Federal Communications Commission

Policy Category

Understanding Broadband Needs in a Diverse America

November 5th, 2009 by Mark Lloyd - Associate General Counsel / Chief Diversity Officer

 We need much richer data on who does not have access to broadband and who is not adopting broadband and why.  The answers we have are not sufficient to help us craft an intelligent National Broadband Plan to promote advanced telecommunications services to all Americans.  We need more granular information.  This was the message of the first panel in the workshop on Broadband Access and Adoption on Diversity and Civil Rights Issues held at the FCC earlier this month. 

As FCC Consumer Research Director Dr. John Horrigan stated, several studies suggest that “broadband adoption in the United States stands at close to two-thirds of Americans.” But these studies are problematic on a number of fronts.  The first problem is that the studies assume that we already have a clear definition of broadband, when, as Santa Clara Law Professor Catherine Sandoval noted, not even the FCC has been reliable about the definition of broadband.  The definition of broadband is made even more complicated by the suggestion that some groups are adopting wireless broadband, when we do not have sufficient information about which applications are available to this rising group of wireless broadband users.   
Dr. Horrigan also noted that “education and income are the two strongest predictors of whether you have broadband at home.”  But education and income are not the only predictors.  Region, ethnicity, and other factors are also important.  As Rutgers Dean Jorge Schement said, “it's not just about money; there's something else going on that prevents people in the same income group from having the same levels of access to information technology.  Technology access is also dependent on aspects of ethnicity.” 
Jim Tobias, President of Inclusive Technologies, picked up this theme in his presentation  and argued that “People with disabilities are as diverse as any other population, even with respect to their disability.  The technological needs, the market behavior of people who are hard-of-hearing is different from those who are deaf, is different from those who are blind, who have low vision.”  Other panelists noted the vast differences among other population groups we treat as a block, including youth, the elderly, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans.   
Professor Sandoval also noted that research focused on the rural-urban divide needs to be more fine-tuned.  “Federal rules basically exclude areas that contain certain major cities.  If you went to an extremely rural places in central California, what you would see is people picking strawberries and other crops in the field, yet, because of their proximity to Fresno, they are not defined as rural, and, therefore, become ineligible for certain types of rural support.”  Mark Pruner, President of the Native American Broadband Association, noted that zip codes and census tract measurements have sometimes excluded Native American communities entirely. 
The themes of diversity and complexity were pressed repeatedly by the panel.  Panelists agreed about the need to be much more specific about technology applications and usability, and about the importance of research in the language of the non-adopting population. 
Professor Sandoval suggested that the research conducted by the California Emerging Technology Fund should serve as one model.  CETF has been conducting research in six different languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hmong, and Korean.  One result is that they are better able to understand the vast differences among Asian Americans.  The adoption and access among the Hmong population and the Filipino population are much lower than other Asian American communities.  Understanding access and adoption in a nation as diverse at the U.S. requires research tools that better reflect that diversity.  And that means larger sample sizes, multi-language polls, and an increase in the number of face-to-face interviews. 
As Dean Schement said, “Disaggregating data does not mean that we see everybody's differences alone.  What it means is that we pay attention to nuances rather than lumping everybody together and trying to achieve one, big outcome.”   
The panelists also noted it was important to be sensitive to the different experiences with technology as we seek to understand adoption patters.  Tobias made the point that many people in the disability community develop a “technological pessimism,” because they have so often experienced interacting with technology that simply did not work for them or technology that was very expensive to adapt to their needs.  Tobias also said, “You don't see people with disabilities featured prominently in some of those glorious, glowing commercials about broadband and Internet access; it's always the on-the-go executive storming down the street or the kid Twittering on a skateboard.  People with disabilities are not featured there, and so they might think ‘it doesn't seem like this technology is for me.’”
Although this panel focused on the challenges of measuring an increasingly diverse nation, they all emphasized the importance of broadband service to all Americans.  Mark Pruner told the story of fellow Native Americans.  “Three people flew all the way from Barrow, Alaska, the very northern point in Alaska, [and it] took them 24 hours to get from there to Washington.  One of them [told] us about how Internet service is used there: it's satellite-based.  Sixty-five percent of the people in this remote native village use the Internet, and it's not a very high income area, but when they have to make a choice between having running water and having Internet service, they pick the Internet service.” 

