Here’s some good news on the digital divide front. Jenny Kane of The Farmington New Mexico Daily Timesreports that the country’s largest Tribal Nation is getting a big broadband boost:
The Navajo Nation is about to get connected with the help of a tribal owned company.
Now in its final stages, a nearly $46 million dollar project is expected to create a broadband network that will give more than 30,000 households and 1,000 businesses access to improved wireless Internet service and cell phone service.
An additional 1,100 community institutions, including public safety, health, social services and emergency care facilities are expected to benefit from the new infrastructure.
“It’s a very complex project, and the Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the country,” said Mike Scully, general manager of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority Wireless, first Navajo majority owned broadband company.
A recent story in USA Today from Ron Barnett highlights some of the benefits students at a South Carolina high school are receiving from being connected:
Jennifer Southers has flipped education upside-down for her math students at Hillcrest High School.
Instead of coming to class and listening to a lecture, then going home and trying out what they learned on their own, they listen to a lecture on video before class and work on putting the new knowledge to practice in the classroom, where their teacher is there to help.
“The level of frustration has almost disappeared completely on those lessons when we do that,” she said of the “flipped classroom” concept that she and other teachers are using.
Unfortunately, as Barnett’s piece goes on to point out, America’s ongoing digital divide may be creating an uneven playing field when it comes to educating students:
[W]hat about students who don’t have broadband Internet access at home? How can they keep up with their peers in streaming instructional videos and doing online research?
More than two-thirds of low-income families in South Carolina don’t have a high-speed Internet connection, said Jessica Ditto, spokeswoman for Connected Nation, a nonprofit organization that works to increase broadband access in the nation. Overall, 57 percent of households in the state have broadband access, she said.
Increasingly, access to the Internet means access to improved education, which means students in the 43% of South Carolina households not connected with broadband are at risk of being left behind when it comes to innovative learning. But as Barnett reports, there’s hope on the horizon — for South Carolina and elsewhere:
Bill Brown, executive director of educational technology services for Greenville County Schools, says 4G LTE technology offers the most promise for bridging the digital divide.
With it, “You could blanket buildings, you could blanket cities” with high-speed Internet access, he said.
More powerful networks — beginning with 4G LTE (which, as anyone who has experienced it can attest, is remarkably fast) and continuing with the shift to all-IP based networks — will mean more access in more ways for more people. With the future of education tied to technology, encouraging investment in these networks should be an educational priority.
Our Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons has penned an op-ed for The Root on the coming transition to all-IP networks and what its effect will be on America’s still lingering digital divide. Here’s a taste:
Putting smart policies in place to promote the IP transition would help address these concerns. With the right incentives, incumbent telephone companies could invest in and build faster, more robust and more dynamic IP-based networks that would provide residential customers with additional competitive choices for video, high-speed broadband and voice services. Accelerating the IP transition would also have the positive effect of shifting the cost burden of maintaining antiquated, legacy voice networks away from voice subscribers in communities of color, who would disproportionately have to pay the costs of maintaining outdated networks without the benefit of access to new services provided by next-generation networks being built at the same time.
Last week, our Co-Chair Jamal Simmons wrote about his experience moderating the recent “Beyond the Digital Divide: Capitalizing on the Technology Economy” forum. Today, Politic365 has more on the event, including Simmons’ remarks to attendees:
“I think it’s important, particularly for this generation, for people need to really know and understand the power they have in their hands and their homes to change their lives,” said Jamal Simmons, moderator of the panel and co-chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance.
Simmons highlighted some of the ways technology is transforming society in the education, employment, healthcare, and small business sectors. He also spoke about how public policy and the high-tech industry are responding to the growing use of broadband technology by American consumers.
“In 2011, the President of the United States spoke at the state of the union and said he wanted next generation high-speed wireless Internet to cover 98 percent of the country over the next five years,” said Simmons. “We are on the path to getting that done. Last year you saw wireless carriers invest $27 billion in new infrastructure to make sure people have access to wireless.”
Over at Light Reading, Jeff Baumgartner highlights a new idea aimed at bridging the digital divide:
The pre-paid model has worked wonders for the mobile market over the years, so why shouldn’t it be applied to U.S. broadband?
