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Broadband's Impact

Debra Berlyn: In the World Series of Broadband, Everyone Needs to Step Up to the Plate

Bringing broadband to those who need it the most requires more than just government funding for network expansion.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Debra Berlyn, Executive Director of Project GOAL

Getting everyone connected to broadband is feeling like the World Series – and we are in the seventh inning stretch. For our most vulnerable consumers with the greatest needs, we need to hit a home run.

Getting everyone connected is about more than network buildout and increased federal subsidy dollars. Getting everyone online also requires expanding provider low cost offers and addressing the human side of this challenge through digital literacy programs and promoting the value and relevancy of broadband.

Advocacy organizations and industry providers have collaborated to develop a concept around how to best assist those in need with a combination of federal funds and industry discount programs. Access to federal subsidy dollars has increased since the pandemic began, including the Emergency Broadband Benefits program, which has provided a $50 subsidy for broadband services – and a set of other benefits – and, to date, over 6.6 million qualified low income households have enrolled in the EBB program.

This temporary program was designed with a near term end, when either the total funding is depleted, or the pandemic is determined to be over. The EBB has been a substantial increase over the Lifeline program, which offers a monthly benefit of $9.25 to help subsidize wireline or wireless voice service and broadband service. The Lifeline benefit is clearly a drop in the bucket, and the EBB has demonstrated a significant improvement in providing consumers assistance for broadband costs.

The 2021 infrastructure bill, that has been backed up in the House for quite some time, includes the Affordable Connectivity Fund. This fund will replace the EBB and provide a $30 discount for broadband service for qualifying households.

Advocates of the underserved are relieved to know there will be a continuation of support at a higher dollar level, with broader eligibility requirements that could enable more to enroll.  There’s also a requirement to run public awareness campaigns to help get the word out about the discount to those in need.

With this new subsidy program in place, several ISPs and wireless companies have established discount broadband offers for low income customers, with programs such as Comcast’s Internet Essentials, AT&T’s Access Program, Charter’s Spectrum Internet Assist and T-Mobile’s Project 10Million. These programs continue to offer great discounts for high speed broadband services. It would be great to have more industry partners step up to the plate and provide consumers more choice when selecting a broadband service.

The programs clearly make a difference. A recent study from a team of seasoned researchers reveals that increases in broadband adoption in underserved areas are clearly linked to federal and industry discount programs.

The infrastructure bill also addresses the human side of the challenges with the inclusion of funds for digital literacy training programs, a particularly important resource for older adults confronting technology for the first time.

While spending more time at home during the past year and a half, broadband has demonstrated it is a lifeline for education for kids, and a connection to better health for older adults. It’s our entertainment and information source, and it provides the all-important link to family and friends.

We recognize that broadband is essential, and everyone needs to get connected. First, we need to get the infrastructure bill implemented and institute the Affordable Connectivity Fund. Second, let’s get more companies in the game to offer high-speed broadband discount programs to low income households. Third, we need to continue support for programs that address adoption challenges such as digital literacy and that demonstrate the value of broadband for unconnected consumers, to educate them on the many benefits of getting online.

As the song goes, “Let me root … for the home team. If they don’t win it’s a shame.” Consumers need to win this one; it will just take some great players working together to get everyone connected to broadband.

Debra Berlyn is executive director of the Project to Get Older Adults onLine (Project GOAL), and president of Consumer Policy Solutions, a firm centered on developing public policies addressing the interests of consumers and the marketplace. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC. 

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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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