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Broadband's Impact

National Broadband Plan: A Look at Chapters 1 & 2

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2010 – The national broadband plan aims to present not just a roadmap of how to expand broadband but also to provide a long-term vision of innovation. While the first chapter of the plan explains its overarching goals and congressional mandate, the plan is really outlined in the second chapter. The plan has six goals that the Federal Communications Commission plans to achieve through four general recommendations.

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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles written by BroadbandBreakfast.com staff summarizing each chapter of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2010 – The national broadband plan aims to present not just a roadmap of broadband expansion, but also to provide a long-term vision of innovation. While the first chapter of the plan explains its overarching goals and congressional mandate, the plan is really outlined in the second chapter. The plan has six goals that the Federal Communications Commission plans to achieve through four general recommendations.

Looking at the recommendations, they’re not distinct policy actions to be taken but a series of overall actions to be taken to create a more inviting environment for future innovation.

Looking at the other major broadband plans published by South Korea, Japan, Sweden and Germany, the FCC clearly recognized the need for increased competition in order to maximize consumer welfare.

The second general recommendation deals with the physical expansion of the network by working with localities to make it easier to obtain permits for the installation of poles, cables and other network equipment. In addition to the physical network, the FCC feels that the available spectrum needs to be inventoried and cataloged in order for more efficient use; this may include the redistribution of government-owned spectrum.

The Universal Service System needs direct reform; specifically the high-cost system that currently subsidizes telephone service needs to be redirected for the use of broadband funds. This transformation needs to occur for low-income Americans and others.

The final recommendation is the most vague. It simply states that laws and policies and standards need to be reformed in order to allow the government to influence public education health care and other government operations to be better used over the Internet.

Looking over the six goals, some of them have direct implications while others are simply overall statements designed to allow for the improvement of broadband availability.

The plan’s first goal is the most lofty and the most concrete: “at least 100,000,000 U.S. homes should have affordable access to an actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and a dual upload speeds of at least 15 megabits per second.”

The FCC plans to achieve this goal by ensuring that every American has accurate actual performance data. It recently released its own speed-test service using data provided by M lab and others to allow consumers to determine their actual speeds. This will allow the FCC to determine what the differential is between what consumers actually get and what ISPs claim they are delivering.

In later sections of the plan, the FCC goes into more detail about actual vs. advertised. The specific goal is that by 2015, 100 million Americans should have affordable access with actual download speeds of 50 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of 20 mbps. This benchmark will allow the agency to determine in five years the actions of helping to achieve the ultimate goal or whether new policies should be enacted.

With the rise of smartphones and netbooks, the mobile connectivity of Americans has been steadily increasing. Numerous studies have concluded that many minorities and low-income households use the mobile Internet to connect. In order to expand the mobile network, the FCC plans to work with locality staff to allow for easier pole placement but also to expand spectrum. Specifically, the agency plans to lift the 500 MHz band and make it available by 2020 with making 300 MHz available by 2015.

When looking at why Americans don’t have access, the most obvious reason is a lack of physical connectivity. However, with the over-expanding network, the lack of use it is becoming more attributable to a lack of digital literacy or basic affordability. With regards to digital literacy, the commission proposes the creation of the digital literacy corps. This new program is expanded upon later in the plan.

In order to tackle the issue of affordability, the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation will be reevaluated. The goal is that over the next 10 years both programs will be modified to allow for a shift from telephone service to broadband service. Unfortunately with limited funding, telephone service will no longer become a focus. In addition to the universal service program, the Life Link and Link Up services that are used to bring telephone service to low-income communities, will be expanded to include broadband.

In order to achieve true ubiquity, institutions such as schools, hospitals, government buildings and libraries also need a high-speed connectivity. Here the FCC is pushing for a one gigabit per second connection for these anchor institutions. The FCC also plans to reevaluate the rural healthcare support programs. Additionally, it would like nonprofit and public institutions to work together to obtain better connectivity.

The fifth goal is one of the concrete goals which the FCC has proposed after the 911 Commission released a report addressing emergency responder systems. The 911 group found that emergency personnel were unable to communicate with each other across various systems since many of them are not interoperable. The FCC is proposing a new nationwide wireless interoperable public safety network to be completed no later than 2020. This would allow first responders, hospital personnel, fire and police officers to communicate using one unifying network.

