fund, for wireline providers, was undersubscribed; over the summer the FCC awarded $115 million to large so-called “price cap” carriers, including CenturyLink and Frontier. The agency had been looking to spend $300 million; it will soon begin the process for $185 million of awards in Phase 2.

2. LTE Reaches the Mass Market.
Even though major wireless carriers such as Verizon Communications began promoting its fourth-generation wireless standard dubbed LTE (for long-term evolution) for more than two years, in 2012 LTE became a reality for middle America. Verizon has been quicker than AT&T, but AT&T has expanded more rapidly over the past year. From November 2011, when Verizon Wireless boasted coverage in 190 markets to AT&T’s 15 markets, one year later Verizon Wireless offers service in 441 markets, serving 250 million people. AT&T now offers 190 markets, and is available to 150 million people. Plus, with the launch of the Apple iPad 3 in March of 2012, the first Apple device with LTE technology, consumers could now obtain real-world download and upload speed in excess of 10 megabits per second. For the first time it begins to be possible to envision wireless as a substitute for DSL or cable connectivity, provided that consumers adapt to metered charges for mobile data consumption.

3. Gigabit Fiber Initiatives at the Local Level.
In Illinois, Gov. Patrick Quinn (D) announced the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge in the State of the State address on February 1, 2012. The challenge offered $6 million in funding to broadband companies and public-private partnerships proposing gigabit-level connectivity to at least 1,000 residents within their community. Illinois joined a number of other locations, including Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Lafayette, Louisiana, with “big broadband” projects designed to bring economic enhancement through super-fast connectivity. Following a competition which that spurred 40 applicants in Illinois, the first two Gigabit awards – to Gigabit Squared, the University of Chicago and several neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago; and to Aurora, Illinois – were announced on October 16.

4. DOCSIS 3.0 Rolls Out Nationwide.
Early in the year, cable giant Comcast announced that it had completed its DOCSIS 3.0 expansion for its entire footprint in the United States.  DOCSIS 3.0 is the name for the next version of cable modem technology. The move brings the possibility of promised speeds of 100 megabits per second to all of Comcast’s 52 million household subscribers, although consumers need to subscribe to them. Additionally, consumers need DOCSIS 3.0 hardware in order to take the service, and somewhere between 43 percent and 77 percent of the nation’s cable subscribers had that upgrade. The cable industry’s push for DOCSIS 3.0 stands in contrast with Verizon’s decision to stop the expansion of its Fiber Optic Service and AT&T’s November 7, 2012, announcement that it will begin to favor investments in wireless technology over uVerse investments. Traditional telephone giants may be leaving the wireline field to their former cable competitors.

5. Gig.U. and Gigabit Squared Strike Deals.
One of the most creative of broadband initiatives over the past several years is Gig.U, or the University Community Next Generation Innovation Project. The goal is to leverage the bandwidth needs of the communities around world-class universities. Think of it as an ultra-high-speed form of “aggregating demand.” Spearheaded by Blair Levin, chief architect of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan of March 2010, Gig.U. has assembled 37 world-class universities seeking to entice investment by major and new telecom entrants. In May, the consortium announced a $200 million commitment from Ohio-based Gigabit Squared, promising to build infrastructure in six of the 37 communities. The first to be announced was on the south Side of Chicago, in partnership with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s Gigabit Challenge, and the second was announced last week, with the University of Washington and the city of Seattle, Washington.

6. Google Fiber Goes Live.
The original big new entrant to the fiber community was none other than search engine giant Google. Way back in February 2010, in the midst of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Google announced a competition to build gigabit connectivity. The competition, dubbed by some a “third round” of the federal stimulus, following the two-stage process followed by the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, generated 1,100 applications. Ultimately, selected cities were Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri. The first fibers there went live July 2012. For $70/month, consumers are eager, and companies are chomping to envision the attention and innovation associated with mass-market gigabit connectivity.

7. U.S. IGNITE Catches Fire.
Fiber developments like FiOS, GigabitSquared and Google sometimes prompt the following question: if consumers aren’t making use of 25 megabits per second now, why would anyone need 40 times that speed? The national non-profit U.S. IGNITE aims to provide an answer to that question. Seeded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. IGNITE seeks to build the business case for these highest-bandwidth applications. In an Executive Order issued in June, the White House put its stamp of approval on the program, and said that it would help “create a national network of communities and campuses with ultra-fast, programmable broadband services, operating at speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. This network will become a test-bed for designing and deploying next-generation applications to support national priorities.”

