Leroy Jones, Jr. is the creator of Talking Technology with Leroy Jones, Jr.

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The FCC: Steps Up for Rural Communities

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Recent years have been good to Americans with access to high-speed broadband.  Record numbers of us have smartphones and home broadband, according to a Pew report this year and average U.S. broadband speeds have more than tripled since 2011.

But far too many Americans still lack broadband access, especially in rural areas.  The FCC's 2016 Broadband Progress Report concluded that 39% of rural Americans did not have access to fixed broadband (25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up).  By comparison, only 4% of urban residents lack access.


Moreover, high-speed internet prices are also significantly higher in rural areas.  A recent analysis claimed that rural residents pay as much as 300% more for comparable service than suburban residents.


As a son of rural America it is good to see a bipartisan consensus forming on improving rural broadband, both in Congress and at the FCC. Give credit to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has made rural broadband improvement a cornerstone of his service as Chair.


Last week, under Pai's leadership, a unanimous FCC approved separate procedures to speed the Commission's two most important rural broadband initiatives.  These procedures involve data collection and decision challenges for the upcoming Connect America Fund II and Mobility Fund II auctions, which begin in 2018.  The details are complex (see here and here) but together, their adoption signals a heightened seriousness at the FCC for helping residents in small towns and communities to gain the broadband access that Americans in urban areas have had for years.


The stakes with this issue are huge.  A 2015 study by university researchers found that among similarly situated rural counties, those with more households connected to broadband had higher incomes and lower unemployment than those with fewer. The study also found that rural counties with lower broadband adoption saw slower growth in the number of firms and total employment than similar counties with higher adoption.


As one of the authors, Professor Sharon Strover, told The Wall Street Journal this spring:

"Having access to broadband is simply keeping up. Not having it means sinking."

This lack of broadband hits hard in many rural communities - for example, the 911 dispatcher in Missouri who was unable to track approaching storms because the Internet kept going out. This lack of viable access is also contributing to the population stagnation felt in many rural communities across the Midwest.


With the exception of the last few years, U.S. broadband policy for decades operated free from the partisan shouting that paralyzed progress on other issues. The past few years saw a breakdown of this unity but happily, things seem to be moving in the right direction, at least on rural deployment. 


Chairman Pai deserves credit for this. Here's hoping that he can keep this progress going.



mHealth: Access

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Image result for mHealth and fcc

The needs are great. Will technology be available to all?

Is this a call to greater access?

Read this:

Groups ask FCC to bolster broadband-enabled healthcare

(via @hdmmagazine)

Moving Forward with Rural Broadband

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Recently, the website The Conversation, which bills itself as a forum for academic analysis, posted a fascinating article on the implications of America's changing demographics. 

Authored by two Penn State professors whose research was funded by the NIH, the article begins by noting that, "Racial and ethnic diversity is no longer confined to big cities and the east and west coasts of the United States."


Specifically, the authors show how this trend toward greater diversity "is not limited to urban America. Dramatic increases are evident in rural places as well." Ninety percent of rural areas in the U.S. became more diverse between 1990 and 2010, they write.


The points raised in their article are particularly timely given the FCC's recent vote to promote rural broadband. As demographic profiles of small towns and communities continue changing, these communities' needs change too.  This makes their need for broadband access and connection speeds comparable to urban areas especially important.


Thankfully, it looks like Washington understands this. Last week, the FCC unanimously approved launching the second phase of its Mobility Fund, which funds expanding wireless voice and broadband services in underserved areas. The FCC also approved the next step in its Connect America Fund auction, which supports voice and broadband service deployment in under-served high-cost areas. 


The Mobility Fund order provides up to $4.53 billion during the next decade ($453 million per year for ten years) to expand 4G LTE coverage to areas that lack this service. The service will have at least a median speed of ten megabits per second (Mbps), which is enough to stream HD movies.


