Monday, November 02
Is broadband a social determinant of health? Prominent health care leaders, practitioners, and researchers came together last week in Detroit to answer that question during a discussion that I co-moderated with Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Mignon Clyburn. The FCC Connect2Health Task Force’s Broadband Health Tech Forum was part of its “Beyond the Beltway” series, which is encouraging efforts to improve healthcare in communities across the nation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your zip code is a greater indicator of your health than your genetic code. Why? The quality and availability of care is vastly different based on where you live.
Low-income Americans are at a distinct disadvantage for managing chronic diseases, for example. Heart disease and diabetes are among the top 10 causes of death in the African-American community, and Latinos are challenged by a 66 percent higher rate of diabetes than Caucasians. Thankfully, there’s consensus that technology can go a long way toward closing the health divide.
The digital divide is directly linked to the health divide. Without Internet connectivity, people lack the tools that they need to become educated on critical health issues, to find nearby healthcare providers, and to take advantage of the exciting health applications and tools that are available. While some Americans with diabetes are using Internet-connected devices like AgaMatrix to monitor blood glucose, others are left in the dark. Broadband empowers underserved populations to take charge of their health.
One panelist pointed out that the digital divide is creating health problems in unexpected ways. Many Americans who lack broadband at home are going to the local McDonald’s to use the Internet. To do so, they’re required to purchase at least one item. Imagine how your health would be impacted if you were drinking super-sized soft drinks and eating Big Macs every time you wanted to check your email.
During the discussion in Detroit, Commissioner Clyburn emphasized the importance of adding broadband to the federal Lifeline program as part of the Commission’s reform efforts. Making the subsidy available for high-speed Internet will help close the digital divide and – bonus – concurrently shrink the health divide. Modernizing the Lifeline program is a key to improving access to health care services, regardless of socio-economic background or geographic location.
The goal of the Broadband Health Tech Forum in Detroit was to start a critical conversation that translates into action – and it appears that the event did just that. Panelists and audience members alike were inspired, vowing to stay connected and work together toward solutions. Broadband is a social determinant of health. In fact, it’s foundational for health equity.
To read more about the event, check out this article from Crain’s Detroit: “FCC task force visits Detroit to discuss health care tech innovations.”
Tuesday, October 20
At the Harvard Business Review, Larry Downes explains the vast divide between broadband in the U.S. and the E.U. The numbers are startling. As he writes:
[T]he U.S. has seen nearly a trillion and a half dollars in private investments for cable, mobile, fiber, and next-generation copper/fiber hybrid services. This has helped contribute to the development of innovative Internet-based businesses, where 11 of the top 15 Internet businesses, most started in the last decade, are U.S.-based, with the rest coming from China. None are from Europe.
In chart form, that gap in investment looks like this:
Downes also explores the levels of competition on either side of the pond, once again finding the U.S. — with its light-touch regulation — is far ahead of the E.U.:
Most damaging to an argument in favor of continuing the European policy of mandatory unbundling is the devastating impact that policy has had on infrastructure investment. Since 1996, and even during the most recent recession, private network operators in the U.S. have spent freely, racking up investments of $1.4 trillion — over 20% of the world’s total Internet infrastructure. The result is that the U.S. now has multiple high speed networks using a variety of wired and mobile technologies, including fiber optics, high-speed cable, VDSL (high-speed fiber/copper hybrid), 4G LTE and satellite.
Downes goes on to examine the differences in availability and adotion between the U.S. and E.U., so you should head on over the Harvard Business Review to get the full story. But for now, this section of his story sums matters up nicely:
The U.S. doesn’t have a perfectly functioning broadband market (or any other market), but a bi-partisan decision by Congress to leave broadband Internet access largely unregulated since 1996 has clearly worked better than the opposite approach taken by the Europeans. The European Commission is right to be working quickly to overhaul an obviously failed strategy.
