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Broadband's Impact

A History of Network Neutrality

WASHINGTON, October 11, 2010 – The issue of network neutrality is one that has become an increasing problem around the globe. In the United States, the problem became more of an issue with the rise of cable and DSL service.

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WASHINGTON, October 11, 2010 – The issue of network neutrality is one that has become an increasing problem around the globe. In the United States, the problem became more of an issue with the rise of cable and DSL service.

With the decreasing level of competition among internet service providers and the increasing number of violations of network neutrality, the issue has garnered increasing importance. While Congress has attempted to protect consumers, it has failed. Private industry firms has already begun to adopt rules that they claim will protect consumers but avoid critical issues. The Federal Communications Commission has supported the issue but has yet to formally codify any protections.

In order to understand the importance of network neutrality one must first understand its principles. While there are many variants of the definition, they all agree on some basic points: users should be able to connect to any device they wish. They should be able to run any legal application they want to. They should not have their service degraded based upon usage.

Columbia University Professor Tim Wu, who wrote about the subject in 2003, has said, “Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally.” For consumers, this means that they are able to use their internet connection for any purpose they see fit.

There have been two major violations of these principles. In 2004, Madison River Communications blocked the voice-over-IP (voice over internet protocol, or VoIP) service Vonage over its DSL connections. In 2007, Comcast was accused of slowing down the cable connections of customers who used BitTorrent, a file-sharing application.

The Madison River violation was resolved when the FCC intervened, and Madison River agreed to pay a fine and stop blocking access. The FCC consent decree states :“On February 11, 2005, the bureau issued a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) to Madison River, initiating an investigation. Specifically, the bureau inquired about allegations that Madison River was blocking ports used for VoIP applications, thereby affecting customers’ ability to use VoIP through one or more VoIP service providers.” In order to avoid future costs associated with litigation Madison River settled and paid the fine.

The Comcast case went to the courts when the ISP claimed that the FCC did not have the authority to stop them from blocking BitTorrent. In April 2010, the Comcast case went before the D.C. Circuit Court which held that the FCC exceeded its authority in pursuing Comcast.

Shortly after this ruling, the FCC issued a notice of inquiry in May that proposed changing the classification of broadband from a Title I service to a more heavily-regulated Title II service, but it also included a new proposal which the FCC chairman called the Third Way. This Third Way was a hybrid of Title I and Title II regulations. The Third Way gained a support from a wide range of stakeholders including some ISPs and consumer protection advocates. Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico all sent letters in support.

In June, a group of ISPs and technology companies announced the creation of the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG or TAG) which would help advise and mitigate the problems of network neutrality. The organization had a wide membership including AT&T, Cisco Systems, Comcast, DISH Network, EchoStar, Google, Intel, Level 3 Communications, Microsoft, Time Warner Cable and Verizon. While many saw this as a positive step, the organization has yet to propose any solutions.

While the notice of inquiry was receiving responses, news that the FCC began to hold closed-door meetings with major stakeholders on the issue of network neutrality created an uproar. Many consumer protection advocates opposed these secret meetings, and they were stopped.

In August, Google and Verizon announced a joint policy statement in which they outlined their own network neutrality principles. Their statement said in part: “Users should choose what content, applications, or devices they use, since openness has been central to the explosive innovation that has made the internet a transformative medium.” They however specifically left out wireless since they said it was too new of a market to require consumer protection. Their omission sparked an outcry from consumers groups and others who said consumers’ increasing use of wireless devices showed that wireless is the wave of the future and should be watched closely to better benefit consumers.

During this period, many called upon Congress to act, claiming that the FCC did not have the necessary authority to reclassify broadband even if it wanted to. The commissioner supported this and stated numerous times that he was willing to work with Congress to find a suitable solution. Rep. Henry Waxman, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, proposed legislation that would codify many of the FCC’s principles and also included language which would require ISPs to disclose accurate speed and pricing information. The Waxman bill also included wireless along with wireline which was further than the FCC’s original plans. Waxman was unable to get the bill passed through his committee due to Republican opposition.

The future of network neutrality remains unclear. However, whatever direction it takes in the policy, business or consumer arenas will affect the growth of the internet for years to come.

Broadband's Impact

Baltimore Needs Grassroots Help to Bridge Digital Divide, Experts Say

‘Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections.’

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Photo of Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore's Office of Broadband and Digital Equity

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2022 – Local leaders from Baltimore said at a Benton Institute event that there needs to be an alignment with the community and leadership when it comes to closing the digital divide.

“Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections,” said Amalia Deloney from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, which invests in projects to improve the quality of life in the city. The foundation estimates that 74,116 households don’t have internet access.

The event’s speakers pointed to digital redlining, in which segments of racial minority and lower income Americans are disconnected from services or can be considered living in low priority areas.

Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity, said the city is a “pioneer in redlining,” and “a century later, we still see the effect on the digital divide.”

To address this, Deloney said the foundation’s approach to the digital divide in Baltimore by starting at the social level through its Digital Equity Leadership Lab. This is a program for Baltimore residents to “increase their understanding of the internet and strengthen their ability to advocate for fast, affordable and reliable broadband.”

The program aims to train and build leadership within the community to advocate for closing the digital divide. It points to a strategy of bringing “advocates together with community leaders,” as “digital equity is social, not a technological problem,” said Colin Rhinesmith, founder and director of the Digital Equity Research Center.

Michelle Morton from the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Association also said local leaders need to work with community members to have a bottom-up approach. “You have to work with the people doing the work on the ground.

“Their voices matter,” said Morton.

Mayor Brandon Scott has allocated $35 million from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide across Baltimore “by the end of this decade.”

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Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Emphasizes 100 Percent Broadband Adoption

‘It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,’ said the chairwoman.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is making progress towards bringing “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the country,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here on Tuesday.

Rosenworcel pointed to the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now being deployed across the country, with a particular focus on unconnected rural and tribal areas.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will take the lead with these funds, the FCC’s new broadband coverage maps will be important in implementing state digital equity plans.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel also discussed how the upcoming 2.5 GigaHertz spectrum auction will involve licensing spectrum primarily to rural areas.

At the July FCC open meeting, said Rosenworcel, the agency is scheduled to establish a new program to help enhance wireless competition. It is called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program.

The program aims to build incentives for existing carriers to build opportunities for smaller carriers and tribal nations through leasing or partitioning spectrum. Existing carriers will be rewarded with longer license terms, extensions on build-out obligations, and more flexibility in construction requirements.

“It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,” she said.

She also indicated her commitment to work with Congress to fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to reimburse many rural operators’ transitions from Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. She also touted the role that open radio access networks can plan in more secure telecommunications infrastructure.

In other news at the conference, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the role of funding broadband operations in rural America, the challenges of workforce training, and ensuring that rural carriers have access to high-cost universal service support.

In a session moderated by AmeriCrew CEO Kelley Dunne, panelists from the U.S. Labor Department, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and Texas A&M Extension Education Services addressed the need to offer a vocational career path for individuals for whom a four-year degree may not be the right choice. AmeriCrew helps U.S. military veterans obtain careers in building fiber, wireless and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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