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Digital New England Conference and Webcast Begins Monday at 8:30 a.m. ET with Obama Administration Telecom Officials

in Broadband's Impact/Gigabit Networks by

PORTLAND, Maine, September 28, 2015 – In the first significant conference following the release of the Broadband Opportunity Council Report and Recommendations, top telecommunications officials from the Obama administration — including the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture — will be speaking on Monday in Portland at “Digital New England: A Summit for Regional Broadband Leaders.”

For those unable to addend the conference in person, a webcast of the event will be available at this web site of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Information about the program, which is co-sponsored by NTIA and Next Century Cities, is available at this registration page.

Touted as a regional event for the entire New England area, the event is shaping up as national in its scope, with high profile broadband leaders including Susan Crawford, professor of law at Harvard University; David Edelman, special assistant to President Obama for technology policy, as well as Sen. Angus King, and independent senator who caucuses with the Democrats.

Additionally, Larry Strickling, assistant secretary of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department, and Keith Adams, assistant administrator of telecommunications, for the Rural Utilities Service of the Agriculture Department, providing high-profile addresses.

The NTIA and the RUS are the agencies responsible for the Broadband Opportunity Council report, which was released last week.

Below is the complete information for Monday’s program.

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Washington Telecom Insiders Focusing on New ‘Broadband Moment’ Through Significant Policy Tweaks

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

June 8, 2015 – Some are calling it a second “broadband moment.”

More than six years after  the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was responsible for more than $7 billion in federal funds being spent on broadband infrastructure, internet adoption and telecommunications mapping, there’s a new level of interest in re-vising the National Broadband Plan, as laid out by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010.

Among the indicators:

  • There is widespread interest in municipalities and region tackling less-than-adequate broadband infrastructure, either through municipal construction, or through public-private partnerships.
  • The FCC’s recent changes to eRate eligibility rules open the door for “community anchor institutions” to build their own fiber connections, and to tap into newly-replenished FCC funds when they do so.
  • The FCC has also just launched an effort to revamp its Lifeline fund, which is the fourth major Universal Service Fund category to receive an overhaul in the past decade.
  • While lacking in substantial funds, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration continues to stake out a role in federal broadband policy. Jointly with the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service, NTIA has issues a “Request for Comment” for a wide-ranging public inquiry about expanding broadband deployment and adoption through the recently-established Broadband Advisory Council.

Each of these issues – municipal broadband, eRate changes, Lifeline reform, and the Broadband Advisory Council – will be covered this month in greater detail here in BroadbandBreakfast.com.

Last week, the Government Accountability Office released a report on “Intended Outcomes and Effectiveness of Efforts to Address Adoption Barriers are Unclear.” In it, the agency highlighted strong progress in bringing broadband to U.S. households, to 83 percent in 2013 from 72 percent in 2011.

At the same time, the agency noted that “adoption has increased, but a significant percentage of the population has still not adopted broadband, and non-adoption rates remain higher among populations such as low-income households and older Americans.”

GAO recommended that NTIA include an outcome-based goal and measure for its broadband adoption work in its performance plan and yet NTIA stated that such metrics are not appropriate for its efforts because these efforts are advisory.

This coming week, many broadband advocacy groups are focused on the Wednesday deadline for comments to Broadband Advisory Council through the NTIA-RUS request. The agency is seeking replies to more than 30 questions, which are grouped around the themes of:

  1. Overaching Questions
  2. Addressing Regulatory Barriers to Broadband Deployment, Competition and Adoption
  3. Promoting Public and Private Investment in Broadband
  4. Promoting Broadband Adoption
  5. Issues Related to State, Local and Tribal Governments
  6. Issues Related to Vulnerable Communities and Communities With Limited or No Broadband
  7. Issues Specific to Rural Areas
  8. Measuring Broadband Availability, Adoption, and Speeds

Comments are due by Wednesday, June 10. The NTIA conducted a webinar on May 20, and posted the presentation and transcript from the event.

Jonathan Chambers of the FCC Says Results of Rural Broadband Experiment Teach Incumbents a Lesson

in Broadband Data/Broadband Mapping/FCC/NTIA/Rural Utilities Service/Universal Service by

AUSTIN, April 14, 2015 – The official from the Federal Communications Commission responsible for the agency’s unique “rural broadband experiment” on Monday said the experiment was less about learning than about teaching the rural telecom industry that it can do better.