Wednesday, September 23
Over at CNBC, Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons highlights the role of broadband access in closing America’s “homework gap.” An excerpt:
One way to make sure students from all backgrounds have the strongest start is by closing what Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel calls the “homework gap,” which impacts students in five million American households. These students from low-income families have less regular access to broadband Internet at home than their peers from wealthier households, making completing homework assignments tougher.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has proposed revamping the Lifeline program as one way to help close this gap. Started during the Reagan administration, Lifeline was created to help low-income Americans get access to telephone service. As mobile phones became more ubiquitous, the George W. Bush administration expanded the program to allow Americans to choose wireless phone service under Lifeline. Today, broadband is the critical service that connects Americans to jobs, health care, entertainment and family, and the current FCC should allow the Lifeline program to evolve again.
In addition to expanding Lifeline to cover broadband, you can read IIA’s specific recommendations for modernization of the Lifeline program in the full op-ed at CNBC.
Thursday, May 07
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has penned an op-ed for Multichannel News on the need to reform the Commission’s Lifeline program. An excerpt:
The FCC’s Lifeline program, originally established in 1985, was designed to ensure that Americans have universal access to telephone service because it was found that such access was “crucial to full participation in our society and economy, which are increasingly depending upon the rapid exchange of information.” The FCC emphasized at the time that its “responsibilities under the Communications Act require us to take steps … to prevent degradation of universal service and the division of our society … into information ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ ”
Today, a full three decades after the creation of Lifeline, the program still only funds voice service. It has been stuck in a bygone era since its inception and is in need of serious reform.
Commissioner Clyburn goes on to list her recommendations for reform, which include:
• Establishing minimum service standards for any provider that receives a Lifeline subsidy. This will ensure that we get the most value for each universal service dollar spent and better service for Lifeline recipients.
• Relieving providers of responsibility for determining customer eligibility. Lifeline is the only federal benefit program I know of where the provider determines the consumer’s eligibility. That must cease. For providers, this change would yield significant administrative savings, and for consumers, it would bring dignity to the program experience.
• Leveraging efficiencies from existing programs. A coordinated enrollment system would allow customers to enroll in Lifeline at the same time that they apply for other benefit programs; and
• Instituting public-private partnerships and coordinated outreach efforts. The lack of a centralized effort is leaving too many who qualify behind.
Commissioner Clyburn’s recommendations dovetail nicely with IIA’s own assessment of how best to bring Lifeline into the digital age. As we outlined in our white paper “Bringing the FCC’s Lifeline Program Into the 21st Century,” there are four key steps the FCC should make:
• Bring the Lifeline Program into the 21st Century by making broadband a key part of the program’s rubric;
• Empower consumers by providing the subsidy directly to eligible people instead of companies;
• Level the playing field between service providers to broaden consumer choice and stimulate competition for their purchasing power;
• Safeguard and simplify the program by taking administration away from companies that are not accountable to the American public, instead vesting that governmental responsibility with an appropriate government agency.
Monday, May 12
This is the second installment of our “Let’s Get Nerdy!” series, where we take tech policy issues that are currently top of mind in our nation’s capital and explain how they are relevant to Americans across the map.
In this installment, our Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons discusses the education and economic benefits of ensuring schools, libraries, and entire communities are connected to high-speed broadband.
Ready to get nerdy? Let’s go!
In your recent op-ed for Politic365 you pointed out that the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be one million new jobs in computer technology and information services by 2022, but last year only three percent of AP Computer Science test-takers were African American. “Taking the right classes to learn how to code and make digital products seems like the first step, but it’s not,” you said. What is the first step to generate interest for working in the technology field among youth?
Companies like Apple, Microsoft and AT&T have committed $750 million to help bring high-speed broadband connections to students, in addition to the $200 million coming from President Obama’s ConnectED program. How else can policymakers make sure interest in digital careers is not snuffed out by slow connection speeds and long waits for computer access?
E-rate has helped connect a huge number of classrooms and libraries to the Internet, but you encourage that “kids need faster connections at home, too.” As policymakers undertake modernization of the E-rate program, how can we move beyond connecting only schools and libraries and extend broadband networks throughout entire communities?
Our thanks to Simmons for sharing his thoughts. Check out the previous episode of “Let’s Get Nerdy.”
