Closing the rural broadband gap is an urgent national crisis| Microsoft on the Issues

Closing the rural broadband gap is an urgent national crisis| Microsoft on the Issues

It’s been clear to us for some time that the digital divide in this country is an urgent national crisis that must be solved. Since 2017, we’ve been working with internet service providers to do just that, through our Airband Initiative, and we’re on track to cover 3 million Americans in unserved rural areas by 2022.

It’s encouraging to see this issue rise in national prominence, through funding from the administration, congressional legislation and most recently new proposals introduced by several candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. While there’s been some progress already, solving the broadband gap will require active engagement as well as effective policy proposals from all parts of the public sector.

It’s time to recognize that inequal access to broadband translates into inequality of opportunity. People in rural areas that lack broadband face higher unemployment rates, see fewer job and economic opportunities and place children from these communities behind their suburban and peers in school. Of course, this is not just a rural issue – broadband deserts exist within very urban areas as well, where costs can be unaffordable and availability non-existent...<snip>

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Working together to bring broadband to rural Veterans|Microsoft on the Issues

Working together to bring broadband to rural Veterans|Microsoft on the Issues

This isn’t some one-off PR move by Microsoft, they have a real commitment to Veterans companywide. It didn’t start with Satya Nadella, but he has enhanced it during his tenure. Even though I was not a veteran, most of my family was, so I have an appreciation for those that chose to serve.

 

Our nation’s Veterans have contributed to our country in so many ways, in countless locations around the globe. When they return home, many Veterans who reside in rural areas are not able to access broadband internet which is critical to using telehealth services, gaining educational opportunities, and growing a small business or running a family farm.

 

There are 2.7 million Veterans enrolled in Veterans Affairs (VA) who are living in rural communities, 42% of them do not have internet access at home which could support their use of VA telehealth services, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’, Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Rural Health. These rural Veterans live in areas where access to fast, reliable internet service may be limited or inaccessible and are facing higher rates of unemployment, longer drives to reach the nearest clinics and medical centers, and lower levels of educational attainment compared to their urban counterparts. Connectivity has the potential to improve this reality — with broadband, they can access telehealth services offered by the VA, identify and compete for well-paying jobs, improve and grow their own businesses, and take advantage of online education classes.

 

Microsoft and VA have been strategic partners, working together to improve the lives of Veterans, for more than 20 years. Today, I’m excited to share that Microsoft will begin expanding that work by helping VA to help bring connectivity to many Veterans living in rural towns and communities. Microsoft and its partners will be working with VA to provide capital, technology expertise, and training resources to bring broadband access to people in these underserved communities. Our hope is that this effort will unlock new economic opportunities, while also enhancing quality of life.

 

Through the partnership, we’ll help VA identify communities with Veterans in need and work with our internet service provider (ISP) partners across the nation to bring broadband services to those regions. Following our Airband Initiative model, we’ll also provide the Veterans in these newly connected communities with digital skills training so they can take advantage of the tools and services connectivity enables, including critical telehealth services provided by VA.

 

In the past 22 months, through the Microsoft Airband Initiative, we have seen firsthand just how many communities lack connectivity at broadband speeds and how this can hinder growth and new opportunities. We’ve also seen that partnering with ISPs to serve those most in need is an effective strategy to make progress quickly on this important issue. Our work with VA builds on those lessons and approach, which has resulted in partnerships that will bring connectivity to 1 million unserved rural residents in 16 states to date, with a plan to reach 3 million by 2022…

 

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It’s time for a new approach for mapping broadband data to better serve Americans|Microsoft on the Issues

Every day, our world becomes a little more digital. But reaping the benefits of this digital world – pursuing new educational opportunities through distance learning, feeding the world through precision agriculture, growing a small business by leveraging the cloud, and accessing better healthcare through telemedicine – is only possible for those with a broadband connection, a link not available to at least 25 million people, 19 million of whom live in this country’s rural areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

This lack of connectivity has a very real impact on economic well-being.  There are at least six independent studies that show that broadband has a direct impact on jobs and GDP growth.  Our analysis shows that the counties with the highest unemployment also have the lowest broadband usage (and broadband access).

