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Information Technology: Environmental Boosters, But Not As Green As You Might Think

WASHINGTON, October 28, 2009 – Many think of oil and paper industries as enemies in the war against climate change. They think of sport utility vehicle drivers and excessive paper use as contributing factors to global warming. But what about the carbon footprint of the information technology industry: the personal computers, e-mails, spam messages and electricity required to support internet infrastructure?

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WASHINGTON, October 28, 2009 – Many think of oil and paper industries as enemies in the war against climate change. They think of sport utility vehicle drivers and excessive paper use as contributing factors to global warming. But what about the carbon footprint of the information technology industry: the personal computers, e-mails, spam messages and electricity required to support internet infrastructure?

Information Technology Feeds Off Electricity

Information technology companies and products thirst for electricity. A 2007 study from Garnet found that the global information and communications technology industry accounts for roughly two percent of global carbon dioxide emissions through the use of PCs, servers, cooling, fixed and mobile telephony, local area network), office telecommunications and printers.

According to another 2008 study, “the amount of electricity used by servers and other Internet infrastructure has become an important issue in recent years.”

The research by Jonathan Koomey, currently a visiting professor at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, found that aggregate electricity use for data centers, or facilities used to house computer systems and associated components such as storage systems, “doubled worldwide over the period 2000–2005. Almost all of this growth was the result of growth in the number of volume servers, with only a small part of that growth being attributable to growth in the power use per unit.”

It’s not just the information technology companies that are big energy users. Technology products in the home leave a carbon footprint as well.

“Many people don’t realize that the average desktop PC wastes nearly half the power it draws from the wall socket,” according to a guide put together by Microsoft. “This excess energy is dissipated as heat. The average server wastes 30 to 40 percent of its power. Through electricity usage, a computer running 10 or more hours per day can account for as much as one-tenth of a car’s annual CO2 emissions. With more than a billion computers in use worldwide today, the wasted electricity and resulting CO2 emissions are tremendous,” the company said on its web site.

Earlier this year a study conducted by climate-change consultants ICF – and commissioned by security vendor McAfee –found that deleting spam and searching for legitimate e-mail labeled as junk is equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million U.S. homes and the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 3.1 million passenger cars.

Industry Wants To Be Greener

Although a big user of electricity, the information technology industry is also a hefty proponent of green. The sector’s underlying drive to innovate and business incentives to decrease energy consumption contributes to the green push.

A number of the largest technology companies have devoted pages on their web sites, as have companies in other sectors, focused on specific ways they are looking to reduce their carbon footprints.

Google, for example, said on its web site that its products require extensive computer infrastructure and a lot of electricity to run effectively, but that the company has committed itself to “being carbon neutral” by looking at ways to increase its own energy efficiency, examining energy source alternatives and investing in projects to offset greenhouse gas emissions.

Intel, meanwhile, plans to reduce energy consumption by an average of four percent per production unit per year from 2002 through 2010.

Microsoft, for example, says that it has a goal of reducing, by 2012, its carbon emissions per unit of revenue by at least 30 percent of 2007 levels. The company said that “we believe that our footprint goals will be met by leveraging software and technology.”

Government Funding Recognizes Information Technology Potential

On Tuesday, President Obama announced a $3.4 billion government investment that will be matched by industry funds to modernize the electric grid and thus reduce electricity use by more than 4 percent by 2030. The plan is for consumers to be able to use “smart meters” to pay their electricity bills. These devices will enable customers to program their appliances and equipment to run when electricity rates are the lowest.

The initiative plans to fund the deployment of digital monitoring devices and increase grid automation. The White House said the introduction of sensors to cover the electric grid, among the use of other new technologies to combat global warming, will additionally create thousands of new jobs for information technology professionals and cyber-security specialists.

