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Digital Inclusion

The Coronavirus Means That Americans Need Free and Low-Cost Broadband Now More Than Ever

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March 23, 2020 – As Americans shoulder on in self-quarantine, one thing is painfully clear — America needs a quick and stable solution to connecting the millions who do not have broadband access.

That was the conclusion that emerged from a panel of experts and practitioners working in broadband and digital inclusion on Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Monday.

“Broadband is a necessity,” said Public Knowledge senior Vice President Harold Feld, who joined Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, and other panelists, on Monday’s Live Online event involving free and low-cost broadband plans.

With millions of people unable to afford broadband, Feld proposed an amendment to the stimulus package currently being considered by Congress. Feld suggested connecting everyone who wants broadband and allowing Internet Service Providers to bill the government a monthly fee per subscriber for a certain number of months.

Although the Federal Communications Commission rolled out the “Keep Americans Connected” pledge 10 days ago, the pledge does not provide broadband for those who remain unconnected. Instead, signers of the pledge agree to stave off termination of services and late fees for two months.

Unlike the FCC pledge, Feld said his proposal

“would help people right away.” It would also stimulate the economy and the providers, Feld said.

Feld estimated that if the government adopted this plan, it would cost about $6 billion a month, a price he said was possible and necessary.

Whether to keep in touch with family, telework or continue schooling, people must be connected, argued Feld.

This is also a public safety issue, agreed Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. Connecting people to broadband will allow them to stay home and prevent the spread of coronavirus, said Siefer.

“We can’t rely upon the charity of these Internet Service Providers” because they are swamped and overwhelmed, said Siefer.

Jeff Sural, who directs the broadband infrastructure office in the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, said he was on a call between the North Carolina governor and ISPs in the state last week. Most pledged to keep customers connected.

However, Sural said partnering with other agencies to find solutions to keep people at home, especially those who have symptoms, is also crucial.

Community colleges are blasting Wi-Fi to reach their parking lots so people can connect from their cars, said Sural.

However, panelists agreed that hotspots are not a cure-all. “We cannot put all of our eggs in the hotspot basket,” said Siefer. Hotspot service can be unreliable, but hotspots can still be a “piece of the solution,” she said.

“We have to find creative ways to reach people” because we cannot reach them online, said Connect.DC Program Manager Deleno Squires. Sometimes, that means text messaging or mobile email.

“I hope that the crisis has provided an opportunity both for providers, practitioners, and policymakers to advocate for real and lasting change,” said Squires.

Follow upcoming Live Online events, see Broadband Breakfast Live Online Will Stream Daily in March on ‘Broadband and the Coronavirus’

Guests for this event:

  • Harold Feld, Senior Vice President, Public Knowledge
  • Angela Siefer, Executive Director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance
  • Deleno Squires, Program Manager, Connect.DC – Digital Inclusion Initiative, Office of the Chief Technology Officer, District of Columbia
  • Jeff Sural, Director, Broadband Infrastructure Office, North Carolina Department of Information Technology
  • Drew Clark (Moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Follow upcoming Live Online events, see Broadband Breakfast Live Online Will Stream Daily in March on ‘Broadband and the Coronavirus’

Adrienne Patton was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. She studied English rhetoric and writing at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She grew up in a household of journalists in South Florida. Her father, the late Robes Patton, was a sports writer for the Sun-Sentinel who covered the Miami Heat, and is for whom the press lounge in the American Airlines Arena is named.

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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