As Chairman Genachowski noted in an earlier post, "the future is being built on our invisible infrastructure" - the electromagnetic spectrum that has enabled innovations like the smartphone and Wi-Fi. Recently, senior leadership at the FCC provided their thoughts on the National Broadband Plan's efforts to unleash this invisible infrastructure to audiences at a Law Seminars International event in Washington, DC and 4G World in Chicago, Illinois. Their remarks, after the jump.
This week, the Commission released the text of an order that modernizes and upgrades the E-rate program to bring fast, affordable Internet access to schools and libraries across the country. Despite the great success of the E-rate program to date, broadband connectivity in schools and libraries is too slow to keep up with the innovative high-tech tools that are now being used across the United States. In fact, the Commission conducted a survey which found that almost 80 percent of E-rate recipients believe their current Internet connections are not sufficient to meet their current needs.
To begin to address this gap, the Commission’s order will make it easier for schools and libraries to get the highest speeds for the lowest prices by increasing their options for broadband providers. The key provisions in the order include:
- Allowing participants to use E-rate funds to connect to the Internet in the most cost-effective way possible, including via unused fiber optic lines already in place across the country and through existing state, regional and local networks;
- Making permanent a waiver that allows schools to create "School Spots" by opening up their doors to greater community use of E-rate supported services and facilities. Schools are already taking advantage of the existing waiver allowing them the option to provide Internet access to the local community after regular school hours. We’d love to hear your community use "success story" so please let us know if you are opening your doors as well.
- Launching a pilot program to support off-campus wireless Internet connectivity for portable learning devices;
- Indexing the cap on E-rate funding to inflation so that the program can more fully meet the needs of students and communities;
- Allowing the program to support connections to the dormitories of schools that serve students facing unique challenges, such as Tribal schools or schools for children with physical, cognitive, or behavioral disabilities;
- Bolstering protections against waste, fraud, and abuse by codifying competitive bidding requirements and clarifying restrictions on gifts from potential service providers; and
- Streamlining the E-rate application process.
Having worked on E-rate issues for 4½ years, I am excited to be a part of the process by which the Commission is taking steps to make E-rate an even greater tool for educators and librarians in a broadband world. The Commission’s actions will help ensure that America’s students can learn to think and develop the skills necessary to contribute productively to our society.
The Chairman summed up the potential impact of this order in his statement adopting the order: "At connected schools, students can access the best libraries in the country, the best learning tools, and the best teachers, wherever they are. A high-school student in a rural town without a calculus teacher can learn calculus remotely, or physics, or Mandarin. Distance learning isn’t a substitute for education reform, but it can enhance reform; it can help schools and students in struggling communities have real opportunity, real access, to the best education can offer."
Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband Phoebe Yang delivered these remarks to county commissioners and staff from rural California counties last week in Napa, CA.
Last week, the FCC created “School Spots” by allowing schools to authorize community use of Internet connections funded by the E-rate after school hours. Earlier this year, the FCC granted a temporary waiver so that West Virginia and other states could move ahead immediately with community use projects, and our guest blogger Julia Benincosa, who is the West Virginia E-Rate and Instructional Technology Coordinator, writes about how the policy is already helping close the broadband gap in West Virginia. We’re encouraging other schools who have experimented with this open-door policy to tell us about their experience, which they can do here.
For years, West Virginia was frustrated by restrictions in the E-rate program that kept school computer access cloistered for use solely by teachers, staff and students within the building. Many opportunities for schools to partner with the community and collaborate with parents to enrich student learning could not be realized due to historical E-rate rules. Under the previous rules, if "ineligible users" accessed the network, schools were required to allocate the cost to non- E-rate funding sources, which could be a difficult and confusing task. Since no one wanted to jeopardize precious funding during times when budgets were already shrinking, schools opted not to participate.
