WASHINGTON, September 16, 2010 – The Universal Service Fund is in need of reform but rather than fully overhaul the program, Reps. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and Lee Terry, R-Neb., have introduced a bill targeting the high cost fund, the method of fund collection and the inclusion of funds for the support of broadband.
H.R. 5828, the Universal Service Reform Act, has received support from a broad range of stakeholders including Verizon, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association.
“The bill modernizes a program that ensures the availability of communications connections to millions of Americans, benefiting not just the rural residents who live in high-cost areas, but benefiting the entire nation. We are a stronger nation when we are all connected through telecommunications,” said Boucher, who represents a rural district, at a Thursday Hill hearing discussing the fund.
The committee recognizes that while the inclusion of broadband in the fund is important, the rising cost to consumers is also a problem. To solve this issue, the bill mandates that USF taxes be applied to broadband providers in addition to telephone providers. In addition, rather than assess a tax based on revenue, the bill requires a flat amount based upon the total phone numbers issued.
This new inclusion of a tax based upon phone numbers does pose challenges. Rep Mike Doyle, D-Pa., raised the question of how devices which provide access to the internet such as the Amazon Kindle, will be taxed. The Kindle uses a whisper net provided by Sprint to connect to the internet. In counterpoint, the Sony eBook reader requires users to connect via a Wi-Fi network and would not be taxed.
The bill does however allow for exclusions or discounts for entities which use bulk numbers such as universities or large corporations.
The inclusion of broadband received broad support from the committee members along with the Federal Communications Commission. In a statement, Carol Mattey, deputy chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau, said: “The current system, which wasn’t designed to explicitly support broadband, is not working for everyone. While consumers in some places in rural America have access to some of the best broadband networks in the country, others don’t have access to broadband at all, even though they are served by providers eligible for universal service support. While many speak of an urban/rural divide for broadband service, the more troubling trend is a rural/rural divide that reflects the antiquated structure and incentives of our current high cost program.”
“Universal service support is now the only remaining potential source of funding for broadband deployment to unserved and underserved areas,” said Qwest Senior Vice President Robert Davis. “Qwest thus supports the bill’s explicit authorization of universal service support for the provision, maintenance and upgrading of high-speed broadband service.”
A major criticism of the high cost fund is that often times in areas of support there are double the number of providers than in competitive areas. This occurs since all the providers in a high cost area are given some level of support. The bill would limit the number of support recipients to two per region. Additionally, these providers would also be required to provide broadband along with telephone service.
The bill also tackles the issue of intercarrier compensation by forcing all carriers to identify all traffic which originates on their networks and determine where it terminates.
Verizon’s Kathleen Grillo said: “It is not possible to maintain the current intercarrier compensation system in today’s communications market. The current system is based on the idea that there are meaningful distinctions between interstate and intrastate services and between telecommunications and information services. The result of these distinctions is the current patchwork of vastly different charges and rates for communications traffic depending on what the traffic is, where it came from, and where it is going. In a market where most consumers now purchase a bundle of any-distance services (such as phone, TV, and Internet access), these distinctions are meaningless. And even in situations where it is still possible to measure traffic in these ways, continuing to do that just for intercarrier compensation purposes does not make sense. All of these complications and uncertainty reduce investment in broadband.”
Popularity Of Telework And Telehealth Presents Unique Opportunities For A Post-Pandemic World
A survey released earlier this month illustrates opportunities for remote work and care.
April 20, 2021—A survey conducted by the University of Southern California in conjunction with the California Emerging Technology Fund explored the popularity and availability of opportunities for telework and telehealth in California.
At an event hosted by USC and CETF Monday, experts dissected the survey released earlier this month to explain the implications it may have for the future. Hernán Galerpin is an Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California. He served as the lead investigator for the survey, which analyzed Californians’ attitudes towards their new schedules during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
The first statistic Galerpin noted was the extent of broadband growth in California between 2008 and 2021. According to the survey, in 2008, only 55 percent of Californians had broadband coverage. By 2021, the number had risen steeply to 91 percent, with 85 percent of Californian’s utilizing broadband through either a desktop, laptop, or tablet (with the rest connected exclusively through a smartphone).
This is significant because it helps to explain the next statistic Galerpin showed; according to his data, Galerpin stated that approximately 38 percent of employed adults worked remotely five days a week over the course of the pandemic, while 45 percent did not work remotely (17 percent worked between 1-4 days remotely).
When asked how many times they would like to telecommute to work, respondents were most likely to indicate a preference for what they had become accustomed to; those who worked from home five days a week had a 42 percent chance of preferring working from home 5 days a week; those who worked from home three to four days a week had a 35 percent chance of preferring a three to four day telecommute schedule; those who worked remotely one to two days per week had a 56 percent chance of favoring a one to two day telecommuting schedule.
