WASHINGTON, December 30, 2020 – Here are my reflections on the top 10 broadband stories of the past year, presented from number 10 to number one. I’ve also noted the Broadband Breakfast events, news, and expert opinion pieces tracking these topics as they evolve in 2021.
10. The fall of China
As might befit the year 2020, it began with many eagerly tracking the curious fate of a virus that first became known in Wuhan, China. In the eyes of the American broadband world, this year saw China fall from grace. Certainly Huawei and ZTE were already under close scrutiny last year. But in 2020, the American rejection became complete. The FCC and the Commerce Department have effectively foreclosed their future in America.
See Broadband Breakfast’s story next week on Huawei.
9. Spectrum sharing becomes a thing
Carriers and some broadband enthusiasts have been buzzing about 5G since well before 2020. But as policy-makers have dug into the issues associated with this technology transformation, more are discovering one of the most unique capabilities of the 5G wireless standard: “Spectrum slicing.” It’s just one facet of the world in which new technologies are enabling radio frequencies to be used in new and more innovative ways.
8. Open access networks get some love
Broadband Breakfast readers have been aware of promise of open access networks for nearly a decade. But now, the rest of the broadband world is finally paying attention. From UTOPIA Fiber to SiFi Networks to new entrants like Next Level Networks, many alternative approaches are now being discussed. And new fiber investments make open access one of the go-to business models.
See Broadband Breakfast’s annual Digital Infrastructure Investment event, scheduled for Monday, April 19, 2021.
7. USF contribution levels and robocalls threaten the PSTN
It isn’t just robocalls that are corroding the value of the public switched telephone network. In December, the Federal Communications Commission announced that the contribution level is now 31.8 percent of telecommunications revenue. Between the contribution levels and robocalls, there is widespread agreement that it can’t last forever or the PSTN is doomed.
Broadband Breakfast is considering a series of events in 2021 on robocalls and USF contribution levels.
6. Broadband is infrastructure, and it needs a map!
Broadband Breakfast grew out of our sister effort, an audacious concept called Broadband Census, with the goal of mapping broadband speeds, prices, availability, reliability and competition at the household address level. Just as somebody needs a map to navigate the interstate highway system, tertiary highways, and neighborhood streets, those who would navigate our broadband infrastructure need a map of the backbone, middle-mile, and last-mile access networks. The internet world rightly sees broadband as a critical form of infrastructure. What it needs now is a living, breathing map and dataset, including public interconnection options for these broadband assets.
5. Reverse-auctions and rural broadband
Although once heresy, since 1993 FCC spectrum auctions have become stable and accepted. They are a tool for the seller (the government) to get as much revenue from buyers (wireless companies) who bid up price for exclusive access to frequencies. There are some growth pains with reverse-auctions. In these, sellers (broadband companies) are bidding down the price that the buyer (the government) will pay to support broadband in Rural America. This has led to criticism recently about the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, in which bidding recently concluded.
See “Broadband Breakfast Panelists Discuss How Rural Fund Recipients Can Prepare For Efficient Network Builds,” Broadband Breakfast, December 22, 2020.
4. Another lawsuit against Google and Facebook? Ho-hum
In less than a year, the notion has gone from tantalizing theory to a ho-hum reality: How many antitrust lawsuits have been filed against Google and Facebook? The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission began the year squabbling about who could punish them more. Republican and Democratic state attorneys general couldn’t shoot straight about who to sue and when. And U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr pressed for Justice Department action against Google before Election Day. Rest assured that the tech platform will have their day(s) in court. It won’t be easy to prove consumer harm against companies that thrive on innovation.
3. COVID-19 turns “teleworking” into “working” and “distance learning” into “learning”
The novel coronavirus has accelerated the trend toward “teleworking” and “distance learning” by five to 10 years. Employers will be hard-pressed to demand that workers come to the office, or that students sit in a school desk, after 2020. But so many questions are unanswered: How should we distance learn effectively? What kinds of virtual private networks fail to work without strong upload speeds? How can broadband be effectively adopted and used?
2. Equity demands universal broadband
The COVID-19 pandemic has also emphasized the dire consequence of the lack of universal broadband. The need for everyone to have Better Broadband, Better Lives is clear and pressing. Without it, we are exacerbating America’s inequities. It is time to put a stronger emphasis on the combined effect that federal, state, local and private sector actions can take to make a difference.
