Monday, April 07
Earlier today we held our latest Internet Academy, which featured former House Energy and Commerce Chairmen Rick Boucher and Jack Field discussing the past and future of America’s communications policies. We’ll have archive of the event up soon, but in the meantime, The Hill‘s Julian Hattern has a write-up. Check it out.
Wednesday, April 02
Monday’s move by the Federal Communications Commission to open up the 5GHz band for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed uses has the potential to kickstart the expansion of new, faster Wi-Fi technology. That’s a win — for consumers, for innovation, and for America’s digital infrastructure.
But even as those of us who have long pushed for expanded high-speed Internet access pop champagne corks, it’s worth noting that the FCC’s action is just a step in what should really be a sprint by the Commission when it comes to making more spectrum available for mobile broadband. As Commissioner Ajit Pai said in his statement:
“If we’re to keep pace with consumers expectations, we need more 5GHz Wi-Fi spectrum, not just better use of existing 5GHz Wi-Fi spectrum. We must redouble our efforts on making an additional 195MHz of spectrum available for unlicensed use.”
Commissioner Pai is right on the money, but that quote only tells half the story. In order to a) keep up with consumer demand, and b) truly advance mobile broadband deployment and speeds across the country, the FCC must also make more licensed spectrum available for commercial use. Or, as Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel succinctly put it, “Good spectrum policy requires a balance of licensed and unlicensed [spectrum].”
Again, the FCC’s 5GHz Wi-Fi move is worth celebrating. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. To quote Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, “We need to be ambitious in finding more ways to provide licensed and unlicensed spectrum for commercial services.” And with consumer demand for mobile broadband not likely to diminish anytime soon, the clock is ticking.
Wednesday, March 26
The last significant revision of the Communications Act occurred in 1996. Since then, innovation and competitive markets have dramatically altered the way consumers receive communications services. While the world of phones, computers, and the Internet has completely changed over the last 18 years, the nation’s telecommunications regulatory framework remains the same.
With the House Committee on Energy and Commerce seeking recommendations on how best to modernize the Communications Act, our next Internet Academy will feature two key architects of the 1996 Act, IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher and former House Energy and Commerce Chairman Jack Fields.
Boucher and Fields will discuss a wide range of policy issues, including:
• The pervasive and rapidly developing role of broadband networks in the delivery of modern communications, in contrast to the market landscape in 1996.
• How Current policy impacts broadband investment.
• The obstacles and opportunities facing lawmakers as they embark on modernizing the legal and regulatory framework that oversees the nation’s communications industry.
• Recommendations to help spur investment and innovation in America’s 21st Century digital economy.
Tuesday, March 25
So far, Google Glass has had a bit of a bumpy road to launch. One major hurdle for the device — which allows wearers to keep track of messages, emails, and even record video — has been its design, which can charitably be called awkward. But now, as Taylor Hatmaker of Read Write Web reports, the company is aiming to make things a bit more stylish:
In a post on its Google+ page, the Glass team announced a major new partnership with the Luxottica Group, an Italian company that quietly owns more than 80% of the world’s eyewear brands. That massive portfolio includes not only iconic eyewear makers like Ray-Ban and Oakley but also the eyewear divisions of Prada, Persol, DKNY, Versace, Chanel, Ralph Lauren and, well, the list goes on.
Whether designers of note will be able to make Google Glass more appealing to everyday consumers remains to be seen, but anything that makes users look less like a cyborg can only be a good thing.
Via ABC News, this is all sorts of awesome:
An Israeli mom of a child with cerebral palsy has invented a walking harness that changes the way special-needs kids navigate the world.
Debby Elnatan designed a support harness to allow her wheelchair-bound young son Rotem to stand upright. By cinching the top of the harness to her own waist and slipping specially designed sandals on their feet, the device permits mom and child to walk together while keeping their hands free for other activities.
“When my son was 2 years old, I was told by medical professionals that he didn’t know what his legs are and has no consciousness of them,” Elnatan recently told the Daily Mail.
Just goes to show that even in these high-tech times, simple innovations can still have a big impact.
Congressman Adam Kinzinger and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai have penned an op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times on the need to better train kids for the digital economy. The full op-ed is definitely worth checking out, but here’s an excerpt:
To prepare our children for digital-age jobs, we need to get them online today. Our students’ futures are too important to let this opportunity for far-reaching reform slip from our grasp.
A student-centered E-Rate program would give kids in small towns a better chance to compete with those growing up in big cities. Real reform would help children in Illinois and throughout small-town America see a brighter tomorrow — and we stand ready to ensure that E-Rate lives up to that promise.
Friday, March 21
President Obama’s ConnectED initiative aims to provide high-speed broadband (as in, 100 Mbps) to every school in America within five years. It’s a worthy — and necessary — goal, but like most major initiatives, it faces the daunting question of funding.
Enter a new proposal from the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology (CBIT), which, the organization believes, provides a path for making ConnectED a reality. This article from Telecompetitor does a good job of digging into the details of the proposal, but in a nutshell it goes something like this:
Currently, wireless provider Sprint leases 2.5Ghz Educational Broadcast Spectrum (EBS) from numerous educational institutions that hold this resource around the nation. Under the Center’s proposal, that spectrum — which, according to CBIT, is going unused in 800 counties across America — should be made available through an incentive auction and its proceeds made available to compensate the educational spectrum licensees and fund the President’s ConnectEd initiative.
