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Broadband's Impact

Robotics, Broadband and America’s Future Manufacturing Renaissance



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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Broadband's Impact

Julio Fuentes: Access Delayed Was Access Denied to the Poorest Americans

Big Telecom companies caused months and months of delays in the rollout of the Emergency Broadband Benefit.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Remember when millions of students in dense urban areas and less-populated rural areas weren’t dependent on home broadband access so they could attend school?

Remember when we didn’t need telehealth appointments, and broadband access in urban and outlying areas was an issue that could be dealt with another day?

Remember when the capability to work remotely in underserved communities wasn’t the difference between keeping a job and losing it?

Not anymore.

Education. Health care. Employment. The COVID-19 pandemic affected them all, and taking care of a family in every respect required broadband access and technology to get through large stretches of the pandemic.

You’d think the Federal Communications Commission and its then-acting chairwoman would have pulled out all the stops to make sure that this type of service was available to as many people as possible, as soon as possible — especially when there’s a targeted federally funded program for that important purpose.

Alas, by all appearances, some Big Telecom companies threw their weight around and caused months and months of delays, denying this life-changing access to the people who needed it most — at the time they needed it most.

The program in question is the federally funded Emergency Broadband Benefit program. The EBB offered eligible households — often the poorest Americans — a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service, and those households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop or other computer if they contribute just $10 to the purchase. Huge value and benefits for technology that should no longer be the privilege of only those with resources.

Seems fairly straightforward, right?

It should have been. But FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel slammed on the brakes. Why? It turns out that Big Telecom giants wanted more time to get ready to grab a piece of the action — a lot more time. While the program was ready to go in February, it didn’t actually launch until several months later.

That’s months of unnecessary delay.

But it wasn’t providers who were waiting. It was Americans in underserved and rural areas, desperate for a connection to the world.

Here are some numbers for Rosenworcel to consider:

  • As recently as March, 58% of white elementary students were enrolled for full-time in-person instruction, while only 36% of Black students, 35% of Latino students, and 18% of Asian peers were able to attend school in person.
  • Greater portions of families of color and low-income families reportedly fell out of contact with their children’s schools during the pandemic. In one national survey in spring 2020, nearly 30% of principals from schools serving “large populations of students of color and students from lower-income households” said they had difficulty reaching some of their students and/or families — in contrast to the 14% of principals who said the same in wealthier, predominantly white schools.
  • In fall 2020, only 61% of households with income under $25,000 reported that the internet was “always available” for their children to use for educational purposes; this share was 86% among households with incomes above $75,000.

And all of these numbers cut across other key issues such as health care and maintaining employment.

Access delayed was access denied to the poorest, most isolated Americans during the worst pandemic in generations.

Allowing Big Telecom companies to get their ducks in a row (and soak up as many federal dollars as possible) left poor and rural Americans with no options, for months. Who knows how many children went without school instruction? Or how many illnesses went undiagnosed? Or how many jobs were terminated?

This delay was appalling, and Chairwoman Rosenworcel should have to answer for her actions to the Senate Commerce Committee as it considers her nomination for another term as commissioner. Rather than expedite important help to people who needed it most, she led the agency’s delay — for the benefit of giant providers, not the public.

Hopefully, the committee moves with more dispatch than she did in considering her actual fitness to be FCC chairwoman for another term.

Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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

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Texas High School Students Enter the Fight for Better Connectivity

Students in a Houston-area school district hosted a panel on connecting schools and libraries as part of a national event on bridging the digital divide.



John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – Generation Z students are making their mark at a Houston-area school district by adding broadband access to the list of issues they are actively working on.

The high school students in the Fort Bend Independent School District organized a panel conversation on internet access in education as part of Connected Nation’s national event titled “20 Years of Connecting the Nation,” and were able to host some high-profile guests in the world of telecommunications.

The November 17 panel included John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, Chris Martinez, division director of information technology for the Harris County Public Library, Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion for Connected Nation, and Meredith Watassek, director of career and technical education for Fort Bend ISD.

Nine percent of residents in Harris County, where Houston is located, reports that they do not have a connected device at home and 18 percent say they do not have access to an internet connection. These gaps in access are the focus of the panelists’ digital equity efforts.

With Windhausen and Martinez present on the panel, a key point of discussion was the importance of helping libraries to act as anchor institutions – institutions which help enable universal broadband access.

Watassek pointed out that she has been helping oversee distance learning in Fort Bend ISD for six years, starting such a program to enable teachers to teach students in several of the district’s buildings without having to drive to each one, and has seen that with time and learned experience it is possible to work through distance learning logistical issues that school districts around the nation are currently facing.

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Broadband's Impact

New York City Broadband Housing Initiative Gets First Completed Project

The initiative is part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $157 million Internet Master Plan.



BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird speaks at a press conference at Melrose Housing. Photo provided by BlocPower.

November 30, 2021 – BlocPower, Metro IAF, People’s Choice Communications, and pillars in the Bronx community in New York City gathered Monday at the Melrose Housing development to celebrate the first of five New York City Housing Authority community Wi-Fi projects completed by BlocPower.

Community members and other stakeholders were welcomed by Rev. Sean McGillicuddy, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church and leader at Metro IAF. “As the pandemic has shown us, internet is not just a luxury, it is a necessity,” he said. “We have internet now in Melrose Housing and we are celebrating with hundreds of Immaculate Conception Church parishioners.”

The build out to Melrose Housing and Courtland Avenue was part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $157 million Internet Master Plan, with a goal of connecting 600,000 additional New Yorkers considered underserved. A third of those underserved people are residents in New York City Housing Authority communities.

With these two projects completed, Melrose and Courtland Housing can now provide internet to their more than 2,500 residents spread across 1,200 apartments and ten buildings.

“We are incredibly excited today to bring this much-needed, low-cost wi-fi alternative to Melrose and Courtlandt Avenue,” said BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird. “What began as the by-product of our efforts to convert New York City’s aging, urban buildings into smarter, cleaner more eco-friendly ones, installing community-owned urban wi-fi networks has now become an important part of BlocPower’s expanded mandate – to help close the digital divide in America’s underserved communities.”

P.C.C. technicians were able to install antennas on roofs and wi-fi nodes on each floor. To have a sufficient workforce to accomplish this task, BlocPower trained local New Yorkers through the company’s “Pathways: Civilian Climate Corps” program.

Going forward, P.C.C. will be responsible for maintaining, billing, and customer service. Melrose and Courtland residents will, in turn, elect a board to represent them in matters of data governance, use of proceeds, and quality of service issues.

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