Most attempts to close the digital divide through smart city digital inclusion fall short of their overpromising corporate rhetoric, argues Burcu Baykurt for the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society.
Digital inclusion is “the idea that nobody in the city should be deprived of digital technologies.” However, as smart city innovation grows, digital inclusion has been falling by the wayside.
For example, high-tech development in San Jose and Seattle has resulted in relocation and rising housing prices. LinkNYC promised 7,500 Wi-Fi kiosks, but installed kiosks in neighborhoods that already had internet access.
While following smart technologies in Kansas City, Baykurt noticed a difference in the city’s approach to closing the digital divide: Actual inclusion. “After Google Fiber spotlighted the racial-spatial divide of Kansas City, many civic leaders focused on expanding access, and a Digital Inclusion Coalition was established in 2014.”
Indeed, collaboration across interests and groups allowed for the formation of the Digital Equity Strategic Plan. However, there is still a digital divide for low-income homes.
Baykurt suggests three answers to the “persistent failure” in smart city digital inclusion.
First, technology cannot remedy deep-seated division in “educational success, poor transportation, and the lack of trust between public officials and low-income, minoritized populations.”
Second, Baykurt said that blaming a shortage of connectivity on “a lack of interest among low-income residents in smart technologies” is a “grave misunderstanding.” Low-income residents want access to devices, but they cannot pay for home internet access or device maintenance.
And finally, low-income residents are wary of privacy infringement. Baykurt writes; “Digital kiosks or smart streetlights ostensibly promise better connectivity for residents, but they also indiscriminately aggregate and analyze various sources of public and private data without any clear explanation of how it will be used or accessed.”
Spectrum battles bringing utilities and robotic manufacturers into the fray
The ever-present spectrum battle continues as electric and water providers, Boeing, and even Roomba contend over the 6 GigaHertz (GHz) band, reports John Eggerton for Broadcasting and Cable.
Edison Electric Institute serves over 200 million customers, using the midband frequencies for much of its utility member internal communication needs.
Although Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai said current 6 GHz users would be protected if the spectrum were opened up for unlicensed Wi-Fi use, incumbents are concerned.
Roomba worries that spectrum sharing could cause interference and inhibit its robotic vacuums from effectively working. Roomba wants the FCC to split the spectrum, dedicating part of the band to ultra-wideband and the other portion to Wi-Fi.
Boeing suggested the FCC allow their aircrafts access to the 6 GHz band for in-flight Wi-Fi hotspots.
Although the FCC has not finalized its policy on 6 GHz, Pai touted the possibility of unprecedented positive impacts for consumers.
“It will boost WiFi’s massive indoor dominance. And surely — with the help of emboldened entrepreneurs everywhere — it will bring low-cost WiFi (and unlicensed) connectivity to places where it has never been,” said Pai.
Education SuperHighway strikes deal with Connected Nation
Connected Nation has been selected by Education SuperHighway, a non-profit devoted to internet accessibility in schools, to ensure state and school district leaders have the information they need to improve school broadband connectivity.
The groups are launching a new tool, Connect K-12, that aims to equip school leaders with information and analytics needed to improve school broadband access in their communities.
It is anticipated that the free Connect K-12 tool will launch later this year, and will provide the broadband data and pricing information for school districts and state leaders to upgrade their bandwidth to the FCC’s 1 Megabit per second (Mbps) per student goal.
Founded in 2012, Education SuperHighway said it has reached its goal of connecting 99 percent of schools to internet connections that provide at least 100 Kilobits per second (Kbps) of bandwidth for every student by 2020. Education SuperHighway plans to pass off its work to Connected Nation.
The Connect K-12 tool will also report national and state connectivity trends to ensure that the E-rate program continues to effectively support school broadband access, said Connected Nation.
Funds For Learning, a professional firm specializing in the federal E-rate program, has been selected as the technology partner to manage the data readiness and software elements of the tool.
Service Providers Should Partner with Organizations to Comprehend Broadband Data
For companies to have successful builds, they need to ensure they know how to interpret their data.
HOUSTON, October 4, 2021 — Broadband service providers should work with organizations to understand their own broadband data sets and maps, according to experts.
