Monday, March 17
Any architect will tell you that it’s impossible to build a house without a blueprint. This is true even more in telecom. Fortunately, the country just celebrated the fourth birthday of the National Broadband Plan, our blueprint for the future of broadband.
Often, government reports sit on shelves gathering dust. Thankfully, this one did not. Acting on a request from Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) produced a report that was a vision for a connected future of universal broadband and a clarion call to move forward with innovation rather than letting America fall behind other countries.
The Plan started with a clear vision: every American deserves broadband. Not only that, every American needs broadband as it becomes increasingly critical for applying for jobs, learning new skills, communicating with others, and accessing our government. As the report said, “broadband can be our foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.”
Over the last four years, there has been great progress. When the report was adopted, over 100 million Americans did not have broadband and 14 million Americans did not even have access to infrastructure that would enable broadband applications. Now, those numbers are significantly smaller, thanks to private sector investment and government’s continued focus. According to a White House report from last June, “about 91 percent of Americans have access to wired broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps downstream, and 81 percent of Americans have access to similarly fast mobile wireless broadband.”
In fact, that 2013 report notes that the definition of “broadband” has essentially shifted to speeds greater than 10 Mbps rather than the government’s historic definition of broadband beginning at 3 Mbps, which is good enough for one user at a time to load photos onto Facebook in a household, but not fast enough to download HD video from Netflix. Average delivered broadband speeds have doubled since 2009 to keep up with consumer needs.
This is only a beginning: President Obama’s recent State of the Union set a goal that 99% of students would have access to ultra-high speed broadband in schools and libraries over the next four years.
That kind of achievement only happens with massive levels of private sector investment, and the private sector has begun doing its part. Over the last four years, tens of billions of dollars of investment from the private sector have been directed towards expanding broadband access and increasing broadband speed. Investment in wireless broadband alone jumped over 40% between 2009 and 2012. In fact, two companies in this sector – AT&T and Verizon – were named “Investment Heroes” by the Progressive Policy Institute for their commitment to America’s telecommunications future. This is appropriate as the Plan stated that “broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.”
To meet that challenge, government must encourage more private investment, while ensuring equitable access for every American to benefit from all that broadband has to offer. As the report stated, “the role of government is and should remain limited.”
As with many such efforts, this won’t happen without effort. The National Broadband Plan made clear that the nation would eventually have to make the transition from the aging telephone network to a system based on new broadband technologies. An FCC technology task force made the point even more clearly – that transition must happen over the course of this decade.
In fact, most consumers have already made this transition voluntarily. Less than one-third of residential consumers still use “plain old telephone service” at home (U-verse or Skype anyone?). The FCC has recently approved trials for these next-generation networks, which is a major step forward towards the all-broadband future foreshadowed in the Plan.
Four years after the National Broadband Plan, we have a vibrant, robust, cross-platform competitive system in which more and more Americans are gaining access to faster and faster broadband every day. There is more work to do, so let’s keep moving forward and not inhibit it through policies and regulations that would slow investment rather than increase it. If we want to be sure that every American has access to broadband, we should follow the vision set out in the National Broadband Plan for universal broadband, and move quickly toward the transition to modern high-speed broadband networks and services.
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
Last night, President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union Address. One highlight from his speech was a renewed pledge to connect every school in America with high-speed Internet. As Kevin Fitchard of GigaOm reports:
Last year, Obama announced a program to extend broadband access to 99 percent of schools over four years, and on Tuesday he said the administration is working with the Federal Communications Commission, Verizon, Sprint, Apple and Microsoft to fund such a project. According to the White House, details of these “philanthropic partnerships” will be released in coming weeks and will help connect 15,000 schools and 20 million students with wireless and wireline broadband in the next two years.
The Hill‘s Julian Hattem has more:
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the commission has made a point to make the program as efficient as possible.
“By applying business-like management practices to E-Rate, we can take steps this year that will make existing funds go farther to significantly increase our investment in high-speed broadband connectivity for schools and libraries for the benefit of our students and teachers,” he said in a statement after Obama’s remarks.
“In the Internet age, every student in America should have access to state-of-the-art educational tools, which are increasingly interactive, individualized and bandwidth-intensive,” Wheeler added.
Tuesday, September 17
There are 3.79 million square miles in the United States, and the federal government controls 30 percent of that land. This vast swathe of federally controlled land is roughly equivalent to the combined size of Alaska, California, Texas and Montana.
So when a White House task force unveils a guide that lays out the best practices for “dig once,” a program aimed to cut the costs of deploying high-speed broadband along federal roadways by as much as 90 percent in certain areas, it’s big news.
This week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released its latest progress report in response to President Obama’s 2012 Executive Order aimed at accelerating broadband deployment on federally-owned property by making the deployment and construction process cheaper and more efficient. Yesterday’s White House action offers a clear cut example of how government can spur greater and more affordable opportunities for high speed broadband deployment.
