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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

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Health

Ask Me Anything! Friday with Craig Settles, Community Telehealth Pioneer at 2:30 p.m. ET

Visit Broadband.Money to register for the Ask Me Anything! event on Friday, December 3, 2021, at 2:30 p.m. ET.

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Visit Broadband.Money to register for the Ask Me Anything! event on Friday, December 3, 2021, at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Craig’s tireless work has helped transform the last mile of broadband in the U.S., through his influence among national, state, and corporate decision makers, and his on-the-ground work building community broadband coalitions. Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark will interview Craig Settles in this Broadband.Money Ask Me Anything!

Read the Broadband.Money profile of Craig Settles

About Our Distinguished Guest

Saved from a stroke by telehealth, Craig Settles pays it forward by uniting community broadband teams and healthcare stakeholders through telehealth projects that transform healthcare delivery.

Mr. Settles conducts needs analyses with community stakeholders who want broadband networks and/or telehealth to improve economic development, healthcare, education and local government. Mr. Settles’ needs analyses opens up additional opportunities to raise money for networks, as well as increase the financial sustainability of your network. He’s been doing this work since 2006.

A community telehealth champion

Mr. Settles views telehealth as the “Killer App” that can close the digital divide because everyone experiences illness or cares for someone who is ill. Every home that telehealth touches must have good broadband. Telehealth technology and broadband in the home provide avenues for other home-based technology services that can improve quality of life, such as companion distance-learning apps, a home business app, and home entertainment apps.

He authored Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless in 2005, and since then, Mr. Settles has provided community broadband consulting services. His public-sector client list includes Ottumwa, IA, Riverside, Benicia and Glendale, CA and the State of California. Calix, Ciena and Juniper Networks are among those on his private sector client list. In addition, he has testified for the FCC and on Capital Hill.

Craig around the web

Mr. Settles hosts the radio talk show Gigabit Nation, His in-depth analysis reports are valuable resources for community broadband project teams and stakeholders. Building the Gigabit City, Mr. Settles’ blog, further showcases his expertise in this area.

Follow Mr. Settles on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Mr. Settles is frequently called upon as a municipal broadband expert for journalists at CNN, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time Magazine and a host of business, technology and local media outlets. He has spoken at various conferences in the U.S, Europe, South America, Australia and Asia.


About Ask Me Anything! (AMA)

AMA invites broadband industry leaders from all corners to share their knowledge and perspectives with our community.

The format is simple:

  1. A one hour live webinar with our distinguished guest
  2. Interactive questions from attendees in the comments below this post
    • See a question you also wonder about? “Like” it to upvote it
    • Have more questions? Add them as comments to this post.
  3. Our guest will answer as many questions as time permits, in order of upvotes
    • A community moderator will paraphrase our guest’s answers and post as reply
    • Want to weigh in with your perspective? You’re welcome to share your replies!

Please be respectful of our distinguished guest. It’s okay to disagree, but thank you for being kind. Trolls will be banned.

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Broadband's Impact

Julio Fuentes: Access Delayed Was Access Denied to the Poorest Americans

Big Telecom companies caused months and months of delays in the rollout of the Emergency Broadband Benefit.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Remember when millions of students in dense urban areas and less-populated rural areas weren’t dependent on home broadband access so they could attend school?

Remember when we didn’t need telehealth appointments, and broadband access in urban and outlying areas was an issue that could be dealt with another day?

Remember when the capability to work remotely in underserved communities wasn’t the difference between keeping a job and losing it?

Not anymore.

Education. Health care. Employment. The COVID-19 pandemic affected them all, and taking care of a family in every respect required broadband access and technology to get through large stretches of the pandemic.

You’d think the Federal Communications Commission and its then-acting chairwoman would have pulled out all the stops to make sure that this type of service was available to as many people as possible, as soon as possible — especially when there’s a targeted federally funded program for that important purpose.

Alas, by all appearances, some Big Telecom companies threw their weight around and caused months and months of delays, denying this life-changing access to the people who needed it most — at the time they needed it most.

The program in question is the federally funded Emergency Broadband Benefit program. The EBB offered eligible households — often the poorest Americans — a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service, and those households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop or other computer if they contribute just $10 to the purchase. Huge value and benefits for technology that should no longer be the privilege of only those with resources.

Seems fairly straightforward, right?

It should have been. But FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel slammed on the brakes. Why? It turns out that Big Telecom giants wanted more time to get ready to grab a piece of the action — a lot more time. While the program was ready to go in February, it didn’t actually launch until several months later.

That’s months of unnecessary delay.

But it wasn’t providers who were waiting. It was Americans in underserved and rural areas, desperate for a connection to the world.

Here are some numbers for Rosenworcel to consider:

  • As recently as March, 58% of white elementary students were enrolled for full-time in-person instruction, while only 36% of Black students, 35% of Latino students, and 18% of Asian peers were able to attend school in person.
  • Greater portions of families of color and low-income families reportedly fell out of contact with their children’s schools during the pandemic. In one national survey in spring 2020, nearly 30% of principals from schools serving “large populations of students of color and students from lower-income households” said they had difficulty reaching some of their students and/or families — in contrast to the 14% of principals who said the same in wealthier, predominantly white schools.
  • In fall 2020, only 61% of households with income under $25,000 reported that the internet was “always available” for their children to use for educational purposes; this share was 86% among households with incomes above $75,000.

And all of these numbers cut across other key issues such as health care and maintaining employment.

Access delayed was access denied to the poorest, most isolated Americans during the worst pandemic in generations.

Allowing Big Telecom companies to get their ducks in a row (and soak up as many federal dollars as possible) left poor and rural Americans with no options, for months. Who knows how many children went without school instruction? Or how many illnesses went undiagnosed? Or how many jobs were terminated?

This delay was appalling, and Chairwoman Rosenworcel should have to answer for her actions to the Senate Commerce Committee as it considers her nomination for another term as commissioner. Rather than expedite important help to people who needed it most, she led the agency’s delay — for the benefit of giant providers, not the public.

Hopefully, the committee moves with more dispatch than she did in considering her actual fitness to be FCC chairwoman for another term.

Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. 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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Education

Texas High School Students Enter the Fight for Better Connectivity

Students in a Houston-area school district hosted a panel on connecting schools and libraries as part of a national event on bridging the digital divide.

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John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – Generation Z students are making their mark at a Houston-area school district by adding broadband access to the list of issues they are actively working on.

The high school students in the Fort Bend Independent School District organized a panel conversation on internet access in education as part of Connected Nation’s national event titled “20 Years of Connecting the Nation,” and were able to host some high-profile guests in the world of telecommunications.

The November 17 panel included John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, Chris Martinez, division director of information technology for the Harris County Public Library, Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion for Connected Nation, and Meredith Watassek, director of career and technical education for Fort Bend ISD.

Nine percent of residents in Harris County, where Houston is located, reports that they do not have a connected device at home and 18 percent say they do not have access to an internet connection. These gaps in access are the focus of the panelists’ digital equity efforts.

With Windhausen and Martinez present on the panel, a key point of discussion was the importance of helping libraries to act as anchor institutions – institutions which help enable universal broadband access.

Watassek pointed out that she has been helping oversee distance learning in Fort Bend ISD for six years, starting such a program to enable teachers to teach students in several of the district’s buildings without having to drive to each one, and has seen that with time and learned experience it is possible to work through distance learning logistical issues that school districts around the nation are currently facing.

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