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Broadband's Impact

Federal Communications Commission Can Promote Tech Entrepreneurship for Minority Communities

Derek Shumway

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March 29, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission represents the “exact platform” for women, minorities and other diverse populations to thrive in technology and entrepreneurship, said the agency’s vice chair of the advisory committee on diversity and digital empowerment.

Heather Gate, the vice chair, was quoted by FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel during a committee meeting in February as saying, “You know what can hold innovation back in this country? It is not the lack of talent. It is the lack of opportunity.”

She spoke on a panel co-hosted by the FCC’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment and the FCC’s Media Bureau entitled Tech Startup Roundtable.

Many minorities and women are behind small businesses and are hindered by opportunities in entrepreneurship—intensified greatly by the digital divide as they struggle to stay connected. The United States is still tackling issues of digital inequality, which results in entrepreneurial deterioration and perpetuates digital illiteracy.

Underrepresented groups have been brought to their knees with the loss of family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic. The power of entrepreneurial spirit in every sector has really sustained people this past year, said Gates, who noted the importance of technology being the hands of those who need it most.

Nicole Turner Lee, who serves as chairwoman on the FCC’s broadband advisory working group and digital diversity working group, said her committee’s goal is to see how the FCC can amplify its message that “people of color matter, people who are women matter when it comes to the diversity of these sectors.”

Since the pandemic began, over 100,000 small businesses have been permanently closed which means at least 100,000 employees across the country have lost their jobs, Lee said. This is a serious problem because she said that “diverse startups” like to hire “diverse people” and if all these small businesses are shuttered for good, how will people of color be able to invest locally?

This is why the FCC can use its power to amplify the voices of entrepreneurs from all backgrounds and help grow their big ideas that would otherwise be forgotten, she said.

Broadband's Impact

Federal Focus On Municipal Builds Rubs Against States’ Policy Opposing Practice: Report

Tim White

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Photo of Tyler Cooper from BroadbandNow

April 8, 2021 – President Joe Biden’s new broadband plan, which emphasizes the importance of municipal-owned networks, is likely to cause tensions with states that have restrictive rules in place against those kinds of builds, according to a new report.

That focus on local networks in Biden’s infrastructure plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband, has some in the telecom industry critical or uneasy, while others are excited about the possibilities.

New federal funding with attached rules prioritizing municipal and co-op networks will likely collide with policy in almost half the country, as shown in a BroadbandNow report released Wednesday that details restrictive legislation that is currently on the books in 18 states and minor “roadblocks” in five other states.

BroadbandNow has monitored municipal broadband for several years, and the methodology for this report was done differently than in the past. “Instead of tallying every state that restricts municipal broadband in some way, we’re looking at those that explicitly bar or make it unreasonably difficult to establish such networks,” it reads.

“The broadband sector has come into the forefront of public discourse, with millions of Americans struggling to stay online amidst the pandemic. In many communities, local governments have turned to creating their own solutions where private competition has not met the needs of the populace,” writes Tyler Cooper, chief editor at BroadbandNow.

“These barriers vary from state to state, but tend to take the form of outright bans on the establishment and/or operation of municipal broadband infrastructure,” the report reads. “As well as bureaucratic obstacles that make it functionally infeasible to create a citywide network.”

The report also found that “five additional states (Iowa, Arkansas, Colorado, Oregon, and Wyoming) have other types of roadblocks in place that make establishing networks more difficult than it needs to be.” Those roadblocks include items like vague legal stipulations, restrictions on certain pricing mechanisms, proposal-stage barriers, phantom cost requirements, and extra tax burdens.

Several states have introduced legislation to reduce those restrictions, including an Arkansas bill that passed in February 2021, a Washington bill still in progress, a Montana bill that failed, and three bills stalled in Tennessee and Idaho, according to the report.

A Republican-led House bill called the CONNECT Act would restrict government-run broadband networks nationwide as long as more than one other broadband service was already available in an area. The bill was introduced on February 18 by Missouri Rep. Billy Long.

