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Obama to Outline High-Speed Wireless Plan Thursday in Michigan

WASHINGTON, February 10, 2011 – President Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech at Northern Michigan University, Thursday, detailing his plan to catalyze his State of the Union pledge to deliver wireless Internet to 98 percent of Americans within five years.

In addition to spurring businesses to reach the 98 percent goal, the administration’s Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative (WIII) aims to free up radio spectrum to alleviate an impending spectrum crunch, create a nationwide interoperable wireless network for public safety and drive innovation in the wireless broadband sector.

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WASHINGTON, February 10, 2011 – President Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech at Northern Michigan University, Thursday, detailing his plan to catalyze his State of the Union pledge to deliver wireless Internet to 98 percent of Americans within five years.

In addition to spurring businesses to reach the 98 percent goal, the administration’s Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative (WIII) aims to free up radio spectrum to alleviate an impending spectrum crunch, create a nationwide interoperable wireless network for public safety and drive innovation in the wireless broadband sector.

The President will deliver his speech in Marquette, a town in the upper peninsula of Michigan, where businesses have found success as a result of their access to broadband networks.  He will also see a demonstration of Northern Michigan University’s WiMAX-enabled distance learning program.

To reach the 98 percent goal, the President is expected to propose a $5 billion investment in Fourth Generation – commonly known as “4G” – wireless network infrastructure build out in rural areas.  Additionally, this investment is intended to facilitate the establishment of a nationwide interoperable public safety network, spur the development of higher-speed wired and wireless networks, and extend currently-available 3G wireless service from 95 percent of Americans to 98 percent.

With the accelerating growth of radio traffic from wireless devices such as smartphones and wireless networking devices, experts anticipate that traffic will soon outstrip the airwaves capacity to transmit that traffic, causing a “spectrum crunch.”  In response, the administration, through the National Broadband Plan (NBP) unveiled last March, vowed to free up 500Mhz of spectrum – nearly double that currently available – to alleviate the potential glut.

The administration’s plan to free up spectrum is composed of a two-fold approach.  First, it intends to use advancing technologies to help government agencies make more efficient use of spectrum.  Second, the NBP recommends so-called “voluntary incentive auctions,” whereby the government offers private licensees of spectrum financial incentives to voluntarily give up some of their unused spectrum for re-auction to wireless internet carriers.  The administration anticipates raising a projected $27.8 billion through these auctions, after incentives are paid to current licensees.

The plan also calls for investment in a nationwide interoperable public safety network, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission more than 7 years ago.  The Federal Communications Commission has been steadily working toward the rules for such a network for some time and just last month established Long Term Evolution (LTE) – one version of a 4G network – as an operating standard.  The WIII would dedicate $10.7 billion toward building the network, including $7 billion to build out the physical network, $500 million for research and development and $3.2 billion to reallocate the D-block for exclusive public safety use.

The D-block is a segment of spectrum in the 700Mhz range – considered prime real estate for mobile broadband use – that the FCC attempted to auction off in 2008, but bids failed to meet the Commission’s reserve price.  Currently, the swath is allocated for use by public safety, however, Congress is expected to consider competing plans, one to re-auction the D-block to commercial licensees to share with public safety and another to reallocate it primarily to public safety.

The administration only recently threw its support behind reallocating the D-block to public safety, an about face from the NBP recommendation that the swath be re-auctioned to raise a budgeted $2.5 billion and help contribute to the spectrum crunch solution.  Regardless of the administration’s recommendation, Congress holds the power to determine the fate of the D-block through legislative action.

The final piece of the plan includes a $3 billion investment in a Wireless Innovation (WIN) Fund, which will support research and development of technologies to take advantage of the 4G rollout in areas such as public safety, education, energy, health, transportation and economic development.

Overall, the administration projects that in addition to updating the nation’s broadband infrastructure, the plan will also reduce the deficit by $9.6 billion over the next 10 years.

Jonathan began his career as a journalist before turning his focus to law and policy. He is an attorney licensed in Texas and the District of Columbia and has worked previously as a political reporter, in political campaign communications and on Capitol Hill. He holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Washington and a J.D. from Villanova Law School, where he focused his studies on Internet and intellectual property law and policy. He lives in Washington, D.C., where he roots for Seattle sports teams and plays guitar in his free time.