Speaking on panel at the Broadband Communities Summit here, Jonathan Chambers, chief of the Office of Strategic Planning at the FCC, said: “I wanted to teach certain people in Washington that we could do better than 4 megabits per second (Mbps) down and 1 Mbps up [in broadband speeds.]”

Jonathan Chambers, Chief, Office of Strategic Planning, FCC

Jonathan Chambers, Chief, Office of Strategic Planning, FCC














“I wanted to teach that there was an interest in deployment of broadband to [rural residents'] homes, and in their home communities,” Chambers continued.

Less that $100 million over a 10 year period is being made available through this rural broadband experiment. That $10 million a year, Chambers said, is two-tenth of one percent of the amount — $4.5 billion — that is annually made available to traditional rural telecom companies.

Chambers said he wanted to teach Washington that changes to the entrenched system of universal service could be done, and that significantly better broadband could be made widely available throughout rural America “because there are models that work differently in different places.”

In essence, Chambers said, the innovation of the rural broadband experiment was to explore the question: “What would happen if we made [funds] available to [entities] other than phone companies in rural America?”

In Chamber’s view, the response was impressive.

In an FCC blog post last December, Chambers wrote:

We received bids from telephone and electric co-ops, from mobile operators, from wireless internet service providers, from cable companies, from communities, and from a satellite provider. We received bids from start-ups and from companies that have been around for over 100 years. We received bids to provide broadband via copper, fiber, licensed and unlicensed spectrum. We received bids from national operators, but mostly the bids came from companies that were locally based, with more than an occasional effort to try new strategies to get broadband to unserved communities.

We received 575 bids from 181 different entities to cover homes and small businesses in over 75,000 census blocks in rural areas in every state in the country. The total amount requested far exceeded the budget, nearly nine times as much as was available to fund in the auction. And it appears that the auction succeeded in drawing bidders who believe they can provide service very economically. For example, when we compared the bids to the amount of support calculated by the FCC’s cost model, the total requested in the auction in the aggregate is less than half the model-based support for those census blocks. And the total from the group of lowest bidders is just ten percent of the model-based support for those particular blocks.

This incredible outpouring of interest was attributable to communities’ greater buy-in when they were able to have a stake — separate and apart from a rural telecom company — in their broadband future.

“There are places where a community will put stuff up, and we didn’t have to follow the model we have followed for years,” Chambers said.

He also noted with pleasure that the FCC had upped its definition of broadband to 25 Mbps, which he called “the basis for the rural broadband” experiment.

In noting that the bids obtained under the rural experiment were half as much as the agency pays for traditional “high-cost” universal service support, Chambers said Monday that most of the proposals were “fiber to the home, which would deliver far greater speeds, less latency, and more reliable service than the FCC has sought in past years.”

The panel on which Chambers spoke, “Federal Loans, Grants and Universal Service Fund Support,” was a last minute addition to the program. Also on the program was Sandeep Taxali, senior policy analyst at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and Laurel Leverrier, operations branch chief policy for the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service.

Both Taxali and Leverrier spoke about their agency’s broadband programs, including the Broadband Advisory Council of federal government entities recently announced by President Obama.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club. He tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, broadband usage, the universal service fund and wireless policy @BroadbandCensus. He is also Of Counsel with the firm of Kirton McConkie, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, which enhances clients’ ability to construct and operate high-speed broadband networks in public-private partnerships. You can find him on LinkedINGoogle+ and Twitter. The articles and posts on BroadbandBreakfast.com  and affiliated social media are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors. Clark brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband: job creation, telemedicine, online learning, public safety, energy, transportation and eGovernment. 

Broadband Roundup: Rural Providers Want RUS Funding, AT&T Expands ‘GigaPower’, and Potential Surveillance Changes

in Broadband Roundup/Gigabit Networks/Privacy/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, July 30, 2014 – The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Rural Development and Credit held a hearing on coordinating the future of broadband investment. Lang Zimmerman, vice president of Yelcot Telephone Co., a member company of rural broadband association NTCA testified that funding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service is critical for network upgrades and deployments in rural areas.

Zimmerman complained that Universal Service Fund reforms had compromised the “success momentum” of the RUS telecommunication programs.

“It will be all the more important to continue providing RUS with the resources it needs to lend to the rural telecom industry as demand for financing will inevitably increase when reforms are improved and small carriers are given certainty, hopefully through a program like the Connect America Fund that is designed to promote broadband investment,” Zimmerman said.

