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Nicol Turner-Lee

Speakers at Minority Telecom Conference Call Broadband a 21st Century Civil Right

in FCC/Net Neutrality/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, July 30, 2014 – Speakers at a Minority Media Telecommunications Council conference here on Monday advocated for expanded minority-based involvement with and access to broadband capital.

“Broadband is the 21st Century’s civil right and our laws must reflect the digital shift,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C, at the MMTC’s twelfth annual telecom policy conference.

Nicol Turner-Lee, Vice President of MMTC, highlighted several issues, including: widening broadband service to minorities in poor and rural communities, expanding minority-based ownership of media and telecom businesses, and convincing the Federal Communications Commission to reform Designated Entity rules.

While the unprecedented “digital disruption and explosion” of media and telecom has born witness to “differentiation” in the industry, 36 million people are still offline, Turner-Lee said. Many of them are African Americans.

“We’re seeing increasing involvement by people of color…who are using technology to change their lives,” Turner-Lee said. “On the flipside, however, many of us might be ‘multi-deviced,’ but at the same time, people living in low-income, rural America are older, and are still striving to get online.”

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Fla., said that 36 million people offline is too many.  “I hear the story over again of the mother who takes her daughter of children to the McDonald’s because they don’t have access,” he said. “They have to grab the Wi-Fi and sit in a car just to do the homework. That’s disappointing and it’s frustrating.”

In the increasingly digital economy, a business in Baltimore doesn’t have to serve local markets. It can serve the entire global market, said Catherine Pugh, President-Elect of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. The social benefits of this are enormous, she said, and ought to be present in every community nationwide.

Access to capital isn’t just about internet diversions, but about essential broadband services, speakers said.

“It’s one to thing to play the game, but it’s another thing to build it and be in the game,” Turner-Lee said. “It’s about allowing the internet to be a game-changer for our community when it comes to economic stability, telehealth and telemedicine, educational opportunities.”

Butterfield added the lack of sufficient diversity within telecom companies is “absolutely deplorable.” Only 100 out of the Fortune 500 companies have more than one African American, he said. Two percent of telecom leaders are African American or Latino, Turner Lee said.

The speakers heavily criticized partisanship on the FCC’s Designated-Entity rules, which over the past twenty years have aimed to promote minority-owned wireless spectrum. An MMTC white paper from earlier this year stated the program has been “largely ineffective.”

“Over the course of fifty-six wireless auctions during the past 20 years, the majority of DEs that currently hold wireless licenses are incumbent rural telephone companies, very few DEs are new entrants, and even fewer DEs are MBEs (minority-owned business entity). Without a change in policy and current rules and regulations, the outlook for expanded minority participation remains dismal,” the paper read.

Pugh referred to the DE program as minorities’ “last hope to own wireless spectrum.” She said politicians should stop deprecating the program.

“The designated entity program was created as a vehicle to foster competition and innovation particularly among new entrants in smaller incumbents,” said Butterfield.  “Small businesses are the heart of participation in the economy and  they represent the communities in which they serve and can drive economic development and foster more economic certainty.”

Pugh encouraged the FCC and MMTC allies to push for reform of DE laws to be more inclusive. Both she and Butterfield also threw in their support for using Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as the proper means to allow for enabling net neutrality and keeping an open internet.

Internet Researcher John Horrigan on How Digital Illiteracy is Eclipsing Digital Divide

in Broadband Data/Broadband's Impact/Education/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2014 – The internet equity facing the nation isn’t the digital divide, but is digital readiness, according to a panel last month by internet researcher John Horrigon at an event of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

According to Horrigan, digital literacy is rapidly overshadowing non-adoption.A half-decade ago in 2009, 83 million adults didn’t have broadband in 2009, he said. Today, 43 million now lack access.

The real problem is instead the 29 percent of Americans classified as having “low levels of digital readiness.” A total of 42 percent of people have a moderate understanding of the digital world and the rest have a high level of readiness. Those with lower levels of readiness tend to be older people, or lower income earners with little educational attainment, said Scott Wallsten, vice president for research and senior fellow of the Technology Policy Institute.

In addition to having a skills problem, there is also a trust problem, Horrigan said. “Being digitally ready is about having the skills to use online applications, but also trust in new ways of carrying out tasks that require people to share a lot of information about themselves and about their households.”