Speaking at the Broadband Communities Summit last week, Biarri Networks CEO Paul Sulisz explained that even if someone has data, that does not mean that they will have the ability to act on it or follow through on their plans. Ensuring that data sets are interoperable is crucial, he said.
“It is important to understand and agree on how to aggregate data,” Sulisz said. “There are so many people that start on the journey [to build out broadband], go down the wrong path, and then need a rescue mission.”
Broadband experts agree that without the ability to integrate broadband data sets and maps, many broadband expansion efforts will hardly be able to get off the ground.
Sulisz noted that many of these wrong paths are chosen because people are working with data that is incomplete or that they do not understand, and that is why it is so important to work with organizations that are capable of parsing through and comprehending data.
“If [companies] do not do the planning up front with people who have a good track record—it is going to be tough,” Sulisz continued. “Talk to people who have a good track record—go do your homework.”
Gerry Lawlor, the CEO of Open5G, said it is important for those working on broadband projects to understand how to define demand and how to secure long-term investment to meet that demand. He said that often companies that just put their heads down and think that hard work will pull an effort through are the same companies that need to be rescued.
Both men emphasized the need for companies to be prepared for accelerated growth, explaining that once one neighborhood gets faster service, the neighbors will want it, and so on. They said that it is crucial for data logged in potentially disparate systems to communicate effectively to sustain scalable growth.
As it stands now, many companies are being left to their own devices until new Federal Communications Commission mapping data is released sometime next year, though these efforts have inspired less confidence in the wake of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – following the award process, several companies have had to reevaluate their builds since many of the supposedly unserved areas they bid on were already served.
Sustainability and Scalability are Crucial For State Broadband Projects, Say State Experts
Partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity
September 21, 2021—Public-private partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity in regions that need help, state broadband officials said Tuesday.
Speaking at a “Connecting the Heartland Conference Series,” BroadbandOhio CEO Peter Voderberg highlighted the state’s focus on ensuring student broadband connectivity. He highlighted the $50 million BroadbandOhio Connectivity Grant, for which more than 900 school districts have applied.
Funds could be allocated to subsidize the cost of internet for students without broadband, hotspot service plans, providing improved public Wi-Fi infrastructure, or otherwise improving existing connectivity, he said. Collaborative efforts between school districts and ISPs have been able to bring the overall cost of broadband down for consumers.
Voderberg also described a $250 million Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant to bring internet to areas with connections slower that 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.
This program would subsidize private efforts by compensating ISPs for the difference between the cost of the project and the price it would take to make the effort profitable for them.
Illinois’ early efforts at broadband progress
Matt Schmit, director of the Illinois Broadband Office, pointed to “the three legs of the stool” for broadband expansion: Access, adoption, and utilization.
Illinois’ plans and programs were designed with this three-pronged approach in mind, he said, crediting Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker for establishing programs prioritizing broadband two years before the rest of the country is now doing.
Two key aspects of Illinois’ efforts are technology neutrality and a focus on scalability. “[We believe in focusing on] investing in an area and making sure that we have the kind of investment, service, and infrastructure that is going to serve [a] community well into the years ahead.”
In terms of prioritizing which communities and regions get service, Illinois considers any area with services less than 25 x 3 Mbps to be unserved, much like the federal government’s current broadband standard.
However, unlike the federal government, Illinois also has a category for what it considers to be underserved, which is any area below 100 x 20 mpbs. He called the state’s approach a compromise between advocates that have called for a broadband standard of 100 x 100 Mbps or even 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps). On the other hand, he said, are voices that argue against “future-proof” technologies, saying that gigabit speeds are gratuitous.
The most challenging aspect of providing service, however, is simply identifying which areas are served, underserved, or lacking coverage completely, he said.
“We don’t necessarily trust the maps that are out there—even our own,” he said, adding that mapping “is the start of the conversation, not the end of the conversation.”
It will only be through conversations with applicants, communities, and providers that enough data is collected to sufficiently serve the state, “We are investing in a community or investing in an area for the long term,” Schmit continued, “Because what we’re going to invest in is fully scalable for the needs, not only today, but for tomorrow.”