This is the second of a four-part series on Diversity and Civil Rights Issues in Broadband Adoption.



You Can’t Coach Height: A Winning Spectrum Strategy

October 29th, 2009 by Blair Levin - Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Football analogies may be in poor form in Washington, D.C. these days as the Washington Redskins flounder.  But when I think about one of the biggest challenges we face in meeting the broadband needs of this nation - lack of available spectrum for mobile broadband --  I think of Doug Flutie.

Doug Flutie was a quarterback in both the Canadian and National Football Leagues.  Flutie was a great quarterback.  He had a lot of great attributes.

But he was 5' 10".  And while he had some great moments, let's face it, he was destined to be a star… in Canadian football.  He had a career very different from that of 6'2' Joe Montana, 6'4' Tom Brady, or 6'5' "Big Ben" Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh.

The point is this: Unless we get more spectrum, we as a country are destined to be the Doug Flutie of mobile broadband.

Spectrum is like height.  If you don't have it, it's pretty hard to be in the big leagues. As they say, you can't coach height.

Now it's not an exact analogy.  Technology and other capital inputs can help overcome the lack of spectrum.

But let's not kid ourselves.  Lack of spectrum will mean that our mobile service will be more expensive and of a poorer quality than if we had more of it.  And that's very bad news unless we figure out a way to solve that problem.

Why?  Mobile broadband is going to be the fastest growing segment in communications ecosystem. The 75,000 iPhone applications show us a huge pent up demand to do things to do things based on where you are, to do things no matter where you are.

And AT&T projects that by 2018 mobile data traffic expand by a factor of 250 to 600.

This is potentially a fantastic story for America.  It's the story of an America where citizens have access to information everywhere, and where entrepreneurs have the opportunity to reach consumers in ways never before possible, were no one has to be a prisoner of geography.

And, this story becomes even greater as we enter the era of pervasive computing, where devices and machines of every kind become "smart" by virtue of the wireless connections to the Internet.

But none of this can happen without spectrum.

The wireless industry says we need 800 Mhz more. How much is in the pipeline now?  50 MHz. And it's not very good spectrum for mobile broadband.

Moreover, it takes an average of 6 to 13 years to clear spectrum.  For example, in the Clinton years we sold about 198 Mhz. During the last administration, we sold about 276 MHz.

What does that mean?

A few years ago, the Congressional Research Service concluded that "American competitiveness in advanced wireless technology may be constrained by the limited amount of exploitable bandwidth that is available."

So the challenge over the next 110 days we have to develop a National Broadband Plan is to understand the tough trade-offs, come up with creative options, and produce a plan that can truly help deliver all the fantastic opportunities that mobile broadband can provide. Touchdown!

Diversity, Civil Rights and the National Broadband Plan

October 29th, 2009 by Mark Lloyd - Associate General Counsel / Chief Diversity Officer

In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Congress requires the FCC to submit a national broadband plan that seeks to “ensure that all people of the United States have access to broadband capability.”   Congress does not look for a plan that provides access to a majority of U.S. citizens, but to all people.  This is consistent with Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which instructed the FCC to regularly report to Congress on whether advanced telecommunications services (what we now call broadband) were being made available to all Americans in a timely fashion.  On October 2, the FCC conducted a day-long workshop that looked closely at what it would mean to craft a plan to extend broadband service to all Americans, regardless of age, gender, income, race, ethnicity, religion, political orientation, or disability.

As FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell put it in opening the day’s proceedings: “How are we going to be able to get these powerful technologies that can really improve the human condition so dramatically and so quickly – how do we get those resources into the hands of as many people as possible?” This is the first in a series of blogs on that day-long program focused on ensuring that the national broadband plan takes into account the rich diversity of our nation in accordance with equal rights under law. This first blog will address the overarching goal of the day and describe the blog entries to come.

All too often, it seems, words become political noise and cease to carry the meanings conveyed by the dictionary or intended by the user.  Perhaps the term “civil rights” and the word “diversity” have suffered this fate.  One goal of the October 2 workshop was to recapture and clarify those terms.

Diversity means diversity.  It is not a code word for minorities, or creating privileges for some specific group.   The panelists who generously gave of their time, and the staff members who created and managed the various platforms for the panelists to speak, represent the true meaning of the word diversity.  The concerns of the poor, of people of color, of different religious beliefs, of people with different physical and mental impairments, of immigrants and of Native Americans, of Republicans like Commissioner McDowell and Democrats like Commissioner Copps, all of this diversity was represented in the day’s discussion.

All Americans have civil rights.  Civil rights are not passé.  The struggle for civil rights, for equal rights under the law for all Americans, did not begin and end with Dr. Martin Luther King.  That struggle continues and involves the concerns of all Americans, of all colors and incomes and ages and genders and abilities and regions.  As Commissioner Michael Copps said at the start of the second panel, “Access to modern telecommunications is a civil right.”

The connection between equal rights under the law and broadband is not difficult to understand.  A struggling rancher in Idaho has a right to participate in the public debate equal to the right of the wealthy lobbyist living on Capitol Hill.  The migrant worker has a right to participate in the marketplace equal to the right of the Wall Street broker.  Whether it is civic discourse or economic activity, in today’s world the effective engagement in these activities requires access to broadband.  Whether the goal is public safety, education, health care or some other great national purpose, that purpose is either limited or expanded today through broadband.  The great hope for broadband is that it will improve the ability of all Americans to participate in the robust life of our nation.

The diversity of our nation, our different cultures and religions and languages and abilities, is one our great strengths. This diversity also requires the government to take special care to ensure that the needs of all Americans are reasonably addressed. Structural poverty, continuing segregation, unequal opportunities in education, and discrimination in financial markets can all have a profound affect on access to broadband and adoption rates. These challenges affect some groups differently than others. To meet the congressional requirement of making broadband service possible for all Americans, the FCC must recognize the different needs of a diverse America, while holding to the core American principle of equal treatment under the law.

Getting the advice of experts on these complex issues was the work of the day.  Responding to that advice in a national broadband plan will not be easy.

The first challenge, as Rutger’s Dean Jorge Schement noted, is to rethink “the metaphors we develop that cause us to understand policies or proposed policies.  We need new metaphors.”  The first problem is to better understand our diversity.  Dr. Schement described a rapidly changing population, a population that is becoming browner and speaking more languages, in the midst of a massive internal migration.  America is embracing more immigrants, not only from Mexico, but also from Germany and Southeast Asia.  But as Mark Pruner of the Native American Broadband Association points out, “American Samoa is better tracked by the FCC than … the 563 federally-recognized Native American tribes.”  Jim Tobias, an expert on the challenges faced by the disabled, adds that the population is also aging, joining an ever growing number of Americans who need help seeing and hearing.  Dr. Schement noted that the actual makeup of the American household is changing more rapidly than our conventional definition of the word is.  For example, many households are multi-generational, while others are made up of families without children.

Santa Clara Law Professor Catherine Sandoval makes the additional point that not only is the population diverse, but the new technologies we want to make available are diverse as well.  Professor Sandoval also notes that we have to be much more careful about the questions we ask in polls.  “If you ask somebody do you subscribe to broadband?  Well, the FCC is spending a lot of time trying to figure out what broadband is and how we should define it.  And, so, that question assumes that … the person knows what broadband is.”

