Because every American
should have access
to broadband Internet.

The Internet Innovation Alliance is a broad-based coalition of business and non-profit organizations that aim to ensure every American, regardless of race, income or geography, has access to the critical tool that is broadband Internet. The IIA seeks to promote public policies that support equal opportunity for universal broadband availability and adoption so that everyone, everywhere can seize the benefits of the Internet - from education to health care, employment to community building, civic engagement and beyond.

The Podium

Blog posts tagged with 'Jamal Simmons'

Tuesday, April 05

Bridging the Homework Gap

By Jamal Simmons

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.

Thursday, March 31

IIA Event: Closing the Homework Gap

By IIA

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 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Tuesday, March 01

Elevate Broadband Access

By Brad

Yesterday, The Root published an op-ed from our Co-Chairmen Larry Irving and Jamal Simmons on the need for sensible reform of the Lifeline program. An excerpt:

These days, new social media platforms emerge regularly. Individuals have become broadcast channels with audiences rivaling some small radio stations. The barrier to new technologies reaching even wider audiences is lack of high-speed Internet access, and for many people who need it most, the barrier to access is cost. This Black History Month, reforming the federal Lifeline program to include broadband should be elevated as a key step to increasing access for Americans with the lowest incomes.

Check out Irving and Simmons’ full op-ed over at The Root.

Tuesday, January 05

Let’s Get Nerdy — Jamal Simmons on Broadband Savings and the Digital Divide

By IIA

In the latest installments of our “Let’s Get Nerdy” video series, our Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons talks about our recent Cost Campaign study and why it’s more important than ever to close the digital divide.

 

Simmons also discusses the progress being made through ConnectED and the Lifeline program, and how policymakers can still do more to close the digital divide.

Tuesday, November 03

Innovation Drives Improved Outcomes for Education

By Jamal Simmons

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I am always encouraged by the ways in which technology is improving the classroom experience for students around the country. Through network-enabled devices and high-speed broadband, students and their teachers are able to harness all the Internet has to offer, including apps and content sources that can improve educational outcomes and open doors of opportunity throughout the country.

Both in school and out, students are using mobile devices and the digital economy to explore new ideas and prepare for successful futures. Innovation in the technology industry has jump-started this introduction of technology into the educational experience for millions of students, and it is always worth pointing out some exciting examples of how technology is being put to use for educational innovation.

Just last week, Discovery Education and DirecTV joined the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to celebrate National Energy Awareness Month and ENERGY STAR® Day. This event was great. In addition to bringing students in to meet with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in person, the three organizations teamed up to provide a “virtual field trip” to schools around the country, which allowed them to tune in to watch the event remotely. By infusing technology into the event, more students not only watched the conversation, but joined it, bringing unique perspectives and questions from around the country.

Events like this show how important innovation in the technology sector is and why we need to continue to make the right kinds of regulatory and legislative choices that allow all players in this innovative industry to provide critical solutions and new offerings.  Working together we can avoid false choices between arbitrary winners and losers. Just recently, the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) released their annual “Investment Heroes” report that showed that the technology industry was leading the pack when it comes to investments in America. As the EPA’s “virtual field trip” shows, this innovation is already changing educational models for the better, which has ripple effects throughout the economy.

While the PPI report illustrates the dollars being invested in the economy, the underlying story may be more important. These dollars are also investments in America’s students, schools and education system. When we deliver new tools and services to schools to open students’ eyes to the world around them, we are able to better prepare them for tomorrow’s workforce, giving them the skills they need to compete on a global scale.

Last week’s “virtual field trip” event sought to engage students in a conversation about being good stewards of the global environment. It is another great example of how technology solutions can be deployed to expose students to new ways of thinking about the world around them. The more we can innovate and deploy these kinds of solutions and ideas, the better off America’s students will be.

Monday, November 02

Teaming Up with FCC Commissioner Clyburn to Fuel Progress toward Closing the Health Divide

By Jamal Simmons

Is broadband a social determinant of health? Prominent health care leaders, practitioners, and researchers came together last week in Detroit to answer that question during a discussion that I co-moderated with Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Mignon Clyburn. The FCC Connect2Health Task Force’s Broadband Health Tech Forum was part of its “Beyond the Beltway” series, which is encouraging efforts to improve healthcare in communities across the nation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your zip code is a greater indicator of your health than your genetic code. Why? The quality and availability of care is vastly different based on where you live.

