We just put out a press release listing this week's workshops for the National Broadband Plan. There will be three this week, and if you haven't had a chance to attend or watch online, you should definitely set aside time to do so this week. There will be more workshops after Labor Day and beyond, but the schedule is beginning to wind down. Whether or not news is made, the workshops are informative and feature international broadband experts. If you care about broadband, the only excuse for not attending is having a really nice spot on the beach - and even then, you can watch the archives when you get back.Tuesday afternoon will be devoted to state and local issues, including the experience with municipal broadband. On Wednesday, panelists will discuss how to get beyond broadband deployment rankings to provide measurements that actually help policymakers who are trying to figure out how to get quality, affordable broadband to everyone. And on Thursdays, panelists ranging from an MIT professor to the President of Public Knowledge will look at Big Ideas. Get information on how to attend in person or online under the workshops tab at www.broadband.gov
Archive for August 2009
As a new member of the National Broadband Taskforce, I recently moved from Boston to Washington D.C. I just received my first electric bill in the mail, and it was painfully high -- now I understand why folks try to flee Washington D.C. in August.
Three things struck me about the bill, beyond my own foolishness and irresponsibility.
First, the bill was challenging to understand, even for someone who knows a little bit about electricity. Within the categories of generation and distribution, there were various services I was being billed for, all at different rates per kilowatt hour. Then there were several monthly charges that were independent of usage. I needed a spreadsheet to calculate my total electricity cost per kilowatt hour.
Second, the bill came too late. It's not that the local electric utility was delinquent; I'm sure they got me my bill on time. I mean it was too late for me to do anything about it, other than to be more efficient-can you say CFLs and better insulation?-going forward. It's like I bought a tank of gas a month ago, and am only now getting the bill.
Third, my bill didn't give me any good ideas about how to change my consumption in the future. Sure, I know that laying off the AC will use less energy, but how much of a difference will a few degrees make? What about the other things in my house, like light bulbs or appliances?
At the same time, I was getting several emails from my bank and from Mint, a free consumer financial website I use. Mint sends me alerts when I have a low balance, an unpaid bill looming, or if I am spending above my budget-which is unfortunately too often an occurrence. It also clearly shows me what I am spending money on, giving me the information I need to take control of my budget.
Imagine if we had the same level of information about our energy consumption, and if we had a better sense of what it costs us. Real-time information about prices and usage is important-studies have shown that just providing information about energy consumption in real-time can change behavior enough to generate a 10% savings on your electricity bill. The Smart Grid holds the promise to make this a reality.
We had a great panel discussion yesterday on the Smart Grid, and it's clear to me that there are many different approaches to building the communications networks that are an essential part of the Smart Grid. There are many different applications-Smart Meters being just one-that have different bandwidth and latency requirements, and there is no silver bullet. Commercial wireless networks will play a role, but there are also private licensed and unlicensed approaches that have their place too.
But as I heard the debate about what types of networks and technologies we should use, it occurred to me that the nation will collectively miss the benefit of the Smart Grid if we can't get information to the consumers so they can act on it.
My former boss, Bob Metcalfe, who knows a little bit about networking, likes to remind folks that we need to learn the lessons of the Internet as we think about building out the Smart Grid.
Those lessons can be the success stories, like the power of standards. Standard protocols, like IP, have been fundamental to the rise of the Internet, and have revolutionized telecommunications. On yesterday's panel, we heard consensus on the importance of standards, and that the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) is leading the charge on Smart Grid standards.
But sometimes the best lessons come from failure. The Internet architecture, mostly designed by academics to communicate with other academics, didn't really account for security or commercial uses. As a result, viruses, spam and cybersecurity are major issues today affecting many aspects of our economy. Given that we are just starting with the Smart Grid, security doesn't have to be an afterthought.
So how can we build a Smart Grid that is based on open standards, to ensure a faster and more efficient deployment to all Americans? How can we ensure communication systems are built with sufficient security, resiliency, and privacy? And how can the National Broadband Plan help?
As Commissoner Clyburn noted yesterday, building the Smart Grid is a challenging task that will require strong coordination between the private sector, federal agencies, and state regulators.
With the help of the American entrepreneurial spirit, I'm optimistic that we can get there. And I'm confident that one day I'll get an email or text message warning me of an impending hot day, reminding me to set the thermostat just a few degrees higher, or giving me an opportunity to save money through new pricing models. Or maybe my thermostat will be programmed, like my TiVo, to know my preferences, and will take care of it for me, saving money on my behalf.
Either way, I know how I'll solve the problem next August - I'll follow the lead of the politicians and take a vacation.
