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Broadband's Impact

Robotics, Broadband and America’s Future Manufacturing Renaissance

Drew Clark



SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, February 4, 2013 – A few weekends ago, I spent some time with about 80 robots and their 800 masters, the elementary and middle-school students who participate in state-wide FIRST Lego League competition. It was exhilarating to see these bots move, as they circulated for two-and-a-half minutes in a series of challenge matches.

The robots were in pursuit of the maximum number of points they can receive on an eight-by-four-foot challenge board. This year, their tasks simulated the theme of “Senior Solutions,” or the way that robots might assist Senior Citizens in daily life challenges.

FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a New Hampshire non-profit organization that encourages science and technology education. FIRST Lego League is conducted in collaboration with the LEGO group (think “hardware”) and its Mindstorm NXT robot (think “software”). After middle-school, kids can go on to participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge and the FIRST Robotics Competition.

The FIRST Lego League competition brought home to me personally something that I see happening in our economy and tech-driven society: broadband-driving robotics providing new opportunities for the United States to extend re-extend its competitive advantages back into manufacturing.

Makers: Why Atoms are the New Bits

With the FIRST LEGO League competition in mind, I attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month interested to see consumer products in the robotics realm. There were window-washing robots and flying drones with Wi-Fi powered high-definition cameras.

Their time is yet to come. But what is here-and-now is the three-dimensional printer. It allows you to quickly duplicate a plastic model or a prototype a machine part. Its impact was driven home in a speech on the CES floor by Christ Anderson, the former editor of Wired, and author of Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, and co-founder of the company 3D Robotics.

Anderson’s tale began with his grandfather Fred Hauser, a Swiss immigrant in Hollywood who invented the automatic sprinkler system. Between inventing, patented and licensing his creation – the Rainmaster — to a manufacturer called Moody, somewhere in this process Hauser “lost contact — and lost control — of his invention,” said Anderson.

Flash forward to the internet and desktop printing, said Anderson. The desktop printer liberated the publishing industry from the lumbering and expensive printing press. Now, a journalist could produce a newsletter or a magazine with a personal computer, some software, and use the “print” command in the computer’s file menu. As desktop printers democratized the tools of creation, internet blogs have democratized the tools of distribution, said Anderson.

Now, when you attach a 3D printer to a computer, you get an amazing new command on the file menu: “Make.” Or as Anderson said, “We are getting to the point where manufacturing is a button in your browser. The past decade was about finding new social and innovation models on the web; the next decade will be about applying them to the real world.”

Networking These New Tools of Creation

This is the point where broadband comes into the picture. With 3D printers and copious high-capacity internet connections, the web’s glory days are no longer limited to digital goods.

Twelve years ago, Apple’s iPod slogan “Rip, Mix, Burn” popularized taking song onto computers, mixing them with others, and burning them to a compact disc or another portable device. A new motto is in order, said Anderson: “Rip, Mod, Make.” It means “ripping” 3D images or “photocoping reality.” The images can be tweaked in Computer automated software, “modifying” them to suit the new purpose. Finally, you can “make” them. And what else is “making” if not manufacturing?

There are really two themes here: the internet has made it a lot easier to make things; and as long as we have good broadband, we’ll be able to make them here in the United States better and more cost effectively than anywhere else.

In a January 13 feature on 60 Minutes, the news show discussed the role of robots in automating more and more features of daily life. Think of kiosks, bank teller, sales clerk (check yourself out of the grocery story), switchboard operators and call center attendants being replaced by voice-automated systems. The last decade has seen repetitive service jobs go to “robots,” as many shop-floor positions previously vanished. The show featured a fascinating logistics company in Massachusetts that built its mail-order fulfillment center around Kiva’s small orange robots that criss-cross the warehouse.

But if there is good news for U.S. employment figures, it’s that robots have already taken American – now they are about to beginning substituting for Chinese and Indian jobs. Or in other words, robots make it just as cheap to run a manufacturing business in U.S. as it is to do so overseas.

America’s Competitive Advantage: Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Ultimately, this is what broadband and robotics can do for America: allow us to tap into our greatest strength: the entrepreneurship and innovation that is encouraged by our culture and our values.