Directing resources toward the RUS Broadband Loan Program and the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan program is a “win-win situation for rural broadband consumers and taxpayers,” he added, because both programs are obligated to pay back the loans with interest.

AT&T Expanding ‘GigaPower

AT&T announced it will be deploying its fiber-based “GigaPower” network, capable of up to 1 Gigabit-per-second speeds, to parts of Nashville, Tennessee, Multichannel News reported.

The same city, currently served by Comcast, is also being eyed by Google as a potential site for Google Fiber expansion.

AT&T will also be expanding “GigaPower” to San Antonio, deploying fiber and adding important last mile network electronics to the existing city network, Fierce Telecom reported. City leaders lauded the deal.

“The growth of San Antonio’s tech industry is due in large part to the on-going cooperation and collaboration between government and the private sector,” said Hugh Miller, San Antonio’s chief technology director. “The City of San Antonio is excited about working with AT&T to bring their U-verse with AT&T GigaPower technology to our communities.”

Leahy Seeks to Update USA Freedom Act

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced a revised version of the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday. The revision builds off a similar proposal by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to prohibit bulk data collection under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. Government agencies will have to narrow their searches to “specific selection terms.” Reforms will also be made to secretive court that hears cases under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“If enacted, this bill would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act 13 years ago,” Leahy said in a floor statement.  “This is an historic opportunity, and I am grateful that the bill has the support of the administration, a wide range of privacy and civil liberties groups, and the technology industry.”

Broadband Breakfast Club Webinar on Effectiveness of Broadband Stimulus Program

in Broadband Stimulus/Broadband TV/FCC/NTIA/Rural Utilities Service by

December 17, 2013 – The Broadband Breakfast Club released the video of its webinar earlier today, on “Evaluating the Broadband Stimulus Program: Were Funds Well Spent?”


Expert Opinion: Technology Policy Institute Study Misunderstands Purpose of Broadband Program

in Education/Expert Opinion/Health/NTIA/Rural Utilities Service by

Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition Finds Fault  with Study Critiquing Broadband Technology Opportunities Program

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2013 – The Technology Policy Institute issued a report on Thursday criticizing the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).  Unfortunately, the report reflects a misunderstanding of the purpose of that program.

The Technology Policy Institute study of BTOP mischaracterizes the purposes of the Program and fails to recognize the program’s enormous benefit to community anchor institutions across the country.  The authors of the study describe the BTOP program as a “rural subsidy” program.  In fact, the BTOP program is neither “rural” nor a “subsidy.”

While the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) administered by the Rural Utility Service (RUS) was focused on connecting rural residential consumers to “last mile” broadband, the principal purpose of the BTOP infrastructure program was to provide high-capacity “Middle Mile” broadband services to schools, libraries, health providers, community colleges, and other anchor institutions all across the country, not just in rural areas.  The BTOP program also provided valuable support for public computer centers and promoted broadband adoption in urban, suburban and rural areas.  Unlike an ongoing subsidy, BTOP provided a one-time investment in long-lasting broadband infrastructure that expands the reach of broadband services across many underserved geographic areas that previously suffered from an inadequate level of broadband capacity.  The National Broadband Plan called for anchor institutions to have 1 Gbps capacity by 2020, and the BTOP program has played an important role in moving us toward that goal.

The SHLB Coalition is a broad-based coalition of non-profit and for-profit organizations that promote open, affordable, high-capacity broadband for anchor institutions and their communities.  Enhancing the broadband capabilities of community anchor institutions promotes economic growth and enables the most vulnerable segments of our population to be equal participants in the 21st century society and economy.

John Windhausen is Executive Director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition (pronounced “SHELL-bee Coalition”).


Obama Administration Continues Follow-through on Broadband Infrastructure Executive Order

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

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2013 – Demonstrating a thoroughness in following through on its broadband policy initiatives, the Obama administration on Monday highlighted the launch of several new broadband tracking tools.

These tools including interactive asset maps, a web-based dashboard focusing on access to rights of way, and a series of best practices for “dig once” initiatives.

In a blog post on WhiteHouse.gov’s section devoted to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Ron Hewitt of the Homeland Security Department and Martha Benson of the General Services Administration cataloged the administration’s progress since the June 2012 Executive Order on accelerating broadband infrastructure deployment.

One key aspect of that Executive Order was the establishment of a Broadband Deployment on Federal Property Working Group, by representatives of key federal government agencies.