Monday, April 14
In an op-ed for Roll Call, IIA Broadband Ambassador Kristian Ramos makes the case for modernizing our nation’s networks. An excerpt:
As consumers continue to flee the aging telephone network, modernizing our telecommunications law is essential to provide the right incentives to accelerate high-speed broadband deployment and establish a regulatory framework that advances key consumer protections unique to 21st century broadband networks. Rules designed to address the antiquated telephone system during a monopoly era are ill equipped to promote a level playing field among numerous technologies and high speed broadband network providers. Robust and vibrant wireless and wired broadband is key to advancing economic opportunity, education, and civic engagement, and strengthening our global competitiveness.
You can read Ramos’ full op-ed at Roll Call.
Tuesday, March 25
Congressman Adam Kinzinger and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai have penned an op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times on the need to better train kids for the digital economy. The full op-ed is definitely worth checking out, but here’s an excerpt:
To prepare our children for digital-age jobs, we need to get them online today. Our students’ futures are too important to let this opportunity for far-reaching reform slip from our grasp.
A student-centered E-Rate program would give kids in small towns a better chance to compete with those growing up in big cities. Real reform would help children in Illinois and throughout small-town America see a brighter tomorrow — and we stand ready to ensure that E-Rate lives up to that promise.
Friday, March 07
Speaking of broadband access, Ben Popper at The Verge has a detailed breakdown of plans of both Google and Facebook to deliver high-speed Internet access via balloons and drones. As Popper writes:
There is actually a long history of failed attempts to provide aerial internet access. Starting in the 1990s at least five big projects were announced, including Iridium and Globalstar, both of which aimed to provide cellphone coverage. They were actually built but promptly went bankrupt. Teledesic, a venture funded by by Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, got a lot of people interested but was scrapped before it launched its first constellation. One problem with these early efforts was that people on the ground required bulky, custom handsets in order to receive the signal. But the rapid and widespread proliferation of cheap, powerful smartphones means that’s no longer a major obstacle.
If Google and Facebook are able to pull these projects off, it could revolutionize the developing world.
Via Julian Hattern from The Hill, the FCC has put word out that it wants public input on how best to achieve President Obama’s call to bring high-speed Internet access to every school and library in America:
Comments the FCC receives will be on top of the 1,500 it has already gotten on the issue.
“The record in this proceeding demonstrates overwhelming agreement among stakeholders that the E-rate program has been a crucial part of helping our nation’s schools and libraries connect to the Internet,” the FCC wrote in the notice. “The record also shows a strong commitment to ensuring that the E-rate program quickly evolve to meet the ever-growing need for high-capacity broadband so our students and communities have access.”
Wednesday, March 05
Over at Latinovations, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has penned a guest op-ed on how broadband access can help close the Latino achievement gap. Here’s an excerpt:
According to the Department of Education, Latino students on average lag roughly two grade levels behind white students in reading and math exams. And Latino students lag behind their white and Asian peers in high school graduation rates in all but two states. This gap can be even greater for Latino students that are English language learners.
Now, I’m a regulator, not an educator. But as a member of the Federal Communications Commission, I’ve had a front-row seat to the digital revolution. Broadband and cloud computing are revolutionizing education. The traditional teaching tools that I grew up with – chalky blackboards and hardback books – are giving way to interactive digital content delivered through high-speed broadband.
Commissioner Rosenworcel’s full op-ed is worth checking out.
Tuesday, February 04
The Obama administration has long made connecting schools with high-speed Internet a priority. Now, following the most recent State of the Union address when President Obama announced a private-public partnership to do just that, everything is starting to come together. As Justin Sink of The Hill reports:
President Obama is set Tuesday to announce more than $750 million in charitable commitments from technology and telecom companies for a new effort to bring high-speed Internet to the classroom.
Speaking at a middle school in suburban Maryland on Tuesday, Obama will announce “major progress toward realizing the ConnectED goal to get high-speed Internet connectivity and educational technology into classrooms, and into the hands of teachers trained on its advantages,” the White House said in a statement.
Among those contributing are major providers AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint — each pledging up to $100 million — along with tech companies Apple, Microsoft, and more. From AT&T’s statement announcing their contribution:
“The most important investment we can make to drive long-term prosperity for our country is finding smart new ways to make technology work for schools, teachers and students,” said Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president, AT&T external and legislative affairs. “Providing access to mobile broadband for educational purposes and the tools teachers need to help their students excel is a foundational building block to improving educational results.”