It means that machine-in-machine communications are coming more rapidly than many expect. These include everything from the Kiva robots using Wi-Fi to the Delphi Automative plug in that uses Verizon Communication’s 4G network to share your car’s vital stats with your preferred local mechanic.

Machine-to-machine communications, as Chris Anderson’s analogy to the 3D printer suggest, won’t be just a business-to-business endeavor. Rather, consumers and the many “robots” within their homes will be communicating with each other, and over wired and wireless network, to perform countless internet tasks far removed from a person’s checking a web browser on a personal computer. These multiple devices are going to require higher and higher bandwidth within individual homes. If America’s residential broadband doesn’t keep pace with business-level broadband, the promise of this new industrial revolution in manufacturing will be cut short.

At CES, I asked Anderson why the United States was losing its reputation for cutting-edge manufacturing. His first point was that, to date, automation has been about arbitraging the lowest labor costs. That’s one reason so much manufacturing has gone overseas. But with robots, “speed, creativity and closeness to market are the U.S.’s advantage,” he said.

There’s another, more powerful point, and it goes to the heart of what I saw on display at the FIRST LEGO League competition near Schaumburg, Illinois. Even today, most of the stuff that is made is made for mass production. That no longer needs to be the case, said Anderson. “There is a place for the mass; and a place for the niche. The web is scale-agnostic. Once manufacturing is scale-agnostic,” it will be easier and easier for creative entrepreneurs to invent, to prototype, and to actually produce their own products for their own market.

If he did it again today, it would be the Fred Hauser Rainmaster instead of the Moody Rainmaster. Or the thousands – even millions – of new products that LEGO Leaguers will be designing, prototyping and making on their own.

Follow Broadband Breakfast’s coverage of the broadband economy at Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter. He founded, and he brings experts and practitioners together to advance Better Broadband, Better Lives. He’s doing that now as Executive Director for Broadband Illinois, based in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of 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.

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Digital Inclusion

Popularity Of Telework And Telehealth Presents Unique Opportunities For A Post-Pandemic World

A survey released earlier this month illustrates opportunities for remote work and care.

Benjamin Kahn



Screenshot of Hernan Galperin via YouTube

April 20, 2021—A survey conducted by the University of Southern California in conjunction with the California Emerging Technology Fund explored the popularity and availability of opportunities for telework and telehealth in California.

At an event hosted by USC and CETF Monday, experts dissected the survey released earlier this month to explain the implications it may have for the future. Hernán Galerpin is an Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California. He served as the lead investigator for the survey, which analyzed Californians’ attitudes towards their new schedules during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The first statistic Galerpin noted was the extent of broadband growth in California between 2008 and 2021. According to the survey, in 2008, only 55 percent of Californians had broadband coverage. By 2021, the number had risen steeply to 91 percent, with 85 percent of Californian’s utilizing broadband through either a desktop, laptop, or tablet (with the rest connected exclusively through a smartphone).

This is significant because it helps to explain the next statistic Galerpin showed; according to his data, Galerpin stated that approximately 38 percent of employed adults worked remotely five days a week over the course of the pandemic, while 45 percent did not work remotely (17 percent worked between 1-4 days remotely).

When asked how many times they would like to telecommute to work, respondents were most likely to indicate a preference for what they had become accustomed to; those who worked from home five days a week had a 42 percent chance of preferring working from home 5 days a week; those who worked from home three to four days a week had a 35 percent chance of preferring a three to four day telecommute schedule; those who worked remotely one to two days per week had a 56 percent chance of favoring a one to two day telecommuting schedule.

The data collected also indicated that low-income and Hispanic workers were disproportionately unable to telecommute.

Overall, telecommuting five days a week was the most popular option, with 31 percent of total respondents favoring that arrangement. By comparison, only 18 percent of respondents favored a schedule without any telecommuting.

President and CEO of CETF Sunne Wright McPeak called this data “unprecedented,” and stated that broadband had the potential to serve as a “green strategy” that could limit the number of miles driven by employees, and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as other harmful pollutants. According to the data, as many as 55 percent of work commutes could be offset by a reconfigured telecommuting schedule.

