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Recovery Act

President-Elect Obama Urges 'Expanding Broadband' and Stimulus Proposals Proliferate

WASHINGTON, January 8, 2009 – President-elect Barack Obama said Thursday that “expanding broadband lines across America” was a key component of the economic plan that he is putting together and for which he is seeking Congressional passage.

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WASHINGTON, January 8, 2009 – President-elect Barack Obama said Thursday that “expanding broadband lines across America” was a key component of the economic plan that he is putting together and for which he is seeking Congressional passage.

The announcement came on top of several detailed and specific proposals to include broadband-related investments to the stimulus package currently being considered by legislators and the incoming Obama administration.

On Wednesday, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation released its own eagerly-awaited proposal about the economic benefits of a broadband stimulus plan. It found that $30 billion technology investment would generate 949,000 jobs.

The 22-page report, “The Digital Road to Recovery,” linked investment in broadband networks, health information technology and a “smart power grid,” and attempted to estimate job creation based upon a “network effect multiplier.”

Some critics took aim at the proposal’s apparent emphasis on tax credits, as opposed to government grants, to undertake a massive deployment of fiber-optic technologies.

Others suggested that in attempting to be technology-neutral, and not endorse a specific technology – like fiber-optics – ITIF’s proposal would lead to lower-grade broadband like cable modems or Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) modems.

The ITIF report found that a $10 billion investment in broadband would generate about 498,000 jobs, according to the study: 50,000 in the telecommunications industry, 14,000 in direct capital equipment, 166,000 in “indirect and induced jobs,” and 268,000 because of the “network effect.” The other jobs would come through similar investments in health IT and energy grids.

The think tank, which has generally be aligned with the information technology industry, proposed broadband investments aimed at three primary goals: getting broadband to unserved areas, expanding network speeds beyond “first generation broadband” of 3 megabits per second (Mbps) or less, and spurring increased adoption of broadband by households.

In the study, ITIF said there were 10 million homes and businesses without broadband access. Of those underserved individuals, 90 percent of them could be connected with $3.6 billion in tax incentives to telecom companies, and up to $5 billion in grants for higher-cost areas.

ITIF also supported “federal funding to map broadband speeds throughout the country,” and allowing expenses related to purchases of computers and monthly broadband service to qualify for existing lifeline programs aimed to ensure universal telephone service.

“Increased investment I one of the best tools to stimulate aggregate demand and quickly get American workers back on the payrolls,” concluded the report, authored by Robert Atkinson, President of ITIF, and ITIF Senior Analysts Daniel Castro and Stephen Ezell.

“Spurring investments in IT infrastructure not only can provide an important short-term boost to the U.S. economy; it also can lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth [and] international competitiveness,” said ITIF.

Critics taking aim at the proposal’s apparent emphasis on tax credits included Jim Baller, an attorney who has been shepherded a broad consensus of industry and nonprofit groups around a National Broadband Strategy.

The ITIF proposal “relies almost entirely on tax credits, particularly for high-capacity networks, which benefit only the private sector,” said Baller. “He would apparently use grants only to support low-capacity networks in the most sparsely populated areas or to upgrade networks for schools, libraries, hospitals, and government buildings.”

“Tax credits can be helpful, but it only helps those companies that make profits,” said John Windhausen, President of Telepoly Consulting, and the author the EDUCAUSE report, “A Blueprint for Big Broadband.”

Additionally, said Windhausen, “with a tax incentive program, it is very hard to know what investment has been incented by the tax credit.”

The extent of Verizon Communications’ investment – the company says it has invested $23 billion in fiber-optic networks – makes it hard to assess which additional investments would have been made anyway, in the event of a broadband stimulus package.

Atkinson replied that up to $5 billion of the proposed $10 billion for broadband investment would be through grants, as opposed to tax credits.

Windhausen advocated that any stimulus funds be directed exclusively to federal grants to areas that need broadband. At least three categories of organizations that would benefit from such grants – municipalities, non-profit rural cooperatives and competitive telephone companies –wouldn’t benefit from a credit because they haven’t made profits.

The EDUCAUSE proposal, released in January 2008, sought $32 billion in federal funding over four years, seeks to build out 100 Mbps service to every home in the country. The original proposal sought one-third funding from federal government, the states, and the private sector – bringing the total investment to nearly $100 billion.

But Windausen said that the dire financial condition of state governments meant that municipalities and other seeking to create fiber-optic deployments should have greater flexibility in the funding sources to which they turn for development dollars.

In its own stimulus proposal, released in December, the advocacy group Free Press called for $30 billion in grant- and loan-based deployment of broadband, with an additional $8 billion devoted to tax credits.

