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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.

Expert Opinion

Bjorn Capens: Strong Appetite for Rural Broadband Calls for Next Generation Fiber Technology

The first operator to bring fiber to a community creates a significant barrier to entry for competitors.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Björn Capens, Nokia Fixed Networks European Vice President

In July, the Biden-Harris administration announced another $401 million in funding for high-speed Internet access in rural America. This was just the latest in a string of government initiatives aimed at helping close the US digital divide.

These initiatives have been essential for encouraging traditional broadband providers, communities and utility companies to deploy fiber to rural communities, with governments cognizant of the vital role broadband connectivity has in sustaining communities and improving socio-economic opportunities for citizens. 

Yet there is still work to do, even in countries with the most advanced connectivity options. For example, fixed broadband is missing from almost 30 percent of rural American homes, according to Pew Research. It’s similar in Europe where a recent European Commission’s Digital Divide report found that roughly 18 percent of rural citizens can only get broadband speeds of a maximum 30 Mb, a speed which struggles to cope with modern digital behaviors. 

Appetite for high-speed broadband in rural areas is strong

There’s no denying the appetite for high-speed broadband in rural areas. The permanent increase in working from home and the rise of modern agricultural and Industry 4.0 applications mean that there’s an increasingly attractive business case for rural fiber deployments – as the first operator to bring fiber to a community creates a significant barrier to entry for competitors. 

The first consideration, then, for a new rural fiber deployment is which passive optical network technology to use. Gigabit PON seems like an obvious first choice, being a mature and widely deployed technology. 

However, GPON services are a standard offering for nearly every fiber broadband operator. As PON is a shared medium with usually up to 30 users each taking a slice, it’s easy to see how a few Gigabit customers can quickly max out the network, and with the ever-increasing need for speed, it’s widely held that GPON will not be sufficient by about 2025. 

XGS-PON is an already mature technology

The alternative is to use XGS-PON, a more recent, but already mature, flavor of PON with a capacity of 10 Gigabits per second. With the greater capacity, broadband operators can generate higher revenues with more premium-tier residential services as well as lucrative business services. There’s even room for additional services to run alongside business and residential broadband. For example, the same network can carry traffic from four G and five G cells, known as mobile backhaul. That’s either a new revenue opportunity or a cost saving if the operator also runs a mobile network. 

This convergence of different services onto a single PON fiber network is starting to take off, with fiber-to-the-home networks evolving into fiber for everything, where homes, businesses, industries, smart cities, mobile cells and more are all running on the same infrastructure. This makes the business case even stronger. 

Whether choosing GPON or XGS-PON, the biggest cost contributor is the same for both: deploying fiber outside the plant. Therefore, the increased cost of XGS-PON over GPON is far outweighed by the capacity increase it brings, making XGS-PON the clear choice for a brand-new fiber deployment. XGS-PON protects this investment for longer as its higher capacity makes it harder for new entrants to offer a superior service. 

It also doesn’t need to be upgraded for many years, and when it comes to the business case for fiber, it pays to take a long-term view. Fiber optic cable has a shelf-life of 75 or more years, and even as one increases the speeds running on fiber, that cable can remain the same.  

Notwithstanding these arguments, fiber still comes at a cost, and operators need to carefully manage those costs in order to maximize returns. 

Recent advances in fiber technology allow operators to take a pragmatic approach to their rollouts. In the past, each port on a PON server blade could only deliver one technology. But Multi-PON has multiple modes: only GPON, only XGS-PON or both together. It even has a forward-looking 25G PON mode. 

This allows an operator to easily boost speeds as needed with minimal effort and additional investment. GPON could be the starting point for fiber-to-the-home services, XGS-PON could be added for business services, or even a move to 25G PON for a cluster of rural power users, like factories and modern warehouses – creating a seamless, future-proof upgrade path for operators. 

The decision not to invest in fiber presents a substantial business risk

Alternatively, there’s always the option for a broadband operator to stick with basic broadband in rural areas and not invest in fiber. But that actually presents a business risk, as any competitor that decides to deploy fiber will inevitably carve out a chunk of the customer base for themselves. 

Besides, most operators are not purely profit-driven; they too recognize that prolonging the current situation in underserved communities is not great. High-speed broadband makes areas more attractive for businesses, creating more jobs and stemming population flows from rural to urban centers. 

But rural broadband not only improves lives, but it also decreases the world’s carbon emissions both directly, compared to alternative broadband technologies, and indirectly by enabling online and remote activities that would otherwise involve transportation. These social and economic benefits of fiber are highly regarded by investors and stockholders who have corporate social responsibility high on their agendas. 

