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Broadband's Impact

Obama Administration Continues Follow-through on Broadband Infrastructure Executive Order

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WASHINGTON, September 18, 2013 – Demonstrating a thoroughness in following through on its broadband policy initiatives, the Obama administration on Monday highlighted the launch of several new broadband tracking tools.

These tools including interactive asset maps, a web-based dashboard focusing on access to rights of way, and a series of best practices for “dig once” initiatives.

In a blog post on WhiteHouse.gov’s section devoted to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Ron Hewitt of the Homeland Security Department and Martha Benson of the General Services Administration cataloged the administration’s progress since the June 2012 Executive Order on accelerating broadband infrastructure deployment.

One key aspect of that Executive Order was the establishment of a Broadband Deployment on Federal Property Working Group, by representatives of key federal government agencies.

This working group was tasked with coordinating consistent federal broadband procedures and requirements; facilitating a uniform process for contracts and permits on federal lands; and  for enabling the deployment of conduit for broadband facilities in conjunction with federally-assisted highway construction.

This last area is sometimes referred to as the “dig once” initiative, and provides for the laying of conduit for fiber-optic cables at the same time that federal or state highways are constructed.

Under the leadership of Gov. Pat Quinn, the state of Illinois has been a leader in this initiative, implementing “dig once” laws since at least 2009.

Many of these policies were in turn highlighted in the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan — including Illinois’ “dig once” law — which the federal agency released in March 2010.

Among the areas highlighted in the blog post include:

In the blog post, Hewitt, the Director for the Office of Emergency Communications at DHS, and Benson, the Public Buildings Service Assistant Commissioner at the GSA’s Office of Real Property Asset Management, write:

Broadband access is essential to the Nation’s global competitiveness.  It drives job creation, promotes innovation, expands markets for American businesses, and supports improved education, health care, and public safety.  Today, however, too many areas still lack adequate access to this crucial resource.

One way the Administration is working to bolster broadband deployment is by reducing barriers for companies to install broadband infrastructure on Federal properties and roads. The Federal Government owns or manages nearly 30 percent of all land in the United States, including 10,000 buildings nationwide. These properties can provide excellent pathways for deployment of broadband infrastructure.

Additionally, the post makes reference to a progress report progress report (PDF) of the Federal Property Working Group, which is chaired by Hewitt and Benson.

In speaking about the “dig once” initiative, the progress report notes:

Many state and local stakeholders have recognized the value of Dig Once policies for expediting the deployment of fiber along main highway routes. Very few states, however, have implemented statewide Dig Once policies. Implementation is more common at the local level. In addition, some localities have instituted moratori on street excavation to preserve new roadway construction, while others allow multiple excavations as long as benefits can be achieved, such as repairing the street or obtaining additional fiber. In general, state and local agencies favor approaches that encourage cooperation, but do not prevent multiple excavations.

Still, the report highlights two brief case studies, one from Utah:

Promotion of State Economic Growth through Broadband Deployment

The Utah DOT (UDOT) has been successful in facilitating the expansion of broadband infrastructure in remote areas of the State where highway ROWs are open at all times, allowing for easy access to complete continuous build-outs. The state also installs empty conduit during highway construction. They found that if the state installs small sections of conduit, telecoms have cooperated in helping to extend the infrastructure and provide services to rural communities. By using this approach, the state has been able to provide most of its regions with a connection. In addition, UDOT has been able to leverage their infrastructure by trading it for fiber that has been used to connect state-operated facilities and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). UDOT also helps communities understand how to attract telecoms by working with them to learn how to install their own conduit, providing construction standards and contact information. UDOT’s efforts to deploy broadband has advanced state ITS initiatives, and helped to promote economic growth in both urban and rural areas.