Interestingly, rather than using grants, the FCC chose to distribute these funds through a "reverse auction" system.  The plan is to have wireless companies compete against each other by submitting bids on rural coverage based on the number of square miles its service will cover. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn called the new system "a framework that will bring reasonably comparable mobile service to those who have been without."


While the goal is laudable and the implementation seems workable, the FCC's action does raise a legitimate concern over its likelihood of success.  As FCC Commissioner Michael O'Reilly noted in his endorsement, "While I certainly want to maximize the [benefits], if the requirements are unrealistic, we run the risk that potential bidders will decide not to participate or that providers will have to return funding several years from now."


This sort of auction problem would not be new to the FCC.  In the 1990s, when the FCC conducted its spectrum auction for PCS services, it implanted unrealistic guidelines and as a result, more than half the licenses from that auction were later returned for non-payment. This set back U.S. development of mobile broadband for years.


The FCC's Connect America Fund vote also involves an incentive auction.  The Commission voted to spend nearly $2 billion in incentives for fixed and wireless rural broadband deployment.


But overall, the FCC has taken an important step forward to support rural broadband. Chairman Ajit Pai has made expanded broadband access for all a signature goal of his Chairmanship and this is a tangible step forward.



Why Free Data Means Better Mobile for All

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One of today's best trends in wireless can be summed up in one word: "free."  Mobile users have seen a growing array of choices allowing them to stream many popular websites and content at no charge to their data plans.


Known as "free data," these offerings from mobile carriers provide important benefits for low-income and minority communities who may struggle to afford mobile broadband. Additionally, programs like this help individuals in these communities gain better access to health care services on their mobile devices - heart and stroke monitoring, blood pressure and vision testing, and so much more.


So why is the FCC being so hesitant to embrace the free data offerings that are already delivering benefits to consumers and the marketplace?


The FCC's chair initially praised the free data concept last fall. But barely a month later, the Commission reversed course and launched an investigation into the practice. In the FCC's view, there's apparently a question as to whether giving something away free is a form of online discrimination.  Given their concern, I hope they'll read a new report on this subject from the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council.


The MMTC looked at free data's impact in several key areas including the digital divide, consumers who rely on mobile broadband, mobile innovation and consumer empowerment.  In each area, MMTC found that free data's benefits are "profound and wide-ranging."


Sponsored programs involving free data are likely to become an increasingly effective way to finance faster, more accessible broadband service for all.  On this point, the report notes:  "The actual contours of the free data plans are fluid, responsive to consumer demand, optional, and, unlike many other online offerings, they do not rely on targeted ads to pay for the data."


If the FCC wants to ensure more Americans can enjoy the benefits of mobile broadband, then it should not unnecessarily interfere with a program that is leading to more innovation and competition in the marketplace.


Everyone supports making broadband service faster and easier to access. But spreading this service everywhere is a pricey proposition. Free data is an excellent option to help pay for it.  The FCC should let it bloom.



Lifeline: Internet Access for Everyone

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As Black History Month comes to a close, we must continue working to ensure the African American community and all Americans have access to the resources they need to succeed in a modern world.  According to a recent New York Times article, expanding access to home broadband and public Wi-Fi, especially in low-income communities, should be a top priority for our country.


This issue has special importance since next month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will consider changes to the roughly $2 billion-a-year federal Lifeline subsidy program. Among possible changes, the Commission will consider expanding the current phone-only subsidies to include home broadband.


According to The New York Times, in certain areas of Detroit, Miami and New Orleans, as many as one-third of homes do not have broadband.  Students go to libraries and fast-food restaurants to use free hot spots. In some neighborhoods, school buses with free Wi-Fi are sometimes parked overnight in residential neighborhoods to allow students without home broadband to do their homework. 


Given the overwhelming need for Internet access, Lifeline's lack of support for home broadband is a serious shortcoming - so is Lifeline's ongoing problem with waste and fraud, as one of the FCC's own Commissioners has documented.


