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How to Find New Light Bulbs for the Internet Age: Parallels Between Electricity and Fiber-optics

Editor’s Note: Several months ago, Drew Clark’s column from the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah, touched upon some of the important parallels between the most prominent infrastructure investment of the 20th Century – electricity – and the emerging essential fiber-optic infrastructure of the 21st Century. With increased discussion about the significant of the applications that run Gigabit Networks, including the upcoming Broadband Communities Conference in Lexington, Kentucky, it is reprinted here.

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s easy to plug a refrigerator, television, alarm clock or toothbrush into a wall socket. We forget the lesson that electricity became widely available only after a single application — the light bulb — caught the imagination and desire of the public.

Electricity is history. Today we face the next-generation infrastructure: gigabit networks. Global visionaries here in Utah see the need for these communication networks, even as they struggle to explain the “light bulb” that will make it plain why a super-fast Internet network is as necessary as running water and a universal electric grid.

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One of these visionaries is Glenn Ricart, an unassuming man who moved his family here from the East Coast 20 years ago. The late Ray Noorda recruited him as chief technology officer at Novell. A renowned technologist, Ricart set up the first Internet exchange point at the University of Maryland in 1986. Two years ago, he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

Ricart’s recent energies have been devoted to co-founding an ambitious venture known as US Ignite. Its goal is next-generation applications with “transformative public benefit.”

What are those? Of the 476 technologies submitted to US Ignite, none have yet emerged as the light bulb thatwill answer skeptics who believe a few megabits of connectivity should be enough to satisfy anyone’s need for Internet movies, music and email.

They include real-time emergency response systems, air pollution monitoring, collaborative virtual reality surgery and analyses of traffic congestion. US Ignite is particularly keen on applications that advanceeducation and workforce, energy, health care, public safety, transportation and advanced manufacturing.

In other words, said Ricart, “we exist to help cities become smarter, and help their citizens take advantage of gigabit networks.”

[More…]

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Editor’s Note: Several months ago, Drew Clark’s column from the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah, touched upon some of the important parallels between the most prominent infrastructure investment of the 20th Century – electricity – and the emerging essential fiber-optic infrastructure of the 21st Century. With increased discussion about the significant of the applications that run Gigabit Networks, including the upcoming Broadband Communities Conference in Lexington, Kentucky, it is reprinted here.

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s easy to plug a refrigerator, television, alarm clock or toothbrush into a wall socket. We forget the lesson that electricity became widely available only after a single application — the light bulb — caught the imagination and desire of the public.

Electricity is history. Today we face the next-generation infrastructure: gigabit networks. Global visionaries here in Utah see the need for these communication networks, even as they struggle to explain the “light bulb” that will make it plain why a super-fast Internet network is as necessary as running water and a universal electric grid.

1538518

One of these visionaries is Glenn Ricart, an unassuming man who moved his family here from the East Coast 20 years ago. The late Ray Noorda recruited him as chief technology officer at Novell. A renowned technologist, Ricart set up the first Internet exchange point at the University of Maryland in 1986. Two years ago, he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

Ricart’s recent energies have been devoted to co-founding an ambitious venture known as US Ignite. Its goal is next-generation applications with “transformative public benefit.”

What are those? Of the 476 technologies submitted to US Ignite, none have yet emerged as the light bulb thatwill answer skeptics who believe a few megabits of connectivity should be enough to satisfy anyone’s need for Internet movies, music and email.

They include real-time emergency response systems, air pollution monitoring, collaborative virtual reality surgery and analyses of traffic congestion. US Ignite is particularly keen on applications that advanceeducation and workforce, energy, health care, public safety, transportation and advanced manufacturing.

In other words, said Ricart, “we exist to help cities become smarter, and help their citizens take advantage of gigabit networks.”

Launched with a jump-start by the White House and the National Science Foundation in 2012, US Ignite is now a full-fledged national nonprofit organization. It leaves the design, construction and operation of next-generation fiber-optic networks to others. Its mission is finding that innovative application (think light bulbs) that everyone is going to need … as soon as it is invented.

Here in Utah, we have the privilege of a front-row seat on a new project Ricart touts as the next phase of US Ignite.

It’s called Utah Ignite, and it’s one of 12 urban hubs where gigabit connectivity is plentiful. Ours is centered around Salt Lake City and Utah Valley.

The other gigabit hubs include Kansas City, the place that Google Fiber selected to launch its mantra “think big with a Gig;” plus Austin, Texas; Lafayette, Louisiana; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Cleveland, Ohio. There, the nonprofit group OneCommunity transformed Cleveland and Northeast Ohio through collaborations between hospitals and universities to deploy extensive fiber-optic capacity.

Speaking at a recent launch event of Utah Ignite at Utah Valley University (the University of Utah is also playing a founding role), Ricart noted that Utah was the westernmost gigabit hub. Even though Seattle, Portland and San Francisco were interested in joining, “they don’t have the same kind of penetration [of gigabit fiber] that exists in Utah,” he said.

Indeed, of roughly 200 cities and communities with gigabit networks, about 5 percent are along the Wasatch Front. That’s one reason why Utah’s broadband is among the best in the nation.

Utah Ignite and the other gigabit hubs will provide a proving ground needed to search for breakthrough developments. And as with Thomas Edison’s bulbs, the quest isn’t merely about innovation — it’s about understanding a dynamic marketplace that includes needs of the civic, educational/nonprofit and consumer sectors.

For example, one powerful gigabit application turns plain old electric systems into a “smart grid” that enhances energy conservation and saves money for consumers and businesses. Indeed, Chattanooga leveraged its “smart grid” into a full-fledged fiber-optic network for businesses and individuals.

Additionally, says Ricart, “the Utah tech economy is boosted from startups and new companies we attract to create and deploy these applications. Utah will become a net exporter of smart gigabit city technologies to other states and nations.”

One impressive example of the power of gigabit fiber technology comes from Reid Robison, a BYU graduate who is CEO of Tute Genomics based in Provo. “It used to take me days to download a genome from the lab, before I could even start to analyze it,” he wrote.

But now, “I can download a whole human genome in less than half an hour. That is a huge difference when someone’s health is on the line. … In order to realize the promise of rapid genome sequencing in the [intensive care unit], we need gigabit Internet connections on both ends.”

Utah Ignite could play a pivotal role in finding other such “light bulbs.” That’s why it’s vital for our tech sector, our universities and our cities to sit up and take notice.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club. He tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, broadband usage, the universal service fund and wireless policy @BroadbandCensus. He is also Of Counsel with the firm of Best Best & Krieger LLP, with offices in California and Washington, DC. He works with cities, special districts and private companies on planning, financing and coordinating efforts of the many partners necessary to construct broadband infrastructure and deploy “Smart City” applications. You can find him on LinkedIN and Twitter. The articles and posts on BroadbandBreakfast.com and affiliated social media 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

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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