In an effort to solicit input from the public in the development of a National Broadband Plan, the Commission will host a field hearing on September 21, 2009, in Austin, Texas. FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker will represent the Commission and two panels will explore the challenges of broadband deployment in Texas, including spectrum access, infrastructure, and rural issues.Click here to watch the event live and submit your questions to have them asked during the Q&A session. Use hashtag #BBwkshp or email them. After today, the next two field hearings will be on October 1 in the Washington, D.C. area, and October 6 in Charleston, South Carolina. Watch the blog and the news page of broadband.gov for details.
Public Notice Seeks Comment on Ensuring Accessible and Affordable Broadband for People with DisabilitiesSeptember 18th, 2009 by Elizabeth Lyle - Special Counsel for Innovation, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
Today we released a Public Notice, or PN, asking for recommendations to ensure that broadband technologies are accessible and affordable to people with disabilities. The large number of questions in the PN makes it clear that we have a lot to do if we are going to formulate meaningful policy. There are numerous, complex issues to discuss and distill in the coming months, and it is critical that we work collaboratively with all stakeholders to get this right. Here is how you can help:
- Help us plan the structure and substance of our upcoming workshop on Oct. 20. We invite suggestions on panel topics, exhibits, speakers and additional questions. We also welcome your ideas for background material that may be helpful for us and all those participating in the workshop. Our goal is to use the workshop time as effectively as possible to help us formulate policy recommendations. You can give us your input by filing comments in the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) by using either ECFS Express or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file. Please note in your comments that they are responding to NBP Public Notice #4 or in response to a blog that we will be posting for each panel in Blogband (see more details below). The sooner you file your suggestions, the better.
- Respond to questions in the PN by October 6. Before we can make policy recommendations, we have to understand better the accessibility and affordability barriers faced by people with disabilities; the technological barriers and solutions; the potential of broadband to advance certain national purposes (related, for example, to health care, education, public safety, job creation/worker training, and civic participation/community development) for people with disabilities; resources existing at the federal, state, local, and tribal level that we can leverage to make broadband accessible and affordable to people with disabilities; and the effectiveness of regulatory and non-regulatory mechanisms in promoting accessibility and affordability for people with disabilities. To the extent that commenters are able to help us gather information in advance of the workshop, we can both build on this information and narrow the focus of the workshop accordingly. We would also appreciate your help in identifying commenters who may be expert at certain issues (e.g., on barriers faced by those who have intellectual disabilities) who have not participated in this proceeding (or perhaps any other FCC proceeding) to date. File comments as described above, and once again, please mark your submission as responsive to NBP Public Notice #4.
- Participate in the new disability access policy blog. As mentioned above, we are establishing a "disabilities access" category on Blogband where we will post five different blog posts to track the tentative panels that we propose for our workshop. That is, we will have posts (and ongoing threads) on (1) Accessibility and Affordability Barriers Faced by People with Disabilities; (2) Technological Barriers and Solutions; (3) Furthering National Purposes and People with Disabilities; (4) Federal, State, and Local Resources to Make Broadband Accessible and Affordable to People with Disabilities; and (5) Policy Solutions and Recommendations. The posts will cover the same kinds of questions that are set forth in the PN. We know that many of the issues that we raise would benefit from having an ongoing, iterative process in which we could collaborate on these issues before and after the workshop. We also will post new blog posts when we want to focus on a particular topic in more detail. And, as noted above, we also invite comments relating to workshop planning in response to these posts. Finally, if you want to initiate an idea not covered in the blog posts, we encourage you to do so by going to broadband.ideascale.com and clicking on accessibility for people with disabilities.
This week's staff workshops at the FCC take on three interesting topics related to the National Broadband Plan: telehealth, online content, and spectrum. The first workshop is today at 1:30 with a discussion of health care and broadband. On Thursday morning at 9:30, the discussion turns to online content and the balance between making content easily available while protecting against piracy. On Thursday afternoon at 1:30, three separate panels discuss spectrum supply and demand, sources of spectrum, and technologies to facilitate more productive spectrum use. As always, the public can attend the staff workshops in person or online.
Once something becomes a part of our everyday lives, we tend to assume that it will always be roughly as we see it now. In the case of the Internet, while we hope that even greater data rates will become available, and that these rates will become available to even more homes and businesses, we may assume that little else will change. Last week's panel discussion on "the Internet of the Future" was a powerful reminder that the Internet, and broadband technology more generally, will continue to evolve. Moreover, innovation is critical to an infrastructure that meets our long-term needs, and this has implications for broadband policy. For this discussion, it was my privilege to bring together six true thought leaders: engineers Dave Clark of MIT, Van Jacobson of PARC, Scott Shenker of UC-Berkeley, Taieb (Ty) Znati of NSF, Dick Green of Cablelabs, and economist Rob Atkinson of ITIF.
