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One Web Day DC 2008: E-Democracy and Information Policy, an Education and a Celebration

WASHINGTON, September 22 – One Web Day, DC style: New York has a rally celebrating the Internet and its democratizing power, DC holds a panel session focused on the policies that could either expand the web as a democratizing force or stifle it.

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WASHINGTON, September 22 – One Web Day, DC style: New York has a rally celebrating the Internet and its democratizing power, DC holds a panel session focused on the policies that could either expand the web as a democratizing force or stifle it.

Not that we don’t know how to celebrate in DC – the happy hour will be later this evening – but from 9 to 5 (or usually 10 to 6) it’s policy.

Sascha Meinrath welcomes the wonks and the media to One Web Day DC 2008 opening event at the New America Foundation’s headquarters and calls it a celebration of “one of the most important telecommunications innovations in history” and tells us that One Web Day (OWD) celebrations are going on all over the world at the same time.

The idea started and is still driven by Susan Crawford, who three years ago imagined a One Web Day that could at some point rival earth day.

“One Web Day may be in its infancy…but we can see the importance of Internet policy rising” in the national political landscape, Sascha says before introducing a key telecommunications policy maker, Jonathan Adelstein, from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Commissioner Adelstein follows his introduction with an introduction of his own, of Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D – Marylan, 4th congressional district).

Congresswoman Edwards is interested in how the internet can be an enabler for democratic engagement on the community level, but to start, she says, communities need access. Access to broadband is something Ms. Edwards sees lacking at the community level, even in her own houselhold.

“According to the broadband provider in my area, I can get service in the zip code I live in, and that’s true for houses just down the street from me, but at my house we can’t get broadband and are still on dial-up.” As a result, the Congresswoman has given up on utilizing the few hours of the day when’s she’s home to go online (“because it’s too much of a pain”) and she worries that students at the schools in her community are facing similar situations. “I think the Internet and access to the web is the future for the 21st Century and I connect that very closely to the future of the young people in the community.”

Ms. Edwards says she’s excited about the prospects for this digital future but also weary of the potential for some of the advantages broadband offers to be excluded. As her personal anecdote makes clear, exclusion is happening, even where we’d least expect it.

Returning to the podium, Mr. Adelstein, who was visibly frustrated by Ms. Edwards report that she does not have broadband at her home, follows-up on her inspirational speech with a focus on policy, beginning with the need for a national broadband strategy to “restore [the US] to its position as a global leader on technology.”

The elements of a national broadband strategy, according to Commissioner Adelstein, include an open and neutral internet and the goal of universal broadband penetration that facilitates empowerment.

Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation follows Mr. Adelstein and presents a good picture of the type of empowerment the web can deliver: Sunlight’s latest online transparency tool, publicmarkup.org, and One Web Day’s public mark-up release: “The Wall Street Bail-Out Bill,” open and exposed to users for discussion and comment.

Ellen highlights the power of the web as being particularly liberating, in that Sunlight has “liberated” countless documents and massive amounts of government information, but without the power of the web to publish, the information could never truly be liberated.

A prominent developer of the tools necessary for groups like Sunlight to liberate information and connect activists is John Wheeler of Democracy in Action. John introduces himself as one of the first staffers to have an email address on the Hill and talks about his difficulties in getting others in Congress to understand the power of the new medium in 1994.

“Today,” John says, “Congress is dealing with a flood of emails and I’m proud to be partly responsible for that flood.” For the rest of the online gadflies, Democracy in Action has put all the web tools for organizing and advocacy in one place at the Salsa Commons.

One group interested in utilizing John’s tools is Bread for the City, a grassroots organization with a mission of assisting those on the verge of homelessness. Bread in the City’s Greg Bloom gave the OWD audience a tour through his group’s weblog, Beyond Bread, and noted the challenge of connecting what organizers and advocates are doing at the offline grass roots level with the web community while remaining issue-focused.