Free Press also seeks an additional $6 billion aimed at measures designed to stimulate demand for broadband.

Of the $30 billion of direct federal investment, the Free Press proposal would create a $15 billion Universal Broadband Infrastructure fund, a $5 billion Universal Broadband Mobile Infrastructure fund, and allocated up to $10 billion in bond program for investment by non-incumbents.

Of the $8 billion that Free Press allocated for tax credits, $5 billion would go to the creation of a “Competitive Fiber Tax Incentive” program that would government in the decision-makers seat about many of the rules by which these fiber-optic networks would be built.

The ITIF report was released at a packed event at the National Press Club.

In addition to EDUCAUSE and Free Press, other groups with fiber-focused broadband-related stimulus plans include Broadband Properties magazine, the Fiber to the Home Council, and a group promoting a Rural Fiber Fund. Others with reports include the Benton Foundation, the Communications Workers of America, the Brookings Institution and the Center for American Progress. Editor’s Note: BroadbandCensus.com has received financial support from the Benton Foundation.

Industry groups including the Telecommunications Industry Association have also weighed in with specific policy recommendations.

As a public service to facilitate understanding and comparison of these proposals, BroadbandCensus.com – a free information and news site about local broadband speeds, prices, availability, reliability and competition – on Thursday publicly launched a wiki cataloging broadband-related proposals.

The wiki is available at http://development.broadbandcensus.com/zipcodes/states.

In the future, a BroadbandCensus.com user login will be required to make additions to the wiki. In the interest of getting this wiki page up and running, the login requirement has been temporarily lifted.

Additional funding for BroadbandCensus.com is required to complete the functionality of the wiki.

Broadband Breakfast Club

January Meeting: What Will Broadband Do to the Universal Service Fund?

BroadbandCensus.com presents the January meeting of the Broadband Breakfast Club at Old Ebbitt Grill on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at 8 a.m.

  • Jay Driscoll, Director, Government Affairs, CTIA – The Wireless Association
  • Gregory Rohde, Executive Director, E-Copernicus/E9-1-1 Institute
  • Jennifer Schneider, Legislative Counsel, Office of Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., Incoming Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee
  • Curt Stamp, President, Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, 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.

Broadband Mapping

In Discussing ‘Broadband and the Biden Administration,’ Trump and Obama Transition Workers Praise Auctions

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Screenshot from the November 2 Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast

November 22, 2020 – In the event that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden seeks substantial funding for broadband infrastructure, there is a strong likelihood that such monies would be channeled through a reverse-auction mechanism, said panelists at the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on November 11.

See more from Broadband Breakfast Live Online, including “Broadband and the Biden Administration, Part II,” on December 2, 2020.

In a discussion with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, two broadband policy experts who served on the transition teams for Donald Trump and Barack Obama, respectively, championed the role of such a mechanism as efficient and fair.

Previous attempts to run funding through other selection processes provided funds only to the well connected, claimed to Mark Jamison, research and education director at the University of Florida, and who served on then President-elect Trump’s 2016 transition team.

Places with a Democratic governor or a congressman of either party that sat on a powerful committee were funded more often compared to other regions, Jamison said.

Whether or not funding mechanisms were in fact biased in that way, both Jamison and Technology Policy Institute President Scott Wallsten both praised the transparency and economic efficiency of the Federal Communications Commission’s reverse-auction funding mechanism.

Wallsten, an economist who was involved in the transition for then President-elect Obama, and who also served on the National Broadband Plan implemented in the first year of the Obama administration, criticized the Rural Utility Service and the old funding process of Universal Service Fund. Both said under these mechanism, a lot of money is spent without good information about how such funds are awarded or distributed.

Wallsten and Jamison agreed that more data would help make broadband funding more effective, they also said that the FCC was right to move forward with its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction on October 29 – part of the new auction-based approach to the Universal Service Fund – despite imperfect mapping.

In part, this was because any inadequacy of mapping data can be resolved in the challenge process, said Wallsten. Additionally, it is not clear that auctions like RDOF, or the Connect American Fund auction in 2018, would have yielded better results had the FCC waited to update their maps.

Jamison and Wallston also projected how the Biden administration might tackle net neutrality, Section 230 and antitrust regulation.

Jamison said that if the Biden administration reinstitutes net neutrality, it will quickly see that that won’t work very well.

Wallsten said that if it’s reinstituted the debate will be different than in the past. A large part of net neutrality is paid prioritization where third parties can pay ISP’s to put their content “at the front of the line.” He said that the pandemic has demonstrated why no paid prioritization may be a mistake, as many people need guarantees of stable connection for their schooling and telehealth applications.