With the uber-connected urban world able to adopt every new wave of bandwidth-hungry application – think virtual reality headsets and the metaverse – rural communities are actually going backwards in comparison. The way forward is fiber and XGS-PON. 

Björn Capens is Nokia Fixed Networks European Vice President. Since 2017, Capens has been leading Nokia’s fixed networks business, headquartered in Antwerp, Belgium. He has more than 20 years of experience in the fixed broadband access industry and holds a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, Telecommunications, from KU Leuven. 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 reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Expert Opinion

Johnny Kampis: Federal Bureaucracy an Impediment to Broadband on Tribal Lands

18% of people living on Tribal lands lack broadband access, compared to 4% of residents in non-tribal areas.

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

A new study from the Phoenix Center finds that as the federal government pours tens of billions of dollars into shrinking the digital divide in tribal areas, much of that gap has already been eliminated.

The report, and a second from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, are more indications that regulations and economic factors that include income levels continue to hamper efforts to get broadband to all Americans.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 allocated $45 billion toward tribal lands. This was done as part of a massive effort by the federal government to extend broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved areas of the United States.

George Ford, chief economist at the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, wrote in the recent policy bulletin that while there is still plenty of work needed to be done in terms of connectivity, efforts in recent years have largely eliminated the broadband gap between tribal and non-tribal areas.

Ford examined broadband deployment around the U.S. between 2014 and 2020 using Form 477 data from the Federal Communications Commission, comparing tribal and non-tribal census tracts.

Ford points out in the bulletin that the FCC has observed several challenges for broadband deployment in tribal areas, including rugged terrain, complex permitting processes, jurisdictional issues, a higher ratio of residences to business customers, higher poverty rates, and cultural and language barriers.

Ford controlled for some of these differences in his study comparing tribal and non-tribal areas. He reports in the bulletin that the statistics suggest nearly equal treatment in high-speed internet development.

Encouraging results about availability of broadband in Tribal areas

“These results are encouraging, suggesting that broadband availability in Tribal areas is becoming closer or equal to non-Tribal areas over time, and that any broadband gap is largely the result of economic characteristics and not the disparate treatment of Tribal areas,” Ford wrote.

But he also notes that unconditioned differences show a 10-percentage point spread in availability in tribal areas, which indicates how much poverty, low population density, and red tape is harming the efforts to close the digital divide there.

“These results do not imply that broadband is ubiquitous in either Tribal or non-Tribal areas; instead, these results simply demonstrate that the difference in availability between Tribal and non-Tribal areas is shrinking and that this difference is mostly explained by a few demographic characteristics,” Ford wrote.

In a recent report, the GAO suggests that part of the problem lies with the federal bureaucracy – that “tribes have struggled to identify which federal program meets their needs and have had difficulty navigating complex application processes.”

GAO states that 18 percent of people living on tribal lands lack broadband access, compared to 4 percent of residents in non-tribal areas.

The GAO recommended that the Executive Office of the President specifically address tribal needs within a national broadband strategy and that the Department of Commerce create a framework within the American Broadband Initiative for addressing tribal issues.

“The Executive Office of the President did not agree or disagree with our recommendation but highlighted the importance of tribal engagement in developing a strategy,” the report notes.

That goes together with the GAO’s dig at the overall lack of a national broadband strategy by the Biden Administration in a June report. As the Taxpayers Protection Alliance reported, the federal auditor noted that 15 federal agencies administer more than 100 different broadband funding programs, and that despite a taxpayer investment of $44 billion from 2015 through 2020, “millions of Americans still lack broadband, and communities with limited resources may be most affected by fragmentation.”

President Biden has set a goal for universal broadband access in the U.S. by 2030. These recent reports show that the federal bureaucracy under his watch needs to do a better job of getting out of its own way.

Johnny Kampis is the 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 reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Expert Opinion

Craig Settles: Communities to Roll Out Telehealth Integration

‘We figured out how to train people to be digital navigators [and] get customers comfortable with telehealth.’

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Craig Settles, who unites community broadband teams and healthcare stakeholders through telehealth-broadband integration initiatives.

A pacesetter among municipal broadband owners, the City of Chattanooga is giving away 1,000 free telehealth appointments that also brings broadband into low-income homes. Vistabeam, a Nebraska Wireless ISP, is bringing telehealth to rural towns through Community Empowerment Centers that increase broadband as well as improve residents’ health. 

“The Enterprise Center works hard at the intersection of technology and inequality, whether it’s using technology to work efficiency, for learning, or improving personal health,” states CEO Deb Socia. The center is partnering with residents, community organizations and the Parkridge Medical System to identify needs and bring in resources to combat high levels of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and asthma. 