This working group was tasked with coordinating consistent federal broadband procedures and requirements; facilitating a uniform process for contracts and permits on federal lands; and  for enabling the deployment of conduit for broadband facilities in conjunction with federally-assisted highway construction.

This last area is sometimes referred to as the “dig once” initiative, and provides for the laying of conduit for fiber-optic cables at the same time that federal or state highways are constructed.

Under the leadership of Gov. Pat Quinn, the state of Illinois has been a leader in this initiative, implementing “dig once” laws since at least 2009.

Many of these policies were in turn highlighted in the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan — including Illinois’ “dig once” law — which the federal agency released in March 2010.

Among the areas highlighted in the blog post include:

In the blog post, Hewitt, the Director for the Office of Emergency Communications at DHS, and Benson, the Public Buildings Service Assistant Commissioner at the GSA’s Office of Real Property Asset Management, write:

Broadband access is essential to the Nation’s global competitiveness.  It drives job creation, promotes innovation, expands markets for American businesses, and supports improved education, health care, and public safety.  Today, however, too many areas still lack adequate access to this crucial resource.

One way the Administration is working to bolster broadband deployment is by reducing barriers for companies to install broadband infrastructure on Federal properties and roads. The Federal Government owns or manages nearly 30 percent of all land in the United States, including 10,000 buildings nationwide. These properties can provide excellent pathways for deployment of broadband infrastructure.

Additionally, the post makes reference to a progress report progress report (PDF) of the Federal Property Working Group, which is chaired by Hewitt and Benson.

In speaking about the “dig once” initiative, the progress report notes:

Many state and local stakeholders have recognized the value of Dig Once policies for expediting the deployment of fiber along main highway routes. Very few states, however, have implemented statewide Dig Once policies. Implementation is more common at the local level. In addition, some localities have instituted moratori on street excavation to preserve new roadway construction, while others allow multiple excavations as long as benefits can be achieved, such as repairing the street or obtaining additional fiber. In general, state and local agencies favor approaches that encourage cooperation, but do not prevent multiple excavations.

Still, the report highlights two brief case studies, one from Utah:

Promotion of State Economic Growth through Broadband Deployment

The Utah DOT (UDOT) has been successful in facilitating the expansion of broadband infrastructure in remote areas of the State where highway ROWs are open at all times, allowing for easy access to complete continuous build-outs. The state also installs empty conduit during highway construction. They found that if the state installs small sections of conduit, telecoms have cooperated in helping to extend the infrastructure and provide services to rural communities. By using this approach, the state has been able to provide most of its regions with a connection. In addition, UDOT has been able to leverage their infrastructure by trading it for fiber that has been used to connect state-operated facilities and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). UDOT also helps communities understand how to attract telecoms by working with them to learn how to install their own conduit, providing construction standards and contact information. UDOT’s efforts to deploy broadband has advanced state ITS initiatives, and helped to promote economic growth in both urban and rural areas.

And another from Boston:

Boston Dig Once Case Study

In an effort to minimize excavations on the busy streets of Boston, the City adopted a policy in 1994 that mandated all telecoms to install their underground conduits “in the same trench, at the same time on a shared-cost basis.” The “joint build” policy that was created put the local telecoms in a leading role for planning and providing telecommunication services for the City. Under this policy, a “lead company” is established. The lead company is any company (telecom provider, or not) that approaches the City first for a build-out request and takes the lead in coordinating the construction. The lead company and participating telecoms work together to draft the engineering plans, estimate construction costs and submit the built-out application to the City’s Public Improvement Commission, the body that reviews and approves the application.

Among the key forthcoming items in regards to implementing the Executive Order is the development of an online platform for a common application for infrastructure projects with a broadband component.

According to the progress report, “To help alleviate these challenges, USDA Rural Utilities Services (RUS) is designing and piloting a common application system that would be the first of its kind to integrate RUS funding opportunities for broadband, water and waste, and electric projects (and associated environmental reviews) across the three programs for entities seeking grants from RUS. Ultimately, modules will be developed interfacing with other government agencies that are involved in the grant and permitting review processes.” This effort is expected to be available by December 2013.

Drew Clark is a nationally-respected broadband expert who founded BroadbandCensus.com and the Broadband Breakfast Club. Follow the news feed for Broadband Census News at http://twitter.com/broadbandcensus. Previously, he served as Executive Director of Broadband Illinois. BroadbandBreakfast.com tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, programs to advance broadband adoption and use, developments in the universal service fund, and wireless spectrum policy. Drew is also available on Google+ and Twitter.

