Setting the (Post-Election) Broadband Agenda

Setting the (Post-Election) Broadband Agenda

You’re reading the Benton Foundation’s Weekly Round-up, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) telecommunications stories of the week. The round-up is delivered via e-mail each Friday; to get your own copy, subscribe www.benton.org/user/register

Robbie's Round-Up for the Week of September 12-16, 2016

Robbie McBeath
Robbie McBeath

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission were hard at work this week in advance of the November elections. Numerous Congressional hearings were held relating to telecommunications policy, such as Wednesday’s on the Internet domain name system transition and Thursday’s FCC oversight hearing in the Senate. But I thought I’d focus on long-term broadband policy (you know, after November 8). The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) released a public notice seeking comment on crafting a National Broadband Research Agenda. And FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai unveiled his proposal for reducing the digital divide; he calls it the “Digital Empowerment Agenda.”

I. NTIA, NSF Seek Help Crafting a National Broadband Research Agenda
The NTIA and NSF are seeking public input on developing a National Broadband Research Agenda. The goal is to improve data collection, analysis, research, and their applications for the benefit of broadband policy development, program implementation, and program evaluation. In a Public Notice released September 9, the two agencies ask 19 question in four specific areas: 1) Broadband technology; 2) broadband deployment, adoption, and utilization by individual, business, and institutional users; 3) assessment of economic and social impacts; and 4) opportunities for federal leadership in data collection, research, and overall coordination.

1) Broadband Technology Development and Innovation
NTIA and NSF ask the following questions related to technology research:

  • What are the critical data and research needs in the areas of broadband technology and innovation?
  • What specific technology research proposals, and associated methodologies, should be prioritized to support the advancement of broadband technology? And why?
  • What specific technology research proposals can support federal efforts to foster the access and adoption of broadband technology across rural areas, and other unserved and underserved segments, such as population groups that have traditionally under-utilized broadband technology (e.g., seniors, low-income families, persons with disabilities)?

2) Broadband Access, Adoption, and Use
NTIA and NSF seek input on the following question related to research and evaluation related to programs, services, and applications that drive broadband access, adoption, and utilization for individuals and their families, businesses, and institutions:

  • What are the critical data and research needs in the areas of broadband deployment and access?
  • What specific research proposals, and associated methodologies, regarding broadband access should be prioritized? And why?
  • What are specific areas for federally-supported research as related to key market trends that impact broadband deployment, including business models, public-private partnerships, sustainability drivers, the removal of regulatory barriers?
  • What are the critical data and research needs in the areas of broadband adoption and utilization?
  • What specific research proposals, and associated methodologies, regarding broadband adoption and utilization should be prioritized? And why?
  • What specific research and data are needed to understand how rural residents and other population groups that have traditionally under-utilized broadband technology (e.g., seniors, low-income families, persons with disabilities) can better adopt and use broadband?

3) Assessment of Economic and Social Impacts of Broadband
Concerning the the social and economic impacts of deploying and/or using broadband, NTIA and NSF ask the following:

  • What are the critical data and research needs in the area of broadband and its economic and social impact?
  • What specific research proposals, and associated methodologies, regarding the socioeconomic impact of broadband should be prioritized?
  • Are there specific socioeconomic research areas that can help measure the effectiveness of federal programs seeking to foster broadband access, adoption, or competition?

4) Federal Leadership
The National Broadband Research Agenda will include a strategic plan that includes specific initiatives, measurable goals, and identification of the key resources necessary for implementation. Ton inform the plan, NTIA and NSF ask:

  • What opportunities exist to improve the sharing of research from federal research programs with external stakeholders (e.g., industry, academia)? Likewise, how can external stakeholders better share their research with federal agencies?
  • What are suggestions for enhancing cross-disciplinary collaboration in broadband research?
  • Given limited federal budgets and existing research efforts led by industry, academia, and other external groups, what specific role should the federal government play in the area of broadband research (e.g., funding, data gathering, coordination)?
  • Are there opportunities to collect new broadband-related data or expand current data sets within federal programs that fund and/or produce research?
  • What data (whether public or commercial/proprietary) would facilitate ground-breaking research related to broadband, if that data were to become available?
  • What are possible changes to federal policies and programs that could enhance broadband research?
  • What are recommendations for standardizing broadband and commonly-used demographic terms across the research community? How can these terms be operationalized to ensure comparability of data?

Interested parties have until October 11 to submit answers to these questions or offer suggestions (e.g., research topics, implementation approaches), best practices, and solutions to current challenges even if the concepts are not articulated in the Public Notice.