Given that at least 70% of American schools are unable to offer all their students access to high-speed Internet, this is a pretty big deal.
Wednesday, January 29
Our own Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons has an op-ed for The Hill highlighting the need to connect our kids with high-speed broadband. Here’s a taste:
I grew up in Detroit during the de-industrialization of America in the 1970s and 80s. Despite our collective idealization of the old days of manufacturing when men like my grandfather could raise a family of six on his blue collar auto plant wages, that world is not coming back.
Instead we must prepare our children for the jobs of the future that will require more skills and a willingness to keep adapting throughout their careers. Consumers spent over $2 trillion dollars on IT products and services in 2013, and one study reported that Apple paid app developers $5 billion dollars, Google $900 million and Microsoft $100 million. Yet despite our increasing diversity, another study found 83 percent of tech startups’ founding teams are all-white; 5 percent Asian and 1 percent African American. Only 10 percent of startup founders are women. Allowing those trends to continue is bad for the tech industry, bad for the people being left out and bad for the economic prospects of the United States. Much like the gene pool of families that intermarry over generations, our country’s innovative DNA will deteriorate without diversifying beyond the narrow band of elites now setting the pace in the tech industry.
You can read the full op-ed over at The Hill.
Tuesday, January 21
At the Minority Media and Telecom Council’s 5th Annual Broadband and Social Justice Summit last Thursday, former FCC Chairman William Kennard recounted several stories from his life and recent service as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. The central point of his talk — which also happens to be a good guidepost for policymaking in our ever-diversifying America — was that we may have come in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.
Kennard wasn’t the only one at the MMTC summit to extol the virtues of our diverse democracy. Nor was he alone in highlighting the necessity of keeping the doors open for everyone to participate in the broadband economy. Michael Powell, FCC Chairman under George W. Bush, said getting started on the multi-year process of drafting a new Telecommunications Act, which hasn’t been touched since 1996, would address our modern challenges.
That goal is fraught with complications and the danger of regulatory overreach.
Current FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn addressed another crucial step using the same let’s get going framework. The transition to all-IP networks, she told attendees, will kick-start the next wave of innovation, and the FCC should enable a smart process that makes sure everyone benefits and safety concerns are met. Meanwhile, Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton highlighted how high-speed and high-capacity broadband in classrooms across America through the E-Rate and ConnectED programs will help the next generation of Americans be ready for the next generation of jobs.
It wasn’t all policy talk at this year’s summit, however, as innovation — and the benefits of access to high-speed Internet — were well represented by students from the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science. Highlighting its focus on encouraging kids to pursue their coding dreams, the school presented apps students are developing. But instead of ideas common among Stanford educated hipsters in San Francisco like restaurant recommendations or presentation sharing apps, these Washington, DC kids’ apps were focused on issues like combating obesity, more efficient garbage pickup and, tragically, trying to locate missing girls of color because the news media spends so little time focused on them. America could use the innovative talents of more kids like these.
We may all be in the same boat today, but the students from Howard Middle School — and millions of other kids across the country — will soon be in one we can’t even begin to imagine. That means our job is to make the critical investments in broadband today to ensure their future boat is built for speed.
Wednesday, November 06
This morning, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies held a broadband technology forum in Washington, DC. The event coincided with the release of a new study, “Broadband and Jobs: African Americans Rely Heavily on Mobile Access and Social Networking in Job Search.”
As titles go, that’s quite a mouthful. But then, the study itself is packed with information, some of it surprising, some of it well-known, and all of it important. Some case(s) in point:
• 50% of African American Internet users believe being online is critical in order to find a job. The surprising part? That’s 14% higher than the entire sample used for the study.
• Latinos are right there with African American Internet users, with 47% calling access “very important” to finding a job.
• 47% of African Americans have used a smartphone for job searches, which is nearly double the entire sample.
For today’s event, the Joint Center assembled some heavy-hitters in tech policy, including FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Latino Information Network Director of Innovation Policy Jason Llorenz, and AT&T Vice President of Global Policy Ramona Carlow.
