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Broadband's Impact

Universal Service Fund Should Focus on the Low-Income, Agree Broadband Experts

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2009 – A panel of broadband experts agreed Monday that the Universal Service Fund should direct more of its funding to low-income areas and away from exclusively focusing on rural high-cost areas, where funds are not being spent efficiently.

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WASHINGTON, July 21, 2009 – A panel of broadband experts agreed Monday that the Universal Service Fund should direct more of its funding to low-income areas and away from exclusively focusing on rural high-cost areas, where funds are not being spent efficiently.

The experts spoke during a panel discussion sponsored by the Technology Policy Institute, a market-oriented think tank on technology issues.

The term universal service, said Jonathan Nuechterlein, a partner at Wilmer Hale law firm, has two different meanings.

One meaning has to do with funding for broadband in high-cost areas where deployment is expensive, regardless of the residents’ income, and the other has to do with funding for low-income areas.

“Funding broadband,” said Nuechterlein, “is expensive” and is going to “increase the burden on the companies that end up subsidizing it.” One way to ensure that this money is spent efficiently is to “narrow the scope” by only funding broadband in “genuinely unserved areas,” he said.

The whole “cluster of issues” dealing with universal service legislation, said Nuechterlein, “is tied with inter-carrier compensation.”

Traditionally, small rural carriers depended on carrier-to-carrier networks to fund their expenditures, but because there are now ways to avoid public access charges, the whole system is “rapidly eroding,” he said.

Gregory Rosston, deputy director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research compared universal broadband service to apple pie. Although everyone wants it, said Rosston, “it’s not free,” which is why it’s important to balance the benefits of broadband deployment against the costs.

Rosston questioned the efficiency of bringing broadband access to the “last five or 10 percent of households” which are “very difficult to serve,” and at which point the costs might out way the benefits.

One problem with high-cost funding is that it is funded by the taxes of broadband subscribers across the U.S. “For every two people you get to subscribe in a rural area, one person in an urban area drops off,” he said.

Broadband adoption, said Rosston, cannot simply be left to the market, where industries try to find what consumers want and provide it. Broadband is unique from other types of products because many times “people don’t realize the full value of subscribing,” he said.

Rosston specifically recommended providing vouchers to low-income people who “would not otherwise subscribe” and link-up programs which are “very effective at getting people connected.”

The “bottom line” is that it is necessary to determine what the costs are, how to connect people, and how to get industries to compete to win customers, he said.

F.J. Pollack, chief information officer of Tracfone Wireless, said that his industry is unique because it focuses on serving the unserved and pays out of its own pocket for the universal service fees.

Tracfone Wireless actually gives away free cell phones and minutes to low-income families, he said.

Many of the people Tracfone Wireless serves, said Pollack, are on food stamps and Medicaid, 93 percent of them do not have internet access at home, and 86 percent would like to be connected to broadband, but cannot afford it either because they can’t afford a computer or can’t afford to get connected.

Of those who couldn’t afford a computer, 64 percent said they couldn’t afford to get connected unless provided with a free computer. Of those would couldn’t afford to get their computer connected, 44 percent said the service would have to be free, and almost all of them said the cost could be no more than $20, he said.

On the issue of funding for high-cost areas, Pollack emphasized the inefficiency of how money is spent, referring to it as a “cost plus” program. High-cost funding has increased in states such as Alaska, Kansas, and Nebraska, yet “this fund really does not reform, no matter who pays for it,” he said.

Broadband's Impact

Experts Say Partnerships Key for Downtown City Connectivity

‘Simple and regular community engagement is needed.’

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NASHVILLE, June 22, 2022 – While service providers plan on using fiber to revitalize downtown areas, experts say community engagement with local businesses is key to facilitate the construction process.

“Simple and regular community engagement is needed,” Nathan Hoople, senior project manager at engineering consulting firm Ditesco, said at the Fiber Connect conference on June 13.

Ryan Smith, engineering manager of the City of Loveland and Pulse Broadband,  said there is a “cry for downtown city coverage.” Panelists agreed that regular community involvement in the broadband infrastructure process is key to getting more broadband access in downtown areas.

Hoople stated that because fiber infrastructure construction can be costly, partnerships are key to establish trust and having an efficient installation process for downtown project success. This can have a “tremendous impact on long term investment.”

Effective communication with local leaders and workers allows for a more efficient installation process, said Hoople. “Know exactly how you can serve every building on the block, so you don’t have to rip up the sidewalk in three months.”

Darren Archibald from software and cloud company Calix agreed with the service provider and community partner approach to better downtown access. He added that with this, this “build[s] brand credibility and reliability” making the community aware of the service and why it is beneficial.

Smith emphasized that a specific relationship with individuals in public works is critical for downtown construction. It “would help with permitting, inspections, final close outs and to coordinate with other street projects,” said Smith. “Those relationships go a long way.”

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Digital Inclusion

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk: Three Keys to Building Transformative Broadband Plans

‘While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.’

