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Broadband's Impact

On Spectrum Policy, Congress May Step Between the FCC and Commerce Department’s NTIA

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WASHINGTON, July 16, 2019 — Differences between the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration have gotten to the point that Congress may need to get more involved in the spectrum allocation process, legislators said Tuesday at a House subcommittee hearing.

Coordination between federal agencies is an essential component of creating coherent and comprehensive spectrum policies, said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. However, recent years have seen less cooperation.

“The Trump FCC goes one way, the Commerce Department and NTIA go another,” Pallone said. “Then you have other departments throughout the federal government, like the Departments of Transportation, Education, and Defense voicing their own opinions about how spectrum should be used.”

Pallone continued to assert that the lack of interagency coordination has affected a “mind-numbing” number of important spectrum bands. “In my opinion, the process has completely broken down,” he said.

“It’s concerning when cabinet officials are publicly fighting with the FCC over spectrum policy,” agreed Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Michael Doyle, D-Pennsylvania. “I’m deeply concerned that this process has broken down and that American people will be the ones to suffer.”

Spectrum should be “carefully and deliberately” managed just like any other natural resource, said Pallone, and doing so correctly has great potential to “meaningfully improve the lives of Americans” by improving rural online education, remote telehealth services, and competition from small businesses.

“It’s clear that Congress must legislate to resolve these concerns and provide the greatest benefit to consumers,” Pallone said.

Derek Khlopin, senior policy advisor at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said that his agency plans to work closely with federal partners and technology industries “to ensure that the U.S. leads the world in effectively and efficiently putting to use this critical, limited resource that drives our economic activity and helps protect the safety and security of all Americans.”

“To meet current demand and enable future needs we need a national spectrum policy that incentivizes innovation and provides opportunities for new technologies and new entrants,” said Doyle. “The challenge we face today is just how constrained our spectrum resources are.”

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules to make 2.5 Gigahertz spectrum available to commercial entities through a public auction following a priority filing window for tribal nations. Sen. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, highlighted the widespread bipartisan criticism of the decision to remove the band’s educational requirement.

It was a “tough decision,” but the agency hoped that greater flexibility would incentivize investment in rural areas, said Julius Knapp, chief of the office of engineering and technology at the FCC.

Recent concerns over the 24 GHz band were also addressed at the hearing. Following a licensing auction in March, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration claimed that the commercial use of this band would significantly reduce the accuracy of weather forecasts, a claim that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has emphatically denied.

Sen. Greg Walden, R-Ore., called for the study from NOAA and NASA to be made publicly available. “We can only effectively figure this out if we have access to the information,” he said.

The FCC had “a number of concerns” about NOAA and NASA’s study, said Knapp, asserting that the use of recently auctioned spectrum can peacefully coexist with weather-sensing capabilities now and in the future.

Each study that has been done on interference in the 24 GHz band has arrived at a different proposed limit, Knapp added, and the FCC is trying to find a balance that avoids protections so stringent that thousands of megahertz of spectrum are left on the table.

(Photo of hearing by Emily McPhie.)

Development Associate Emily McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for campus publication Student Life. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer skills to underprivileged children in six cities across Southern California.

Digital Inclusion

Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates

Panelists argued that lack of equitable digital access is deadly and driven by lack of competition.

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September 24, 2021- Affordability, language and lack of competition are among the factors that continue to perpetuate the digital divide and related inequities, according to panelists at a Thursday event on race and broadband.

One of the panelists faulted the lack of public broadband pricing information as a root cause.

In poorer communities there’s “fewer ISPs. There’s less competition. There’s less investment in fiber,” said Herman Galperin, associate professor at the University of Southern California. “It is about income. It is about race, but what really matters is the combination of poverty and communities of color. That’s where we find the largest deficits of broadband infrastructure.”

While acknowledging that “there is an ongoing effort at the [Federal Communications Commission] to significantly improve the type of data and the granularity of the data that the ISPs will be required to report,” Galperin said that the lack of a push to make ISP pricing public will doom that effort to fail.

He also questioned why ISPs do not or are not required to report their maps of service coverage revealing areas of no or low service. “Affordability is perhaps the biggest factor in preventing low-income folks from connecting,” Galperin said.

“It’s plain bang for their buck,” said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, referring to broadband providers reluctance to serve rural and remote areas. “It costs more money to go to [tribal lands].”

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that digital divide clearer and more deadly. “There was no access to information for telehealth,” said Morris. “No access to information on how the virus spread.”

Galperin also raised the impact of digital gaps in access upon homeless and low-income populations. As people come in and out of homelessness, they have trouble connecting to the internet at crucial times, because – for example – a library might be closed.

Low-income populations also have “systemic” digital access issues struggling at times with paying their bills having to shut their internet off for months at a time.

Another issue facing the digital divide is linguistic. Rebecca Kauma, economic and digital inclusion program manager for the city of Long Beach, California, said that residents often speak a language other than English. But ISPs may not offer interpretation services for them to be able to communicate in their language.

Funding, though not a quick fix-all, often brings about positive change in the right hands. Long Beach received more than $1 million from the U.S. CARES Act, passed in the wake of the early pandemic last year. “One of the programs that we designed was to administer free hotspots and computing devices to those that qualify,” she said.

Some “band-aid solutions” to “systemic problems” exist but aren’t receiving the attention or initiative they deserve, said Galperin. “What advocacy organizations are doing but we need a lot more effort is helping people sign up for existing low-cost offers.” The problem, he says, is that “ISPs are not particularly eager to promote” low-cost offers.

The event “Race and Digital Inequity: The Impact on Poor Communities of Color,” was hosted by the Michelson 20MM Foundation and its partners the California Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Southern California Grantmakers.

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Broadband's Impact

USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability

Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.

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Hernan Galperin of USC's Annenberg School

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.

In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”

Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.

“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.

“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”

The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.

The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.

The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.

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Broadband's Impact

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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