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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. 

Debra Berlyn serves as the Executive Director of The Project to Get Older Adults onLine (GOAL), and she is also the President of Consumer Policy Solutions. Ms. Berlyn is a seasoned veteran of telecommunications and consumer policy issues and an advocate for consumers of technology services. She represented AARP on the digital television transition and has worked closely with national aging organizations on several Internet issues, including online safety and privacy concerns.

Broadband's Impact

Sunne McPeak: Achieving True Digital Equity Requires Strong Leadership and Sincere Collaboration

Collaboration between community leaders will be essential in ensuring success of the Biden infrastructure bill in California.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Sunne Wright McPeak

This week, President Joe Biden signed the infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for expanding broadband deployment and access for all Americans.

The national plan is described as the most significant infrastructure upgrade in the three decades since the Cold War. “This is an opportunity to create an Eisenhower national highway system for the information age,” says a former White House National Security Council senior director.

For California – the nation’s largest state – it means a minimum $100 million for broadband infrastructure that is designed to expand high-speed internet access for at least 545,000 residents, particularly in unserved and underserved communities, according to the White House. The federal funding will support California’s $6 billion broadband infrastructure plan.

Closing the digital divide and achieving true digital equity requires strong leadership and sincere collaboration among public agencies, internet service providers and civic leaders to seize this unique opportunity to achieve strategic priorities in education, telehealth, transportation and economic development. The 2021 USC-CETF Statewide Survey on Broadband Adoption highlighted that a significant number of Californians will be left behind because they are unable to access the internet and other digital functionality needed for vital activities.

Now, the question is how to ensure the public’s funds will be used as effectively and efficiently as possible. California must implement a thoughtful, aggressive strategy that will maximize immediate impact and optimize return on investment. Separately, for several years, CETF has been calling for broadband deployment as a green strategy for sustainability; that urgency only grows in the wake of the COP26 climate meetings. As leaders begin to make historic investments, they should embrace these key principles for action:

  • Prioritize and drive infrastructure construction to the hardest-to-reach residents — rural unserved areas, tribal lands, and poor urban neighborhoods — and then connect all locations, especially anchor institutions (schools, libraries and health care facilities), along the path of deployment.
  • Require open-access fiber middle-mile infrastructure with end-user internet speeds sufficient to support distance learning and telehealth.
  • Strive to achieve ubiquitous deployment in each region to avoid cherry picking for more lucrative areas.
  • Encourage coordination among local governments and regional agencies to streamline permitting and achieve economies of scale.
  • Develop an open competitive process to achieve the most cost-effective investment of new dollars by optimizing use of existing infrastructure that ratepayers and taxpayers already have built.

To learn more, please contact Sunne Wright McPeak at sunne.mcpeak@cetfund.org

Sunne Wright McPeak is President and CEO of California Emerging Technology Fund, a statewide non-profit foundation with 15 years of experience addressing broadband issues to close the Digital Divide in California. 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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Funding

Bigger Investment Needed for Next Generation 9-1-1 Services, Experts Say

Former head of NTIA said it could cost $12 billion.

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David Redl, CEO of consulting group Salt Point Strategies and former head of NTIA

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2021–– Experts at a Federal Communications Bar Association event earlier this month said the current funding allocation for next-generation 911 services is inadequate.

Currently, under the Joe Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act, the new 911 services – which will allow people to share videos, images and texts with 911 call centers – is allocated $500 million.

“It’s not enough to fully fund 911,” David Redl, CEO of consulting group Salt Point Strategies, said on the FCBA’s “What Comes Next in 911” panel on November 4. Redl was formerly the head of the Commerce Department’s telecom agency National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Redl said the number could be “about 12 billion.” For Redl, the challenge is to address the funding gap for NG911 “when there’s skepticism in Washington and the [Federal Communications Commission and] when states have different ideas about the best way to allocate funding and best technology to use.”

Dan Henry, director of government affairs at the National Emergency Number Association, agreed.

While Henry said he’s excited about the national-level interoperability tools for call centers that will allow the ability to transfer emergency calls across states with the call’s incident file intact, the failure to get sufficient funding for NG911 puts health and safety at risk. “We’re not near what we need to get [NG911] across the finish line,” he said.

The technology to deploy NG911 is ready, added Chandy Ghosh, chief operating officer and general manager of emergency services at communications company Inteliquent. “It’s not a tech issue,” she said. Wireless clients have been testing NG911 with successful results.

Stakeholders need to communicate with government

Chris Moore, principal at consulting firm Brooks Bawden Moore, said a federal investment is required to deploy NG911. He suggested that industry stakeholders should convene to tell government what they need.

“For now we’ll get what we get, we’re going to continue to push for more funding, but it’s not going to be this round,” he said.

On October 26, the National Association of State 911 Administrators Association asked the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to assist with the implementation of NG911 by clarifying the agency’s authority to regulate the delivery of 911 services through internet protocol-based emergency networks and shift cost-bearing to service providers.

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Funding

Another $700 Million for 26 States Through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund

Over 400,000 locations across the U.S. will get broadband in this funding wave.

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Photo by John Staley from NextTV

WASHINGTON, November 12, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday that it will authorize $709,060,159 for 26 states through its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

These are disbursements of the $9.2 billion that were announced in round one of the RDOF reverse auction that took place in the fall of 2020.

The rural fund supports new broadband deployment efforts for 50 broadband providers in 400,000 locations across the U.S. Much of the funding will go to nonprofit rural electric cooperatives to deploy broadband in their service areas.

But others awarded funding under the auction have already defaulted on coverage that they said they would provide as part of their winning bids.

The 26 states ready to receive Wednesday’s funding include Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that the announcement “highlights the agency’s commitment to supporting even more opportunities to connect hundreds of thousands of Americans to high-speed, reliable broadband service while doing our due diligence to ensure the applicants can deliver to these unserved communities as promised.”

The Commission’s announcement comes after the FCC launched the second round of its COVID-19 Telehealth Program on Tuesday, granting $42.5 million for health care providers. This telehealth program and exceeds the FCC’s $150 million goal by reaching $166.13 million for telehealth funding.

These funding programs provide reimbursements for telecommunication and information services and connected devices the providers have purchased to continue their telehealth services. The Commission also announced $421 million on Monday to keep over 10 million students connected across the U.S. as part of the Emergency Connectivity Fund.

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