IEEE Brings Together Technologists and Policy Makers to Address the Digital Divide
We have a problem to solve
The digital divide was further highlighted by the inability for some to schedule vaccination appointments online, an important task for the individual and the whole of society as we achieve collective immunity. As stated in NSTAC’s letter to the President on Communications Resilience, October 6, 2020:
“This event reinforces the need to quickly address the digital equity and digital inclusion issues facing the nation in order to increase national security and resilience. “
The IEEE CQR is a leader
The IEEE Communication Society Technical Committee for Communication Quality and Reliability (CQR) has been focusing on the issue of the digital divide since the onset of the pandemic. On May 13 of this year, the CQR organized a virtual workshop to discuss technical and societal solutions to provide underserved people with quality, reliable and secure broadband access. This event was highlighted by speeches from Dan Sjöblom, Director General of the Swedish Post and Telecommunications Authority (PTS), and Edward “Smitty” Smith, II, DLA Piper, NUL Senior Director for the Lewis Latimer Plan and former head of the FCC, which linked the tech debate to hard-hitting policies designed to bridge the digital divide.
A panel discussion, chaired by Kelly Krick of Ericsson, resulted in a lively discussion between Dr Eric Burger of Georgetown University and former FCC Technical Director Bhushan Joshi, Ericsson and Edward Smith II. The panel raised key points about the digital divide – issues ranging from coverage, access and affordability, to skills in using technology. These are questions we need to consider when we convert technology into politics. Click for the full round table..
Connectivity alone is not enough
It is not enough to just have high speed internet access. It must be of high quality, reliable and provide secure access to ensure that businesses in underserved areas can thrive online and family members at home can take their part in society at the same time as they WFH and LFH.
- Quality access is sufficient bandwidth from the home via exchange points to the Internet.
- Reliable access provides connectivity when needed.
- Secure access ensures that underserved people are not exploited by criminal actors.
Quality, reliable and secure access for the underserved population requires the use of proven technologies. Underserved people are equal participants in society and should not be treated as test cases for unproven technologies. Another important part of the discussion is the definition of “broadband”. In the United States, the current FCC definition for broadband is 25 Mbps download / 3 Mbps download. As more of us participate in video conferencing, there have been valid questions as to whether the 3 Mbps download is sufficient for a small business or a family.
Towards a meaningful policy
Mr Smith shared some fundamental statistics to establish the extent of the digital divide problem in the United States: There are 93 million unconnected people, of which 70 million are not in rural areas in households that earn for the better. Most less than $ 50,000 per year. Access is of little use if a family cannot afford broadband speeds or devices. Subsidies can be a powerful tool in solving the affordability component of the problem, but it also requires providing sufficient bandwidth speed.
The digital divide policy must take into account the different types of personal user profiles so that the problem is solved in the right way taking into account personal needs and expectations. This will ensure the best fit technology for everyone. As Dr Eric Burger explained, there are four types of people without access, which shows that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Those who:
- cannot access internet access
- can access the internet, but cannot afford internet access
- can access the internet, but insufficient bandwidth for the family
- choose to live off-grid. It is American policy to let them do it.
In the United States, the goal of bridging the digital divide enjoys bipartisan support. President Joseph Biden’s infrastructure plan aims to bridge the digital divide by bringing affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every American with a $ 100 billion investment. The Nation Urban League (NUL) also proposed a digital divide solution through the Lewis Latimer Plan. This plan foresees the deployment of broadband networks in every household with measures to improve affordability and service delivery while including underserved communities in the development of the digital economy. Edward Smith II added: “If passed, the Latimer plan would improve the way our country provides health care, education, skills training and other government services in a way that will benefit all Americans.” , especially those from marginalized communities. ” 
5G and FWA: -A solution available today
Fixed broadband, 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) and satellite offer technological solutions to bridge the digital divide. Sweden’s broadband initiative for 2023, as Dan Sjoblom explained, has no technology preference and the market will determine whether fiber-to-the-home or 5G FWA is rolled out in each specific municipality. . A technical presentation from Mary Nolan of Verizon pointed out that the benefits of 5G FWA are twofold, bandwidth up to 500 Mbps, and fast time to market. 5G FWA can now be quickly installed and up and running within weeks, while other technologies can take months or years. During COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, Ericsson deployed 5G FWA in rural Vermont within weeks to enable LFH students with speeds ranging from 100 Mbps to 300 Mbps. As presented by Dr Mallik Tatipamula of Ericsson, 5G network slicing can be deployed for underserved use cases, especially in urban areas, to ensure that end-to-end network resources are available. for WFH and LFH when needed. Broadband access and bandwidth can be tackled today – cost effective service delivery and improved user skills will follow.
The added benefit of deploying a solution based on cellular technology is that it can also bring the benefits of mobility to rural areas. This includes increased road safety and emergency response, new connected agricultural capabilities, the connection of green power generation such as wind turbines, and increased connectivity for mobile devices in recreation areas.
Be Part of the Solution – Join us in November
Ericsson believes in a smart, sustainable and connected world with digital inclusion and is proud to work with the IEEE Communications Society to resolve the digital divide. Bridging the digital divide requires the support of multiple stakeholders. Under CQR’s leadership, the IEEE Communication Society (ComSoc) has decided to take the discussion forward by hosting a one-day workshop in Washington DC in November that will bring together policymakers and technologists with the goal of creating a sustainable plan that produces real actions and generates results so that the word “underserved” is removed from the daily lexicon. It will be a collaborative workshop with a hybrid format so that face-to-face and remote stakeholders can contribute. Owners will be identified, action items will be assigned and measurable performance measures will be decided to promote resolution. More details on this event will be developed over the coming weeks. Please join us. We look forward to your participation.
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