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Agriculture Department Secretary Sonny Perdue Speaks on Trump Administration and Broadband

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Editor’s Note: From the press gaggle on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, between White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Waters, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, and members of the press, about broadband internet services:

PRESS GAGGLE
BY DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY LINDSAY WALTERS
SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE SONNY PERDUE

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Cedar Rapids, Iowa

5:12 P.M. CDT

WALTERS:  Good evening, everybody.  As you all know, we’re on our way to Cedar Rapids, where the President will highlight precision agriculture and discuss trade.  Lots of people associate technology with only Silicon Valley, but, actually, there are many other sectors of our economy that are taking advantage of technological advances, including agriculture.

We’re going to be visiting Kirkwood Community College, which is one of the first programs to have an associate’s degree is precision agriculture.  The President, along with Secretary Perdue, Secretary Ross, and Ambassador Branstad will be engaging with some of the people who are bringing cutting-edge technology to the ag sector.

With me today I have Secretary Perdue.  I’m going to walk you through the rest of the evening, take a few questions, and then I will hand it over to the Secretary to give you more in-depth details on how technology plays an active role in the agriculture sector and the importance of us being in Iowa.

Today, while we’re in Iowa, you’re going to hear the President talk about this precision agriculture and what it means for the agricultural community to be advancing to the technological age of tomorrow, and how this is going to help farmers ensure the highest yield of crop production each year.

This is not only about the equipment, it’s also about the data that they’re going to be able to collect.  And with this data, one component is Internet access availability — you know, Internet connectivity — are you able to take this data that you’re collecting and then be able to do something with it.

And so you’re going to hear in the President’s speech later today not only the discussion around the importance of advancing agriculture, but also this broadband connectivity in rural communities so that they have the access to modern-day technology both in the equipment and when it comes to cellular usage and data.  And so what he’s going to be doing is reinforcing his commitment to working with Congress to do what’s needed to be able to help bring you this Internet connectivity to rural communities, as well as, as you all know, we are sending off the favored son of Iowa, former Governor Branstad.

And so the President is going to be bidding him farewell while we are at the event at Kirkwood College.  While there, he will highlight the fact that, as Senator Grassley said, Branstad has been an ambassador for the people of Iowa.  And now going to China as a skilled negotiator, he will be an ambassador for all American people as he looks at trade.  And that’s an important thing — the President has spoken to the importance that trade holds for the American people and that relationship — to have an ambassador with such skills over in China, advocating for all American people.

So with that, I will take your questions.

[…]

Q    For Internet in rural areas, would you like to see more federal spending to make that happen?

SECRETARY PERDUE:  As we know, the productivity or the profitability in less-dense areas is very difficult.  But we also know that this country created the Rural Electrification Association years ago in an obligation to serve.  We know most everyone in the country can get a dial tone today.  We think we ought to have the same push to have broadbandconnectivity all over the country, because in the 21st century, it’s just as important as a telephone, just as important as water, sewer, or roads.  It has become an infrastructure of necessity in rural areas as we’ve described how technology is driving agriculture.

Does that mean that it’s going to be — I think government will have to help, whether it’s local government, states government, or the federal government.  But we want partnerships.  We want people that have skin in the game.  These are going to be revenue streams coming in.  People are going to pay for these services, but we’ve got to help ignite that and kick-start that in order to make sure it gets where it need to be.

Q    How much would it cost, do you think, to get it started?

SECRETARY PERDUE:  I’m sorry?

Q    How much would it cost?

SECRETARY PERDUE:  We don’t know yet.  We’re actually developing proposals now with our rural broadbandconnectivity, independent telephone systems, rural cooperatives there.  We gave a loan for about $46 million, I think, two weeks ago to some of our rural cooperatives in order to get that started.  So we haven’t calculated how much.  It’s a big price tag, but who shares what part of that will probably differ from place to place.

Q    So there’s not a plan yet for rural broadband?  In other words, you’re in the beginning stages of trying to figure out how you’re going to do it, or —

SECRETARY PERDUE:  I don’t think you’re going to see a national plan, per se, because each area is different.  Each area has different services now.  Some are served by independent telephone companies that are already providing some of these services.  How we help them extend that in the more rural areas will be different in every area.

So there’s not going to be a national footprint.  We’re going to take every area.  That’s what our department at the Rural Development USDA will do in working with the resources that we have, the assets out in every area of the country in order to make broadband — rural broadband as ubiquitous as we can.

Q    But ag takes the lead on rural broadband.  Is that the idea?

SECRETARY PERDUE:  (Inaudible), along with Chairman Ajit Pai of FCC, we’re in communication.  He was part of our rural taskforce last week along with 21 other agencies that came together to talk about rural prosperity and the barriers for rural prosperity to catch up with the urban areas regarding their livelihoods.

(Caricature of Sonny Perdue by Donkey Hotey used with permission.)

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

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Digital Inclusion

Catherine McNally: The Digital Divide is an Equality Issue

To work toward equal access, more affordable options must be created, including community-based solutions.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Catherine McNally, editorial lead for Reviews.org

Per the latest U.S. Census numbers, about one in four American households is stuck without internet. And a quarter million people with home internet still listen to the dial up screech when they hop online.

