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Broadband's Impact

Obama to Implement Spectrum Recommendation from National Broadband Plan

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2010On Monday the President announced that he has instructed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to make 500 MHz of spectrum available over the next 10 years. This release of spectrum is one of the first direct implementations of recommendations made by the National Broadband Plan. “America’s future competitiveness and global technology leadership depend, in part, upon the availability of additional spectrum” said President Obama.

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WASHINGTON, June 29, 2010On Monday the President announced that he has instructed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to make 500 MHz of spectrum available over the next 10 years. This release of spectrum is one of the first direct implementations of recommendations made by the National Broadband Plan. “America’s future competitiveness and global technology leadership depend, in part, upon the availability of additional spectrum” said President Obama.

The memorandum instructs the NTIA and the FCC to identify the specific bands which will be released by October 1st. This new spectrum will then be used explicitly for broadband expansion, for either fixed or wireless solutions. Additionally the NTIA will work with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Defense along with other agencies to develop spectrum sharing technologies.

In support of this new initiative, the Director of the National Economic Council, Lawrence H. Summers, gave a speech at the New America Foundation. During the speech Summers gave historical examples of how the United States has worked with private industry to spur investment and expand the economy specifically he cited the expansion of the railroad. He then went onto explain how the impending spectrum crunch will stifle innovation due to the lack of available spectrum for use by devices such as smartphones, or smart meters.

“[S]pectrum is becoming increasingly crowded. In recent years, the amount of information flowing over some wireless networks has grown at over 250 percent per year. By some estimates, the next five years will see an increase in wireless data of 20 to 45 times 2009 levels.” Summers said.

United States Frequency Allocations Chart

Summers then went onto to announce that the released spectrum will be sold via an auction whose profits will be used to help fund public safety networks. By using an auction the government is able to ensure that the new spectrum holders will use the spectrum and not just hold it in reserve. Additionally the government is able to obtain billions of dollars for a project which desperately needs funding.

“The first claim on auction revenues from the freed-up spectrum is to support the creation of a nationwide, interoperable, broadband network for public safety – originally recommended by the 9/11 Commission. The long-overdue shift to modern cellular systems for voice and data will both strengthen public safety and, over time, may actually save money” said Summers.

FCC Chairmen Julius Genachowski said of today’s announcement: “The initiatives endorsed today will spur economic growth, promote private investment, and drive U.S. global leadership in broadband innovation. Spectrum is the oxygen of wireless, and the future of our mobile economy depends on spectrum recovery and smart spectrum policies.”

The announcement by the president has received wide ranging support from industry groups to  consumer advocacy organizations.

CTIA, the wireless association, released a statement which said, in part, “By making spectrum available for auction, the Administration will enable the wireless industry to invest billions of dollars to purchase the licensed spectrum, and billions more to build and upgrade the networks that fuel our ‘virtuous cycle’ of innovation. This announcement is a win for all Americans as it will drive innovation, investment and job creation, while at the same time providing much needed revenue not only for the U.S. Treasury, but also for a nationwide interoperable Public Safety network. By making spectrum available for auction, the Administration will enable the wireless industry to invest billions of dollars to purchase the licensed spectrum, and billions more to build and upgrade the networks that fuel our ‘virtuous cycle’ of innovation. This announcement is a win for all Americans as it will drive innovation, investment and job creation, while at the same time providing much needed revenue not only for the U.S. Treasury, but also for a nationwide interoperable Public Safety network.”

Free Press also supported the announcement but felt that the FCC needs to go further in their oversight of spectrum. “While today’s announcement is commendable, additional spectrum alone will not fix a broken market. For consumers to realize the full benefit of this reallocation of our public airwaves, the FCC and Congress must take steps to promote competition in the mobile broadband industry. Congress, the White House and the FCC should commit to dedicating a substantial portion of reallocated spectrum to unlicensed usage, in addition to auctioned spectrum. The FCC should also reinstate spectrum caps or tighter screens, impose and enforce build-out requirements to ensure that companies do not warehouse newly acquired spectrum, and move forward with handset exclusivity, data roaming and other policy problems facing consumers in the mobile broadband market.”

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

Digital Inclusion

Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates

Panelists argued that lack of equitable digital access is deadly and driven by lack of competition.

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September 24, 2021- Affordability, language and lack of competition are among the factors that continue to perpetuate the digital divide and related inequities, according to panelists at a Thursday event on race and broadband.

One of the panelists faulted the lack of public broadband pricing information as a root cause.

In poorer communities there’s “fewer ISPs. There’s less competition. There’s less investment in fiber,” said Herman Galperin, associate professor at the University of Southern California. “It is about income. It is about race, but what really matters is the combination of poverty and communities of color. That’s where we find the largest deficits of broadband infrastructure.”

While acknowledging that “there is an ongoing effort at the [Federal Communications Commission] to significantly improve the type of data and the granularity of the data that the ISPs will be required to report,” Galperin said that the lack of a push to make ISP pricing public will doom that effort to fail.

He also questioned why ISPs do not or are not required to report their maps of service coverage revealing areas of no or low service. “Affordability is perhaps the biggest factor in preventing low-income folks from connecting,” Galperin said.

“It’s plain bang for their buck,” said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, referring to broadband providers reluctance to serve rural and remote areas. “It costs more money to go to [tribal lands].”

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that digital divide clearer and more deadly. “There was no access to information for telehealth,” said Morris. “No access to information on how the virus spread.”

Galperin also raised the impact of digital gaps in access upon homeless and low-income populations. As people come in and out of homelessness, they have trouble connecting to the internet at crucial times, because – for example – a library might be closed.

Low-income populations also have “systemic” digital access issues struggling at times with paying their bills having to shut their internet off for months at a time.

Another issue facing the digital divide is linguistic. Rebecca Kauma, economic and digital inclusion program manager for the city of Long Beach, California, said that residents often speak a language other than English. But ISPs may not offer interpretation services for them to be able to communicate in their language.

Funding, though not a quick fix-all, often brings about positive change in the right hands. Long Beach received more than $1 million from the U.S. CARES Act, passed in the wake of the early pandemic last year. “One of the programs that we designed was to administer free hotspots and computing devices to those that qualify,” she said.

Some “band-aid solutions” to “systemic problems” exist but aren’t receiving the attention or initiative they deserve, said Galperin. “What advocacy organizations are doing but we need a lot more effort is helping people sign up for existing low-cost offers.” The problem, he says, is that “ISPs are not particularly eager to promote” low-cost offers.

The event “Race and Digital Inequity: The Impact on Poor Communities of Color,” was hosted by the Michelson 20MM Foundation and its partners the California Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Southern California Grantmakers.

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Broadband's Impact

USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability

Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.

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Hernan Galperin of USC's Annenberg School

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.

In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”

Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.

“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.

“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”

The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.

The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.

The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.

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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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