The Commission's duties next month are clear-cut: First, Lifeline should be expanded to cover home broadband, both wireline and wireless.  This will help young students in underserved communities gain Internet access in the convenience of their own home.


Second, the Commission should reduce the potential for fraud by having state agencies, not phone companies, determine eligibility.  This step is every bit as important as the first.  The Commission will miss the mark entirely if it only expands a flawed, inefficient program.  Reforming the process for determining eligibility is an equally important step because it will channel program funding to where it is most needed.


The benefits of having a home broadband connection in regard to education has grown sharply in recent years and will only become more integral.  Students need it for basic research, joint projects, and submitting homework. And an increasing number of teachers - approximately 7 in 10 - assign homework that requires access to the Internet.


In order to create a society with equal opportunity to quality education and employment, the FCC cannot wait any longer. It must modernize the Lifeline program now.



Broadband Nation

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The National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA) recently released a report with great news for Americans.  After analyzing census and other data from more than 50,000 households, the NTIA concluded that almost 99 percent of the U.S. population now has access to broadband service.  The report also documented our rapid embrace of the mobile Internet, projecting double-digit annual growth rates in wireless web surfing, email and social media.

Back in 2008, President Barack Obama put forward the vision of a nation in which every American has access to the broadband Internet.  Now, for nearly the entire country, his 2008 goal is a reality.

The NTIA report's data offer several hopeful signs about Americans' broadband use, especially for demographic groups that have lagged in online adoption. Between 2011 and 2012, disparities in mobile phone adoption among whites, African-Americans and Latinos (ages 25+) largely disappeared. Usage among all three groups was between 87% and 88%.  Among seniors, home broadband use surged, increasing nearly 50% between 2007 and 2012.

More generally, evidence throughout the survey shows a remarkably consistent message: Faster broadband access is driving more usage, spurring job growth and social benefits.  NTIA cites studies showing that mobile apps sustain more than 750,000 jobs and that the typical consumer can save almost $9,000/year using smartphones in comparison to other devices.  The number of Americans who can access 6 Mbps mobile broadband - which allows for streaming HD quality video - increased from 24% in 2010 to 90% in 2012.

The benefits of modernizing our broadband networks have never been more important than they are today.  Our growing reliance on data-rich apps, particularly video, which is projected to be 84% of U.S. Internet traffic in four years, is impacting the most important aspects of our community.  The growth in home broadband among seniors, for example, has huge implications for our healthcare system. As the NTIA report notes, videoconferencing with a health care professional is well-suited for home-bound seniors and is a far less expensive option than assisted living.

Distance learning is ideally suited for broadband. California has already moved forward with an ambitious online streaming program to make college education more affordable. Georgia Tech offers an online master's program in engineering at an 80% discount to its on-campus rate.

But expanding these online opportunities requires an underlying network infrastructure that can meet users' demands.  This is the biggest Internet-related challenge we face in the coming years - the need to modernize and improve the vastly complex network systems necessary for faster, more accessible broadband.

Also important to note is that the success of President Obama's broadband policies are largely due to the bipartisan "light-touch" framework begun under President Clinton, and continued through what we have seen as the 'Internet revolution'.

It's important that we continue to implement the same policies that helped pave the way for our Internet-enabled world, and that will continue to promote innovation and infrastructure deployment.  While some have pushed for the outdated Title II approach to regulate our nation's Internet, NTIA's report clearly demonstrates the FCC should continue its successful stance of modest regulation. Only then will we be able to achieve that vision of an America in which every person has the broadband access they need to thrive in today's modern world.

LJJ (@TechnicalJones)

@TechnicalJones: African Americans, Jobs and the Internet

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Joint Center Report 2013: African Americans, Jobs and the Internet


The Internet is quickly becoming the indispensable tool for millions of Americans seeking a better job - or any job. 


