HOUSTON, September 29, 2021 – As Broadband Breakfast held the Digital Infrastructure Investment conference, the Broadband Communities Summit that hosted the event brought together leading advocates to discuss the state of connectivity in the country and what is expected for internet speeds and technology going forward.
Scott Woods – senior broadband program specialist with the federal agency National Telecommunications and Information Administration and who led the conference with his keynote, “Envisioning our Digital Destiny” – lauded the progress that has been made since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. But he noted that progress has not been significant for everyone in society.
“Technology got most of us through the pandemic, but not all of us,” Woods stated. “Disparities became even more stark due to Covid-19.” He stated that even though many people were able to benefit from improved connectivity, elder, low-income, and non-white Americans continue to be disproportionately impacted by inadequate broadband connectivity.
According to Woods, however, the NTIA is not content to sit on its hands. To rectify these inequities, the NTIA began three programs to address impacted communities. The NTIA’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity program, the Broadband Infrastructure program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot program represent more than $5 billion in funding that is being administered by the NTIA.
Broadband infrastructure must be scalable
Following Woods’ presentation, president of the Broadband Group Jeff Reiman presented on the value of “Tech-Enabled Communities.” He described technology and connectivity as “the third rail of real estate development” and “the importance of broadband has never been more clear,” he said.
Reiman stated that a recurring challenge faced by real estate developers was keeping up with technology. He explained that often an area is planned with specific technologies in mind, but by the time the project is completed, the technology it hoped to leverage may be outdated. Rather than designing projects around specific technology, Reiman advised developers to focus on building infrastructure that will enable the bandwidth demands of tomorrows’ technologies.
Additionally, Reiman addressed the ongoing discussion between aesthetics and high connectivity. Even though clients may want high density coverage for a community, Reiman explained that they may be disappointed with the aesthetics of the high number of antennas and other street furniture that will be necessary to support community-wide Wi-Fi.
Rather than compromise the aesthetics of a community or the quality of a network, Reiman suggested developers opt for high quality, targeted Wi-Fi that covers high traffic areas. Not only would this solution be cheaper, Reiman said, but it would also combine the best of both options for an overall superior and more visually pleasing service.
Technology and data for critical infrastructure
In her presentation later in the morning, Trilogy Networks chief operating officer Nancy Shemwell presented a more existential threat than real estate development: world hunger. According to Shemwell’s data, by 2050 there will be an additional 2.5 billion people on the planet—2.5 billion more mouths to feed.
Shemwell did not mince words; as it stands now, our technology infrastructure designed to facilitate enhanced agricultural yields is simply insufficient. In terms of the automated tools that are currently in use, she stated that although some of them are capable of simple tasks such as logging data and navigating around obstacles, they are not all that sophisticated, “[They have] got the capability to not run over the dog,” she joked.
To truly unlock the value of these automated technologies, Shemwell argues that farmers need access to faster networks than they currently have, and technologies like satellite will not be enough on their own. She said that to have drones capable of increasingly complex tasks, they will need up to and beyond a terabyte per hour for their level of data computation.
Shemwell predicts that to meet future demands in the agricultural sector, the U.S. must invest in technologies that will enable a minimum of 1.5 Gbps symmetrical service within the next decade.
Satellite capabilities overblown?
Rounding out the morning presentations, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association Gary Bolton came out of his corner swinging at Elon Musk, arguing that the satellite coverage offered by Starlink may actually be worse for communities than lacking coverage entirely.
Bolton explained his position, stating that as it stands now, unserved regions stand a good chance at qualifying for grants and other financial aid—whether that aid comes from a private, state, or federal sources. However, if these formerly unserved regions receive coverage from Starlink—coverage that some have deemed to be grossly insufficient—they may miss out on better opportunities to secure more reliable coverage, such as fiber optic.
Bolton stayed on brand, asserting that only fiber has the potential to serve any technologies that may be coming down.
“We do not even know what the applications are that will be coming out [in the future],” he said. Bolton has long maintained this position, in the past pointing out how nobody anticipated how a global pandemic could force the global economy inside and online.
Broadband speed standards
Bolton said two gigabits per second, symmetrical services will need to become the standard to continue to drive growth and facilitate the advent of new an ambitious services and technologies.
Despite this emphasis on speed, Bolton insisted that it is only one metric—one that is often used because it is digestible for lay consumers. He made it clear, however, that as speed continues to improve, so to must latency.
“[Speed] is only one parameter,” he said. “We need to be able to drive down latency to these [sub three millisecond] speeds.” Latency is the time it takes a device to communicate with the network.
