Last month, the FCC presented its workshop on Diversity and Civil Rights Issues in Broadband Deployment and Adoption. As part of the workshop, the FCC invited a panel of experts to discuss the best strategies for closing the gap in broadband access and adoption.
These experts included investors whose investment strategies place a heavy emphasis on technology companies and educators who are focused on creating community technology centers. Laura Efurd, Vice President of ZeroDivide, discussed the best practices for addressing civil rights issues in adoption. She pointed out that broadband adoption issues demonstrate a divide among race, age, disability, and geography. She noted that this divide is part of a larger problem that exists in our country, and that in order to address best practices, the adoption issues should be addressed holistically. That means focusing on racial, cultural, and socioeconomic factors that may affect adoption.
Antoinette Cook Bush of Skadden Arps discussed a number of ways the government can support the deployment and adoption of broadband technologies. Ms. Bush suggested that existing programs such as Lifeline, Linkup, and other Universal Service Fund programs, should be used to expand broadband services. Ms. Bush, who is also the chairperson of the broadband subcommittee of the Federal Diversity Advisory Committee, pointed to a number of "best practices" provided by that committee. Patricia Bransford is the President of National Urban Technology Center, one program highlighted by the Diversity Advisory Committee. Ms. Bransford emphasized that Internet training programs must be used to assist people with different learning styles by making learning more visual and by strategically focusing on ways to include the 30% of high school kids who drop out during their high school experience.
Heather Dawn Thompson of Sonnenshein, Nath, & Rosenthal argued that the U.S. government must become more adept at creative financing and become more inclusive of tribal governments in order to empower them to create broadband companies on tribal lands. And Jonathan Glass, Principal of Council Tree Investors, confirmed that his investment company and others like his are keenly interested in working with diverse groups to increase broadband adoption. He illustrated how support from the federal government and the FCC can advance these initiatives, including on Native American tribal land.
Panelists emphasized that broadband deployment and adoption must be viewed from many different paradigms in order to include as many Americans as possible. A deployment and adoption plan that is best for a tribal government or a desert county may not be best for a thriving metropolitan area or a sleepy southern town. As panelist Geoffrey Blackwell noted, "one size fits none." It is not sufficient to roll out a plan and expect all Americans to implement it in the same way. The plan must address the needs of the unserved and the underserved alike. To empower citizens, it must be community based. At the same time, it must have the full support of government agencies that will use existing programs to support local broadband efforts and ensure sustainability over time. In short, the national broadband plan must be flexible enough to meet the needs of all Americans wherever they are on the technology spectrum.
This is the last in a four-part blog on the Diversity and Civil Rights Issues in Broadband Deployment and Adoption workshop held on October 2, 2009. Full biographies and a transcript of the workshop can be found at http://www.broadband.gov/ws_diversity.html