Yesterday, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and I traveled to Philadelphia to tour String Theory Charter Schools’ Vine Street Campus (5th grade through 12th grade) and make classroom visits to see the application of modern technology in a next-generation, “Apple Distinguished School” setting.
Commissioner Rosenworcel has championed changes to U.S. Internet and Wi-Fi policies to provide American students greater access to 21st century broadband technologies. She coined the term “Homework Gap” that now commonly refers to the difficulty students experience completing homework when they lack high-speed Internet access at home.
The Homework Gap is real—for one in five kids in our country, it’s a daily struggle that is standing in the way of them reaching their full potential. Affordability is a barrier to high-speed Internet access for low-income families. The FCC’s decision to add broadband to the Lifeline subsidy program last week is a significant step toward closing this digital divide.
According to Pew Research, seven in 10 teachers assign homework that requires Internet access, but five million of the 29 million U.S. households with school-aged children lack regular access to broadband. Unfortunately, a 2015 Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) survey reveals that three in four U.S. school districts report that they are not currently doing anything to address technology access outside of school.
After touring the digital accomplishments of the Vine Street Campus, Commissioner Rosenworcel and Jason Corosanite, Co-Founder & Chief Innovation Officer of String Theory Schools, joined String Theory educators, administrators, parents and local business supporters in a roundtable discussion focused on “Closing the Homework Gap: Technology Lessons Learned in Advancing Education.”
Commissioner Rosenworcel’s in-depth conversation on the Homework Gap generated thoughtful discussion and innovative ideas in response to the following issues:
• How is technology transforming education?
• Is wireless broadband sufficient for completing homework assignments?
• What are the major barriers to home broadband adoption?
• Are there any federal programs that can help bridge the divide?
• How can the public and private sectors, educators and parents, partner to help close the Homework Gap?
“Technology is pervasive in today’s world, and the educational environment should reflect that to keep kids interested and engaged, and enable them to be innovative and productive,” Corosanite stated during the panel discussion. “Rather than taking place in a vacuum, a well-rounded educational approach should train students to perform later in life. Kids without digital skills will fall behind.”
Very true. Half of all jobs now require some level of technology skills, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Experts say that number will surpass three-quarters (77%) within the next decade.
Our thanks to Commissioner Rosenworcel and Jason Corosanite for taking part in the discussion. And thanks as well to all the bright students and faculty of String Theory Charter Schools’ Vine Street Campus.
A lot has changed since 1996. But one thing that hasn’t changed are so-called “Special Access” regulations. Here’s why the FCC needs to update the rules for today’s technology rather than rely on the regulations of the past.
IIA supports today’s FCC action to make 21st century broadband services accessible and more affordable for our nation’s low-income consumers. For too long, the FCC’s Lifeline program was limited to supporting only voice telephone service. Today’s reforms will not only bring vital broadband Internet service to more Americans, it will also advance administrative efficiencies in the program necessary to attract greater broadband service provider participation and expand competition and choice for eligible consumers. IIA is pleased to have been an active participant in the Lifeline reform process, and we congratulate the Chairman and his fellow Commissioners for their hard work and effort to make the Lifeline program more relevant and useful for low-income Americans in the broadband age.
In today’s world, seven in 10 teachers assign homework that requires Internet access, but five million of the 29 million U.S. households with school-aged children lack regular access to broadband. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel coined the term “Homework Gap” to characterize the divide and shed light on the problem: Kids without broadband are falling behind.
How is technology transforming education? Is wireless broadband sufficient for completing homework assignments? What are the major barriers to home broadband adoption? Are there any federal programs that can help bridge the divide? How can the public and private sectors, educators and parents, partner to help close the Homework Gap?
These are just some of the questions that will be addressed on Monday, April 4 when FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel will join our own Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons for a school tour, classroom visits, and a roundtable discussion at the Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory Charter School.
If you’re in the area and wish to join us, see the details below:
WHAT: School tour, classroom visits, and roundtable discussions with FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel, String Theory Co-Founder & Chief Innovation Officer Jason Corosanite, and IIA Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons
WHEN: Monday, April 4 from 10 am - 12:15 pm ET
WHERE: Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory Charter School, 1600 Vine Street, Philadelphia PA, 19102
For more on the event, check out this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer on FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel’s trip to the city.
Members of the media can RSVP for the event by emailing email@example.com
Privacy in our digital world is once again making headlines, from the controversy over unlocking Apple’s encryption system to the latest breaches of information from e-commerce providers. Lost in all of this discussion—though also illuminated by it—is a tectonic shift in who has access to a user’s electronic data, a change that has profound implications for how privacy should be protected in the future.
Start from a simple point, with which users of digital devices would likely agree: All participants in the Internet economy should extend similar privacy protections to users. That only seems fair. The Internet user’s most important interest, after all, is to have confidence that his or her privacy is being uniformly protected throughout the Internet ecosystem by all entities that have access to users’ information.
