CHICAGO, November 18, 2009 – One striking sentiment dominated this week’s convention of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners: The federal government remains on nearly as steep a learning curve on crafting the future of broadband as many state agencies, and the best work ahead will likely get done when public and private concerns team up.
“Of course more needs to be done, and they’re still learning [in Washington] how to reliably and effectively get the funds out,” said David Svanda of Svanda Consulting in Clarksville, Md., and a past president of NARUC.
“It’s an ongoing learning process, and they clearly have their feelers out to learn more,” said Svanda. “I think they’ll take very seriously what they hear here. You couldn’t have two better people on the case.”
By “they,” Svanda meant Larry Strickling, of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and Jonathan Adelstein, of the Rural Utility Service.
These two key Obama administration broadband players have only been on the job only since the summer: the Senate confirmed Strickling in June, and Adelstein in July.
They have their hands full intrying to figure out how to distribute $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funding by September 2010.
Are Strickling and Adelstein really the “rock stars” of broadband? That’s how panel moderator Phil Jones of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission labeled them. To that end, the two are still “on tour,” with yet another congressional appearance in the works shortly.
“We kind of have a road show, ‘The Johnny and Larry Show,’” Adelstein joked. “We’ve testified three times before Congress and will testify again Thursday.” (It likely won’t be the last time, either.)
If their commitment to moving broadband into the 21st Century sounded forceful, the folks at the Federal Communications Commission withstood a little good-natured ribbing.
Charles Davidson of the Advanced Communication Law Project at New York Law School said he anchored a report on broadband adoption, in part, “to bring the FCC out of a half-decade winter solstice.” An FCC official was seated just a few chairs to his right on his panel.
In a similar fashion, Davidson challenged the widely-held stereotype that schools remain bastions of broadband innovation. “There are not a whole lot of incentives in place to get teachers to use the Internet in the classroom. As a society, we can’t afford to wait two decades for that culture change to occur.”
Davidson sees no less than 60 areas standing between Washington’s best intentions, private sector investment, and full broadband adoption. And some of those won’t be easy to solve, even with 100 trucks full of fiber-optic cable: Seniors, for example, remain slow to adopt broadband, in part because many remain suspicious of the Internet.
For others, overcoming broadband suspicion remains more a matter of teaming the public and private sectors without raising irrational fears over someone robbing the coffers at City Hall.
Larry Landis, commissioner of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission thinks the NARUC conference represented a call for his colleagues to “look at things freshly. When Verizon put fiber into the ground in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, we were able to streamline the permitting process.”
This led to a drop in costs of more than 20 percent, he said, and faster installation. “If we look at government to think of new ways and creative ways to help through the process of infrastructure, that can help as well,” Landis said.
Also, an unlikely if sublime star of the NARUC conference: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Though he took office in February after the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Quinn doesn’t have to worry about creating a solid broadband plan for his state. The reason? As lieutenant governor, Quinn went the extra mile to create broadband policy and access for rural areas, small businesses and those in public safety and education.
Many attending the conference believe that governors and state officials nationwide might do well to pick Quinn’s brain. His involvement with public utilities policy goes back more than 25 years. As a consumer advocate, he formed Illinois’ Citizens Utility Board in 1983. For his own part, Quinn saw NARUC as a fascinating opportunity to get caught up on broadband planning initiatives.
And to that end, Quinn’s own plans as Illinois governor remain ambitious.
“We want everyone in Illinois to have access to high-speed Internet, especially students, those in law enforcement and health care providers,” Quinn said. “My policy is everybody in, nobody left out.”
For that matter, why leave out those seeking to expand their grasp on broadband policy and planning? NARUC attendees got to hear all about the initiatives at www.broadbandbestpractices.org. On this web site, state agencies and commissions, along with private-sector groups, can enter or read about useful information concerning broadband projects, past and present. Unsurprisingly, the site is hosted by NARUC itself.
In Discussing ‘Broadband and the Biden Administration,’ Trump and Obama Transition Workers Praise Auctions
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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As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
National Broadband Plan Has Held Up Well, With Notable Downsides, Say Authors
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.”
Authors of the 2010 National Broadband Plan Say That a ‘Refresh’ Should Not Only Be Up to FCC
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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