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SpaceX’s Starlink May Be a Candidate for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, But Will There Be Demand for Service?



Photo of SpaceX Founder Elon Musk in April 2019 by Steve Jurvetson used with permission

June 18, 2020  — SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturer founded by Elon Musk, launched its eighth batch of internet-beaming Starlink satellites into orbit on June 3. The Starlink satellite constellation, which currently consists of 482 low-orbit satellites, holds the potential to deliver high-speed, low latency broadband connections around the globe.

Starlink comprises a large-scale mesh network of satellites, which all communicate with one another to relay information, rather than relying on a single base.

The satellites utilize low-Earth orbit technology. Starlink satellites orbit in altitudes ranging from 540 to 570 kilometers, a fraction of the 35,000 kilometers traditional geostationary satellites range around.

A satellite broadband history filled with disappointment

The history of satellite internet is defined by disappointment. Traditional satellite internet, which once held the potential to connect rural America, is, in actuality, easily disrupted by weather and expensive for both consumers and providers.

The technology utilized by Musk’s satellite network holds out the promise of potentially evading the drawbacks associated with traditional satellite technology. A major difference between traditional satellites and low-Earth orbit satellites is the latency that the network claims it will achieve.

While the latency of SpaceX’s Starlink is unknown, a competitor, OneWeb, reported that a test of its low-Earth orbit satellites delivered broadband speeds with an average latency of 32 milliseconds.

While low-Earth orbit satellites deliver far faster speeds than traditional satellites, they are still an unsuitable replacement for wired fiber connections. For such connections, latencies average 12 to 20 milliseconds and even lower.

In order to disrupt an already competitive market, Starlink must provide lower latency rates, as the existing U.S. standard is an average latency of 20 milliseconds.

Investment markets are slow to fund low-earth orbit technology as it is largely untested and demand for the service seems slim, especially when compared to skyrocketing demand for broadband.

Could SpaceX prove the exception for satellite broadband?

With the right pricing SpaceX could capture a segment of the underserved broadband market. However, little information about the company has been released and service and pricing options remain a mystery.

Where costs are set to rise steeply is on the ground, as Starlink’s service may require professional installation of costly end-user satellite infrastructure.

While providers utilizing low-Earth orbit technology are able to compete for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, they have some odds stacked against them. At the Federal Communications Commission meeting on June 9, the agency confirmed that it would allow SpaceX and other satellite providers to apply for rural broadband funding, but not to bid in the tiers with the highest speeds and lowest latencies.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told reporters in a video call after the meeting that satellite broadband companies will be able to apply for funding, but that the agency “will be doing a careful review on a case-by-case basis to make sure that any competitor is able to do what it says it can do.”

In rules spelling out the rural broadband bidding procedures, the agency said that funding will prioritize bids offering high speeds and low latencies. Experts believe most federal funding will go towards proven high-speed fiber and fixed wireless solutions.

The network construction period for RDOF bid winners is set to take place over the course of six years, and the grants will provide financial support for 10 years.

Contributing Reporter Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide and has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband.

Artificial Intelligence

Sen. Bennet Urges Companies to Consider ‘Alarming’ Child Safety Risks in AI Chatbot Race

Several leading tech companies have rushed to integrate their own AI-powered applications



Photo of Sen. Michael Bennet in 2019 by Gage Skidmore, used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2023 — Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., on Tuesday urged the companies behind generative artificial intelligence products to anticipate and mitigate the potential harms that AI-powered chatbots pose to underage users.

“The race to deploy generative AI cannot come at the expense of our children,” Bennet wrote in a letter to the heads of Google, OpenAI, Meta, Microsoft and Snap. “Responsible deployment requires clear policies and frameworks to promote safety, anticipate risk and mitigate harm.”

In response to the explosive popularity of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, several leading tech companies have rushed to integrate their own AI-powered applications. Microsoft recently released an AI-powered version of its Bing search engine, and Google has announced plans to make a conversational AI service “widely available to the public in the coming weeks.”

Social media platforms have followed suit, with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying the company plans to “turbocharge” its AI development the same day Snapchat launched a GPT-powered chatbot called My AI.

These chatbots have already demonstrated “alarming” interactions, Bennet wrote. In response to a researcher posing as a child, My AI gave instructions for lying to parents about an upcoming trip with a 31-year-old man and for covering up a bruise ahead of a visit from Child Protective Services.

A Snap Newsroom post announcing the chatbot acknowledged that “as with all AI-powered chatbots, My AI is prone to hallucination and can be tricked into saying just about anything.”