The majority of folks lacking home internet live in states with large rural populations and high rural poverty rates, like Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.

In Mississippi, as an example, 60% of homes don’t have broadband, satellite or dial up. And 53% of the state’s population is considered rural with a rural poverty rate of 23%.

Limited options and slow speeds top the list of reasons why rural states are home to high numbers of disconnected households. But steep costs are the most imminent barrier to home internet in rural areas.

According to a 2020 report on worldwide internet pricing by Cable.co.uk, the U.S. is the most expensive country for internet out of all developed Western nations. Here, internet costs an average of $60 a month. Internet in the cheapest country, Ukraine, costs an average of $6.40 a month.

Digital divide deep dive: Issaquena County, Mississippi

Issaquena County is Mississippi’s least-connected county with only 20% of homes paying for an internet connection. The median income there is $14,154 per individual in 2019, compared to a $31,133 national median income. The overall poverty rate in the county is 29%, which is about 16% higher than the U.S. as a whole.

That is a glaring contrast to the most-connected county in the most-connected state: Morgan County, Utah. Morgan County is home to 95% of households with an internet connection, the median individual income there was $37,091 in 2019 and the overall poverty rate is 3%.

Residents of Issaquena County are lucky if they can get download speeds of 25 Mbps, which is the Federal Communication Commission’s current definition of “high speed internet.” The slowest speeds available, 5–12 Mbps, are barely enough to stream in HD, let alone connect to a Zoom call.

If we narrow down our view to Valley Park, a town of just over 100 people in Issaquena County, we see that some residents have the option of a single AT&T DSL internet plan.

The AT&T plan costs $660 a year for speeds of 25 Mbps, which barely keep up with critical modern-day online tools like online learning and telehealth.

Our case study of Issaquena County and Valley Park, Mississippi, highlights further opportunities tied to home connectivity and equality:

  • Access to online learning. About 23.7% of Issaquena County residents have obtained a high school degree, while 3.2% have no schooling. Online education allows individuals to expand their knowledge and further their careers.
  • Greater access to livable wages.5% of residents earn a household income of $10k or less. This is further divided by race: In 2019, Black and African American residents earned a median household income of $21,146, while white residents earned a median household income of $52,188.
  • More employment opportunities. The employment rate in Issaquena County has steadily declined since 1990. Now, 10.6% of residents are considered unemployed.
  • Better access to health care. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration found that half of Mississippi’s residents live in counties with more than 2,000 patients per primary care physician. Issaquena County has been designated a Medically Underserved Area since 1978, meaning the county has a shortage of primary care, dental and/or mental health providers. Better access to telehealth also enables residents who cannot make the drive to the nearest hospital or clinic.

Solving the digital divide

To work toward equal access, more affordable options must be created. The Emergency Broadband Benefit fund is one option, but it remains largely untapped by American households. Subsidies like Lifeline may also lower barriers to internet access, but participation remains low.

Community-focused solutions are likely a better answer, such as Land O’Lakes’s American Connection Project. The project opened more than 2,800 free public Wi-Fi locations in spots like the Tractor Supply Store in Spooner, Wisconsin, in order to keep farming communities connected.

Also significant is this year’s infrastructure bill, which calls on states to determine localized needs and strategies for improving affordability and access to the internet.

State sponsored projects may also solve the severe lack of competition between U.S. broadband services. This should reduce costs last-mile providers incur to connect to middle-mile networks, which could, and should, pass savings down to households. Case in point: California recently introduced an open access middle-mile project with the goal of providing nondiscriminatory access. The bill passed unanimously.

A modernized definition of what qualifies as “high speed internet” would also benefit rural households. Currently, the standard of 25 Mbps download speeds and 3 Mbps upload speeds shorts rural users of opportunities tied to telehealth, online learning and remote work.

This outdated definition allows service providers to complete minimum-viable network expansions and mark areas as “connected.” It also de-incentivizes providers to improve existing-but-subpar networks, such as the 10 Mbps DSL line I found offered in nearby Morton, Mississippi.

One thing is clear: The way the U.S. has approached internet access in the past does not work. New strategies and policies are required to repair the digital divide. Internet access is a right, not a privilege in today’s world.

Catherine McNally is an Editorial Lead for Reviews.org, where she reviews internet service providers across the US. She has a passion for using data to highlight the need for better internet access across the US and believes that internet is a critical lifeline in today’s world. She has also published speed test and pricing reports to help everyday consumers make informed decisions. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Education

National Non-Profit to Launch Joint Initiative to Close Broadband Affordability and Homework Gap

EducationSuperHighway is signing up partners and will launch November 4.

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Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of Education Super Highway.

WASHINGTON, October 18, 2021 – National non-profit Education Super Highway is set to launch a campaign next month that will work with internet service providers to identify students without broadband and expand programs that will help connect the unconnected.

On November 4, the No Home Left Offline initiative will launch to close the digital divide for 18 million American households that “have access to the Internet but can’t afford to connect,” according to a Monday press release.