US map of broadband usage by state

Despite the importance of this issue, we are not making very much progress in closing the broadband gap. In the past five years, there’s been more than $22 billion in subsidies and grants to carriers to sustain, extend and improve broadband in rural America. But adoption has barely budged.

Learn more about our data here: https://news.microsoft.com/rural-broadband/

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The rural broadband divide: An urgent national problem that we can solve | Microsoft On The Issues

airband-hero

Photo Credit: Microsoft

My favorite US-based tech company, behind Canada’s Corel and Norway & Iceland’s Vivaldi, is at it again. Just because you live in the hinterlands should not determine that you are a second-class digital citizen. Or for that matter, certain urban neighborhoods not unlike where I live in Charlotte and similar cities. This has to be done by large tech companies not tied to mobile bandwidth due to its data cap limitations via its business model. Below comes from Microsoft President Brad Smith in a blog post:

Every day the world is becoming more digital. Cloud computing combined with new productivity, communication and intelligent tools and services enable us to do more, do it more quickly and in ways that were simply unimaginable a generation ago. But participating in this new era requires a high-speed broadband connection to the internet. While it’s a service that is as critical as a phone or electricity, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broadband is unavailable to roughly 25 million Americans, more than 19 million of which live in rural communities. That’s roughly the population of New York state.

 

The broadband gap is a solvable issue

 

At Microsoft we believe this is an urgent national problem that can and must be solved. In the summer of 2017 we called for a national effort and set an ambitious goal — to eliminate the country’s rural broadband gap by July 4, 2022. Closing the broadband gap will require a focused and comprehensive solution that combines private sector capital investment in innovative technologies with targeted financial and regulatory support from the public sector.

 

For the past 18 months we’ve contributed to this effort through our Microsoft Airband Initiative, a five-year commitment to bring broadband access to 2 million unserved Americans living in rural communities. During this time, we’ve accomplished and learned a lot.

 

Raising our ambition as a company, and a country

 

While we’ve made significant progress, we know there’s a lot more to do to bring broadband to every American. That’s why we are raising our ambition as a company and encourage the federal, state and local governments to do the same.

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Will 5G be the answer for underserved rural America? | Android Central

This is the main reason behind the purchase of Sprint by T-Mobile, it’s their spectrum holdings, not necessarily their customer base. Disclosure: A current T-Mobile customer, a former customer of Sprint in the 3G data only when I was an OTR trucker.

Also interesting, as much as the story itself is the comments. Mostly on topic, but demonstrates a wide gap between perceived coverage and actual coverage, even in some cases one county removed from a major or mid-sized city.

It’s been touted that 5G is the answer to get broadband internet service to rural parts of the U.S., but like everything else, it isn’t that simple. 5G has the potential to cover everyone in the United States because it’s deployed so differently to current broadband solutions like cable and satellite (and fiber, but that’s still a pipe dream for most of the world), and the equipment used for a cell “tower” is much smaller and cheaper to build and deploy than running wire.

 

This will allow for planning a 5G network not only in places like Chicago or Los Angeles but Western Washington and Appalachia, too. Narrowband 5G can also connect up to 100-times more clients than existing tech and has 10-times the range. It sounds like the answer.

 

To become the answer, though, a few other things need to be discussed. The biggest hurdle, according to industry partners ready to profit by providing 5G access, is spectrum licensing. While the narrowband 5G mentioned above does have 10-times more range than existing services can provide, a more realistic look using the spectrum available and messy standards we have now mean you would need a small-site 5G station spaced only a few hundred feet apart according to NTCA Senior VP of Industry Affairs Michael Romano.