Moore's law suggests that electronic devices will continue to improve exponentially, and if the Internet does not improve at a comparable pace, it may become what Dave Clark called a "sea anchor." Moreover, progress does not simply mean we will see the same actors doing the same things but more quickly. Although the Internet has been around for four decades, elements of the current infrastructure, applications, and industry structure have emerged fairly recently, quickly, and sometimes unexpectedly - a phenomenon that could continue in the future. Even a visionary researcher like Van Jacobson thought the world wide web was a surprise out of "left field" when it emerged in the late 1990s. And as Dave Clark pointed out, today's ISP, which many now see as the only possible form of service provider, emerged only 15 years ago, and at that time, ISPs generally leased infrastructure rather than building their own. Are comparable changes ahead? The panel discussed possible technical advances that could conceivably change the nature of the Internet and associated businesses, creating new challenges and opportunities for policymakers in the process. Will virtualization shift some control from the owners of communications facilities to a new kind of service provider that does not yet exist? Will changes in switch design shift some control from equipment makers back to facilities-based providers of Internet services? Will a proliferation of virtual networks operating over the same physical infrastructure "blur the boundary of what it means to be connected to the Internet," as Dave Clark conjectured? It is too soon to tell.
While much of the recent broadband policy discussion has focused on data rates, we know this is just one limitation of current technology that could motivate innovation. The problem cited most in last week's panel was security. Other issues include mobility, manageability, and support for new device types such as sensors, or perhaps meter readers in a new smart grid. Rob Atkinson pointed out that some Americans are not using the Internet not because it is unavailable or unaffordable, but because they find it difficult to use; this too could drive innovation. If capacity does remain a limitation, there may also be ways to address it other than greater data rates. Van Jacobson has suggested new ways of using increased storage as a substitute for increased communications capacity, although success may depend on finding more intelligent ways to share stored information across users, and more effective security mechanisms.
Some of the emerging technical approaches under consideration have the potential of facilitating subsequent innovation, creating a virtuous circle of rapid change. Scott Shenker suggested that today's complex switches may someday be replaced with commodity hardware combined with software that can easily be customized to meet its owner's needs, perhaps giving the owners of networks (and server farms) a new ability to innovate. Taeib Znati described how virtualization of some communications functions could enable what he called "evolvability," allowing multiple Internets to exist in parallel. This could support multiple versions designed for the same purpose, thereby facilitating improvements, or it could support multiple architectures designed for very different purposes.
So is the U.S. prepared for the innovation to come? Here, the views were more mixed, and the discussion more sobering. On the one hand, it was suggested that the U.S. has strong abilities to commercialize new ideas quickly. However, great concern was expressed about innovation over the longer term. Dick Green discussed the need for experimentation. Van Jacobson said fewer of the traditional research leaders are thinking long-term, citing DARPA's desire to produce "commercially relevant" technology and the rise of the professor-entrepreneur as among the reasons. Scott Shenker said that even in a research university it was difficult to do long-term work when one has to write many short-term funding proposals every year. Dave Clark said many of his best students were choosing short-term work in industry over long-term research because they found the research climate in the U.S. too "hostile." Dave also considers the total funding level for research to be "simply miserable." Overall, according to a report by Rob Atkinson and his ITIF colleagues, the U.S. ranks 40th among the 40 nations ITIF considered in "progress toward the new knowledge-based innovation economy." According to Dave Clark, many of our competitors overseas have an "articulated national policy" designed "to exploit our failure, in order to leapfrog us and make sure we are left in the past." They believe they can do this because the U.S. is no longer "serious" about maintaining its technological leadership. Let us hope they are wrong.
There have been over 10,000 comments filed about the National Broadband Plan. And there will be a lot more in response to the Public Notices issued by the Commission to drill deeper into specific issues. Following are instructions on how to access and read those comments using the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System, known as ECFS.
A docket number is key to using ECFS, and this link takes you to the ECFS retrieval form with the docket number for the National Broadband Plan, 09-51, already filled in. Just hit "Retrieve Document List" to get a list of all filings. Yes, there are lots of them, and you need to click on each individual filing to read it. But there are many ways you can focus your search, which include:
- Entering the name of a specific individual whose comments you want to see in Field 4 (Filed on Behalf of)
- Narrowing your search to people in your community by using the "City," "State," or "Zip Code" fields
- Entering "FCC" in Field 5 - (Law Firm) - to see FCC filings.