To assess people’s digital readiness, Horrigan surveyed people about their knowledge of basic technological terms. These included terms like: cookies, spyware and malware, apps, refresh, reload, and QR code. This is a reliable method, Horrigan said, because previous studies have shown that people’s knowledge of these terms track closely with their ability to perform online tasks.

Does that mean people are digitally illiterate if they don’t know what a QR code is? Wallsten said no, not necessarily. Digital readiness doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.

“Not many people know what a QR code is,” Wallsten said. “Just because you don’t know these things doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not digitally ready. It means there’s a higher probability of you not being digitally ready.”

Subjects were asked to describe their comfort level with computers, or their confidence in finding content online.

Among those with advanced online access (households with several devices including smartphones hooked up to broadband), Horrigan said 18 percent have low levels of readiness, 46 percent have moderately good readiness, and 36 percent have very high levels of readiness.

Additionally, Horrigan’s surveys found that 10 percent of people with low digital readiness said they had used the internet to search for a job whereas 52 percent of people with high digital readiness said they had done so.

“I do not know anybody that has not used the internet for their job search and the idea that there’s this group of people who are not using the internet for their job search is something I cannot even comprehend,” said Larra Clark, associate director of the Program on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century at American Library Association.

In many cases, people might have access to technology, but the degree to which they’re underutilizing it is staggering, said Nicol Turner-Lee, vice president and chief research and policy officer at Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. For lack of a better phrase, she suggested that the problem may just fix itself because “at some point, everyone’s going to die off and it’ll be the young people who will [use technology] as part of habit.”

She wasn’t as eager, however, to dismiss adoption as a diminished problem. The 43 million people who are without internet is still a lot of people, she said.

“It’s sort of like when you were learning how to drive. You took your driving lessons and overtime you got better… The challenge is, if you don’t have a car, you can’t participate,” Lee said.

After all, the internet is the modern haven for free expression and democratic participation, said Laura Breeden, team leader of the Broadband Technical Opportunities Program at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

With technological change occurring so rapidly, digital literacy today might not mean literacy tomorrow, Lee said. The panel agreed that both the public and private sectors are going to have to double down on investments into educating people on literacy.

Horrigan said some policy steps to promote digital readiness include leveraging existing programs that focus on digital divide, like Comcast internet Essentials and BTOP. Community tech giants need to be bolstered and the philanthropic community has to be engaged as well.

Additionally, as the speed of technological change widens the gap between the digital divide and digital readiness, libraries could function as a remedy, especially in rural areas, acquainting people with devices and the web.

“As new applications emerge, fueled by the internet of things, big data and more, we’re going to have to continue to examine digital readiness in specific contexts such as education, workforce development, and health care applications,” Horrigan said. “We’re going to have to think of ways to make sure everyone has the skills and trust in our applications to take full advantage of them.”

Neville Keynotes June Broadband Breakfast Club Mapping Discussion

in Broadband Mapping/Broadband Stimulus/Broadband TV/Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/National Broadband Plan/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2011 – National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Program Director, Anne Neville, offered the keynote address Tuesday morning at the Broadband Breakfast Club’s June event, ” The National Broadband Map: Policy, Consumer and Economic Development Implications.”

Neville, who oversees the development of the National Broadband Map, kicked off the event with an overview of the program, including how the NTIA obtained data, how the data have been used, and the future of the mapping efforts.

The National Broadband Map: Policy, Consumer and Economic Development Implications from BroadbandBreakfast.com.

Among the highlights of the program, Neville pointed out the availability of the collected data to research institutions to use and share.

“We wanted to get information to stakeholders quickly and efficiently and we wanted to make the data usable and sharable,” said Neville.  “In only four months [since the map was released] we’re already having a huge use of the data and a lot of feedback about the data and how we can continue improving the data set.

Nicol Turner-Lee, Vice President and Director of the Media and Technology Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, explained how her organization, which focuses on issues pertaining to African Americans and other people of color, used the data to help its research.  While the National Broadband Map was helpful to the think tank, she said, refinement of the data could push research even further.

