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For Robust Broadband in the 5G Era, More Local Control May Be Required



PITTSBURGH, July 30, 2018 – Many broadband experts speaking at the Next Century Cities regional summit here said last week that city jurisdiction should take precedence over federal rules in ensuring impactful broadband deployment.

The conference highlighted some of these local voices, eager for broadband deployment even as they criticize recent Federal Communications Commission moves that strip away some local authority.

While the conversation in Washington often centers on fears of China overtaking the U.S. in 5G, outside of the beltway, concerns for municipalities and rural communities outweighed global considerations. This revealed crucial differences between local and federal priorities.

Blair Levin continued his strong criticism of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee

Blair Levin, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution, expressed distrust towards the federal government regarding decisions for local communities.

“I don’t have a lot of hope in, frankly, the state legislatures,” Levin said. However, he does have hope for local governments, which are much more “grounded in reality.”

As the FCC moves forward with some measures framed as aiming to promote the development of so-called 5G networks, Levin and others fear that local communities will not only be left behind, but stripped of their authority over the new broadband infrastructure that will have to be built.

For 5G to be deployed, an extensive amount of new infrastructure will need to be built. Although he didn’t speak at the event, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has previously cited an up to 100-fold increase in the number of —transceivers that will be needed to propagate broadband signals over the short distances necessary in 5G networks.

Levin emphasized the importance of regional and local efforts to move forward with broadband infrastructure deployment. He suggested ways that local governments could–without interference from the federal government– incentivize private telecommunications providers to develop quickly in their area.

Cities need to experiment in offering differential treatment to different locations within cities

According to Levin, cities should experiment and seek to incentivize private telecommunications providers to provide high-speed services to otherwise uneconomical areas by offering “zero cost permitting in areas that are below a certain adoption rate.”

A prime example of positive municipal leadership is the deal between the city of San Jose and Verizon. Mayor Sam Liccardo gained national attention after he resigned from the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, citing lack of municipal representation and over-representation of big telecommunications companies as the reason for his departure.

After resigning from BDAC, Sam Liccardo returned to San Jose determined to show that municipalities could make deals with telecommunications providers and advance infrastructure without interference from the federal government.

Announced in June 2018, San Jose’s deal with Verizon is designed to make San Jose into a Smart City, building out essential 5g infrastructure such as fiber networks and small cells on city poles.


Rural towns may lag behind in their ability to strike deals with telecom providers

However, while San Jose moves forward as a Smart City ready for the 5G wave of futuristic technology, rural towns lag far behind, unable to strike successful deals with big telecommunications providers – particularly when they were impeded from making developments on their own.

Levin advocated for local communities to take action in moving forward with broadband networks, yet acknowledged the danger of doing so in today’s political climate.

“The problem is, if the FCC moves ahead the way I think they are going to do, all those things are going to be illegal,” Levin said, referring to the struggles of local communities that sought to move forward with broadband–and were punished for their successes.

Film ‘Do Not Pass Go’ highlights the plight of Wilson, North Carolina

The film, “Do Not Pass Go,” by investigative filmmaker Cullen Hoback, highlights the case of Wilson, North Carolina. The small, underserved town built their own municipal broadband network after their requests to big cable providers were repeatedly denied.

Companies such as Time Warner Cable spent millions of dollars to try to stop the North Carolina town and other towns from building such municipal networks. In many ways, the incumbents have succeeded.

Wilson’s municipal network provided high-speed access to broadband that gave the town an opportunity to grow new businesses and become a hotspot attracting attention from other underserved local locations.

However, it did not last. Due to the efforts of large cable companies and the current ideals of the FCC to leave the building of networks to telecommunications and cable companies, Wilson’s new municipal network was pressured into pulling out of the city.

The struggle of the Wilson townspeople to keep their local network against pressures from big telecommunications companies that sought to discourage such competition is not an isolated case.


However, Levin advocated for local governments to keep moving forward with measures regardless of the federal government’s attempts to preempt local officials.

“I think we have to have more cities like San Jose that demonstrate we don’t need the federal government to do that,” Levin said, referring to the government’s measures to step in.

(Photo of Blair Levin at the Brookings Institutions by the Federal Communications Commission used with permission.)

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Public Safety

Lack of People Opting Into Emergency Alerts Poses Problems for Natural Disaster Scenarios

Disaster protocol experts remarked on lessons learned from fire outbreaks in Boulder County, Colorado.



Photo of Lori Adams of Nokia discussing emergency communications response to Colorado wildfires at Mountain Connect by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 26, 2022 – A lack of people opting into local emergency alerts poses a severe challenge for public officials during natural disasters, a panel of experts said Tuesday.

The panel remarked on just how significant the number of people not subscribed to emergency alerts is during a panel on disaster preparedness at the annual Mountain Connect conference.

In Boulder, getting emergency alerts is on an opt-in basis, whereas in other areas, it is opt-in by default.

