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National Broadband Plan

Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg: Democratic Presidential Candidates With a Broadband Plan



Photo-collage with file photos by Steven Senne, Jessica Hill and Rick Bowmer

Amy Klobuchar also focused on broadband mapping and rural connectivity; Joe Biden wants grants to expand access for underserved communities

WASHINGTON, October 2, 2019 – Lack of access to high-speed broadband remains a fundamental issue for many Americans. Some of the Democratic presidential candidates have expressed the need to provide universal broadband access, while others seemed to have placed the issue on the backburner.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are the top contenders of candidates who have released concrete information in support of addressing broadband issues.

On his campaign website, Sanders says that America needs strong broadband coverage if business is going to thrive, create jobs and be competitive in the national and global economies. Most notably, Sanders includes broadband reform in his Green New Deal to address the effects of climate change.

“Internet access and communications are key in the wake of a disaster,” states his website. Publicly owned broadband infrastructure will help states and municipalities deal with climate emergencies. Broadband funding will also be provided to communities that have been the most adversely affected by climate change.

Warren’s campaign has called out big broadband companies for excluding tribal communities and rural communities of color from access to high-speed internet. Her proposal includes the creation of an Office of Broadband Access that will manage a new $85 billion federal grant program to massively expand broadband access across the country.

Additionally, Warren has emphasized the necessity to improve the accuracy of broadband mapping, restoring net neutrality and making it clear in federal statute that municipalities have the right to build their own broadband networks.

Buttigieg has proposed an $80 billion Internet for All Initiative, with the goal to expand access to all currently unserved and underserved communities. The initiative includes investment in better broadband mapping and passing legislation that would embrace community-driven broadband initiatives.

Buttigieg also aims to close the “homework gap” and ensure that all children can take advantage of digital learning opportunities. His campaign also supports a C-Band auction, upgrading the 911 system and expanding the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge Initiative.

Amy Klobuchar has also made some movement in broadband reform. Earlier this year, she introduced the Improving Broadband Mapping Act, encouraging the Federal Communications Commission to use data reported by consumers as well as state and local municipalities.

Klobuchar also introduced the Broadband Interagency Coordination Act and the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, both of which aim to address coverage gaps in rural areas.

Other candidates have not been as specific as to how they would address broadband issues, though they have emphasized the necessity for digital inclusion.

Joe Biden has proposed a $20 billion rural infrastructure plan, partnering with municipal utilities to connect rural Americans. More specifically, he wants to triple Community Connect broadband grants to help expand access to underserved communities.

Andrew Yang hasn’t concretely addressed policies for either broadband or closing the digital divide. However, his website does emphasize the need to immediately invest and modernize current infrastructure. Yang suggests investing in a nationwide fiber-optic network to experiment with innovative new technologies.

Tulsi Gabbard has compared the lack of infrastructure in her home state of Hawaii to that of Iowa, stating that advancing technology is crucial for rural Americans.

“There are so many opportunities folks who are under-served with don’t have good connection to the internet or any connection at all are not able to access,” Gabbard said.

Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Julian Castro are among the candidates who have had the least discussion on broadband and digital inclusion. These candidates have not announced specific policies pertaining to these issues, yet they have supported initiatives in the past.

Castro seems to be the sole candidate who has taken zero policy stances on connectivity issues in his campaign platform. He has however launched the ConnectHome initiative when he was Housing and Urban Development Secretary, bringing broadband to low-income and government-subsidized housing in 28 pilot cities across the U.S.

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Broadband Mapping

In Discussing ‘Broadband and the Biden Administration,’ Trump and Obama Transition Workers Praise Auctions



Screenshot from the November 2 Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast

November 22, 2020 – In the event that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden seeks substantial funding for broadband infrastructure, there is a strong likelihood that such monies would be channeled through a reverse-auction mechanism, said panelists at the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on November 11.

See more from Broadband Breakfast Live Online, including “Broadband and the Biden Administration, Part II,” on December 2, 2020.

In a discussion with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, two broadband policy experts who served on the transition teams for Donald Trump and Barack Obama, respectively, championed the role of such a mechanism as efficient and fair.

Previous attempts to run funding through other selection processes provided funds only to the well connected, claimed to Mark Jamison, research and education director at the University of Florida, and who served on then President-elect Trump’s 2016 transition team.

Places with a Democratic governor or a congressman of either party that sat on a powerful committee were funded more often compared to other regions, Jamison said.

Whether or not funding mechanisms were in fact biased in that way, both Jamison and Technology Policy Institute President Scott Wallsten both praised the transparency and economic efficiency of the Federal Communications Commission’s reverse-auction funding mechanism.

Wallsten, an economist who was involved in the transition for then President-elect Obama, and who also served on the National Broadband Plan implemented in the first year of the Obama administration, criticized the Rural Utility Service and the old funding process of Universal Service Fund. Both said under these mechanism, a lot of money is spent without good information about how such funds are awarded or distributed.

Wallsten and Jamison agreed that more data would help make broadband funding more effective, they also said that the FCC was right to move forward with its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction on October 29 – part of the new auction-based approach to the Universal Service Fund – despite imperfect mapping.

