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Broadband's Impact

Government is Spending Enough Money on Broadband, But Failing to Do It Well

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Screenshot from the INCOMPAS policy summit

February 10, 2021 – The government is spending enough money to get every single American connected to high-speed broadband, but they’re still failing at it, said industry experts during the INCOMPAS 2021 Policy Summit.

The panel touched on how to better expand broadband across America to address the digital divide, a term that refers to the gap between those with high-speed internet access and those without.

Congress spent enough money in the last year, along with the next COVID-19 stimulus package they are planning to pass, that they could close the gap completely and get everyone connected, said Kelly McGriff, vice president and deputy general counsel for Uniti Group. But the challenge is spending the money in the right area to actually solve the problem, he said.

In 2020 the federal government spent over 6.5 trillion dollars, which includes the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and the new Biden administration has proposed another 1.9 trillion in spending that has not yet passed Congress.

The problem with the Federal Communications Commission’s recent C-band auction is the 81 billion dollars the FCC obtained from it will get lost in government coffers, said Google’s vice president of wireless services Milo Medin. That money, he said, could have gone to actually building more broadband networks instead of giving it to the general pool of money, he said.

The C-band is a popular radio wave spectrum that garnered lots of attention from the tech industry due to its 5G potential. The proceeds from the auction shattered the previous FCC auction record of 44 billion in 2015.

“We’re falling behind as a country because we can’t deploy broadband fast enough,” Medin said. When looking at 5G networks across the U.S., there are major gaps due to infrastructure issues, he said.

While Apple’s newest iPhone and other smartphones and devices are widely available, actually connecting them to the internet is another challenge, said McGriff.

Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt, agreed. In a Financial Times article on Monday he said that digital infrastructure is “paramount to economic vitality and national security.” “Investing in 5G mobile telecommunications networks should be an urgent priority for the US and its allies,” he said.

Part of the challenge that broadband service providers face is dealing with local municipalities, the panelists said. Fatbeam’s Tony Perkins, a broadband provider based in Idaho, said there is “rigid inconsistency” across different municipalities and entities that make broadband deployment difficult.

Local government leaders are often excited about expanding their broadband networks, but some don’t understand the work that goes into it, said Brandon Reed of Zayo, a nationwide broadband provider.

McGriff said that local leaders care about their communities, and want better internet for their cities, but the message of ‘we want broadband’ from leaders needs to really get to the workers and engineers who actually build the networks, he said. The relationships between mayors and engineers are vital to successfully expanding broadband, he said.

Broadband's Impact

Baltimore Needs Grassroots Help to Bridge Digital Divide, Experts Say

‘Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections.’

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Photo of Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore's Office of Broadband and Digital Equity

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2022 – Local leaders from Baltimore said at a Benton Institute event that there needs to be an alignment with the community and leadership when it comes to closing the digital divide.

“Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections,” said Amalia Deloney from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, which invests in projects to improve the quality of life in the city. The foundation estimates that 74,116 households don’t have internet access.

The event’s speakers pointed to digital redlining, in which segments of racial minority and lower income Americans are disconnected from services or can be considered living in low priority areas.

Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity, said the city is a “pioneer in redlining,” and “a century later, we still see the effect on the digital divide.”

To address this, Deloney said the foundation’s approach to the digital divide in Baltimore by starting at the social level through its Digital Equity Leadership Lab. This is a program for Baltimore residents to “increase their understanding of the internet and strengthen their ability to advocate for fast, affordable and reliable broadband.”

The program aims to train and build leadership within the community to advocate for closing the digital divide. It points to a strategy of bringing “advocates together with community leaders,” as “digital equity is social, not a technological problem,” said Colin Rhinesmith, founder and director of the Digital Equity Research Center.

Michelle Morton from the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Association also said local leaders need to work with community members to have a bottom-up approach. “You have to work with the people doing the work on the ground.

“Their voices matter,” said Morton.

Mayor Brandon Scott has allocated $35 million from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide across Baltimore “by the end of this decade.”

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Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Emphasizes 100 Percent Broadband Adoption

‘It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,’ said the chairwoman.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is making progress towards bringing “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the country,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here on Tuesday.

Rosenworcel pointed to the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now being deployed across the country, with a particular focus on unconnected rural and tribal areas.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will take the lead with these funds, the FCC’s new broadband coverage maps will be important in implementing state digital equity plans.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel also discussed how the upcoming 2.5 GigaHertz spectrum auction will involve licensing spectrum primarily to rural areas.

At the July FCC open meeting, said Rosenworcel, the agency is scheduled to establish a new program to help enhance wireless competition. It is called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program.

The program aims to build incentives for existing carriers to build opportunities for smaller carriers and tribal nations through leasing or partitioning spectrum. Existing carriers will be rewarded with longer license terms, extensions on build-out obligations, and more flexibility in construction requirements.

“It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,” she said.

She also indicated her commitment to work with Congress to fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to reimburse many rural operators’ transitions from Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. She also touted the role that open radio access networks can plan in more secure telecommunications infrastructure.

In other news at the conference, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the role of funding broadband operations in rural America, the challenges of workforce training, and ensuring that rural carriers have access to high-cost universal service support.

In a session moderated by AmeriCrew CEO Kelley Dunne, panelists from the U.S. Labor Department, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and Texas A&M Extension Education Services addressed the need to offer a vocational career path for individuals for whom a four-year degree may not be the right choice. AmeriCrew helps U.S. military veterans obtain careers in building fiber, wireless and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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