It’s rare these days when a proposal can appeal to both the left and the right, yet CBIT’s auction idea has the potential to hit that sweet spot where public good and the free market meet. Even Sprint stands to benefit since, as Telecompetitor’s Joan Engebretson writes in her article. Citing an argument from CBIT Executive Director Fred Campbell:
“Sprint and other wireless carriers would benefit from this proposal because assigning the EBS spectrum for purely commercial use and assigning the 2.5 GHz white spaces would enhance the value of existing commercial spectrum in the band. In addition, it would give the carriers the opportunity to acquire additional 2.5 GHz spectrum that would be free of educational obligations…”
Whether Sprint would be open to CBIT’s idea remains to be seen — Engebretson’s story doesn’t make it seem very likely — but it’s encouraging that innovative ideas are being floated to fund ConnectED. Bringing high-speed Internet access to every student is too important, so policymakers should weigh the costs and benefits of every creative proposal that offers the hope of bringing the tools of the 21st century digital economy one step closer to America’s students.
Wednesday, March 19
With all the recent focus on the transition to all-IP networks — and the FCC trials to make that transition go as smoothly as possible — it’s easy to lose track of another pressing issues, which is the Commission’s upcoming spectrum incentive auction. Over at Broadcasting & Cable, John Eggerton reports that the auctions will soon be moved to the front burner:
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is targeting May for a vote on an item establishing rules of the road for the broadcast incentive auction, according to sources inside and outside the commission.
Wheeler has been saying “spring” for a while, but according to sources, he is looking at scheduling the item for the May 15 open meeting.
Mobile broadband has already revolutionized the cellphone, and now the dash is on for so-called “wearable devices.” Enter Google, which has announced software for “smart watches” powered by the company’s Android operating system. As Alexei Oreskovic of Reuters reports:
Google on Tuesday unveiled plans to help develop the watches and other wearable computers based on its Android mobile operating system, which already runs more than three out of four smartphones sold worldwide.
The Android Wear project is open to software makers to create apps for the watches, putting Google at the forefront of efforts to jumpstart the nascent wearable computing market.
The news comes as speculation swirls around iPhone-maker Apple Inc’s plans for wearable computers, including a smartwatch of its own. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has promised new “product categories” later this year.
Google also released a concept video:
Monday, March 17
Any architect will tell you that it’s impossible to build a house without a blueprint. This is true even more in telecom. Fortunately, the country just celebrated the fourth birthday of the National Broadband Plan, our blueprint for the future of broadband.
Often, government reports sit on shelves gathering dust. Thankfully, this one did not. Acting on a request from Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) produced a report that was a vision for a connected future of universal broadband and a clarion call to move forward with innovation rather than letting America fall behind other countries.
The Plan started with a clear vision: every American deserves broadband. Not only that, every American needs broadband as it becomes increasingly critical for applying for jobs, learning new skills, communicating with others, and accessing our government. As the report said, “broadband can be our foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.”
Over the last four years, there has been great progress. When the report was adopted, over 100 million Americans did not have broadband and 14 million Americans did not even have access to infrastructure that would enable broadband applications. Now, those numbers are significantly smaller, thanks to private sector investment and government’s continued focus. According to a White House report from last June, “about 91 percent of Americans have access to wired broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps downstream, and 81 percent of Americans have access to similarly fast mobile wireless broadband.”
In fact, that 2013 report notes that the definition of “broadband” has essentially shifted to speeds greater than 10 Mbps rather than the government’s historic definition of broadband beginning at 3 Mbps, which is good enough for one user at a time to load photos onto Facebook in a household, but not fast enough to download HD video from Netflix. Average delivered broadband speeds have doubled since 2009 to keep up with consumer needs.
This is only a beginning: President Obama’s recent State of the Union set a goal that 99% of students would have access to ultra-high speed broadband in schools and libraries over the next four years.
That kind of achievement only happens with massive levels of private sector investment, and the private sector has begun doing its part. Over the last four years, tens of billions of dollars of investment from the private sector have been directed towards expanding broadband access and increasing broadband speed. Investment in wireless broadband alone jumped over 40% between 2009 and 2012. In fact, two companies in this sector – AT&T and Verizon – were named “Investment Heroes” by the Progressive Policy Institute for their commitment to America’s telecommunications future. This is appropriate as the Plan stated that “broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.”
To meet that challenge, government must encourage more private investment, while ensuring equitable access for every American to benefit from all that broadband has to offer. As the report stated, “the role of government is and should remain limited.”
As with many such efforts, this won’t happen without effort. The National Broadband Plan made clear that the nation would eventually have to make the transition from the aging telephone network to a system based on new broadband technologies. An FCC technology task force made the point even more clearly – that transition must happen over the course of this decade.
In fact, most consumers have already made this transition voluntarily. Less than one-third of residential consumers still use “plain old telephone service” at home (U-verse or Skype anyone?). The FCC has recently approved trials for these next-generation networks, which is a major step forward towards the all-broadband future foreshadowed in the Plan.
Four years after the National Broadband Plan, we have a vibrant, robust, cross-platform competitive system in which more and more Americans are gaining access to faster and faster broadband every day. There is more work to do, so let’s keep moving forward and not inhibit it through policies and regulations that would slow investment rather than increase it. If we want to be sure that every American has access to broadband, we should follow the vision set out in the National Broadband Plan for universal broadband, and move quickly toward the transition to modern high-speed broadband networks and services.