“If it’s not fiber, it’s not broadband,” Bolton continued. “At the end of the day we really need a sustainable definition—fiber is the goals standard for everyone.”
The Broadband Communities Summit 2021 will continue, in-person and “masked-up,” from September 28 through September 30.
Decades-Old Legislation Can Play Supplement to Federal Broadband Infrastructure Money
The Community Reinvestment Act was expanded to include broadband investments in 2016.
CLEVELAND, June 27, 2022 – A decades-old piece of legislation can play an important and supplemental role to federal grants for broadband infrastructure, said panelists at the Pew Charitable Trust Broadband Access Summit Wednesday.
The Community Reinvestment Act was passed in 1977 to address redlining – the practice of denying financial services to individuals or groups based on where they are located, often along racial or soci-economic lines. The law encourages banks to make community development loans and investments in low- and moderate-income communities, rural, and tribal communities.
The legislation expanded to include investments in broadband infrastructure in 2016, after broadband was deemed an essential community service, said Jordana Barton-Garcia, principal of the social enterprise at Barton-Garcia Advisors. That means that it could play a key role in filling some of the broadband gaps, she said, as the federal government moves to distribute billions to the states under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
In response to the pandemic, banks can now qualify to receive CRA credit for broadband deployment activities, said Barton-Garcia. Activities include loans, investments, and services that support digital inclusion or affordability programs.
Banks receive CRA credit for investing in community development projects and are reviewed on their CRA performance every three years. Their scores are open to the general public. If the bank receives a negative rating, it may prevent the bank from opening new branches and the bank will be expected to correct the rating.
Currently, the Federal Reserve is seeking comments on a joint agency proposal to strengthen and modernize CRA regulations.
A report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in 2016 laid the groundwork for broadband to be included under the CRA. “Under the CRA, infrastructure investment includes facilitating the construction, expansion, improvement, maintenance or operation of essential infrastructure… broadband is now a basic infrastructure needed in all communities.”
The CRA also includes workforce development investments, digital literacy projects, and technical assistance for small businesses.
Researching the Impact of Digital Equity Funding Starts With Community Collaboration
Understanding the funding impact will ‘begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.’
CLEVELAND, June 23, 2022 – Formulating research questions and making data readily accessible will contribute to the impact of federal and state digital equity funding, said experts speaking at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Broadband Access Summit Wednesday.
It is essential to “formulate the research questions with communities” so that researchers will understand what is of interest and importance to the residents and local leaders, said Nicole Marwell from the University of Chicago,
Marwell said it is “critical” for researchers to consider how to “ask questions that bring answers that are more relevant for the community partners and then for [researchers] to try and figure out a way to make that interesting for a research audience.”
“We can demystify research,” said Fallon Wilson of the #BlackTechFutures Research Institute, speaking on how researchers can effectively work with community members. When data looks friendly to local leaders, they can go directly to their state broadband offices and advocate for their specific needs in specific areas.
“The best advocates are the people who advocate for themselves,” said Wilson.
Our role as researchers can play is to make data digestible for the non-academic, said Hernan Galperin of the University of Southern California.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration requires states to work with community leaders and partners for the funds distributed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Wilson praised this mandate, saying that understanding the funding impact will “begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.”
BEAD Program Initiative Should Utilize Analysis of Affordable Connectivity Program Enrollment
Analyzing ACP enrollment can help the BEAD program solve the ‘persisting gap between deployment and subscription.’
WASHINGTON, June 16, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration should utilize adoption data from the Affordable Connectivity Program to maximize the effectiveness of its $42.5-billion infrastructure program, according to a broadband adoption expert.
“If the federal government’s investments in broadband connectivity are to be effective, different programmatic pieces must work together,” said John Horrigan, Benton Senior Fellow and expert on technology adoption and digital inclusion, in a blog post Thursday.
Analyzing the enrollment data of the Federal Communications Commission’s ACP can help the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program — a $42.5 billion fund for infrastructure to be handed to the states — solve the “persisting gap between deployment and subscription” in three ways, said Horrigan.
First, examining ACP enrollment in zip codes can help target which areas within cities are unaware of ACP. Second, understanding where ACP enrollment is over-performing can “launch productive inquiry into models that may be effective – and replicable.” Third, ACP enrollment findings can help structure community outreach initiatives for digital inclusion.
“The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has emphasized that a key goal of BEAD investments in digital equity,” said Horrigan. “State planners will need all the tools they can find to work toward that goal – and analysis of ACP performance is one such tool.”
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