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FCC Diversity Panel Discusses Challenges, Solutions to Broadband Adoption

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2010 – The Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age met this week to discuss its progress and decide upon future actions. It also reviewed data showcasing minority groups’ use of broadband and other media delivery systems.

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WASHINGTON, June 17, 2010 – The Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age met this week to discuss its progress and decide upon future actions.

After Chairman Henry Rivera’s opening remarks, Thomas Reed, chief of the Office of Communications Business Opportunities, spoke about conducting studies that would show the current state of the minority population’s involvement with the economy. He also talked about a web site his office is developing that would provide constituents with information about new media and using the internet to run a business.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn also joined the meeting, where she urged the committee to take more action to create more diversity within the communications industry. She urged the committee to look at ways for minority and women owners of small businesses to get spectrum through merger applications, a process that has been made difficult for these owners previously.

She cited difficulties resulting from the Verizon-Alltel merger, saying that the commission should require Verizon to work with small and local providers, and that not merely encouraging Verizon is enough action.

“There is a modest amount of frustration with the committee that there does not seem to be a lot of progress,” she said. “I think we would like to see some more progress. We need to get moving on some of these recommendations.”

After the committee reviewed its business agenda, two groups presented material about specific ethnic groups in the United States. BET Networks gave a presentation about African-American Media Consumption Trends, and ZeroDivide gave a presentation about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and broadband.

Debra Lee, chairman and CEO of BET, Scott Mills, president and COO of BET, and Matthew Barnhill, senior vice president of research, presented BET Networks’ research. The research showed that 32 percent of African Americans’ weekly media hours are spent on the internet, and 26 percent are spent watching television. They also watch more television than any other ethnicity, and their TV usage exceeds all other ethnicities at every hour of the week. BET Networks say that they are targeting their television programming to encourage use of the internet by holding online contests and producing shows that can only be viewed online.

In regards to broadband adoption, African Americans lag behind the general population, with a 59 percent adoption rate in comparison to the general population’s 67 percent. Within the African American community, the adoption rates for those with low income was 45 percent, the elderly 36 percent, and high school drop-outs were 27 percent.

Three different studies, done by the FCC, the Joint Center and the Pew Foundation, showed that the lack of relevance was the leading cause of non-adoption of broadband for African Americans.

However, while adoption rates may be less within the African American community, those African Americans who are broadband-connected exceed all other ethnicities in Web 2.0 usage. In a study that compares blacks and whites, blacks update their status, download music, stream videos, and watch TV shows on the Internet more than whites.

BET Networks said that in “recognizing the broadband adoption challenges for the most vulnerable members of the African American community,” it has submitted a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant in the area of Sustainable Broadband Adoption. It proposes to fund a public-private partnership to drive adoption among African Americans. In a multi-platform campaign, it plans to target non-adopters for two years across all of their network programming, including television, online, mobile, video on-demand, and in market, and will measure effectiveness as they campaign unfolds.

It also aims to increase digital literacy through local efforts and community outreach programs in targeted locations, citing the training of youth in these technologies. Lastly, the grant application proposes an African American “Life Portal,” which would contain online content specifically generated towards African American health issues, education, and job training information.

Laura Efurd, vice president and chief community investment officer for ZeroDivide, presented ZeroDivide’s focus on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ broadband usage, which mainly concentrated on the lack of research, and therefore information, about this ethnic group.

Asian Americans make up 5.4 percent of the U.S. population, but they are mainly concentrated in 10 states. This makes getting data about Asian American populations through surveys very difficult, because in the other 40 states there are not enough Asian Americans to make up a sample size.

Other research problems include language barriers, since two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign-born. The Asian American community also includes people from different Asian countries, so the entire community cannot be treated in the same manner. Since Asian Americans are one of the fastest-growing racial groups in the United States, making up one-third of legal immigrants, ZeroDivide says that inclusive research methods need to be developed.

As a part of a study on broadband adoption and use in America, ZeroDivide cited an FCC survey that included all Americans, but did not include Asian Americans, American Indians, or Alaskan natives in their results because there were not enough of them in each survey group. The FCC document said, “The first two groups in particular have a sizable population that may not speak English or that have low telephone penetration rates. Because of that and the small sample of respondents, it is inadvisable to report results.”

Upon concluding the presentation, committee member Toni Cook Bush and Chairman Rivera agreed to look into the problem and develop a solution.

Lindsey is working with BroadbandBreakfast.com through an internship with the National Journalism Center. She graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in professional writing. She has worked in Virginia Tech's public affairs department, and she was an assistant editor of one of the college's news-magazines. Lindsey is from Chatham, Va.