Access to and the use of high-speed broadband networks and services are critical to sustaining economic growth. The benefits of broadband-based services and websites have increased the nation’s global competitiveness, allowed small businesses to grow and enter new markets, and helped create many new high-paying jobs. President Obama has pushed to bring state-of-the-art communications networks to unserved and underserved communities. He has also sought to expand access to modern broadband networks by providing incentives for private sector investment designed to support new infrastructure deployment.
The White House announcement highlights several steps that will help reduce barriers to private sector broadband deployment, including an advanced mapping program that offers real-time guidance to identify the most efficient wired and wireless broadband deployment locations on federal land. This tool will also help accelerate high-speed broadband deployment by providing industry with real-time information regarding streets that are currently under construction and thus easier to access.
Yesterday’s action includes the creation of a “one-stop shop” for permit forms, lease agreements, and other legal forms to help reduce the significant legal and regulatory costs often associated with deployment of high speed broadband infrastructure. This convenience should create further efficiencies as it will facilitate deployment approvals, particularly when broadband deployment permitting involves multiple Federal and state agencies.
OSTP estimates that these regulatory tools “can reduce network deployment costs along Federal roadways by up to 90 percent.
While the programs OSTP announced this week offer nationwide benefits, rural America, which has trailed in receiving the best broadband access, may benefit most of all. High-speed broadband is increasingly important to farming communities (see here and here). Faster and more affordable broadband enables greater access to e-learning and e-Health opportunities that level the playing field between citizens in cities and those living in rural areas.
Cheaper and more accessible high-speed broadband promises stunning social and economic benefits. It can make better healthcare more accessible and more affordable for those who cannot travel. It facilitates a host of online education options, which may make advanced learning more feasible and affordable for many Americans. Consider for example, a master’s degree in computer science from a respected university for about $7,000!
In short, faster and better high-speed broadband is a necessary step to creating jobs and opportunity at all levels of the economy, and increasing the speed and efficiency at which these networks can be constructed is vital to our nation’s success. Here’s to the Administration for recognizing these realities and taking common-sense steps to provide the tools and guides needed to bring broadband to more Americans. Congratulations and keep up the good work!
Monday, July 29
At The Hill, Brendan Sasso reports President Obama’s pick for FCC Chairman will finally get a nomination vote this week:
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is scheduled to vote on Tom Wheeler’s nomination to lead the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday afternoon.
According to Sasso, it will be a busy week for the committee, which is scheduled to vote on 21 bills and nominations. Not included, though, is a nominee for the FCC Commissioner seat formerly occupied by Robert McDowell. The White House has yet to name a nominee, but rumors inside the Beltway are that Michael O’Reilly, a staffer for Sen. John Cornyn, has the inside track.
Friday, June 14
This morning, the White House announced a new series of initiatives aimed at freeing up much-needed spectrum for mobile broadband. From the official White House release:
Today’s initiatives include a Presidential Memorandum directing Federal agencies to enhance the efficiency of their use of spectrum and make more capacity available to satisfy the skyrocketing demand of consumer and business broadband users. The Memorandum directs agencies to increase their collaboration and data-sharing with the private sector, so a full range of stakeholders can contribute its collective expertise to maximizing spectrum efficiency, including through greater sharing of spectrum between Government and commercial users. These efforts will provide access to more spectrum for wireless broadband providers and equipment vendors as they respond to increasingly rapid consumer adoption of smartphones, tablets, and other wireless devices.
The Memorandum also calls upon Federal agencies to increase public-private research and development (R&D) activities, emphasize spectrum efficiency in Government system procurements and spectrum assignments, and improve the accuracy and scope of their reporting on spectrum usage. It empowers a White House-based Spectrum Policy Team to oversee implementation of the Memorandum and make further recommendations. At the same time, the Memorandum requires appropriate safeguards to protect Government systems that rely on spectrum to keep Americans safe.
For spectrum-strapped providers — and the millions of customers they serve — today’s announcement is a great step toward keeping up with demand. But it’s just that, a step. What is urgently needed is a concerted effort to have large swaths of government owned and underutilized spectrum repurposed for commercial auction. Hopefully these new initiatives set us on a path to get there.
We’ll have more on the President’s announcement later on today.
Monday, January 14
In a move that had many declaring the White House “won the Internet” this weekend, Paul Shacross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch, responded to a popular online petition asking the U.S. government to build a Death Star. From the response:
The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:
• The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
• The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
• Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?
Bonus points for the title of the response: “This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For.”
Friday, December 14
Via Michael Rundle of the Huffington Post comes the entertaining story of a Star Wars fan, an online petition, and the coming official response from the White House about citizens demanding the U.S. builds a Death Star.
