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Digital Inclusion

Looming Income Inequality Demands a National Broadband Plan for the Next Decade, Says Benton Expert



Photo of Sunne Wright McPeak from the webinar

November 17, 2020 — A group of broadband enthusiasts on Friday urged a new national broadband plan and that the nation act on addressing issues of digital equity.

“The time for action is now,” said Sunne Wright McPeak, CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, which co-hosted the virtual forum with California Forward and other leading experts. “The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare widespread inequities turning the digital divide into a digital cliff.”

See “From the View of the California Emerging Technology Fund, Presidential Leadership Needed on Broadband,” Broadband Breakfast, October 16, 2020

In opening remarks, Benton Institute for Broadband & and Society Senior Fellow Jonathan Sallet called for a revival of the national broadband plan that was adopted in 2010.

He said “2020 made it clear that a national broadband agenda which outlines how to achieve universal service within the next decade is desperately needed.”

In the absence of the federal government preparing such a 10-year plan, Sallet attempted to draft one of his own.

In a recent report authored by Sallet, “Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s,” he discusses how public policy can close the digital divide and extend digital opportunity everywhere.

Photo of Jonathan Sallet from the webinar

Sallet concludes that three digital divides currently persist within the U.S., standing in the way of the country achieving ubiquitous service: the urban-rural digital divide, the affordability and adoption gap, and the competition divide, which limits the number of broadband providers consumers have to choose from, and the range in prices those providers offer.

Sallet’s report emphasizes that closing each of these divides will have critical effects for the American economy, currently suffering from some of the highest levels of income inequality around the globe.

According to Sallet, the next decade will be critical for addressing the drastic income divide within the country. Broadband has a critical role to play in empowering workers to tackle looming opportunity gaps, panelists said.

Crucial role for schools, hospitals, and libraries

“We need individuals to be empowered to fight growing income inequality,” said John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition.

The report calls for promoting broadband competition at the local level by repealing state laws in place that restrict municipalities and counties from experimenting with various ways of increasing high performance broadband deployment.

Sallet also attempts to redefine the rhetoric around “overbuilding,” saying what many call with a pejorative term should really be considered something more familiar and friendly: Competition.

Sallet’s report highlighted the important role anchor institutions play in encouraging broadband deployment and adoption.

“Local anchor institutions provide opportunities for digital literacy training, so people can think of themselves as producers, not just consumers,” said Windhausen. “Adoption efforts do more than just help people gain skills and jobs, they increase civic engagement and participation in democratic processes.”

Community leadership is key because local governments and anchor institutions are closest to local needs and have earned Americans’ confidence and trust, said Sallet.

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.



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.



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.



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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