Low-income Americans are at a distinct disadvantage for managing chronic diseases, for example. Heart disease and diabetes are among the top 10 causes of death in the African-American community, and Latinos are challenged by a 66 percent higher rate of diabetes than Caucasians. Thankfully, there’s consensus that technology can go a long way toward closing the health divide.

The digital divide is directly linked to the health divide. Without Internet connectivity, people lack the tools that they need to become educated on critical health issues, to find nearby healthcare providers, and to take advantage of the exciting health applications and tools that are available. While some Americans with diabetes are using Internet-connected devices like AgaMatrix to monitor blood glucose, others are left in the dark. Broadband empowers underserved populations to take charge of their health.

One panelist pointed out that the digital divide is creating health problems in unexpected ways. Many Americans who lack broadband at home are going to the local McDonald’s to use the Internet. To do so, they’re required to purchase at least one item. Imagine how your health would be impacted if you were drinking super-sized soft drinks and eating Big Macs every time you wanted to check your email.

During the discussion in Detroit, Commissioner Clyburn emphasized the importance of adding broadband to the federal Lifeline program as part of the Commission’s reform efforts. Making the subsidy available for high-speed Internet will help close the digital divide and – bonus – concurrently shrink the health divide. Modernizing the Lifeline program is a key to improving access to health care services, regardless of socio-economic background or geographic location.

The goal of the Broadband Health Tech Forum in Detroit was to start a critical conversation that translates into action – and it appears that the event did just that. Panelists and audience members alike were inspired, vowing to stay connected and work together toward solutions. Broadband is a social determinant of health. In fact, it’s foundational for health equity.

To read more about the event, check out this article from Crain’s Detroit: “FCC task force visits Detroit to discuss health care tech innovations.”

Thursday, October 08

Memo to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute

By IIA

In conjunction with the 2015 Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Hispanic Heritage Month Policy Conference, our co-chairs Jamal Simmons and Larry Irving have penned a memo for participants highlighting recommendations for Lifeline reform that ensure 21st century connectivity for low-income Americans. Here are those recommendations:

1. Safeguard Lifeline by taking eligibility determinations away from self-interested service providers.

The FCC’s proposal to remove the responsibility of consumer eligibility determination from Lifeline providers is the right one. Determining eligibility for receiving benefits from a government program is an inherently governmental function; as such, eligibility determinations should not be left to service providers that may have improper economic incentives to increase enrollment.

2. Simplify and protect the Lifeline program by vesting administration in a state agency using a “coordinated enrollment” and de-enrollment process.

Rely on state governmental agencies as the neutral entities charged with using a coordinated enrollment process to verify consumer eligibility and administer the enrollment and de-enrollment processes. Under this process, consumers determined eligible to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) by the State would automatically be deemed eligible to receive Lifeline assistance. A reformed federal Lifeline program should link eligibility determination to a single, mature assistance program – SNAP – which would increase administrative efficiency, promote participation by both consumers and service providers, and reduce the potential for waste, fraud, and abuse.

3. Empower consumers with a “Lifeline Benefit Card” – a direct-to-consumer benefit.

Lifeline program benefits should be transferred directly to the consumer using a “Lifeline Benefit Card” or similar approach (e.g., coordinated enrollment taking advantage of existing SNAP EBT cards and adding the Lifeline benefit to that EBT card). Eligible consumers could use the “Lifeline EBT Card” as a voucher to buy whichever communications service meets their needs from authorized and registered providers, whether broadband, wireline, or wireless voice service (on a standalone or bundled basis). For further convenience, service providers could offer Lifeline customers an automatic payment feature that allows low-income customers the ability to electronically activate their recurring discount, thus bypassing the need to visit a service provider on a monthly basis to swipe their EBT card.

4. Incentivize voluntary participation in the Lifeline program by cutting red tape.

Delinking the ETC designation from the Lifeline program would enable subsidy recipients to receive the complete benefits of robust competition that full service provider participation could offer. Removing existing regulatory roadblocks will make it easier for service providers to participate in Lifeline and incentivize them to compete for the
purchasing power of Lifeline consumers.

Download a PDF of the memo to the CHCI.