Broadband Census’ own Drew Clark joins the panel and returns to Congresswoman Edwards’ eloquent opening remarks to highlight the importance of getting accurate data on broadband connectivity in order to better inform policy makers and ensure the technology’s expansion.

As a part of One Web Day, Drew (and everyone here at Broadband Census) is encouraging consumers to take the census and join in the effort to better inform consumers about their broadband service options. Much like Ellen Miller and the Sunlight Foundation, BroadbandCensus.com is an effort to enhance the transparency of publicly available information in the interest of a more engaged citizenry and more informed policy making.

“Broadband is too important,” according to Clark, and unless there is universal broadband, there will be a segment of people who are left out of a vital medium for commerce and conversation. “BroadbandCensus.com will be a place where you can find information on connectivity that is comprehensive, useful and reliable.”

Next up, Alec Ross, Barack Obama’s science adivisor reflected on the power of the Internet as an educational tool and an organizational tool and, most importantly, as a transformative personal tool.

“So much on the internet speaks to so many people directly,” Ross says, “it’s a very personal experience and one that allows people to find the information they want without the historical limitations of place and space.”

Mr. Ross believes Senator Obama’s experience as a community organizer has contributed to his acute unederstanding of the powers of this tool. He then laid out some of the principle policy goals of an Obama administration in regards to the Internet, including Universal Service Fund reform, spectrum reform, and the creation of a Chief Technologies Officer for the nation. He stressed that groups like the Sunlight Foundation would have a partner in the federal government in an Obama administration.

Wrapping up the One Web Day kick-off at New America Foundation, Nathaniel James, the Campaign Coordinator for the Media and Democracy Coalition and the lead organizer of DC’s One Web Day, drew attention to the local effort to create a Time Capsule for OWD. The goal of the Time Capsule, according to Nathaniel, will be to create “a living archive of where we were in terms of e-democracy up until One Web Day 2008.” At 5pm today, the site will be closed to further contributions (though comments will still be allowed) until One Web Day 2020, when the community will then undertake a critical re-evaluation of what has happened over the last 12 years.

Nathaniel sums up the objective of the Time Capsule: “we’ve outlined a trajectory today and we want to come back in 12 years and make sure that we’re following through on that trajectory.”

So that’s it for the live event, now it’s back to the online events of One Web Day and the DC crew will return at 6pm with a little less policy and a little more celebrating. Until then, try to be one of the last to leave your mark on the time capsule and remind yourself in 2020 what it was like today.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Tom Reid: Accountability in Broadband Maps Necessary for BEAD to Achieve Mission

The sheer magnitude of the overstatements in the FCC’s map makes the challenge process untenable.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Tom Reid, president of Reid Consulting Group.

With millions of American households stranded in the digital desert, we need to achieve accountability in broadband to make sure the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment funding achieves its mission. The broadband gaps can be readily identified despite the air of mystery surrounding the topic.

Broadband improvements have been constrained for decades by inaccurate maps, yet the Federal Communications Commission continues to accept dramatically exaggerated availability and capacity claims from internet service providers. The cumbersome challenge process requires consumers and units of government to prove a negative — a logical fallacy.

The Reid Consulting Group and other parties, including Microsoft, have developed robust algorithms to reliably identify actual broadband availability. RCG utilizes Ookla Speedtest Intelligence data due to the large quantity of consumer-initiated tests. In Ohio, as an example, we draw on more than 16 million speed tests reflecting the lived experience from millions of households. We combine the speed test findings with FCC and Census data to deliver irrefutable identification of unserved and underserved locations.

Such methodologies offer State Broadband Leaders the opportunity to reverse the burden of proof in the BEAD program, requiring that ISPs submit concrete evidence supporting their availability and speed claims. As an example, in Ohio, RCG’s maps were accepted as proof of unserved status for the 2022 state grant program. BroadbandOhio then required ISPs to submit substantial proof in their challenge process. In other words, the ISP’s were tasked with proving a positive instead of expecting citizens to prove a negative.