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Samantha Schartman-Cycyk, President of the Marconi Society

This week, I am thrilled to join state, local and tribal leaders from across the U.S. as we convene in Cleveland, Ohio, for the Broadband Access Summit. As a local and long-time advocate for digital inclusion, I am proud that the Pew Charitable Trusts and Next Century Cities selected Cleveland, one of the least connected cities in the country, as the site for a timely conversation about how we can effectively spend the unprecedented levels of federal funding for broadband infrastructure.

While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.

The good news is that digital equity is finally front and center—where it belongs—and it has taken nearly twenty years of advocacy and practice to get us to this point.

Following are three key lessons I have learned to ensure efforts to expand connectivity are community oriented and sustainable.

1. Bring in local leadership—now

Across the country, areas that have a dedicated local leadership responsible solely for digital equity and inclusion are outpacing their counterparts. Someone, or ideally a team, needs to wake up every day thinking about what digital equity means in their community, how to make a reality in a way that supports key priorities, and where the true needs are. We have seen benefits in cities such as Detroit and Seattle, who have taken this approach.

We must support these leaders with accurate data. At the Marconi Society, a nonprofit that champions digital equity, I helped launch the National Broadband Mapping Coalition to help leaders from rural communities and urban ‘digital deserts’ identify broadband gaps. The NBMC has developed a no-cost mapping toolkit to help educate and guide communities.

2. Plan for sustainability while you have strong funding

We need to anchor digital inclusion efforts to long-term state programs to solidify funding and reinforce the intersectional impact of digital inclusion. Typically, digital inclusion programs blossom within the period of investment but falter when funding runs out, only to peak again when new grants or federal money become available.

This process wastes resources, relationships, and time, resulting in stop-and-start programs that aren’t able to address residents’ needs nor build momentum.

For example, a state like Maine with an older rural population is likely to prioritize services that allow for aging in place and telemedicine care for seniors. States like Utah or Texas, with relatively young populations, might place a higher priority on education and K–12 STEM pipelines. This alignment will allow state leaders to prioritize and bake sustainability into their broadband plans, create digital equity programs that support their priorities, and incorporate data collection into their work.

3. Create the workforce your state will need

In order to implement strong broadband plans that create true digital equity, state and local governments need a pipeline of people who understand the unique intersection of technology, policy, and grassroots digital inclusion work needed to bridge the digital divide. As of last year, nearly 20 states did not even have a dedicated broadband office to begin this work. With funding already being dispersed to states, we are at a critical moment.

To help create this workforce, the Marconi Society conceptualized and is developing the first-ever “Digital Inclusion Leadership” professional certificate with Arizona State University. The program will launch in Fall 2022 and will include top-ranked professors and leading industry experts as teachers and advisors.

I believe that this interdisciplinary workforce will continue to be in high demand as states integrate digital equity into their long-term priorities.

After years of helping to lay the groundwork for the current burst of funding and activity around digital equity, I can say that our work has only just begun. We have the gift of beginning with knowledge and funding that can be truly transformative. The digitally equitable future we are fighting for is closer than it has ever been before—let’s make sure we get this right.

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk is President of the Marconi Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing digitally equitable communities by empowering change agents across sectors. Over her 20-year career, she has built forward-thinking programs and tools to drive impact on digital inclusion at the local and national levels, through projects with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), community training, and data collecting efforts. The Marconi Society celebrates and supports visionaries building tomorrow’s technologies upon the foundation of a connected world we helped create. 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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Education

Fiber Broadband Companies and Consultants Tout Their Work for Social Good

Fiber providers, equipment companies and consultants discussed their work in communities in a session at Fiber Connect

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Photo of Ritchie Sorrells of GVTC Communications, Hu Meena of C Spire, Ji Soo Song of Education Department's Office of Educational Technology and Keven Morgan of Clearfield by Drew Clark (left to right).

June 16, 2022 – Leading fiber broadband platforms are hoping to positively impact future generations beyond fiber deployment through education programs for youth, scholarship awards, and traditional community service events, said panelists at Fiber Connect event Tuesday.

The panel discussion, according to promotional material for the panel in advance of the session at the conference, “represented a new level of commitment based on the belief that operators have a responsibility to make the communities they serve even better.” The showcase panel was a way for the Fiber Broadband Association to highlight the work of providers, equipment vendors, consultants and government officials.

Companies are particularly focused on how to influence following generations for good. C-Spire is working with schools in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education, and it provides programs for youth to learn coding and participate in coding challenges hosted by C-Spire.

Working with the state of Mississippi, fiber provider C-Spire made computer science education available to all K-12 students in the state and donated $1 million for teacher training. C-Spire also provided more than $3 million in scholarships for higher education.

GVTC Communications, a consultant to the telecom industry, works with local nonprofits, churches, schools, and businesses to donate full thanksgiving meals to families in need every year since 2012.

Listening to the needs of the community is essential to make an impact, agreed the panel. “When you have listening as your core value, you find out things that you can really make a difference in,” said Kevin Morgan, chief marketing officer at Clearfield, a provider of equipment for fiber builds.

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