Thursday, April 07
At The Hill, Sara Jerome reports that the Obama administration is pushing hard for its spectrum auction plan:
Administration officials outlined their case for devoting a larger swath of the airwaves to mobile broadband, saying policies to promote communication on tablets and smart phones will also create jobs and reduce the deficit.
“The issues of spectrum and of wireless communications are going to be essential to our growth,” said Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, adding that the revenue from the auctions could help reduce the deficit.
The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents the owners of spectrum pinpointed for auctions, has stated they support the President’s plan as long as the auctions are voluntary. However, questions remain about whether enough broadcasters would participate. Also undetermined is how AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile, which would ease some of the spectrum crunch in the short term, will affect the auction plan moving forward.
Tuesday, April 05
With the GOP-controlled House working to repeal the FCC’s net neutrality regulations, the Obama administration has preemptively signaled they will veto any repeal that reaches the President’s desk. Reports Tony Romm and Eliza Krigman at Politico:
A Statement of Administration Policy issued late Monday emphasized that the White House “strongly opposes House passage” of the resolution of disapproval, which would roll back rules the FCC enacted in December that require Internet providers to treat all traffic equally.
The administration described any Republican attempt to undo the FCC’s work as one that would “undermine a fundamental part of the Nation’s Internet and innovation strategy — an enforceable and effective policy for keeping the Internet free and open.”
Meanwhile, via Cecilia Kang at the Washington Post (among others), the lawsuit brought by Verizon against the FCC regarding the new regulations has been dismissed in federal court due to a technicality:
In an order Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed the legal basis the companies used to file. Judges Karen Lecraft Henderson, David S. Tatel and Brett M. Kavanaugh said in the court’s order that a challenge to the FCC rules must come after the so-called net neutrality order is published in the Federal Register, and said the “prematurity” of Verizon’s lawsuit was “incurable.”
But as the National Journal‘s David Hatch reports, Verizon isn’t backing down:
A Verizon spokesman blamed the dismissal on the FCC, which he said was unclear about when an appeal should be filed. He confirmed that the telecom giant plans to resubmit its suit, but this time it will wait until the commission publishes its new Internet rules in the federal register next month.
Friday, March 25
The Hill’s Gautham Nagesh reports that House Oversight Chairman Darrel Issa has some lingering questions about how the FCC’s net neutrality rules came about — specifically, how much the White House was involved:
Issa wrote to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Thursday asking for more information on the numerous visits made to the White House by top FCC officials while the commission was formulating its net-neutrality rules, which were passed in December.
In the letter, Issa informs Genachowski that his previous response to inquiries on the topic were incomplete, and asks for full records and logs of all meetings.
Tuesday, May 18
techPresident reports that Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin was recently reprimanded over using his private Gmail address to talk to people at Google:
McLaughlin was cited for two kinds of actions: using a personal email account for some professional email exchanges and for violating restrictions on contacts with Google, his former employer. Most notable among the latter were a pair of conversations with the Director of U.S. Public Policy for Google about mobilizing Google’s resources to respond to negative press mentions. Those breaches, according to a memo by OSTP Director John Holdren, “implicated” the Federal Records Act and the President’s Ethics Pledge signed by McLaughlin upon his employment as an Obama administration point person on innovation and Internet policy, within the White House Office of Technology and Science Policy.
The Hill has more:
In one exchange, [Google’s Director of U.S. Public Policy Andrew] Davidson alerts McLaughlin to possible fallout from his remarks on net neutrality. Later, the company offers to go to bat for McLaughlin, promising to “tee up” the Open Internet Coalition—of which Google is a chief member—to defend the Web chief’s remarks.
The conversation ends when Davidson writes: “Update on this—haven’t seen anything run yet. We and a few OIC folks talked with reporters. It’s possible that killed it, which is probably driving [AT&T] crazy.”
Friday, January 29
How many people watched President Obama’s State of the Union address online? According to the official White House Blog, close to 1,300,000.
Wednesday, January 20
The White House has released an official iPhone app, offering news and even live video streaming of events such as the State of the Union address on January 27th.
Friday, March 06
The pro-tech Obama administration is running into roadblocks as they try to bring the White House up to date with Web 2.0. As Read Write Web reports:
Relatively archaic government policies, rules, and customs that impede progress are being covered by the Washington Post and reach the highest levels of government. To this day, Department of Defense workers, even some of whom are in charge of new media output, cannot access YouTube. At one government agency, public affairs employees use government-purchased Macs and wireless cards to circumvent social networks being classified as “dating sites”—by other employees! And in extraordinary cases, contractors hired by agencies to carry out the work of Government 2.0 are banned from doing the very job they were hired to do.
Security is, of course, a major concern. But as President Obama makes a concerted effort to bring every American into the high-speed Internet age, bringing his own address up to date may prove to be the biggest hurdle.
Tuesday, January 20
The official White House website has bee refreshed and re-launched—complete with a blog.