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'

Wednesday, September 23

Broadband & the Homework Gap


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

Wednesday, November 06

Talking About Access

By Jamal Simmons


This morning, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies held a broadband technology forum in Washington, DC. The event coincided with the release of a new study, “Broadband and Jobs: African Americans Rely Heavily on Mobile Access and Social Networking in Job Search.”

As titles go, that’s quite a mouthful. But then, the study itself is packed with information, some of it surprising, some of it well-known, and all of it important. Some case(s) in point:

• 50% of African American Internet users believe being online is critical in order to find a job. The surprising part? That’s 14% higher than the entire sample used for the study.

•  Latinos are right there with African American Internet users, with 47% calling access “very important” to finding a job.

• 47% of African Americans have used a smartphone for job searches, which is nearly double the entire sample.

For today’s event, the Joint Center assembled some heavy-hitters in tech policy, including FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Latino Information Network Director of Innovation Policy Jason Llorenz, and AT&T Vice President of Global Policy Ramona Carlow.

Besides the stats listed above, a key focus of the event was the need to improve tech education, or as the Joint Center’s John Horrigan put it, “lift up the digital skills for the entire population.” Given that one major finding of the Joint Center’s study is that confidence in digital skills directly correlates with people going online in search of employment, the focus on education wasn’t surprising. But it was encouraging that the group agreed that effective digital education means helping both adults and children.

That starts with better connecting schools through eRate. The panelists also agreed it requires better training for teachers and librarians — a link often missing in discussions of expanding broadband access. I would add one more thing: students need the same high speed broadband access at home they get in school and that’s going to require the private sector. Federal regulations should encourage all of these investments.

Today’s event wasn’t streamed online, unfortunately, but the Joint Center’s study is available at their website. I encourage you to dig in.

Monday, October 21

Education Tour with FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel

By Jamal Simmons

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 04

Place High-Speed Internet Access High on Our List of Educational Priorities

By Jamal Simmons


As Detroit prepares to choose a new mayor and City Council, teachers are preparing their students for the future. The new school year is now in full swing, and kids and teachers are settling into a routine of classes, friends, lunch menus and after-school activities. Students who are lucky enough are likely discovering how technology can enhance their lessons and expand learning beyond the classroom.

The Motor City, and indeed the entire country, are facing a tough time. Cuts are being proposed at every level of government, but there’s one essential learning tool that shouldn’t be on the chopping block: high-speed Internet. Access to this resource is increasingly necessary for students. More than a simple learning tool, access to broadband has the potential to transform education in America, afford our students new opportunities and give them the ability to transform their own communities. To see the numerous benefits of high-speed broadband, however, policy-makers and regulators must implement policies that will deliver this essential educational resource.

Advancing STEM education in America is an important and oft-discussed issue, and 21st Century broadband networks can help move forward this educational goal. Fast, reliable broadband connectivity makes individualized, interactive learning possible. This technology can enhance and supplement traditional classroom learning by engaging students in ways that can ignite a lifelong passion for knowledge. High-speed Internet service creates opportunities for educational enrichment and distance learning and can reduce inequities that exist between schools across the state or country.

High-speed Internet also makes possible blended learning, in which students and teachers collaborate to combine traditional classroom instruction with online lessons and tools. All of these benefits are possible with robust, advanced communications networks. Basic broadband access has proved to be an invaluable educational resource, but basic access alone can’t meet today’s capacity and speed requirements, much less tomorrows.

Schools and libraries across the country connect to the Internet largely because of a little-known government program run by the Federal Commissions Commission. E-rate, the nation’s largest education technology program, created in 1996, essentially funds Internet connectivity in our country’s classrooms and public libraries. The current program, however, has failed to keep pace with changing technology and the needs of students and schools. Today’s average classroom Internet connection is insufficient to support the educational innovations and learning tools of the 21st Century. According to a recent government survey, nearly half of schools and libraries reported connectivity speeds that were slower than the average American home , even though they typically serve 200 times as many users.

The dilemma of improving broadband access is a challenge not unique to our schools and libraries. Modern high-speed Internet remains out of reach for too many Americans. Schools and libraries, however, play a vital role in serving as a gateway to knowledge and providing access to broadband technologies in communities across the nation.

Efforts are now under way to expand the availability of high-speed broadband in our nation’s schools and libraries. President Barack Obama announced his ConnectED initiative in June. It calls on the Federal Communications Commission to modernize the existing E-rate program and would expand high-speed, high-capacity broadband service to 99% of K-12 students within five years. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has proposed going further, by outlining specific capacity and speed goals for a revised E-rate program, E-rate 2.0.

These efforts can ensure that our students have the resources they need to become tomorrow’s leaders. Broader access to next-generation broadband services, however, is also crucial for our entire nation. Thankfully, the federal government is now working with the private sector on how to best modernize and upgrade our antiquated telephone networks to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to every corner of the country.

Each child must have equal opportunity to develop and hone the skills necessary to navigate the technologies of tomorrow. Political, business and nonprofit leaders must support and encourage measures that expand access to 21st Century broadband in Detroit and the entire country.

This op-ed was originally published in the Detroit Free Press.

