WASHINGTON, July 28, 2017 – At a Wednesday confirmation hearing for Peter Davidson to be general counsel of the Department of Commerce and others, Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Bill Nelson, D-Florida, said the country needed data-driven leadership.
Chairman John Thune, R-South Dakota, introduced Davidson and the other nominees.
Davidson was senior vice president of congressional relations at Verizon for more than a decade. If confirmed, he would provide legal and policy direction for an array of Commerce Department functions.
Nelson said he has been talking about the issue of roads, ports, rails and broadband languishing for years, but nothing has still been done. This jeopardizes safety, and programs, such as Amtrak, need funding, he said.
Davidson said it was important that the Commerce Department treat businesses fairly. He spoke against policies that create barriers and said it was important to also protect against unfair policies from foreign governments. He also highlighted the importance of an accurate U.S. census.
He also said that it was easy to achieve goals when working in a bipartisan manner.
Other Commerce Department officials also questioned
The other nominees being considered at the hearing were Ronald Batory to be administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, Mark Buzby to be administrator of the Maritime Administration, and Karen Kelley to be undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs.
Batory recently served as president and chief operating officer of Conrail. If confirmed, he will be responsible for developing passenger and railroad policies, safety regulations and research and development.
Buzby is a retired Navy admiral. If confirmed, he will be responsible for repairing external relationships, insuring a safe environment for cadets and overseeing the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
Kelley has had a career in financial investment with Invesco, an investment management company. If confirmed, she will produce in depth reports, fact sheets and briefings on economic policy issues and events.
Batory said he wanted to enhance railroad administration training opportunities, and that safety would be a priority.
Buzby, born and raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey, said that he was destined to be a mariner, having taking his first breath of salt air as an infant. He wants to ensure that U.S. flagships in good repair and that the skilled mariners are needed, and he will deal with the Merchant Marine Academy is improved.
Kelley said that a high-quality 2020 census was her highest priority.
Chairman and ranking member weigh in
Under questioning from Thune, all four pledged to work with the committee, and all of them said yes.
Nelson wanted to prioritize safety at railroad crossings as trains get faster
Nelson then asked Davidson how he would deal with silencing experts and if experts would be free from political influence. Davidson said he will insure that laws and regulations will be upheld and will make sure information provided by experts is accurate.
Nelson replied by asking Davidson what he would think if employees weren’t allowed to use the term “climate change.” Davidson said he would look into any interference with the duty of experts. Davidson also said transparency and public comments help create better regulations and laws.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, asked Kelley if she would commit to resisting pressure from the Trump Administration or any political pressure at all. She committed to resisting pressure.
Schatz said no one of either party should be prohibited from using words to describe their world, referring to the conversation Nelson had with Davidson.
(Photo by Casey Ryan.)
Adrianne Furniss: Lifeline Needs A Lifeline
The FCC should hit the pause button on a current plan to zero out support for voice-only services.
In less than three months, nearly 800,000 low-income people who receive telephone subsidies through the Universal Service Fund’s Lifeline program will be negatively impacted by changes scheduled to go into effect at the Federal Communications Commission on December 1. That is one of the most troubling — and pressing — conclusions of an independent evaluation of the FCC’s Lifeline program conducted by Grant Thornton. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the FCC must act now to ensure people can retain essential communications services.
As of June 20, 2021, approximately 6.9 million subscribers were enrolled in the Lifeline program; most (approximately 94 percent) are enrolled in supported wireless plans. Voice service remains a desired service for both Lifeline subscribers and the general American consumer. Only 1 percent of surveyed American adults live in a home with neither fixed nor mobile voice service, and mobile-only voice subscribers comprise more than 60 percent of U.S. households.
In 2016, the FCC adopted a comprehensive reform and modernization of the Lifeline program. For the first time, the FCC included broadband as a supported service in the program. Lifeline program rules allowed support for stand-alone mobile (think cell phone) or fixed broadband Internet access service (think home broadband service delivered over a wire), as well as bundles including fixed or mobile voice and broadband. The 2016 decision also set in motion a plan to zero-out support for voice-only services.