Wednesday, September 23

Broadband & the Homework Gap

By IIA

Over at CNBC, Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons highlights the role of broadband access in closing America’s “homework gap.” An excerpt:

One way to make sure students from all backgrounds have the strongest start is by closing what Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel calls the “homework gap,” which impacts students in five million American households. These students from low-income families have less regular access to broadband Internet at home than their peers from wealthier households, making completing homework assignments tougher.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has proposed revamping the Lifeline program as one way to help close this gap. Started during the Reagan administration, Lifeline was created to help low-income Americans get access to telephone service. As mobile phones became more ubiquitous, the George W. Bush administration expanded the program to allow Americans to choose wireless phone service under Lifeline. Today, broadband is the critical service that connects Americans to jobs, health care, entertainment and family, and the current FCC should allow the Lifeline program to evolve again.

In addition to expanding Lifeline to cover broadband, you can read IIA’s specific recommendations for modernization of the Lifeline program in the full op-ed at CNBC.

Thursday, September 17

Memo to the Congressional Black Caucus

By IIA

In conjunction with the 2015 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference this week, our co-chairs Jamal Simmons and Larry Irving have penned a memo for participants highlighting recommendations for Lifeline reform that ensure 21st century connectivity for low-income Americans. Here are those recommendations:

The FCC should move swiftly to address existing structural flaws that hamstring the program and the Lifeline marketplace by adopting the following essential reforms:

1. Safeguard Lifeline by taking eligibility determinations away from self-interested service providers.
The FCC’s proposal to remove the responsibility of consumer eligibility determination from Lifeline providers is the right one. Determining eligibility for receiving benefits from a government program is an inherently governmental function; as such, eligibility determinations should not be left to service providers that may have improper economic incentives to increase enrollment.

2. Simplify and protect the Lifeline program by vesting administration in a state agency using a “coordinated enrollment” and de-enrollment process.
Rely on state governmental agencies as the neutral entities charged with using a coordinated enrollment process to verify consumer eligibility and administer the enrollment and de-enrollment processes. Under this process, consumers determined eligible to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) by the State would automatically be deemed eligible to receive Lifeline assistance. A reformed federal Lifeline program should link eligibility determination to a single, mature assistance program – SNAP – which would increase administrative efficiency, promote participation by both consumers and service providers, and reduce the potential for waste, fraud, and abuse. 

3. Empower consumers with a “Lifeline Benefit Card” – a direct-to-consumer benefit.
Lifeline program benefits should be transferred directly to the consumer using a “Lifeline Benefit Card” or similar approach (e.g., coordinated enrollment taking advantage of existing SNAP EBT cards and adding the Lifeline benefit to that EBT card). Eligible consumers could use the “Lifeline EBT Card” as a voucher to buy whichever communications service meets their needs from authorized and registered providers, whether broadband, wireline, or wireless voice service (on a standalone or bundled basis). For further convenience, service providers could offer Lifeline customers an automatic payment feature that allows low-income customers the ability to electronically activate their recurring discount, thus bypassing the need to visit a service provider on a monthly basis to swipe their EBT card.

4. Incentivize voluntary participation in the Lifeline program by cutting red tape.
Delinking the ETC designation from the Lifeline program would enable subsidy recipients to receive the complete benefits of robust competition that full service provider participation could offer. Removing existing regulatory roadblocks will make it easier for service providers to participate in Lifeline and incentivize them to compete for the purchasing power of Lifeline consumers.

Download a PDF of the Lifeline memo to the CBC.

 

Thursday, June 11

IIA Letter to FCC Regarding Lifeline

By Jamal Simmons

Earlier today, IIA sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expressing our support for the Commission’s upcoming rulemaking proceeding soon to be initiated to advance Lifeline reform. From that letter, signed by IIA Chairmen Rick Boucher, Bruce Mehlman, Larry Irving, and Jamal Simmons:

“In the U.S., consumers with economic means have nearly ubiquitous access to broadband, yet almost two-thirds of our nation’s low-income community continues to seek that similar opportunity.  Without broadband availability, low-income families face an uphill battle in obtaining the American dream.