Following up on my initial blog post yesterday morning, that's the inescapable conclusion of a new report the Joint Center published this week about the Internet and employment.  This jobs-Internet connection was also the focus of this morning's Joint Center panel discussion featuring FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and the Joint Center's John Horrigan, who analyzed the survey data and authored the report.


As Commissioner Clyburn said at the outset of her remarks, broadband access, which is the enabler of new technologies, is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity.  Commenting on the survey's conclusions, she also emphasized the FCC's role in promoting more - and more affordable - broadband access.


Dr. Horrigan discussed the report's findings at length, relating it to other data concerning broadband adoption and use.  As he noted, African-Americans in particular seem to be interested in more than just search engines.  They are increasingly using social networking to expand their network of job contacts and improve the probability of finding out about job opportunities.


The Joint Center's report is based on a survey of 1,600 Americans concerning their use of wired and mobile broadband, particularly in researching employment opportunities.  Among the survey's most important conclusions: African Americans are more likely than other segments of the population to use the Internet to seek and apply for employment.  They are more likely to consider the Internet "very important" to the success of their job search.


Also speaking at yesterday's panel discussion were Chanelle Hardy from the National Urban League, AT&T's Ramona Carlow, Zack Leverenz, CEO of Connect2Compete, and Jason Llorenz of the Latino Information Network at Rutgers University.


Overall, this was a great event and the Joint Center is extremely proud of Dr. Horrigan's report and the important issues it raises.  As he said toward the end of the session: digital skills are important, so investing in digital skills can help expand opportunity for all- and for African-Americans in particular.


It is important that government and industry continue to work with communities across the country to support digital literacy programs and that that commitment go hand-in-hand with public and private sector investment in high-speed broadband to every corner of America.


Leroy Jones, Jr.


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@TechnicalJones: The Internet & Jobs

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Joint Center Report: The Internet's Importance in Finding a Job Is Bigger Than You Think


Today, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released a report on broadband and jobs that will help the African American community by informing the discussion of Internet access and its value for those in our community searching for jobs.  Earlier this year, the Joint Center asked 1,600 Americans about their methods for job searches.  This report reveals that African Americans were much more likely to find valuable job information online.  They were also more likely to use social media and mobile devices as part of their job searches.  


Specifically, fully half (50%) of African American Internet users said the Internet was "very important" to them in finding a job.  That's significantly higher than the 36% average.


The survey results also showed that 36% of African Americans said they applied for a job online the last time they were on the job market, compared with 26% for all respondents.


Smartphones were an especially important part of the job search process for African Americans, as nearly half (47%) used their smartphone for job search.  By comparison, slightly more than a third (36%) of Latinos used their smartphone for job search and about a quarter of whites (24%) did so.


The most recent federal unemployment figures show the continuing importance of helping people find work.  The Labor Department's latest data shows that in September, the U.S. unemployment rate declined slightly to 7.2 percent. That figure masks both good and disappointing news.  The good news is that the unemployment rate for African-American women aged 20+ is at 10 percent, the lowest rate since March 2009.  The bad news: Overall black unemployment is still a dismal 12.9%.


For federal officials, particularly at the FCC, this report offers clear and decisive proof that those with Internet access have markedly better opportunities and are more empowered to find employment than those who do not.  This includes using the Internet to increase knowledge about different jobs and industries, finding specific jobs, and completing the application process. 


On Monday, President Obama-appointee Tom Wheeler officially became FCC Chairman, and he appears poised to move quickly to tackle important policy issues.  One of these critically important issues is likely to involve wireless spectrum auctions.  One very important aspect is a fact that was borne out by the Joint Center's report -- smartphone and mobile broadband use.  As consumers surge in adopting mobile broadband options, wireless carriers must be allowed to compete in this auction without restrictions for the spectrum they need.  That will be the best and quickest way to expand wireless broadband access, and to ensure that the innovative and creative mobile job opportunities continue to be met.


