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Broadband's Impact

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Praises Agency’s Work in Promoting High-Speed Internet at ‘Broadband Heros’ Event

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Photo of Ajit Pai at US Telecom event by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, October 24, 2019 – US Telecom on Thursday praised legislators and a regulator who have promoted their framework for ensuring that high-speed broadband remains a top national policy concern.

The lobbying group for the biggest telecom companies did so at a broadband investment forum event honoring their “broadband heros” that they said had made significant strides to improve connectivity.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai touted his agency’s record on broadband deployment over the past few years.

The progress made by the FCC’s regulatory streamlining, Pai said, has provided much improvement for the agriculture and education sectors. Wireless internet has become so advanced that children are able to seamlessly upload their schoolwork through McDonald’s Wi-Fi, he said.

Among the other “broadband heros” recipients were Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Rob Koester of Consolidated Communications and Darby McCarty of Smithville Communications.

Broadband has come far in only a quarter of a century, said Wicker. Yet bipartisan support is needed to address current broadband’s key issues, such as low-quality mapping. The companies represented here today, he said, will play a major role in winning the “race to 5G.”

Telecom’s role has gone beyond merely providing and building service, said Koester. Broadband leaders now need to educate the public about the issues and the best practices for improving them.

A panel featuring prominent industry leaders discussed the federal government’s role in adopting faster internet and how fiber optic broadband can help with that.

The support mechanisms for broadband funding are in a winner-take-all environment, said Tony Clark, senior advisor at Wilkinson Barker Knauer. Some incumbents receive more subsidies than others, and the incumbents without the mechanism are expected to fulfill the same obligations.

Delivering a high-speed, low latency connection involves determining the trade-offs for that result, said Paroma Sanyal, senior consultant at The Brattle Group. If providers are only focusing on costs, then the outcome of the infrastructure will be different.

The keys to 5G success, Sanyal said, are the backhaul process and low-latency technology that allows for precision agriculture. That is why fiber is a future-proof technology that is very beneficial for 5G growth.

Machine learning on how to develop broadband and fiber, said Windstream President and CEO Tony Thomas, has caused providers to make highly informed decisions. As a result, broadband is now available in areas that a few years ago were barely connected.

The leap to 5G could be the fourth Industrial Revolution, said Kathy Grillo, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs at Verizon. Not only is fiber needed everywhere to receive 5G connectivity, she said, regulatory policy needs to be developed to start building these networks.

But before 5G can be properly implemented, the panelists emphasized the need to address rural coverage gaps.

Billions of dollars have been invested into digital infrastructure for the past 20 years, said US Telecom CEO Jonathan Spalter. The government can provide indispensable input to accelerate rural connectivity, he said, particularly through the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

It’s one thing to build broadband networks, said Blackfoot CEO Jason Williams. Operating and maintaining them is completely different and requires some regulatory oversight.

Going forward, the FCC needs to make sure subsidies are effectively distributed so that incumbents don’t walk away from any viable options, said Consolidated Communications CEO Bob Udell.

The partnership between the public and private sectors, Udell added, is imperative for broadband opportunity.

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Broadband's Impact

Baltimore Needs Grassroots Help to Bridge Digital Divide, Experts Say

‘Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections.’

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Photo of Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore's Office of Broadband and Digital Equity

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2022 – Local leaders from Baltimore said at a Benton Institute event that there needs to be an alignment with the community and leadership when it comes to closing the digital divide.

“Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections,” said Amalia Deloney from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, which invests in projects to improve the quality of life in the city. The foundation estimates that 74,116 households don’t have internet access.

The event’s speakers pointed to digital redlining, in which segments of racial minority and lower income Americans are disconnected from services or can be considered living in low priority areas.

Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity, said the city is a “pioneer in redlining,” and “a century later, we still see the effect on the digital divide.”

To address this, Deloney said the foundation’s approach to the digital divide in Baltimore by starting at the social level through its Digital Equity Leadership Lab. This is a program for Baltimore residents to “increase their understanding of the internet and strengthen their ability to advocate for fast, affordable and reliable broadband.”

The program aims to train and build leadership within the community to advocate for closing the digital divide. It points to a strategy of bringing “advocates together with community leaders,” as “digital equity is social, not a technological problem,” said Colin Rhinesmith, founder and director of the Digital Equity Research Center.

Michelle Morton from the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Association also said local leaders need to work with community members to have a bottom-up approach. “You have to work with the people doing the work on the ground.

“Their voices matter,” said Morton.

Mayor Brandon Scott has allocated $35 million from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide across Baltimore “by the end of this decade.”

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Education

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.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

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.

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Digital Inclusion

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.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

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.

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