In bringing Lifeline into the 21st century, broadband should be included as an integral, more affordable offering of the program, and consumers should be empowered by providing the subsidy directly to eligible people instead of companies. Moreover, to enhance administrative efficiency, we urge the FCC to shift program eligibility verification away from companies that are not accountable to the American people, and instead allow states to verify eligibility for Lifeline at the same time they determine consumer eligibility for other federal low-income programs. Such ‘coordinated enrollment’ would benefit consumers by streamlining the eligibility process and ultimately enable subsidy recipients to receive a ‘Lifeline Benefit Card’ where consumers could apply the funds to the provider of their choosing. These reforms would make program participation for all service providers more attractive, thereby broadening consumer choice and stimulating competition for the low-income consumer purchasing power.

IIA applauds the Commission for quickly moving forward to initiate a new proceeding aimed to advance Lifeline reform this year. The time for reform is now, the need is great, and the goal is achievable.“

You can read the full letter here. Additionally, you can download our white paper on reforming the Lifeline program that we published last November.

Friday, May 15

Simmons Urges Congressional Action

By Brad

At CNBC, our Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons has an op-ed explaining how the Federal Communications Commission’s new open Internet rules could be swept away with the next presidential election, and how Congress should make permanent in law prohibitions against slowing, throttling and creating Internet fast lanes without imposing public utility-style regulation on broadband. An excerpt:

All those who care about preserving an open Internet that maintains the flexibility to innovate and develop new products and services without entrepreneurs having to seek government permission should support a new law. A new law won’t be perfect and will require both sides to make compromises, but it is a far better path to certainty and avoids legal and political wrangling that could tie advancement up for years, slowing down innovation and economic growth in the meantime.

Voters should ask Congress to pass an open Internet law before all attention turns to the presidential campaign. Otherwise, the next president will hold in her — or his — hands the future of the open Internet. Protecting such an important resource from the whims of shifting presidential political winds is among the most important things voters can do to keep the economy growing.

You can check out Simmons’ full op-ed over at CNBC.

Monday, January 26

Simmons on the Perils of Title II for Consumers

By Brad

Our Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons has penned an op-ed for Forbes warning that reclassifying broadband under Title II would mean higher taxes for consumers. An excerpt:

A recent study by Progressive Policy Institute economists Robert Litan and Hal Singer is the first significant effort to quantify how much it could potentially cost consumers if broadband services are reclassified as “telecommunications services” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. By regulating broadband service under Title II, the Federal Communications Commission would essentially be required to treat this service under the same rules as the old telephone monopoly from decades ago. By switching from the current light-touch regime to Title II, broadband Internet services would be subjected to a panoply of requirements, such as for entry and exit. That also means broadband would likely become burdened with a host of new state and local taxes and fees, the kind we pay on our monthly home and/or wireless phone bills. These taxes and fees are normally passed on to consumers; when they rise, consumers end up paying more. Expect the same with broadband.

You can read Simmons’ full op-ed over at Forbes.

Monday, September 15

Regarding Title II Reclassification

By IIA

This morning, IIA filed Reply Comments with the FCC urging the Commission to embrace its 706 Authority instead of Title II reclassification in order to preserve an open Internet. In our comments we warned that reclassification would reverser decades of Commission precedent and potentially hurt the Internet ecosystem’s continued success and future of innovation.

Section 706 has worked well to protect the open Internet that everyone wants to preserve, while minimizing harm to investment and innovation. Section 706 remains viable and effective. By contrast, Title II is an antiquated regulatory framework designed for the era of monopoly telephone service that would undermine today’s competitive broadband marketplace and disserve consumers, dissuade entrepreneurs and inject unnecessary regulatory uncertainty threatening future dynamism in the broadband ecosystem.

— IIA Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman

Reliance on Section 706, we argue, enables proper balance between necessary regulation to advance such goals as consumer protection and the imperative of attracting new investment to broadband to ensure further deployments of ever-fast systems that will support the applications of tomorrow. It is also the only way to ensure the innovation and continued explosive growth necessary to meet the ambitious goals of the National Broadband Plan.

The FCC already has enough authority under Section 706 to keep the Internet open with high-speed access for consumers and flexibility for entrepreneurs to innovate. Reclassifying broadband as a utility is like using a sledgehammer when a screwdriver will suffice. Title II is a blunt instrument that might break the Internet’s record of innovation and investment, while Section 706 is a better tool for fixing any problems that arise.

— IIA Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons

Title II, we also note, was not the primary catalyst behind the massive investment that occurred following the enactment of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and that if regulators wanted an example of the chilling effect Title II could have on broadband, Europe offers a good example.

