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National Broadband Plan

Broadband Plan of Attack is Evolving, Say Industry and Regulators

CHICAGO, November 18, 2009 – The title of Wednesday’s panel at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners sounded militant enough: “Broadband Plan of Attack.” Yet the speakers on hand gave the distinct impression that across public, private and academic sectors, conclusive battle plans remain to be drawn.

Regulators from Washington, telecom providers and researchers agree that the push forward for wider broadband access remains both a certainty and an imperative. Yet not everyone seems to be dancing the same step just yet—a fact reflected in the frank appraisal of Robert Curtis, director of deployment for the national broadband plan at the Federal Communications Commission.

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CHICAGO, November 18, 2009 – The title of Wednesday’s panel at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners sounded militant enough: “Broadband Plan of Attack.” Yet the speakers on hand gave the distinct impression that across public, private and academic sectors, conclusive battle plans remain to be drawn.

Regulators from Washington, telecom providers and researchers agree that the push forward for wider broadband access remains both a certainty and an imperative. Yet not everyone seems to be dancing the same step just yet—a fact reflected in the frank appraisal of Robert Curtis, director of deployment for the national broadband plan at the Federal Communications Commission.

While the FCC is closing gaps in its broadband plan, “There’s a heavy push to get from where we are to where we want to be in the next couple of months. I’d encourage anyone who has any input to get involved now,” said Curtis. “There’s evidence of a significant economic bottleneck, particularly between the second mile and middle mile. And there’s a middle mile gap, particularly in rural areas, where we might have broadband available, but not everyone has access to it.”

Curtis added: “There’s also a last mile gap in the wireless space, where we need a complete spectrum overhaul.” Possible solutions might involve a number of strategies including satellite backhaul, microwave daisy chain towers, more municipal fiber and more effective fiber placement, Curtis said.

All of that talk of gap plugging pleased David Don, senior director of policy at Comcast.

Tooting his sector’s horn, Don said: “The cable industry has invested over $145 billion in the past ten years to deliver high-quality internet, cable and voice to millions of American homes. This investment is what made broadband affordable and available to millions of Americans…. And we’ve done this without government mandates or government funding.”

That’s not to say government has no place in broadband’s future, though Don was eager to argue how much of a leadership role telecoms and cable companies have played.

“About 90 to 92 percent of Americans currently have access to broadband, though not everyone takes advantage of this. These become questions of digital literacy, and equipment subsidies.”

Kathy Grillo, vice president of federal regulatory affairs for Verizon Communications, attempted to put some numbers on the growing face of broadband from the telecom perspective. She estimates that between $20 billion and $350 billion is needed to provide 760 Kilotbit per second (Kbps) to 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) broadband service to underserved and unserved areas—and produce universal access.

“A lot of that is going to take private investment, but there are some areas where private companies are not going to go, and that’s where the FCC can step in,” Grillo said. “The hard question is how do you do it. There are targeted ways to address areas that don’t have broadband today, or have very little service.”

That represents a sticky point for telecom providers because “in a lot of areas where there are no customers, transport is a huge expense for serving not a lot of customers,” said Grillo. “We need a stable and predictable universal service fund, and we need to look at it in terms of policy instead of politics.”

The most informative feedback on broadband’s current state came from Charles Davidson of the Advanced Communication Law Project, New York Law School.

His group prepared a 100-page report that identifies 60 barriers to broadband adoption across key sectors and demographics. “We really wanted this report to be a conversation starter so that stakeholders and legislators can think about best practices and solutions,” Davidson said.

Broadband, for example, could have a major economic impact on health care costs in the years ahead. How much? A broadband-enabled network in health care could save $197 billion over the next 25 years, according to Davidson.

In terms of broadband infrastructure, more spectrum is sorely needed, too. Citing numbers collected by Cisco Systems, Davidson said data traffic will increase 66-fold by 2013. “So spectrum is really important, and a wide swath needs to be made available there.”

The report also takes a look at conventional wisdom in new and refreshing ways. It’s no surprise that only 30 percent of seniors, for example, are online–due either to suspicion or lack of knowledge. But when Davidson’s group interviewed seniors and senior advocacy groups, they made some startling finds.

“A lot of seniors found learning the Internet absolutely life altering. One 73-year-old woman called it her lifeline to the world. It’s providing avenues for seniors to exercise their mental acuity, and to age at home a little bit longer and more independently.”

That said, “education and outreach as a big picture notion doesn’t work. It has to be targeted, one-on-one, or a concentrated campaign by a service provider. It has to show that this content is meaningful to you, and that there are ways broadband can change your life.”

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

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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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