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Broadband's Impact

Smarter Cities Need Better Broadband to Realize Their Networking Potential

September 19, 2011 – America’s unique concept of federalism – joint sovereignty between the states and the federal government – sometimes obscures some on-the-ground realities when it comes to the all-important topic of economic growth and development. The simple fact is that cities serve as the engine of life, commerce, culture and sociality.

Tomorrow, at the Broadband Breakfast Club event on September 20, 2011, at 8 a.m., we’ll engage on this subject. The discussion will feature Gale Brewer, a New York City Councilmember who has been one of the country’s leading advocates of better broadband. Gail has represented the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and currently chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, where she has worked to make better use of technology to save money, improve city services, and bring residents, businesses and non-profits closer to government and their communities.

Gale Brewer will keynote this event, which is titled, “Making Cities of the Future Smarter Through Broadband.”

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September 19, 2011 – America’s unique concept of federalism – joint sovereignty between the states and the federal government – sometimes obscures some on-the-ground realities when it comes to the all-important topic of economic growth and development. The simple fact is that cities serve as the engine of life, commerce, culture and sociality.

What makes cities so important is the role they play in spurring connections and social networks. In the most recent edition of the Atlantic Monthly, Richard Florida argues that:

Cities are our greatest invention, not because of the scale of their infrastructure or their placement along key trade routes, but because they enable human beings to combine and recombine their talents and ideas in new ways. With their breadth of skills, dense social networks, and physical spaces for interactions, great cities and metro areas push people together and increase the kinetic energy between them.

In other words, we need to stop thinking of cities as the locus of industrial-age manufacturing (let alone agricultural trading spots), but as a place where people exchange information and ideas. No doubt Jane Jacobs would approve. Her book of 50 years ago, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, critiqued the rationalist urban planning with its strict separation of industrial, residential and commercial uses. (For a 2003 interview of Jane Jacobs on the role of technologies in cities, please see this link. Jacobs died in 2006.)

Cities have become much more livable over the past generation. I’ll leave it for experts to debate whether this is through the ascendency of Jacobs’ ideas, the ability of big cities to curb high crime rates, or through larger secular or demographic trends.

What we see now, however, is the emergence of the “Smart City.” Although smart cities mean different things to different people, there are a couple of core ideas behind these theme:

  • Intelligent traffic management and infrastructure improvements
  • Energy-efficient buildings
  • Interactive information sharing, including open data repositories
  • “Smart grid” usage by electric utilities

Many major cities – New York, Chicago, Toronto and others – are seeking to promote the concept, and many computing and bandwidth companies are promoting the concept. For example, IBM has launched the “Smarter Cities Challenge,” a competitive grant program to enable 100 world-wide cities to become more vibrant and livable places for citizens. See http://smartercitieschallenge.org/about.html.

When I watch the advertisements, or read the materials, that cities and companies are promoting around “Smart Cities,” I inevitably think: but what about broadband?

What are cities doing to ensure that the infrastructure builds are accompanied by fiber-optic wires, or ensuring that the “smart grid” is fully enabled through high-bandwidth connectivity, or that businesses and broadband centers have truly robust broadband capacity?

At the BroadbandBreakfast.com, we’re particularly interested in fostering debate around the question of broadband – and the role that high-speed internet is playing in promoting the economy, society and the purposes articulated in the National Broadband Plan.

Tomorrow, at the Broadband Breakfast Club event on September 20, 2011, at 8 a.m., we’ll engage on this subject. The discussion will feature Gale Brewer, a New York City Councilmember who has been one of the country’s leading advocates of better broadband. Gail has represented the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and currently chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, where she has worked to make better use of technology to save money, improve city services, and bring residents, businesses and non-profits closer to government and their communities.

Gale Brewer will keynote this event, which is titled, “Making Cities of the Future Smarter Through Broadband.”

Another panelist on the program is Elise Kohn, Program Director for the University Community Next Generation Innovation Project, which is better known as “GigU.” GigU is one of the brain-children of Blair Levin, the former direction of the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan, and an innovative way to bridge the town-gown divide through super-fast connectivity.

Also on the program is Benjamin Lennett, Policy Director, Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, which has been actively involved in a number of broadband-related projects in urban areas, including Philadelphia and Detroit. Lennett will be able to speak to innovative approaches to broadband.

Sarah Williams, Director, Spatial Information Design Lab, Columbia University, will also participate. Sarah’s research focuses on the representation of digital information/mapping and ecological design & planning. Previously, she started the Geographic Information System (GIS) Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and also worked with the West Philadelphia Landscape Project and the Philadelphia Water Department.

Don’t miss this important discussion on “Making Cities of the Future Smarter through Broadband.” Registration is available at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com. The Broadband Breakfast Club is sponsored by Comcast, Google, ICF International, Intel, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and the Telecommunications Industry Association. Also see the 2011-2012 program of the Broadband Breakfast Club series.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

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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