“What we saw is that there’s still work to be done on ubiquitous mobile access, particularly in communities of color, where people are heavily dependent on mobile use,” said Turner-Lee.  “We would have liked to have seen [the mobile access data] variable cleaned up a little bit more to really make the argument for communities of color to get fair access and a chance to actually use it.”

William Johnson, Deputy Director, Office of CyberSecurity at the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES), praised the map for its ingenuity and the cooperation that brought it together.

“I’ve been doing mapping work for 26 years and I can tell you I have never seen an effort reap a seamless nationwide comprehensive coverage done to a common standard so quickly,” said Johnson. “It’s really breathtaking.”

David Don, Senior Director for Public Policy at Comcast Corporation, expressed that due to the NTIA’s efforts and the publication of the National Broadband Map, a more comprehensive story of broadband in the U.S. is now being told.  Moreover, he said, that story indicated success in the effort to provide a great majority with access to broadband.  While there need to be continuing efforts to “bridge the gap” to accomplish near-100 percent availability, however, the focus ought to shift to adoption.

“As Comcast has been saying for a couple of years now,” said Don, “in the U.S., our broadband issues are not about availability, but about adoption.”

Cary Hinton, Policy Advisor to the Chief of the DC Public Service Commission, noted that as the mapping effort has progressed from the initial data collection to post-publication collection, the Public Service Commission has noted more ready cooperation from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide information requested in the first round of collection, as well as additional data to help District as well as national mapping refinements.

“One of the major differences we’ve found from our initial undertaking… to now,” said Hinton, “our standard practice is that we ask for a copy of Form 477 data as well as a questionnaire to please fill out.  What we found is that there has been an increase in companies providing us this data.”

FCC Form 477 includes data requested by federal agencies in connection with broadband mapping.

Adam Elliot, President and Founder of ID InSights, a company that provides data and analytics services.  For his company, he says, the data provided by the National Broadband Map is integral.

“For where we’re at, it’s all about going forward,” said Elliot.  “We’ve made phenomenal progress on the broadband map… What are the changes we’re making and how fast?  We can [evaluate] at six month increments and say ‘we’re this far and are we getting to our goal or not?’  If not, why not and how do we get there faster?”

Joint Center Convenes Panel to Promote Adoption for Underserved Communities

in Broadband's Impact/Minority/Mobile Broadband/Universal Service/Wireless by

WASHINGTON March 2, 2011 – Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies held a panel on Wednesday on how the federal government should promote broadband adoption and access to underserved communities.  The panel served as an update the National Broadband Plan, which came out one year ago.

“The biggest mistake we made when working on the plan was using the current framework to solve tomorrow’s problems” said keynote speaker, Blair Levin, one of the authors of the National Broadband Plan. “We need to phase out the Lifeline and Link-Up programs and come up with something new.”

The Lifeline and Link-Up programs provide rebates to consumers to lower the cost of telephone service. The National Broadband Plan recommended transitioning these programs to cover broadband in addition to voice service.

The old models are geared toward telephone service so they focus on cost and access; in contrast. In contrast, broadband requires a knowledgeable user, presenting a more complicated problem to solve. Levin proposed the full overhaul of the universal service system with a focus on demand and usage, rather than simple access.

“Rather than giving [USF subsidies] to companies we should be giving people vouchers to choose their preferred service,” Levin said. “Instead of just giving people money we also need to ensure they are taking steps to improve their digital skills. We should provide additional funds to people who complete digital literacy classes or job training.”

Levin also emphasized that while some programs will not work, pilots and trials are necessary to learn about what does.

“While no administrator wants to work on a project that fails, we need to figure out what works and what does not so we fund the right programs,” he said. “We need to learn what adoption tools are best for each community.”

During the larger panel discussion, Scott Wallsten, VP for research at the Technology Policy Institute and former National Broadband Task Force Economics Director, echoed Levin’s sentiment about pilot programs and evaluation.

“The NTIA needs to be given additional funds to provide in depth evaluation of their adoption programs,” Wallston said. “We also need to think about evaluation when creating new pilots so we can learn what’s working.”

US Telecom Association CEO Walter B. McCormick, Jr, also expressed the need for better evaluation, noting that there has been “an uptick in adoption, but we don’t know why.”

