ALEXANDRIA, Virginia, November 1, 2019 – High-speed broadband has the potential to be the “great equalizer,” said Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks at a regional Broadband Communities event Thursday. However, more work needs to be done in connecting and empowering underserved communities, he said.
In his keynote address, Starks emphasized how robust data and sound public policy are interconnected in the goal to reduce internet inequality.
Fundamental programs, he said, such as the Universal Service Fund’s Lifeline Program and the Connect America Fund, should remain intact. Their data, however, should be analyzed to determine which communities still need a basic internet connection.
At the very least, Starks said, every individual who qualifies must enroll onto the programs and obtain access to voice and broadband services. Moreover, lack of connectivity isn’t exclusively a rural problem, as urban areas are also affected.
Despite always lacking the high-capacity broadband that they need, libraries are becoming the “tech-hub” of the 21st century, Starks said. As there are many Americans who cannot afford a computer, library resources help bolster digital literacy and affordability.
Other speakers in the conference’s Thursday afternoon session included Benton Institute for Broadband and Society Senior Fellow Jon Sallet and Google Chief Internet Evangelist Vinton Cerf. They discussed the trajectory of current broadband development with the FCC policy framework.
If the government is going to spend money on capital investment, Sallet said, then it has to be spent on networks that have the potential to expand. This way, the FCC ensures that future connectivity demands are met for at least a decade and that it receives proper social returns.
Sallet also discouraged the government’s use of the term “overbuilding,” arguing that it is not an accurate word to describe broadband competition.
When people describe “overbuilding,” he said, they simply mean that an area has multiple broadband networks available. The more competition there is, the more incentives incumbent providers must improve their services and give consumers more choices.
It’s possible for the broadband industry to have a natural monopoly, said Cerf. Private companies want to compete with other providers, not with the government. That’s why reverse spectrum auctions aren’t necessarily one-sided. The FCC as well as private companies should be going out of their way to make as much spectrum available as possible.
Regarding the trade-off of spectrum, Sallet said that it’s uncertain how providers are planning to distribute it. Building small cell sites, for instance, is different between rural and urban areas, as they must be built closely together to perform effectively.
Moreover, Sallet added, wireless carriers are only required to report areas where they can build networks, rather than where they are actually located.
The FCC’s current definition of high-speed broadband is 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download /3 Mbps upload, he said. Yet some aspects of agency policy continue to require “broadband” at 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, even though that is not technically “broadband.”
Sallet emphasized the need for private providers and municipal governments to allocate responsibility in closing the digital divide.
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.
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.
Outreach ‘Most Valuable Thing’ for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Rosenworcel
FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said EBB will benefit tremendously from local outreach efforts.
WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday that a drawback of the legislation that ushered in the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program is that it did not include specific funding for outreach.
“There was no funding to help a lot of these non-profit and local organizations around the country get the word out [about the program],” Jessica Rosenworcel said during an event hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance about the broadband affordability divide. “And I know that it would get the word out faster if we had that opportunity.”
The program, which launched in May and provides broadband subsidies of $50 and $75 to qualifying low-income households, has so-far seen an uptake of roughly 5.5 million households. The program was a product of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
“We gotta get those trusted local actors speaking about it because me preaching has its limitations and reaching out to people who are trusted in their communities to get the word out – that is the single most valuable thing we can do,” Rosenworcel said.
She said the FCC has 32,000 partners and has held more than 300 events with members of Congress, tribal leaders, national and local organizations, and educational institutions to that end.
“Anyone who’s interested, we’ll work with you,” she said.
EBB successes found in its mobile friendliness, language inclusion
Rosenworcel also preached the benefits of a mobile application-first approach with the program’s application that is making it accessible to large swaths of the population. “I think, frankly, every application for every program with the government should be mobile-first because we have populations, like the LatinX population, that over index on smartphone use for internet access.
“We gotta make is as easy as possible for people to do this,” she said.
She also noted that the program is has been translated into 13 languages, furthering its accessibility.
“We have work to do,” Rosenworcel added. “We’re not at 100 percent for anyone, and I don’t think we can stop until we get there.”
FCC Says 5 Million Households Now Enrolled in Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
The $3.2 billion program provides broadband and device subsidies to eligible low-income households.
August 30, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that five million households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.
The $3.2-billion program, which launched in May, provides a broadband subsidy of $50 per month to eligible low-income households and $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands, as well as a one-time reimbursement on a device. Over 1160 providers are participating, the FCC said, who are reimbursed the cost to provide the discounted services.
The agency has been updating the public on the number of participating households for the program. In June, the program was at just over three million and had passed four million last month. The program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
“Enrolling five million households into the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in a little over three months is no small feat,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of nearly 30,000 individuals and organizations who signed up as volunteer outreach partners.”
Rosenworcel added that conversations with partners and the FCC’s analysis shows the need for “more granular data” to bring these opportunities to more eligible families.
The program’s strong demand was seen as far back as March.
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