And another from Boston:

Boston Dig Once Case Study

In an effort to minimize excavations on the busy streets of Boston, the City adopted a policy in 1994 that mandated all telecoms to install their underground conduits “in the same trench, at the same time on a shared-cost basis.” The “joint build” policy that was created put the local telecoms in a leading role for planning and providing telecommunication services for the City. Under this policy, a “lead company” is established. The lead company is any company (telecom provider, or not) that approaches the City first for a build-out request and takes the lead in coordinating the construction. The lead company and participating telecoms work together to draft the engineering plans, estimate construction costs and submit the built-out application to the City’s Public Improvement Commission, the body that reviews and approves the application.

Among the key forthcoming items in regards to implementing the Executive Order is the development of an online platform for a common application for infrastructure projects with a broadband component.

According to the progress report, “To help alleviate these challenges, USDA Rural Utilities Services (RUS) is designing and piloting a common application system that would be the first of its kind to integrate RUS funding opportunities for broadband, water and waste, and electric projects (and associated environmental reviews) across the three programs for entities seeking grants from RUS. Ultimately, modules will be developed interfacing with other government agencies that are involved in the grant and permitting review processes.” This effort is expected to be available by December 2013.

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.

Broadband's Impact

Baltimore Needs Grassroots Help to Bridge Digital Divide, Experts Say

‘Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections.’

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Photo of Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore's Office of Broadband and Digital Equity

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2022 – Local leaders from Baltimore said at a Benton Institute event that there needs to be an alignment with the community and leadership when it comes to closing the digital divide.

“Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections,” said Amalia Deloney from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, which invests in projects to improve the quality of life in the city. The foundation estimates that 74,116 households don’t have internet access.

The event’s speakers pointed to digital redlining, in which segments of racial minority and lower income Americans are disconnected from services or can be considered living in low priority areas.

Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity, said the city is a “pioneer in redlining,” and “a century later, we still see the effect on the digital divide.”

To address this, Deloney said the foundation’s approach to the digital divide in Baltimore by starting at the social level through its Digital Equity Leadership Lab. This is a program for Baltimore residents to “increase their understanding of the internet and strengthen their ability to advocate for fast, affordable and reliable broadband.”

The program aims to train and build leadership within the community to advocate for closing the digital divide. It points to a strategy of bringing “advocates together with community leaders,” as “digital equity is social, not a technological problem,” said Colin Rhinesmith, founder and director of the Digital Equity Research Center.

Michelle Morton from the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Association also said local leaders need to work with community members to have a bottom-up approach. “You have to work with the people doing the work on the ground.

“Their voices matter,” said Morton.

Mayor Brandon Scott has allocated $35 million from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide across Baltimore “by the end of this decade.”

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Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Emphasizes 100 Percent Broadband Adoption

‘It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,’ said the chairwoman.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is making progress towards bringing “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the country,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here on Tuesday.

Rosenworcel pointed to the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now being deployed across the country, with a particular focus on unconnected rural and tribal areas.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will take the lead with these funds, the FCC’s new broadband coverage maps will be important in implementing state digital equity plans.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel also discussed how the upcoming 2.5 GigaHertz spectrum auction will involve licensing spectrum primarily to rural areas.

At the July FCC open meeting, said Rosenworcel, the agency is scheduled to establish a new program to help enhance wireless competition. It is called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program.

The program aims to build incentives for existing carriers to build opportunities for smaller carriers and tribal nations through leasing or partitioning spectrum. Existing carriers will be rewarded with longer license terms, extensions on build-out obligations, and more flexibility in construction requirements.

“It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,” she said.

She also indicated her commitment to work with Congress to fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to reimburse many rural operators’ transitions from Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. She also touted the role that open radio access networks can plan in more secure telecommunications infrastructure.

In other news at the conference, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the role of funding broadband operations in rural America, the challenges of workforce training, and ensuring that rural carriers have access to high-cost universal service support.

In a session moderated by AmeriCrew CEO Kelley Dunne, panelists from the U.S. Labor Department, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and Texas A&M Extension Education Services addressed the need to offer a vocational career path for individuals for whom a four-year degree may not be the right choice. AmeriCrew helps U.S. military veterans obtain careers in building fiber, wireless and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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