Wipro Ltd. is pitching the idea to the nation’s cable operators as they think about how to stoke broadband service growth. They’d like to tailor packages to lower-income consumers (or students), but without the associated risks of non-payments and bad debt.
“There’s sort of a hole out there that’s not being addressed,” says Stephen Snyder, the global head of business innovation for Wipro’s Global Media and Telecom unit. “It could open up a whole new revenue stream.”
As an advocate for the Asian American community, I aim to advance policies that benefit not only my community but all Americans. One great example is promoting the wireless revolution that is creating enormous opportunities for minority communities to flourish. As our networks grow faster and more reliable and our devices become more powerful, these opportunities will continue to expand.
Every day, more and more Asian Americans are using mobile devices to access the Internet. Recent studies show that Asian Americans, followed by other communities of color, are leading the way in smartphone adoption. While these studies do not take into account that certain Asian American subgroups likely have lower adoption rates, it is clear that no one should be denied access to this technology that improves our lives. Major barriers to Internet adoption, such as limited English proficiency, lack of digital literacy skills, and affordability need to be addressed. Yet limited deployment to low-income and rural communities also continues to negatively affect Asian Americans and other communities of color. That’s why I agree with President Obama’s goal of delivering next generation wireless broadband services to 98 percent of Americans by 2016.
But it’s going to take a couple of things to make that happen.
First, we have to make sure the private sector continues to invest in wireless networks and the devices and apps that use them. Last year, wireless service providers spent about $26 billion on building and maintaining the mobile infrastructure needed for wireless connectivity. These expenditures translate into jobs and economic opportunities for our communities. We need that investment to continue, and even increase, if we are to reach the President’s goal. The government must have policies in place that encourage this investment.
Second, more spectrum — the invisible airwaves that carry wireless signals — is required. As the wireless revolution continues to boom, we’ll need more spectrum to meet our growing demand. While recently passed legislation will free up a limited amount of spectrum, the government is the largest holder of spectrum. The government should quickly move to use its spectrum more efficiently and make spectrum available for consumer use. If we can do this, all Americans will be major beneficiaries.
Jason T. Lagria is the Telecommunications and Broadband Policy Staff Attorney at the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. AAJC works to promote universal access and reduce barriers to critical technology and services for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other underserved communities.
Kenneth Mallory and Tiffany Bain on Politic365 have written a good wrap-up of last week’s National Urban League panel “Job Creation and Education: Programmatic Efforts to Increase Broadband Adoption in African American Communities,” which featured the likes of FCC Commission Mignon Clyburn and Minority Media and Telecommunications Council President David Jonig, among others. Here’s a taste:
The panelists underscored that Internet was essential to living a meaningful life in the 21st century. Honig illustrated four main advantages of adopting broadband – having greater access to healthcare (through tele-health technologies), education, job opportunities, and civic engagement.
As part of their 2012 conference in New Orleans, the National Urban League is holding the panel discussion “Job Creation and Education: Programmatic Efforts to Increase Broadband Adoption in African AmericanCommunities.”
Moderated by Kristal High, Editor-in-Chief of Politic365, the discussion will feature David Honig of the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the NUL Policy Institute’s Madura Wijewardena, and Charisse Lillie of the Comcast Foundation.
With the digital divide still very much in place in America — especially among communities of color — this will be an important discussion in the midst of an important event. Even if you’re not in New Orleans for the convention, you should tune in to watch the livestream. You can also follow along on Twitter via the hashtag #Urbanleague
Courtesy of The Hill‘s Brendan Sasso, the FCC is making another major contribution to boost efforts aimed at closing the digital divide:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said on Wednesday that it will spend $115 million over the next three years to expand high-speed Internet service to 400,000 homes and businesses that currently lack it.
That funding will be coupled with “tens of millions” of dollars of private investment, the commission said.
The money is part of the FCC’s Connect America Fund, a subsidy that the commission created last year when it overhauled its Universal Service Fund, which focused on ensuring telephone access.
New numbers from Nielsen show how mobile broadband is increasingly playing a role in our lives. Via Phil Goldstein of FierceWireless:
In the first quarter of 2012 the average U.S. mobile subscriber used 450 MB of data per month, according to research firm Nielsen. That figure is more than double the average of 208 MB per month for all U.S. mobile subscribers in the first quarter of 2011.
