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Live Blogging the Open Commission Meeting

September 29th, 2009 by George Krebs

[Today we are live blogging the September Open Commission Meeting. Related documents & information on the Commission Meeting can be found here.]

12:55PM EDT Each month the FCC holds an Open Commission Meeting to discuss the agenda facing the Commission. Today's meeting is special in that it will be devoted entirely to the Broadband Plan, given the momentous task before us. The Broadband Team will present their midterm review in a four hour presentation, featuring 20 presenters, and over 150 slides. In addition to live blogging here, we are also live streaming and live tweeting the meeting.

1:20PM EDT Chairman Genachowski introduces the grand scope of the meeting, acknowledges the less formal setting (Commissioners are sitting at a table in front of the grand bench from which they usually preside over the agenda),  and makes his requisite sports reference in introducing a staffer.

Erik Garr, Managing Director of the Broadband Taskforce, notes that "our ambition for today is large," in setting the stage for this afternoon's marathon review. Chairman Genachowski clarifies that "Everything that's coming in today,  online and otherwise, will be part of the full record." Genachowski introduces  Executive Director Blair Levin and the presentation begins.

1:48PM EDT This Omnibus Broadband Taskforce is focused on delivering broadband to those without access and achieving universality of broadband from sea to shining sea. This is unlike inquiries at other junctions which have focused on the more broad issues facing the internet use.

Peter Bowen, Applications Director, explains that applications similar to email  require little download speed. Once you move towards streaming television shows and downloading video files, the speed demands increase dramatically.

Chairman Genachowski, Commissioners McDowell and Copps have interjected to ask clarifying questions on speed and adoption.

1:59PM EDT Shawn Hoy, Applications Business Analyst, says that actual speed varies significantly from advertised speed. We should concentrate on actual speed, as it's a more useful metric to tell the story of broadband.  Applications designers will design applications that will require the maximum available broadband speeds. "The internet creates value to the extent that applications are adopted. Utility of the internet is in its usage. ...Internet use today will not look tomorrow as it looks today," says Hoy. The network that we design will have to be every bit as viable ten years from now.

2:12PM EDT The data available is not ideal for conducting the desired analysis, since the census question pertaining to internet availability did not address distribution across a given area of housing units. An interpretation  of the best data we have probably underestimates the number of unserved houses. However, when we we triangulate with other sources, we get significantly better data.

2:33PM EDT Rob Curtis looks at the total cost and total investment numbers. The incremental cost to universal availability varies significantly depending on the speeds required.  His chart shows ranges between $20 - 350 billion, depending on desired speeds and the number of housing units that need to be upgraded. Cost also "depends on the applications basket that needs to be supported," he says. "Those decisions will have a dramatic effect on the costs of universality."

2:46PM EDT Rob Curtis says that up to 3/4 of total fiber costs can be eliminated by finding out where the gas lines are and having the trench dug already. For example, if a trench for telephone lines has been dug already, it is fairly easy to simply lay down fiber next to that line.  "The cost to make broadband universally available depends on the type and amount of broadband required, and probably falls within the --narrow-- $20-350 billion range," he says.

2:57PM EDT The Taskforce visited several countries and met with their respective internet regulatory agencies to take lessons from countries that have implemented broadband plans. Anurag Lal, International Director says, "We're trying to leverage the learnings from international examples. We certainly don't want to reinvent the wheel, so we're trying to use these learnings as best as possible." Most recently, they visited South Korea, Singapore, and Japan. "[In Korea] they believe that broadband adoption leads to their national competitiveness" and strengthens their human resources. In Korea, both PC and broadband adoption have risen enormously, and they lead the ranking on a global basis.

