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White Spaces, Special Access and mHealth: Last Week’s Policy Wrap Up

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WASHINGTON Tuesday June 12, 2012 – Last week the Federal Communications Commission moved forward with white spaces reform free of challenges from the microphone industry, they took on special access reform and held a meeting of experts to address the future of wireless mHealth innovation.  Broadbandbreakfast has some notes on each of these stories.

 

Wireless Microphone Industry Withdraws Suit Challenging the FCC Whitespaces Order

The wireless industry association comprised of an association of theatres, NewsCorp, The NBA and NFL formally dismissed their petition to review the FCC’s 2008 White Spaces Order.  The petition to review filed back in 2009 reflected the industry’s concerns that the Order would cause serious interference and future need for reallocation of wireless microphones.

The dismissal comes shortly after the National Association of Broadcasters dropped their petition for review of the Order.

In 2010 as the FCC announced a second set of regulations allowing for theatres and stadiums to register their microphones in the white spaces database, and additionally set aside 2 channels in some of the largest markets for wireless microphone use.

 

FCC Takes On Special Access

The FCC Chairman has circulated an order to colleagues at the FCC calling for the reform of the special access rules.  The FCC will look into new regulation of middle mile broadband connections used by many smaller businesses and owned by the largest communications companies.

Special access refers to the arrangement between telecommunications carriers, mobile phone service providers and other businesses to transmit information on a whole sale basis.   Mobile providers for example use special access to transmit voice and data in order to reduce the strain on the wireless networks.

The FCC order proposes a temporary suspension of petitions for pricing flexibility while the agency collects additional data and develops a new framework for special access.  In a statement last week an FCC official told the press “our reforms will aim to protect competition; ensure access to robust, affordable broadband for small business, mobile providers, and others; and eliminate regulations where evidence of competition exists.”

Sprint Nextel, XO Communications, Public Knowledge and other organizations that make up the NoChokePoints Coalition have raised concerns that AT&T and Verizon, who own over 80% of the Special Access services, are charging too much.  The Coalition believes, “Returning rates to just and reasonable levels will generate billions of dollars of savings across the broadband economy, will spur investment and jobs, improve wireless deployment and enhance rural broadband coverage at a time we need it most.”

AT&T, Verizon and the other Special Access providers  have expressed their disapproval with the order.  Bob Quinn AT&Ts Senior Vice President for Federal Regulatory Affairs believes that the FCC’s Order is a step in the wrong direction.  “Instead of creating a path to fiber, significant infrastructure investment by all carriers, job creation and achieving the nation’s broadband goals, we are going to instead pursue policies that will result in less fiber, less infrastructure investment, less job creation, and less broadband. It’s not that we haven’t pulled this kind of transformation before.”

A third point of view on the issue of special access comes from the smaller companies who are building networks to compete with the large special access providers.  Companies that provide the services that will compete with the special access lines worry that if the FCC requires a reduction in special access rates for incumbent providers, they would essentially be decreasing incentives for competitor to build out their own networks and facilities.

 

 Challenges to the Adoption of Wireless mHealth Technologies

Last Wednesday Chairman Genachowski of the Federal Communications Commission was joined by health and telecommunications industry experts, government officials and tech developers inorder to address the challenges to increase adoption of wireless mHealth technologies. Participants included Philips, Qualcomm, and Medtronic, startups such as Telcare, TheCarrot, and WellDoc, non-profits including the West Wireless Health Institute, hospital leaders, and government experts from the FCC, FDA, HHS, VA, CMS, and NIH.

MHealth technologies currently have the power to revolutionize the delivery of patient care by increasing awareness and engagement with ones own health and by cutting costs and improving outcomes in the healthcare system.  Wireless monitoring allows healthcare providers to improve the quality of care.  Continuous monitoring gives physicians a more comprehensive view of the patients condition and deliver tailored feedback to the patient.

Experts at the meeting presented evidence that remote monitoring technologies could save up to $197 billion over the next 25 years.  The savings will come from better managing chronic disease by giving providers more information about patients, and increasing the likelihood that patients will stick with certain treatment regimes.  mHealth can reduce the cost of care by 25% because it reduces the number of face to face doctor visits and expensive hospital stays. When a patient is knowledgeable and proactive about their care that alone leads to a 10% reduction in urgent care visits. Finally costs related to data collection will be reduced allowing patients and doctors to access record remotely cutting down administrative costs by 20% to 30%.