While this is definitely good news — mobile broadband is a driving force in closing the digital divide — it also highlights the critical importance of freeing up more airwaves for wireless use.
Via John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable, the House Small Business Committee is scheduled to hold an important hearing about broadband access this week:
[O]n the list of witnesses for the hearing, Digital Divide: Expanding Broadband Access to Small Businesses, are former FCC commissioner and current Rural Utilities Service Administrator Jonathan Adelstein and National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief Larry Strickling. Strickling and Adelstein’s agencies are responsible for handing out and overseeing billions in broadband stimulus money.
The hearing is on the role of the federal government in expanding broadband to small business, particularly in rural areas.
The House hearing is this Wednesday, July 18. Also scheduled to testify is current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. We’ll have coverage here on the blog and on Twitter.
The FCC got it right this week by continuing a Clinton administration policy that removes price regulation for so-called “special access” business services in markets where strong competition exists.
Specifically, by allowing several pending petitions to take effect yesterday, the Commission green lighted pricing flexibility for special access lines operated separately by AT&T and Windstream in several markets throughout the country.
“Special access” is the inside baseball phrase for the lines that link cell towers and business centers to main telecommunications lines. While only indirectly related to consumer services, enabling pricing flexibility for these services represents the kind of forward thinking required to reach President Obama’s goal of delivering high-speed broadband to almost every American home and business. In essence, the Commission ratified the Clinton Administration’s determination that competition, not government, is the best way to set prices. Opting for competition over government rules is a way to stimulate telecom companies to battle for customers by investing in better, more advanced technologies. In today’s marketplace, such investment almost automatically means high-speed lines for broadband services.
That’s exactly what President Obama had in mind in last year’s State of the Union address when he said:
“Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn’t just about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.”
The President’s aspirations for a truly digital nation should be the guiding light for the FCC as it moves forward, not just in special access, but in everything it does. In every decision, each Commissioner should ask: “will this action encourage investment in a digital America, or is it an old way of doing business that just gets in the way?”
President Obama’s broadband deployment Executive Order (see below), received praise from CTIA, the nation’s largest wireless industry group, but as John Eggerton of Multichannel News reports, that praise came with a specific message:
“CTIA and the wireless industry are pleased to see the president recognizes that more Americans continue to rely on their mobile devices for anytime and anywhere access, including the Internet,” said CTIA president Steve Largent in a statement. “At the same time, we hope the president and his administration remain focused on getting more spectrum for the U.S. wireless industry so our members may handle the significant data usage of Americans now and in the future.”
With mobile broadband being rapidly adopted by America’s underserved communities, CTIA is right to point out that efforts to close the digital divide should focus both on wired networks and providing the airwaves mobile broadband needs to operate and grow.
In what could prove to be a major step in closing America’s digital divide, President Obama is signing an Executive Order today aimed at making broadband deployment faster and easier. From the White House website:
The Executive Order (EO) will require the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Interior, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs as well as the US Postal Service to offer carriers a single approach to leasing Federal assets for broadband deployment. The EO also requires that available Federal assets and the requirements for leasing be provided on departmental websites, and it will require public tracking of regional broadband deployment projects via the Federal Infrastructure Projects Dashboard. In addition, the Executive Order will direct departments to help carriers time their broadband deployment activities to periods when streets are already under construction—an approach that can reduce network deployment costs along Federal roadways by up to 90 percent.
The EO also launches an effort being called “US Ignite,” which is aimed at connecting communities and campuses with 1 gigabit/second broadband in order to promote the public good. Again, from the Order:
This network will become a test-bed for designing and deploying next-generation applications to support national priorities areas such as education, healthcare, energy, and advanced manufacturing. US Ignite will challenge students, startups, and industry leaders to create a new generation of applications and services that meet the needs of local communities while creating a broad range of job and investment opportunities. This initiative will open up countless new opportunities for households and small businesses, helping them experience the economic and community benefits of next-gen applications while demonstrating a path for other communities to join.