Bennet criticized the company for deploying My AI despite knowledge of its shortcomings, noting that 59 percent of teens aged 13 to 17 use Snapchat. “Younger users are at an earlier stage of cognitive, emotional, and intellectual development, making them more impressionable, impulsive, and less equipped to distinguish fact from fiction,” he wrote.

These concerns are compounded by an escalating youth mental health crisis, Bennet added. In 2021, more than half of teen girls reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless and one in three seriously contemplated suicide, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Against this backdrop, it is not difficult to see the risk of exposing young people to chatbots that have at times engaged in verbal abuse, encouraged deception and suggested self-harm,” the senator wrote.

Bennet’s letter comes as lawmakers from both parties are expressing growing concerns about technology’s impact on young users. Legislation aimed at safeguarding children’s online privacy has gained broad bipartisan support, and several other measures — ranging from a minimum age requirement for social media usage to a slew of regulations for tech companies — have been proposed.

Many industry experts have also called for increased AI regulation, noting that very little legislation currently governs the powerful technology.

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VON Evolution Conference Will Address Intersection of Telecom, AI, 5G and Blockchain

The New York City event on April 18 aims to foster conversations through a salon-like atmosphere.



Screenshot of Vonage Founder Jeff Pulver from video introducing VON: Evolution

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2023 — Industry leaders and innovators will come together to discuss the latest advancements in telecom, artificial intelligence, 5G and blockchain at the recently announced VON: Evolution conference on April 18.

Through a series of fireside chats and in-depth conversations, VON: Evolution will examine modern communication technologies and look toward the future. In addition to featuring insights from industry experts, the New York City event aims to foster a salon-like atmosphere, facilitating thought-provoking conversations between attendees.

VON: Evolution will be curated by Jeff Pulver, founder of Vonage and a prominent voice-over-IP entrepreneur.

“Industries and technologies are intersecting and they will continue to at a rapid rate,” Pulver said. “By holding the VON: Evolution salon, the goal is to bring to light what’s really emerging, by having conversations with the actual creators who can bring greater insight and perspective, and enable others at the forefront of advancements to be engaging across the four industries, not just in their own ecosystems.”

Speakers at the conference will address a wide range of topics, with a particular emphasis on the intersections of multiple technologies. The digital program features a full list of topics and speakers, including Althea CEO Deborah Simpier, Foursquare Co-Founder Dennis Crowley, Agoric COO Michael Jablon and several others.

Broadband Breakfast is a sponsor of VON: Evolution. Use promo code “broadband” for a 10 percent discount on the registration price.

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Artificial Intelligence

Oversight Committee Members Concerned About New AI, As Witnesses Propose Some Solutions

Federal government can examine algorithms for generative AI, and coordinate with states on AI labor training.




Photo of Eric Schmidt from December 2011 by Kmeron used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2023 –  In response to lawmakers’ concerns over the impacts on certain artificial intelligence technologies, experts said at an oversight subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that more government regulation would be necessary to stem their negative impacts.

Relatively new machine learning technology known as generative AI, which is designed to create content on its own, has taken the world by storm. Specific applications such as the recently surfaced ChatGPT, which can write out entire novels from basic user inputs, has drawn both marvel and concern.

Such AI technology can be used to encourage cheating behaviors in academia as well as harm people through the use of  deep fakes, which uses AI to superimpose a user in a video. Such AI can be used to produce “revenge pornography” to harass, silence and blackmail victims.

Aleksander Mądry, professor of Cadence Design Systems of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the subcommittee that AI is a very fast moving technology, meaning the government needs to step in to confirm the objectives of the companies and whether the algorithms match the societal benefits and values. These generative AI technologies are often limited to their human programming and can also display biases.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, raised concerns about this type of AI replacing human jobs. Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO and now chair of the AI development initiative known as the Special Competitive Studies Project, said that if this AI can be well-directed, it can aid people in obtaining higher incomes and actually creating more jobs.

To that point, Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Massachusetts., raised the question of how much progress the government has made or still needs in AI development.

Schmidt said governments across the country need to look at bolstering the labor force to keep up.

“I just don’t see the progress in government to reform the way of hiring and promoting technical people,” he said. “This technology is too new. You need new students, new ideas, new invention – I think that’s the fastest way.

“On the federal level, the easiest thing to do is to come up with some program that’s ministered by the state or by leading universities and getting them money so that they can build these programs.”

Schmidt urged lawmakers last year to create a digital service academy to train more young American students on AI, cybersecurity and cryptocurrency, reported Axios.

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