As all the panelists throughout the day emphasized, we need much better data on who has access and to what, and who is choosing not to adopt broadband and why.  That was the focus of the first panel, and it will also be the focus of the next blog.  The second panel was a very rich discussion of what the government can do, mindful of equal protection law, to extend broadband to a diverse nation.  The third blog will describe that discussion.  And the third and final panel examined best practices in encouraging access and adoption to a diverse nation.  The fourth blog will report on best practices.

A Few More Questions

October 29th, 2009 by Elizabeth Lyle - Special Counsel for Innovation, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

Elizabeth Lyle BBAs referenced in my last post, we have a few follow up questions from the October 20th workshop.  We would very much appreciate your input on these questions no later than November 16th and sooner if possible.  In some cases, we may have some information in the record about a certain topic, but we would like more information from a broader range of stakeholders.  It is not necessary to repeat things that you've already put in the record (but feel free to cite back to comments you've already filed).

If you think it would be useful to meet with us and discuss, please request an ex parte meeting by clicking here.

Please respond with  your ideas to this blog post, or file your comments using our Electronic Filing Comment System, using either ECFS Express or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file.


1. There was a lot of discussion at the roundtable about the concept of getting companies, independent software developers, consumers, government, and universities together to share best practices, understand consumer needs, and foster innovation. What are the next steps to establishing an innovation center or focus center program?  Are there some specific ideas on this and more information about models we can follow?

2. There were some general concerns expressed that applying regulation to broadband services and equipment might hamper innovation.  Have the processes mandated under Section 255, including as they relate to equipment and devices developed for VoIP services, hampered innovation? Have the FCC's existing captioning rules or wireless Hearing Aid Compatibility rules hampered innovation?

3. What is the effect of Section 255, HAC, and Section 508 regulations on the telecom and electronic and information technology marketplace?

4. The record contains a few examples of companies voluntarily making devices used for Internet access accessible to people with disabilities - in particular, the Apple I-Phone was mentioned several times at the workshop.  What are some other examples of which we should be aware?  What motivates companies to make their products accessible on a voluntary basis?  Will companies consider accessibility issues in the design and development of their broadband products and devices on a widespread basis if there is no mandate to do so?

5. What can the government do to attract additional capital investment to make products accessible?  What can the government do to incentivize independent software designers to create innovative assistive and adaptive technologies?

6. How is the development and distribution of assistive and adaptive technologies currently funded, including assistive and adaptive technologies used to access the Internet?  What specific recommendations should we make to address concerns expressed in the record about the expense of assistive and adaptive technologies?  Are there specific recommendations regarding how state programs could partner with a federal universal service program?

7. Are there specific recommendations about the best way for the FCC to get more involved in International efforts to harmonize standards relating to accessibility?

The Second and Middle Mile Challenge

October 8th, 2009 by Rob Curtis - Deployment Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

Many of you may be familiar with the telecom term the "last mile"-the connection between your home (or wireless device) and your broadband service provider.  Somewhat less familiar, however, are the terms "second mile" and "middle mile," the connections between your broadband service provider and the Internet.  A Public Notice (PN) that we released today seeks comment and data on the pricing of second and middle mile connections to the Internet, and we hope that its release will inform us on the crucial-if not gating role-that these connections play.

As we noted in our mid-term presentation to the FCC last week, these connections-effectively high-speed "on-ramps" to the Internet-are critical links between communities and the broadband Internet.  Our workshops have indicated that in rural areas, calling these links a "second" and "middle mile" is somewhat of a misnomer, as these high capacity, multi-megagbit per second connections can be tens, if not hundreds of miles long-and can be very costly.  As a result, any plan to ensure broadband access for all Americans must examine closely whether these on-ramps are adequately available, reasonably priced, and efficiently provided in all areas of the country.

middle mile 2

The PN seeks comment in five general areas:

  • The Network Components of Broadband Availability, which focuses upon the needs and technology options for these second and middle mile links.
  • Availability and Pricing of these high-capacity circuits, based on technology and regulatory treatment.
  • Pricing of Internet Connectivity, which focuses upon the cost of access to the Internet backbone networks and whether that pricing is higher in rural areas.
  • Economics of Deployment, which asks about the extent and cost of self-provisioning and potential pro-active steps that government might be able to do to spur more deployment.
  • Nature of Competition and Availability of Alternatives, which asks questions on the nature and extent of competition for middle and second mile connections.