In its February 2021 report, Thornton found that the phase-down and ultimate phase-out of voice services by December 1, 2021 may negatively impact 797,454 Lifeline consumers (that’s over 10 percent of all Lifeline enrollees) who use voice-only services for fundamental needs. So that’s nearly 800,000 households that could face being disconnected from phone service this winter.
The FCC needs to change course and help more Americans keep connected to communications services that are essential to navigate the ongoing public health and economic crisis.
And it needs to act before December 1.
Most importantly, the FCC should act swiftly and hit the pause button on the 2016 plan to zero-out support for voice-only services. During the pandemic, the stakes are just too high for anyone to be disconnected from essential communications networks.
Then the FCC should launch a new effort to reform and further modernize the Lifeline program, informed by what we’ve witnessed during COVID, and the findings in Thornton’s and the FCC’s own recent review of the Lifeline program.
First, Lifeline needs to have foundational governance documents—such as strategic plans, performance objectives, and an integrated communications plan—to assist in the longitudinal success and guidance of the program.
Second, the FCC has to consider raising Lifeline’s monthly subsidy, $9.25, so it can make more meaningful services affordable for low-income families. Home-broadband prices (both for fixed and wireless service) remain disproportionately high when compared to the Lifeline program subsidy. The FCC should evaluate minimum service standards in relation to the average cost of wireless, wireline, and broadband data plans and determine if the subsidy will cover all, or even the majority of costs to provide Lifeline services.
Third, the FCC must adopt changes in the program so it better benefits the people it was created to connect.
- The FCC should seek to understand the composition of Lifeline households and what services various members need (i.e., school-aged children, telecommuters, etc.). The minimum services supported by Lifeline should address the needs of the entire household.
- Just 25 percent of the people eligible to participate in the Lifeline program actually enroll. The FCC must understand why and should consider ways to improve awareness of the Lifeline program. One idea is to partner with other federal benefit programs, and the state agencies that administer those programs, to not only increase outreach about Lifeline, but ideally to integrate Lifeline’s application processes into those program applications.
- The FCC should adopt program rules that incorporate Lifeline consumer feedback to ensure the program works for the most vulnerable people in society.
Fourth, changes in the Lifeline program should encourage all telecommunications and broadband service providers to compete to serve low-income households in their service areas.
Finally, the FCC should also consider revising its measure of affordability of broadband for low-income consumers. Currently, the FCC considers “affordable service” as 2 percent of disposable income of those below 135 percent of the federal poverty level. Instead, the FCC should consider affordability in the context of a subscriber’s purchasing power in a geographic location and balanced with availability of services and choice of providers. The FCC should evaluate the pricing packages of voice and broadband services offered by Lifeline carriers and provide assurance that packages offered are in the reasonable standard of affordability for low-income consumers. And the FCC should institute a structured process to regularly review the Lifeline program’s pricing packages and incorporate measures of both the subsidy rate and service standards for similar programs (like the Emergency Broadband Benefit), income statistics of current consumers, and the percentage of Lifeline subscribers who pay out of pocket for services.
The commitment to connecting people with low incomes to essential communications services is not new. But the past 18 months have offered stark reminders of the importance of universal service. We need the FCC to act now to keep everyone connected. And we need the FCC to update the Lifeline program so everyone can rely on a basic level of connectivity no matter how much income they have.
Adrianne Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society. She manages the institute’s staff and relationships with Benton experts, partners, and supporters in service to Benton’s mission and in consultation with Benton’s Trustees and Board of Directors. Previously, she held management positions at both non-profit and for-profit content creation companies, focused on program development, marketing, and distribution. This piece was originally published in the Benton Institute’s Digital Beat, and is reprinted with permission. © Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2021. Redistribution of this publication – both internally and externally – is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to email@example.com. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
Sustainability and Scalability are Crucial For State Broadband Projects, Say State Experts
Partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity
September 21, 2021—Public-private partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity in regions that need help, state broadband officials said Tuesday.