In 2021, one of the key themes of our Broadband Breakfast Live Online series will be “Broadband Equity, Adoption and Use.”
1. Donald Trump’s final farce: The demand to repeal Section 230
Four years of governance by the Trump administration is finally coming to an end. In the three weeks that remain, hold on and hang tight. It is ironic that a president who promised infrastructure investment (and failed, except for Opportunity Zones) is leaving office ranting against Section 230. Whatever you think of it, the law is a landmark for enabling social media and internet interactions. Trump’s taking the military budget hostage as a demand for its repeal is absurd. Everyone from the populist right to the progressive left seems to have some reason for wanting Section 230 gutted or gone. The issue isn’t going away (at least very quickly), and neither is the core insight behind Section 230: It is simply too important an enabler for communication on broadband networks.
See Broadband Breakfast’s series from July 2020, “Section 230: Separating Fact from Fiction,” sponsored by the Computer and Communications Industry Association.
FCC to Vote On Emergency Broadband Benefit Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel
The agency is expected to vote on policies for the $3.2B program by mid-May to ensure proper implementation, chairwoman says.
April 14, 2021 – Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday the agency will be voting by mid-May on policies to deliver the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which has received over 9,000 interested institutions through its portal.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit program is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 that passed Congress in December 2020, which provides up to $50 in a monthly internet discount for families and $75 for tribal lands to access broadband internet.
It’s “the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability program,” Rosenworcel said Tuesday on a virtual panel hosted by Allvanza, an advocacy group for Latinxs and underserved communities within the technology, telecommunications and innovation industries; the Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC); and the Asian Pacific American Advocate group (OCA).
It’s “designed to make sure we get every household in this country connected to high-speed Internet service because this pandemic has proven like nothing before,” she added.
The FCC made a sign-up portal on its website to determine interest in the program, and over 9,000 institutions have signed up to date, Rosenworcel said, adding she hopes the policies for the EBB can address the homework gap by extending internet subsidies normally reserved for schools and libraries to households.
Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator, said minority-aimed broadband initiatives have done great work in bringing together providers and companies with minority-serving institutions.
Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events
Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.
April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.
Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.
The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.
“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.
Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.
Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.
Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.
Broadband central to digital activities
“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.
President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”
Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.
“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”
Libraries Must Be Vigilant To Ensure Adequate Broadband, Consultants Say
April 7, 2021 – Libraries should monitor their broadband speeds and ensure they are getting quality connections, according to library consultants.
Carson Block from Carson Block Consulting and Stephanie Stenberg of the Internet2 Community Anchor program told a virtual conference hosted by the American Library Association on Tuesday that it’s time libraries take a closer look at how they are getting broadband and if they are getting the speeds they are paying for. If not, they said they should re-negotiate.
Block and Stenberg shared details about the “Towards Gigabit Libraries” (TGL) toolkit, a free, self-service guide for rural and tribal libraries to better understand and improve their broadband. The new toolkit helps libraries prepare for E-Rate internet subsidy requests to aid their budget cycles.
It also has tips about communicating effectively between library and tech people since there is a gap in knowledge between those two groups. The TGL is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Gigabit Libraries and Beyond (GLG) to improve the toolkit and expand throughout the United States. In addition to focusing on rural and tribal libraries, now urban libraries will be included for support.
During the event, a live poll showed all participating attendees said they “very infrequently” had technical IT support available in their home libraries. Stenberg said this confirmed TGL’s findings that libraries need more tech and IT support, as the majority of respondents in previous surveys gave similar concerning results.
To really emphasize the need for adequate broadband and support at libraries, another question was asked to live attendees about their current level of expertise around procuring and delivering access to broadband as a service in their library, assuming that the majority of attendees worked for libraries. All participants said they possess “no experience” trying to get broadband in the library.
Common issues that are to blame include libraries with insufficient bandwidth, data wiring or poorly set-up networks. Old and obsolete equipment also contributed to bad Wi-Fi coverage.
- FCC to Vote On Emergency Broadband Benefit Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel
- Broadband Report Cards, Washington Muni Networks Bill, Supreme Court Fair Use Winners
- Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events
- John Curtis, R-Utah, Opens Up About Future of Fiber and Broadband Challenges
- Speed And Mapping Bills, LinkedIn Data Harvested, Facebook Tackles Fake Review Groups
- FCC Speed Test App To Improve Broadband Mapping, Agency Says
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