ISPs and the FCC denounce crowdsourced data unless conducted under unusually restrictive conditions. The ISPs have successfully promoted unsubstantiated myths regarding the value of consumer-initiated speed tests.

Myth: Bad tests are because of poor Wi-Fi.
Reality: RCG eliminates speed tests with weak Wi-Fi and includes GPS enabled wired devices. Even first-generation Wi-Fi would saturate a 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload connection.

Myth: Residents only subscribe to low-speed packages.
Reality: According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, in areas where rural electric cooperatives offer broadband, 25 to 33 percent of rural subscribers opt for the top speed tier offered. We can clearly see this trend in areas where fiber has been deployed in recent years, as described later in this article.

Myth: People only test when there is a problem.
Reality: Network problems prompt tests, as do resolutions of problems.  RCG recommends focusing on the maximum speed test results to eliminate this “unhappy customer effect.”

Finding the truth: Broadband and the lived experience

In Ohio, RCG analyzed more than 14 million consumer-initiated speed tests over a three-year period. The data reveals a clear pattern of carrier overstatement. The stark visual contrast between the two maps is hard to ignore — and while this study is focused on Ohio, the issue remains nationwide in scope. The sheer magnitude of the overstatements makes the FCC challenge process untenable.

Figure 1: Ohio Broadband Reality vs. FCC ISP stated coverage map.

RCG utilized the “maximum speeds ever seen” at a location for generating maps and coverage figures, but we also examined the results from the average of speed test. Switching between average and maximum speeds does not change the overall picture of broadband availability. As an example, Figure 2 focuses on an area around Bolivar, Missouri. Looking at the maximum speed turns Bolivar itself a deeper green, meaning “better served,” but the rural areas around Bolivar remain predominantly red, meaning “unserved.”  The preponderance of evidence clearly demonstrates that much of the rural area around Bolivar remains unserved, even at maximum speeds.

Figure 2: Map visualization illustrating the difference between viewing average speeds in the Bolivar, Missouri area and maximum speeds documented.

When rating broadband availability in the Bolivar area at the Census block level and overlaying with ISP coverage claims at the H3 R8 level, you can see that many of the unserved and underserved areas have been reported as served to the FCC by ISPs (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Carrier overstatement small scale in Bolivar, Missouri. RCG speed map with FCC H3 R8 hexagon overlay.

Zooming out to examine the entirety of Missouri (Figure 4), the pattern of ISP overstatement becomes quite clear. According to the FCC maps, most of the state is served, whereas the analysis conducted by RCG shows that significant areas remain in need of broadband investment. As with Ohio, the scope of the overstatement in Missouri presents an unreasonable burden on the public to challenge.

Figure 4: Missouri reality vs. ISP Reports, March 2023.

Showing Progress: Change of State Analysis

Change-of-state analysis taps progressive releases of Ookla records to identify areas where broadband speeds have set new highs. This approach works not only for grant funded projects but also private investments. The area surrounding Byesville, Ohio (Figure 5) reveals a significant uptick in test volume, test locations, and speeds from 2020 to 2022. Side-by-side comparison shows a large number of “green” (served) speed test locations where there used to be only “red” (unserved) and “orange” (underserved) results. This change is a direct result of a Charter Communications Rural Digital Opportunity Fund deployment.

Figure 5: The unserved area around Byesville, Ohio before and after broadband deployment.

State Broadband Leaders can use these capabilities to document progress and identify lagging projects. Any service area will always exhibit a mix of speed test results.  Even in an area like Byesville where fiber-to-the-home has been deployed, not all the location “dots” will turn green. However, the preponderance of evidence clearly shows that a funded ISP — in this case, Charter — has made good on its commitment to expanded broadband access. ISPs can help by conducting speed tests at the time of installation from the customer’s premises and by increasing minimum packages to 100/20 Mbps or higher.