In part, this was because any inadequacy of mapping data can be resolved in the challenge process, said Wallsten. Additionally, it is not clear that auctions like RDOF, or the Connect American Fund auction in 2018, would have yielded better results had the FCC waited to update their maps.

Jamison and Wallston also projected how the Biden administration might tackle net neutrality, Section 230 and antitrust regulation.

Jamison said that if the Biden administration reinstitutes net neutrality, it will quickly see that that won’t work very well.

Wallsten said that if it’s reinstituted the debate will be different than in the past. A large part of net neutrality is paid prioritization where third parties can pay ISP’s to put their content “at the front of the line.” He said that the pandemic has demonstrated why no paid prioritization may be a mistake, as many people need guarantees of stable connection for their schooling and telehealth applications.

Wallsten also noted that many made doom and gloom forecasts when the Trump administration FCC removed net neutrality protections in December 2017. None of those predictions came to pass, he said.

Both also agreed that the FCC should not be involved the regulation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech platforms from liability for user-generated comments.

They also were wary of changes to the consumer welfare standard governing antitrust because, said Jamison, “If you’re not regulating for consumers, who are we regulating for?”

See “Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, November 11: Broadband and the Biden Administration,” Broadband Breakfast

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National Broadband Plan

National Broadband Plan Has Held Up Well, With Notable Downsides, Say Authors



Photo of Blair Levin, former executive director of the National Broadband Plan, by New America used with permission

June 29, 2020 — The National Broadband Plan has been successful, despite notable downsides, said panelists in a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar on Friday.

The plan, first released ten years ago, aimed to increase competition, provide lower-cost service to more Americans and decrease regulatory barriers to broadband rollout.

“Ten years in this space in terms of technology is remarkable,” said Rebekah Goodheart of Jenner & Block. “At the time only 15 percent of people had access… of 25 megabits… The fact that this plan was able to stand up through time shows how visionary it really was.”

“All the stuff that we’re taking for granted now are things that came out of recommendations from the plan,” she added.

Participants noted that, despite broadband access deficiencies amid the coronavirus, “overall broadband adoption rates [are] going up reasonably well right now,” said John Horrigan, Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute.

But there are still significant barriers to unfettered telework capabilities, he said.

“We’re also waking up to the fact that smartphones, as useful as they are, have significant limitations for completing homework,” he said.

Ruth Milkman of Quadra Partners agreed.

“There’s a lot of stuff you can’t do on a smartphone,” she said. “It’s hard to read papers… and there are data caps, and it can be quite expensive if you try to use it in the same way that you would use a fixed wireline network.”

Blair Levin, non-resident Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Project of the Brookings Institution, said that sections of the National Broadband Plan held up remarkably well, even ten years later.

“In the healthcare section which says, ‘We really need to utilize telehealth because someday there’ll be a pandemic’… it does look very prophetic,” he said.

Despite the proactivity of the policy, Levin said, it has certain shortcomings that the FCC should address.

“We’ve become much more aware in this society of different ways in which our institutions do not include everyone and lead to inequalities,” he said. “I would argue that absolutely needs to be a new plan… now it’s more important than ever because we recognize the importance of closing that digital divide.”

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Digital Inclusion

Authors of the 2010 National Broadband Plan Say That a ‘Refresh’ Should Not Only Be Up to FCC



Photo of INCOMPAS policy summit panelists discussing the National Broadband Plan by Adrienne Patton

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2020 – Panelists at the INCOMPAS policy summit Tuesday looked back with fondness on the Federal Communication Commission’s National Broadband Plan that was released 10 years ago this month. They agreed that if the plan is refreshed, the FCC should not be the lone agency to lead in the changes.

The 10-year-old plan was designed to “ensure robust competition” and “maximize the benefits of broadband,” while fostering the spread of broadband across the country, said INCOMPAS General Counsel Angie Kronenberg.

New Street Research Policy Analyst Blair Levin, who led the plan’s development, called it a “three-act play.”

The first act was the hiring people. The second act was holding hearings and acquiring data. The third act was an extensive writing process, Levin said.

When asked how the United States is doing in regards to the plan, Levin said there have been great improvements and some complications.

Mattey Consulting Principal Carol Mattey who worked on the plan, said it was a “long and evolutionary process,” that often required “nitty gritty details” from complex concepts.

Technology Policy Institute Senior Fellow John Horrigan, who also worked on the plan, said that while the statistics do not show a large increase in Americans that have wireline broadband at home, smart phones and mobile devices have made a huge difference.

Even so, Horrigan admitted that for children who have to do homework at home, smart phones are not enough.

However, Horrigan said the way that policy makers understand and think about the digital divide has improved.

A decade ago, city mayors were not concerned about digital inclusion, and now that has changed, said Horrigan.

Levin disclosed his frustration with the “metrics” section of the plan. The availability of bandwidth should not hinder economic growth, said Levin. But, “fundamentally we’ve made progress,” Levin admitted.

“The regulatory process is too slow to catch up,” and legislators are hesitant to look so far in the future while also considering cost concerns, said Mattey.

Looking ahead to a possible refresh of the plan, Horrigan said the FCC should not be the sole organization reworking the document.

Levin agreed and added that broadband has changed over the past decade as well. He called broadband a “mixed bag.”

The whole federal government should be thinking about how to revive the plan and take into consideration cybersecurity and privacy, Levin advised.

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