Wallsten also noted that many made doom and gloom forecasts when the Trump administration FCC removed net neutrality protections in December 2017. None of those predictions came to pass, he said.

Both also agreed that the FCC should not be involved the regulation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech platforms from liability for user-generated comments.

They also were wary of changes to the consumer welfare standard governing antitrust because, said Jamison, “If you’re not regulating for consumers, who are we regulating for?”

See “Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, November 11: Broadband and the Biden Administration,” Broadband Breakfast

“Broadband and the Biden Administration” is sponsored by:

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

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National Broadband Plan

National Broadband Plan Has Held Up Well, With Notable Downsides, Say Authors

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Photo of Blair Levin, former executive director of the National Broadband Plan, by New America used with permission

June 29, 2020 — The National Broadband Plan has been successful, despite notable downsides, said panelists in a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar on Friday.

The plan, first released ten years ago, aimed to increase competition, provide lower-cost service to more Americans and decrease regulatory barriers to broadband rollout.

“Ten years in this space in terms of technology is remarkable,” said Rebekah Goodheart of Jenner & Block. “At the time only 15 percent of people had access… of 25 megabits… The fact that this plan was able to stand up through time shows how visionary it really was.”

“All the stuff that we’re taking for granted now are things that came out of recommendations from the plan,” she added.

Participants noted that, despite broadband access deficiencies amid the coronavirus, “overall broadband adoption rates [are] going up reasonably well right now,” said John Horrigan, Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute.

But there are still significant barriers to unfettered telework capabilities, he said.

“We’re also waking up to the fact that smartphones, as useful as they are, have significant limitations for completing homework,” he said.

Ruth Milkman of Quadra Partners agreed.

“There’s a lot of stuff you can’t do on a smartphone,” she said. “It’s hard to read papers… and there are data caps, and it can be quite expensive if you try to use it in the same way that you would use a fixed wireline network.”

Blair Levin, non-resident Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Project of the Brookings Institution, said that sections of the National Broadband Plan held up remarkably well, even ten years later.

“In the healthcare section which says, ‘We really need to utilize telehealth because someday there’ll be a pandemic’… it does look very prophetic,” he said.

Despite the proactivity of the policy, Levin said, it has certain shortcomings that the FCC should address.

“We’ve become much more aware in this society of different ways in which our institutions do not include everyone and lead to inequalities,” he said. “I would argue that absolutely needs to be a new plan… now it’s more important than ever because we recognize the importance of closing that digital divide.”

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Digital Inclusion

Authors of the 2010 National Broadband Plan Say That a ‘Refresh’ Should Not Only Be Up to FCC

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Photo of INCOMPAS policy summit panelists discussing the National Broadband Plan by Adrienne Patton

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2020 – Panelists at the INCOMPAS policy summit Tuesday looked back with fondness on the Federal Communication Commission’s National Broadband Plan that was released 10 years ago this month. They agreed that if the plan is refreshed, the FCC should not be the lone agency to lead in the changes.

The 10-year-old plan was designed to “ensure robust competition” and “maximize the benefits of broadband,” while fostering the spread of broadband across the country, said INCOMPAS General Counsel Angie Kronenberg.

New Street Research Policy Analyst Blair Levin, who led the plan’s development, called it a “three-act play.”

The first act was the hiring people. The second act was holding hearings and acquiring data. The third act was an extensive writing process, Levin said.

When asked how the United States is doing in regards to the plan, Levin said there have been great improvements and some complications.

Mattey Consulting Principal Carol Mattey who worked on the plan, said it was a “long and evolutionary process,” that often required “nitty gritty details” from complex concepts.

Technology Policy Institute Senior Fellow John Horrigan, who also worked on the plan, said that while the statistics do not show a large increase in Americans that have wireline broadband at home, smart phones and mobile devices have made a huge difference.

Even so, Horrigan admitted that for children who have to do homework at home, smart phones are not enough.

However, Horrigan said the way that policy makers understand and think about the digital divide has improved.

A decade ago, city mayors were not concerned about digital inclusion, and now that has changed, said Horrigan.

Levin disclosed his frustration with the “metrics” section of the plan. The availability of bandwidth should not hinder economic growth, said Levin. But, “fundamentally we’ve made progress,” Levin admitted.

“The regulatory process is too slow to catch up,” and legislators are hesitant to look so far in the future while also considering cost concerns, said Mattey.

Looking ahead to a possible refresh of the plan, Horrigan said the FCC should not be the sole organization reworking the document.

Levin agreed and added that broadband has changed over the past decade as well. He called broadband a “mixed bag.”

The whole federal government should be thinking about how to revive the plan and take into consideration cybersecurity and privacy, Levin advised.

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