Wednesday, October 30
Late yesterday, the Senate unanimously approved the appointments of Tom Wheeler and Michael O’Rielly to the FCC. Upon joining the FCC this week, Wheeler and O’Reilly will now bring the Commission to full strength.
The new members join the FCC at a critical time. As my colleague Jamal Simmons wrote back in May (such is the pace of Washington these days), two of the very top issues the Commission faces are the modernization and upgrade of our existing telephone networks and the ever-pressing need to free up more spectrum to meet the increasing demand for wireless broadband by America’s consumers.
To bring next-generation broadband networks to the entire nation, the FCC should approve demonstration tests in several markets, similar to the trails set up by the FCC preceding the conversion to digital television, in order for this major network upgrade to be as smooth as possible. For spectrum, the Commission should move quickly on holding open incentive auctions, rapidly approve secondary market transactions, and work with NTIA in the repurposing of federal spectrum so it can be put to use for consumers.
And the FCC should move rapidly on the ConnectEd initiative, to help ensure access to high-speed broadband for our nation’s students at school and at home. Making that program a reality, along with the two agenda items listed above, will help the FCC make a lasting and highly positive impact on the lives of consumers and the economy as a whole.
On behalf of all of us at IIA, congratulations to Wheeler and O’Rielly on their confirmations, and also congratulations to Acting Chairwoman Clyburn for her steady leadership during the past few months. Now it’s time to roll up sleeves and get to work.
Tuesday, October 29
Today’s Wall Street Journal has a short piece that packs a big tech wallop.
Penned by Charles Townsend, “Smartphones to Monitor Insulin and Smell Flowers” argues that the devices we now carry are only at the beginning of the potential. For example, Townsend writes:
Ten years from now, you won’t need to carry your Visa or MasterCard because your cellphone will function as a credit card. You will place your phone on a scanner at a restaurant and your purchase will either be charged directly to your cellular bill or to your credit card. The phone will verify that it is you by checking your thumb print. Wireless companies will have become mobile banks.
Other highlights from Townsend’s piece: A new wireless camera being developed by Qualcomm that transmit pictures to your doctor’s smartphone(!); a smartphone that translates languages for you in real-time(!); and a phone that, as Townsend puts it, is “able to smell a strange odor in your home and tell you that tomatoes are rotting(!).”
Townsend’s article isn’t all future-cool, though, as he pivots into territory we at IIA have long tread in — having enough spectrum available to handle the coming deluge of data on wireless networks. As he writes:
If all goes as planned, the FCC may be able to come up with about half of the necessary new wireless spectrum by 2020, leaving a 250 MHz shortfall. Hopefully, the FCC can convince a number of federal agencies to give up significant additional spectrum. Otherwise, wireless engineers will have to come up with a better way to use the finite amount of spectrum they already have. If they don’t, soon enough your smartphone will remind you of the dial-up speeds of the 1990s—and it will be years, if not decades, before we realize the full potential of these devices.
Agreed on all points.
Visit here for the methodology and an embed code.
Thursday, October 24
Today’s edition of Roll Call features an opinion piece from our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher on how antiquated rules are slowing innovation. Here’s a taste:
Throughout history, innovation and new technologies have improved the way we live. But each change also required adjustments to maximize the gains. When the automobile overtook the horse, we needed new rules of the road so traffic would flow safely and efficiently. Electric lighting gave us the chance to adjust schedules for efficiency and lifestyle benefits because our day was no longer governed by the rising and setting of the sun.
Similarly, it’s time for smart, modernized telecom rules that promote consumer choice and protect consumer rights, enhance competition, and ensure public safety so that Americans fully enjoy the boundless opportunities of the Internet Age.
Check out the full piece over at Roll Call.
Wednesday, October 23
Earlier today, the House Communications Subcommittee held a hearing on what’s commonly known in the tech industry as the “IP transition.”
That may sound like a rather dry affair, but the issues being discussed are anything but dry or boring. In fact, when it comes to our nation’s communications infrastructure — and, really, the health of our vital tech economy — conversations like the one held today are critical.
While the hearing itself was short on fireworks, it was not without surprises. Both Public Knowledge’s VP Harold Feld and AT&T’s Senior VP Jim Cicconi agreed on much – for example, that well-constructed trials are needed and that as the transition moves forward, certain principles must continue to be adhered to. As Cicconi testified:
[T]his transition from the old to the new should consider things we’ve all come to see as fundamental — universal connectivity, consumer protection, reliability, public safety, and interconnection.