A new study from Pew has some good news on the digital divide front:
As of April 2012, 53% of American adults age 65 and older use the internet or email. Though these adults are still less likely than all other age groups to use the internet, the latest data represent the first time that half of seniors are going online. After several years of very little growth among this group, these gains are significant.
This will be an important event on an important issue. The mobile broadband revolution — and I think it’s safe to call it a revolution at this point — has helped America make a major dent in its digital divide. Just take a look at some numbers from Pew:
Nearly two-thirds of African-Americans (64%) and Latinos (63%) are wireless internet users, and minority Americans are significantly more likely to own a cell phone than are their white counterparts (87% of black and Hispanics own a cell phone, compared with 80% of whites).
We can all agree it’s critical for America to keep this positive trend going — not just for the digital divide, but for our country’s economic rebound. But the threat of a spectrum shortage — one that could grind innovation to a crawl and hurt consumers with higher prices — has the potential to be a major roadblock.
This is something Minority Media & Telecom Council (MMTC) President and co-founder David Honig recently touched on during an appearance at the World Conference of Mayors Broadband Symposium in Alabama. Broadband & Social Justice’s Marcella Gadson covered Honig’s speech, and wrote:
“The relative affordability of mobile wireless broadband use versus costs for home broadband use sparked some to describe this phenomenon as the ‘minority wireless miracle,’” [Honig] stated. However, “Since African Americans are disproportionately relying on mobile wireless broadband for Internet access, they will be [disproportionately] affected if the supply of commercial spectrum is not increased.”
The spectrum crunch can be a hard issue to wrap your head around. After all, spectrum isn’t something we can see. But the effects of a spectrum shortage will be very visible, and with demand for mobile broadband threatening to soon outstrip the supply of spectrum for mobile use, conversations like tomorrow’s event in Atlanta are an absolute necessity.
IIA will have more coverage of the “The Wireless Spectrum Crisis: Its Impact on Underserved Communities” panel during and after the event. To follow along, use the hashtag #ncbmspectrum.
This morning, Irving Information Group President & CEO Larry Irving (who was also a founder and former Co-Chair of IIA) delivered the keynote for the New America Foundation‘s event in Washington, DC, “From Broadcast to Broadband: New Theories of the Public Interest in Wireless.” It was a lively discussion (and it carried over to Twitter as well; just do a search for the hashtag #bcast2bb).
Irving kicked things off by telling attendees that this year alone people will be buying 100 million tablets, and that 88 percent of people now have a mobile device. He then touched on what that means for society, especially for voices that have in the past struggled to be heard:
We have never had more diverse voices across all segments of media. The net removes the barriers to entry, for the most part. There is 72 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, and 20 to 30 of the top 50 stations on YouTube are minority generated or focused. And the audience is disproportionately young people.
But after laying out the positives of our new media landscape, Irving pivoted to the biggest challenge to the continued growth of mobile broadband:
One huge impediment is looming spectrum scarcity. Everything we’ve talked about has always been about scarcity. The laws of physics of building out infrastructure mean we are going to hit a crunch. There was a 230 percent increase in mobile data use last year. Smartphones use nine times more bandwidth than feature phones. And tablets use three times that of smartphones.
While Irving was encouraged by current efforts to free up more spectrum for wireless, he was discouraged by how slow the process has been (“A ten year span to get 500 MHz? We need to speed that up!”), and argued the problem of the spectrum crunch should receive attention from a higher national authority:
It’s going to require the White House — not through weak comment, but through actual action.
The New America Foundation’s event was streamed, so hopefully the archive will be up soon. In the meantime, you can learn more here.
At the Daily Yonder, Nicole Palya Wood of the National Grange (which is one of our members) writes about the promise of 4G networks in rural areas, and how government must ensure the private investment necessary to connect every corner of America to mobile broadband continues to be encouraged:
This year alone, wireless companies will invest about $26 billion in these networks – far more than the government can or should spend at a time when private companies are vigorously competing for customers in all but the handful of communities targeted by the FCC’s auction program.
Let’s hope Washington can keep its end of the bargain – by making sure that the new fund works as promised and by implementing smart policies that support private investment. The universal service fund alone can’t reach every high-cost rural area across the country.
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