European policies built on extensive, public utility-style regulation and wholesale network unbundling have depressed broadband investment and access to next-generation networks overseas, as fully 82% of U.S. consumers enjoy access to high-speed broadband networks compared to only 54% of European consumers. Section 706 fortunately offers us an alternative path that will enable the private investment necessary to deploy modern broadband networks—wireline, wireless, and cable—and continue the virtuous circle fueled by light-touch regulation of the Internet ecosystem.

— IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher

To read our Reply Comments in full, visit here.

Tuesday, August 12

Simmons on Title II

By Brad

Over at The Grio, our Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons has penned an op-ed on the perils of reclassifying broadband under Title II. An excerpt:

Government should help set standards for business, such as a worthwhile minimum wage for workers. Defining the boundaries of acceptable behavior like emission standards is good too, but it doesn’t make much sense to have regulators in the middle of each team’s huddle signing off on plays. The market requires more flexibility than that. Uncle Sam should mostly get out of the way to let businesses compete.

Those in support of Title II argue that the fears of many business owners can be allayed by the FCC’s power to “forbear” from enforcing some of the Title II provisions. That exercise of restraint, however,  doesn’t bind future commissions from rescinding that grant of forbearance.

Once the regulatory bear is out of its cage, there is no telling where it would stop. Some companies have proposed having wireless broadband service come under the umbrella of Title II also. Until now, the FCC has kept those services in a separate category that allows innovation and investment to flourish.

You can read Simmons’ full op-ed over at The Grio.

Tuesday, June 24

It was 80 years ago…

By Jamal Simmons

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Eighty years ago this month, the Telecommunications Act of 1934 was created to regulate America’s nascent telephone service.  At the time, only about 12 percent of U.S. families had phone service and rotary phones were the norm. Touch-tone phones wouldn’t appear for another three decades. This was the era of “party lines” and operators memorialized in movies sitting in front of large switchboards connecting callers to “KLondike 5-1234.”

As we mark the law’s 80th anniversary, now is not the time to slap the modern, high-speed, innovative and entrepreneur embracing Internet with rules that Congress designed for rotary telephones.

Keeping the Internet available to everyone is the right goal. However, applying Title II of the 1934 law, which treated traditional phone service as a public utility, to broadband could bring the pace of entrepreneurism and investment on the Internet to a crawl. Since 1996, when Congress last updated telecommunications laws, ISPs have invested more than $1.2 trillion. The average Internet connection speed in the U.S. has just hit a remarkable 10 Mbps, which is more than enough to stream an HD movie.

Suddenly putting the Internet under Title II could result in too much innovation needing pre-approval by the FCC. Instead of today’s “bottom up” dynamism in which consumer demands drive change, the web could become hostage to the federal government’s timetable. The spirit and freedom to innovate could depend on Congressional and FCC action.

Today’s Internet is the most free and accessible it’s ever been.  That’s getting lost in the push for Title II regulation. America’s broadband deployment continues to rise and 70% of us now have broadband connections at home, according to Pew. People are spending more time online, enjoying real-time benefits with education, healthcare and entertainment.

The less drastic solution is reflected in the FCC’s two existing efforts to balance legitimate consumer interests with the need to maintain the Internet’s dynamism. The FCC’s 2005 Open Internet Policy Statement and its 2010 Open Internet Order both struck that balance.

Yes, the DC Court of Appeals overturned parts of the 2010 Order. But crucially, major ISPs continue to abide by the openness policies, which shows that they recognize the value of providing the freedom that Net users demand.

Belligerents making hyperbolic arguments from opposing corners dominate too many debates in Washington. Ensuring an open Internet doesn’t have to be one of those fights. Nobody wants to turn what we used to call the “information superhighway” into a four-lane toll road with federal monitors stationed at every onramp. Nor should there be an HOV lane only accessible for the wealthiest that leaves the rest of us stuck in a slow moving traffic jam.

Now is the time for common sense rules that are fair to consumers and companies and ensure high speed Internet access to individuals and entrepreneurs without the unintended consequences of 1930’s rotary phone era regulation.

Monday, May 12

Let’s Get Nerdy - Episode 2

By IIA

This is the second installment of our “Let’s Get Nerdy!” series, where we take tech policy issues that are currently top of mind in our nation’s capital and explain how they are relevant to Americans across the map.

In this installment, our Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons discusses the education and economic benefits of ensuring schools, libraries, and entire communities are connected to high-speed broadband.

