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Digital Inclusion

The FCC Could Do More Now About the Digital Divide, Say Panelists at Broadband Breakfast Live Online Event

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April 2, 2020 – “It’s really unfortunate that it has taken a national emergency, a worldwide pandemic, for people to realize how many people don’t have access to broadband internet,” said Georgetown Law Distinguished Fellow Gigi Sohn on a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Tuesday.

When she testified before Congress about two months ago, Sohn shared census data that 141 million Americans do not have access, recalled Sohn.

Broadband is not only about connection; it’s about safety, said Sohn, who is also senior fellow at the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society.

Sohn admitted that she is a “skeptic” of data caps, but urged mobile and fixed internet service providers to remove data caps immediately.

Right now, the Federal Communications Commission could make E-Rate funds available for mobile hotspots and connectivity. “This is the classroom today,” said Sohn, arguing that those funds apply and are necessary.

The money in the Universal Service Fund is shrinking because it is only funded by telephone services, which have become nearly obsolete and not “sustainable,” said Sohn.

“Let’s be honest folks; this FCC and their friends in Congress hate E-rate, and they hate Lifeline because they are subsidy programs that help poor people and brown and black people,” said Sohn passionately.

Chris Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, highlighted the dissonance between government urging Americans to stay home but making broadband accessible outside of the home, like school parking lots.

Mitchell said a significant flaw with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is the allocation of billions of dollars to service areas with 25/3 megabits per second, a speed that will soon be outdated.

“This is a really bad decision,” argued Mitchell. “We’re going to pay for these networks twice,” complained Mitchell.

SiFi Networks CEO Ben Bawtree-Jobson’s private company works with cities to streamline and efficiently construct networks.

SiFi Networks works to build universally across cities because it doesn’t want to create a digital divide, said Bawtree-Jobson. Also, SiFi Networks has a long-term development vision, thinking about how connectivity can improve and progress areas.

Sohn said communities want everyone to be connected because it improves their economy, and open access could be the “antidote.”

Mitchell said the country should not wait until after the coronavirus pandemic to focus on broadband; it has to be a priority now.

Beginning on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, Broadband Breakfast Live Online will hold live events every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET.

Guests for this event:

  • Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO, SiFi Networks
  • Chris Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, Institute for Local Self Reliance
  • Gigi Sohn, Distinguished Fellow, Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy ; Senior Fellow and Public Advocate, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society
  • 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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