As more and more educators recognized the benefits that after-hours use of school Internet connections could provide, it became clear that changes were needed to eliminate barriers to broader parental and community involvement. At the same time, the FCC was making a number of logical and positive improvements in the E-rate program. The supportive atmosphere of the FCC encouraged us make the case for a waiver that would allow more community use of E-rate-funded networks. With the assistance of our E-rate contacts at the county level, we compiled a list of ways that a more flexible E-Rate program would better meet the educational needs of our communities and students.
Of course, student instruction is always our number one priority. We made it clear that we were only asking for community use during times when school is not in session...evenings, weekends, holiday breaks and summers. Since the Internet isn't turned off during those times, it was available and begging to be utilized to help close the broadband gap and meet the broader educational needs of the community. The WV Department of Education shared its list of helpful community uses at the federal level and soon after, the Community Use Waiver became part of the NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) that was released in the spring of 2010.
This waiver allows for community members to utilize school networks, at the discretion of the school, without requiring burdensome cost-allocation and without jeopardizing E-rate funding. While still in its infancy, this waiver has great promise, and the Internet utilization will definitely grow exponentially. We have seen utilization by the public in Morgantown, West Virginia, where Suzie Martin, a Library Media-Technology Integration Specialist, has her library open after hours and during the summer and works with parents and students in a reading program that utilizes the Internet. This change has also allowed parental training to occur for distance learning programs that allow students to be educated at home and other state initiatives.
For example, the Acuity and Compass Odyssey programs enables students to continue their instruction from home using the Internet. Without training on how to access these sites, parents would be less likely to participate in the education of their children.
A more visible example occurred during the Upper Big Branch mining disaster. Since students were on spring break, Raleigh County's Marsh Fork Elementary School became an emergency site for the Governor and (MSHA) Mine Safety and Health Administration representatives. They met for news conferences and state information was provided to media from around the world for updates and information to chronicle the desperate, 100-hour rescue effort.
Thanks to the FCC's Community Use Waiver, there are new opportunities emerging daily. There is currently a pilot program developing that will train parents of Preschool students in the use of the World Wide Web for educational, personal and occupational use.
These opportunities highlight how the E-rate program can help to show families the importance of broadband Internet access in the home. We have reached a time when having Internet access is as vital for families as having a telephone, and are glad the E-rate can now do a better job of helping West Virginia families to take advantage of this great 21st century educational resources.
These opportunities highlight how the E-rate program can help to show families the importance of broadband Internet access. We have reached a time when having Internet access is as vital for families as having a telephone, and believe that these improvements in E-rate will help families in West Virginia – and across the nation -- take advantage of this great 21st century educational resource.
Tomorrow at 12:00PM (9:00AM PT), FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will appear at a public forum in Silicon Valley to discuss E-rate modernization and innovation in education. The Chairman will also announce the launch of the FCC’s Parents’ Place page. The public forum is hosted by Common Sense Media, and is about creating digital opportunity for families through innovation in education and by empowering both parents and kids online.
The forum is open to the public and can also be watched live via webcast. You can also send questions to ask the Chairman and co-panelists via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through Twitter using the hashtag #kidstech.
TITLE: Back to School: Learning and Growing in a Digital Age
HOSTS: Hosted by Common Sense Media; co-hosted by PBS, The Children’s Partnership, and the USC Annenberg Center for Communication Leadership & Policy
WHAT: A public forum for leaders from Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., to discuss the best strategies for bringing technology innovations to our schools -- and other learning settings -- and bringing the benefits of the digital revolution to parents and kids while addressing online risks.