The specific focus of the panel was on lessons learned from the outbreak of fires in Boulder County, Colorado this past December.

Fires presented challenges for providers

Several challenges of managing a response to the fires were recounted.

Blake Nelson, Comcast’s senior director of construction, stated that some of his company’s underground broadband infrastructure buried at a considerable depth was still melted from the heat of the fires to cause service outages for customers. Thomas Tyler, no stranger to disaster response as Louisiana’s deputy director for broadband and connectivity through several hurricane responses, pointed out that it is quite possible local officials may be skilled in responding to one type of disaster such as a hurricane but not another like a tornado.

Screenshot of Blake Nelson, Jon Saunders, Wesley Wright and Thomas Tyler (left to right)

The panel also spoke to the challenges of coordination between essential companies and agencies if people do not have personal relationships with those who work at such entities other than their own.

Successful emergency responses to service outages during disaster serve as models for the future, with Nelson stating the internet provider opened up its wireless hotspots to temporarily increase service access and Tyler saying that standing up Starlink satellite internet access helped bring broadband to Louisiana communities only accessible by bridge or boat during their periods of disaster.

Conversation moderator Lori Adams, senior director of broadband policy and funding strategy at Nokia, suggested keeping town servers not in municipal buildings but rather off site and Wesley Wright, partner at law firm Keller and Heckman, recommended the Federal Communications Commission’s practice of developing strong backup options for monitoring service outages.

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Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning

Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.



Screenshot of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2022 – Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited and provide extra help for students who need individualized teaching, experts said at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on Tuesday.

As policy makers weigh the options for a structure for AI in the classroom, panelists agreed on its benefits for both teachers and students. Michelle Zhou, CEO of AI company Juji Inc., said AI technology in the classroom can be tools and applications like chatbots for real-time questions during class, and post-class questions at home for when the teacher is not available.

Lynda Martin, director of learning strategy for strategic solutions at learning company McGraw Hill, said AI provides the extra help students need, but sometimes are too shy to ask.

When a teacher has a high volume of students, it is difficult to effectively help and connect with each student individually, Martin said. AI gives the teacher crucial information to get to know the student on a more personal level as it transmits the student’s misconceptions and detects areas of need. AI can bring student concerns to the teacher and foster “individualized attention” she added.

Privacy and security concerns

Jeremy Roschelle from Digital Promise, an education non-profit, raise the privacy and security concerns in his cautious support of the idea. He noted that there needs to be more information about who has access to the data and what kinds of data should be used.

Beside bias and ethical issues that AI could pose, Roschelle cautioned about the potential harms AI could present, including misdetecting a child’s behavior, resulting in potential educational setbacks.

To utilize the technology and ensure education outcomes, Sharad Sundararajan, co-founder of learning company Merlyn Minds, touched on the need for AI training. As Merlyn Minds provides digital assistant technology to educators, he noted the company’s focus on training teachers and students on various forms of AI tech to enhance user experience.

There is an “appetite” from schools that are calling for this, said Sundararajan. As policy makers contemplate a strategic vision for AI in the classroom, he added that AI adoption in the classroom around the country will require algorithmic work, company partnerships, and government efforts for the best AI success.

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Closing Digital Divide for Students Requires Community Involvement, Workforce Training, Event Hears

Barriers to closing the divide including awareness of programs, resources and increasing digital literacy.



Screenshot of Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Experts in education technology said Monday that to close the digital divide for students, the nation must eliminate barriers at the community level, including raising awareness of programs and resources and increasing digital literacy.

“We are hearing from schools and district leaders that it’s not enough to make just broadband available and affordable, although those are critical steps,” said Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said at an event hosted by trade group SIIA, formerly known as the Software and Information Industry Association. “We also have to make sure that we’re solving for the human barriers that often inhibit adoption.”

Song highlighted four “initial barriers” that students are facing. First, a lack of awareness and understanding of programs and resources. Second, signing up for programs is often confusing regarding eligibility requirements, application status, and installment. Third, there may be a lack of trust between communities and services. Fourth, a lack of digital literacy among students can prevent them from succeeding.

Song said he believes that with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, states have an “incredible opportunity to address adoption barriers.”

Workforce shortages still a problem, but funding may help

Rosemary Lahasky, senior director for government affairs at Cengage, a maker of educational content, added that current data suggests that 16 million students lack access to a broadband connection. While this disparity in American homes remained, tech job posts nearly doubled in 2021, but the average number of applicants shrunk by 25 percent.

But panelists said they are hopeful that funding will address these shortages. “Almost every single agency that received funding…received either direct funding for workforce training or were given the flexibility to spend some of their money on workforce training,” said Lahasky of the IIJA, which carves out funding for workforce training.

This money is also, according to Lahasky, funding apprenticeship programs, which have been recommended by many as a solution to workforce shortages.

Student connectivity has been a long-held concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students themselves are stepping up to fight against the digital inequity in their schools as technology becomes increasingly essential for success. Texas students organized a panel to discuss internet access in education just last year.

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