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Broadband's Impact

FCC Paves Way For Comprehensive USF Reform At Open Meeting

WASHINGTON, February 9, 2011 – The FCC adopted a measure during Tuesday’s open meeting that lays the groundwork for revisions to the nation’s telephone subsidy systems in the near-term and an eventual overhaul to transition those systems into building and supporting broadband infrastructure.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which was adopted unanimously by the Commission, draws a roadmap to reforming the Universal Service Fund (USF) and the closely related intercarrier compensation (ICC) system.

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WASHINGTON, February 9, 2011 – The FCC adopted a measure during Tuesday’s open meeting that lays the groundwork for revisions to the nation’s telephone subsidy systems in the near-term and an eventual overhaul to transition those systems into building and supporting broadband infrastructure.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which was adopted unanimously by the Commission, draws a roadmap to reforming the Universal Service Fund (USF) and the closely related intercarrier compensation (ICC) system.

The USF subsidized the build out of the telephone system in the last century to areas where it was not cost-effective for private industry to do so.  Subsequently, it subsidized service to those so-called “high cost” lines and phone service to low-income families.  The ICC is a system by which carriers make payments to each other for connecting calls.

As part of the National Broadband Plan unveiled last March, the administration laid forth the goal of updating the nation’s aging and increasingly anachronistic telephone infrastructure with broadband internet, which is capable of carrying both data and voice telephone transmissions.

“USF and ICC helped connect virtually every American to our 20th century communications grid,” noted Chairman Julius Genachowski during his remarks Tuesday, recognizing the positive legacy of the programs. “But the communications landscape has fundamentally changed since then… [broadband] is the indispensible infrastructure of the 21st century.”

In addition to widespread consensus that the USF and ICC support antiquated infrastructure, the programs also generously serve up instances of excessive wastefulness and gaming the system.  One such example Genachowski brought up during a speech earlier in the week cited a single residence that drew more than $20,000 per year in USF funds to maintain service.  In another, carriers artificially inflated telephone traffic across their lines to increase ICC revenue while disguising the origin of their own traffic to avoid paying fees.

The USF in particular has drawn the ire not only of the telecommunications industry but also from both sides of the aisle in Congress.

The guiding principles the FCC has laid forth for reform closely mirror the major criticisms of the programs, which have come from both lawmakers and the telecommunications industry alike. The current measure proposes to guide reform of both the USF and ICC by seeking paths to not only modernize the programs to apply to broadband technologies, but also ensure that the programs are accountable, fiscally responsible, and encourage efficient deployment of private-sector resources to build out and maintain networks.

“As a 21st century program,” said Commissioner Robert McDowell during his remarks, “the Universal Service Fund should evolve away from subsidizing inefficient, 20th century systems and support the efficiencies of current technologies as brought about by competitive pressures.”

The Commission also laid out loose mechanisms by which it would accomplish reform, both in the near- and long-terms.  Immediate remedies include cutting waste, rewarding efficiency and closing loopholes.  Long-term solutions call for transitioning the several programs that exist under the USF into a single Connect America Fund (CAF) and eliminating ICC altogether.

Though the plan amounted to little more than a set of guiding principles and high-level mechanisms by which the Commission hopes to conduct the reform, the action drew widespread support from Congress and the telecommunications industry alike.

“This fund needs to be reformed,” said Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), who is Vice Chair of the subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, and now-famously joined former Chair of the subcommittee, Rick Boucher, in calling the USF simply “broken.”

“I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues and the FCC to ensure rural areas are able to enjoy the same communication access as urban areas.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, echoed Lee’s sentiments, saying that “the [USF] must be modernized to support broadband networks, reformed to use public dollars wisely, and strengthened to ensure full transparency and accountability.”

Meanwhile, even before the Commission’s meeting had adjourned, representatives from the telecommunications industry began firing off press releases simultaneously airing their grievances with the fund and adding their support to the vote.

“We applaud the FCC for moving forward on the important task of reforming the Universal Service Fund, especially the bloated high-cost fund that sometimes provides government subsidies in communities that already enjoy robust competition,” said National Cable and Telecommunications Association CEO, Kyle McSlarrow. “Restructuring the Universal Service Fund so it promotes broadband deployment in truly unserved communities is critical to accomplishing the national priority of connecting all Americans.”

Though statements of support flooded in from seemingly all corners of the industry, the current measure is only a first step on what promises to be a long road.  Chairman Genachowski, as he did during his remarks at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Monday, implored those in the industry to engage the process to drive fact-based solutions. The rest of the commissioners, for their parts, were careful to acknowledge that though progress had begun.

“There are significant and difficult decisions ahead,” said Commissioner Meredith Baker, concluding her remarks, “and it will be important for all of us to work together to redefine universal service and intercarrier compensation for the broadband age.”

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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Broadband's Impact

Broadband Speeds Have Significant Impact on Economy, Research Director Says

From 2010 to 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove .04 percent increase in GDP, the study found.

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Photo of Alan Davidson of the NTIA, Caroline Kitchens of Shopify, Raul Katz of Columbia University (left to right)

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – Broadband and higher speeds have made significant contributions to economic growth over the last decade, according to a study discussed at a Network On conference Tuesday.

Raul Katz, director of business strategy research at Columbia University, conducted his research to determine where the United States economy would be if broadband had not evolved since 2010. He developed four models to explain the economic contribution of broadband, and all found support to suggest that broadband development has contributed to substantial economic growth.

The long-run economic growth model showed that between 2010 and 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove a .04 percent increase in gross domestic product – the measure of the value of goods and services produced in the nation. States with higher speed broadband had an economic impact of an additional 11.5 percent.

“States with higher speeds of broadband have a higher economic effect,” said Katz. “Not only is there penetration as a driver, but there’s also… return to speed. At faster speeds, the economy tends to be more efficient.”

The study found that if broadband adoption and speed had remained unchanged since 2010, the 2020 GDP would have been 6.27 percent lower, said Katz.

Caroline Kitchens, a representative for ecommerce platform Shopify, said Tuesday that there’s been great growth in the ecommerce business, which relies entirely on a broadband connection. “Worldwide, Shopify merchants create 3.5 million jobs and have an economic impact of more than $307 billion. It goes without saying that none of this is possible without broadband access.”

“We have really seen firsthand how broadband access promotes entrepreneurship,” said Kitchens, indicating that this has promoted a growing economy in over 100 countries.

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