The great thing about bringing people together to talk about broadband adoption data is that you always get new ideas for questions to pursue in the future. At the "Building the Fact" base workshop last week, this dynamic played out as expected. Susannah Fox, from the Pew Internet Project, reminded listeners of the growth in broadband adoption at home from just 3% of Americans in 2000 to 63% as of April 2009. Link Hoewing at Verizon noted the fast adoption pace of broadband relative to other communications technologies. But he, and others, pointed out how we have likely entered a maturing phase on the adoption curve, meaning that reaching the remaining 37% of non-adopters will be a challenge. Peter Stenberg from the Agriculture Department highlighted particular challenges for rural Americans.
We were also reminded how strongly broadband can impact how people get information. Susannah Fox had a striking statistic: 42% of all adults say they or someone they know has been helped by following medical advice or health information found on the internet. This represents a significant increase since 2006 when 25% of all adults reported being aware of helpful outcomes. As wireless access means become more prominent, as CTIA's Christopher Guttman-McCabe said, these kinds of trends, as well as content sharing, will be reinforced.
How to address the remaining non-broadband adopters in the U.S? Karen Archer Perry and Kate Williams both provided insightful suggestions. Both noted the human element in adoption-promotion efforts, saying that there must be a social infrastructure to promote adoption. That is, non-adopters need nearby training programs, where teachers can not only help build digital skills, but demonstrate the relevance of particular applications. The goal is to motivate people to access broadband, grow their confidence in using it, and allow broadband and online content to enrich their lives more and more over time.
All the panelists' ideas are wonderful food for thought as Task Force thinks through broadband adoption barriers.
One of the challenges facing the Broadband Task Force is a question inspired by the 1989 classic film, "Field of Dreams": if we build it, will they come? As John mentioned in his post, the 37% of Americans who have not adopted home broadband have a unique set of concerns, needs and barriers to overcome. Our two afternoon workshops on Wednesday, "Low adoption and utilization" and "Programmatic efforts to increase adoption and usage," addressed this topic.
The speakers during the panel on low adoption represented demographic groups who tend to have high numbers of non-adopters as well as the businesses and organizations working to bring those groups online. We heard from speakers on the reasons why senior citizens, Native Americans, small business owners, Americans living in rural areas and African Americans tend to be underrepresented relative to the general population. While at first glance these are very different groups, what was striking was the common thread-people will adopt when they feel they have the skills, devices and applications they need to shape and control their broadband experience. And they will do so more readily when they have the "social infrastructure" of family, friends and neighbors that is already broadband-adopting. That infrastructure is critical both because it prompts them to adopt broadband, and because it trains and supports them as they figure out a new technology (and in many cases, figure out how to use a computer for the first time).
Our final panel of the day picked up on this point by bringing together a group of folks representing the many programs designed to get people the skills, devices and applications they need. Again, a few common themes emerged. Successful programs tend to have high personal interaction in the initial stages (see ‘social infrastructure" point above), content packaged in a way that is accessible to the user, and an end goal that sees broadband as a tool to enrich life. One other key takeaway from this group was the notion that an adoption program's success can and should be measured. Developing those metrics for evaluation will be one of the many areas where will be seeking additional input.
When the other members of the Adoption team read this blog post, they told me my Field of Dreams reference was too obvious, so I figured I should go for something more obscure to end. At one point in the film, as the main character is starting to give up on his vision of building a ball field, he hears a voice again. This time it says to him "go the distance." In the coming months, we'll be looking to "go the distance" toward increasing adoption rates among all Americans, and we'll be reaching out for your help along the way.
It is great fun to be part of the team developing the National Broadband Plan, notwithstanding the fact that I'm writing this at 10:45 pm at the FCC, waiting for a colleague to get ready so we can walk together to the Metro after a long day. But there are several reasons why this is a fun project:
First, we all realize the importance of what we are doing. Yes, it is important for people in corporations, for politicians, and for policy makers. But it is also important for our friends, neighbors, and families. We want them to be proud of what we do and its impact on the country and the people of the United States. And it is fun to work on something truly important.
Second, there is a healthy mix of analysis and vision across a broad variety of very important topics. And variety is the spice of life!
For example, about a week ago, I had a discussion about several econometric studies on the relationship between broadband adoption and economic growth, and how much of what is written on the topic is depressingly bad: my 11 year old knows that correlation is not causation, but some economists clearly don't! I'm looking forward to getting better information about the subject from our workshop on Wednesday of this week, entitled "Economic Growth, Job Creating, and Private Investment ."
