Introducing the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

By the Executive Director

Broadband has quickly emerged as the most transformative technology of our generation — delivering opportunities and strengthening communities. As broadband’s capability to transform lives and society has grown, so too has it become the driving mission of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

Connecting our entire nation through High-Performance Broadband will bring remarkable economic, social, cultural, and personal benefits. In the Digital Age, open, affordable, robust broadband is the key to all of us reaching for — and achieving — the American Dream.

Since the mid-1990s, the U.S. has struggled with a persistent dilemma called the digital divide — the unfortunate reality that for too many people, meaningful connectivity is out of reach. As we enter a new decade, America encounters three inter-locking challenges:

Closing the Geographic Divide. In both rural and urban areas, millions of Americans are waiting for the deployment of robust broadband networks. Broadband is advancing in some places, which is good, but the fact is we don’t have an accurate count of how many people are on the wrong side of the digital divide and where they live. What we know is that places without robust broadband are falling further and further behind. We cannot let where we live determine our potential to connect.

Harnessing Competition. Even in areas that are served by adequate broadband networks, consumers lack choice of providers. Without competition, consumers are threatened with artificially high prices, lower-quality service, and little innovation. We cannot let lack of choice harm consumers.

Boosting Affordability & Adoption. For too many people, the cost of broadband is too high and the digital skills needed to use broadband effectively are absent. The result is people disconnected from continuing their education, gaining new job skills, and finding employment. We cannot let high prices divide people from opportunity.

Confronting these divides requires bold leadership and informed solutions.

Continue reading HERE.

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Federal Reserve Bank Report on Broadband Digital Divide

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released its report Disconnected: Seven Lessons on Fixing the Digital Divide on July 31st at a State Broadband Leaders Network Meeting.

CONCLUSION: THREE OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTION

The digital divide is wide and complex. No one group can bridge the divide alone—not government, banks, businesses or community organizations. Each of these groups, however, must play a role if the divide is to be narrowed.

This report identified three specific opportunities for action, which align with the three legs of the digital 1inclusion stool:

1. Research and evaluate the impact of policy on broadband expansion.

Good policy requires good data. Throughout this project, we found research related to the economic affect broadband has on communities. The studies documented the correlation between broadband and economic opportunity, but questions remain as to what policies best encourage broadband expansion. Policies vary greatly from one state to the next, especially as it relates to which types of entities—large carriers, small independent for-profit providers, municipalities and cooperatives—are allowed to build and operate networks. Elected officials would find it easier to make informed decisions if they had access to research on the effectiveness of these policies on boosting broadband deployment and improving affordability. Broader research on improving affordability and adoption would also help inform the field.

2. Support and expand workforce development programs focused on digital skills training.

Digital skills are a must for the in-demand jobs of today and tomorrow. Innovative approaches to preparing workers can provide a pathway to living-wage jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, or, in many cases, even a two-year degree. Simply training workers on basic office-related programs like email and word processing can boost their employability. Registered apprenticeship programs can further expedite the process of developing and onboarding qualified workers. Workforce development programs targeting LMI individuals may also attract interest from banks seeking CRA-related activities, as outlined in Engaging Workforce Development: A Framework for Meeting CRA Obligations by the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas and Kansas City.

3. Support computer donation programs targeting those in need.

Businesses, government agencies, universities and other anchor institutions frequently replace computers in two-year to four-year cycles. Surplus computers have little monetary value, typically just pennies on the dollar. When donated, though, they can make a significant difference—whether the computer goes to a low-income mom pursuing her education, or a student learning to code. A donated computer can be a low-cost, high-impact way to change one’s economic trajectory. Such initiatives, particularly when targeting LMI populations and combined with workforce training programs, could also attract interest from banks seeking CRA-related activities.

The full report, with a long section on rural broadband, including a sidebar on mapping issues, can be downloaded HERE.

Beyond Fast Internet The True Value of Broadband

The value and importance of broadband is quite high and rising. It impacts the everyday life of consumers by enabling life-changing experiences in education and professional development, healthcare and wellness, lifestyle, and entertainment, among others. Simply put, broadband significantly improves the quality of life for the average consumer.

But it’s important to recognize that broadband’s impact also extends to
the larger community. Broadband has become an essential utility, on par with, or potentially even exceeding the importance of electricity and water. We’re in the early stages of realizing the impact and potential broadband has on the overall community. There are applications to come that we can’t even comprehend today. To remain relevant and thrive in the future, robust broadband networks are now required for any community, regardless of size and location.

Full Report is at the Industry Tab.