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U.S. Broadband Deployment and Speeds are Beating Europe’s, Says Scholar Touting ‘Facilities-based Competition’

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WASHINGTON, June 10, 2014 – In spite of press reports to the contrary, U.S. broadband coverage is not falling behind European levels of service, academic Christopher Yoo said on Wednesday at the National Press Club.

“It seems like every other week there’s a new infographic or news story that talks about how the U.S. is falling behind in broadband speeds, we don’t have fiber to the home, and telecom companies are rolling in the profits while consumer prices soar,” said Doug Brake, telecommunications policy analyst with The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, setting up the topic tackled in by Yoo in his presentation.

On the contrary, said Yoo, the founding director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition, the U.S. led in many broadband metrics in 2011 and 2012. And, he said, it is precisely the absence of a “one size fits all” regulatory structure that has been been driving technological innovation forward in the marketplace.

In other words, according to Yoo, the American approach to facilities-based competition – where cable companies and telephone companies compete through rival communications networks –has succeeded.

While the findings may be “surprising” to some, Yoo said they proved the importance of examining the best approach to broadband regulation based on “real world data.”

The notion that “fiber is the only answer” to affordable high-speed broadband is a misconception, he said. Countries emphasizing fiber over rival technologies – including Sweden and France – were among the worst broadband performers.

In the U.S., 82 percent of households received broadband at speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps), versus 54 percent in Europe. In rural areas, the difference was even greater: 48 percent in the U.S., versus 12 percent in Europe. The five countries that did beat U.S. coverage of greater than 25 Mbps (including Denmark and the Netherlands) are compact, urbanized regions with greater population densities.

Additionally, even looking at fiber-based technologies, the U.S. is outperforming Europe, he said. Fiber coverage in the U.S. went from 17 percent in 2011 to 23 percent in 2012. In Europe, fiber coverage went from 10 percent in 2011 to 12 percent in 2012.

And, based on the measurement of telecommunications investment per household, the U.S. number is more than double that of Europe: $562 versus $244 in the old world.

And, he said, American users consumed 50 percent more bandwidth than Europeans in 2011 and 2012.

“The best measure of how much a network is really worth is how much you use it,” Yoo said. “It’s great to have a very fast car, but unless you use it, it’s not really doing very much for you.”

One area where the U.S. could see improvement is in the area of broadband adoption, Brake said. That demonstrates continued need to demonstrate value in broadband for consumers.

Yoo agreed: “Availability is only a part of the question. There are plenty of people who have broadband available to them who are choosing not to adopt.”

Moderator Gerry Faulhaber added: “As regulators, we can mandate coverage, we can mandate buildout. What we can’t do is mandate people to use it.”

Keeping a series of tiered rates for broadband service is exactly what America’s broadband rollout needs, said Brake. That not only encourages consumers to purchase internet at lower introductory rates, it also efficiently places the burden on those who wish to pay more for higher-speed service. This helps to recuperate costs for networks.

“Is it better to provide 75 to 100 Mbps to 80 to 90 percent of the population, or one Gigabit per second to 10 to 20 percent of the population?”

Blair Levin, former director of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, and now communications a science fellow at the Aspen Institute, said that comparisons with Europe doesn’t change America’s objective to build deeper fiber, use broadband to improve the delivery of goods and services, and connect more users.

“Which activity is more productive – looking at oneself in the mirror and asking, ‘do these jeans make me look fat?’ or going to the gym? Focusing on actions that improve one’s condition is better than wondering about how one should appear relative to others,” said Levin.

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Discussion of Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event on High-Capacity Applications and Gigabit Connectivity

WASHINGTON, September 24, 2013 – The Broadband Breakfast Club released the first video of its Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, on “How High-Capacity Applications Are Driving Gigabit Connectivity.”

The dialogue featured Dr. Glenn Ricart, Chief Technology Officer, US IGNITESheldon Grizzle of GigTank in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Todd MarriottExecutive Director of UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, and Drew ClarkChairman and Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com.

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WASHINGTON, September 24, 2013 – The Broadband Breakfast Club released the first video of its Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, on “How High-Capacity Applications Are Driving Gigabit Connectivity.”

The dialogue featured Dr. Glenn Ricart, Chief Technology Officer, US IGNITESheldon Grizzle of GigTank in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Todd MarriottExecutive Director of UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, and Drew ClarkChairman and Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com.

To register for the next Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, “How Will FirstNet Improve Public Safety Communications?,” on Tuesday, October 15, 2013, at 11 a.m. ET/10 a.m. CT, please visit http://gowoa.me/i/XV8

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Breakfast Club Video: ‘Gigabit and Ultra-High-Speed Networks: Where They Stand Now and How They Are Building the Future’

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WASHINGTON, May 24, 2013 – Emphasizing the developing nature of broadband networks in the United States, speakers at the May 21 Broadband Breakfast Club event said that the recent achievement of ultra-high speed broadband networks has been a critical factor seeding transformative developments for organizations, individuals and communities. These developments, panelists said, were simply not possible before with slower speed networks.