Shortly after that discussion, I worked for a few hours on understanding the technological, regulatory, economic, and operational issues associated with ensuring that our first-responders have their communications needs met. I remembered the many hours I spent with Chiefs Hayden and Pfeiffer at the FDNY when we were working together to understand what happened on 9/11, and how they taught me to respect and value our firefighters and police officers (I am sure NYPD guys wont believe this, but it is true!). We'll be hearing more about the topic Tuesday morning at our workshop on Public Safety and Homeland Security, followed by an afternoon session on Energy, Environment and Transportation; a session on Thursday afternoon after the Commission meeting will devote more time to technology, applications and devices.
Later that afternoon, I participated in a panel about education and broadband. I could not stop thinking that every high school student in the U.S. should be able to watch the Feynman lectures on physics online (requires Silverlight 3.0) from their home as many times as needed until they truly understand why physics and math are both important and cool. Every parent should be able to look up their child's homework assignments for next week on the web. Every teacher should be able to access the best pedagogic content in the world to meet their student's needs. And ours kids must be able to go to school without carrying bags weighing 20lbs. How to get there is a great challenge, as broadband is actually just a small piece of this puzzle. We will be looking at a different facet of broadband and education Wednesday afternoon in a workshop on broadband's impact on job training programs
Finally, I had a two-hour meeting with Chairman Genachowski talking about the main policy issues we have identified so far in our work. He was deeply engaged and helped us frame and advance our thinking on many important questions.
The third reason why it is fun to work here is the quality of the people. There are really smart and dedicated folks in the FCC, with tremendous expertise in important policy issues, like Universal Service and the FCC's authority to remove or impose obligations like build-out requirements or incentives to drive efficient use of spectrum. And most have a great sense of humor, which one needs to be able to keep up the pace.
Well, time to go. Enjoy the workshops this week.
The Federal Communications Commission's staff workshops this week for the development of a National Broadband Plan will explore:
- The use of broadband technology by the public safety and the homeland security communities (Tuesday at 9:00 a.m.)
- Smart Grid, Broadband and Climate Change (Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.)
- Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Private Investment (Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.)
- Job Training (Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.)
- Technology/Applications and Devices (Thursday at 1:30 p.m.)
Below are links where you can register to attend the workshops in person or via live webinar. Join the discussion.
Workshop: Public Safety and Homeland Security Date: 8/25/09 Time: 9:00 am
Workshop: Smart Grid, Broadband and Climate Change Date: 8/25/09 Time: 1:30 pm
Workshop: Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Private Investment Date: 8/26/09 Time: 9:30 am
I just joined the broadband team last week to help out on the disability access policy issues. When Cheryl King, the workshop coordinator, told me that we were going to conduct a 90-minute town hall meeting with well over 100 participants which would cover 16 sets of questions and would allow for participation via the Internet and a phone bridge, I thought she was ...um ... gutsy. But she and her team managed to do all of that - as well as integrate into the program powerful remarks from Special Observers Kareem Dale, the President's Special Assistant for Disability Policy, and Marcie Roth, Senior Advisor, Disabilities Issues at FEMA. Chairman Genachowski and Commissioner Copps were also on hand. Team leader Blair Levin gave opening remarks at the workshop and stayed for the entire time, engaging the participants with numerous follow up questions.
The format allowed us to hear from a large number of thoughtful, knowledgeable, and passionate people who care deeply that we get this right. We heard comments from the disability community, industry, academia, and government about today's broadband marketplace, the potential that broadband holds for people with disabilities, and strategies for achieving full access. We covered a lot of topics in a short time, some of which include: universal design and the importance of considering accessibility early in the design and development phase; the challenges of interoperability; what companies are currently doing to make their products and support services accessible; consumer needs; technological advances that may drive the increased use of broadband by people with disabilities; sources of funding that could promote greater usage; how we should define broadband; the role of industry consortium in promoting accessibility; the role of government and regulation; and the need to include a principle of inclusion in the National Broadband Plan.
We are still in the fact-gathering, early stages of the process, and the record from the Notice of Inquiry and the transcript from the proceedings today provide a good starting point. But we have a lot of work to do. As Blair said at the workshop, our task is to integrate disability access issues into all aspects of the National Broadband Plan.
We need your help to do that. We need more details and facts and data about the most effective and efficient mechanisms for ensuring broadband access for people with disabilities; about how to achieve affordability and maximum utilization of broadband; about the status of deployment for people with disabilities; and about how to consider people with disabilities as we prepare a plan for use of the broadband infrastructure and services to further health care, education, job creation, and the numerous other national purposes.