The major challenges to mHealth adoption include the regulatory approval structure, reimbursement and payment issues and the security of patient information.

The Chairman announced a plan that would eventually lead to the introduction of new wireless health in the market.  The FCC has proposed to move forward with an Office of Engineering and Technology proposal to increase innovation in wireless device development by reducing regulatory barriers to testing and evaluation of new technologies.  Additionally the FCC will set forth a new experimental licensing process which will allow for more flexibility for experimental uses of spectrum for wireless healthcare devices.  New licenses would be created for research, in coordination with the FDA to cut through the red tape in testing new wireless medical devices and the FCC has also proposed the creation of an innovation zone license  to allow pre approves spectrum use experimentation in specified locations.

The Chairman also called on industry leader to research and submit white papers on barriers to deployment of mHealth technologies to be presented at a follow up hearing in September

 

 

Digital Inclusion

Doug Lodder: How to Prevent the Economic Climate from Worsening the Digital Divide

There are government programs created to shrink the digital divide, but not many Americans know what’s out there.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Doug Lodder, president of TruConnect

From gas to groceries to rent, prices are rocketing faster than they have in decades. This leaves many American families without the means to pay for essentials, including cellphone and internet services. In fact, the Center on Poverty and Social Policy reports that poverty rates have been steadily climbing since March. We’re talking about millions of people at risk of being left behind in the gulf between those who have access to connectivity and those who don’t.

We must not allow this digital divide to grow in the wake of the current economic climate. There is so much more at stake here than simply access to the internet or owning a smartphone.

What’s at stake if the digital divide worsens

Our reliance on connectivity has been growing steadily for years, and the pandemic only accelerated our dependence. Having a cell phone or internet access are no longer luxuries, they are vital necessities.

When a low-income American doesn’t have access to connectivity, they are put at an even greater disadvantage. They are limited in their ability to seek and apply for a job, they don’t have the option of convenient and cost-effective telehealth, opportunities for education shrink, and accessing social programs becomes more difficult. I haven’t even mentioned the social benefits that connectivity gives us humans—it’s natural to want to call our friends and families, and for many, necessary to share news or updates. The loss or absence of connectivity can easily create a snowball effect, compounding challenges for low-income Americans.

The stakes are certainly high. Thankfully, there are government programs created to shrink the digital divide. The challenge is that not many Americans know what’s out there.

What can be done to improve it

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration created the federal Lifeline program to subsidize phones and bring them into every household. The program has since evolved to include mobile and broadband services.

More than 34 million low-income Americans are eligible for subsidized cell phones and internet access through the Lifeline program. Unfortunately, only 1 in 5 eligible people are taking advantage of the program because most qualified Americans don’t even know the program exists.

The situation is similar with the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, another federal government program aimed at bringing connectivity to low-income Americans. Through ACP, qualifying households can get connected by answering a few simple questions and submitting eligibility documents.

Experts estimate that 48 million households—or nearly 40% of households in the country—qualify for the ACP. But, just like Lifeline, too few Americans are taking advantage of the program.

So, what can be done to increase the use of these programs and close the digital divide?

Our vision of true digital equity is where every American is connected through a diverse network of solutions. This means we can’t rely solely on fixed terrestrial. According to research from Pew, 27% of people earning less than $30,000 a year did not have home broadband and relied on smartphones for connectivity. Another benefit of mobile connectivity—more Americans have access to it. FCC data shows that 99.9% of Americans live in an LTE coverage area, whereas only 94% of the country has access to fixed terrestrial broadband where they live.

Additionally, we need more local communities to get behind these programs and proactively market them. We should see ads plastered across billboards and buses in the most impacted areas. Companies like ours, which provide services subsidized through Lifeline and ACP, market and promote the programs, but we’re limited in our reach. It’s imperative that local communities and their governments invest more resources to promote Lifeline, ACP and other connectivity programs.

While there’s no panacea for the problem at hand, it is imperative that we all do our part, especially as the economic climate threatens to grow the digital divide. The fate of millions of Americans is at stake.

Doug Lodder in President of TruConnect, a mobile provider that offers eligible consumers unlimited talk, text, and data, a free Android smartphone, free shipping, and access to over 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots; free international calling to Mexico, Canada, South Korea, China and Vietnam; plus an option to purchase tablets at $10.01. This piece 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 expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband's Impact

Senate Bill Subsidizing U.S. Semiconductor Production Clears House, Going to White House

Bill aims to strengthen American self-reliance in semiconductor chip production and international competition.