This month the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said the government has been soliciting ideas online from federal employees and military personnel for ways to conserve energy, cut costs and reduce greenhouse gases. “If your entire agency turns off every computer, monitor and workspace light tonight, we estimate savings of thousands of dollars and hundreds of pounds of greenhouses gases – in just one day. If we stick with it every day of the year, the results really add up,” she wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

The Broadband Breakfast Club

Editor’s Note: Join the next Broadband Breakfast Club on Tuesday, November 10, 2009, when a panel of experts — including Jennifer Alcott, Telework!VA Program Manager, Commonwealth of Virginia; Kevin Moss, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, BT Americas; and Steven Ruth, Professor, George Mason University School of Public Policy — will discuss “Setting the Table for the National Broadband Plan: The Environment.”

Among the questions to be considered are how carbon-positive a technology is broadband? What’s keeping telecommuting from being more widely adopted as a technology? What are the other “green” benefits of broadband communication, and how can the National Broadband Plan best encourage them? Register at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com

Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Emphasizes 100 Percent Broadband Adoption

‘It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,’ said the chairwoman.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is making progress towards bringing “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the country,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here on Tuesday.

Rosenworcel pointed to the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now being deployed across the country, with a particular focus on unconnected rural and tribal areas.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will take the lead with these funds, the FCC’s new broadband coverage maps will be important in implementing state digital equity plans.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel also discussed how the upcoming 2.5 GigaHertz spectrum auction will involve licensing spectrum primarily to rural areas.

At the July FCC open meeting, said Rosenworcel, the agency is scheduled to establish a new program to help enhance wireless competition. It is called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program.

The program aims to build incentives for existing carriers to build opportunities for smaller carriers and tribal nations through leasing or partitioning spectrum. Existing carriers will be rewarded with longer license terms, extensions on build-out obligations, and more flexibility in construction requirements.

“It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,” she said.

She also indicated her commitment to work with Congress to fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to reimburse many rural operators’ transitions from Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. She also touted the role that open radio access networks can plan in more secure telecommunications infrastructure.

In other news at the conference, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the role of funding broadband operations in rural America, the challenges of workforce training, and ensuring that rural carriers have access to high-cost universal service support.

In a session moderated by AmeriCrew CEO Kelley Dunne, panelists from the U.S. Labor Department, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and Texas A&M Extension Education Services addressed the need to offer a vocational career path for individuals for whom a four-year degree may not be the right choice. AmeriCrew helps U.S. military veterans obtain careers in building fiber, wireless and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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Broadband's Impact

Broadband Speeds Have Significant Impact on Economy, Research Director Says

From 2010 to 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove .04 percent increase in GDP, the study found.

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Photo of Alan Davidson of the NTIA, Caroline Kitchens of Shopify, Raul Katz of Columbia University (left to right)

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – Broadband and higher speeds have made significant contributions to economic growth over the last decade, according to a study discussed at a Network On conference Tuesday.

Raul Katz, director of business strategy research at Columbia University, conducted his research to determine where the United States economy would be if broadband had not evolved since 2010. He developed four models to explain the economic contribution of broadband, and all found support to suggest that broadband development has contributed to substantial economic growth.

The long-run economic growth model showed that between 2010 and 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove a .04 percent increase in gross domestic product – the measure of the value of goods and services produced in the nation. States with higher speed broadband had an economic impact of an additional 11.5 percent.

“States with higher speeds of broadband have a higher economic effect,” said Katz. “Not only is there penetration as a driver, but there’s also… return to speed. At faster speeds, the economy tends to be more efficient.”

The study found that if broadband adoption and speed had remained unchanged since 2010, the 2020 GDP would have been 6.27 percent lower, said Katz.

Caroline Kitchens, a representative for ecommerce platform Shopify, said Tuesday that there’s been great growth in the ecommerce business, which relies entirely on a broadband connection. “Worldwide, Shopify merchants create 3.5 million jobs and have an economic impact of more than $307 billion. It goes without saying that none of this is possible without broadband access.”

“We have really seen firsthand how broadband access promotes entrepreneurship,” said Kitchens, indicating that this has promoted a growing economy in over 100 countries.

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