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Broadband's Impact

Broadband Breakfast Panelists Wrestle With the Speed Definition of High-Speed Broadband

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March 18, 2021 – Should the Federal Communications Commission update its definition of high-speed broadband to account for overall faster connections? Industry experts at the Broadband Breakfast Live Wednesday event responded: “It’s complicated.”

For BroadbandNow’s Tyler Cooper, the simple answer was yes. “It changed in 2010, it changed in 2015, its 2021. Technology is changing, I think the definition should change as well,” he said. But what that change should be is more complicated and depends on different factors, he explained.

When the Telecommunications Act passed in 1996, broadband was defined as a connection speed of at least 200 kilobits per second (Kbps), and it was most recently updated in 2015 to a minimum 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload to define a high-speed internet connection.

It’s important to separate how we talk about served and unserved areas, said Christina Mason, vice president of government affairs at the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association.

Different areas require different solutions

“I think the problem that’s happening in Washington, DC, is that we are conflating a lot of different problems, and trying to solve it with one silver bullet solution,” she said. There is a difference between living an area with competitive broadband options and an area with limited service, and those two areas need different solutions, she said.

Some locations may not have access to fiber, for example, or limited competitive options, so the conversation should be tech-neutral to allow all types of broadband providers to open up access to unserved areas, she said.

Someone sitting in an office in Washington, D.C., shouldn’t define what broadband is, said Jonathan Chambers, who formerly worked at the FCC, and is partner at the firm Conexon. The question should be reframed because broadband is determined by what people want and what the public subscribes to, he said.

There are different speed definitions that the FCC uses, Chambers said, and the 25/3 Mbps speed benchmark is used to determine whether an area is served or unserved. Instead, Section 254 of the Telecommunications Act should be used to define served and unserved areas, he said.

Section 254 defines access to “advanced telecommunications and information services,” which includes broadband, as “reasonably comparable” to services and rates already offered in urban areas.

But the term “reasonably” should be dropped from the definition because people have used it as an excuse, Chambers said. “Those over the course of the last 25 years since those words were enacted, people who argue that things should be ‘reasonably comparable’ in rural areas or ‘reasonably comparable’ for low-income consumers, typically laying heavily on the word ‘reasonably’—that is to say, they mean, ‘not comparable,’” he said.

Chambers said that government defines broadband only for funding reasons. “For purposes of government activity, you define broadband so you can determine where funding should be and what that funding goes for,” he said.

Long-term investment in broadband infrastructure

“It’s difficult to paint with a broad brush here, because I think it’s important to balance the conversation around getting people connected today, which is essential, but also serving them well in the long run,” Cooper said. “If we’re spending federal funding to get people connected today, we want to make sure that connection appreciates over time,” he said.

“It’s really important we look at how networks are evolving and how consumer behavior is evolving,” Cooper said. What consumers want and need currently may change down the road, he said. Data shows that consumers are learning that broadband isn’t a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity, he said.

“We should be doing everything in our power, whether that’s a federal definition or some other incentive, to put in place technologies that are going to serve us well in the future,” he said.

Chambers expressed similar sentiment. The government is at a point where spending over $100 billion dollars in broadband infrastructure is on the table, he said. “If you’re going to spend over a $100 billion dollars, don’t cheat the public. Don’t aim low,” he said. Funding for both infrastructure and competitive subscriber-based subsidies in rural and low-income areas are important, he said.

Mason agreed as well, saying that the conversation isn’t just about speed or technology, but also infrastructure and competition.

“Focusing on the speeds, we’re missing the issue,” she said. Competition is important and different technologies need to be allowed to find the solution for unserved areas, she said.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the March 17, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “Redefining Broadband’s Speed Limit”

  • When “broadband” was first defined by the Federal Communications Commission in 1996, it measured at least 200 kilobits per second (Kbps) in either direction. In 2010, the agency revised the definition to be at least 4 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. Five years later, the agency upped the standard to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. That definition is already showing its age. Further, other states and federal agencies have other definitions. Is it time for a new broadband speed limit?

Panelists:

  • Jonathan Chambers, Partner, Conexon LLC
  • Tyler Cooper, Editor-in-chief, Broadband Now
  • Christina Mason, Vice President of Government Affairs, Wireless Internet Service Providers Association
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

Jonathan Chambers is currently a Partner at Conexon. He has spent the past 25 years working with cable television providers, wireless companies and electric cooperatives in the early stages of planning, designing, constructing and operating telecommunications and internet access networks. Between 2012 and 2016, Mr. Chambers served as the Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis for the FCC. He holds a BA in economics from Yale College, an MA in international affairs from Columbia and a JD from Georgetown University Law Center.

Tyler Cooper is Editor-in-chief at BroadbandNow. He has more than a decade of experience in the telecom industry and has been writing about broadband issues such as the digital divide, net neutrality, cybersecurity and internet access since 2015. His work is internationally recognized; he has been published on sites like VentureBeat, TechRadar and The Next Web. He has also been featured in VICE, Digital Trends, Fox News, Voice of America, and many other outlets.

Christina Mason currently serves as Vice President of Government Affairs at Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. She has over a decade of experience in government relations planning and outreach. Before joining WISPA, she worked on the Hill at the office of Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke and as a lobbyist for The American Institute of Architects. She holds a BA in Communications and English from La Salle University and earned her JD from Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC. 

Panelist Resources

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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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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Broadband's Impact

Broadband Speeds Have Significant Impact on Economy, Research Director Says

From 2010 to 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove .04 percent increase in GDP, the study found.

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Photo of Alan Davidson of the NTIA, Caroline Kitchens of Shopify, Raul Katz of Columbia University (left to right)

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – Broadband and higher speeds have made significant contributions to economic growth over the last decade, according to a study discussed at a Network On conference Tuesday.

Raul Katz, director of business strategy research at Columbia University, conducted his research to determine where the United States economy would be if broadband had not evolved since 2010. He developed four models to explain the economic contribution of broadband, and all found support to suggest that broadband development has contributed to substantial economic growth.

The long-run economic growth model showed that between 2010 and 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove a .04 percent increase in gross domestic product – the measure of the value of goods and services produced in the nation. States with higher speed broadband had an economic impact of an additional 11.5 percent.

“States with higher speeds of broadband have a higher economic effect,” said Katz. “Not only is there penetration as a driver, but there’s also… return to speed. At faster speeds, the economy tends to be more efficient.”

The study found that if broadband adoption and speed had remained unchanged since 2010, the 2020 GDP would have been 6.27 percent lower, said Katz.

Caroline Kitchens, a representative for ecommerce platform Shopify, said Tuesday that there’s been great growth in the ecommerce business, which relies entirely on a broadband connection. “Worldwide, Shopify merchants create 3.5 million jobs and have an economic impact of more than $307 billion. It goes without saying that none of this is possible without broadband access.”

“We have really seen firsthand how broadband access promotes entrepreneurship,” said Kitchens, indicating that this has promoted a growing economy in over 100 countries.

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