The fact that Feld and Cicconi agree not just on the importance of those “things we’ve all come to see as fundamental,” but on the importance of moving forward with the transition itself, shows just how much things have changed in a short amount of time.
The legacy copper telephone network that has served our country so well for over a century is rapidly being abandoned by consumers, who are increasingly choosing wireless and VoIP for their communication needs. At the same time, providers like AT&T and Verizon are required to continue investing billions maintaining the network of old.
This point was not lost on Rep. John Dingell, who stated during the hearing that the billions now spent on legacy networks “would be better spent on the IP backbone of the future.”
But the IP transition is about more than the direction of investment dollars. As Cicconi told the Subcommittee:
Four years ago the FCC issued a National Broadband Plan as directed by the Congress. That plan concluded that bringing modern broadband services to all Americans is vital, and that to do so we must have communications policies rooted in the future, not the past.
Put another way, if we’re ever going to achieve the goals of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, the IP transition needs to be encouraged through smart policies. That starts with looking at regulations crafted in 1996 or earlier that no longer apply to — and may in fact hold back — the vast array of choices consumers now have.
Put still another way, the IP transition is really a national broadband goal. The only question, which today’s hearing started to address, is how best to get there.
For AT&T’s part, the company has already put forward a plan with the FCC to conduct “test trials” akin to the one conducted during the transition to digital broadcasting in order to identify any potential problems as the legacy network is upgraded and the few customers who still have legacy service move to modern connections. As Cicconi testified:
We feel trials are critical. As careful as our planning is, no one can anticipate every issue that may arise when we actually transition off the legacy wireline infrastructure. Trials will help us learn while we still have a safety-net in place. And as we learn, all of us — industry, government, customers and stakeholders — can then work together over the coming years to address any problems we find.
On this point too, Public Knowledge’s Feld agreed, although his organization’s vision for how the trials should be conducted differed from AT&T’s. And encouragingly, Rep. Dingell also stated the FCC should “work with AT&T to set IP trials in motion,” adding that the trials would be an “invaluable case study for businesses, government, and consumers.” Rep. Shimkus and Rep. Waxman agreed that we should move forward with the trials, as well.
As Cicconi noted during his testimony, the transition is already well underway, but it won’t be a quick process. Nor should it be, because every time we make a great leap forward, we should know exactly where we’re going to land. Now is the time for all parties to work together on ensuring the transition goes as smoothly as possible. That’s what today’s hearing was about.
Any time you have industry, government, and consumer groups in agreement on something, you know it’s time to act. Today’s hearing was just one of many discussions yet to come on the IP transition, but it was a critical step in the right direction.
Monday, October 21
Last year, IIA hosted a webinar on technology and education that focused on an innovative, soon-to-be-implemented “blended learning” program at Kramer Middle School in the Anacostia community of Washington, D.C. My brother Kwame Simmons, the school’s principal, penned an op-ed afterwards, titled “My School’s High-Tech Turnaround Plan,” for the Washington Post.
Last week, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was kind enough to join me for a tour of Kramer, where Vice Principal Delia Davis-Dyke walked us through the program now in place.
At Kramer, half of each class receives teacher-led instruction, while the other half is engaged in online learning. With 380 students, roughly 190 of them are online at any given moment during the day. The technology in use allows Administrators and parents to monitor student progress remotely.
Once the tour took us inside a classroom, it was easy to see why Kramer’s blended learning program is encouraging.
In one classroom, teachers were putting the program into effect by using an online video lesson to reinforce a discussion on the rise of Nazi Germany after World War I. Though a dense topic, the online video kept students engaged.
Vice Principal Davis-Dyke told us the blended learning program has made it possible for parents to be much more engaged with their kids too…but the program is not without its issues. Teacher training, for one, is proving to be a challenge, as is the funding of necessary peripherals such as adapters, carts, and replacement cords.
Then there’s the question of after-hours access. During the tour, Commissioner Rosenworcel asked how much students are able to take advantage of the system from home. The answer was not much, since equipment and home broadband access continue to be roadblocks.
Kramer’s blended learning program is primarily financed by Race-to-the-Top funding, which will soon run out. Vice Principal Davis-Dyke explained that the school is currently exploring corporate sponsorships to supplement their budget, with the goal of keeping the program going strong for years to come.
Some of those dollars will need to be invested in more robust broadband for the school. Due to equipment and capacity constraints, not all students can be online at once — as Vice Principal Dyke told us, if 390 kids were to be online at the same time, the school would face significant speed issues.