Speaking at a “Connecting the Heartland Conference Series,” BroadbandOhio CEO Peter Voderberg highlighted the state’s focus on ensuring student broadband connectivity. He highlighted the $50 million BroadbandOhio Connectivity Grant, for which more than 900 school districts have applied.
Funds could be allocated to subsidize the cost of internet for students without broadband, hotspot service plans, providing improved public Wi-Fi infrastructure, or otherwise improving existing connectivity, he said. Collaborative efforts between school districts and ISPs have been able to bring the overall cost of broadband down for consumers.
Voderberg also described a $250 million Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant to bring internet to areas with connections slower that 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.
This program would subsidize private efforts by compensating ISPs for the difference between the cost of the project and the price it would take to make the effort profitable for them.
Illinois’ early efforts at broadband progress
Matt Schmit, director of the Illinois Broadband Office, pointed to “the three legs of the stool” for broadband expansion: Access, adoption, and utilization.
Illinois’ plans and programs were designed with this three-pronged approach in mind, he said, crediting Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker for establishing programs prioritizing broadband two years before the rest of the country is now doing.
Two key aspects of Illinois’ efforts are technology neutrality and a focus on scalability. “[We believe in focusing on] investing in an area and making sure that we have the kind of investment, service, and infrastructure that is going to serve [a] community well into the years ahead.”
In terms of prioritizing which communities and regions get service, Illinois considers any area with services less than 25 x 3 Mbps to be unserved, much like the federal government’s current broadband standard.
However, unlike the federal government, Illinois also has a category for what it considers to be underserved, which is any area below 100 x 20 mpbs. He called the state’s approach a compromise between advocates that have called for a broadband standard of 100 x 100 Mbps or even 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps). On the other hand, he said, are voices that argue against “future-proof” technologies, saying that gigabit speeds are gratuitous.
The most challenging aspect of providing service, however, is simply identifying which areas are served, underserved, or lacking coverage completely, he said.
“We don’t necessarily trust the maps that are out there—even our own,” he said, adding that mapping “is the start of the conversation, not the end of the conversation.”
It will only be through conversations with applicants, communities, and providers that enough data is collected to sufficiently serve the state, “We are investing in a community or investing in an area for the long term,” Schmit continued, “Because what we’re going to invest in is fully scalable for the needs, not only today, but for tomorrow.”
The event was hosted by National Urban League, agribusiness Land O’Lakes, Inc., and Heartland Forward, a think tank focused on rural economic development.
Topic 3 at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021: Public Private Partnerships for Broadband
Topic 3 focuses on the way that municipalities’ infrastructure projects has changed the conversation around public private partnerships.
September 21, 2021 – In less than a week, Broadband Breakfast will kick off Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 at the Broadband Communities Summit on Monday, September 27, 2021.
This pathbreaking event brings the broadband infrastructure and financial services communities together to focus on the digital infrastructure and investment asset profile, including fiber, small cells, towers and data center assets required to support a 21st Century information economy.
This third session at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 – Topic 3 — is centered on Public-Private Partnership in the broadband industry. In the past several years, municipalities are increasingly becoming a leading voice in new digital infrastructure projects. How has their role changed the conversations around public-private partnerships?
The conference will kick off at 1 p.m. ET / 12 Noon CT, and this third panel is scheduled to begin at 4:15 p.m. ET / 3:15 p.m. CT. Unlike other aspects of the Broadband Communities Summit, Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 will be available both IN PERSON and LIVE ONLINE.
The session will moderated by the Director of Community Broadband Networks Initiative Chris Mitchell. This session and the others will will set the stage for a broader discussion that includes investment fund manager, institutional investors, venture capitalists and senior broadband leaders speaking in Topics 3 and 4 later in the day. Infrastructure investment funds, public-private partnerships, and the future of shared infrastructure will be considered in other panels at the event.
