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Education and Entertainment Seen as Essential to Minority Adoption

WASHINGTON, December 11, 2009 – In order to provide universal broadband, national policymakers will need to better understand and motivate under-indexed minority groups. That was the message at the Internet Innovation Alliance’s ‘Universal Broadband: Access for All Americans’ conference on Thursday.

“It’s a question of knowledge and accessibility just as much as it is affordability,” said Cornell Belcher, pollster and President of Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies.

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WASHINGTON, December 11, 2009 – In order to provide universal broadband, national policymakers will need to better understand and motivate under-indexed minority groups. That was the message at the Internet Innovation Alliance’s ‘Universal Broadband: Access for All Americans’ conference on Thursday.

“It’s a question of knowledge and accessibility just as much as it is affordability,” said Cornell Belcher, pollster and President of Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies.

A study conducted by Brilliant Corners showed that among non-adopting blacks and Hispanics, 14 percent did not know how to use the Internet and 32 percent saw no need. Interestingly, many of these same respondents said that they would be interested in increasing use of the Internet if classes were provided.

Digital literacy classes may not be the only way to get under-indexed groups online, providers and policymakers can appeal to their interests.

“Maybe if you show there is some specific area of education that appeals to your specific demographic, maybe you can get some people online,” said Denmark West, President of Digital Media at BET.

“If there is enough of an entertainment value associated with a certain device or service, that can motivate people to get online,” he said.

This can be done in a variety of ways: from imbedding educational content, to marketing job skills in a popular show like ‘The Apprentice’, to simply appealing to sports fans.

“At AOL, we used sports to drive users,” said Jimmy Lynn, who at America Online started the first online sports news service.

This raised a question from panel moderator Jeff Johnson of BET fame, “How do we connect broadband to opportunity instead of just to entertainment?”

West reminded the panel that broadband is really just about access at a high data rate. “If you think about broadband as a means rather than an end then you can get a more productive dialogue.”

Sports and entertainment can’t force people to take advantage of the full capabilities of broadband, but FCC reports have clearly shown that adoption is a huge hurdle, especially for minorities, and that once people have adopted broadband they are unlikely to leave it.

Perhaps the desire to follow their favorite soccer team can motivate Latinos to adopt, or fans of a popular music artist will want to follow them more closely online, panelists said. These simple steps could put them and their children in a position to better enjoy the benefits of broadband down the road.

Some of these benefits would hopefully include increased employment. As jobs increasingly shift to online-only applications and require tech-savvy skill sets, digital literacy will be essential for those seeking to succeed in future markets. “The problem of structural unemployment is going to be exacerbated if we don’t find some way to help those demographics,” said Elaine Kamarck of the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

As broadband increasingly becomes a staple of the modern workplace, money invested in broadband is poised to reap greater rewards than bailout money given to help technologies that are becoming increasingly obsolete. Integrating these groups of fledgling broadband users into modern industries will not be easy, however.

One solution to this problem, especially in the healthcare industry, could be the use of local systems like community colleges, panelists said. 50 percent of nurses and 80 percent or first responders are community college graduates and these colleges can be “force multipliers” in local markets.

Net neutrality was did not become a major topic for discussion. Fabian Núnez, Speaker Emeritus of the California State Assembly insisted that, “Net neutrality is distracting to the more important issue: getting everyone online.”

In spite of the obstacles that exist, including the worrisome statistics about minority adoption, the overall tone of the conference was high-energy optimistic.

“There’s nothing wrong with broadband in America,” said former FCC commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, “that can’t be fixed by what’s right with broadband in America.”

Health

FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.

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Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

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Health

FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’

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WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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