Besides the stats listed above, a key focus of the event was the need to improve tech education, or as the Joint Center’s John Horrigan put it, “lift up the digital skills for the entire population.” Given that one major finding of the Joint Center’s study is that confidence in digital skills directly correlates with people going online in search of employment, the focus on education wasn’t surprising. But it was encouraging that the group agreed that effective digital education means helping both adults and children.
That starts with better connecting schools through eRate. The panelists also agreed it requires better training for teachers and librarians — a link often missing in discussions of expanding broadband access. I would add one more thing: students need the same high speed broadband access at home they get in school and that’s going to require the private sector. Federal regulations should encourage all of these investments.
Today’s event wasn’t streamed online, unfortunately, but the Joint Center’s study is available at their website. I encourage you to dig in.
Friday, November 01
This is a guest post from Floyd Mori, President & CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, which is an IIA Member.
At the U.S. Capitol last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers addressed the changing means of communications in our nation. As consumer preferences move increasingly toward Internet-based communications, so full advantage can be taken of the plethora of new and exciting applications, the network of old is going by the wayside.
The Congressional hearing focused on whether the federal regulations that for decades governed the monopoly, single-carrier era of the old, non-broadband phone system are still necessary in an age where consumers have their choice of any number of communications modes, including cell phones and smartphones, Skype, text apps, wired home VoIP, say from your cable provider, among others.
The timing is important. These regulations are based on federal communications laws that stretch back generations and were last updated in 1996, the reflection of a bygone-era, pre-mobile Internet and high-speed connections. That year, as I recall, the cutting-edge products were Compaq PCs with built-in 3Com modems that let us use our telephone lines to dial into AOL — remember the catchy noise that went along with it?
According to the Pew Research Center, 87 percent of English-speaking Asian-Americans use the Internet compared to 74 percent of all adults. However, there are still millions of Americans, particularly minorities, members of the Asian-American community included, who do not adopt or have access to broadband, falling on the wrong side of the digital divide.
But today, as technology modernizes to become better, faster, more capable and dynamic through “Internet Protocol” (IP) technology, outdated regulations hold back progress, and more importantly, increased availability and access to high-speed broadband. As tens of millions of consumers drop their landlines, regulations need to be modernized to free up short-term, unproductive investments in that service in order to deliver new benefits based of the IP system.
What became abundantly clear from the hearing is that federal regulators need to move faster to promote this transformative technology. A good way to start would be for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to move expeditiously on a recent request from AT&T to conduct “test-runs” in a few limited markets, under the oversight of the agency. These closely-controlled areas would see a complete communications modernization to all-broadband, complete with all the attendant economic, healthcare, education, and civic participation benefits. During the process, policymakers and stakeholders would work together to monitor progress and ensure that basic consumer protections continue.
For the Asian-American community, this is far more than a technological debate, as the transition to Internet-based communications technology has been shown to have a massive positive impact on issues ranging from healthcare, higher education, the environment, local economies, and civic participation.
Engagement in all areas of government and policy – and community activism at all levels of the political process (a benefit of a connected society) – are integral to diverse communities across the country. In today’s knowledge-based culture, broadband is serving to empower our citizens, giving us the ability and opportunity to elevate and advocate for society’s needed changes on a national and even global platform.
Washington needs to move this process forward, beginning with the FCC’s approval of the trials, so we can all have the opportunity to reap the benefits of a connected, digital world.
Thursday, October 31
America’s 60 million rural residents received an early holiday gift this week when the Federal Communications Commission launched an initiative to improve rural communications. In unanimous agreement, the FCC acknowledged problems caused by the existing tangle of regulations, technologies and business plans that have long affected telephone call completion for some rural customers. This week, the FCC took action to ensure better and more accountable service and connectivity.
This action addresses an outstanding issue that has been around for years. The failure of certain calls to go through to rural Americans resulted from new communications technologies interacting with older telephone networks and the failure of regulations to keep pace in the marketplace. Everyone in America, and particularly those in rural areas, depends upon a reliable communications network. For almost 3 decades I represented rural Virginia in Congress, and I know firsthand of the extraordinary importance rural residents attach to reliable and accessible communications.