Americans With Access to Broadband Jumped Over Past Two Years, Says Commerce Department’s NTIA

in Broadband Data/Broadband's Impact/National Broadband Plan/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2013 – The percentage of Americans with access to broadband speeds of at least 3 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 768 Kilobits per second (Kbps) upload grew from 95 percent in 2010 to 98 percent in 2012, according to a report issued by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The blog post about the series is available at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/blog/2013/ntia-explores-broadband-availability-new-report-series, and the full report is available at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/usbb_avail_report_05102013.pdf.

While these speeds are adequate for basic activities such as email, many other applications, like video streaming, requiring greater speeds.

Additionally, all seven categories of download speeds displayed in the data showed growth in broadband availability. This was most notably at 25 Mbps: the percentage of Americans with speeds in that category of availability download speeds jumped from 50 percent of Americans with to 79 percent.

Despite this growth, a significant disparity still exists between urban and rural access to broadband service.  While nearly all urban residents have access to download speeds of at least 6 Mbps, only 82 percent of rural communities can access these speeds, the report said.

In addition, less than half as many rural residents as urban residents have access to download speeds of 25 Mbps or greater.

The disparity between rural and urban populations translates into the rankings of states in terms of broadband availability. More urbanized states such as Rhode Island and Connecticut ranked highest in availability, while the report placed more rural communities like Montana and Alaska in the bottom slots.

In terms of technology, wired broadband has been the dominant factor in the spread of access over the two-year period. Improvements in cable speed and increased deployment of fiber have been particularly important.

Mobile wireless has also seen a major spike in availability, more than tripling from 26 percent in 2010 to 81 percent in 2012. The report predicts that speeds available on mobile broadband should increase in the near future.

NTIA officials attributed much of this growth to the success of the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program and the Rural Utilities Service’s Broadband Initiatives Program. However, the report said that much progress still needed to be made in increasing availability of higher download speeds and reducing the disparity between rural and urban broadband access.

How to Tackle Broadband Adoption by the Nation’s Underserved Populations

in Broadband Data/Broadband Mapping/Broadband Stimulus/FCC/Fiber/National Broadband Plan/NTIA/Rural Utilities Service/States/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, Thursday, July 26, 2012 – Last week, the fourth year of the Broadband Breakfast Club Series came to an end with a timely panel on “Bringing Broadband Adoption to the Nation’s Underserved Population.”  Panelists from the private, nonprofit and state government sectors came together to discuss what can be done to promote broadband usage in order to connect the one third of our nation that still does not have a broadband connection at home.

While physical access to broadband connections remains a major concern for adoption, the panel focused most of its attention on the other prongs of adoption which involve cost education and relevance.  Efforts to subsidize cost of service cost of hardware along with digital literacy efforts were the primary concern of the panelists.

Just last week, Chairman Genachowski of the  Federal Communications Commission  and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, announced a nationwide digital literacy partnership between the 2,800 American Job Centers and Connect2Compete (C2C) extending the digital literacy training coalition to thousands of communities across the country

Drew Clark, Founder and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com, as well as the Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, started off the discussion with a review of the past four years of the Broadband Breakfast Club — and the videos  are archived on the BroadbandBreakfast.com web site.

Clark highlighted a comment made by Jonathan Adelstein, former FCC Commissioner and current Administrator for the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, at the June 2010 Broadband Breakfast Club, in which Adelstein spoke about rural electrification requiring federal investment in infrastructure but required an active campaign to promote electricity adoption. “At the time” added Clark, “rural America needed to be educated trained and sold on the benefits and value of household electricity consumption.”

The C2C initiative as well as proposed reforms to the Universal Service Fund, particularly the Lifeline and Link Up Programs, are two key collaborative efforts that shape much of the current discussion on adoption.

Clark added some background about the $8 billion dollar a year Universal Service fund, noting that most of the fund covers the high cost program which is in the process of being re vamped through the Connect America Fund, but $1.2 billion annually goes toward Lifeline and Link Up and is devoted to making basic telephone service available to low income consumers.  The broader question raised by Clark was, how to change universal service in the broadband era?

In summarizing some of the thoughts of Blair Levin, godfather of the National Broadband Plan, Clark focused on Levin’s recommendations that called for shifting up to $15.5 billion over the next decade from the High Cost program to broadband.  While current Lifeline is focused solely on cost, adopting broadband is about cost but also about digital literacy.

