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Broadband's Impact

Trump Administration Turns Focus to Rural Broadband and Dark Fiber at American Farm Bureau Meeting

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WASHINGTON, January 8, 2018 – The Trump Administration plans on making increased access to broadband in rural areas a priority as it implements the recommendations of its’ Rural Prosperity Task Force, said National Economic Council Special Assistant for Technology, Telecommunications, and Cybersecurity Grace Koh on Friday.

“The White House is very excited about being able to respond, particularly to the challenge of bringing broadband to rural America,” Koh said during a background briefing with reporters to preview the President’s remarks to the American Farm Bureau.

“This is the platform on which much of [the rural report] is built, and we believe that we have to meet this challenge in order to be able to bring some of the promises and recommendations that this report highlights.”

Koh cautioned, however, that the administration’s plans will not be implanted at the pace of a “sprint,” but assured reporters that such plans would build on “work that has been ongoing for quite some time,” and would involve “a long process of figuring out how to exactly move the federal government in the right place in order to be able to get broadband to rural Americans.”

Challenge of rural broadband lies in low population densities

She noted that the main challenge in increasing rural broadband availability lies in the low population density of rural communities, as the FCC has determined that 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to quality broadband because such a low population density makes for a poor business case based on prohibitively high deployment costs. The Trump Administration has to change that, she said, and will do so with three separate “work streams.”

One of those, Koh said, will involve making use of the federal permitting process, which she noted has a larger impact on rural broadband than it does in more densely-populated areas because of the need to traverse federal lands.

“[W]e’ll seek, in particular, to make sure that those permitting processes that make sense for other utilities or infrastructure, but do not make sense for broadband, are taken out of the way and removed,” she said.

Leveraging federal assets to increase broadband deployment

The second of those streams will involve looking at all existing federal assets to see how it can be leveraged to increase rural broadband deployment.

Two examples of this, Koh suggested, would be to make existing structures, such as towers, available for c-olocation of wireless broadband equipment, and to make use of federally-owned “dark fiber” – fiber that has been laid but is not currently in use – to allow rural broadband providers “to interconnect and provide service to communities that have not had access to broadband before.”

Koh said the White House hopes to make towers and other structures under the control of the Department of the Interior available for colocation immediately to cut down on construction costs and to allow providers to deploy equipment and begin offering services more quickly.

Bringing existing funding sources for broadband adoption and deployment together

The Trump Administration will also look at existing federal funding sources for broadband adoption and deployment to determine how such sources can be coordinated and brought together so deployment can be subsidized with maximum effect.

Existing federal programs along those lines are administered by the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and through the Universal Service Fund, which is supervised by Federal Communications Commission.

The Trump White House has made a point of reversing or ignoring recommendations and programs of previous administrations, particularly those associated with the administration of former President Barack Obama.

But Koh said that the Trump Administration would like to “execute on all of the work and the policies that have been — and the recommendations that have been developed over the past administrations at the FCC,” and hopes “to actually make a difference on this front in this administration.”

When asked whether the White House would encourage the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider rules governing the 3.8Ghz spectrum used by the Citizens Band Radio Service, a senior administration official demurred, noting that the FCC is an independent agency and that the policy of the White House is to not weigh in on open docket items.

“[S]pectrum use is going to be critical to rural broadband rollout, and we hope that there will be equitable consideration for different types of use of spectrum,” the official said.

(Photo of Grace Koh, Special Assistant to the President for Technology, Telecom, and Cyber-Security Policy at The White House.)

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Broadband's Impact

Julio Fuentes: Access Delayed Was Access Denied to the Poorest Americans

Big Telecom companies caused months and months of delays in the rollout of the Emergency Broadband Benefit.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Remember when millions of students in dense urban areas and less-populated rural areas weren’t dependent on home broadband access so they could attend school?

Remember when we didn’t need telehealth appointments, and broadband access in urban and outlying areas was an issue that could be dealt with another day?

Remember when the capability to work remotely in underserved communities wasn’t the difference between keeping a job and losing it?

Not anymore.

Education. Health care. Employment. The COVID-19 pandemic affected them all, and taking care of a family in every respect required broadband access and technology to get through large stretches of the pandemic.

You’d think the Federal Communications Commission and its then-acting chairwoman would have pulled out all the stops to make sure that this type of service was available to as many people as possible, as soon as possible — especially when there’s a targeted federally funded program for that important purpose.

Alas, by all appearances, some Big Telecom companies threw their weight around and caused months and months of delays, denying this life-changing access to the people who needed it most — at the time they needed it most.

The program in question is the federally funded Emergency Broadband Benefit program. The EBB offered eligible households — often the poorest Americans — a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service, and those households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop or other computer if they contribute just $10 to the purchase. Huge value and benefits for technology that should no longer be the privilege of only those with resources.

Seems fairly straightforward, right?

It should have been. But FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel slammed on the brakes. Why? It turns out that Big Telecom giants wanted more time to get ready to grab a piece of the action — a lot more time. While the program was ready to go in February, it didn’t actually launch until several months later.