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Photo of Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, during Tuesday's press conference

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2022 – A $54 billion bill to subsidize U.S-made semiconductor chips passed the House Thursday on a 243-187, and moves to President Biden for his expected signature.

Dubbed the CHIPS Act for Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors Act for America Fund, the measure is expected to incentivize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and also provide grants for the design and deploying of wireless 5G networks. It also includes a $24 billion fund to create a 25 percent tax credit for new semiconductor manufacturing facilities.

Advocates of the measure say that it will also improve U.S. supply chain, grow U.S. domestic workforce, and enable the U.S. to compete internationally to combat national security emergencies.

The measure passed the Senate Wednesday on a 64-33 vote.

Congressional supporters tout benefits

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., voiced his support on the House floor, calling it “a win for our global competitiveness.”

The CHIPS Act of 2022 provides a five-year investment in public research and development, and establishes new technology hubs across the country.

Of the funds, $14 billion goes to upgrade national labs, and $9 billion goes to the National Institute of Standards and Technology research, of which $2 billion goes to support manufacturing partnerships, and with $200 million going to train the domestic workforce.

In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett said that America’s semiconductor industry has lost ground to foreign competitors. “Today, only 12% of chips are manufactured in the United States, down from 37% in the 1990s.”

He said relying on cheaper products produced in China and overseas for so long, it has caught up with the United States.

Bennet suggested to move manufacturing labs to Colorado, where it can support it due to the plenty of jobs in aerospace and facility and infrastructure space.

“We don’t want the Chinese setting the standard for telecommunications. America needs to lead that. This bill puts us in the position to be a world leader,” said Bennet. “We are at a huge national security disadvantage if we don’t do this.”

Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, joined his Rocky Mountain state colleague in support: “There is a real sense of urgency here to compete not only to re-establish the U.S. to make their own chips, but to compete internationally.”

He said that semiconductor chips are vital to almost every business and product, including phones, watches, refrigerators, cars, and laptops. “I’m not sure if I can think of a business that isn’t dependent on chips at this point.”\

“This is a space race,” he said. “We cannot afford to fall behind.”

Industry supporters say measure is necessary

The U.S. has lost ground to foreign competitors in scientific R&D and in supply chain industry during a recent semiconductor crisis, said France Córdova, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event on July 19. The U.S. only ranks sixth best among other prominent countries in the world for research and development, she said.

“The CHIPS Act of 2022 and FABS Act are critical investments to even the global playing field for U.S. companies, and strategically important for our economic and national national security,” said Ganesh Moorthy, president and CEO of Microchip Technology Inc.

Bide expected to sign measure

With the Biden’s Administration’s focus to tackle the semiconductor shortage and supply chain crisis through the Executive Order made in February, the Biden administration has been bullish on the passage of the CHIPS Act, in a Wednesday statement:

“It will accelerate the manufacturing of semiconductors in America, lowering prices on everything from cars to dishwashers.  It also will create jobs – good-paying jobs right here in the United States.  It will mean more resilient American supply chains, so we are never so reliant on foreign countries for the critical technologies that we need for American consumers and national security,” said Biden.

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Health

Providers Call for More FCC Telehealth Funding as Demand Grows

‘I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2022 – Health care providers in parts of America say they are struggling to deliver telehealth due to a lack of broadband connectivity in underserved communities, and recommended there be more funding from the Federal Communications Commission.

While the FCC has a $200-million COVID-19 Telehealth program, which emerged from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, some providers say more money is needed as demand for telehealth services increases.

“The need for broadband connectivity in underserved communities exceeds current availability,” said Jennifer Stoll from the Oregon Community Health Information Network.

The OCHIN was one of the largest recipients of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot program in 2009. Stoll advocated for the need for more funding with the non-profit SHLB Coalition during the event last week. Panelists didn’t specify how much more funding is needed.

Stoll noted that moving forward, states need sustainable funding in this sector. “I am hoping Congress will be mindful of telehealth,” said Stoll.

“The need for telehealth and other virtual modalities will continue to grow in rural and underserved communities,” she added.

Brian Scarpelli, senior global policy counsel at ACT, the App Association, echoed the call for FCC funding from the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes basic telecommunications services to rural areas and low-income Americans. “I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.”

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