WHEN: Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010
8:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m (Pacific Time)
WHERE: Computer History Museum
1401 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA
AGENDA: 8:15 – 9 a.m. (Pacific Time)
Interactive Technology Showcase and continental breakfast
9 – 9:20 a.m. (Pacific Time)
Introductory Remarks by James P. Steyer, CEO and Founder, Common Sense Media
Opening Remarks by Julius Genachowski, Chairman, FCC
9:20 – 10:30 a.m. (Pacific Time)
Panel 1: Innovation in Education
Julius Genachowski, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
Karen Cator, Director of Education Technology, U.S. Dept of Education
Shawn Covell, Vice President, Government Affairs, Qualcomm
Patrick Gaston, President, Verizon Foundation
Murugan Pal, Co-Founder & President, CK-12 Foundation
Moderator: Geoffrey Cowan, Dean Emeritus, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
10:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (Pacific Time)
Panel 2: Empowering Parents and Kids with Technology
Sara DeWitt, Vice President, PBS KIDS Interactive,
Mandeep Dhillon, CEO and Co-founder, Togetherville
Joe Sullivan, Chief Security Officer, Facebook
Catherine Teitelbaum, Director of Child Safety and Product Policy, Yahoo!
Marian Merritt, Internet Safety Advocate, Symantec
Moderator: Wendy Lazarus, Founder and Co-President, The Children’s Partnership
Cable’s story is a great American story. It’s a tale of visionary entrepreneurs and pioneers who recognized the potential in a new technology, took big risks, and helped build an industry that in many ways has reshaped our nation.
Pioneers like Ralph Roberts, who, in 1962, thought it would be a good business idea to buy a 1,200-subscriber cable system in Tupelo, Mississippi; Charles Dolan and Gerald Levin, who had a crazy notion that people would pay for television; and Ted Turner, who saw a market for a “superstation” and later a 24-hour news network.
Taking advantage of opportunities that Congress and the FCC created, these leaders galvanized the larger cable industry to invest billions of dollars. Cable soon emerged as America’s most popular entertainment platform, eventually attracting 62 million video customers and supporting 1.5 million jobs.
But it didn’t stop there. A new generation of cable pioneers saw the future, and it was broadband. Identifying a new world of technology solutions and business opportunities, and spurred by government measures that promoted the development of a competing satellite TV platform, cable innovators developed the cable modem, providing consumers high-speed access to the Internet.
Since 1996, the cable industry has collectively invested many billions of dollars in broadband access networks, which itself has spurred telephone companies and others to invest massive sums in broadband, while also unleashing Internet companies, large and small, to invest massive sums in content, applications, and services that consumers access through broadband networks.
Today, broadband is the indispensible infrastructure of the 21st century economy. It is rapidly becoming our primary platform for innovation, economic growth, and enduring job creation. A vibrant, ubiquitous, high-speed Internet — characterized by openness and freedom — is vital to our global competitiveness, to U.S. global leadership in innovation, and to our ability to design, develop, and distribute new Internet-fueled products here in the United States and export them to the rest of the world.
Broadband is vital also for helping solve pressing national challenges like education, health care, energy, and public safety – if all Americans are connected, whether they live in rural towns, urban cities, or in between. Broadband can give every American child real opportunity in our 21st century economy – if we ensure that all of our children have the digital tools, training, and broadband access they need. Broadband can lead to better health care and reduce health costs – if all doctors, clinics, hospital, and patients are connected with broadband of sufficient speed to allow for remote diagnostics and the transfer of MRIs and other bandwidth-consuming information and applications. Broadband can help accelerate a clean and lower cost energy future – if universal broadband is integrated with smart grids and powers universally accessible applications that reduce energy use. And broadband can save lives – if our first responders finally have a mobile broadband communications network and we otherwise pursue policies to promote public safety and protect Americans in a broadband world.
Broadband is vital for free speech and for our democracy, for speakers to reach audiences without censorship and for expanding participation in the marketplace of ideas. And broadband is vital for an improved and efficient e-government in the 21st century, providing better services to American citizens at lower costs.
I recognize and applaud the cable industry for its investment in America’s broadband future. The existence of the cable broadband plant in the United States, in addition to the telephone companies’ infrastructure, provides us with the potential for a significant global competitive advantage.
Still, we are not yet where we need to be when it comes to broadband.
