Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate recently released a plan for broadband deployment that would spend $40 billion in taxpayer money in an effort to get everyone online. Like many other proposals of this nature, however, it lacks in the very specifics that are so important in broadband policy.
First, as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) notes, the plan would not extend access to all Americans. Second, the plan makes a false equivalence between rural electrification and rural broadband. In fact, the rural electrification was accomplished through a loan program, while proposals for broadband are organized as grants.
Finally, the plan misidentifies the problem it is trying to solve. It assumes that the problem with broadband is one of availability, when there is significant evidence that demand plays just as large of a role. Rather than simply throwing money at the problem, policymakers should focus on making the technology relevant.
Cost Estimations Are Likely Off the Mark
In suggesting that the United States needs a “Roosevelt Plan” for broadband, the proposal aims to “connect every American to high-speed, reliable Internet by providing direct federal investments to deliver the highest quality internet access at the lowest price.” In total, nearly $40 billion would be spent to obtain this goal. While it is not directly linked in the document, this is the cost estimated by Paul de Sa, Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis at the FCC.
Even this projection has some serious caveats which are not included in the plan, the most important of which is that it would not cover every American. As de Sa notes, “the total upfront capex required to deploy FTTP [Fiber to the Premise] to the 14% of locations lacking access would be ~$80b but, because of the shape of the cost curve, ~98% coverage could be attained for ~$40b.” To reach that last 2 percent, the estimated program costs nearly double. In other words, even if $40 billion was spent, there would still be nearly 6.5 million people without access to broadband.
These numbers are also based on an assumption that either fiber or cable will be the last mile technology, ruling out telephone-based technologies, fixed wireless, and satellite. In less dense urban and rural communities, telephone networks are being upgraded and provide a path towards superfast internet.
Indeed, the next generation of technology, known as G.fast, will give network operators the ability to support gigabit speeds over twisted pair copper or coax wiring. Among other problems in the previous Wheeler FCC, his administration consistently discounted DSL, fixed wireless and other edge technologies in broadband deployment. These models and the cost estimates reflect that bias.
Comparison to Rural Electrification Act
In arguing for this buildout, the Better Deal plan suggests that rural broadband deployment is just an extension of the Rural Electrification Act (REA), a 1936 program to build electricity infrastructure in rural U.S. areas. While the programs are similar in that they aim to provide rural communities with new technology, the similarities largely end there.
REA was a loan program. Most current broadband proposals, on the other hand, are grant programs. As the 1937 Report of Rural Electrification Administration noted, there is quite a difference in establishing loans at fixed 20-year terms at 2.88 percent interest as compared to block grants that will help build out a broadband network.
Most important, the REA was actively involved in reducing the price of electricity to achieve economies of scale in rural areas. The REA created an engineering department that helped to lower the cost of electricity lines and construction methods. As REA administrators noted, “Sometimes a difference of a fraction of a cent per kilowatt hour in the wholesale rate will represent the difference between a sound and unsound project.”
By 1939, the Rural Electrification Administration reported that the cost of building rural electricity lines decreased more than $500 per mile, or over a third of the cost. Nothing of the sort is included in this Better Deal.
While there are varying figures on the cost of broadband deployment, an underlying problem is that there is too much focus on supply and not enough on demand. Currently, the FCC puts an emphasis on the percentage of Americans with broadband coverage. This is an overly simplistic way to look at broadband deployment.
In 2015, Cornell University’s Community & Regional Development Institute studied the impact of broadband deployment on rural communities. It found that Internet access correlated with economic growth, but only when people adopted broadband. When they measured broadband availability (simply having the Internet infrastructure), there was little correlation. Availability and adoption are two completely different concepts. For people to benefit from the Internet, they need to use it.
As AAF has noted before, federal government efforts to expand availability of broadband will not be as effective as those efforts to get state and local players to help spark broadband adoption.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent the views of BroadbandBreakfast.com. Other commentaries are welcome, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Broadband Speeds Have Significant Impact on Economy, Research Director Says
From 2010 to 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove .04 percent increase in GDP, the study found.
WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – Broadband and higher speeds have made significant contributions to economic growth over the last decade, according to a study discussed at a Network On conference Tuesday.
Raul Katz, director of business strategy research at Columbia University, conducted his research to determine where the United States economy would be if broadband had not evolved since 2010. He developed four models to explain the economic contribution of broadband, and all found support to suggest that broadband development has contributed to substantial economic growth.
The long-run economic growth model showed that between 2010 and 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove a .04 percent increase in gross domestic product – the measure of the value of goods and services produced in the nation. States with higher speed broadband had an economic impact of an additional 11.5 percent.
“States with higher speeds of broadband have a higher economic effect,” said Katz. “Not only is there penetration as a driver, but there’s also… return to speed. At faster speeds, the economy tends to be more efficient.”
The study found that if broadband adoption and speed had remained unchanged since 2010, the 2020 GDP would have been 6.27 percent lower, said Katz.
Caroline Kitchens, a representative for ecommerce platform Shopify, said Tuesday that there’s been great growth in the ecommerce business, which relies entirely on a broadband connection. “Worldwide, Shopify merchants create 3.5 million jobs and have an economic impact of more than $307 billion. It goes without saying that none of this is possible without broadband access.”
“We have really seen firsthand how broadband access promotes entrepreneurship,” said Kitchens, indicating that this has promoted a growing economy in over 100 countries.
- FCC Opens Broadband Data Collection Program
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