Clark quoted Levin when he asked, “how can we have  low income broadband  policy that embeds reciprocal commitments, mitigates dead weight loss, is sustainable, honors the dignity of those participating, and is based on today’s  rather than yesterday’s logic.”  Levin’s four suggestions included, the use of reverse auctions to reduce price, a concerted training effort to enable those who wish to learn, to use it, a multi-sourced mini voucher program to further lower costs like subsidies based on an agreement to use broadband and finally a presidential directive to eliminate paper within federal agencies within five years forcing people to adopt and go online to access these services.  Levin also noted that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications Information Administration should be charged with overseeing the training and voucher programs that would be funded in part by private and nonprofit partners.

Talking on behalf of the Partnership for Connected Illinois, Clark said that collecting data and mapping broadband “ is just a tool to promote better broadband and better lives.  Our mission to collect and promote broadband is really useless unless it has an impact on facilitating collaboration for better deployment and education for usage.”

About 22% of non adopters cite digital literacy type barriers that prevent their adoption, this group include those that say they are worried about all the bad things that could happen when they use the internet.  That might be distinguished from relevance, these are the people who say, the internet is a waste of time.

Clark noted that PCI has applied to participate in the FCC’s Broadband Lifeline Pilot Program, “We call this ‘Better Broadband, Better Lifeline,’ and we are working with several telecommunications providers within the state to meet the needs of 35 rural counties by administering one on one computer training for new users and leading an outreach effort to enlist those not subscribing.”  They plan to bring together refurbished computers, digital literacy training and subsidized internet service through the FCC Pilot Program.

Amina Fazullah, Policy Counsel of The Benton Foundation, Cheryl Leanza, President of A Learned Hand, Sonja Murray, Executive VP and Chief Program Officer at Connect2Compete, Bret Perkins, Vice President of External and Government Affairs at Comcast, Rick Schadelbauer, Economist at the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) and Jason Whittet, Deputy Director of the Massachusetts broadband Institute made up the panel of experts for the morning’s discussion.

Fazullah began the discussion with an update of some of the most recent changes made to the Lifeline program at the FCC, including a number of proposed cost saving measures, updates to the eligibility and verification processes and changes to the way low income consumers can participate.  She specifically cited the clarification of the one subsidy per household with the same address issue which had previously prevented those living in group homes, homeless shelters and senior facilities from participating in the program.

The FCC has launched their Lifeline and Link Up Pilot projects for broadband which propose to change the program from a voice subsidy to a broadband subsidy.  Fazullah said that all the applications for the Pilot Project were received by the Commission as of last Monday and over half the country is represented in the applications. She references a mix of rural and urban applications that all seem to have a combination of support for providing broadband service, as well as partnering with community organizations to provide equipment and digital literacy training.

Once the projects are implemented there are two rounds of data collection which will hopefully help move FCC forward in plans to modernize lifeline. “Hopefully all this data will show that just having a cost subsidy is not enough to transition low income and vulnerable populations to broadband. There are a lot of different components to being able to utilize broadband properly; it is more than just having the money to connect,” said Fazullah.

Only $25 million out of the total $1.2 billion of the Lifeline Fund will be placed toward the research piece to transition the fund to broadband.  These projects will provide data on how much of the fund needs to go toward subsidy, digital literacy and equipment, noted Fazullah.   She also highlighted the legal question of authority and what can be done with the money under the constructs of the USF and the FCC. “Can the money even be used for equipment and digital literacy support” added Fazullah.

Murray stressed the need for really understanding the different communities that we go after for adoption.  There needs to be a focus on creating relevant content as well as engaging younger populations to make them core learners.  These members of the community, noted Murray, are the digital connectors.  She expressed how they learned to interpret the technology that was most relevant to their community and then they were charged with the task of going and spreading that knowledge to their elders.

Murray highlighted the fact that C2C was a response and understanding of the FCC that digital literacy and access to technology is important.  Their first partners were cable companies that began providing subsidized broadband for families with children taking part in national school lunch voucher programs.

Perkins noted that Comcast’s program, Internet Essentials, was a response to the realization that connecting to broadband was a function of cost of service, cost of equipment, and digital literacy especially when it came to low income families.  Comcast launched its initiative across 4000 school districts in about 39 states and found it critical to partner with nonprofits, governments, and school districts to address the broader issues of adoption

When asked specifically about the seriousness of relevance, Perkins said “many people in low income households do have some disposable income but if they have lived their life without broadband internet why would they need to change now?”  Part of the answer, he noted, is for your children, for job search, and healthcare.  “Many things we take for granted, require some hand holding when it comes to non-adopters.”