That’s months of unnecessary delay.

But it wasn’t providers who were waiting. It was Americans in underserved and rural areas, desperate for a connection to the world.

Here are some numbers for Rosenworcel to consider:

  • As recently as March, 58% of white elementary students were enrolled for full-time in-person instruction, while only 36% of Black students, 35% of Latino students, and 18% of Asian peers were able to attend school in person.
  • Greater portions of families of color and low-income families reportedly fell out of contact with their children’s schools during the pandemic. In one national survey in spring 2020, nearly 30% of principals from schools serving “large populations of students of color and students from lower-income households” said they had difficulty reaching some of their students and/or families — in contrast to the 14% of principals who said the same in wealthier, predominantly white schools.
  • In fall 2020, only 61% of households with income under $25,000 reported that the internet was “always available” for their children to use for educational purposes; this share was 86% among households with incomes above $75,000.

And all of these numbers cut across other key issues such as health care and maintaining employment.

Access delayed was access denied to the poorest, most isolated Americans during the worst pandemic in generations.

Allowing Big Telecom companies to get their ducks in a row (and soak up as many federal dollars as possible) left poor and rural Americans with no options, for months. Who knows how many children went without school instruction? Or how many illnesses went undiagnosed? Or how many jobs were terminated?

This delay was appalling, and Chairwoman Rosenworcel should have to answer for her actions to the Senate Commerce Committee as it considers her nomination for another term as commissioner. Rather than expedite important help to people who needed it most, she led the agency’s delay — for the benefit of giant providers, not the public.

Hopefully, the committee moves with more dispatch than she did in considering her actual fitness to be FCC chairwoman for another term.

Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. 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 reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Education

Texas High School Students Enter the Fight for Better Connectivity

Students in a Houston-area school district hosted a panel on connecting schools and libraries as part of a national event on bridging the digital divide.

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John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – Generation Z students are making their mark at a Houston-area school district by adding broadband access to the list of issues they are actively working on.

The high school students in the Fort Bend Independent School District organized a panel conversation on internet access in education as part of Connected Nation’s national event titled “20 Years of Connecting the Nation,” and were able to host some high-profile guests in the world of telecommunications.

The November 17 panel included John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, Chris Martinez, division director of information technology for the Harris County Public Library, Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion for Connected Nation, and Meredith Watassek, director of career and technical education for Fort Bend ISD.

Nine percent of residents in Harris County, where Houston is located, reports that they do not have a connected device at home and 18 percent say they do not have access to an internet connection. These gaps in access are the focus of the panelists’ digital equity efforts.

With Windhausen and Martinez present on the panel, a key point of discussion was the importance of helping libraries to act as anchor institutions – institutions which help enable universal broadband access.

Watassek pointed out that she has been helping oversee distance learning in Fort Bend ISD for six years, starting such a program to enable teachers to teach students in several of the district’s buildings without having to drive to each one, and has seen that with time and learned experience it is possible to work through distance learning logistical issues that school districts around the nation are currently facing.

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Broadband's Impact

New York City Broadband Housing Initiative Gets First Completed Project

The initiative is part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $157 million Internet Master Plan.

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BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird speaks at a press conference at Melrose Housing. Photo provided by BlocPower.

November 30, 2021 – BlocPower, Metro IAF, People’s Choice Communications, and pillars in the Bronx community in New York City gathered Monday at the Melrose Housing development to celebrate the first of five New York City Housing Authority community Wi-Fi projects completed by BlocPower.

Community members and other stakeholders were welcomed by Rev. Sean McGillicuddy, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church and leader at Metro IAF. “As the pandemic has shown us, internet is not just a luxury, it is a necessity,” he said. “We have internet now in Melrose Housing and we are celebrating with hundreds of Immaculate Conception Church parishioners.”

The build out to Melrose Housing and Courtland Avenue was part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $157 million Internet Master Plan, with a goal of connecting 600,000 additional New Yorkers considered underserved. A third of those underserved people are residents in New York City Housing Authority communities.

With these two projects completed, Melrose and Courtland Housing can now provide internet to their more than 2,500 residents spread across 1,200 apartments and ten buildings.

“We are incredibly excited today to bring this much-needed, low-cost wi-fi alternative to Melrose and Courtlandt Avenue,” said BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird. “What began as the by-product of our efforts to convert New York City’s aging, urban buildings into smarter, cleaner more eco-friendly ones, installing community-owned urban wi-fi networks has now become an important part of BlocPower’s expanded mandate – to help close the digital divide in America’s underserved communities.”

P.C.C. technicians were able to install antennas on roofs and wi-fi nodes on each floor. To have a sufficient workforce to accomplish this task, BlocPower trained local New Yorkers through the company’s “Pathways: Civilian Climate Corps” program.

Going forward, P.C.C. will be responsible for maintaining, billing, and customer service. Melrose and Courtland residents will, in turn, elect a board to represent them in matters of data governance, use of proceeds, and quality of service issues.

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