3:11PM EDT There is a significant need for more spectrum, with band-width hungry devices exploding on the market. All the major telecom players have expressed a need to allocate more spectrum, but it will take years for new spectrum to reach the market. We use 17 petabytes a month now on our mobile devices and will likely use 397 petabytes a month in 2013 (a petabyte is equivalent to 20,000 Libaries of Congresses). "AT&T has seen their network usage increase 5000% in the last three years, which is an incredible number." He explains, "In the best case it takes 6-7 years to bring spectrum to market. So we have to look 10, 15 years down the road" when deciding on marketing spectrum.

3:15PM EDT The Broadband Taskforce has completed the first half of their presentation. We'll break for ten minutes now. Just enough time to digest the first two hours of material. Click here to see all 168 slides being used by the Task Force.

3:38PM EDT We're back. Chairman Genachowski announces Brian David's marriage last Saturday and presents him with a piece of spectrum -- non-exclusive use of the white space on channel 13 in Devil's Lake, South Dakota. The Chairman congratulates the newly weds and remarks that he appreciates their spending their honey moon at today's Commission Meeting. "Nothing is more romantic than Broadband," notes Blair Levin.

3:45PM EDT Adoption and Usage Director (and newly married) Brian David provides data that shows approximately two thirds of Americans have adopted broadband. Consequently, one third has not. He explains that adoption will naturally grow over time, but by writing specific suggestions into the Broadband plan, we can greatly increase this number.

3:57PM EDT Jon Horrigan provides a plethora of fascinating statistics surrounding internet use. Sixty-one percent of adults have searched for health care online, 71% of teens have cited the internet as their primary source for information in completing a school project, numerous Fortune 500 companies now require candidates to pursue jobs online. The cost of digital exclusion is large and growing. To tackle this issue, we're going to focus on "non-adopters" of broadband.

4:06PM EDT Jessica Strott, Consumer Adoption Analyst, discusses the issues of non-adopters who are inclined to use the technology but skill challenged. She emphasizes the importance of programmatic efforts. A video, "Tech Goes Home," will show two Boston women facing these challenges. Ironically, there is momentary difficulty loading the video and the decision is made to make the video available later.

4:16PM EDT Elise Kohn, Adoption Director, highlights the currently fragmented nature of adoption program efforts. While many different programs exist and many different groups are involved, Elise discusses five key program elements that emerged at a Commission workshop.  She also highlights the early signs of success that one training program has had.

4:21PM EDT Having completed the Adoption section, our last policy area is National Purposes. Kristen Kane, National Purposes Director, talks about "unlocking a lot of value" for each of these national purposes: health care, energy / environment, education, government operations, economic opportunity, and public safety.

4:32PM EDT Health care: The benefits of telemedicine are tremendous. The aim is "understanding the value of connectivity to health care and the gaps in telehealth to analyze the measures that need to be taken."

4:41PM EDT Energy: Nick Sinai begins by asking the audience to recall the "Blackout of the Northeast in 2003. It cost us between $6 - 10 billion and plunged 55 million people into darkness." What is the smart grid? There are many definitions, but most include a "two-way flow of electricity and information to create an automated, widely distributed energy delivery network." The smart grid will ensure that the kind of blackout that occurred in 2003 never occurs again. Deployment of smart meters are accelerating rapidly in the home. Smart meters will realize your family's preferences and will adjust to them as you use your appliances, while simultaneously saving you money.  The smart meter, heavily reliant on networks and spectrum, will facilitate great efficiencies across the country.

4:58PM EDT Education: Broadband can support education in a variety of ways, particularly through digital content and learning, teacher capacity, data, infrastructure and standards, and 21st century innovations. As with other populations, the cost of digital exclusion for students is growing. Eighty percent of parents say the internet helps children with their school work, 78% of students regularly use the internet for classroom assignments, 41% of students use email and messaging to contact teachers or classmates about school work. In the interest of ending on an up note, data shows that individualized instruction benefits students greatly and their grades reflect this. Online instruction mixed with classroom learning yields significantly improved results.

5:03PM EDT Government and Civic Engagement: There are notable efficiencies to maximize in government, says Eugene Huang. The IRS spends 8 times as much money processing paper tax returns as they do those submitted online.  Citizen engagement trial projects have created a number of successes from Maine to DC.