The campaign will publish a detailed report with “crucial data insights into the broadband affordability gap and the opportunities that exist to close it,” use data to identify unconnected households and students, and launch broadband adoption and free apartment Wi-Fi programs in Washington D.C.

The non-profit and ISPs will share information confidentially to identify students without broadband at home and “enable states and school districts to purchase Internet service for families through sponsored service agreements,” the website said.

The initiative will run on five principles: identify student need, have ISPs create sponsored service offerings for school districts or other entities, set eligibility standards, minimize the amount of information necessary to sign up families, and protect privacy.

The non-profit said 82 percent of Washington D.C.’s total unconnected households – a total of just over 100,000 people – have access to the internet but can’t afford to connect.

“This ‘broadband affordability gap’ keeps 47 million Americans offline, is present in every state, and disproportionately impacts low-income, Black, and Latinx communities,” the release said. “Without high-speed Internet access at home, families in Washington DC can’t send their children to school, work remotely, or access healthcare, job training, the social safety net, or critical government services.”

Over 120 regional and national carriers have signed up for the initiative.

The initiative is another in a national effort to close the “homework gap.” The Federal Communications Commission is connected schools, libraries and students using money from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which is subsidizing devices and connections. It has received $5 billion in requested funds in just round one.

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Broadband's Impact

Steve Lacoff: A New Standard for the ‘Cloudification’ of Communications Services

The cloudification of communications services makes it easy to include voice, data, SMS, and video within any existing service.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Steve Lacoff, general manager of Avalara for communications

The line of demarcation between what has traditionally been considered a telecommunications service was once very clear. It was tangible – there were wires, end points, towers, switches, facilities. Essentially, there was infrastructure required to relay voice or data from point A to point B.

Today that line is fuzzy, if not invisible. The legacy infrastructure remains, but an industry of cloud-based services that don’t require the physical connections has exploded. Voice, data, SMS, and video conferencing can now be conveniently delivered OTT. Enabled by simple API integrations, businesses can embed just one of these services or a complete communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) into an app, service, or product.

Cloudification is a game changer

This “cloudification” of communications services makes it easy to include voice, data, SMS, and video within any existing application, product, or service. These are essential components for many business models.

Consider these services we have come to rely on in our daily lives: food or grocery delivery, ride services, and business and personal communications. These require multiple methods of communication with shoppers, drivers, co-workers, watch party groups, and external business partners.

The exciting news is there is no end in sight. Use cases will continue to evolve and growth will continue to skyrocket. The scale cloud delivery accommodates is massive. These untethered, easy to embed communications services are a critical differentiator for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer buyers, and the lifeblood of the businesses providing both the end user subscriptions and the APIs.

In fact, one industry juggernaut saw H1 YoY video application service demand grow nearly 600% in 2020.

Not surprisingly, as business demand for these services increases smaller CPaaS players continue to enter the market to quickly snag market share. According to a recent IDC study, “the global market revenue for CPaaS reached $5.9bn in 2020, up from $4.26bn in 2019, and is expected to reach $17.71bn by 2024.”

Merger and acquisition activity is aligned with this hockey stick growth forecast. Large telcos, SaaS providers, and even other CPaaS providers are all on the hunt. Whether they want to add additional features to punch up their products or eliminate the competition in a very tight, nuanced market, the end game is clear – as the market expands, the players will ultimately contract leaving only the most competitive offerings.

Don’t let communications tax take you by surprise

One of the least understood risks when adding cloud-based voice, data, SMS, or video conferencing to an existing product or service is new eligibility for and exposure to the complex world of communications taxation. Making mistakes can get costly very quickly.

Here are some of the key pitfalls to keep an eye on:

  • Expanded nexus: Understanding communications tax nexus is different – and exceptionally more complicated – than sales tax. There are approximately 60,000 federal, state, local, and special taxing jurisdictions, each with uniquely complex rules that tend to change at their own pace. Rules are very different for each service.
  • More complex calculations: The more communications services you provide via API, the more complicated communications taxes will be. Each feature can be taxed at different rates in each individual jurisdiction, or the whole bundle can be taxed at one rate. It’s critical to monitor monthly to avoid audit issues.
  • Maintaining overall compliance: Just as tax rates and rules need to be maintained, so must tax and regulatory filing forms in each jurisdiction. Some of these are very long and require significant detail.  They must be filed in a timely, accurate cadence to avoid additional audit risk.

Bottom line: Don’t assume, be prepared! As these communications services become more pervasive a larger swath of technology providers will find themselves liable for communications tax. The more your business falls behind, the more it can cost you.

It pays to be proactive and prepared. Tax and legal advisory experts can help determine your level of risk, and tax and compliance software providers can help you keep up with changing rules and regulations. Don’t underestimate the ongoing value of networking with peers who are either struggling to answer the same questions or have already overcome the hurdles you’re facing today.

Steve Lacoff is General Manager of Avalara for Communications. With a focus on data, VoIP, and video streaming, Steve has spent 15 years in various product and marketing leadership roles in communications and technology industries, including Disney’s streaming services and Comcast technology solutions. Steve now drives business strategy on today’s changing industry landscape and associated tax impacts. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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