8. Connect2Compete Gets Real.
While U.S. IGNITE works on promoting broadband on the ultra-high-speed scale, another national non-profit, Connect2Compete, is beginning to hit its stride in promoting what broadband can do for all Americans, including low-income individuals who lack money, computer equipment, and digital skills necessary to tap into what the internet can offer. The basic concept is for foundations like the Instituto Carlos Slim, the Knight Foundation and the Wasserman Foundation to partner with computer and software companies like GoodPC and Microsoft, and with training entities, to connect consumers with broadband providers. Predominantly cable-industry led, the initiative also provides a model for revamping the FCC’s Lifeline/Linkup program of the Universal Service Fund.

9. Exede Excedes Expectations.
To some fanfare at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2012, ViaSat, which bought satellite broadband provider WildBlue in 2009, unveiled its new service, Exede. With $400 million in a new satellite, plus ground stations and terrestrial fiber networks, the company wants to change the image, and the expectations associated with, satellite broadband. Not to be outdone, HughesNet Gen4 has also upped its increased speeds to 15 Mbps. While it remains to be seen whether rural America will adopt, the new satellite services provide new options for areas without access to fiber, cable or wireless broadband services.

10. The Chicago Broadband Challenge.
On September 24, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel – the first Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama – melded the importance of broadband with his top priority investments. Elected as mayor in February 2011, his broadband challenge invited the public and providers to participate with ideas and insight as to how Chicago can tap into existing broadband infrastructure and potential uses for future expansion of broadband access. In an interview on the program, Chicago Chief Technology Officer John Tolva highlighted the need to drive business broadband with lower prices.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. You can find him on  and Twitter. He founded BroadbandCensus.com, and he brings experts and practitioners together to advance Better Broadband, Better Lives. He’s doing that now as Executive Director for Broadband Illinois, based in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield.

Igniting US Broadband Through Obama Administration Executive Order

in Broadband and Democratization/Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/Education/FCC/Fiber/Health/The Innovation Economy by

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2012 — Last Thursday President Obama announced the launch of a new initiative, “US Ignite” and signed an Executive Order reducing the cost and barriers to broadband build out and construction along federal roadways and properties.  The Order aims to make construction 90 percent cheaper and more efficient.

The Federal Government owns approximately 30% of US lands and owns or leases approximately 10,000 buildings nationwide, many of these provide excellent pathways for broadband infrastructure.  According to the White House Press release, the Executive Order (EO) will require, “the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Interior, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs as well as the US Postal Service to offer carriers a single approach to leasing Federal assets for broadband deployment.”  The EO will require federal assets and leasing requirements to be posted on agency websites and furthermore, require public tracking of broadband deployment projects through the Federal Infrastructure Projects Dashboard (permits.performance.gov).

The primary effort to promote savings associated with the cost of construction is apparent through the EO’s directive to agency departments to help carriers time their deployment to periods when streets are already under construction. FCC Chairman Genachowski noted, “This Executive Order is also an example of how we can make government more efficient.  It creates a process for streamlining and harmonizing federal regulations and standardizing contracting.  The result will be cost-savings for taxpayers and private industry.”

Along with the Executive Order the administration announced the launch of their US Ignite Initiative, whose purpose is to create a public private partnership that capitalizes on the possibilities of an ultrafast broadband network to develop next generation internet applications.  The initiative has over 100 partners from corporations to nonprofit entities and includes over 25 cities, and more than 60 national research universities.  According to the White House, Us Ignite will, “create a national network of communities and campuses with ultra-fast, programmable broadband services, operating at speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.  This network will become a test-bed for designing and deploying next-generation applications to support national priorities.” The six national priorities include education and workforce development, advanced  manufacturing, health, transportation, public safety, and clean energy.

The three major elements of the US-Ignite initiative include, first, integrating research campuses , networks and cities by leveraging previous investment in network infrastructure through the use of the Global Environment of Network Investment (GENI). GENI which is a virtual research lab for scaled network experiements for the future internet is funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) which is the lead agency responsible for foundational research into software defined networking and public sector gigabit applications and services.