- Clicking on the box in field 15 (Eliminate Brief Text Comments) to narrow the search considerably by retrieving only longer comments
- Finding comments for a specific public notice by using a date range on either side of the comment due dates
You can contact ECFS staff during business hours at (202) 418-0193 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join in the broadband dialogue by reading and writing comments!
As part of the Broadband Plan NOI, we specifically sought comments on cyber security. In an effort to gather more data on this issue, we will hold a Cyber Security Workshop on September 30th. While the Workshop will be here in D.C., it will of course be accessible on the web. I am really excited to have folks join us as we and the panelists discuss the prevention and detection of cyber attacks and the restoration process in the event of an attack. As we are still planning the workshop, I would be very interested in hearing from you what issues you think we should cover. I look forward to reading your comments here.
Co-written by Peter Bowen, Applications Director, and Shawn Hoy, Program Analyst, Omnibus Broadband Initiative
Last Thursday, August 27th the FCC helped moderate two workshops on technology, applications and devices, which provoked some fascinating discussions around the current and future state of broadband in America.
The first workshop focused on the current state of the network, applications, and devices. The panelists represented a cross-section of network, applications, and devices backgrounds and covered a number of critical points.
The first point from the panel was that defining broadband in a way that is sustainable and measurable is a non-trivial task. The simplest way of defining broadband seems to be measuring basic network speed (e.g., Mbps), selecting a threshold for speed, and classifying broadband as any product above the threshold. However, the panelists raised the issue of whether network speed is really the appropriate measure or if a more user-facing measure (e.g., number of seconds to load a page) would be more appropriate and comprehensive given the impact of applications and devices on performance. One panelist, Anoop Gupta from Microsoft, suggested a two-tiered approach to defining broadband. The first tier would focus on a network performance that enables consumers to participate meaningfully and productively in the economy and in civic engagement - he described it as a "civic baseline" for speed. The second tier would be focused on a network performance that enables strategic assets (hospitals, schools, etc...) to use the internet to its fullest capability, along with "power users" who conduct significant download and upload activities online.
The second point the panel discussed was that the US is lagging far behind best-in-class countries (South Korea was mentioned most frequently) in terms of performance of and access to the internet. The panel noted that the OECD ranks the US 19th in terms of broadband adoption and connection speed, and that the average connection speed in South Korea is 11 Mbps as compared to 1.5 Mbps in the US. This is important because the panelists agreed that applications will evolve to use up all available bandwidth. For example, video consumption will evolve from standard definition to high definition. At the same time, less consumer-focused applications (e.g., computational research and health care applications) will roll out, requiring significant network bandwidth. Therefore, the productive use of the internet, both consumer and non-consumer, is really only constrained by the applications that it enables. Several panelists strongly suggested visiting South Korea to get a sense for what consumer and business applications are possible when you have access to such a powerful network.
Finally, the panel also discussed the impact of US policy on innovation. The panelists agreed that policy (ranging from spectrum policy to telco consolidation) has had and will continue to have a significant impact on innovation, both in the telecom and network spaces. The panel noted that most net work, equipment and device innovation is taking place overseas and that the US should have a goal of becoming once again the center for innovation in this space. Other answers to the question "What role should the FCC and the government play?" touched on open devices, unlicensed spectrum, network neutrality, universal service being re-oriented from voice toward broadband, R&D investment and the role of state and local governments in pushing innovative new approaches to network deployment and broadband adoption.
The day's second workshop included a group more heavily representing equipment and network providers. The group focused on several topics, including the debate of "What is broadband 'success' for the US?" An interesting segment of this debate centered on the question of what was more important to our 'success' - is it more important to increase adoption among those who are served but don't buy broadband, or is it more important to increase the quality of current users' experience. The panel posed an open question to the community: Is there more value in driving higher adoption (programs that increase uptake of broadband) or in creating a better user experience (more bandwidth and quality of service)?
A similarly interesting discussion revolved around the importance of basic broadband as a gateway to better broadband for the user - the premise is that once a user experiences even a modest broadband connection (and one that doesn't incur per-use charges or tie up the phone line) they will trade up to a higher speed. Then, as their usage naturally evolves, what we see is a progression toward more and more engagement and more bandwidth-intensive applications over time. There was agreement that there is no uniform evolution in utilization for users, but that re-framing the conversation by comparing this evolution to the evolution on other adoption patterns may be fruitful for the FCC as it thinks about how to value increased utilization of broadband.