The United States is lagging other nations according to key measures of network speed and adoption, threatening America’s global competitiveness. Some studies of network speeds place the U.S. as low as 18th globally, and the overall U.S. adoption rate of 65% compares to over 90% in some other countries. Many communities in America are lagging even further behind in broadband adoption, including rural Americans, minorities, low-income citizens, and Americans with disabilities. More than 93 million Americans don’t have broadband at home, and 14 to 24 million live in areas where they couldn’t get it if they wanted it.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world increasingly recognizes the power of ubiquitous, high-speed Internet access to spur innovation and job creation in their countries.
One illuminating and alarming study looked at broadband and several other key metrics relating to competitiveness and innovation. It placed the U.S. 40th out of 40 industrial countries ranked in “the rate of change in innovative capacity.”
For the U.S., when it comes to broadband, to stand still is to fall behind.
For these reasons, I was pleased that Congress entrusted the FCC with developing a National Broadband Plan, which the FCC released in March. The Broadband Plan ranks among the most important projects in FCC history. Broadband networks are our 21st century communications networks. As the Commission said unanimously in its Joint Statement on Broadband: “Working to make sure that America has world-leading high-speed broadband networks—both wired and wireless—lies at the very core of the FCC’s mission in the 21st Century.”
The National Broadband Plan is guided by a set of three principles aimed at realizing the transformative power of broadband and grounded in experience.
First, the private sector must play the leading role in extending broadband networks across our nation, and a healthy return on investment is both desirable and necessary to spur risk taking and capital investment in broadband.
The United States is one of few nations where cable is the major broadband provider. And because of the investments in DOCSIS 3.0 upgrades, cable’s networks offer fast and increasingly faster speeds in many markets. And just as satellite TV was a positive competitive spur to cable’s development of the cable modem, the cable broadband infrastructure has been a positive competitive spur to the telephone companies’ development of fiber and other competitive high-speed networks. The Broadband Plan sets ambitious goals of 1-gigabit service to at least one public anchor institution in every community, and affordable 100-megabit service to 100 million households. Cable and telco broadband infrastructure are essential to achieving those goals.
As with broadband deployment, the private sector has an equally essential role to play in spurring broadband adoption. The costs of digital exclusion are high and getting higher. Broadband access is increasingly necessary for finding and applying for jobs, and digital skills are increasingly necessary for being eligible for jobs. Broadband access is increasingly necessary for education, for health care, for basic safety.
I commend NCTA and the cable industry for its “Adoption-plus” initiative and for its leadership role in the Digital Adoption Coalition, a public-private partnership working to invest in making discounted equipment, service, and training available to lower-income urban and rural areas. These are strong first steps. I look forward to energetic implementation, to working together, and to achieving results. Everyone wins if we can increase broadband adoption from 65% to the National Broadband Plan’s 90% goal for 2020, and ultimately to universal adoption.
The second principle is that smart, but restrained government policies can have a positive impact on industry growth.
Historically, cable has been a beneficiary of pro-investment, pro-competition policies. In the 1970s, the government pushed through opposition from competing industries and adopted policies to remove barriers and accelerate cable television service, including creating low-cost opportunities for cable pioneers to deploy their infrastructure on utility poles nationwide. In the 1980s, the government nurtured and incentivized cable’s growth by ensuring that competition to cable would be fair and healthy. And in the 1990s, the government green lit cable’s entry into the local voice business, and telephone’s entry into video. These and other smart government policies fueled cable’s explosive growth, ensuring the construction of the wired broadband infrastructure we have today.
The National Broadband Plan builds on this history with recommendations to lower the cost of broadband deployment, for example by cutting red tape around pole attachments and rights-of-way.
It also calls for a once-in-a-generation transformation of the Universal Service Fund from supporting yesterday’s telephone service to tomorrow’s broadband access service – doing it in a way that reforms and wrings savings out of the existing fund, as we put in place a new Connect America Fund that will efficiently support broadband service.
Finally, the National Broadband Plan is guided by the principle that competition in a free market is essential to drive innovation, encourage investment, and spur consumer benefits.