Wednesday, September 18

Expanded Broadband Access Can Revolutionize Learning for All

By Jamal Simmons


It’s no secret that I have high hopes for the benefits of high-speed Internet access in schools and libraries. President Obama and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also recognize that high-speed broadband access is a vital educational tool that will help our students compete and succeed. That’s why the President recently announced his “ConnectED” initiative to modernize the FCC’s existing E-rate program to deliver next-generation broadband connectivity to more students in more areas, advancing modern education

This week, the FCC begins gathering public input on the value of high-speed broadband deployment as it begins to consider how it can accelerate modern broadband access to 99 percent of K–12 students in the next five years. 

Government policies aimed at advancing high-speed broadband connectivity in our nation’s schools are critical to providing today’s students with the essential learning tools and experiences necessary for success in the 21st century economy. High-speed broadband access can enhance traditional classroom learning by honing students’ digital skills and enabling them to use those skills to solve problems, examine sources and data, and find information. Students can thus achieve and learn, while simultaneously developing the skills they’ll need to take their places in the “real” world as our future leaders. 

Students at every level and in every community would benefit from the easier collaboration and research that faster connectivity affords. Teachers can use this technology to help students interact with their global peers, as well as to incorporate important national and international events into lessons as they unfold in real time. The Internet can help foster strong reading comprehension and writing skills. For advanced or hands-on STEM subjects, broadband is a gateway to educational videos and online lessons to supplement classroom instruction. Adding digital learning tools like streaming videos, blogs, wikis, and podcasts to their teaching toolkits will enable educators to offer meaningful, individualized teaching and learning experiences. 

Clearly high-speed broadband has much to offer our nation’s schools. That’s why I’m thrilled that our legislators and policy makers have begun talking seriously about how to expand modern broadband connectivity to all of our schools and libraries.  Industry leaders, policymakers, and everyday citizens should recognize that broadband is an essential learning tool which can enhance American education and our quality of life. Getting that advanced connectivity to all of our schools and libraries is critical and must be a national priority. 

The effort to expand modern broadband access, however, should not stop at our local schoolhouse or library doorstep. When the school bell rings at the end of the day, no student should be without access to the benefits that high-speed broadband provides. David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, started his first internet company from home at 15 years old. America can give every student the opportunity to dream big and engage the world if we expand access to reach every household, community, and individual nationwide. 

Government can’t do this alone. It can, however, create an environment that encourages private sector investment and helps speed the upgrade of antiquated telephone networks to modern broadband technologies capable of offering high-speed Internet and video services to all Americans.

We can achieve all that and more by acting now to increase and expand access to modern high-speed broadband services in our nation’s schools and libraries, and move swiftly to set policies that encourage increased private sector investment and accelerated deployment of modern broadband networks nationwide.  With the right infrastructure in place across the country, people everywhere can benefit from 21st century connectivity. Let’s work together to make it happen. 

Monday, September 09

The Making of a Smart Transition

By Brad

In an op-ed for FireceTelecom, our Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons highlights a sensible path forward as America transitions to all Internet-based networks. Here’s a taste:

Antiquated telephone networks were built to handle one-to-one voice communication, but modern fiber-based broadband networks can provide Internet, video and voice services. They enable everything from voice and text messages to social networks, video conferencing, online gaming, digital TV and streaming video. These modern fiber-based networks and services can unlock a world of opportunity, drive technological innovation, create and sustain new jobs, foster powerful economic growth, and spur immense capital investment so that the United States can continue to lead the world.

One of the nation’s largest phone companies AT&T recently proposed to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to roll out this new technology through real-life test trials in a couple of markets around the country.  AT&T seeks to engage federal regulators in a public and transparent process to help bring 21st century networks and services to American consumers. These cautious experiments would replicate the closely observed and very helpful FCC-sponsored DTV market trial in Wilmington, N.C., conducted in advance of the nationwide digital TV broadcasting switchover. When the Wilmington trial revealed a lack of significant switchover problems, the FCC and Congress proceeded more confidently to the nationwide transition, with consumer groups less fearful of the change.

Check out Simmons’ full op-ed over at Fierce Telecom.

Monday, July 15

IIA Roundtable Recap

By Brad

This morning, IIA held a roundtable on technology and education with keynote speaker Joshua P. Starr, Superintendant of Montgomery County schools in Virginia.

Among the attendees were representatives from the Committee for Education Funding and online learning organization Apollo Group, which is the parent company of the University of Phoenix. Also attending was Lynh Bui of The Washington Post, who filed a report on the event.

Monday, July 08

Simmons on Spectrum

By Brad

In an op-ed for The Hill, our own Jamal Simmons argues that banning some bidders from the FCC’s upcoming spectrum auctions just doesn’t make sense. Here’s a taste:

An independent study by Georgetown University’s Center for Business and Public Policy analyzed the economic impact of restricting participation in the upcoming auctions. The study finds that completely barring Verizon and AT&T from participating in the bidding would reduce auction revenues by about 40 percent, lowering federal auction proceeds as much as $12 billion. Rules that deprive the largest carriers of having a shot at buying more spectrum would also slow down the nationwide transition to faster 4G, fourth generation wireless broadband, and would result in estimated, cumulative losses of 118,400 jobs by 2017. Overreaching restrictions that have the effect of reducing auction proceeds would mean that less spectrum is available for mobile broadband use – a double-whammy that would hurt the American consumer and taxpayer.

Favoring certain bidders in the past, without enough concern for effectiveness, negatively impacted auction proceeds, left major blocks of spectrum unused, and led to what former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski identified as “America’s looming spectrum crisis.” Going forward, the FCC should instead focus on setting up a fair process that gives all qualified bidders an opportunity to compete in the wireless market.

Check out the full op-ed over at The Hill.

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