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Experts Debate Civil Rights Issues in Context of Broadband

WASHINGTON, January 25, 2010 – Broadband experts discussed civil rights issues surrounding a speedy internet and how best to close the digital divide at an event last week hosted by the Minority Media & Telecom Council at Howard University.



Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected. See below.

WASHINGTON, January 25, 2010 – Broadband experts discussed civil rights issues in the context of how best to close the digital divide at an event last week hosted by the Minority Media & Telecom Council and held at Howard University.

Blair Levin, an FCC alumni who has been tapped to oversee the current plans to get broadband throughout the nation, said he wants to ensure that the policies for the plan will not contribute to a second-class citizenship and digital literacy will not be denied to anyone.

Levin told attendees at the Broadband and Social Justice Summit that broadband to certain communities will not automatically remove the digital divide, but will remove the barrier to creating more equal opportunity.  He noted that connecting those previously excluded from the internet can bring real results in education, employment, the nation’s physical health, political participation and civic engagement.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, 74 percent of internet users involved themselves in the online political process, he noted.

“When we think about civic engagement, we must recognize that the internet is a library. It’s a television.  It’s a telephone and a public square,” said Levin.  “The uncomfortable questions we have to come to terms with however is, why do fewer than 40 percent of households that make under $20,000 an year have broadband at home, while 80 percent subscribe to premium television?”

While part of the answer lies in affordability, another part lies in the importance of communities adopting technologies together. As Levin joked, e-mailing yourself is not that much fun and Skyping yourself is downright depressing.

“The TV/internet gap also suggests concern about the skills needed to participate in what the internet can offer,” he said.

Levin announced three ways to address the challenge of bridging the gap – social infrastructure, social innovation and social purpose media.

Levin wrapped up his opening statements with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.” “There can be no gainsaying about the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today…That is, a technological revolution with the impact of automation and cybernation…Modern man through scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance. Through our genius we have made this world a neighborhood. And yet we — we have not yet had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this.”

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn gave her keynote address during a packed lunch reception, saying broadband is a necessity not a luxury.

She stressed that “it is important to approach the adoption challenge from the point of view of the non adopters, and not from a set of pre conceived notions of what we assume their needs are.”

Clyburn called this challenge the “last half mile”-  the distance between each person who has not integrated broadband into their lives and the physical infrastructure right outside their door.

She stirred the audience when she spoke about the ability of broadband to deliver economic empowerment and noted that some new FCC data show that the percentage of people of color adopting broadband in their homes is rising again.

“How can we ensure that current low barriers to entry remain low in order to prevent yet another communications model that has people of color once again on the outside looking in?,” she asked.

Broadband Education Literacy and Civic Engagement

During a panel discussion, Nicole Turner-Lee, vice president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said civic engagement is defined by communities organizing and accessing information that is pertinent to their communities.  She focused on the need to mash literacy education goals with broadband deployment in order to create a multiplier effect.

Jane Cabarrus, president of the North Hampton County Branch of the NAACP, said there’s no broadband in her home in Weirwood, Va., adding that a combination of many deployment and digital literacy programs will be needed to give her community equal opportunity.

David Honig, president and executive director of the MMTC, added that it’s necessary to address the differences in subsets of people.

Russel Frisby, a partner at Stinson Morrison Heckler, reiterated the importance of incentivizing the private sector to aid in the government’s efforts.

Moustafa Mourad from One Economy said for disadvantaged citizens to adopt, they must find their own value in broadband.  “People will only participate when issues affect them in a visceral way,” he said.

Former FCC Commissioner Deborah Powell Tate recommended extending funding for the Universal Service Fund to broadband.  She also believed that the agency would be making great strides to upgrade the e-Rate, Lifeline and Link Up programs.  She also added that since children are the early adopters of broadband, schools should allocate funding to teach children how to navigate the web in a safe way.

Broadcasting and Journalism in a Broadband World

The second discussion group began with comments from Richard Prince, editor of Journal-isms, at the Maynard Institute of Journalism Education. Price pointed to the efforts of the Knight Foundation in creating enriched online environment with wiki tools for access to local public documents.

Janette Dates, the dean of Howard University School of Communications, said that while Facebook and Twitter may be forms of communications, they cannot be referred to as journalism. Journalists must well trained and know how to access information that is fair and balanced, she said.