If you have examples and data that could contribute to the Commission's knowledge on this subject, please read the PN and file comments using either ECFS Express or, if you need to attach a file, our standard submission page.  Please note that your comments are responding to Public Notice #11.  You can also post comments on Blogband, and they will be included in the record for the National Broadband Plan.

Public Safety and Homeland Security

October 7th, 2009 by Matt Warner

Matt Warner OIWe recently released a Public Notice (PN) seeking comment regarding Public Safety and Homeland Security matters.  The PN sought comment in four areas-Public Safety Mobile Wireless Broadband Networks, Next Generation 911 (NG911), Cybersecurity, and Alerting-as each of these poses unique challenges for keeping our Nation safe.  Some of the representative questions and comment requests include:

  • Public Safety Mobile Wireless Broadband Networks: We seek comment on the specific network features and anticipated architecture that will allow the broadband network to operate seamlessly with disaster recovery capabilities nationwide, and the kind of connectivity needed with legacy and other commercial networks
  • Next Generation 911 (NG911): Are there regulatory roadblocks that may be restricting more vigorous NG 911 deployment?  Which of these are within the Commission's jurisdiction and what actions should the Commission take in this regard?
  • Cyber security: What type of computer-based attacks against government or commercial computer systems or networks (i.e. cyber attacks) are occurring or are anticipated to occur, and what are other federal agencies, commercial, and other entities doing to prevent, detect and respond to cyber attacks?
  • Alerting: To what extent are broadband technologies currently being used as part of public emergency alert and warning systems?  Please provide specific descriptions of their use as part of these systems, including system capabilities and limitations and examples of jurisdictions where such systems are currently in use.

Help us keep America safe by sending us your comments.  Please read the PN and file comments using either ECFS Express or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file.  Please note that your comments are responding to Public Notice #9.

Is There Enough Spectrum?

October 6th, 2009 by Charles Mathias - Assistant Bureau Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

Charles Mathias BBLast week, the FCC released a Public Notice (PN) asking for comment about whether there is sufficient spectrum available for wireless services.  Specifically, we asked for focused comment on the current spectrum allocations available in spectrum bands and whether that amount of spectrum is sufficient for our broadband needs.

The questions we ask in the PN arose as a result of the information we have already received in response to the National Broadband Plan Notice of Inquiry and the discussions at the workshops we have already held.  Multiple commenters have raised the issue that the United States will not have sufficient spectrum available to meet demands for wireless broadband in the near future.  Because of these comments, we're asking for your view on the fundamental question of whether current spectrum allocations are adequate to support near- and longer-term demands of wireless broadband.  The PN requests that commenters provide detailed, fact-based responses and to the extent possible provide quantitative data and analytical justification for their arguments.

The amount of spectrum available for use for broadband devices is crucial in determining an overall national broadband plan.  With the continued rise of the use of smartphones, and the needs for spectrum associated with their use, we have to look to the future availability of spectrum and where that spectrum is located.

The questions are as follows:

  1. What is the ability of current spectrum allocations to support next-generation build-outs and the anticipated surge in demand and throughput requirements?
  2. What spectrum bands are best positioned to support mobile wireless broadband?
  3. What spectrum bands are best positioned to support fixed wireless broadband?
  4. What are the key issues in moving spectrum allocations toward their highest and best use in the public interest?
  5. What is the ability of current spectrum allocations to support both the fixed and mobile wireless backhaul market?