Vistabeam owner Matt Larsen says, “You can’t just lay down some fiber and routers, then call this a broadband success. Rural areas often lack the human and tech resources necessary for broadband to thrive.” So Vistabeam is designing Community Empowerment Centers to offer communities private telehealth consultation rooms, digital skills and telehealth training, full-time digital navigators and inventory rooms with shared computing devices and equipment.

These and other communities are finding that telehealth increases broadband adoption as well as improves the physical and economic health of residents. Telehealth is the “killer app” that can harness and focus broadband investments into digital inclusions advancements for urban and rural communities.  

A perfect storm for telehealth

Chattanooga’s public broadband network, through a city electric power board that offers both electricity and broadband, is an advantage to telehealth. Socia says, “EPB has a deep connection to the community, and they invest money, technology in public spaces, and energy upgrades in the homes. EPB cares about the health of our community.” (EPB, formerly known as the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, provides broadband in the city.) Communities without public broadband may have to work harder to find large ISPs with similar levels of commitment.

Communities wanting to leverage telehealth likely will need new strategies for winning and managing grants. You can’t have telehealth without broadband, but the integration of broadband to facilitate telehealth delivery may involve a myriad of people, organizations, and resources besides the network builder. 

For years Chattanooga has had a culture of cooperation among its many civic groups. The nonprofit Orchard Knob had a preexisting collaborative, so when the telehealth opportunity came up as part of a larger “healthy community” initiative, it was it much easier to create a grant of the size that the group currently has.

The community created the Orchard Knob Collaborative, which includes Parkridge Medical Center with their 1000 telehealth appointments, the Orchard Knob Neighborhood Association, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area and United Way of Greater Chattanooga. EPB contributed money, energy upgrades, and public WiFi. Green Spaces is another nonprofit and the Center provides project management plus various Tech Goes Home digital inclusion programs.

Telehealth opens the door for larger grants. “I think the anticipated grant-raising outcomes are quite specific when you’re producing social determinants of health,” Socia says. “Projects that involve telehealth are a much tougher ‘ask’ for funders and everyone else involved. But at the same time, you can leverage other additional dollars and other partners for a much better healthcare outcome.” 

Telehealth and the ‘human element’

Every state is developing a digital equity plan. How important is telehealth to the success of a digital equity plan? Quite important! But remember that telehealth deployment strategy in rural communities likely could take shape differently than urban deployment. Vistabeam’s Centers represent one approach.

Digital equity in telehealth is just one component of a giant ecosystem of social services that good societies use to help take care of people. The challenge is the need to successfully coordinate scarce resources to get maximum impact from the resources. However, in rural communities there can be a real lack of coordination between a lot of these resources.

“It makes sense to start out by focusing on getting telehealth into some smaller communities at locations where people can come in and access telehealth in an environment that develops trust and familiarity with the technology,” says Larsen. “To do that, we’re going to need a ‘human element’, facilitators such as digital navigators to plug community telehealth into the ecosystem. A lot of rural communities have trust issues with government programs.”

Using surplus office space to create customer service centers

There are plenty of large incumbents’ mobile device showrooms in communities. But these employees tend to be sales-oriented with scripted content. Vistabeam happens to have surplus office space they are using to create true customer service centers.

“We figured out how to train people to be digital navigators, we get customers comfortable with telehealth and our staff connects people with complementary social services and other resources,” says Larsen. For the last few months, Vistabeam has been promoting exclusively the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program of free Internet access and subsidized computing devices. There’s a complex enrollment process residents have to complete that’s confusing for many, so Vistabeam trained staff to walk people through the process, get them qualified, and connected.  

As for the potential of telehealth deployment to the home, Larsen believes the technology represents a tremendous amount of potential utility and value for both rural and urban broadband deployments. Though broadband is currently underutilized for telehealth, in large part because communities are just beginning to plan for it, the pandemic revealed a burning need for strong video streaming capacities to bridge doctors and patients.

“What’s missing is a telehealth killer app or device,” says Larsen. “I believe preventive healthcare will be the answer – technology that detects or prevents things from happening before they become big problems. This app could be a way to check vital statistics and watch for health or illness markers. Maybe we’ll see a device connected to the Internet that accesses research data to help you and your health professional with health planning.”  

Just about everybody gets sick or hurt, or they are responsible for others when those loved ones aren’t doing well. Telehealth and its many iterations are designed for people to use when they’re sick or hurt or for preventative healthcare. The universality of telehealth and its symbiotic relationship with broadband technologies give communities great potential for expanding digital inclusion. Together with the bezillion grant dollars coming out the ying yang, what we’re seeing is the perfect digital storm. 

Craig Settles conducts needs analyses, planning, and grant assessments with community stakeholders who want broadband networks and telehealth to improve economic development, healthcare, education and local government. 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 reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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