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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

Public Safety

Lack of People Opting Into Emergency Alerts Poses Problems for Natural Disaster Scenarios

Disaster protocol experts remarked on lessons learned from fire outbreaks in Boulder County, Colorado.

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Photo of Lori Adams of Nokia discussing emergency communications response to Colorado wildfires at Mountain Connect by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 26, 2022 – A lack of people opting into local emergency alerts poses a severe challenge for public officials during natural disasters, a panel of experts said Tuesday.

The panel remarked on just how significant the number of people not subscribed to emergency alerts is during a panel on disaster preparedness at the annual Mountain Connect conference.

In Boulder, getting emergency alerts is on an opt-in basis, whereas in other areas, it is opt-in by default.

The specific focus of the panel was on lessons learned from the outbreak of fires in Boulder County, Colorado this past December.

Fires presented challenges for providers

Several challenges of managing a response to the fires were recounted.

Blake Nelson, Comcast’s senior director of construction, stated that some of his company’s underground broadband infrastructure buried at a considerable depth was still melted from the heat of the fires to cause service outages for customers. Thomas Tyler, no stranger to disaster response as Louisiana’s deputy director for broadband and connectivity through several hurricane responses, pointed out that it is quite possible local officials may be skilled in responding to one type of disaster such as a hurricane but not another like a tornado.

Screenshot of Blake Nelson, Jon Saunders, Wesley Wright and Thomas Tyler (left to right)

The panel also spoke to the challenges of coordination between essential companies and agencies if people do not have personal relationships with those who work at such entities other than their own.

Successful emergency responses to service outages during disaster serve as models for the future, with Nelson stating the internet provider opened up its wireless hotspots to temporarily increase service access and Tyler saying that standing up Starlink satellite internet access helped bring broadband to Louisiana communities only accessible by bridge or boat during their periods of disaster.

Conversation moderator Lori Adams, senior director of broadband policy and funding strategy at Nokia, suggested keeping town servers not in municipal buildings but rather off site and Wesley Wright, partner at law firm Keller and Heckman, recommended the Federal Communications Commission’s practice of developing strong backup options for monitoring service outages.

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Education

Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning

Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.

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Screenshot of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2022 – Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited and provide extra help for students who need individualized teaching, experts said at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on Tuesday.

As policy makers weigh the options for a structure for AI in the classroom, panelists agreed on its benefits for both teachers and students. Michelle Zhou, CEO of AI company Juji Inc., said AI technology in the classroom can be tools and applications like chatbots for real-time questions during class, and post-class questions at home for when the teacher is not available.

Lynda Martin, director of learning strategy for strategic solutions at learning company McGraw Hill, said AI provides the extra help students need, but sometimes are too shy to ask.

When a teacher has a high volume of students, it is difficult to effectively help and connect with each student individually, Martin said. AI gives the teacher crucial information to get to know the student on a more personal level as it transmits the student’s misconceptions and detects areas of need. AI can bring student concerns to the teacher and foster “individualized attention” she added.

Privacy and security concerns

Jeremy Roschelle from Digital Promise, an education non-profit, raise the privacy and security concerns in his cautious support of the idea. He noted that there needs to be more information about who has access to the data and what kinds of data should be used.

Beside bias and ethical issues that AI could pose, Roschelle cautioned about the potential harms AI could present, including misdetecting a child’s behavior, resulting in potential educational setbacks.

To utilize the technology and ensure education outcomes, Sharad Sundararajan, co-founder of learning company Merlyn Minds, touched on the need for AI training. As Merlyn Minds provides digital assistant technology to educators, he noted the company’s focus on training teachers and students on various forms of AI tech to enhance user experience.

There is an “appetite” from schools that are calling for this, said Sundararajan. As policy makers contemplate a strategic vision for AI in the classroom, he added that AI adoption in the classroom around the country will require algorithmic work, company partnerships, and government efforts for the best AI success.

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Education

Closing Digital Divide for Students Requires Community Involvement, Workforce Training, Event Hears

Barriers to closing the divide including awareness of programs, resources and increasing digital literacy.

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Screenshot of Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Experts in education technology said Monday that to close the digital divide for students, the nation must eliminate barriers at the community level, including raising awareness of programs and resources and increasing digital literacy.

“We are hearing from schools and district leaders that it’s not enough to make just broadband available and affordable, although those are critical steps,” said Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said at an event hosted by trade group SIIA, formerly known as the Software and Information Industry Association. “We also have to make sure that we’re solving for the human barriers that often inhibit adoption.”

Song highlighted four “initial barriers” that students are facing. First, a lack of awareness and understanding of programs and resources. Second, signing up for programs is often confusing regarding eligibility requirements, application status, and installment. Third, there may be a lack of trust between communities and services. Fourth, a lack of digital literacy among students can prevent them from succeeding.

Song said he believes that with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, states have an “incredible opportunity to address adoption barriers.”

Workforce shortages still a problem, but funding may help

Rosemary Lahasky, senior director for government affairs at Cengage, a maker of educational content, added that current data suggests that 16 million students lack access to a broadband connection. While this disparity in American homes remained, tech job posts nearly doubled in 2021, but the average number of applicants shrunk by 25 percent.

But panelists said they are hopeful that funding will address these shortages. “Almost every single agency that received funding…received either direct funding for workforce training or were given the flexibility to spend some of their money on workforce training,” said Lahasky of the IIJA, which carves out funding for workforce training.

This money is also, according to Lahasky, funding apprenticeship programs, which have been recommended by many as a solution to workforce shortages.

Student connectivity has been a long-held concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students themselves are stepping up to fight against the digital inequity in their schools as technology becomes increasingly essential for success. Texas students organized a panel to discuss internet access in education just last year.

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