Some people may ask "Why is the FCC asking for information on these questions?  Don't you already have the answers?"  What we are looking for are creative, as well as practical, opinions on spectrum availability.  New technologies can drive innovation; ideas for the availability of spectrum may be found or you may have creative ideas on to use the current spectrum allocation more efficiently.

Regardless, it is important for us to hear back from all different sides in the equation.  We want your input, no matter your background or your thoughts on the subject.

The easiest way to comment is to post on this blog.  Your comments will be included in the record for the National Broadband Plan.

You can also file comments with the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System, using ECFS Express for short comments, or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file or to file in other dockets.  Please title comments and reply comments responsive to this Notice as "Comments (or Reply Comments)-NBP Public Notice # 6." See the PN for information about filing your comments in other relevant dockets.

Opportunities For Disadvantaged Businesses

October 6th, 2009 by Matt Warner

Matt Warner OISmall and disadvantaged businesses (SDBs) - small entities and women- and minority-owned businesses-employ millions of Americans and produce goods that often shape the identity of our nation's localities.  Broadband can do much for SDBs.  For instance, on Amazon, eBay, and their own respective web sites, SDBs can upload bandwidth-hungry images and video that can help them sell their products internationally.  And, using, businesses can find the right person for the job by quickly sifting through a large pool of resumes.  We know that finding buyers and new hires are made easier with the vast reach of the Internet via a broadband connection.  But there is still a lot more that we need to know.

Overall, small businesses are important to the economy, accounting for over 60% of all new jobs. And minority-owned firms are growing four times faster than all U.S. firms, accounting for over 50% of the 2 million businesses started in the U.S. Given the importance of SDBs and the impact that broadband can have on these businesses, we released a Public Notice (PN) asking questions about the impact of broadband on SDBs to that their needs are met by the National Broadband Plan.  What obstacles prevent SBDs from taking advantage of broadband technology? Lack of availability?  Cost?  Digital literacy or social and cultural considerations?  How can businesses improve their operations with broadband, especially those that don't traditionally rely on it, such as car repair, dry-cleaners, bodega owners, etc.  What data exists about the impact of broadband in job creation, productivy and more in SBDs.  If there are success stories and best practices regarding SDB broadband use, then such examples could help us share ideas to make all SDBs better while providing us with success stories that we could name and use.  If we are provided data on the economic impact of various types of broadband on SDBs, then we could better know where to dedicate resources for the fiscal health of the Nation.

Please read the PN and file comments using either ECFS Express or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file.  Please note that your comments are responding to Public Notice #9.

Field Hearing in Charleston, SC - Streaming Live Now

October 6th, 2009 by Gray Brooks - FCC New Media

Gray BBGo to to watch FCC Commissioners Copps and Clyburn in Charleston, SC.  You can also tune in and comment on Facebook, too.  The Field Hearing is on Broadband Adoption.

For the Q&A session, send in your questions via Twitter (#BBwkshp) to be asked in the room.

FCC Hearing - watch @

October 1st, 2009 by Gray Brooks - FCC New Media

Gray BBTune in now to watch the FCC Hearing on Capital Formation in the Broadband Sector. You can find the agenda and presentations here.

For the Q&A session, send in your questions via Twitter (#BBwkshp) to be asked in the room.

Capture The Phone Numbers Using Your Camera Phone

If you have a camera and a 2D matrix code reader on your mobile phone, you can capture the FCC Phone numbers right to your phone by following these three easy steps:
Step 1: Take a photograph of one of the codes below using the camera on your mobile phone.
Step 2: Use your phone's Datamatrix or QR Code reader to decode the information on the photograph. Please note, these code readers are device specific and are available to download on the internet.
Step 3: Store the decoded address information to your phone's address book and use it with your Maps or GPS application.

Datamatrix and QR FCC Phones