Earlier today, we released a memorandum for the next president outlining a path forward when it comes to Internet policy. Our recommendations:
• Show preference for private sector investment. Government alone can’t build out broadband networks or find the tens of billions of dollars every year necessary to keep pace with technological change and demand. Maintain the conditions under which private sector investment can flourish.
• Promote competition – and recognize that it exists. Cross-platform competition is a reality and will only continue to become more intense if government does not interfere.
• Effectively manage spectrum resources, balancing the needs of the private sector and government spectrum users, and licensed and unlicensed uses. Continue efforts to make spectrum available for mobile broadband by either reallocating spectrum currently used for other purposes or making underutilized government-controlled spectrum available for commercial wireless services. Policymakers should also continue to ensure the right mix in making spectrum available for licensed and unlicensed services.
• Maintain an open Internet, with appropriate protections for non-discrimination. The courts may strike down the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new net neutrality rules. The FCC had it right the first time in 2010 when it published reasonable rules necessary to preserve the Open Internet and ensure non-discrimination among network providers and access to information. Encourage Congress to codify those rules in statute law.
• Assure access to connectivity, irrespective of geography or income, through universal service. More rural investment and more investment in schools and educational institutions is needed. In November 2014, the FCC put forward great ideas on universal service reform, focused on modernizing the Lifeline program, expanding it to cover broadband, closing the “homework gap,” and giving consumers more power over how they spend their Lifeline dollars – while deterring waste, fraud and abuse. Continue moving forward with reform efforts.
• Protect the privacy and security of users. Today, different privacy rules apply to the same information traversing the Internet, depending on the regulatory classification of a particular service provider. Policymakers should engage in open discussions across the broadband industry, along with privacy advocacy groups, on the best way to reach agreement on future consumer protections.
• Think through a new Telecommunications Act. While the 1996 Act has been a great success, it’s time to update the Act to reflect current conditions and the competitive markets that now exist. A new regulatory model that ensures government does not slow down the pace of innovation is needed.
“Internet access has become a pre-requisite for full participation in our economy and our society, but nearly one in five Americans is still not benefitting from the opportunities made possible by the most powerful and pervasive platform in history.”
Those were the words of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in a post at the Commission’s website announcing a new, modern direction for the Lifeline program. They are words we can all agree with. But beyond those words are the FCC’s actual plan to modernize Lifeline and whether the path put forward by the Commission will be the most effective one they can take.
Reduced to its key ingredients, the FCC’s plan has four key parts:
1) It expands the program to cover broadband internet access services;
2) It sets minimum service standards for both voice and broadband;
3) It streamlines the rules governing the program by eliminating unnecessary regulation;
4) It utilizes a National Eligibility Verifier to take overseeing Lifeline eligibility out of the hands of the carriers
On the surface, each of these four parts are a step in the right direction. In fact, all four were, in some fashion, a part of the recommendations in our Lifeline white paper. But as with any regulatory shift — especially for a program as large and as important as Lifeline — the true success of the FCC’s reform plan can’t be measured until all the details come to light and the plan is actually implemented. So for now we get to play the waiting game.
Still, Chairman Wheeler and the other FCC Commissioners should be commended for listening to every interested party when it comes to reforming Lifeline. The plan the Commission has put forward may not be perfect — for example, there has yet to mention of much-needed eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) reform. And the devil will, of course, be in the plan’s details. But what the FCC has revealed of the plan so far is definitely encouraging.
A new paper from Anna-Maria Kovacs, Visiting Senior Policy Scholar at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy, takes a deep dive into the current state of “special access” services, particularly whether there is a case for re-regulation. You can download a copy of the full report here, but here’s some findings from the executive summary to chew over:
Both the traditional U.S. CLECs and the cable companies who have entered the business broadband market are in good financial health and are generating higher free cash flow than the wireline segments of the largest ILECs. The CLECs and cable operators also have higher stock valuations, indicating that investors expect them to grow revenues and cash flow more rapidly.
Traditional CLECs have focused on the business market exclusively and built out only in areas where high-density makes construction-cost relatively low and attainable-revenue relatively high. In other words, they build only where they can expect penetration levels high enough to ensure high free cashflow. The CLECs’ metro fiber networks have brought them into or close to most buildings that house potential business broadband customers.
The data provided publicly by U.S. CLECs and cable operators confirms the few facts that have so far emerged from the FCC’s special access data collection, i.e. that there is extensive facilities-based competition in the business broadband market.
The enterprise market’s migration from legacy TDM facilities to Ethernet over fiber or coax facilities provides the CLECs and cable operators with the opportunity to compete on equal terms with the ILECs in the fast-growing portion of the market, while decimating the legacy revenues of the ILECs.