A specific area where the plan includes recommendations to unleash competition and innovation is in the smart video device market. Just as a shopping mall presents customers with numerous retail outlets, smart video devices can offer viewers a single window into pay-TV content, Internet content, and content that a viewer has already bought or archived. Consumers want devices that can navigate the universe of video programming, from multiple sources, in a simple integrated way. But there is not enough competition driving innovation. Last month the FCC launched a proceeding to establish new standards and spur competition. The NCTA’s consumer principles are playing a constructive role on policy development relating to the integration of traditional TV and the Internet experience, and I’m pleased that cable’s leaders have embraced our goal to drive innovation in this area.
I’m also pleased that last week the Commission took an important step involving selectable output controls to enable a potential new business model for content creators and cable companies, in a reasonable way that enhances consumer choice and guards against piracy.
I believe that to spur competition we need an Internet that is both open and trusted, that meaningfully protects consumer freedom and choice, incentivizes innovation both in the core of broadband networks and on the edge, and ensures that businesses can develop business models that provide a real return on investment and protect intellectual property.
The National Broadband Plan also includes recommendations to promote transparency to broadband subscribers, and otherwise provide basic protections to consumers, innovators, small businesses, and new entrants from all regions and all communities. And it recommends steps to address vital public safety and cybersecurity challenges raised by our country’s shift to broadband communications networks.
Since the plan was delivered to Congress in March, the breadth and depth of the support and praise has been encouraging, and a real testament to the FCC staff who worked so hard to run a fair, open, and data-driven process, and to develop ideas to drive toward U.S. leadership in broadband. In a space where consensus can certainly be elusive, more than 3,000 companies throughout the broadband ecosystem, nonprofit organizations, and others have applauded the FCC staff’s work.
Unfortunately, the D.C. Circuit’s recent decision in the Comcast case raises serious questions about whether the legal framework the FCC chose nearly a decade ago is adequate to implement key provisions of the National Broadband Plan, including universal service reform; basic protections for consumers, innovators and entrepreneurs; public safety and cybersecurity; and others.
The court decision has not changed our broadband policy objectives one iota. But it did damage the legal foundation underneath these objectives. I was comfortable with the Commission’s prior approach. We defended it in court; we argued that Title I gave us the authority we needed. But the court disagreed. This decision creates uncertainty, and risks compromising our common goals of pursuing world-class broadband for all Americans.
We’ve now got to fix the legal foundation. The design concept for the solution we’ve proposed is simple: let’s find a solid legal foundation to move forward on key policy outcomes previously identified without doing anything more than necessary to achieve that purpose.
Last week, I proposed a narrowly tailored approach to do that.
It rejects both extremes – the extreme of doing nothing, and the extreme of imposing massive regulations on broadband.
Under this light touch approach, the FCC would invoke only the handful of provisions in the Communications Act necessary to achieve limited but essential broadband goals. This is not about unbundling and price regulation. It’s about fixing the basic legal foundation – having a narrowly tailored path to move forward on previously identified policy outcomes. We’re going to continue to rely on competitive markets.
This Third Way approach is modeled on approaches that have worked and continue to work -- for example, the regulatory framework for mobile voice communications, which involves select application of a small number of Title II provisions and broad forbearance. That approach, in place for many years, has provided certainty and confidence, and I am committed to ensuring that it provides the same certainty and confidence as applied to broadband access. Indeed, today over 800 rural telephone companies voluntarily provide broadband access under a Title II framework that is less clearly delimited than the Third Way I have proposed.
Will this approach serve as the basis for a broad restructuring of how broadband providers do business? No.
Will it serve as the basis for regulatory creep? No. And we’ve suggested ways to have clear and lasting boundaries against regulatory overreach.
The American people rightfully expect a reasonable and solid legal framework to promote broadband everywhere, to protect fair competition, to protect consumers, and to preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet and its ability to remain a platform for innovation, job creation and free speech.