II. Commissioner Pai’s Digital Empowerment Agenda
On September 13, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai unveiled his “Digital Empowerment Agenda”, outlining ways he sees to expand broadband nationwide and close the digital divide. Commissioner Pai stated that he believes that high-speed Internet access is critical to economic opportunity, job creation, and civic engagement. His agenda has four main components:

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai

1) Gigabit Opportunity Zones: “The concept is simple. Provide financial incentives for Internet service providers to deploy gigabit broadband services in low-income neighborhoods. Incentivize local governments to make it easy for Internet service providers (ISPs) to deploy these networks. And offer tax incentives for startups of all kinds in order to take advantage of these networks and create jobs in these areas.”
a. Any area where the average household income falls below 75% of national median could qualify.
b. State and local lawmakers must adopt streamlined, broadband deployment-friendly policies.
c. Significant tax incentives would be provided to spur private-sector gigabit broadband deployment.
d. Entrepreneurs would be incentivized to create jobs in these zones through a tax credit that offsets the employer’s share of payroll taxes.

2) Mobile Broadband for Rural America: “I’m proposing a three-step plan to improve high-speed, mobile broadband throughout rural America.”
a. Increase the build-out obligations of wireless carriers and incentivize rural broadband investment by extending license terms up to 15 years.
b. Move forward with a Mobility Fund Phase II that includes tech-neutral performance metrics, eliminates duplicative support, maintains support where it is needed, subsidizes the deployment of new networks, and sizes the Fund based on current needs.
c. Create a “rural dividend” to supplement existing funding sources b

3) Remove Regulatory Barriers to Broadband Deployment: “There are some problems with broadband deployment throughout our nation. In particular, government at all levels too often makes the task harder than it has to be.”
a. The FCC should remove state and local barriers to deployment, such as unfair and unreasonable fees.
b. The FCC should reform its pole attachment rules to reduce the costs of deployment, and Congress should give the agency additional authority over poles owned by governments and railroads.
c. The FCC should develop a model code for communities that want to encourage broadband deployment for their citizens and to attract new businesses and startups.
d. The federal government should speed the deployment of broadband on federal lands—which often impacts our most rural communities—by adopting shot clocks for action, minimizing fees, and mapping federal assets, among other steps.
e. Government officials should adopt “dig once” policies so that broadband conduit is deployed as part of every road and highway construction project.

4) Promote Entrepreneurship and Innovation: “The Internet is a means to an end—the end being the countless online applications and opportunities that are transforming our lives....From ecommerce to connected health, consumers rely on Internet-based services in countless ways. How do we make sure that our policies promote Internet-based entrepreneurship?”
a. When it comes to regulation of new Internet-based services or products, government shouldn’t aim to shoehorn them into old regulatory frameworks. Instead, the litmus test should be whether consumers are benefiting from these innovations. This test applies across the board, from ridesharing to room-sharing companies, automobile entrants to genetic testing startups.
b. The government should seek to promote entrepreneurs’ access to capital. It should increase the appeal and availability of investment through crowdfunding. And it should consider investment-related proposals from the bipartisan Startup Act, such as an R&D tax credit and long-term capital gains exemption.

Reactions
Bronwyn Howell, writing for the American Enterprise Institute, criticized Commissioner Pai’s proposal for Gigabit Opportunity Zones, saying, “While closing the digital divide is a goal we all share, the commissioner’s focus is seemingly not on the provision of networks of sufficient speed to serve existing needs, but the provision of the fastest networks currently possible. That the subsidized networks need to be gigabyte speed, and not just 100 Mbps or some other arbitrarily-selected capacity, is more a question of equity than of reasoned regional economic development: because some Americans already have access to gigabyte connections, all Americans must.” These connections, Howell concludes, are much faster than these low-icome neighborhoods need.

Surprisingly, just five of the 14 steps outlined in Pai’s proposals are actions the FCC could take. The main venues for changing policy appears to be Congress as well as state and local lawmakers. Perhaps, with this in mind, one might conclude that Pai is trying to position himself in a different leadership post in, say, a Trump administration.

Trending at Benton.org

Election 2016

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)
coffee iconLibraries 2016 (Pew Research Center)
coffee iconGovernments Around the World Deny Internet Access to Political Opponents (MIT Technology Review)
coffee iconThe Broadband Imperative II: Equitable Access for Learning (SETDA)
coffee iconMost tech is made by tech companies, for tech people (Revere Digital)

Events Calendar for Sept 19-23, 2016
Sept 19-20 -- CPB Board of Directors Annual Meeting
Sept 20 -- Technological Advisory Council, FCC
Sept 22 -- Modernizing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, House Communications and Technology Subcommittee
Sept 22 -- Disability Advisory Committee, FCC
Sept 22 -- The First Steps in Creating a Broadband Plan, SHLB Coalition
Sept 23 -- Task Force on Optimal Public Safety Answering Point Architecture, FCC

ICYMI From Benton
benton logoLaboring Away: FCC Proposes TV Set-Top Rules and Lawmakers Feud Over Internet Transition, Robbie McBeath

Read more from the Author(s)