The benefits of broadband did not stop there, however. Data also indicated that nearly 70 percent of Californians 65 years and older were able to utilize telehealth services, whether that was over the phone/smartphone or computer. Unsurprisingly, wealthier Californians were also more likely to benefit from telehealth services, with nearly 56 percent of low-income Californians going without telehealth, compared to 43 percent of “not low income” Californians.

An additional positive sign was that the overwhelming majority of disabled individuals were able to utilize telehealth services, with 70 percent of disabled respondents indicating that they were able to do so over the course of the pandemic.

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Multilingual Digital Navigators Crucial For Inclusion

Digital liaisons who speak multiple languages can help guide multilingual communities for the digital future.

Derek Shumway



Screenshot taken from the Net Inclusion webinar

April 19, 2021 – Encouraging multilingualism among digital navigators will help facilitate better inclusion in digital adoption, experts said last week.

Speaking Spanish is a huge plus for digital navigators in Salt Lake City, Utah, for example, as many of its focused neighborhoods needing to be connected to broadband speak the language,  said Shauna McNiven Edson, digital inclusion coordinator at Salt Lake City Public Library.

Edson and other panelists spoke last Wednesday at the 2021 Net Inclusion Webinar Series hosted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a digital inclusion advocacy group on what skills are needed to become a digital navigator.

At the Salt Lake City Public Library, progress is there but challenges persist for digital inclusion and navigation. Edson said there were about 450 participants in its library program’s group for digital inclusion. However, only about 5 percent of participants, or 22 people, have adequate broadband at home. Seventy-five percent of members said they needed help finding a computer or internet-enabled deice, and 10 percent of its 450 members have contacted the library’s support staff for It issues.

Digital navigators are crucial because they connect community members with the skills and resources they need to become digitally literate and help them get adequate broadband. Navigators can be volunteers or cross-trained staff who already work in social service agencies, libraries, health, and more who offer remote and socially distant in-person guidance. 

Compared to the rest of the country, Salt Lake City is highly connected, said Edson. Every community has a unique demographic make-up, and if the communities who need access to broadband mostly speak Spanish or English or even Mandarin, there should be community anchors with highly trained digital navigators to help the underconnected.

Andrew Au, director of operations at Digital Charlotte, said digital inclusion should include adult education. Every library and public institution that offers internet services should have digital navigators available and onsite to guide individuals in their communities and offer continuing education resources to keep digital skills literacy up, he said.

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Broadband's Impact

Mentorship Instrumental To Women Involvement in Telecom Industry

Experts advise mentorship and encouragement to get more women in the industry.

Derek Shumway



Photo of Mitsuko Herrera, center, via Montgomery County, Maryland

April 19, 2021 – A group of women were asked to rate gender equality in their workplace on a scale of 1-10. Their average score? About a four. The solution? More mentorship early in their lives.

The women, experts in network companies, spoke at the event, “Women in Broadband: Achieving zero barriers,” hosted by fiber network company Render Networks last Wednesday.

Kari Kump, director of network services at Mammoth Networks, said that in the broadband industry, she rates it a four, and in government jobs, a bit higher at five. Kump said she sees lots of women in marketing positions and non-technical managerial positions that “may oversee tech.” She said the worst gender equality in her view is at the construction site, where women “pay the bills” in the office rather than being out on site.

What’s causing gender inequality? The problem starts long before the job interview. Mitsuko Herrera, from planning and special projects for Montgomery County, said in her current work, only 2 out of 25 colleagues are women.

“The opportunity may be there, but we don’t see a lot of qualified women in the industry,” she said. Even before they reach college, women and girls need to have opportunities for engagement across various industries. Having mentors at an early age would greatly increase women participation and influence at work. In the workspace, praising women privately is just as important as praising them publicly, said Herrera. Women need to know they are supported at all times with all people.

Having better representation at the table is crucial because diverse perspectives affect industry and society for the better, said Laura Smith, vice president of people and culture at Biarri Networks. “The groups making decisions should reflect society,” she said.

And even if there is diversity, it’s not enough to have women at work for diversity’s sake—you also need to listen to that diversity and not ignore it.

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