Why we need to rethink education in the artificial intelligence age

Some Brookings Institute insight into the future of US education with the recognition that our education system is not meeting the STEM challenge, nor are our communications networks, especial in rural areas and low-income neighborhoods meeting the challenge. Without Government initiatives, the US is falling behind and our global leadership is at stake.

Read the whole article HERE.

If Broadband is Essential Infrastructure it Should be in the General Plan

In California, the General Plan is a document providing a long-range plan for a city’s and county’s physical development. Local jurisdictions have freedom as to what their general plans include, however, there are specific requirements under California state law that each general plan must meet; failure to do so could result in suspension of future development.

Each general plan must include the vision, goals, and objectives of the city or county in terms of planning and development within eight different “elements” defined by the state as: land use, housing, circulation, conservation, noise, safety, open space, and environmental justice which was added as an official element in 2016.

To assist cities and counties to develop and refine their planning document the Governor’s Office and Planning Research published some guidelines in August of 2017.  These charts capture the essence of that guidance.

Screenshot 2019-01-31 21.09.54

Screenshot 2019-01-31 21.10

Please note that broadband is not mentioned in either graphic, yet broadband has a significant relationship to land use, circulation, housing, conservation, and social justice.

Broadband is mention in the General Planning Guidelines three places:

Chapter 4, Required Elements, Page 81, broadband as a “relevant utility.”

Chapter 4, Page 82 Broadband:

“Both state and federal governments are implementing various funding programs that serve the goal of expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas. Within California, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) manages the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which invests hundreds of millions of dollars annually in broadband deployment. The state also created the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), which was designed to be a public-purpose venture capital fund.”

Dig once policies can substantially reduce costs for providing broadband service to communities. A new provider can run ber through leased conduit space at a fraction of the costs, incentivizing more private actors to deploy or reducing costs to the city if self-provisioning broadband services. For example, if conduit construction was promoted along ongoing civil work projects, fiber deployment costs drop by $30,000- $100,000 per mile. On average, 60 to 90 percent of network deployment costs come from civil works as opposed to equipment and maintenance.

Chapter 6, page 211:

In addition, general plan policies may improve access to health services through integrated public transportation and provisions for access to broadband, allowing for telemedicine capacity. 

If California planners were serious about the benefits of every home and businesses having broadband access, they would provide General Planning Guidance beyond dig once.

According to a recent Brookings Metro Policy Paper in less than two decades broadband access has become one of the foundations of the American Economy, joining water, sewer, power, transportation, and energy as essential infrastructure.

If broadband is essential infrastructure, and a “relevant utility”, it should be included in the general planning requirements:

Land Use:  Reduce the cost of installing fixed and mobile wireless antennas, including G5 mini towers.  See Nevada County Land Use, Communications for WiFi example.

Circulation: Use of broadband reduces the need to travel, enables work from home, promoter online shopping all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to a California, Emerging Technology Funds report Broadband as Green Strategy, access to broadband reduces vehicle miles traveled, office-space construction, energy use, while increasing online shopping, all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1 billion tons over ten years,

Housing:  All new development should include broadband networks, especially in multi-family housing in low-income neighborhoods, where adoption is hindered by high-cost access.

Conservation:  Broadband reduces the consumption of natural resources. See Circulation.

Environmental Justice: Broadband internet improves access to health care, education, and employment. Broadband opens the doors to entrepreneurship by individual and small groups, especially in rural communities creating community wealth.

Also missing from the Governor’s Office and Planning Research planning guidelines issued in August 2017 are topics and elements related to economic development. An issue worthy of a future post. 

Your thoughts? Should Broadband be given more attention in General Planning?

Valley Vision’s Broadband News

 

CETF: Let’s Talk Broadband!

 

Welcome to the Fall 2018 edition of Let’s Talk Broadband! Did you know that an estimated 13 million Californians are unconnected or underconnected to the Internet at home? As school gets into full swing, please read our story of Oakland High School sophomore Jesus Toscano. Jesus’s family learned about discount Internet service through Tech Exchange of Oakland, a partner of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF). Jesus is now in a college prep program at Oakland High School with dreams of working at Pixar. Jesus’s success story can be replicated throughout California.