The panel also discussed digital media literacy, where Prince pointed out the vast amount of information available but the lack of tools to evaluate it properly.  Honig suggested that broadband and media research and science should be a 10th grade level science.

Jane Mago, general counsel for the National Association of Broadcasters, and Fernando LaGuarda, the vice president of external affairs and policy counselor for Time Warner Cable, agreed that there is still a sustainable business model in local news.  Companies need to look to the local cable news models and think about where the internet creates opportunity, they said.

Andrew Schwartzman from the Media Access Project believes that some model of government subsidies might be important for this era of new journalism, almost like the public broadcasting subsidy.  He pointed out that in Europe, government subsidies for journalism institutions are normal.

John Lawson from ION Media Networks said wireless penetration among minorities is very high. He added that with new technologies developed by firms such as LG and Samsung, entrepreneurs have figured out how to deliver TV signals to cell phones traveling up to 100 miles an hour.

Net Neutrality and Digital Divide

The afternoon panel addressed the digital divide and preserving an open internet. Honig noted that only 63 percent of the country has true access to broadband at home. He asked where the money needed to close the digital divide should come from.

The group Free Press has said that it would take approximately $50 billion to provide traditional broadband to every home. Honig also raised the question of whether broadband should be considered a fundamental right.

Rick Chessen, senior v.p. of law and regulatory policy at the NCTA, believed that there was more ground for agreement on the principle of transparency than there was on the principle of nondiscrimination.  He believes the crux of the argument behind nondiscrimination is tring to dtermine who is responsible for paying for the necessary improvements to the Internet, adding that it likely could be consumers who absorb these costs.

The summit ended with statements from Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Strickling reminded the audience about the second round of funding for broadband grants and the new notice for available funds from NTIA and the Rural Utility Service. He also praised the development of Broadband Match at  He explained how the website is essentially e-Harmony for broadband.  The site lets applicants for Recovery Act grants find potential other partners. Large-scale institutions can pair with community centers, and infrastructure providers can pair with content providers.

Editor’s Note: Owing to an editing error, this article orginally stated that Commissioner Clyburn said that broadband was luxury, not a necessity. In fact – as the article now reflects – Clyburn said the opposite: broadband is a necessity, and NOT a luxury.

As Deputy Editor, Chris Naoum is curating expert opinions, and writing and editing articles on Broadband Breakfast issue areas. Chris served as Policy Counsel for Future of Music Coalition, Legal Research Fellow for the Benton Foundation and law clerk for a media company, and previously worked as a legal clerk in the office of Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. He received his B.A. from Emory University and his J.D. and M.A. in Television Radio and Film Policy from Syracuse University.

Expert Opinion

Craig Settles: And a Little Child Shall Lead Them — Digitally

How many communities are leveraging their teen populations in the pursuit of broadband and digital equity?



The author of this Expert Opinion is Craig Settles, who leads telehealth-broadband integration initiatives.

In 2011 at the MoBroadbandNow Summit in Missouri, I listened to the CIO of the City of Springfield explain why his city included teenagers in important broadband needs assessment and planning meetings. “In your home, who do you call when you’re trying to figure out how to use the VCR?”

His point? Springfield learned a valuable lesson: Teens push the edges of technology, and understand how to use technology better than many adults do. Therefore, it is imperative to include teenagers in the planning of what is and will be their main future technologies. The brain power and the creativity alone will lead to the success of tapping this demographic.

Fast forward to 2023. How many communities are leveraging their teen populations in the pursuit of broadband and digital equity? “Kids want to get a look into the future,” said Kevin Morris in a video. “That’s the thing that drives many of them in school.” Morris talks to many students as the director of college, careers and community services for the Duarte Unified School District.

What about their future in broadband, I wondered, when a friend talked to me about her efforts to recruit internship positions for the K12 Foothill Consortium? Many of the high school students in the Consortium are anxious to intern remotely or in-person near their homes in Southern California. It hit me — take the Springfield model of teen engagement to the rest of America!

Imagine the possibilities for local broadband or digital equity teams, local government and nonprofits if they can channel bright, tech-savvy, energetic, inquisitive teens on a mission to help bring the digital equity solutions to communities. Remote or in person interns can help with focus groups, town halls logistics, preparing and writing newsletters, usability testing and Affordable Connectivity Program enrollments.