The second element of the initiative involves jumpstarting at-scale experimentations on public sector applications and services through the NSF funded, Mozilla Open Innovation Challenges program that enables peer based learning and exchange through workshops and open source application development competitions.

The third element is the creation of the US Ignite Partnership, a public private, independent non-profit organization to bring together industry, foundations and community partners and resources.

One of the main goals of the US Ignite Partnership is to launch approximately 60 advanced next generation apps over the next 5 years in the six areas of national priority. The White House noted that the point is to “challenge the most talented members of society to come up with a new generation of applications and services that meet the needs of local communities while creating a broad range of job and investment opportunities.”

Another goal of the Partnership involves, providing for 200 community test beds for testing and developing the next gen apps by coordinating the deployment of infrastructure from US- Ignite’s partners including the telcos, cable companies, municipalities, and research and education network operators. Some of these networks and test beds are already under way in Cleveland, Chattanooga, and Philadelphia.  Presentations and videos about these developments can be found on the US-Ignite website.

Finally the Partnership aims to work with industry, foundations, carriers, government, researchers, venture capitalists and software engineers to create a forum for coordination and best practice sharing.

Aside from the website,  more information on US-Ignite can be found on the Fact Sheet  released by the White House.

National Broadband Plan: A Look at Chapter 7 and Research

in Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, April 28, 2010 – Chapter Seven of the national broadband plan is one of the shortest of the entire document, with a primary focus on research and development.  The key recommendation that this chapter makes is that Congress needs to fund long-term projects rather than short-term fast moving ones.

In order to promote increased research the plan recommends that Congress allow for tax credits in addition to direct grants; this would allow research organizations to star projects which may not have direct or easily identifiable goals but can yield important results.

In order to guide the research that should be occurring, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, with consultation from the National Science Foundation, should develop a long term roadmap.  That might also allow for easier research on the use of wireless spectrum, which the report said, the Federal Communications Commission should allow for greater experimental use.

The roadmap developed by the national academies and the NSF should look at five key areas.

Network price and performance, which would include not just increasing the speed of broadband, but also looking at the physical materials such as fiber and other optical conducting materials to increase performance through infrastructure gains.

The next area of research recommended by the plan is that into looking at national purposes; while this plan does look into how broadband can be effectively used for health or energy or public safety it is simply an overview not a detailed plan.

As a complement to national purposes the economic and social benefits of broadband should also be explored, these uses often are not directly linked to broadband but rather derived from applications that are aided by the availability of broadband.

In addition to improving the infrastructure, shoring the physical infrastructure also should be another area of focus.

Finally the last overall area of research should be and network management and measurement which would look at the “health” of the network.

Appropriate Roles for FCC and FTC Could Determine Fate of Broadband Consumers

in FCC Workshops/National Broadband Plan by

By Drew Clark, Editor, Broadband Census.com

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2009 – The Internet can serve as a means for enhancing consumer protections, provided that government agencies play their appropriate role in regulating and disclosing the practices of broadband providers, according to a several consumer advocates.

Speaking at the September 9 workshop of the Federal Communications Commission, the advocates observed that the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission could each play a significant role in enhancing consumer knowledge about broadband.

Mike Nelson, a visiting professor of communications, culture and technology at Georgetown University, and a former Clinton administration internet official, said that the flowering of the e-commerce in the 1990s owed was “due in large part to the decision [by the government] NOT to regulate.”

“I was involved in the [Ira] Magaziner e-commerce report,” said Nelson. “Almost every page had a promise about what the administration will not do.”

The certainty provided by that report was helpful” because in enabled internet application companies to be free from “having to hire as many lawyers” as they otherwise would have to, he said.

Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, a “tech tank inside a think that that provide support for open architecture,” said that the deregulation of National Science Foundation’s role in the Internet in 1994 has led to “a data acquisition crises of unimagined proportions.”

Meinrath said that this “self-imposed veil of ignorance” precludes a variety of parties from understanding basic information about internet data.

In particular, Meinrath called attention to the fact that internet service providers “diligently work to assert that the public access to as little information as possible.”