Broadband's Impact

Families Need Outreach, More Time to Enroll in Affordable Connectivity Program

Greater enrollment in federal programs will help close the digital divide, especially for Latino communities, but help is needed.

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Sindy Benavides, CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens. /Screengrab from 2018 LULAC National Convention & Exposition

WASHINGTON, January 27, 2022 – Greater outreach and a longer transition period for the Affordable Connectivity Program will help close the digital divide, the CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens said Wednesday.

At a Georgetown Law School digital divide event, Sindy Benavides said the recent transition of the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit to the Affordable Connectivity Program is a step forward for families adopting services and devices. The program provides eligible households with discounts of up to $30 a month for broadband service, and up to $75 a month if the household is on Tribal lands.

But to get closer to closing the digital divide using such subsidies, better outreach is needed. Recent studies claim that only 7.1 million households have utilized the discounts offered by the Emergency Broadband Benefit, leaving as many as 30 million homes eligible to save on broadband service and devices.

Benavides said families enrolled in the EBB also need more time to transition to the Affordable Connectivity Program before transition period ends on March 1, 2022. “Not everyone can enroll before the March deadline,” Benavides said. “How is it that families are living day to day, without the assistance they need?” she asked. Families are ‘living, going to school, coming home late at night…think about those families that are surviving day to day.”

She added that it’s not enough that programs get funding, but more needs to be done to help families enroll in the services.

“So many jobs today require an application be submitted online,” she said. “But what if they don’t know how to connect to Wi-Fi, much less get to the website to submit an application,” pointing to a statistic that 1 in 3 Latinos lack access to broadband in America.

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Digital Inclusion

Debra Berlyn: What’s New in 2022 for Aging and Tech?

Older adults continue at a rapid pace to adopt tech that assists the aging process.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Debra Berlyn, executive director of GOAL

It’s the start of a new year and time to view what’s on the horizon for the latest technology innovations. To our great anticipation, the most significant technology event of the year, the Consumer Electronics Show, returned in-person to Las Vegas!

CES 2022 literally rolled in with some eye-catching innovations and gadgets unveiled at CES, notably with a BMW that can change its color and patterns with the use of a phone app. CES also unveiled the usual army of robots to clean the house, provide learning skills, and entertain. The Ameca robot is “human-like” and can be programmed with software using artificial intelligence, offering both speech and facial/object recognition. Ameca will engage in conversation and complement you on your lovely red hat.

The more important technology story for consumers for 2022, isn’t just the “wow” innovations that may or may not make it to market this year, it is the tech that will enhance and improve all of our lives. This is particularly important for the aging community, who increasingly rely on tech to stay connected to family and community, and as an important component of healthcare.

Those 65 and older continue to adopt tech at a rapid pace, narrowing the gap with their age 18-29 younger counterparts. Now, over 65% of older adults have broadband at home, 44% have tablets, and 61% have a smartphone. These “basics” form the foundation for layering the more sophisticated health and wellness and smart home innovations available today, and on the horizon.

The pandemic has emphasized the importance of tech for the aging community. A recent AARP study has confirmed that technology is a “habit” that is here to stay for older adults. The past couple of years has led to an emphasis on tech devices to monitor our health, help us stay fit and get connected to our health care professionals.  We are spending more time at home for work and leisure, and while at home we want to be able to manage our energy use, home security, appliances and more.

According to the chief technology officer at Amazon, Werner Vogels, one of his primary predictions for tech this year is, “In 2022, our homes and buildings will become better assistants and more attentive companions to truly help with our most human needs. The greatest impact in the next few years will be with the elderly.”

Technology can provide solutions to make life easier for older individuals

A critical opportunity that technology provides is to solve tough problems such as how to make life just a bit easier for older individuals and address their greatest challenges as they age.  Voice assistive tech continues to be a popular device for older adults. One-third (35%) of those 50-plus now own a home assistant, up from 17% just two years ago, with the voice assistant serving as a significant tool to reduce isolation for older adults.

While the AARP study found that growth of ownership of voice assistants, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, may have slowed for younger demographic groups, ownership continues to be on the rise for older adults.