The K12 Foothill Consortium is recruiting internship hosts for the June through August period and for at least 60 hours total. Those groups and organizations engaged with broadband and digital inclusion projects get the benefit of interns’ prior training in coding, health care, web design, engineering and other related disciplines. Since interns prefer paid internships, the Consortium also raises money for organizations that may be too cash-strapped to offer a stipend but can offer meaningful internships.

Photo of Career Technical Education students courtesy of the K12 Foothill Consortium

Internship hosts view the relationships as a win-win for everyone involved. Ivan Ayro, director of adult and career technical education at Charter Oak Unified School District, agrees. “Students are able to connect the educational experience they’re getting from Career Technical Education classes with real-life experience from workplace learning. Through the internships, many of our students are able to realize in high school if this is something that they want to do for the rest of their lives.”

A recent US News & World Report article states that, although internships are traditionally for college students, high school students increasingly are participating in them. Benjamin Caldarelli, co-founder of Princeton College Consulting, a New Jersey-based educational consulting company, said, “High school students want to work somewhere that interests them and potentially make what they feel is a more meaningful contribution. They see internships as an enrichment activity and opportunity to make an impact rather than simply trading time for a little money.”

More than 205,000 new jobs will need to be created to complete the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment expansion plans, many of them skilled workers. “There is a lot of focus placed on building broadband networks, but we cannot build them without a proper workforce,” Fiber Broadband Association CEO Gary Bolton said in a press release. “Failure to ensure the availability of high-skilled labor will result in workforce bottlenecks, which will ultimately lead to higher costs and project delays.”

The National Telecommunications and Information Association is requiring every state to have a five-year workforce development strategy. FBA published a guidebook to help states develop that strategy. Broadband and digital inclusion teams need to pencil in “internships” as part of their plans.

High school broadband and digital inclusion interns may not be considered skilled workers, obviously, but the interns should be considered the beginning levels of workforce development campaigns in every community. Start people thinking about broadband and all things digital in high school and use internships to shape their college or post-high school plans. Don’t forget that Gen Z can be an important part of broadband discussions, even if they’re not interns.

Amy Foell, principal of Amy Foell Consulting LLC, heads the K12 Foothill Consortium for Azusa, Charter Oak, Duarte and Monrovia Unified School Districts’ CTE. Their mission is to educate and train students to provide a community-sourced talent pool to sustain a healthy, balanced, local economy. Foell also supports workforce development programs across the San Gabriel Valley, including Pasadena Unified School District.

“I like to have an initial phone call and 15 to 20 Zoom sessions to ensure prospective internship sites understand the program,” said Foell. “Before we meet, it’s advisable to create a brief description of the internship project — be sure to share the organization’s purpose and mission. We’ll help hosts identify and interview candidates in May to early June, and students can start mid-June.”

Craig Settles conducts needs analyses, planning, and grant assessments with community stakeholders who want broadband networks and telehealth to improve economic development, healthcare, education and local government. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Digital Inclusion

Debra Berlyn: Creating a Path to Close the Digital Divide for Older Adults

Programs like the ACP and technologies like fixed wireless can play a key role in connecting older adults.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Debra Berlyn, Executive Director of Project GOAL.

Today, three-year old Max wants to get on the family computer and see his Grammy on the other side of the country, but she could be one of the approximately 34 percent of those age 65 and older who still aren’t connected to the internet at home.

When it comes to getting connected to the internet, older adults continue to remain an isolated and unserved demographic across the country. There’s more work that remains to be done to get older adults connected to the internet. It’s time to get creative and expand the effort for broadband everywhere to everyone.

There’s an unprecedented wave of federal funding for broadband expansion on the horizon. The Broadband Equity Access and Deployment effort is underway and will soon roll-out the $42.5 billion allocated by Congress to expand high-speed internet access across all fifty states and U.S. territories.

Pair this with several industry discount programs to choose from and there may finally be a real opportunity to drive broadband access and adoption and start to close the digital divide for older adults.

Affordable broadband

For older adults with the greatest need, there’s one federally funded program that has had a significant impact on connecting the community to broadband: the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Congress appropriated $14.2 billion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 for the ACP program to provide eligible lower-income households with up to a $30 monthly subsidy. About twenty internet service providers (including large ISPs AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter and some smaller providers) offer a high-speed, high-quality internet service plan for no more than $30 dollars per month for those that qualify.