A final discussion for the second panel was around the short-term and long-term path of innovation and utilization, and implicitly around the "social value" of certain activities. A point of agreement was that while our broadband initiative will lead to many enhancements in business and consumer productivity, civic engagement, our national energy grid, our healthcare system, our educational system and other priorities, these will take time. In fact, the panel agreed that US policymakers and the public have to be prepared for the reality of what one panelist called "frivolous" activities. His point was that while much of the initial innovation and usage will be in games and entertainment, in the long run games and entertainment open the door to investment that will enable US strategic goals. His point of view was that online applications, in almost all cases, result from consumers looking to replicate their offline behavior online. For example, people listen to music and play video games offline and migrating that behavior online is a logical step. So, as you think about the future of applications, simply look to the current "analog" behavior that could move online.
Simply having more people online and using the internet with faster connections will drive innovation. Ingenious American users and the companies hoping to serve them will find a way to maximize this new broadband capability, and that "frivolous" activities (however one defines them.we did not discuss that) are a necessary step toward the enablement of longer-term national priorities.
Thoughts? Comments on any of these viewpoints? Let us know!
I was happy to sit across from the FCC Commissioners last week and provide a progress update on the National Broadband Plan. While I have given progress updates to senior executives countless times, there is something different when doing so in a public meeting. It puts the broadband plan in context, and highlights how important this plan is to all Americans, not just the FCC.
As I mentioned last week, we have had over 1,100 direct participants attend our broadband workshops and nearly 5,000 on line attendees, with more in the works. More importantly, we have reached out to small businesses, consumer groups, other government agencies, and talented academics, in addition to the traditional industry participants that have been part of the broadband debate for some time.
I'd like to highlight a few workshops this week that continue to broaden the debate, as well as announce a few more topics which will be added to ensure that the broadband record is complete. In fact, in addition to the workshops already posted on broadband.gov, we've added six more workshops, which will take us into mid-October.
This week, we looked at state and local government efforts to deploy broadband on Tuesday, followed by a workshop on Wednesday on Benchmarks, or how to measure deployment in a way that helps policymakers who are trying to attain universal coverage. We close the week out on Thursday with a panel on Big Ideas, featuring a diverse roster of panelists from the research, public interest and technology communities.
After Labor Day, on Sept. 9, we will focus in on the consumer, looking at the kinds of benefits broadband provides - along with the risks posed by sharing information online. On Sept. 15, we'll take a look about the benefits broadband can provide to health care in a workshop coordinated by Tom Buckley, who oversees the FCC's Rural Health Care Pilot Project.
We'll conduct two workshops on Sept. 17, one of which will look at the issues surrounding online content, including the tradeoffs between content protection and innovation. That same day, we'll take a look at the need for robust wireless broadband connections and the supply and demand for spectrum.
The next workshop will be on Sept. 30, when we'll look at cyber security. Two days later, on Oct. 2, we'll focus on diversity and civil rights issues in broadband policy. Topics include whether there is a digital divide, and if it is one based on race and ethnicity, or class, or geography.
On Oct. 9, we'll explore the economics of broadband competition. And finally, on Oct. 20, we will return to the topic of broadband accessibility for people with disabilities, which is our second workshop on the topic.
I know that the coming workshops will continue to broaden our understanding, so that the next time I sit across from the Commissioners, I'll continue to be able to satisfy their questions, as well as the questions that all Americans will have about the plan.
The staff workshops exploring issues that are key in the development of a National Broadband Plan have provided a lot of information -- and pointed to the need for a lot more information. Now, the public is being asked to respond to the workshops by filing comments on the record with the FCC. A Public Notice issued today tells how to do that - but the easiest way is to use the FCC's form to file brief comments, noting the name of the workshop with your comments. You can file more extensive comments by entering docket number 09-51 the first field of this form and including your comments in an attachment. You should also state the name of the workshop in your comments - and fill in other required fields in the form as well. More extensive instructions are in the Public Notice.
There are deadlines. Responses to workshops held from August 6 to August 20 should be filed by September 15. Reponses to workshops held from Aug. 25-Sept. 15 should be filed by Oct. 2. And responses for workshops being held from Sept. 16 to Oct. 20 should be filed by Oct. 30.
Filing comments is a key way to be heard at the FCC. So take some time now to submit your thoughts about the workshops, for the record.
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