When moderator Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee asked the panel about possible adoption solutions, CTIA- The Wireless Association VP, Christopher Guttman-McCabe, said that wireless may be the best solution.

“Minorities are embracing mobile broadband through cell phones much more than other groups.” Guttman-McCabe said, “Wireless will be the bridge that spans the digital divide.”

“It’s great that people can email or watch videos on their phones,” Kimberly Marcus of Rainbow PUSH Coalition responded, “but really they need to be able to apply to jobs and access government services – and this means using computers connected to some type of broadband.”

Paul de Sa, Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis in the Federal Communications Commission, emphasized that the underserved community faces the three interconnected problems of access, cost and usage. “We need to look at these issues as part of a whole rather than individual or distinct problems.”

Affluent Minorities Embrace Broadband, But Gap Remains

in Broadband Data/Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact by

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2010 – Affluent minorities are making big gains in broadband adoption, but lower income, less educated black and Hispanics are lagging behind, according to a new study.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group focusing on minority concerns and issues, reports that 94 percent of African Americans and 98 percent of Hispanics who have college degrees are now online. College-educated minority Americans who earn more than $50,000 annually are adopting broadband at the fastest rate of any group in the United States, the study found.

Across all education and income brackets, the report says that 69 percent of African Americans and 58 percent of Hispanics now regularly use the internet, compared with 79 percent of whites. It also found that the rate of broadband adoption in African American homes has risen to 59 percent from the 46 percent reported last year by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

However, the new report also found that only about one-third of low-income, older and less educated blacks and Hispanics regularly use the Internet.

“There is a ‘tale of two cities’ element in our research as poorer and less educated people – who perhaps can benefit most from use of the Internet – are still much less likely to be online,” said Nicol Turner-Lee, vice president and director of the Joint Center’s Media and Technology Institute. “This should continue to be a key issue for our policymakers as we invest in broadband improvements across the nation.”

In the study, 92 percent of low-income African Americans have used the Internet to search for a job, almost double rate of low-income whites, while 77 percent of blacks and 64 percent of Hispanics with less than a high school education rely on the Internet for job search, compared to 17 percent of whites in this group. These same minority populations also regularly access the Internet to search and apply for public benefits.

The report also notes that low-income people rely heavily on public institutions such as libraries, schools and community centers for internet access.

FCC Broadband Roadtrip to South Carolina

in Broadband Updates/FCC/National Broadband Plan by

The Federal Communications Commission is going to South Carolina on Monday, October 5, and Tuesday, October 6. Today, Today, the FCC hosts a consumer forum on broadband at Ravenel Community Hall in Ravenal, S.C., from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The forum, according to the FCC, the event “is designed to provide an open dialogue between consumers and government officials in order to develop a more comprehensive and inclusive National Broadband Plan.”

On Wednesday morning, the FCC will hold a field hearing on broadband adoption, headlined by FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn, who hails from South Carolina, and Michael Copps, who worked for former Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, S.C.

And on Wednesday afternoon, how broadband has enabled the Medical University of South Carolina to serve rural areas through telemedicine will be among the points of discussion in an event at the university with Clyburn and Copps. The officials are scheduled to describe the research institution’s support for advanced stroke treatment services, prenatal care and other health care services for women that have been made possible via broadband networks. MUSC is part of the Palmetto State Providers Network, which connects four rural and underserved regions to a fiber optic backbone being developed in the state and Internet2. The network is a participant in the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot Program.

Also participating in the Wednesday morning event, on the significance, benefits and impact of broadband adoption will be Stephanie Blunt, Executive Director, Trident Area Agency on Aging; Bernie Mazyck, President and CEO, South Carolina Association of Community Development Corporations; Otha Meadows, President and CEO, Trident Urban League; Julius H. Hollis, Founder and Chairman, Alliance for Digital Equality; and Nicol Turner-Lee, vice president, Media and Technology Institute, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The second panel, on “lessons learned in broadband adoption and deployment,” will include Ernest Andrade, founder, Charleston Digital Corridor; Scott Adams, Aerolina Wireless; Andi Afsar, Chimera Wireless; Stacey F. Jones, Vice President, Benedict College, and BGTIME; and H. Keith Oliver, Home Telephone.

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.

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