So, for these households leveraging ACP, which include millions of older adults, they apply their monthly $30 benefit to a plan and access the internet, essentially for free.

To date over 17 million households have signed up for ACP. Over 45 percent of ACP subscribers are age 50 years and older, and over 20 percent of the ACP recipient households are age 65 and older.

This program is truly one of the most important programs for assisting those in need and has finally provided the aging community the opportunity to receive the benefits of broadband.

While new qualified households continue to subscribe to ACP, time is running out for available funding of this important program. With the current number of household subscribers and continued growth, it’s estimated that the ACP will run out as early as the first half of 2024. Congress must consider options now for continuing funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program.

The ACP is an essential program for customers who require a subsidy to acquire or retain broadband service. For many others who may live in areas currently unserved or underserved, or who still haven’t adopted broadband service in a community, there are now new technologies for internet growth.

New approaches

One technology has upped the competitive marketplace in the home for consumers: fixed wireless internet service.  Internet service providers such as AT&T and Verizon, and wireless carriers such as T-Mobile, offer customers an alternative for accessing internet service.

It’s a type of 5G or 4G LTE technology to enable fixed broadband access using radio frequencies (instead of the cables used to wire traditional wired fixed-line broadband) from the home.  Fixed wireless internet service has opened a competitive field for internet service in many communities.

Satellite internet is another interesting approach for the provision of service. Starlink has offered high speed, low latency internet, primarily in limited rural areas, but upfront costs can be on the expensive side. Now, Amazon is entering this market with Project Kuiper to provide fast, affordable broadband service around the world.

It is planning to do this by deploying thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit linked to a global network of antennas, fiber and internet connection points on the ground. Amazon expects to begin delivering broadband connections in late 2024.

The deployment plan has an interesting strategy, with a key Amazon delivery objective of bringing affordable, high-speed connectivity to all consumers. Project Kuiper will offer low-cost and easy-to-install antennas (also known as “terminals) to make the service affordable. The plan can help connect older adults in unserved, and underserved areas of the country, particularly rural communities, and other remote areas without reliable connectivity.

Now, with the ACP offering an opportunity for affordable broadband, the BEAD roll-out, fixed wireless providing competitive broadband services and satellite internet service competition with Project Kuiper on the horizon, we are on the right track to close the digital divide for older adults.

Debra Berlyn is the Executive Director of the Project to Get Older Adults onLine (Project GOAL), which works to promote the adoption of broadband for older adults, and to advance technology applications for the community. She is also president of Consumer Policy Solutions, is on the board of the National Consumers League, and is a board member and senior fellow with the Future of Privacy Forum. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Digital Inclusion

Learn How to Speak About Broadband, Say State Directors and Advocates at Connect (X)

Speaking simply will improve community engagement in digital inclusion efforts.



Photo of Keith Moore of the Minority Business Development Agency, Edyn Rolls of the Oklahoma Broadband Office, Valarry Bullard of the New Jersey Broadband Office, Scott Woods of Broadband Ready

NEW ORLEANS, May 12, 2023 – How we speak about broadband when talking to consumers while deploying digital equity programs is very important, said state broadband directors at a Connect (X) panel on Wednesday.  

Community residents face significant barriers to adoption that may turn them off to programs meant to benefit them, including the Affordable Connectivity Program which subsidizes high-speed internet subscriptions for low-income households. 

These communities have been historically overlooked by governments and do not trust officials to have their best interests at heart, said Courtney Richard of nonprofit affordable housing development corporation, National CORE. 

As state officials, we need to do all we can to connect with the residents and make the experience as comfortable for them as possible, said the Director of the New Jersey Broadband Office Valarry Bullard. For example, instead of saying “broadband,” officials should say “internet.” 

Locally owned businesses and households need to understand how the internet impacts them individually, and our job is to draw that connection for them, Bullard said. “For us, an opportunity is going to be education.”  

Knowing how to speak about broadband with communities that we work in is an essential piece of the puzzle that can serve to complicate the process if not handled well, said Scott Woods, vice president of community engagement and strategic partnership at 

“You can turn off a community by your simple approach,” said Woods. States must go by the overarching notion that the federal government has put broadband deployment in the hands of states because they understand the needs of the communities, he added.  

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