The final goal addresses a tangential benefit of a high-speed network – access to energy information. A smart grid would allow all Americans to access direct energy information on pricing and consumption ball and allow for the easier transmission of energy across the United States. This could enable better load management and price control. According to the plan, studies demonstrate that when people get feedback on their electricity usage, they make simple behavioral changes that save energy.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for BroadbandBreakfast.com since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

Broadband's Impact

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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Broadband's Impact

New Report Recommends Broadening Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues

A Mattey Consulting report finds broadband revenues can help sustain the fund used to connect rural and low-income Americans.

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Carol Mattey of Mattey Consulting LLC

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2021— Former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission Carol Mattey released a study on Tuesday recommending the agency reform the Universal Service Fund to incorporate a broad range of revenue sources, including from broadband.

According to the report by Mattey’s consulting firm Mattey Consulting LLC, revenues from “broadband internet access services that are increasingly used by Americans today should contribute to the USF programs that support the expansion of such services to all,” it said. “This will better reflect the value of broadband internet access service in today’s marketplace for both consumers and businesses.”

Mattey notes that sources of funding for the USF, which are primarily from voice revenues and supports expanding broadband to low-income Americans and remote regions, has been shrinking, thus putting the fund in jeopardy. The contribution percent reached a historic high at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that, though Mattey suggested it could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years.

“This situation is unsustainable and jeopardizes the universal broadband connectivity mission for our nation without immediate FCC reform,” Mattey states in her report, “To ensure the enduring value of the USF program and America’s connectivity goals, we must have a smart and substantive conversation about the program’s future.”

According to Mattey’s data, the assessed sources (primarily voice) of income will only continue to shrink over the coming years, while unassessed sources will continue to grow. Mattey’s report was conducted in conjunction with INCOMPAS, NTCA: The Rural Broadband Association, and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“It is time for the FCC to take action, and to move away from the worst option of all – the status quo – that is jeopardizing the USF which is critical to connecting our nation,” the report said.

John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB, echoed the sentiments expressed by Mattey in her report, “We simply must put the USF funding mechanism on a more stable and sustainable path,” he said, “[in order to] strengthen our national commitment to broadband equity for all.”

Mattey report uniform with current recommendations

Mattey’s research is generally in line with proponents of change to the USF. Some have recommended that the fund draw from general broadband revenues, while others have said general taxation would provide a longer lasting solution. Even FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested that Big Tech be forced to contribute to the system it benefits from, which the acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said is an “intriguing” idea.

The FCC instituted the USF in 1997 as a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The fund was designed to encourage the development of telecom infrastructure across the U.S.—dispensing billions of dollars every year to advance the goal of universal connectivity. It does so through four programs: the Connect America Fund, Lifeline, the rural health care program, and E-Rate.

These constituent programs address specific areas related for broadband. For example, the E-Rate program is primarily concerned with ensuring that schools and libraries are sufficiently equipped with internet and technology assistance to serve their students and communities. All of these programs derive their funding from the USF.

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Digital Inclusion

Outreach ‘Most Valuable Thing’ for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Rosenworcel

FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said EBB will benefit tremendously from local outreach efforts.

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Internet Innovation Alliance Co-Chair Kim Keenan

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday that a drawback of the legislation that ushered in the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program is that it did not include specific funding for outreach.

“There was no funding to help a lot of these non-profit and local organizations around the country get the word out [about the program],” Jessica Rosenworcel said during an event hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance about the broadband affordability divide. “And I know that it would get the word out faster if we had that opportunity.”

The program, which launched in May and provides broadband subsidies of $50 and $75 to qualifying low-income households, has so-far seen an uptake of roughly 5.5 million households. The program was a product of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“We gotta get those trusted local actors speaking about it because me preaching has its limitations and reaching out to people who are trusted in their communities to get the word out – that is the single most valuable thing we can do,” Rosenworcel said.

She said the FCC has 32,000 partners and has held more than 300 events with members of Congress, tribal leaders, national and local organizations, and educational institutions to that end.

“Anyone who’s interested, we’ll work with you,” she said.

EBB successes found in its mobile friendliness, language inclusion

Rosenworcel also preached the benefits of a mobile application-first approach with the program’s application that is making it accessible to large swaths of the population. “I think, frankly, every application for every program with the government should be mobile-first because we have populations, like the LatinX population, that over index on smartphone use for internet access.

“We gotta make is as easy as possible for people to do this,” she said.

She also noted that the program is has been translated into 13 languages, furthering its accessibility.

“We have work to do,” Rosenworcel added. “We’re not at 100 percent for anyone, and I don’t think we can stop until we get there.”

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