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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

FCC to Vote On Emergency Broadband Benefit Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel

The agency is expected to vote on policies for the $3.2B program by mid-May to ensure proper implementation, chairwoman says.

Derek Shumway

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April 14, 2021 – Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday the agency will be voting by mid-May on policies to deliver the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which has received over 9,000 interested institutions through its portal.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 that passed Congress in December 2020, which provides up to $50 in a monthly internet discount for families and $75 for tribal lands to access broadband internet.

It’s “the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability program,” Rosenworcel said Tuesday on a virtual panel hosted by Allvanza, an advocacy group for Latinxs and underserved communities within the technology, telecommunications and innovation industries; the Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC); and the Asian Pacific American Advocate group (OCA).

It’s “designed to make sure we get every household in this country connected to high-speed Internet service because this pandemic has proven like nothing before,” she added.

The FCC made a sign-up portal on its website to determine interest in the program, and over 9,000 institutions have signed up to date, Rosenworcel said, adding she hopes the policies for the EBB can address the homework gap by extending internet subsidies normally reserved for schools and libraries to households.

Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator, said minority-aimed broadband initiatives have done great work in bringing together providers and companies with minority-serving institutions.

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Digital Inclusion

Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events

Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.

Tim White

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Photo of GHS co-founder Victor Zonana, left, from Global Health New Zealand

April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.

Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.

The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.

“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.

Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.

Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.

Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.

Broadband central to digital activities

“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.

President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”

Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.

“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”

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Education

Libraries Must Be Vigilant To Ensure Adequate Broadband, Consultants Say

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Stephanie Stenberg via Internet2

April 7, 2021 – Libraries should monitor their broadband speeds and ensure they are getting quality connections, according to library consultants.

Carson Block from Carson Block Consulting and Stephanie Stenberg of the Internet2 Community Anchor program told a virtual conference hosted by the American Library Association on Tuesday that it’s time libraries take a closer look at how they are getting broadband and if they are getting the speeds they are paying for. If not, they said they should re-negotiate.

Block and Stenberg shared details about the “Towards Gigabit Libraries” (TGL) toolkit, a free, self-service guide for rural and tribal libraries to better understand and improve their broadband. The new toolkit helps libraries prepare for E-Rate internet subsidy requests to aid their budget cycles.

It also has tips about communicating effectively between library and tech people since there is a gap in knowledge between those two groups. The TGL is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Gigabit Libraries and Beyond (GLG) to improve the toolkit and expand throughout the United States. In addition to focusing on rural and tribal libraries, now urban libraries will be included for support.

During the event, a live poll showed all participating attendees said they “very infrequently” had technical IT support available in their home libraries. Stenberg said this confirmed TGL’s findings that libraries need more tech and IT support, as the majority of respondents in previous surveys gave similar concerning results.

To really emphasize the need for adequate broadband and support at libraries, another question was asked to live attendees about their current level of expertise around procuring and delivering access to broadband as a service in their library, assuming that the majority of attendees worked for libraries. All participants said they possess “no experience” trying to get broadband in the library.

Common issues that are to blame include libraries with insufficient bandwidth, data wiring or poorly set-up networks. Old and obsolete equipment also contributed to bad Wi-Fi coverage.

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