 

via Will 5G be the answer for underserved rural America? | Android Central

FCC seeks comments on Broadband mHealth

FCC seeks comments on Broadband mHealth

The linked article below spends time talking about POTUS45’s FCC that is led by Ajit Pai. After his stance on Net Neutrality that is the subject of much controversy, some would question his commitment to an expansion of mHealth to serve everyone, regardless of location in America. Matters are not helped when a distinct beneficiary of the changes he proposes is one of his former employers. This used to be called a conflict of interest; now it is business as usual.

The paper and linked article both cover seven points that the publication aims for:

  1. Promote Effective Policy and Regulatory Solutions That Encourage Broadband Adoption and Promote Health IT
  2. Identify Regulatory Barriers (and Incentives) to the Deployment of RF-Enabled Advanced Health Care Technologies and Devices
  3. Strengthen the Nation’s Telehealth Infrastructure Through the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program and Other Initiatives
  4. Raise Consumer Awareness About the Value Proposition of Broadband in the Health Care Sector and its Potential for Addressing Health Care Disparities
  5. Enable the Development of Broadband-Enabled Health Technologies That are Designed to be Fully Accessible to People With Disabilities
  6. Highlight Effective Telehealth Projects, Broadband-Enabled Health Technologies, and mHealth Applications Across the Country and Abroad—To Identify Lessons Learned, Best Practices, and Regulatory Challenges
  7. Engage a Diverse Array of Traditional and Non-Traditional Stakeholders To Identify Emerging Issues and Opportunities in the Broadband Health Space

(mHealthIntelligence, 2017) & (“2017-09309.pdf,” n.d., pp. 3–9)

2017-05-13-redux.jpg

All of these initiatives are all meaningful and comprehensive. However, one very important aspect was missing from all of this: No mention on how to pay for this. I searched through the entire document, and nothing came up for either Medicare or Medicaid; Therein lies the problem. The very constituency that is most at risk for mHealth and can derive the most benefit from it have few means of actually paying for it. This is not to say that the underserved and rural populations do not resources, but a glaring omission of this magnitude makes for inept policy. A comment period is posted, so the odds of this being addressed are pretty good.

The dominant medical provider in my market has a Virtual Visit service that is $49, requires a Credit Card, and not covered by Medicare/Medicaid. (“Virtual Visit | 24/7 Online Urgent Care | Carolinas HealthCare System,” n.d.) There is one other important requirement, you must physically be in North Carolina at the time of visit. A reasonable assumption is the system has geofencing capabilities to enforce this.  DMCA and other issues arise if using a VPN to spoof locations; have not and will not tempt fate here. The other medical provider has a similar setup and pricing, however, you must already be in their network/system. Either way, the costs remain a barrier, not the technology.

via FCC Seeks Input on Broadband Expansion for mHealth, Telehealth


2017-09309.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2017-05-10/pdf/2017-09309.pdf

mHealthIntelligence. (2017, May 11). FCC Seeks Input on Broadband Expansion for mHealth, Telehealth. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://mhealthintelligence.com/news/fcc-seeks-input-on-broadband-expansion-for-mhealth-telehealth

Virtual Visit | 24/7 Online Urgent Care | Carolinas HealthCare System. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.carolinashealthcare.org/virtualvisit

Democracy for $ Broadband edition

One of the towns listed in this article is some 215 miles NNE of where my story originates. It is one of the few relatively populated places that I haven’t visited in North Carolina. While it’s not surprising that the North Carolina General Assembly passes laws in direct conflict with most of the constituents, this one seems especially egregious. There are some opinionated hints to why this may be the case.

https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml


As you can see, this is a smallish type of community. Also one that is majority minority, according to official government numbers. A bill that is being debated on address this: http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2017/Bills/Senate/HTML/S208v1.html. Now that the recent #HB2 “semi-repeal” got done, there may be hope full that it, with a Democratic governor will pass as well. However, the legislature is still in the control of the party that opposes such measures, so don’t hold your breath for change just yet.

http://www.infoworld.com/article/3189828/internet/only-in-the-usa-isps-get-tax-dollars-to-build-weak-broadband.html#tk.twt_ifw