Here are several examples of innovations for the aging community:

  • The Labrador Retriever is an assistive “robot” that empowers individuals to live more independently by providing practical, physical assistance with everyday activities. The robot is a rolling container with trays that can be “commanded” to go to different locations in the home to retrieve objects and carry them to various locations. It maps the home and “learns” how to navigate the space to operate wirelessly.
  • Tech devices that enable older individuals to track several critical aging factors continue to be introduced and desired in the marketplace. The “Buddy” from LiveFreely, is smartwatch software that monitors and manages fall prediction and detection, medication schedules and reminders, and emergency notifications. With alerts to family members, caregivers and emergency services providers, it provides wearers with an enhanced sense of security and independence. The software operates on both the Apple and Fitbit device.
  • For any aging adult with mobility issues, or their caregivers, you know that just getting around can be a challenge and now there are advances to the most needed tool in aging: the walker. One company, Camino, has developed a sleeker, advanced walker with an ergonomic design, lights and improved navigation for bumps in the road to provide greater walking assurance and balance.
  • The “Freestyle,” from Samsung, is an entertainment component of the smart home for older adults. It is a projector device with accessibility features that can be used inside the home or out, to project content such as a movie, photos or messages from any smartphone onto any surface.

AARP’s 2022 study on technology trends also recognizes that the increasing older demographic has significant purchasing power in the consumer market, including for technology spending. The study found, “Tech spending in 2020 among adults 50+ is up 194% (from $394 to $1144) to modernize, update, or create a better experience online.”

It also projected that by the year 2030, “the 50-plus market is projected to swell to 132 million people who are expected to spend on average $108 billion annually on tech products.”

In the coming years, older adults will have a wide range of new and innovative products to exercise their market power and find the right technology to enhance and assist their lives as they age. Over the past decade, technology has empowered older adults to be increasingly more independent, battle isolation, and stay informed and connected.  While we can’t predict the future, the next decade should be an exciting opportunity for new innovations for the aging community.

Debra Berlyn serves as the executive director of The Project to Get Older Adults onLine (GOAL), and she is also the president of Consumer Policy Solutions. She represented AARP on telecom issues and the digital television transition and has worked closely with national aging organizations on several internet issues, including online safety and privacy concerns.  She serves as vice chair of the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer Advisory Committee and is on the board of the National Consumers League and is a board member and senior fellow with the Future of Privacy Forum. This Expert Opinion is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Digital Inclusion

Digital Inclusion Leaders a Critical Step to Closing Digital Divide: National League of Cities

The National League of Cities said government leaders need to have ‘multiple points of engagement’ with communities.

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Lena Geraghty, National League of Cities director of urban innovation

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – To understand the digital divide, cities need to include digital equity leaders in their broadband needs assessment programs, the National League of Cities said at an event on community connectivity challenges Wednesday.

A broadband needs assessment would allow city leaders to explore the extent of the digital divide in their communities, said Lena Geraghty, the National League of Cities’ director of urban innovation.

“[A needs assessment] enable city leaders to dig into who’s being excluded, what’s currently available in your city, and what solutions city leaders can use” to close the digital divide, she said.

“The community is going to know best about where access exists, where gaps exist, and the needs that will make connectivity better,” Geraghty said. To get the best picture of a community’s need, stakeholders must find and include the community’s digital equity leaders in the data-gathering process, she added.

“These could be people that are knowledgeable about digital equity or people that are experiencing the digital divide,” she said. “Think really broadly about what it means to be a leader and the type of information these folks can bring to bear in solving the digital divide in your communities.”

Geraghty said it may be useful to formalize the leaders’ work by creating a broadband working group or ad hoc committee led by the city’s government. “Giving some roles and responsibilities can help everyone move in the same in direction, there’s agreement, and really clear goals and outcomes.”

Geraghty added that it’s important for government leaders to establish multiple points of engagement for the community. “It’s not enough to gather data or information from people once,” she said. “The state of access to the internet and devices is always changing,” so leaders should create multiple touch points for community input.

The National League of Cities released its Digital Equity Playbook for cities in December, walking readers through how they can promote digital equity in their cities. The playbook has a four-step process on how to get started with digital equity.

By walking readers through the process of connecting with the community, evaluating the connectivity landscape, gathering foundational information and reporting on findings, city leaders will be prepared to target broadband funding to unserved and underserved areas in their communities.

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