The event was hosted by National Urban League, agribusiness Land O’Lakes, Inc., and Heartland Forward, a think tank focused on rural economic development.
TPRC Conference to Discuss Definition of Section 230, Broadband, Spectrum and China
Broadband Breakfast briefly breaks down the topics to be discussed at the TPRC conference.
WASHINGTON, September 17, 2021 – The TPRC research conference on communication, information, and internet policy is right around the corner and it is set to address some of the most pressing issues facing Big Tech, the telecom industry, and society at large. We cover some topics you can expect to see covered during the conference on September 22 to 24.
If the recent election cycle and the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us anything, it is that the threat of misinformation and disinformation pose a greater threat than most people could have imagined. Many social media platforms have attempted to provide their own unique content moderation solutions to combat such efforts, but thus far, none of these attempts have satisfied consumers or legislators.
While the left criticizes these companies for not going far enough to curtail harmful speech, the right argues the opposite— that social media has gone too far and censored conservative voices.
All this dissent has landed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—once a staple in the digital landscape—in the crosshairs of both Democrats and Republicans, as companies still scramble to strike a compromise to placate both sides of the aisle.
Definition of broadband
The future of broadband classifications is another topic that will also be touched on during the conference. This topic quickly became relevant at the outset of the pandemic, as people around the country began to attend school and work virtually.
It became immediately clear that for many Americans, our infrastructure was simply insufficient to handle such stresses. Suddenly, legislators were rushing to reclassify broadband. Efforts in Washington, championed primarily by Democrats, called for broadband standards to be raised.
The Federal Communications Commission’s standing definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload appeared to become unpopular overnight, as calls for symmetrical service, like 100 x 100 Mbps speeds, and even gigabit speeds became a part of the conversation.
Many experts were quick to strike back, particularly those operating in the wireless community, arguing that the average consumer does not need 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds, let alone one gigabit, and such efforts only amounted to fearmongering that would hurt the deployment of broadband infrastructure to unserved communities.
These experts contend that shifting the standards would diminish the utility and viability of any technology other than fiber, as well as delaying when unserved communities (as they are currently defined) can expect to be served. Broader topics surrounding rural broadband and tech-equity will also be prominently featured—addressing many of the questions raised by Covid-19 across the last year and a half.
Future of spectrum
Finally, the quest for spectrum will be discussed at the conference.
As ubiquitous 5G technology continues to be promised by many companies in the near future, the hunt is on to secure more bandwidth to allow their devices and services to function. Of course, spectrum is a finite resource, so finding room is not always easy.
Indeed, spectrum sharing efforts have been underway for years, where incumbent users either incentivized or are compelled to make room for others in their band—just like we saw the military in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band, and more recently between the Department of Defense and Ligado in the L band.
Even though these efforts are ongoing, there is still disagreement in the community about how, if at all, sharing spectrum will impact users in the band. While some argue that spectrum can be shared with little, if any, interference to incumbent services, others firmly reject this stance, maintaining that sharing bandwidth would be catastrophic to the services they provide.
China is also going to be a significant topic at the conference. Due to the competitive nature of the U.S.-China relationship, many regard the race to 5G as a zero-sum game, whereby China’s success is our failure.
Furthermore, security and competition concerns have led the U.S. government to institute a “rip and replace” policy across the country, through which Chinese components—particularly those from companies such as Huawei—are torn out of existing infrastructure and substituted with components from the U.S. or countries we have closer economic ties with. The conference will feature several sessions discussing these topics and more.
- Celebrating Progress on 5G, the FCC’s Brendan Carr Urges Broadband Mapping
- Democrats Use Whistleblower Testimony to Launch New Effort at Changing Section 230
- Democrats Frustrated with Biden Inaction on FCC, Comcast Gets 10 Gbps, Louisiana Wants Widespread Broadband
- UTOPIA Fiber Goes to Court in Utah Over American Fork’s Build Permit Refusals
- Internet of Things Will Revolutionize Industries as Connectivity Ceases To Be Limiting Factor
- AT&T Hurricane Survey, FCC Announces $1.1B from Emergency Connectivity Fund, Comcast’s Utah Plans
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