In direct opposition to that effort, Biden’s American Jobs Plan would prioritize funding for “broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives,” according to a White House statement.

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Broadband's Impact

Experts Weigh What Future Of Broadband Could Look Like Under Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

Tim White

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Screenshot taken from Broadband Live Online event

April 8, 2021 – Experts in Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online event debated what “future-proofing” broadband could look like and whether President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan can achieve it.

The White House’s new “American Jobs Plan” looks to fund $100 billion for broadband infrastructure in addition to other areas, and part of that plan “prioritizes building ‘future proof’ broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage,” said a White House statement.

Carri Bennet, general counsel for the Rural Wireless Association, said at Wednesday’s event that fiber is essential for all types of networks. “We do mobile wireless, we do fixed wireless, we use all sorts of spectrum in our toolkit, and all of these wireless networks are connected to fiber at some point, somewhere,” she said.

But Bennet also said there are exciting developments for wireless that is not specifically fiber. “There are a lot of exciting things going on in the wireless world right now that could future-proof networks,” she said. “That’s using software and virtualized networks so that you don’t have to change out hardware on antennas on towers anymore.”

Open radio access networks (Open RAN) are such systems, which use open protocol wireless technologies that prevent the industry from relying on proprietary supplies generated by few companies. Bennet said open RAN is showing promise.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, led a bipartisan effort Tuesday requesting $3 billion in Open RAN technology funding for the Biden administration’s annual budget request.

Doug Brake, director of broadband policy at the think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said Wednesday he believes the policy needs to technology neutral.

Legislation should be flexible to allow the best solutions for an area that are needed, he said. When ‘future proofing’ comes up, he said he is worried that fiber and cable become the focus. While fiber is really important to getting many unserved areas connected, we shouldn’t lock ourselves into a single tool — we want the flexibility to solve the problem as its needed, he said.

Municipal versus private broadband

Brake also expressed concern that Biden’s plan would prioritize funds for local municipal and co-op broadband.

“We really need to leverage our private providers, particularly private providers that have large economies that scale,” he said. While municipalities and co-ops are great at filling needed gaps, “they don’t scale well outside the jurisdiction, they don’t invest in [research and development] to develop new access technologies; they don’t contribute to standards,” he said.

But Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, said Wednesday that, “We’ve seen first-hand the significant benefits and significant economic impact that fiber has when it’s deployed in communities,”. He referenced Chattanooga, Tennessee, the first city in America where gigabit-speed internet was offered in 2010. The city developed a municipally-owned fiber network that, according to a 2020 study by Bento Lobo at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, saw considerable return over the 10 years since its deployment.

“Fiber also delivers remote healthcare, online learning, public safety and provides a path for future services like 5G,” Bolton said.

On broadband affordability

Affordability is another piece of the broadband puzzle, and Biden’s proposal also seeks to address long-term cost issues. In a statement, the White House acknowledged the need for some short-term subsidies, but said that “continually providing subsidies to cover the cost of overpriced internet service is not the right long-term solution for consumers or taxpayers.”

Everyone needs to be able to afford broadband, Matt Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel at the advocacy organization Free Press, said Wednesday. “We want to talk about affordability and adoption, and we’ve done that in the mapping context, we’ve done it here, and I think that’s why this plan is so exciting to us,” he said.

Funding programs like the Emergency Broadband Benefit, and the focus on affordability and adoption in Rep. Jim Clyburn’s bill and the LIFT America Act are key, he said. This is not one of those, “if you build it, they will come” situations, he said. Building “fabulous networks” in rural and urban areas that people can’t afford to use should not be the infrastructure goal, he said.

Bolton expressed support for Biden’s proposal to address long-term affordability issues, but he wants to see funding done well. “It pains me to see so much precious stimulus money going to subsidize ridiculously expensive, poor-performing broadband such as satellite in rural areas,” he said.

The details of the American Jobs Plan are still being developed, and the White House is discussing those details with a variety of members of the broadband industry, according to Bolton.

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Education

Libraries Must Be Vigilant To Ensure Adequate Broadband, Consultants Say

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Stephanie Stenberg via Internet2

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.

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