February 2, 2021 – Democratic Sen. Ed Markey’s communications policy focus this Congress will be on net neutrality, children and climate change, the long-serving Massachusetts lawmaker said at a Federal Communications Bar Association event Tuesday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Telecommunications Act.
Reminiscing on the 1996 landmark legislation during his keynote, Markey focused on broadband accessibility and affordability, especially for children. He praised the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program, which subsidizes broadband access for schools and libraries.
But Markey also linked broadband to concern about climate change, highlighting the concern about how miles of broadband cable conceivably could be under the sea due to receding coastlines.
Most of all, he pushed on net neutrality. He said it was a major issue, and much-needed to prevent big companies from stifling smaller competition or consumers’ access to the internet.
Senator Markey’s remarks led into a panel discussion about the impact of the Telecommunications Act since it became law.
During that discussion, former FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said that Congress needed to be more specific about what it does or doesn’t want the FCC to do. Too little specificity can lead the FCC to write bad rules that Congress doesn’t like.
John Nakahata, who worked for FCC Chairman Reed Hundt at time of the Telecom Act’s passage, agreed. Too much ambiguity by legislators has caused huge headaches for the FCC. For example, the very issue of net neutrality exists because of uncertainty about whether broadband should be classified as a Title II telecommunication service: It wasn’t, and then it was under former president Barack Obama, and then it wasn’t again.
O’Rielly said that more leeway was granted to the FCC in the past because Congress had faith in their ability to enact legislation. But legislators’ trust in the FCC has eroded.
Randolph May, president of the Free State Foundation, said that FCC regulation should look like antitrust law. He said it should be through incentives that competition is promoted, rather than through Title II regulation.
Former FCC chief of staff Ruth Milkman expressed desire to see funding for FCC programs, such as the E-rate program, used to maximum benefit where they are needed most.
The panelists agreed that legislation needs to address where technology is headed, rather than looking backward to solve past problems.
Coalition Says FCC E-rate Portal Proposal Could Create More Problems
Industry officials say the commission’s approach to E-rate competition would burden applicants.
WASHINGTON, December 21, 2021 – The executive director of a broadband coalition for anchor institutions said the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to force providers to bid for school and library services through a new portal will burden those applicants.
The agency proposed Thursday to force service providers to submit applications through a bidding portal overseen by the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the E-rate program that provides broadband subsidies to schools and libraries. The current approach is that libraries and schools announce they are seeking services and service providers would apply directly to those institutions.
By giving USAC the ability to see service provider applications before they go to the institutions, the agency said this would eliminate at least some forms of abuse or fraud, including participants who may misrepresent their certification or circumvent competitive-bidding rules.
But John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, said that while he applauds the effort to listen to consumer needs, the portal’s one-size-fits-all approach would ultimately burden E-rate applicants and service providers.
He also claimed that there is not enough evidence to show that a new portal is needed and that it “would add a lot more federal bureaucracy on a program that is running pretty well right now.
“You would have federal employees at USAC trying to make determinations about what’s…in the best interests of the schools or libraries,” said Windhausen, “And we don’t think they’re really qualified to do that.”
Windhausen also sees potential conflict between the new bidding portal and some state laws already governing E-rate bidding. In a scenario in which state law and FCC policy conflict, it is not clear which policy would take precedence.
FCC Commits Another $603 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Money
The agency has now committed $3.8 billion from the $7.17-billion program.
WASHINGTON, December 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission’s latest round of Emergency Connectivity Fund money will disburse $603 million to connect over 1.4 million students in all 50 states, the agency said Monday.
The FCC said it has now committed $3.8 billion of the $7.17-billion program, which provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, WiFi hotspots, modems, routers and connectivity to help students stay connected off school premises. The money comes as a new Covid-19 variant sweeps the nation again, putting face-to-face interactions at risk once again.
The agency also said Monday that it has allocated an additional $367 million in its first commitment and nearly $236 million in the second commitment.
The agency in October said that previous rounds had committed $2.63 billion from the fund since its launch in June.
The total amount committed to go to support 9,000 schools, 760 libraries, and 100 consortia for nearly 8.3 million connected devices and over 4.4 million broadband connections, the agency said in a Monday release.
Texas High School Students Enter the Fight for Better Connectivity
Students in a Houston-area school district hosted a panel on connecting schools and libraries as part of a national event on bridging the digital divide.
WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – Generation Z students are making their mark at a Houston-area school district by adding broadband access to the list of issues they are actively working on.
The high school students in the Fort Bend Independent School District organized a panel conversation on internet access in education as part of Connected Nation’s national event titled “20 Years of Connecting the Nation,” and were able to host some high-profile guests in the world of telecommunications.
The November 17 panel included John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, Chris Martinez, division director of information technology for the Harris County Public Library, Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion for Connected Nation, and Meredith Watassek, director of career and technical education for Fort Bend ISD.
Nine percent of residents in Harris County, where Houston is located, reports that they do not have a connected device at home and 18 percent say they do not have access to an internet connection. These gaps in access are the focus of the panelists’ digital equity efforts.
With Windhausen and Martinez present on the panel, a key point of discussion was the importance of helping libraries to act as anchor institutions – institutions which help enable universal broadband access.
Watassek pointed out that she has been helping oversee distance learning in Fort Bend ISD for six years, starting such a program to enable teachers to teach students in several of the district’s buildings without having to drive to each one, and has seen that with time and learned experience it is possible to work through distance learning logistical issues that school districts around the nation are currently facing.
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