Topic 3 includes, as panelists, Matt Schmit, Director, Illinois Office of Broadband; Chris Walker, Senior Executive Director of Infrastructure Strategy, Northwest Open Access Network; Nate Walowitz, Regional Broadband Program Director, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments; Sunne Wright McPeak, President and CEO, California Emerging Technology Fund
Panelists for Topic 3:
- Matt Schmit, Director, Illinois Office of Broadband
- Chris Walker, Senior Executive Director of Infrastructure Strategy, Northwest Open Access Network
- Nate Walowitz, Regional Broadband Program Director, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments
- Sunne Wright McPeak, President and CEO, California Emerging Technology Fund
- Chris Mitchell (moderator), Director, Community Broadband Networks Initiative
Matt Schmit serves as the Director of the Illinois Office of Broadband. In this capacity, he is responsible for facilitating the deployment of the Connect Illinois broadband infrastructure grant program. He also served as a state senator for Minnesota between 2013 and 2016.
Chris Walker is the Senior Executive Director of Infrastructure Strategy for Northwest Open Access Network. His work at Northwest Open Access Network includes the management of network growth and expansion, strategic planning, capital development of the outside plant program, and community consulting and engagement for emerging public benefit networks. Chris has led many of NoaNet’s critical functions in his 20 years including Network Operations and Engineering, Outside Plant Construction, the statewide Network Operations Center, Professional Services, and Community Outreach Initiatives. Before NoaNet, Chris served 12 years in the armed forces.
Nate Walowitz supports communities developing broadband access across NW Colorado with the NWCCOG and across the State of Colorado in support of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. He also developed Project THOR, a publicly owned open access middle mile network serving communities across 12 counties in NW Colorado.
Sunne Wright McPeak is President and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, a statewide non-profit organization that accelerates the deployment and adoption of broadband. She assumed the position as the CETF first chief executive in December 2006 after serving for three years as Secretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.
Chris Mitchell (moderator) is Director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. His work focuses on helping communities ensure that the telecommunications networks upon which they depend are accountable to the community. He was honored as one of the 2012 Top 25 in Public Sector Technology by Government Technology, which honors the top “Doers, Drivers, and Dreamers” in the nation each year. Originally published on MuniNetworks.org, this piece is part of a collaborative reporting effort between Broadband Breakfast and the Community Broadband Networks program at ILSR.
Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 will take place at the Broadband Communities Summit, and online, on Monday, September 27, 2021.
Join the Broadband Breakfast Club and Register for the LIVE ONLINE version of Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 for the Member’s Rate of $149. First month of Broadband Breakfast Club Membership included.
The Broadband Communities Summit is the leading conference on broadband technologies for communities. It will take place in Houston, Texas, from September 27 – September 30, 2021.
The Summit attracts broadband system operators, network builders and deployers of all kinds. Many of the country’s major property owners and real estate developers attend the Summit each year, along with independent telcos and cable companies, municipal and state officials, community leaders and economic development professionals.
Broadband Breakfast Club Members receive discount pricing on both the Broadband Communities Summit and Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021.
Join the Broadband Breakfast Club and Register for BOTH the Broadband Communities Summit and the IN-PERSON Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 for the Member’s Rate of $349. First month of Broadband Breakfast Club Membership included.
Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 Sponsors:
To inquire about Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Digital Infrastructure Investment 2020
Digital Infrastructure Investment 2020 took place online on August 10, 2020, from 1 p.m. ET to 5:30 p.m. ET. It was broadcast at the Broadband Communities Virtual Summit on Tuesday, September 22, 2020.
- Adrianne Furniss: Lifeline Needs A Lifeline
- USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability
- Tech Sues Texas over Social Media Law, $80 Billion Investment, Broadband and Growth
- Sustainability and Scalability are Crucial For State Broadband Projects, Say State Experts
- Hytera and Huawei Respond to FCC Blocking Chinese Equipment as U.S. Players React
- Rosenworcel Talks Spectrum Strategy, Book on Broadband Policy Failure Released, Lifeline Awareness Week
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