Ready to get nerdy? Let’s go!

In your recent op-ed for Politic365 you pointed out that the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be one million new jobs in computer technology and information services by 2022, but last year only three percent of AP Computer Science test-takers were African American. “Taking the right classes to learn how to code and make digital products seems like the first step, but it’s not,” you said. What is the first step to generate interest for working in the technology field among youth?


Companies like Apple, Microsoft and AT&T have committed $750 million to help bring high-speed broadband connections to students, in addition to the $200 million coming from President Obama’s ConnectED program. How else can policymakers make sure interest in digital careers is not snuffed out by slow connection speeds and long waits for computer access?


E-rate has helped connect a huge number of classrooms and libraries to the Internet, but you encourage that “kids need faster connections at home, too.” As policymakers undertake modernization of the E-rate program, how can we move beyond connecting only schools and libraries and extend broadband networks throughout entire communities?


Our thanks to Simmons for sharing his thoughts. Check out the previous episode of “Let’s Get Nerdy.”

Friday, March 21

Idea of the Day

By Jamal Simmons

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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.

Monday, March 17

The National Broadband Plan, Four Years Later

By Jamal Simmons

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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. 

Wednesday, January 29

Simmons in The Hill

By Brad

Our own Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons has an op-ed for The Hill highlighting the need to connect our kids with high-speed broadband. Here’s a taste:

I grew up in Detroit during the de-industrialization of America in the 1970s and 80s. Despite our collective idealization of the old days of manufacturing when men like my grandfather could raise a family of six on his blue collar auto plant wages, that world is not coming back.

Instead we must prepare our children for the jobs of the future that will require more skills and a willingness to keep adapting throughout their careers. Consumers spent over $2 trillion dollars on IT products and services in 2013, and one study reported that Apple paid app developers $5 billion dollars, Google $900 million and Microsoft $100 million. Yet despite our increasing diversity, another study found 83 percent of tech startups’ founding teams are all-white; 5 percent Asian and 1 percent African American. Only 10 percent of startup founders are women. Allowing those trends to continue is bad for the tech industry, bad for the people being left out and bad for the economic prospects of the United States. Much like the gene pool of families that intermarry over generations, our country’s innovative DNA will deteriorate without diversifying beyond the narrow band of elites now setting the pace in the tech industry.

You can read the full op-ed over at The Hill.

Tuesday, January 21

Building a Better Boat

By Jamal Simmons

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At the Minority Media and Telecom Council’s 5th Annual Broadband and Social Justice Summit last Thursday, former FCC Chairman William Kennard recounted several stories from his life and recent service as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. The central point of his talk — which also happens to be a good guidepost for policymaking in our ever-diversifying America — was that we may have come in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.

Kennard wasn’t the only one at the MMTC summit to extol the virtues of our diverse democracy. Nor was he alone in highlighting the necessity of keeping the doors open for everyone to participate in the broadband economy. Michael Powell, FCC Chairman under George W. Bush, said getting started on the multi-year process of drafting a new Telecommunications Act, which hasn’t been touched since 1996, would address our modern challenges.

That goal is fraught with complications and the danger of regulatory overreach.

Current FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn addressed another crucial step using the same let’s get going framework. The transition to all-IP networks, she told attendees, will kick-start the next wave of innovation, and the FCC should enable a smart process that makes sure everyone benefits and safety concerns are met. Meanwhile, Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton highlighted how high-speed and high-capacity broadband in classrooms across America through the E-Rate and ConnectED programs will help the next generation of Americans be ready for the next generation of jobs.

It wasn’t all policy talk at this year’s summit, however, as innovation — and the benefits of access to high-speed Internet — were well represented by students from the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science. Highlighting its focus on encouraging kids to pursue their coding dreams, the school presented apps students are developing. But instead of ideas common among Stanford educated hipsters in San Francisco like restaurant recommendations or presentation sharing apps, these Washington, DC kids’ apps were focused on issues like combating obesity, more efficient garbage pickup and, tragically, trying to locate missing girls of color because the news media spends so little time focused on them. America could use the innovative talents of more kids like these.

We may all be in the same boat today, but the students from Howard Middle School — and millions of other kids across the country — will soon be in one we can’t even begin to imagine. That means our job is to make the critical investments in broadband today to ensure their future boat is built for speed.

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