For me, that was one of the biggest takeaways from our tour of Kramer Middle School. Innovative programs like the school’s blended learning have the potential to revolutionize education. But as Kramer shows, hitting the full potential of the program will require a commitment to improving broadband networks at school, and increasing broadband penetration at home. These are big tasks government can’t do alone. That’s why we need regulations that encourage investment and expansion of high-speed broadband to every corner of our country.
Thanks to Vice Principal Davis-Dyke for the tour and to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel for joining us. The kids weren’t the only ones learning that day.
Friday, October 18
Thursday, October 17
Earlier today, we held a Twitterview with Wear the Cape, an innovative company focused on inspiring goodness in others through clothing. You can check out the condensed interview via our respective Twitter handles (@iiabroadband, @WtCKids). Here’s the extended interview — IIA.
What is Wear the Cape and what is its mission?
Wear the Cape is dedicated to restoring the power of kindness and good character through hip, inspirational products that create teachable moments and via our non-profit arm the kidkind foundation.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. How does cyberbullying fit into Wear the Cape’s efforts?
Wear the Cape is focused on preventing bullying by shaping behavior from an early age – kids aren’t born bullies. But cyberbullying is a pervasive issue, particularly among teens. We aim to show teens that giving respect, gets respect – your peers don’t look up to you for mistreating others.
How does Wear the Cape interact with its customers and supporters online?
Wear the Cape utilizes its website to accept donations (100% to the kidkind foundation), sell products (10% of proceeds goes directly to the kidkind foundation, with the remained going toward developing educational materials and furthering the mission), and address issues that families care about via our blog. We’re also active on social media!
Is Wear the Cape dependent on high-speed broadband Internet for building, developing, transforming and/or growing the brand and kidkind foundation?
So far, Wear the Cape is — for the most part –— an online-only organization. Our website is a platform for e-commerce, and we also use it to accept donations. Without fast Internet speeds, consumers would not be able to easily and reliably purchase Wear the Cape clothing and gear or make contributions to the kidkind foundation.
What are some of the web applications that have enabled Wear the Cape’s team to run the business and non-profit arm?
We use WordPress as our blogging platform and Shopify to sell our products and take donations for the kidkind foundation. These two gems enabled us to launch, and Wear the Cape depends on them every day!
How would lack of broadband build-out across the nation affect Wear the Cape’s business model?
People that don’t have broadband are much less active on social media and usually don’t shop online. Wear the Cape relies on social media to help reach people far and wide with our mission, and most of our product sales currently take place at our online storefront. It’s difficult for us to reach and help communities without high-speed Internet.
How can the online users connect with Wear the Cape?
Visit us at our website, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and LinkedIn! We would love to hear from you.
Now that the federal government is up and running again, things are expected to heat up on the tech policy front. Case in point, as Brendan Sasso of The Hill reports:
The Senate could confirm President Obama’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission as early as Wednesday night.
Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s pick for FCC chairman, and Michael O’Rielly, a nominee for a Republican commission seat, have been placed on a fast track for Senate approval, according to a document circulated on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Terrell McSweeny, a Democratic FTC nominee, and Kathryn Sullivan, nominated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could also be approved.
With hot issues like spectrum auctions and the transition to advanced networks on the table, it’s good to see the government back to work, and that the FCC could finally have a new Chairman ASAP.
Thursday, October 10
Once again Holman Jenkins offers terrific insight into the dynamic broadband marketplace, highlighting the true forces driving investment (competition) and the forces holding back progress (outdated regulations). Referring to Google’s much-celebrated fiber investments in key cities Jenkins observes in the Wall Street Journal:
“Google’s real innovation was to tunnel under the regulatory morass that inhibits physical broadband deployment. Why is Google introducing Google Fiber in Kansas City and not its native California? Google’s own Milo Medin has explained repeatedly that regulatory brambles make California ‘prohibitively expensive.’”
Jenkins turns to the FCC’s failure to launch reasonable proposals to allow carriers to shift investment from older technologies carrying increasingly less traffic, to newer technologies carrying an exponentially growing volume of voice, video and data. The need for modernizing our regulations becomes even more critical when one reads a study authored by Dr. Anna-Maria Kovacs, a visiting scholar at Georgetown’s Center for Business and Public Policy. Dr. Kovacs’ analysis estimated that incumbents telcos spent a total of $154 billion on their communications networks, with more than half maintaining fading legacy networks that carry less than 1 percent of all data.
While so much else is crippled by Washington paralysis, broadband deployment should be freed.