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Broadband's Impact

Cell Phone Unlocking Picks Up Steam With Administration Urging Permanent Action by FCC

Drew Clark

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WASHINGTON, September 17, 2013 – The U.S. Commerce Department on Tuesday urged the Federal Communications Commission take action to permit consumers to “unlock” their cellular phones.

The Obama administration is urging the agency to allow consumers to purchase and make use of any wireless provider’s service with any cellular device, provided that the consumer is no longer under a contractual service obligation for the use of the phone.

“Americans should be able to use their mobile devices on whatever networks they choose and have their devices unlocked without hassle,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Lawrence Strickling, who is also the administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

According to Tuesday’s statement of the action by the NTIA, “the proposed rule would shift the burden associated with device unlocking onto the carriers that imposed the locks, and ensure they consistently do so in a way that is both expeditious and transparent.”

NTIA’s petition to the FCC is a substantial step forward in a consumer-focused campaign that seemed to be going nowhere until March 2013. That’s when the White House effectively reversed another agency’s view when it said that consumers should have the right to unlock cell phones.

In March, White House Senior Advisor for Internet, Innovation and Privacy David Edelman said the position was “common sense [and] crucial for protecting consumer choice.”

Consumers often purchase smart phones and discounted prices, with carriers subsidizing a portion of the cost with an industry-standard two-year service agreement. Recently, the wireless industry has said that they had no objection to unlocking, providing that consumers contracts are satisfied.

The controversy issue arises, however, because of a provision in copyright law that gives the Copyright Office (under the jurisdiction of the Librarian of Congress) the ability to have the final say on the legality of certain technologies.

Under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it is a crime to circumvent technologies that protect access to copyrighted works. Because cell phones use encryption technologies, unlocking cell phones are not permitted unless the Librarian of Congress grants and exception.

The Copyright Office conducts a rule-making process approximately every three years. Although it granted an exception from the DMCA for unlocking mobile phones in 2006 and 2010, this year the Copyright Office narrowed the exemption. In granting an exception for unlocking only those mobile phones purchased before January 2013, the NTIA wrote that the Librarian “effectively [made] unlocking of new wireless devices a violation of copyright law.”

Following this denial, entrepreneur Sina Khanifar and technology policy expert Derek Khanna teamed up to make a “We the People Petition” asking for a citizen’s change in the law. In garnering more than 114,000 signatures on their petition, Kanifar and Khanna effectively pushed the White House to overturn the Librarian.

Following the White House statement, five bills have been introduced into Congress to allow consumer unlocking of cell phones. Additionally, the FCC announced its support for such legislation.

“Congress has delegated the ability to ban technologies to a regulatory agency that few Americans understood exist,” said Khanna, referring to the Librarian of Congress.

Khanna, currently a Visiting Fellow with the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, is hopeful, however, that the new pressure will push Congress to pass one of the cell phone-unlocking bills.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., welcomed the NTIA action, and said, “We are appreciative of the support of groups like NTIA and we will all continue working to see that this issue of significant importance to most Americans is addressed.” An aide to Goodlatte said that Goodlatte expected the House will take up his bill, “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act,” H.R. 1123, this fall.

Drew Clark is a nationally-respected broadband expert who founded BroadbandCensus.com and the Broadband Breakfast Club. Follow the news feed for Broadband Census News at http://twitter.com/broadbandcensus. Previously, he served as Executive Director of Broadband Illinois. BroadbandBreakfast.com tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, programs to advance broadband adoption and use, developments in the universal service fund, and wireless spectrum policy. Drew is also available on Google+ and Twitter.

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

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

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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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Education

Multilingual Digital Navigators Crucial For Inclusion

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

Derek Shumway

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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

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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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