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Broadband's Impact

Three Women in Communications Policy Highlight Citizen Participation, Activism and Engagement for Broadband

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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.

 

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.

Broadband's Impact

USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability

Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.

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Hernan Galperin of USC's Annenberg School

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.

In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”

Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.

“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.

“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”

The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.

The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.

The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.

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Broadband's Impact

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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Broadband's Impact

New Report Recommends Broadening Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues

A Mattey Consulting report finds broadband revenues can help sustain the fund used to connect rural and low-income Americans.

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Carol Mattey of Mattey Consulting LLC

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2021— Former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission Carol Mattey released a study on Tuesday recommending the agency reform the Universal Service Fund to incorporate a broad range of revenue sources, including from broadband.

According to the report by Mattey’s consulting firm Mattey Consulting LLC, revenues from “broadband internet access services that are increasingly used by Americans today should contribute to the USF programs that support the expansion of such services to all,” it said. “This will better reflect the value of broadband internet access service in today’s marketplace for both consumers and businesses.”

Mattey notes that sources of funding for the USF, which are primarily from voice revenues and supports expanding broadband to low-income Americans and remote regions, has been shrinking, thus putting the fund in jeopardy. The contribution percent reached a historic high at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that, though Mattey suggested it could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years.

“This situation is unsustainable and jeopardizes the universal broadband connectivity mission for our nation without immediate FCC reform,” Mattey states in her report, “To ensure the enduring value of the USF program and America’s connectivity goals, we must have a smart and substantive conversation about the program’s future.”

According to Mattey’s data, the assessed sources (primarily voice) of income will only continue to shrink over the coming years, while unassessed sources will continue to grow. Mattey’s report was conducted in conjunction with INCOMPAS, NTCA: The Rural Broadband Association, and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“It is time for the FCC to take action, and to move away from the worst option of all – the status quo – that is jeopardizing the USF which is critical to connecting our nation,” the report said.

John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB, echoed the sentiments expressed by Mattey in her report, “We simply must put the USF funding mechanism on a more stable and sustainable path,” he said, “[in order to] strengthen our national commitment to broadband equity for all.”

Mattey report uniform with current recommendations

Mattey’s research is generally in line with proponents of change to the USF. Some have recommended that the fund draw from general broadband revenues, while others have said general taxation would provide a longer lasting solution. Even FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested that Big Tech be forced to contribute to the system it benefits from, which the acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said is an “intriguing” idea.

The FCC instituted the USF in 1997 as a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The fund was designed to encourage the development of telecom infrastructure across the U.S.—dispensing billions of dollars every year to advance the goal of universal connectivity. It does so through four programs: the Connect America Fund, Lifeline, the rural health care program, and E-Rate.

These constituent programs address specific areas related for broadband. For example, the E-Rate program is primarily concerned with ensuring that schools and libraries are sufficiently equipped with internet and technology assistance to serve their students and communities. All of these programs derive their funding from the USF.

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