Many organizations and civic leaders are stepping up as Digital Champions and we have lots of good news to report: See the Attached PDF

Mini-Makers Faire

I have been a promoter of the Maker Movement ever since Maker Magazine was launched in January 2005.  I like to build stuff and in the 1960s and early 1970s was a Heath Kit client, making electronic test equipment, shortwave radio, and a color TV set.  And, when the integrated circuit chips with embedded processor arrived in the late 1970s, I build a computer with switches and blinking lights using an RCA 1802 CMOS Chip.  An early TRS-80 user I make a teletype printer interface to print out programs and email.  In the process, I learned how to write some 1802 machine language code plus some Basic on the TRS-80 and Fortran on a DEC-11 at work.

On Saturday, October 6th, Ellen and I joined hundreds of other tinkers, makers and future makers at the Sierra College Mini-Makers Faire, sponsored by the Hacker’s Lab.

While there was a plethora is activities from beer making, sewing, and coding, it was the multiple robotic displays and activities that was capturing the most attention of the young and mature Makers alike. There were industrial robots, intelligent robots, fighting robots, and underwater rovers.   

Hacker Lab Table

This was our third Mini-Makers Faire at Sierra College. One of the notable changes on campus is the library, it now the Library and Cyber Center.  Gone are the book stacks replace by rows of computer terminals, a Writing Center and Research Assistance Desk, and expanded coffee shop, with lots of tables for social interaction.

Today I tinker with Raspberry Pi processors. I met an exciting gent from the Hackers Lab who had created a weather station with a Raspberry Pi controller. Most interesting was an old-time radio he built with a Raspberry Pi and a storage device to playback over a 1,000 old time radio shows, Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, The Shadow, and many more.

One of my broadband Raspberry Pi projects is HERE.

Every rural county should consider launching a gathering place for makers and hosting a Mini-Makers Faire.  Nevada County has the Curious Forge and Truckee Roundhouse. Sacramento County has two Hacker’s Labs and Placer County one.  These makers places are the incubators for tomorrows economic success. Planner and community leaders can find the recipe for a maker space in Chris Anderson’s Makers, The New Industrial Revolution. 

How do we Prepare Students to Work in the Age of Intelligent Machines?

The Sac Bee is running a series called the Influencers, and I signed up to participate. A recent question was: “What should we ask our Influencers about education?” My response was “How do we prepare students to work in the Age of Intelligent Machines.”

One of the 5G application often referenced in studies is the introduction of self-driving cars and trucks, making the case that artificial intelligence (AI) and high-speed broadband are essential technologies to implement these automated transportation systems. As a result, I have been investigating AI, and its integration in machines often labeled as robots. It is clear that robots are here now and more introduced to the workplace and our communities over time. According to studies, the introduction of one industrial robot in the workplace replaces six jobs.

According to learned articles automation is changing the work and the workforce. According to an article in MIT Technology Review, “AI and Robots are wreaking economic havoc, and we need more of them.” Included in the current issue of MIT TR was an article on AI and Jobs, the authors making the point that manual labor is declining while the need for digital and human skills is soaring.

Between 2016 and 2030 the demand for various skills is rapidly changing with winners and losers:

Skills Chart

Children entering 1st Grade this year will be graduating in 2030 and choosing a career path. The choices today are on to college or enter the workforce. In some states there are apprentice programs for training in the trades, nursing, driving, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, or mechanics are some of the more recognizable. The question is will these be the choices in 2030? Given the infusion of AI and robotic technology in the workplace, the options could be severely reduced. Fewer jobs and the available jobs will require a higher level of skills.

My questions are what should we do to help prepare our children for the future workforce. Should we introduce computer coding starting in the first grade like they do in Estonia and be fully qualified IT technicians on high schools graduation? Should students be introduced to robots and robotic control systems in grade school?

Should social study classes include working with robotic devices that are interactive? Some observers studying the future of work in a cooperative environment were humans, and machines work together. The machines are doing the routine task and humans applying the higher cognitive skills. We are interacting with Siri and Alexa now, but when they are your everyday work companion, the interactive will be more intense and will demand social protocols.

My final question is how we will employ those that do not have high cognitive or technological skills?

I do not have any smart answers to my questions, and I am interested in readers comments.

Note:  The Sac Bee Influencers chose not to answer my question, but rather decided to look a reducing student hunger. Perhaps a more solvable problem.

Wired: FCC Delays Are Keeping Broadband From Rural School Kids

Across the country, red tape has blocked 750,000 students from access to high speed internet, according to EducationSuperHighway. In Montana alone, 45,000 students live with limited connectivity. “I visited Woodman School and know that the need is there,” said Governor Bullock in a statement to WIRED. “Red tape stands in the way of closing the gap for more than 45,000 Montana students who are still without access to the high-speed internet they need to take advantage of digital learning.”

The full article is HERE.