There is no mystery to solve — we know how to identify areas lacking broadband services. For many rural Americans, even their telephone services have become unreliable, still dependent on the now-decrepit copper cables built in the 1940s through 1960s. We all depend on a healthy rural economy for our food, water and energy. Let’s make the commitment to build the infrastructure needed to bring these households into the internet age — starting by bringing reality and accountability to the availability maps.

Tom Reid is the president of Reid Consulting Group, a firm specializing in broadband. They work with clients to generate insights, create actionable plans, and identify funding sources to connect unserved and underserved areas. RCG’s engagements in eight states have delivered 6,000 miles of fiber construction with a total project value of $1.6 billion and has secured over $330 million in grant funds on behalf of clients. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Johnny Kampis: Broadband Industry Hopeful to Get Waivers from Biden Administration Protectionist Policies

The Buy America mandate could seriously hamper the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Johnny Kampis, director of telecom policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

In a presidential administration rife with protectionist policies, the broadband internet industry is optimistic it will receive waivers from the Buy America” mandate that threatens to derail plans to close the digital divide.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is likely to announce state funding allocations for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program by the end of June. That is the biggest piece of the taxpayer-funded pie allocated by Congress to extend broadband infrastructure across the U.S. over the next several years.

But, as the Taxpayers Protection Alliance has reported, broadband industry leaders say the Buy America mandate could seriously hamper the effort. As part of the mandate, the Biden administration has said that at least 55 percent of the component parts of a product used in federal construction projects must be sourced domestically. That rule applies to any infrastructure project, but broadband has taken center stage recently with the BEAD funding imminent.

Because fiber-optic cables primarily used in broadband infrastructure projects include materials such as aluminum, copper, glass, plastic and steel that are primarily manufactured in other countries, under the current rules they would be forbidden. And many other important cogs in the broadband machine, such as routers and switches, are mostly made overseas. Even the left-leaning Brookings Institution noted the policy could put broadband deployments as risk.”

Fortunately, the Biden administration is softening on its Buy America policies — at least in the broadband industry. NTIA chose earlier this month to exempt several categories of equipment such as broadband routing equipment, transceivers and antennas from the domestic manufacturing requirements in the Enabling Middle Mile Infrastructure Program. The agency said that although there are public and private efforts underway to increase manufacturing capacity… industry will not be able to address shortages of the manufactured products and construction materials required for middle mile network deployment within the timeframes required.”

Broadband Breakfast pointed out in a recent article that it will take several years to ramp up production of semiconductors in the U.S. and the BEAD program has set a five-year timeline for project completion.

The estimates are that it would take at least, at a minimum, three to five years to bring a semiconductor chip plant to the U.S.,” said Pam Arluk, vice president of NCTA – The Internet & Television Association. And even though the BEAD program is going to be over several years, thats still just not enough time.”

The inherent difficulties in meeting the Buy America mandate, and the precedent now set with the middle mile program, provide optimism that waivers will likely be offered with BEAD. But that is just one of many infrastructure programs now being funded by taxpayers through federal recovery programs.

As President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union Address in February, American-made lumber, glass, drywall, fiber optic cables…on my watch, American roads, American bridges, and American highways will be made with American products.”

Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria pointed out that what he calls the Biden Doctrine” violates the spirit of the World Trade Organization and its framework of open trade. And another Post columnist, former Clinton administration Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, noted that protectionist policies tend to hurt more people than they help — giving as an example steel tariffs that aided 60,000 steel workers, but threatened the jobs of 6 million other workers in industries paying inflated prices for steel.

Strides in broadband waivers are a good sign, but the Biden administration must do more to curtail its protectionist policies as industries use economic recovery funds to build infrastructure in the coming years.

Johnny Kampis is director of telecom policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Angie Kronenberg: The FCC Must Act Now to Save the USF

While the USF remains vital in an ever-increasing connected world, it is in serious jeopardy of surviving.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is INCOMPAS President Angie Kronenberg.