Leanza wanted the audience to step back and take a look at the broader scope of problem.  The numbers she put forth show that 100 million people are not adopting broadband and 46 million people are living in poverty.  She added that while those living below the poverty line might have some disposable income, the choices they make will probably not support adoption of broadband.  “While training is useful, until we eliminate poverty, cost will still be a major issue.  Even if digital literacy is solved we will not solve the issue of adoption without a broad commitment to cost,” said Leanza.

Leanza’a broader point is was that larger scale solutions will need to happen on the federal level.  She commended Comcast for doing an excellent job of getting 41,000 people to participate in Internet Essentials, but, adoption is a 100 million person problem. “Corporate philanthropy is excellent but we will not be able to really tackle this goal without a federal policy change.”

Clark then asked the panelist why was it that if 46 million people are in poverty only 10 million receive subsidies for Lifeline telephone voice service.

Fazullah believes that a big barrier has been awareness as well as getting the social service organizations to include Lifeline in the bundle of services they help enroll people in.  Additionally Fazullah clarified that the 46 million is the number that is eligible for Lifeline, but that does not mean they are not receiving telephone service, many of them might be paying for it themselves.

Leanza believes that part of the problem is due to different rates in different states, subscription rates vary a lot by state.  In some states the telephone rates are already very low and in others, states might be offering their own subsidies

Schadelbauer from NTCA said that 5 different applications for the Lifeline Pilot Program were submitted on behalf of their member companies.  He also realized the challenges they face with the Pilot Program dollars only being used to subsidize service, rather than training or equipment.  The NCTA applications aim to look at the differences in discount options, whether a sliding scale discount works better than a fixed rate discount.  The carriers in their proposals have agreed to cover the cost of the modems while the commission funds would cover installation costs.  Additionally they partnered with Connected Nation to help with hardware and online training.  Consumers would complete taining through the offices of the carriers and receive an ID number that would then qualify them to purchase a refurbished computer for $119.

Schadelbauer anticipated that the proposed projects would cover approximately 1000 customers, so in order to comply with the FCC’s request for a control group; they decided to use lifeline eligible customers who have subscribed to broadband over the past 12 months.

Comcast is offering subsidized services for $9.95 a month and are enrolling families eligible for the school lunch programs for 3 year blocks.  These families however can be grandfathered in till their last child graduates High School.  For hardware, Perkins explained that Comcast is offering vouchers to purchase computers for $150, but digital literacy seems to present to greatest challenge.  One lesson they learned last year was that working through community based partners presents the best solution that meet specific community needs.  The number of community based organizations doing this type of work over the past couple of years has proliferated.

Murray believes to truly thrive in the global community we need to keep thinking about innovation.  There will always be a need for digital literacy, there is always going to be some new technology and some new application that we are going to need to be educated about. “We see this as a moment in time to leverage where everyone is,” said Murray, “it’s like a perfect storm of resources, government, private partners, public partners, that can come together and think about how to create a sustainable platform for what we don’t even know is about to happen.”

Whittet from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) notes that a great thing to come out of the stimulus has been the state broadband offices.  He urges many in the private sector to think of them as partners that can help bring together local entities.

With NTIA funding, MBI was able to create a broadband adoption website Mass VetsAdvisor.org  for the 400,000 Massachusetts’s  resident Veterans.  The website streamlines all of the state and federal benefits for veterans.  Whittet explained that because everyone wants to help veterans, it is hard to decipher what is real and what is a scam. MBI has gone through all the programs and accounted for the ones that are real and accurate.  For those veterans not from Massachusetts, added Whittet, one can go through and remove the state benefits options to access a consolidated listing off all federal benefits.

For the digital literacy part of the program, MBI is partnering with veterans organizations and other frontline service providers.  Every city and town in the state has a veteran’s service office and they have been engaged to provide digital literacy training. Massachusetts has also recruited the help of job creation centers and community college to aid in the digital literacy efforts.

In addressing a question about state and federal government services moving to an online platform, Leanza, highlighted an example of a librarian that had been helping community members with immigration forms online, but was thrown off by the number of times immigration and Customs would change the layout of their page and move different forms around.  “Once government places information online, the problem still remains of having someone handy to help with the access and navigation of these sites.