So, as we look across the communications landscape, we see changes everywhere. More than 40 percent of homes today are wireless-only, and almost that same number receive their phone service through a broadband provider. In Florida and Michigan, to pick two representative states, only about 15% of homes connect to traditional telephone landlines today. Americans in droves have dropped their outdated non-broadband plain old phone service and are quickly moving to high-speed, advanced broadband networks and services, both wired and wireless.
Some consumer advocates have suggested that rural call completion must be addressed prior to implementing policies necessary to the upgrade and modernization of our nation’s telephone networks to all broadband. It’s an important need which the FCC has now addressed in a positive and thoughtful manner. As the FCC moves forward to promote better and more ubiquitous high-speed broadband access nationwide, moving the few remaining users of outdated networks to more functional connections that provide more varied services, it can best accomplish the goal by modernizing its regulations to reflect the technologies of today.
I commend the FCC for this week’s action and encourage the Commission to continue its efforts to ensure that regulations match modern technological capabilities. Promoting certainty is the fastest way to ensure that high-speed all-broadband networks become reality.
Tuesday, October 29
Visit here for the methodology and an embed code.
Monday, October 21
Last year, IIA hosted a webinar on technology and education that focused on an innovative, soon-to-be-implemented “blended learning” program at Kramer Middle School in the Anacostia community of Washington, D.C. My brother Kwame Simmons, the school’s principal, penned an op-ed afterwards, titled “My School’s High-Tech Turnaround Plan,” for the Washington Post.
Last week, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was kind enough to join me for a tour of Kramer, where Vice Principal Delia Davis-Dyke walked us through the program now in place.
At Kramer, half of each class receives teacher-led instruction, while the other half is engaged in online learning. With 380 students, roughly 190 of them are online at any given moment during the day. The technology in use allows Administrators and parents to monitor student progress remotely.
Once the tour took us inside a classroom, it was easy to see why Kramer’s blended learning program is encouraging.
In one classroom, teachers were putting the program into effect by using an online video lesson to reinforce a discussion on the rise of Nazi Germany after World War I. Though a dense topic, the online video kept students engaged.
Vice Principal Davis-Dyke told us the blended learning program has made it possible for parents to be much more engaged with their kids too…but the program is not without its issues. Teacher training, for one, is proving to be a challenge, as is the funding of necessary peripherals such as adapters, carts, and replacement cords.
Then there’s the question of after-hours access. During the tour, Commissioner Rosenworcel asked how much students are able to take advantage of the system from home. The answer was not much, since equipment and home broadband access continue to be roadblocks.
Kramer’s blended learning program is primarily financed by Race-to-the-Top funding, which will soon run out. Vice Principal Davis-Dyke explained that the school is currently exploring corporate sponsorships to supplement their budget, with the goal of keeping the program going strong for years to come.
Some of those dollars will need to be invested in more robust broadband for the school. Due to equipment and capacity constraints, not all students can be online at once — as Vice Principal Dyke told us, if 390 kids were to be online at the same time, the school would face significant speed issues.
For me, that was one of the biggest takeaways from our tour of Kramer Middle School. Innovative programs like the school’s blended learning have the potential to revolutionize education. But as Kramer shows, hitting the full potential of the program will require a commitment to improving broadband networks at school, and increasing broadband penetration at home. These are big tasks government can’t do alone. That’s why we need regulations that encourage investment and expansion of high-speed broadband to every corner of our country.
Thanks to Vice Principal Davis-Dyke for the tour and to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel for joining us. The kids weren’t the only ones learning that day.
Friday, October 04
As Detroit prepares to choose a new mayor and City Council, teachers are preparing their students for the future. The new school year is now in full swing, and kids and teachers are settling into a routine of classes, friends, lunch menus and after-school activities. Students who are lucky enough are likely discovering how technology can enhance their lessons and expand learning beyond the classroom.
The Motor City, and indeed the entire country, are facing a tough time. Cuts are being proposed at every level of government, but there’s one essential learning tool that shouldn’t be on the chopping block: high-speed Internet. Access to this resource is increasingly necessary for students. More than a simple learning tool, access to broadband has the potential to transform education in America, afford our students new opportunities and give them the ability to transform their own communities. To see the numerous benefits of high-speed broadband, however, policy-makers and regulators must implement policies that will deliver this essential educational resource.