Yet panelists at the event, “Becoming a Gigabit Nation: What Have We Learned About Ultra-High Speed Broadband?” also agreed that speed is not actually the most important factor in the maturing of these networks.

Event Highlights

Complete Program

Successful deployment of such networks requires concerted efforts and continual upgrades involving community leadership, assessment of consumer needs and desires, infrastructure development, application development and successful assessment of usage patterns. All of these factors affect the success of such gigabit and high-speed networks, panelists said.

In other words, high-speed networks need to be developed in concert with proposed applications, which are in turn developed in the context of their communities or customer base.

As gigabit cities consultant David Sandel said, gigabit and smart city transformation being undertaken is 90 percent sociology and 10 percent infrastructure. Sandel, president of Sandel and Associates, works with St. Louis, Kansas City and other communities worldwide and runs the Gigabit City Summit, a global forum of community leaders who are engaged in discussion on new forms of leadership for managing such networks.

Sandel said that new gigabit leadership must break out of traditional silos and engage in greater information exchange and collaboration. Less hierarchy, more inclusion and more communication, facilitate the success of gigabit services and applications, he said.

What’s Happening Now

Sandel and other panelists gave examples of how 100-plus megabit per second and gigabit-level connectivity is already providing considerable benefits to cities that have it – even where the majority of a city’s consumers do not yet have needs for those levels of service.

For example, Sandel described the success of a two-mile gigabit main street in St. Louis, Missouri. This project has attracted a number of innovative businesses to the area. He said that such projects carry several benefits to an entire city, such as enabling the use of cloud services, driving up real estate values, and creating high-value jobs. In addition, the current relatively higher costs of gigabit service in communities can be partially offset by institutional and industrial uses.

Similarly, Sheldon Grizzle, founder and co-director of the Chattanooga-based GIGTANK, a technology start-up accelerator, said that the implementation of gigabit broadband by the local utility EPB has been a boon to its electrical grid. Power outages in the area have decreased by 60 percent, he said.

Grizzle says that Chattanooga, as a small city of 170,000, sees itself as a good test case for gigabit networks. Its network now provides speeds of 50 Mbps for 50,000 subscribers. It also offers or Gbps symmetrical service (i.e. 1 Gbps upload and 1 Gbps download) for $300 a month, although the number of subscribers has been fewer. He attributed the relatively low demand for the gigabit offered to the high price point.

Grizzle said that GIGTANK has been recruiting application developers from around the world to build appropriate apps for the community, as Chattanooga’s gigabit network grows beyond its infancy.

Speed Issues

Notwithstanding high-profile gigabit build-outs in recent years, nationally broadband speeds have been steadily increasing by other methods over the last several years, said Kevin McElearney, senior vice president of network engineering and technical operations for Comcast Cable.

McElearney said that, for example, Comcast has innovated on nextgen technologies every year, increasing network speeds 11 times over the last 11 years, and is now running terabit links over the backbone to allow capacity for new applications. He said that Comcast now provides up to 100 Mbps download capacity, with 70 percent of consumers electing for 25 Mbps and 30 percent for tiers higher speeds.

McElearney said that Comcast sees the increasing use of multiple devices in households as the principal driver behind the demand for higher broadband speeds for consumers.

Application Development

William Wallace, Executive Director of U.S. Ignite, a developer of gigabit-ready digital experiences and applications, spoke of an “internet of immersive experience,” suggesting an internet experience completely different from prior experiences. Users will also be creating their own experiences, he said.

Wallace further noted that customization of network features around applications will help to build in the greatest efficiencies. For example, different applications will be characterized by different speeds, security features, cloud storage locations, latencies etc.

Scott Wallsten, vice president for research and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, said that focus on ultra-high broadband speeds is misplaced. According to Wallsten, because internet speeds are already increasing consistently, policies focusing on speed are unnecessary. Instead, Wallsten said, greater attention should be paid to other metrics of broadband quality, such as latency and reliability.

Additionally, Wallsten stated that the government’s adoption programs should be focused on low-income inner-city non-adopters rather than rural high-speed development. He said that the Federal Communications Commission’s high cost fund portion of the Universal Service Fund has not been sufficient to pay for rural development. Instead, the best hope to help the most individuals get broadband is to focus on urban areas. Increased efficiencies in cities will offer a better chance for providers to lower costs and then expand network development in rural areas.

Sandel concluded with how education is critical for successful gigabit network development and that there should be a three-pronged approach: education for leaders as to the impacts and benefits of gigabit networks and applications across all sectors, development of clear economic development models that draw lines to revenue flows, and policies for inclusion of all populations so that everyone can participate.

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