I will ask my Commission colleagues to join me in soon launching a public process on the issues raised by the court decision and inviting new ideas. This process would begin with a Notice of Inquiry and Notice of Proposed Forbearance that seek public comment on our proposed approach, along with any other approaches, for restoring the pre-Comcast status quo framework.
I call on the cable industry and all stakeholders to work with us productively to secure a solid legal foundation for our broadband future, and to implement policies that will promote the kind of innovation, investment, and entrepreneurship exhibited by cable’s pioneers.
The Comcast decision has created a problem. Let’s approach it with the philosophy of the business community: let’s work together to solve it. Together, we can ensure that the U.S. has world-leading broadband deployment and adoption, and that our country can realize the benefits of broadband’s transformative power to fuel our economy and improve the lives of all Americans.
Read video transcript here.
Broadband is increasingly essential to our daily lives. It is fast becoming the primary way we as Americans connect with one another, do business, educate ourselves and our children, receive health care information and services, and express our opinions. As a unanimous FCC said a few weeks ago in our Joint Statement on Broadband, “Working to make sure that America has world-leading high-speed broadband networks—both wired and wireless—lies at the very core of the FCC’s mission in the 21st Century.”
Many have asked about the future of Internet policy and the FCC’s role in that future in light of the recent decision in the Comcast case. Today I have issued a statement that describes a path forward, which will begin with seeking public comment on a narrow and tailored legal foundation for the FCC’s approach to broadband communications services. Our goal is to restore the broadly supported status quo consensus that existed prior to the Comcast decision regarding the FCC’s role with respect to broadband Internet service.
Almost two weeks ago, the Commission reached a major milestone in moving from planning to action on the National Broadband Plan. On April 8, we released the 2010 Broadband Action Agenda that sets out the timing and purpose of more than 60 concrete Commission proceedings and actions to take place over the next year.
- Ensuring that the U.S. has a broadband communications infrastructure that enables us to compete globally and remain the world leader in innovation in the 21st century;
- Ensuring that every American benefits from the economic promise and social opportunity that broadband affords;
- Ensuring that consumers are protected and empowered, and competition promoted in broadband communications; and
- Ensuring that, in a world of broadband communications networks, our public safety and homeland security is protected.
- We begin the process of initiating a once-in-a-generation transformation of the Universal Service Fund, in order to connect all Americans to broadband, including Americans who live and work in rural areas.
- We also launch two proceedings to lay out a new foundation for fulfilling Congress’s mandate to ensure a competitive marketplace for video navigation devices.
- In the area of mobile, we revise our voice roaming rules to improve the ability of American consumers to receive voice service whenever and wherever they travel, while also encouraging carriers of all sizes to invest, innovate, and deploy new networks. We also seek comment on a framework for achieving the same goals with respect to mobile broadband services -- perhaps the most exciting and dynamic sector of the communications landscape.
- And for the safety of all Americans, we launch a proceeding to ensure the survivability of broadband communications infrastructure to protect against terrorist attacks, natural disasters, pandemics, or other major public emergencies. We also consider a voluntary cyber security certification program to help protect our country’s critical communications infrastructure against a new and serious threat.
- Adopting an order to cut through red tape on tower siting to accelerate mobile broadband build-out;
- Taking action to increase flexibility of schools receiving E-Rate funding to serve their communities with broadband access; and
- Enabling build-out of critical healthcare networks by announcing funding commitments and giving participants in the Rural Health Care Pilot Program the additional time needed to select vendors and request commitments.
- Project GOAL that promotes adoption of broadband services by older adults;
- The Small Business Coalition that provides digital literacy and training tools to small businesses;
- “Apps for Inclusion” to develop mobile and online applications that have a social purpose;
- Digital Adoption Coalition, made up of industry leaders in cable, telecommunications, software, hardware, and other technology players working together with the nonprofit sector to invest in making discounted equipment, service, and training available to lower income urban and rural areas; and
- A consortium of leading deployment and infrastructure technology companies looking to upgrade institutional connectivity to 40,000 community anchor institutions.