Beyond that, the report shows that programs to improve digital literacy and skills bring substantial benefits to the African American community.  This reinforces one of the key conclusions of President Obama's 2010 National Broadband Plan.  That document called for community based education to help Americans not already online understand the basics of the Internet, including using it to find employment.


There is no silver bullet that will magically bring down African American unemployment.  But as the report demonstrates, the expansion of Internet access choices - especially wireless broadband - brings with it great and immediate benefits throughout the African American community.

Leroy Jones, Jr. 


@TechnicalJones: Broadband and mHealth

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High-Speed Broadband Access, Mobile Apps Offer Hope for Improved Health Equity
People of color continue to suffer disproportionately from many diseases and chronic health conditions, many of which are preventable.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designated April as National Minority Health Month in an effort to raise awareness and prompt solutions to this problem.   
These health disparities are a very real problem. They can contribute to shorter life spans, reduced quality of life, higher health care costs for people of color and increased pressure points on the US health care system.  Factors contributing to health disparities are numerous and complex, but expanded access to high speed broadband and advances in Internet-based technologies and services have the potential to remove many of the barriers that prevent our communities from accessing quality care.      
For example, African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, as compared with non-Hispanic whites, and they are more likely to suffer from diabetes complications like renal failure. The increase in diabetes diagnoses and the growing demand for mobile apps have resulted in the development of many mHealth apps for diabetes patients.

These apps can help people with diabetes monitor their blood glucose and track nutrition and activity levels, which can help prevent complications and improve overall wellness.  For many people, the ability to take charge of their own health is empowering, and more mobile apps for diabetes are on the horizon.  
Other innovations in health care technology have made a positive impact on our communities as well. Wireless, in-home health monitoring devices can improve health outcomes for people with chronic conditions, and their use is steadily on the rise. These monitors can collect and send health data, including blood glucose, blood pressure, and respiratory rates, directly to medical professionals.

Smart devices allow patients with conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and heart disease to work with medical personnel to monitor their condition while remaining in their home, without the inconvenience of traveling to appointments. 
Heart disease--and risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity--also affects the African American community at a disproportionately high rate.  African Americans are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic white males.  The Office of Minority Health also reports that 34 percent of African Americans have hypertension, compared with 24 percent of whites. 
These facts are sobering, but innovations in health technologies and expanded access to high-speed broadband offer hope and the possibility that we can overcome these statistics.  A variety of mobile apps are available to help people assess their heart disease risk, monitor sodium and caloric intake, quit smoking, track physical activity, and even determine heart rate.

These broadband powered mobile apps, along with other wireless technologies, have empowered those with heart disease (or accompanying risk factors) to take charge of their health and to work with medical professionals to achieve improved wellness, health, and quality of life.
Advances in these broadband-enabled health innovations, including telemedicine and mHealth, have helped many patients and families assess and reduce their health risks, leading to more vibrant lifestyles and an enhanced quality of life.  For communities of color, it is especially urgent that we increase broadband deployment to enhance the availability of these technologies and health tools, as well as encourage the development of new ones.  
Upgrading America's communications infrastructure to all high-speed broadband networks is a critical step.  Accelerating the transition to modern, lightning-fast broadband networks will bring expanded access and greater technological capabilities to our entire country.  An all-broadband network in the United States can support the services, speeds, and technologies of the future, and they will further advance innovation in mHealth and other health tools.
The theme of this year's National Minority Health Month is "Advance Health Equity Now."  It's a lofty goal, but not an impossible one.  Today's health technologies are already making a positive impact, and tomorrow's technologies promise even greater results.

Expanded and enhanced high-speed broadband networks will fuel more innovations that can help this goal become a reality for America's minority communities. Private investment and government policies that help accelerate broadband deployment to more of America will help improve people's access to online health tools and empower all consumers to actively take steps to improve their lives and lead healthier lifestyles.


@TechnicalJones: IP & Broadband

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