He added, “There is no place that I can go that says, show me the providers at my house, the speeds, the uptime, the service level guarantees, the contention ratio, how many people are sharing the single line. You can’t make an informed decision if you don’t have access to that information.”

Nelson, however, called attention to BroadbandCensus.com and its “crowd-sourcing” approach to collecting broadband data about Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. BroadbandCensus.com uses the open-source NDT speed test, which does collect speed and other significant technical service-level information.

Also speaking on the panel were Joel Kelsey, a policy analyst for Consumers Union, Ari Schwartz, vice president and chief operating officer for the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Debra Berlyn, President of Consumer Policy Solutions.

The three focused on the need for consumers to have appropriate disclosure about privacy protections and data-collection activities.

About BroadbandCensus.com

BroadbandCensus.com was launched in January 2008, and uses “crowdsourcing” to collect the Broadband SPARC: Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. The news on BroadbandCensus.com is produced by Broadband Census News LLC, a subsidiary of Broadband Census LLC that was created in July 2009.

A recent split of operations helps to clarify the mission of BroadbandCensus.com. Broadband Census Data LLC offers commercial broadband verification services to cities, states, carriers and broadband users. Created in July 2009, Broadband Census Data LLC produced a joint application in the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program with Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program. In August 2009, BroadbandCensus.com released a beta map of Columbia, South Carolina, in partnership with Benedict-Allen Community Development Corporation.

Broadband Census News LLC offers daily and weekly reporting, as well as the Broadband Breakfast Club. The Broadband Breakfast Club has been inviting top experts and policy-makers to share breakfast and perspectives on broadband technology and internet policy since October 2008. Both Broadband Census News LLC and Broadband Census Data LLC are subsidiaries of Broadband Census LLC, and are organized in the Commonwealth of Virginia. About BroadbandCensus.com.

'Big Ideas' on Broadband Likely to Push Threshold of User Adoption, Say FCC Experts

in FCC Workshops/National Broadband Plan by

WASHINGTON, September 3, 2009 -  The Federal Communications Commission broadband workshop on Thursday addressed “big ideas” with the “potential to substantially change the Internet,” in which a range of prominent thinkers attempted to peer into the future of connectivity.

Although there is reason why internet service speeds remains at the center of the policy discussion,  “speed of broadband is not the only essential topic of expansion,” said David Clark, professor and senior research scientist at the MIT computer science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “However, it is the most obvious.”

Increasing speeds of broadband have created a domino effect on applications.

A concern brought up by Van Jacobsen, research fellow at Palo Alto Research Center, is that advancing broadband speeds do not ensure higher quality of security. That will need to be addressed as new services roll out, he said.

“Internet is a big part of our lives,” said Jacobsen. We use it for online banking, to pay bills and to check updates on our checking account. When you want to transfer funds online, are you giving your account number to the bank or to the host that is supposedly representing your bank?”

University of California at Berkley Professor of Computer Science Scott Shencker said that changes in the infrastructure of services could bring about a more competitive marketplace, which would provide a range of lifestyle options. “Competition of creating higher security and a low cost commodity [for broadband services] could make services more affordable to many consumers,” he said.

Others cited the advancement of video streaming as an example of the impact that new broadband services has had on a wide range of professions.

PBS Online Managing Director Angela Morgenstern said, “PBS is meeting the needs of teachers. They have gone past the formal lesson plan and moved on to digital lesson plans.” It is more convenient to use online videos for classroom instruction than to use a DVD, she said.

She noted a deal recently struck by PBS and Panache, which provides educational games on top of childrens’ shows and videos, allows children to play interactive online games not only at school, but also at home. Children playing these interactive games do so repeatedly.

“In services that are provided, simplicity is important,” said Taieb Znati, division director of the National Science Foundation. “The reason the invention of Ethernet has lasted so long is because of how simple it is.”

However, as easy as it is to have an educational video streaming into a classroom or have a music video streaming through a college student’s laptop, the number of views has not grown, said Znati.

“Since 2007, videos that have been watched have increased by a factor of three,” Znati said. “However, the number of users is not growing. It is still at 50 percent or less.”

Another suggestion of increasing availability of accessible broadband services will be brought to the FCC when it begins to map out the national broadband plan.

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