On Wednesday, IIA Founding Co-Chair Bruce Mehlman moderated a panel at the TIA Spring Policy Summit, titled “Special Access Re-Regulation.” The robust discussion explored the FCC’s regulation of the business data services market. Below are a handful of highlights:
Berge Ayvazian, Wireless 20/20: We have seen significant competition in the special access field between companies. This competition has shaped the underlying infrastructure on which wireless exists. We must take advantage of this opportunity to apply what we have learned in the last 10 years to allow the market to evolve around the competition already happening in the marketplace. In most markets, the quality of service being delivered by an ILEC and a CLEC is the same. We need to change the way we impose regulations on the business broadband market.
Patrick Brogan, USTelecom: Competition policy has been evolving since 1996 in the business broadband marketplace. The special access market has been competitive in telecom for a very long time. The guiding policy over the past fifteen years has been to encourage facilities-based competition and this should continue to be our goal.
Fred Campbell, Tech Knowledge: I find it difficult to believe that price regulation is needed when we have seen healthy competition. During the net neutrality proceeding, Chairman Wheeler was certain that there would be no price regulation. Business services is where competition started. Consumers do not need price regulation. Something is not right about this proceeding.
Hal Singer, PPI: If you push prices down from competitive levels you will see inefficiencies at all levels. If you are going to seize someone’s property, though, you are smart to wait until they have upgraded their network. You do not want to join the old copper network; you want them to already be upgraded to fiber. Prices are not at monopoly levels. By 2014, 42% of commercial buildings were outfitted with fiber. In 2009, it was just 23%. If you step in now and impose price regulations you could do some bad things. The notion that people are competing on a non-level playing field does not make sense.
Ayvazian: We all agree there is no basis on which to introduce price regulations.
Campbell: In my view, price regulation is the last option and worst possible way to address market issues.
Singer: Before Gigi Sohn was at the FCC, she was at Public Knowledge. One of Public Knowledge’s ultimate objectives is increased regulation and unbundling. There are a lot of forces at play here that are pushing them towards the CLEC agenda.
Brogan: There is a group in the CLEC industry that benefits from price regulation and increased access to network facilities. It is easier to lease these from the incumbents than it is to build their own facilities. Campbell: Their complaint is that, to get a certain discount, you need to commit to a 7-year term. I do not see how that is inherently problematic when facilities must be built. These contracts are long-term for a reason.
Brogan: I would continue to not regulate carrier Ethernet and rationalize regulation. Do not lower prices. This will discourage investment. That is the source of innovation within the broadband industry. Facilities-based competition is more self-sustaining.
Campbell: We need to stop moving to the left of Europe on communications policy. Many of the same consumer groups supporting price unbundling loved to point to Europe as an example of how broadband policy in the United States policy should move. In 2013, the EU’s version of the FCC drafted a lengthy report with data on developments in the EU markets and concluded that investment in the EU is lower due to unbundling. The reason is that unbundling discourages investment. If an entity has regulated access at government regulated rates, they have profit without the risk of losing investment dollars. Their conclusion was that, beyond where cable was, there was no increased investment. Now Chairman Wheeler wants to do it anyways.
Singer: If you want to maximize broadband deployment, we should be free of regulations.
Campbell: Chairman Wheler uses the word “competition” a lot, but when he uses it, he means something completely different than I do when I say competition.
Singer: When you say competition three times, it is static and not dynamic. Chairman Wheeler’s competition does not mean anything.
Campbell: Our FCC just makes up competition in market segments as if it is a new thing. Europe has imposed standards on how to impose these regulations. This has given them enormous power to do unhealthy things for a viable and competitive communications market.
Singer: We are not going to get to a Communications Act rewrite until we solve the net neutrality problem. The idea is to figure out a way to give the FCC authority to regulate allegations of discrimination on a case-by-case basis. Republicans should go forward on a broadband subsidy so we do not have to raise taxes on the back of broadband users.
Campbell: If we want to talk about politicized decision-making, let’s look at net neutrality. One of the arguments raised in favor of Title II regulations were the number of comments received in favor of it. It did not matter who these were from, but simply the volume of responses. The question we all asked was the relevance of each of these comments. There are arguments about the FCC’s political form of decision-making.
Yesterday, our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman had an op-ed published in The Street on Sprint wanting it both ways when it comes to special access services. An excerpt:
Every year American employers spend far more money than they should on a blizzard of government filings. Some are mandatory like tax returns and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings. Some are critical for public safety or record-keeping like prescription drug studies or the Census. Some are purely voluntary—like engaging in federal regulatory agency proceedings.
However, problems arise when these filings fail to add up. For instance, what if a company tells the SEC one thing to try to win favor on Wall Street but then tells another government agency something different to get special regulatory treatment? Which one should the government believe? For that matter, what should investors believe?
Sprint provides an excellent example of this type of behavior, offering investors a bullish spin for growth based on innovation while pleading with policy makers to pity its relative weakness through ongoing regulatory intervention. In the age of heightened transparency, however, policy makers should see through the smoke and recognize the competitive market that truly is. And, unfortunately for Sprint and its investors, the story it’s telling regulators is much closer to the truth.
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