With regards to the issue of speed, Schadelbauer expressed the importance of certainty and long term planning for rural and underserved carriers to build and update the networks to keep up with community needs.

In Massachusetts, Whittet highlighted the 1300 mile fiber optic network that was built to connect the western communities through their anchor institutions.  He added that while data on speed is being collected at a census block level, he believes with the two years remaining in their funding the project should be re purposed to look at address level data to find out what is happening at the home.

An audience member asked the panel about the need for more money from the universal service fund to cover the cost of real broadband adoption.

Schadelbauer responded by stating that first there needs to be money made available to incumbent carrier in order to provide service in these underserved areas, “you need to have access before you can have the adoption.”

Schadelbauer believes that the data collected from these pilot program will be very informative.  Right now the amount of money to be spent to have a real effect on adoption is in the experiment phase.  There has not been enough data collected on price points for service and hardware, noted Schadelbauer.

Leanza pointed out that money for hardware and service is easy to calculate but money for digital literacy is a lot harder.  She is not sure the FCC is the correct lace to even house a digital literacy program.  “Right now Comcast is offering $10 internet and the Lifeline subsidy is also $10 but under the current regulatory structure Comcast would not receive any of that money.

Murray ended the discussion by asking “what are the outcomes we are looking for?”  Once we agree on those the solutions will follow.

Larry Strickling Cites Public Safety FirstNet As New, Post-Stimulus Broadband Opportunity

in Broadband Data/Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/NTIA/Wireless by

ARLINGTON, Va., May 25, 2012 – The new national wireless communications network to serve police, firefighters and other “first responders” may provide a new opportunity to extend broadband stimulus-related activity, a top Commerce Department official said Wednesday.

Dubbed FirstNet, this new public safety wireless network was mandated in February by Congress. Lawmakers allocated up to $7 billion that will be dispensed to state entities under the coordination of a new, independent organization at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

States should act fast to develop plans to utilize funding, said Assistant Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling, who administers the NTIA. “One of the issues [in FirstNet] is how does coverage from this network get into rural areas?”

Strickling said that the new network provided the opportunity for public safety officials, particularly in rural areas that are unserved or underserved by broadband, to help bring high-speed internet connectivity to more remote parts of the country.

“In addition to reform of the Universal Service Fund of the Federal Communications Commission, and [additional funding from] the Rural Utilities Service, [FirstNet] is another tool in our toolkit” to ensure the continued viability of broadband stimulus-funded projects, said Strickling.

Strickling was the keynote speaker at a conference here co-hosted by the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition and his agency. The conference brought together broadband experts together with awardees from stimulus projects, including telecommunications infrastructure projects, mapping projects and projects designed to promote widespread computer adoption and digital literacy.

One focus of the conference was the issue of sustainability: NTIA-funded broadband infrastructure and adoption projects will come to an end by next year. Some stimulus awardees – including projects of interest to schools, hospitals and libraries – are concerned about their future viability.

Under the legislation passed by Congress, FirstNet funding will be dispensed by the NTIA. A governing board for the new entity is still in formation, and rules for the dispensing of the $7 billion by NTIA are currently under consideration, but must be in place by late August 2012.

Because of the landmark nature of the FirstNet legislation in February 2012, Strickling said that NTIA took the unusual act of suspending seven previously-awarded public safety-related grants under its Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program. Those programs totaled $382 million.

“The new legislation in February [changed] the assumption on which we are going to move forward,” he said, referring to a more decentralized series of public safety networks that had been the working assumption prior to February 2012.

“We really need to take the time and pause now” to consider how public safety broadband dollars should be spent, he said. “It is not my money, or your money, it is the taxpayer’s money, and we want it to be used in a way that the project, as it is built, will get incorporated into the FirstNet network.”

Those seven public safety projects will be granted extension on the time to finish their projects – although he insisted that no other awardees would be granted extensions. “Keep pushing on your projects,” he said.

Strickling’s agency was responsible for dispensing the lion’s share of the $7 billion broadband stimulus funds mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Additional funding under the Recovery Act was dispensed by Rural Utilities Service of the Department of Agriculture.

Keynoting the conference on Thursday was RUS Administrator Jonathan Adelstein, who praised broadband stimulus awardees as “the best and the brightest” in building broadband in rural areas.

“We know you can complete it to the end. We are counting on you, and your communities are counting on your success,” said Adelstein.

Referring to role of broadband programs within the USDA, Adelstein said, “We are betting the farm on broadband – and it is a safe bet.”

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