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Digital Inclusion

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr Links 5G Deployment and T-Mobile Merger to Addressing Digital Divide

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Photo of Dick Wiley and Brendan Carr by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, November 1, 2019 – Strategies that include and support historically underserved groups are necessary to address America’s digital divide, broadband experts said at Thursday’s Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council conference.

In a keynote question and answer session, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Dick Wiley – who served under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford — discussed with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr the ways in which the agency can improve broadband inclusion.

5G wireless services, Carr said, will be the next step in achieving broadband equity. The transition from 4G to 5G service will be just as impactful as the move from the previous generation of 3G coverage, he said.

Carr also underscored the importance of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger for streamlining 5G wireless infrastructure. These two companies combined, he said, will unleash an unprecedented level of competition and facilitate a 5G buildout of 99 per cent.

The topic of 5G services includes the discussion of mid-band or “C-Band” spectrum. However, Carr advised the broadband community to not overly rely on obtaining one type of spectrum.

The United States currently has the most high-band spectrum in the world, he said. To provide high-speed broadband to both rural and urban areas, there needs to be a combination of high, mid and low-band spectrum available.

For that reason, Carr said, a transparent, public C-Band auction that frees up at least 300 Megahertz of spectrum is needed.

But just as it is crucial to “future-proof” 5G deployment, Carr encouraged reforming current programs, such as the Universal Service Fund, to provide more accessibility to marginalized Americans.

Yet raising USF’s contribution factor, he said, could make broadband service less affordable for low-income Americans. Similarly, imposing caps on media ownership can promote diversity but also hinder competition among providers.

Also in attendance were some industry leaders, who advised how to prepare people for the “jobs of the future.”

“5G” is not only a buzzword but a symbol of innovation, said Marie Sylla-Dixon, vice president of Federal Government and External Affairs at T-Mobile. Not only will it foster digital inclusion, she said, but it will also change how the U.S. interacts with the rest of the world.

It’s critical to determine the skills workers need for future jobs and apprenticeships. Current technology is making a lot of jobs disappear, said Marcella Gadson, director of Communications and Policy Research at MMTC.

Despite the job disruption, she said, new technology can be an opportunity for low-income Americans to advance their careers and take on life-changing tasks to aid the digital economy.

Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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Digital Inclusion

Historically Underrepresented Communities Urged to Take Advantage of BEAD Planning

BEAD requirements a unique opportunity for underrepresented communities to be involved in broadband builds.

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Photo of Mara Reardon, NTIA’s deputy director of public engagement

WASHINGTON, January 25, 2023 – Underrepresented communities are being urged to take advantage of the opportunity brought by the billions in funding coming from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration by actively planning for the money being allocated by June 30.

The $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program is a unique opportunity for historically underrepresented communities to be heard in critical digital equity conversations, said experts at a United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday.

“For once, they are being included in the implementation process,” said Mara Reardon, the NTIA’s deputy director of public engagement, adding this is a “unique opportunity.” It is essential that communities take advantage of this by approaching state broadband offices, drafting broadband expansion plans, and showing up in commenting processes, Reardon urged.

Furthermore, historically underrepresented communities can make themselves available as contractors by subscribing to state mailing lists, being aware of requests going out, and participating in the state bidding process, said Reardon.

The notice of funding outlines several requirements for inclusion of historically underrepresented groups in the planning process, Reardon reiterated. Specifically, it mandates that eligible entities include underrepresented stakeholders in the process of developing their required five-year plans. This type of requirement is unique to federal infrastructure grants, said Reardon.

Due to the nature of the grant requirements, states must take necessary affirmative steps to ensure diverse groups are used in contracting and planning, added Lynn Follansbee of telecom trade association USTelecom. This means that projects will be outsourced to various providers and suppliers and that the work will be broken into pieces to involve as many groups as possible, said Follansbee.

The NTIA is making an effort to ensure that all community members are heard in critical issues, even establishing the office of public engagement for that purpose. It also said it has awarded $304 million in planning grants for broadband infrastructure builds to all states and Washington D.C. by the end of 2022.

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Digital Inclusion

CES 2023: Congressional Oversight, Digital Equity Priorities for New Mexico Senator

Sen. Lujan once again voiced concern that the FCC’s national broadband map contains major inaccuracies.

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Photo of Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., in February 2018 by Keith Mellnick used with permission

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2023 – Sen. Ben Ray Lujan on Friday endorsed “oversight at every level” of executive agencies’ broadband policies and decried service providers that perpetuate digital inequities.

Lujan appeared before an audience at the Consumer Electronics Show with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to preview the tech-policy priorities of the 118th Congress.

Among Washington legislators, Senators had CES 2023 to themselves: Representatives from the House of Representatives were stuck in Washington participating on Friday in the 12th, 13th and 14th votes for House Speaker.

Congress allocated $65 billion to broadband projects in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, the bulk of which, housed in the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, is yet to be disbursed. The IIJA funds are primarily for infrastructure, but billions are also available for digital equity and affordability projects.

Several federal legislators, including Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., have called for close supervision of Washington’s multitude of broadband-related programs. At CES on Friday, Warner argued that previous tranches of broadband funding have been poorly administered, and Lujan once again voiced concern that the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband map, whose data will be used to allocate BEAD funds, contains major inaccuracies.

Affordable, high-speed broadband is now a necessity, stated Warner. Lujan argued that policy must crafted to ensure all communities have access to connectivity.

“The [Federal Communications Commission] is working on some of the digital equity definitions right now…. I don’t want to see definitions that create loopholes that people can hide behind to not connect communities,” the New Mexico senator said, emphasizing the importance of “the digital literacy to be able take advantage of what this new connection means, so that people can take advantage of what I saw today [at CES].”

At a Senate hearing in December, Lujan grilled executives from industry trade associations over allegations of digital discrimination.

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