Advancing STEM education in America is an important and oft-discussed issue, and 21st Century broadband networks can help move forward this educational goal. Fast, reliable broadband connectivity makes individualized, interactive learning possible. This technology can enhance and supplement traditional classroom learning by engaging students in ways that can ignite a lifelong passion for knowledge. High-speed Internet service creates opportunities for educational enrichment and distance learning and can reduce inequities that exist between schools across the state or country.
High-speed Internet also makes possible blended learning, in which students and teachers collaborate to combine traditional classroom instruction with online lessons and tools. All of these benefits are possible with robust, advanced communications networks. Basic broadband access has proved to be an invaluable educational resource, but basic access alone can’t meet today’s capacity and speed requirements, much less tomorrows.
Schools and libraries across the country connect to the Internet largely because of a little-known government program run by the Federal Commissions Commission. E-rate, the nation’s largest education technology program, created in 1996, essentially funds Internet connectivity in our country’s classrooms and public libraries. The current program, however, has failed to keep pace with changing technology and the needs of students and schools. Today’s average classroom Internet connection is insufficient to support the educational innovations and learning tools of the 21st Century. According to a recent government survey, nearly half of schools and libraries reported connectivity speeds that were slower than the average American home , even though they typically serve 200 times as many users.
The dilemma of improving broadband access is a challenge not unique to our schools and libraries. Modern high-speed Internet remains out of reach for too many Americans. Schools and libraries, however, play a vital role in serving as a gateway to knowledge and providing access to broadband technologies in communities across the nation.
Efforts are now under way to expand the availability of high-speed broadband in our nation’s schools and libraries. President Barack Obama announced his ConnectED initiative in June. It calls on the Federal Communications Commission to modernize the existing E-rate program and would expand high-speed, high-capacity broadband service to 99% of K-12 students within five years. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has proposed going further, by outlining specific capacity and speed goals for a revised E-rate program, E-rate 2.0.
These efforts can ensure that our students have the resources they need to become tomorrow’s leaders. Broader access to next-generation broadband services, however, is also crucial for our entire nation. Thankfully, the federal government is now working with the private sector on how to best modernize and upgrade our antiquated telephone networks to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to every corner of the country.
Each child must have equal opportunity to develop and hone the skills necessary to navigate the technologies of tomorrow. Political, business and nonprofit leaders must support and encourage measures that expand access to 21st Century broadband in Detroit and the entire country.
This op-ed was originally published in the Detroit Free Press.
Monday, September 30
by Mario H. Lopez
Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968. Two decades later, it was officially recognized when it was enacted into law by President Reagan.
Since that time, America’s Hispanic community has experienced significant economic and social advancement. Given IIA’s mission to advocate for the expansion of broadband service across the country, I’d like to focus on the inroads that have been made in the Hispanic community with respect to broadband access and adoption.
According to Pew, 68% of Hispanics now own a cellphone, and of that number, 60% mostly use their phones to go online. That’s not too surprising; Hispanics have for years been among the most active adopters of mobile broadband, and as smartphones have proliferated wildly, that rate of growth should continue.
As for home broadband connections, however, the numbers are less promising. In its May survey, Pew also found that a little over half — 53% — of Hispanic households had high-speed Internet. That’s compared to 74% of whites, and 64% of African Americans.
Given the importance of broadband to access education, economic opportunity, telemedicine, and employment, our nation should rededicate itself to encourage additional investment in next-generation wired and wireless networks throughout the country. These networks help power the devices we use today, and will use tomorrow.
Mobile broadband has greatly benefitted the Hispanic community. Yet, mobile broadband represents just one part of the solution needed to achieve universal high-speed Internet access connectivity for all—irrespective of one’s geographic location or social status.
Achieving the goal of bringing every American into the digital age, won’t be cheap. But as with bringing universal telephone service to every household a century ago, it can be achieved when government allows for the creation of an economic environment that allows innovation and ingenuity to flourish.
America has always had a strong, and diverse, social fabric. It’s one of the reasons why we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. And communications has been key to creating that social fabric. We are connected as a nation, and together we can ensure everyone in America can remain connected, no matter how we communicate.
Mario H. Lopez is President of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, an IIA member organization.