5:15PM EDT Disabilities: Broadband has the opportunity to open up a whole new world for people with disabilities. Several ideas are raised, including closed captioning videos on the web, making menus accessible, and broadening the availability of telework to allow those with disabilities to work from a place that is convenient.

5:41PM EDT Over the last few hours the Commissioners and the interested public were given an exhaustive overview of the work the Taskforce has completed thus far. They have produced some impressive results, and they're only halfway there. As well as today's meeting went, Blair Levin cautioned, "We recognize, we're really only graded by our final." The final plan is due to congress February 17, 2010.

They raced against the clock to finish the review before 5:30 and came up a few minutes short. The last few presenters breezed through their slides and gave brief overviews of their assigned area. If you missed a slide, or would like to revisit any of the information presented, we have posted all the materials here. We have 141 days left and no doubt the latter half will be as productive as this first stretch. In his concluding words, Chairman Genachowski told the presenters, "You raised the bar for yourselves and for what happens next."

11 Responses to “Live Blogging the Open Commission Meeting”

  1. Guest says:

    I''ve been trying to access the meeting via http://www.fcc.gov/realaudio/ and there is no link.

    The page just shows: "Reload this page at 1:00 pm on 9/29/09 to display the live Audio/Video link"

    I called the FCC and found the following, which works:

    http://www.fcc.gov/live/

  2. Joly MacFie says:

    http://fcc.gov/live is not found.

  3. Guest says:

    The online video webcast of the FCC's meeting is not working!! Can someone fix it?!

  4. Joly MacFie says:

    I guess this would be the one: http://www.fcc.gov/realaudio/

  5. Guest says:

    Thank you for making so much effort to include so many people.

    The biggest obstacle to improving broadband IS the cable and phone companies -- corporations, generally.

    The FCC must lay down the law -- FIX THIS. FIX IT NOW. You rich corporations can afford it. DO IT. NOW.

    Thank you.

  6. Gloria says:

    The presentation sounds great but it is very hard to see or read the slides. Is there anything you can do to fix this? Thank you.

  7. Guest says:

    It's probably safe to say that all comments about Internet availability, usage, speed, etc. in the USA understate the actual reality in any given situation.

  8. Debbie says:

    The video and audio feed are terrible. We need to improve FCC connectivity!

    When will the wonderful slides be available to the public -- I can't read them online.

  9. Guest says:

    I have read partway through the slides. It appears obvious, looking at slide 23, that 7M/7M is the minimum standard, and that 10M/10M should be the next standard, and that people should pay for anything above 10M/10M, as high as they want to go, so long as their desire for higher bandwidth does not interfere with the previously mentioned 2 levels.

  10. Guest says:

    PLEASE REQUIRE THAT ALL TV SHOWS SHOWN ON THE INTERNET BE CAPTIONED. NO EXCEPTIONS, PLEASE.

  11. Guest says:

    I am in a rural setting, my township has all utilities underground, Verizon has no plans to upgrade phone service, cable TV is not available; I live 15 miles from a reasonable sized city, so my only choices are satellite (Hughes Net) or dial up ISP.

    Recently, on the MSNBC Nightly News Brian Williams reported that Verizon has no plans to upgrade land line phone service because many people are choosing cell phone service.

    So here we are waiting for a simple solution to provide internet service to millions of people. At the same time, cell service is available; however, expensive and with caps on service.

    So focus on providing what is / can be available at a fee the customer can afford for the very simple email internet connection via satellite (as in cell phone service). Then focus on upgrades and special features to provide more high tech applications to those customers who feel they cannot live with all the gadgets? In other words, two levels of support, one for the basic customer and then another level for all the rest.

    At least, provide a basic service to the broad general public who are being left out, while all the discussion is regarding the other issues.

    I am a senior citizen interested in email and basic internet services NOT including downloading music and videos.

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