The data collected also indicated that low-income and Hispanic workers were disproportionately unable to telecommute.
Overall, telecommuting five days a week was the most popular option, with 31 percent of total respondents favoring that arrangement. By comparison, only 18 percent of respondents favored a schedule without any telecommuting.
President and CEO of CETF Sunne Wright McPeak called this data “unprecedented,” and stated that broadband had the potential to serve as a “green strategy” that could limit the number of miles driven by employees, and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as other harmful pollutants. According to the data, as many as 55 percent of work commutes could be offset by a reconfigured telecommuting schedule.
The benefits of broadband did not stop there, however. Data also indicated that nearly 70 percent of Californians 65 years and older were able to utilize telehealth services, whether that was over the phone/smartphone or computer. Unsurprisingly, wealthier Californians were also more likely to benefit from telehealth services, with nearly 56 percent of low-income Californians going without telehealth, compared to 43 percent of “not low income” Californians.
An additional positive sign was that the overwhelming majority of disabled individuals were able to utilize telehealth services, with 70 percent of disabled respondents indicating that they were able to do so over the course of the pandemic.
Multilingual Digital Navigators Crucial For Inclusion
Digital liaisons who speak multiple languages can help guide multilingual communities for the digital future.
April 19, 2021 – Encouraging multilingualism among digital navigators will help facilitate better inclusion in digital adoption, experts said last week.
Speaking Spanish is a huge plus for digital navigators in Salt Lake City, Utah, for example, as many of its focused neighborhoods needing to be connected to broadband speak the language, said Shauna McNiven Edson, digital inclusion coordinator at Salt Lake City Public Library.
Edson and other panelists spoke last Wednesday at the 2021 Net Inclusion Webinar Series hosted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a digital inclusion advocacy group on what skills are needed to become a digital navigator.
At the Salt Lake City Public Library, progress is there but challenges persist for digital inclusion and navigation. Edson said there were about 450 participants in its library program’s group for digital inclusion. However, only about 5 percent of participants, or 22 people, have adequate broadband at home. Seventy-five percent of members said they needed help finding a computer or internet-enabled deice, and 10 percent of its 450 members have contacted the library’s support staff for It issues.
Digital navigators are crucial because they connect community members with the skills and resources they need to become digitally literate and help them get adequate broadband. Navigators can be volunteers or cross-trained staff who already work in social service agencies, libraries, health, and more who offer remote and socially distant in-person guidance.
Compared to the rest of the country, Salt Lake City is highly connected, said Edson. Every community has a unique demographic make-up, and if the communities who need access to broadband mostly speak Spanish or English or even Mandarin, there should be community anchors with highly trained digital navigators to help the underconnected.
Andrew Au, director of operations at Digital Charlotte, said digital inclusion should include adult education. Every library and public institution that offers internet services should have digital navigators available and onsite to guide individuals in their communities and offer continuing education resources to keep digital skills literacy up, he said.
Mentorship Instrumental To Women Involvement in Telecom Industry
Experts advise mentorship and encouragement to get more women in the industry.
April 19, 2021 – A group of women were asked to rate gender equality in their workplace on a scale of 1-10. Their average score? About a four. The solution? More mentorship early in their lives.
The women, experts in network companies, spoke at the event, “Women in Broadband: Achieving zero barriers,” hosted by fiber network company Render Networks last Wednesday.
Kari Kump, director of network services at Mammoth Networks, said that in the broadband industry, she rates it a four, and in government jobs, a bit higher at five. Kump said she sees lots of women in marketing positions and non-technical managerial positions that “may oversee tech.” She said the worst gender equality in her view is at the construction site, where women “pay the bills” in the office rather than being out on site.
What’s causing gender inequality? The problem starts long before the job interview. Mitsuko Herrera, from planning and special projects for Montgomery County, said in her current work, only 2 out of 25 colleagues are women.
“The opportunity may be there, but we don’t see a lot of qualified women in the industry,” she said. Even before they reach college, women and girls need to have opportunities for engagement across various industries. Having mentors at an early age would greatly increase women participation and influence at work. In the workspace, praising women privately is just as important as praising them publicly, said Herrera. Women need to know they are supported at all times with all people.
Having better representation at the table is crucial because diverse perspectives affect industry and society for the better, said Laura Smith, vice president of people and culture at Biarri Networks. “The groups making decisions should reflect society,” she said.
And even if there is diversity, it’s not enough to have women at work for diversity’s sake—you also need to listen to that diversity and not ignore it.
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