Last week, the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband held a hearing titled “The State of Universal Service.” The Universal Service Fund is our nation’s critical connectivity program that helps ensure that voice and broadband services are available and affordable throughout the country.

Since its creation by Congress in the 1996 Telecom Act, the USF has become a program that millions of families, community anchor institutions and small businesses rely on to get connected. It has been especially valuable for families and businesses that rely on it for work, school and telehealth at home.

The USF spends about $8.5 billion annually to help fund affordable connectivity in rural areas, low-income households, schools, libraries and rural hospitals. Today, the Federal Communications Commission is working to make high-speed broadband as ubiquitous as telephone service, and broadband is the essential communications technology the USF now supports.

While the USF remains vital in an ever-increasing connected world, it is in serious jeopardy of surviving. To fund the programs, telecom providers are required to pay a certain percentage of their interstate and international telecom revenues, known as the “contribution factor.” Typically, telecom providers collect these USF fees from their customers on their monthly bills.

However, the telecom revenues that fund the USF have declined over 60 percent in the last two decades. As a result, the contribution factor has skyrocketed from about 7 percent in 2001 to a historic high of about 30 percent today, as a higher portion of telecom revenues is needed to sustain the fund. That means certain consumers and businesses are now paying an additional 30 percent on top of their phone bills in order to fund the USF.

Telecom revenues continue to decline so rapidly because customers today rely more on broadband services and less on landline and mobile phone services, but broadband revenues do not pay into the USF. While the FCC has modernized each USF program to help support broadband service, it has not modernized its funding mechanism to require broadband services to pay into the Fund even though historically the agency has required supported services to be included in the contribution system.

Without intervention, the contribution factor is predicted to rise to 40 percent by 2025. This is unsustainable and puts the stability of the entire USF at risk. In fact, the contribution factor has become so high that it has led some groups to challenge the USF in federal court as unconstitutional, which also threatens the sustainability of the USF.

Reforming the USF funding mechanism is urgently needed and long overdue

Over 340 diverse stakeholders have come together as the USForward Coalition calling on the FCC to move forward with USF reform by expanding the contribution base to include broadband revenues. This solution is based on the recommendation in the USForward Report (that INCOMPAS helped commission), which was written by USF expert and former FCC official Carol Mattey.

The USForward Report explains that the most logical way to reform the contribution system and sustain the USF is to include broadband revenues in its funding assessment. Under this approach, the contribution factor is estimated to fall to less than 4 percent. It also means that the services that get USF support are paying into it, rather than solely relying on telecom customers, including those that have not made the switch to broadband, such as older Americans.

In fact, some members of Congress understand the urgency of reform and also want the FCC to act. The Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act, for example, is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that would require the FCC to reform the contribution system within one year.

Some question whether large tech companies should be assessed to contribute to the USF, and the short answer is “No.” Tech companies invest $120 billion each year in global internet infrastructure, and unlike broadband providers, these companies do not request or receive USF funding for these investments.

The FCC also lacks the authority to regulate tech companies and doing so would require Congress to act. This would further delay reform and expand the FCC’s regulatory authority over all online content and services — an overreach that many question as too broad since nearly every business today has an online presence and uses the internet to conduct business. Moreover, proposals to target certain tech companies risk skewing the online marketplace and competitive markets.

Some also question whether we still need the USF at all, and the short answer is “Yes.” While Congress allocated tens of billions for broadband, most of this investment is targeted for deployment, yet a significant portion of the USF programs focus on affordability. We not only have to make sure we build out our broadband networks, but also that communities can then afford to subscribe to these services.

The FCC should not wait to reform the USF. The USForward Report sets out a real plan that the FCC can and should implement. Congress should encourage the FCC to act now and save the nation’s critical connectivity program.

Angie Kronenberg is the president of INCOMPAS, where she manages the policy team and its work before federal, state and local governments, as well as leading the association’s efforts on membership and business development. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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