SPRINGFIELD, Mass., September 22, 2014 – Three of the most prominent women in communications policy on Thursday highlighted the vital role of citizen participation, activism and corporate engagement to ensure a collective high-speed broadband future.
“The next six to eight months are perhaps going to be the most important months in the history of communications policy,” said Gigi Sohn, special counsel for external affairs at the Federal Communications Commission.
Sohn was referring to the agency’s open internet proceeding, possible FCC action to ensure that municipalities are permitted to provide broadband access, and decisions on the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV mega-mergers.
Sohn spoke on a panel at the Broadband Communities economic development conference here in Western Massachusetts. She also lauded the work of her co-panelists Susan Crawford, a former Obama administration technology advisor now a visiting professor at Harvard School of Law; and Sharon Gillett, former head of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Division and currently Microsoft’s principal strategist for technology policy.
Crawford, a leading architect of the Obama administration’s aggressive efforts to stimulate the growth of high-speed internet networks, has been one of the nation’s leading visionaries for the power of fiber-optic communication. Of all available internet technologies, fiber is unparalleled in its ability to offer resilient ultra-high speed broadband connections.
Crawford’s latest book, The Responsive City: Engaging Cities Through Data-Smart Governance, tracks the role that fiber now plays in the democratic relationships on a civic level. Such technologies that enable greater transparency and problem solving by public officials and residents, the book co-authored with Stephen Goldsmith builds a case for deeper urban interconnectedness through broadband technologies.
“To give people dignified lives, we need to make sure people have fiber access,” Crawford said.
She’s also begun a new Project Fiber at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The effort plans to “document futuristic fiber networks being built in Massachusetts,” according to a job posting for a research assistantship.
Sohn, Crawford and Gillett all encouraged conference attendees to make their voices heard in Washington. Thanks to the work of internet pioneers like Crawford, Sohn said, Americans have finally begun to understand the importance of policy issues like network neutrality.
Referring to the 3.7 million public comments on the agency’s open internet proceeding by the September 15 deadline for comments, Sohn said that “most of them are from ordinary Americans.” It’s the highest number of comments ever received by the agency.
On net neutrality — and on the importance of municipalities being permitted to provide broadband internet services — Gillett said, “Your Congress needs to hear that, too. The White House needs to hear that, too.”
Gillett was speaking from experience as the head of one of the FCC’s most important bureaus. Prior to her work in Washington, Gillett played a central role bringing higher-capacity broadband to this region of New England through her role as executive director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. Crawford praised the work of Gillett and MBI is helping to enhance the fiber economy of the region.
In addition to highlighting the role of broadband infrastructure, Gillett spoke to the key role of digital literacy in enabling better lives through better broadband, and played a video about Microsoft’s efforts to teach digital literacy.
“Advanced communications networks are an essential part [of promoting technological advancement, said Gillett. “In and of themselves, they are not sufficient.”
Broadband investments also need “an ecosystem of planning, involvement and champions of various kinds,” she said.
Gillett also said that in her current role with Microsoft, she sees the company attempting to play an active role as a corporate citizen. And she joked about the name of the Microsoft facility at which she works: the New England Research and Development Center, or NERD Center.
In addition to citizen and corporate influence on actions by policy-makers, Crawford said it was vital to celebrate the connectedness enabled by the internet.
On a global level, Crawford said she launched the annual One Web Day in 2006 in order to create “a global celebration of the internet” or an “Earth Day for the internet.”
One Web Day is September 22, 2014.
FCC to Vote On Emergency Broadband Benefit Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel
The agency is expected to vote on policies for the $3.2B program by mid-May to ensure proper implementation, chairwoman says.
April 14, 2021 – Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday the agency will be voting by mid-May on policies to deliver the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which has received over 9,000 interested institutions through its portal.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit program is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 that passed Congress in December 2020, which provides up to $50 in a monthly internet discount for families and $75 for tribal lands to access broadband internet.
It’s “the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability program,” Rosenworcel said Tuesday on a virtual panel hosted by Allvanza, an advocacy group for Latinxs and underserved communities within the technology, telecommunications and innovation industries; the Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC); and the Asian Pacific American Advocate group (OCA).
It’s “designed to make sure we get every household in this country connected to high-speed Internet service because this pandemic has proven like nothing before,” she added.
The FCC made a sign-up portal on its website to determine interest in the program, and over 9,000 institutions have signed up to date, Rosenworcel said, adding she hopes the policies for the EBB can address the homework gap by extending internet subsidies normally reserved for schools and libraries to households.
Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator, said minority-aimed broadband initiatives have done great work in bringing together providers and companies with minority-serving institutions.
Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events
Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.
April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.
Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.
The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.
“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.
Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.
Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.
Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.
Broadband central to digital activities
“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.
President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”
Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.
“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”
Libraries Must Be Vigilant To Ensure Adequate Broadband, Consultants Say
April 7, 2021 – Libraries should monitor their broadband speeds and ensure they are getting quality connections, according to library consultants.
Carson Block from Carson Block Consulting and Stephanie Stenberg of the Internet2 Community Anchor program told a virtual conference hosted by the American Library Association on Tuesday that it’s time libraries take a closer look at how they are getting broadband and if they are getting the speeds they are paying for. If not, they said they should re-negotiate.
Block and Stenberg shared details about the “Towards Gigabit Libraries” (TGL) toolkit, a free, self-service guide for rural and tribal libraries to better understand and improve their broadband. The new toolkit helps libraries prepare for E-Rate internet subsidy requests to aid their budget cycles.
It also has tips about communicating effectively between library and tech people since there is a gap in knowledge between those two groups. The TGL is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Gigabit Libraries and Beyond (GLG) to improve the toolkit and expand throughout the United States. In addition to focusing on rural and tribal libraries, now urban libraries will be included for support.
During the event, a live poll showed all participating attendees said they “very infrequently” had technical IT support available in their home libraries. Stenberg said this confirmed TGL’s findings that libraries need more tech and IT support, as the majority of respondents in previous surveys gave similar concerning results.
To really emphasize the need for adequate broadband and support at libraries, another question was asked to live attendees about their current level of expertise around procuring and delivering access to broadband as a service in their library, assuming that the majority of attendees worked for libraries. All participants said they possess “no experience” trying to get broadband in the library.
Common issues that are to blame include libraries with insufficient bandwidth, data wiring or poorly set-up networks. Old and obsolete equipment also contributed to bad Wi-Fi coverage.
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