Recognizing that we still need to add to the record, Cheryl announced that we will hold an additional workshop on October 20. But we also need specific, detailed submissions from you that will allow us to draft a plan that will accomplish the objectives that Congress has set out for us. If you have some thoughts about a specific process that best would elicit the record we need, please let us know.
--Below are more photos from the Workshop--
On August 18, the FCC conducted its Broadband Workshop on "Opportunities for Disadvantaged Businesses, which examined whether small and disadvantaged businesses are ready to take advantage of new and existing broadband technologies.
The Commission and its web viewers were fortunate to have an array of talent and knowledge displayed throughout the afternoon. The first panel consisted of representatives from various Chambers of Commerce, from the SBA, and from business leaders familiar with the broadband needs of rural communities. These panelists discussed what is currently known about broadband technology in their constituent communities, and how they can assist small and disadvantaged businesses in their effort to increase broadband adoption. The small and disadvantaged business community requires services developed with a focus on local communities. Although broadband technology represents an additional cost for small businesses, without these technologies, their businesses may be unsustainable in the modern marketplace. Hopefully, we can avoid this Catch 22.
The second panel consisted of small business leaders who are in the technology solutions business. These panelists discussed the various ways they help businesses grow by using broadband technology. They stressed the need for digital literacy and how we must make broadband relevant in the daily lives of people in unserved and underserved communities and not just for entertainment purposes.
The third and final panel consisted of entrepreneurs who currently own and operate small businesses that use broadband technology to remain competitive in their industries. They represent the proof that broadband technology is working well for those with good ideas that need to be brought to the marketplace; that broadband technology is essential for enabling new businesses to flourish without a brick and mortar presence; and that it can be inexpensive and easy to create businesses on the Internet.
As the February 2010 deadline approaches for sending the National Broadband Plan to Congress, it is critical that we identify the ways in which broadband access and availability impact small and disadvantaged businesses. We are looking forward to continuing our conversation with stakeholders in the small and disadvantaged business community.
As we count down the days before the National Broadband Plan is due, it's worth taking stock of who has participated so far in the staff workshops that are enlivening the Commission room in the dog days of August with an ongoing dialogue about broadband.So, with apologies to the 12 Days of Christmas, here we go. On the 180th day before the National Broadband Plan, our workshops had given to us:
- 15 participants from small, disadvantaged and minority businesses
- 12 from wireless broadband - WISPs, WIMAX, mobile, rural and others
- 12 governmental officials, from international to local
- 12 from consumer and public interest groups
- 11 from academia
- 10 from equipment manufacturers
- Seven from the disabilities community
- Seven from big phone companies
- Seven from big wireless companies
- Six from think tanks
- Five from fiber providers
- Four from cable providers
- Three from journalism, media and publishing
- Three from rural phone companies
- Two from competitive phone companies
- Two from satellite
- One each from the analyst world, legal, retail and the web
Today the FCC is releasing a Public Notice, or PN, on the best way to define broadband. As the PN points out, much of the recent debate tends to center on throughput speeds. Engineers know that these numbers by themselves are most often misleading. For example, in most cases the "advertised" throughput speed has a tenuous relation with the actually delivered speed, which will actually vary over time, depending on the application, the server, and many other factors.
Both OfCom, which is the communications regulator in the UK, and Akamai have published studies based on meaningful numbers of end-user samples that show large the difference between advertised and actual rates.
In addition, for many important applications, such as voice and videoconferencing, other performance metrics, such as latency, are crucial.
But why do we care? Why do we need to think about broadband carefully? Several reasons:
- If we want to decide who has and who does not have broadband, we actually need to agree on what we mean by broadband.
- If we want to decide who can take advantage of one type of application or another, we need to know what they are actually getting today, and what is the gap between that and what they actually need to get
- If we need to know how much it would cost the country to enable all or a subset of its households and businesses to take advantage of one application or another, we need to know what the gap is between where we are and where we want to be.
- If we want to ensure that consumers have a clear and accurate view of what they are getting for their money, we need to decide what are the important metrics, and how to measure them.
And the list goes on. Bottom line: this is important. We want your input. We need your input. If you are an academic, a service provider engineer, a consumer, or anyone else with a stake in the outcome of the Plan, please read the PN, think about it, and share your best thinking.
It looks like a document written by lawyers to lawyers, but in there there are some important questions for the country.
** You can submit brief comments here. Click on the radio button for the National Broadband Plan Notice of Inquiry - Docket 09-51. If you want to file longer comments using an attachment, file comments here using the same docket number. **